Sunday, August 22, 2021

Gathered In

Its that time of year again. The worktop by the sink is cluttered with empty jars and bottles that all need a long soak in hot soapy water before they're clean and label-free enough for me to use for all things I'm planning to make. 

The wineberries are safely gathered in and I'll be making a cordial out of those, rather than the gin I'd had planned. My mother in law has MS, so booze is off the cards for her (it worsens some of the symptoms). Rather than have her miss out, as she has on the damson gin, I'll make a cordial from this and another from elderberries. The latter has the added benefit of being exceptionally good for sore throats and coughs.

And I'll still make some damson gin for those who can have it. And the damson jelly that is so good with cold or hot meats, cheeses and basically anything savoury that needs something tart to cut through.

There was a general consensus recently that the last thing any of us needed was more courgette or runner bean chutney, so I'll make a very small batch pickled shredded beetroot and dispense some of it in very small jars, so it feels more like a gift and less like an obligation. I still have a chutney my Mum made 3 years ago in my cupboard, so the whole gift/obligation thing is very real. 

Raspberries I am greedily, gleefully keeping to myself. This is the first year I've had more than 1 solitary, sad raspberry cane fruiting, and I intend to freeze all those I can't eat, to get me through the dark days of late winter with a burst of sunshine. Ditto the blackberries which I'm either eating by the handful at the plot, or on yogurt with a thin but decadent drizzle of proper honey. 

This will be the first year I get to have a go at bottling tomatoes. On the plot are huge fat Marmandes, smaller Big Daddy's and an even smaller yellow cherry tomato, the name of which I've forgotten. I'll make a couple of tomato tarts, eat some raw with goats cheese, bottle the rest to open in late winter and use to smother pasta, eat my way back to summer.  

The courgettes are being roasted and frozen for the same purpose. Come February, when we are tired of sprouts and the dark, I'll throw a couple in with the tomatoes, snip some basil that's overwintered on the windowsill and take us away from the damp and the gloom.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Seed Behaviour

“ In my defence, I hadn't planned to go to the allotment.”
“That might be a defence, it’s not an explanation.”
“Well, I went to deliver L’s card and present for the baby - 4 weeks late but hey, I brought it big enough - and when I got to what I thought was her address, a bedraggled teenager answered the door and told me she'd moved to number 16. 
"Right, and that has to do with..."
"Wait. So I knocked on number 16 and a clearly stoned woman answered and looked confused for some time before saying 'I'm not Louise?' I told her I didn't think she was and she looked disappointed, so I backed slowly away."
"Keep going,"
"So then I considered standing in the middle of the street and shouting 'Louise!' but thought that might get me arrested and that would ruin your weekend with admin, so I started to walk back."
"Thank you for considering the admin,"
"You're welcome. Anyway, on my way back, I bumped into R's father in law and we got talking about the plot inspections and then we were at the gate of the site but hadn't finished talking, so I followed him in and down to the plot. And J was on his, so I said hello and then figured I'd check for beans and courgettes but there weren't any."
"This is fascinating,"
"I know! Anyway, I noticed that some of the cosmos and calendula had gone over and were scattering seed, so I decided to gather as much as I could except I didn't have any paper bags, only the pockets of my jeans. So that's where I put them."
"Exactly. Only I forgot they were in there until I got my foot stuck in my jeans later and turned them inside out, which is when the seeds fell out and why there are now seeds all over the bedroom floor."
"Gotcha. Going to pick them up?"
"Yeah, in a bit. Don't stand on them."
"You're too kind."

This is the kind of conversation that occurs when N goes away for a few days and then comes back to find seeds on the bedroom floor. I won't repeat the conversation we had when he moved a towel in the airing cupboard and sweet pea seeds fell on him. 
Honestly, he acts as though this is strange behaviour. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Be More Mabel

This morning, the Retreat (aka the spare room from which I read, write, work and occasionally yoga) is filled with the dulcet tones of large vehicles reversing and the fragrant smell of hot tarmac that not even the last of the allotment sweet peas can overcome. 

Of course, the noise and fumes would be greatly reduced if I closed the window but then I'd miss out on the breeze that is making this quite humid day bearable. So I'll deal with it for now. Oh no, an angle grinder has started up. Okay, I give in, the window is getting closed. 

There. Better. 

Mabel (left) leaping to catch and bring down her mortal enemy - the fearsome Piece of Long Grass

Over the roofs of the houses opposite, the skies are quite low and grey, threatening a rain that might or might not deign to fall on us. The vegetables at the allotment will be grateful if it does. I'm switching to a system of one long watering a week in order to encourage roots and healthier crops, and to reduce water consumption. We have 2 water butts: 1 at home and the other at the plot, but we want to get a second for each. It's likely I'll need 3 or 4 for the plot eventually. 

I like big (water) butts and I cannot lie. 

This week I had the immense pleasure and relief of being pain free in my left shoulder for an afternoon. Such bliss! It seems I managed to tear the muscle somehow and, after my 3rd session of sports massage (during which I'm torn between crying at the pain and whimpering with pleasure because she's unknotting knots that I've carried around for YEARS), I was filled with a flush of happy daydreamy endorphins. Readers, I chatted away merrily, laughed, did silly voices, made jokes, sang made up songs to the tunes of other legitimate songs. 

 And that was all in the car coming home.

It was marvellous and I cannot wait for the next session. It was the most blissed out I've felt for a long time. In fact, it reminded me that I haven't properly laughed for a long time. This year has felt too heavy to allow it, and I don't think I'm the only person to feel that. Emails are full of people saying how worn to the nub they are. 

Sod all this "back to normal" nonsense spouted by politicians. I say we all need a 2 week long holiday from reality. If we did it in shifts, it could be managed for everyone, even those couples with kids. Nothing fancy, just 2 weeks in a cabin in the woods or by the sea, no mobile reception, no work but lots of nourishing food, splendid reads (or things to watch if reading is not your thing), drawing materials and views to feast your tired eyes on. 

 Chonky Thor has a go - he has less leaping energy but does make
better noises

And it has to be on your own because other people, even the ones we love, have needs that must be accommodated and that means compromising on your own needs. 

Think how restored we'd all be as a nation if that were allowed. Start lobbying your politicians now!

Until the happy day that becomes enshrined in law, I am encouraging myself to Be More Mabel. Her intense Mabelness means that her life is largely stress free - barring the occasional run in with the Evil Tabby. Whether it is lounging on a comfortable surface, eating, going about the serious business of chasing things, or keeping tabs on the garden, she devotes her attention entirely to it for a brief period and then wanders off when it all becomes too much or something more interesting comes along.

Such as a particularly enticing butterfly. 

 Certainly this ability to be endlessly curious whilst at the same time attuned to her own needs (bees in the lavender may be irrestible to chase but nothing must get in the way of lunch) is an enviable one to cultivate. She cares not about things that are beyond her sphere of influence but focuses entirely on those that are, such as making sure I know it's time for her lunch. She has actually taken to patting my leg with her paw if I'm not quick enough off the mark. 

Mabel meets the garden wizard (aka the gnome my sister got me. 
It is the only gnome here before you start to get worried).  

And at a time when global news has our attentions and worries scattered like so many marbles dropped en masse from a great height, that is probably the only sane way to keep going. 

Last night we finally gathered ourselves enough to go and see Black Widow at the local cinema before it closed. Gosh, that was a great film. Funny, clever, brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, enough action and bangs to make me jump, a thoughtful arc about family and memory and the connections we build through circumstance. Loved it. Florence Pugh is fast becoming my favourite actress, and I'd watch Rachel Weiss read the newspaper. 

It's a shame that will be the last Black Widow outing. I really feel the character was only allowed the freedom to develop in the last couple of Avengers films, prior to that she'd been supporting the Big Strong Idiot Men. Think how much more we could have explored her character with more films. Opportunity missed again.

Ah, here comes the rain. Good. 

Right then, my hour's blogging time is nearly at an end (I time it by the length of a Backlisted podcast) and my empty coffee mug suggests it's time for a refill. This week I've been mostly reading The Morville Year, The Garden Jungle and working slowly through All the Devil's Are Here, which I'm not entirely sure I like, even though I'm quite partial to a rundown seaside town. Maybe psycho-geography is not my thing?


Ubiquitous allotment pic. Because if you haven't seen one, have I even blogged?

What is my thing is the definite tint of Autumn that's appeared in the early mornings. Just enough to brush your fingers gently as you walk alongside the canal, and to mean the duvet is required again. Splendid. 

As a treat, I'll leave you with this clip of Jeremy Hardy singing Hallelujah  in the style of George Formby, a clip to provoke laughter in anyone. I still miss Jeremy Hardy - he was an absolute genius and all round decent chap. We were lucky to have had him on the planet.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Back to School

This week, in yet another step to a new normality, I went to an actual library, rather than ordered another bunch of books. The day before, I'd been merrily dropping titles into my basket and failed to notice that the total was nearly 3 figures until I came to check out. At which point I needed a brief lie down and a talking to from myself. 

Yes, the gardening books are important, but not that important. Not when there is another, free, option...


We have an excellent library in the city, run as a partnership with the university. Their hours are long, the collection wide and there's a cafe that does a decent cheap Americano and a gluten-free pecan brownie you'd step over your own child for. Both of which came to £4.50. As I'd paid £4 for a coffee alone not too long ago, I am now considering making this my temporary office base for those days when I just can't face staring at my own 4 walls again. 

The library also wins because borrowing books will always have a lower carbon footprint than buying them, so I get to be all smug about it. Even smug-er after a visit to the plastic free shop for hand soap, deodorant and cashews. 

 Of course, all this green work is then undone by the arrival of my lovely new office chair. A thoroughly impractical pale pink, the chair looks like it might develop a personality above my station but I don't care. As long as it holds me up and stops the left side of my body from feeling like it's slowly grinding to a painful halt, that's all I need. 

I would never have been able to have a pink chair in any of my previous offices, I know that. I also know that it looks good against the dark blue of the one wall, and will clash splendidly with the peach that will cover the other walls. It cheers me up every time I open the door, which I think is more than enough reason to have it. 

This week, I actually left the house for something other than an appointment, and went on a splendidly eccentric tour of the Bishop's Palace with a couple of friends. This was led by an elderly man who spoke as though denouncing SINNERS from a pulpit, even when he was merely telling us that the CUPBOARD hides a good EXAMPLE of Medieval WALL ART. 

As his voice ENNUNCIATED seemingly random words, he fell up STEPS while telling us to watch OUT for them and forgot his PLACE in his notes, I took the photos you can see here. It's a wonderful building - I especially liked that they'd based one of the interior grotesques on Wallace & Gromit* - and it reminded me why I'd fallen in love with heritage in the first place...the buildings just can't be beat. 

 Then we went for lunch. Which was also splendid and not in the least bit eccentric. Although our turning down of the speakers (right next to where we were sitting) probably was. But we don't care. We are ladies d'une age certain and we have earned the right to talk to each other without shouting over jazz-funk fusion beat combos.

Up at the allotment, I have been harvesting wineberries and blackberries, both of which have gone into the freezer until I have enough and a moment to turn them into a flavoured gin for everyone to get at Christmas. Yes, I am thinking about Christmas already, as much as I hate to be the one to mention it first. And as much as I can't really even begin to consider the shape of this year's Christmas, not with such a key person gone from the family. 

 Dad has been much on my mind this last week or so as I completed registering for the RHS Level 2 study course at our local horticultural college. What would he have made of my mid-40s environmental crisis? He'd have shaken his head at my refusal to use weed killer, even on the knotweed and would probably have reminded me of how much of a fair-weather gardener I've been until recently. 

But I am committed now. And excited to be so. 

 On 16th September, I will be doning my steel toe cap boots, clicking the lid of my new pens and bracing myself to be the oldest person in the room. Perhaps if I become the young people's college-mum, they'll deal with the big greenhouse spiders for me?

I hope all the readers who pass by here have a lovely weekend. Eat the good things - you deserve it. 

*NB: this is by way of a joke based on the fact that the grotesque on the left of the painting has that Wide Mouth thing you see in Aardman Animations films. As good as AA are, I really don't think they were around when these were made...

Of the Before and the After

The Potting Shed by Lore Pemberton.  On my Christmas  wish list, Click on the image to get to her website. I had planned to pop on here and ...