Monday, October 24, 2022

October at the Allotment

As you can imagine, there is something about a wedding that gets in the way of allotment time. Apart from flying visits during the day where I'd dash up there, water and chat to the sunflowers, I didn't really linger. Certainly, my habit of taking a coffee up with me and sitting down to watch the insects fell by the wayside. 

But now we're in October and there is no big event to plan and make metres and metres of bunting, or stamp seed packets, or sift wildflower seeds, or source vintage jugs, or panic-source tablecloths for, so now I can switch my attention back to the place that brings me most peace. 

I'm planting red and white onions that will ripen over the winter. Garlic and broad beans too. The kale is still going, so I'll leave that in situ, but mainly this month is about tidying down. 

The courgettes are done, so I dug those up at the weekend. The french beans too, but I'm letting those die back before lifting them as they're good for setting nitrogen in the soil. The potatoes are all out now too. Only the sunflowers really remain, defiant against the dropping temperatures. And I'm reluctant to cut the raspberry canes down just yet as the bees are still bimbling amongst them, finding nectar where I thought it was all gone for the year. 

We got to try our first ever home-grown red cabbage. Shredded thinly, served with beetroot and red onion (likewise) with feta and a standard vinaigrette dressing, it was delicious. Red cabbage salad is one of my favourites. Good job really - there are 5 more cabbages in varying stages of readiness up at the plot. 

I've wound the hose up for the last time and strimmed all the long grass down with my inadequate strimmer. It's battery only lasts about 5 minutes, so it takes a good 4 trips to get the whole plot done. A little frustrating but a good excuse for short breaks from the desk this week. I've cleaned the tools and managed not to scream at the spider that wanted to know what I was doing, lifting its comfy trowel out of the dark corner. 

The plan is to let everything die down and settle down until November when we'll start making plans for the raised beds. the 4th growing area will be going no dig for next year as I just don't have it in me to dig over another large area like that. I always end up damaged and with large physio bills when I do. Instead, we've been gathering cardboard like there's a world shortage and will soon order in the tonnes of topsoil we'll need. 

Then it's the simple task of building the beds, getting the topsoil to the plot, lifting it into the beds...I'll stop there. I already feel the need for a lie down. 

Luckily my brother-in-law is a gardener for hire, with a van and the quiet winter period looming, so we'll rope him in with promises of tea, sausage sandwiches and a day's pay. I think the latter may be a more convincing bribe. If we can get my sis and her kids involved, it'll be like an Amish barn raising. Without the barn. Or the beards. 

Then it'll be time to move our sights to the far end of the plot. By February, I'm hoping to have that cleared of knotweed, fallen tree branches and accumulated nonsense so the polytunnel can go down there. In short, there are plans afoot. 

N and I spent a good few hours in the garden on Saturday. It was looking raggedy around the edges with drooping tomato plants, pots piled everywhere and the corpses of plants that didn't make it through the drought standing like little signposts of guilt about the place. 3 hours later, everything dead or about to be cleared, pots washed and piled neatly, mini greenhouse cleaned and scrubbed, a big yup of stuff for the tip gathered, roses and honeysuckle pruned, we toasted our efforts with mugs of tea and a sit down. 

I once heard that Sophia Loren's advice for staying youthful was to avoid 'old people noises', those groans and whimpers and oohs and aahs people of a Certain Age make after physical exertion...or just standing up from the armchair. I'm sorry Sophia, but I made all the old person noises on Saturday. Worth it though. 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We are halfway through October, my favourite month of the year, and it still feels like our feet haven't touched the ground. Thank-you cards have arrived but remain unwritten. I will tackle them tomorrow and hope we're forgiven a little tardiness. 

A lot of the whirlwind has been around work as mine continues busy and N started university the Monday after the wedding. At the start of the month, I went to see a performance of Much Ado About Nothing at the Birmingham Rep which was beautifully handled, with signing (some of the actors were deaf) and a sensitive treatment of multiple needs. Hero was actually given some autonomy in this performance, instead of remaining a cipher, a pretty mute thing who has no voice but merely accepts the fates dealt by the terrible men around her. It was rather refreshing. 

The last time I'd seen this play, it was a Bollywood version in Stratford, which was a visual feast. I've always loved the sparring between Beatrice and Benedick. 

Last Saturday we went to see Mark Steel, the comedian, at Tenbury Wells Regal, a treat of a little art deco theatre, loving restored and working again. I'm a big fan of his 'In Town' series on Radio 4 and he didn't disappoint. Every joke about a place is said with genuine fondness for its strange customs and quirks, there is no malice. Unless he was talking about the present government, but then he could be forgiven that. Especially as the audience felt much the same. 

We have met up with some of the RHS course crew a few times since it came to an end in May, most recently yesterday. Generally at each other's houses or in a garden centre. Mostly, the talk is not about gardens or gardening careers, but about families and plans and life in general. Children and pets run around. We eat. We chat. We swap cuttings and bulbs. 

Lured in by how much I'd enjoyed the films, we started watching Rings of Power and got 3 episodes in before I declared I did not care for any of the characters, and I did not care for a stroppy Galadriel, and I did not care for meaningful looks where a simple "this is a terrible idea and we shouldn't do it" statement would do. But Ghosts has restarted which makes me joyous, as does the new puppy on Gardener's World, all wriggly legs and ears. Bake Off continues to reach new heights of silliness and I don't care in a good way; it is the icing on the bun on the bake that is unnecessarily complicated but still, somehow, delicious. I think I might be in awe of Noel Fielding's eyeliner. 

The Cheltenham Literary Festival is on. I haven't been to an event there since I saw Audrey Niffenegger speak in 2010. Back then, I was living a different life, writing a different blog. Now I'm living this one and looking forward to seeing Ian Hislop talk about his Desert Island Books tomorrow with N. I've long admired Hislop's intelligence and wit, so this should be interesting. And yes, I do have a list of desert island books of my own, and have already decided that, should I ever be on the Desert Island Discs, I will reject the copy of the bible for the collected novels of the Brontes. 

Speaking of which, I will not be watching the new film, Emily. I'm sure it's a very good film but I feel that all biopics take liberties with the truth and Emily Bronte has suffered enough at the hands of people taking liberties with her truth. 

But I have reread the book recently, and Jane Eyre, and Dracula. This month always calls for Victorian novels, I feel, and I've got a copy of Lady Audley's Secret to hand, a blanket to curl up under and Nordic socks to wear to keep my feet warm. These socks are simply amazing. Warm enough to keep my toes from feeling froze, even without slippers or within wellies, whilst not keeping them so warm I end up with unpleasantly sweaty feet. Consider this a wholehearted recommendation. 

Some mornings, I've got myself out of the house for a walk along the canal just as the sun breaches the trees. The air has that autumn smell of woodsmoke, fog, damp bark and earth that is so wonderful. The colours make my smile wider and my step springier. I'm enjoying Mabel's fluffier coat, the return of soup to our lives, the shine of conkers against the paths, the moon rising a little higher and brighter against the darker skies. 

Once we return from Bruges, a proper hunkering down will begin. Fewer excursions, a retreat to warmth and light behind our doors. I love the whole process of Wintering, when my overstimulated brain is allowed to rest, when I naturally wake later and don't feel that surge of 'must do' that comes from the lighter half of the year. I am a natural hibernator. 

Autumn, I've been waiting for you. 

Saturday, October 1, 2022

A Perfect Equinox

On this fine 1st of October morning, I am tucked up in the spare bed in the Retreat (aka my office), under the duvet with coffee fragrancing the room and a stomach that's gently rumbling in anticipation of brunch. This is where I go when I wake at 6am, my brain won't let me sleep any longer and I don't want to keep N awake with my own awakeness. I'm comfortable and warm. 

I am also 7 days married, the wedding ring light and glinting on my hand. 

Yes, 12 months of planning that included, roughly: 90 sunflower seedlings sown, 144 squares of bunting sewn, 120 invites, at least 3 lively debates about the benefits of eloping (me) versus staying here and catering for gannets (him), one dress meltdown and a tablecloth near-emergency. But the day was bright and clear and autumnal. Just as we'd wanted. 

The whole thing was just as we'd hoped and neither of us stopped smiling or laughing the Whole Day, which was perfect (although it's taken a week for the muscles in our faces to stop aching). Everyone we loved, liked or tolerated for the sake of each other were there. The ceremony was simple but perfect. I got a fit of the giggles at the sight of this man I've known for 20 years standing there being very solemn and serious. 

Friends currently on sticks (unrelated accidents) formed an arch that we charged through after the vows. The green shot silk of my dress and his tie shimmered in the sun. The bride and groom, bridesmaids and anyone else sensible enough to take our advice, wore trainers. 

The day before we'd spent hours decorating the venue with sunflowers, seed heads, berries, rosemary, ivy and grasses spilling out of the vintage vases. Around them I'd scattered dried lavender heads, gourds and pinecones. What I'd hoped for - a feeling of harvest, of abundance - translated nicely into reality without any need for fiddly bits of wire or complicated oasis bases. Just keep stuffing those jugs till they'll take no more. 

On the welcome table, mossy twigs, ivy, hawthorn, oak, rosehips, blackberries, conkers and thistles spread along the gauzy surface with its brown paper and string wrapped coleus. We invited people to leave a message and take a seed packed. Wildflower seeds we'd gathered from the allotment. 

We'd got bottles of bubbles, sketch books and pencils for the children who'd been dragged along. We were left some lovely, from the heart, drawings. And some more risque ones from the adults as we got further along into the night. I don't feel you need to see those. Let's just say, I'm glad we didn't put disposable cameras out. 

The food was, according to all who spoke of it, delicious. I managed a side plate, quickly grabbed under the insistent gaze of my Friend from the North. N was similarly frogmarched in the buffet table direction. Later we danced to Divine Comedy's Perfect Love Song, a stumbling shambling dance that we should probably have rehearsed more but we were too busy grinning to care what people thought of our moves. 

At 9pm, we had the additional treat of a firework display courtesy of the wedding taking place in the hall behind us. All the benefit, as it banged and zipped over the lake and trees, oohs and aahs coming naturally, none of the expense. 

When the last taxi door had slammed behind the last guest, we thanked the bar staff (who'd been kept busy ALL night) and headed across the fields for our bed in the hall. Obviously, we had no torch. Equally obviously, there was no light of the moon as it was a new moon. There may have been a detour through a field of nettles and an encounter with a gate that would not open no matter how much I pulled it. Luckily N pushed it just as I was about to hitch up skirts to climb over, and it opened just fine. 

I'm reading and rereading this, feeling that my retelling is perhaps a little sparse? In truth, it's because I'm still too full of it. Too full of the magnitude and the happiness of it. Neither of us stopped spinning that day and, although we've had to return to work pretty sharpish, that feeling of spinning hasn't gone away. When I look back, I remember nothing but laughter. Shapes being thrown on the dance floor by friends. A lot of beer. Joy. 

Winter's Tail

Well, we made it. Imbolc has passed with its promise of fluffy lambs, fluffy mimosa, fluffy pancakes on everyone's horizon. The change i...