Summer has catapulted along and August is here. North-west English weather remains my favourite: blustery; often grey; patchy rain and plenty of hot sun in between. The difference is that the pendulum is swinging further. Last week we had the hottest day on record – close and muggy like Florida. This week it’s heavy heavy rain with floods and devastation in North Yorkshire.
I observed this last Summer and designed the well in the field accordingly. There are two 2″ drains from the top of the lining and a downward sloping surrounding path that runs into an area that will eventually become watercress beds. During sustained heavy rain the two drains run like taps and the path runs like a stream. If there’s another drought, I’ll hopefully be able to dig the well deeper and hit the water table.
After a slow start, things have done well this season – apart from beetroot which bolted in Spring – I put it down to a dry warm winter. We’ve had loads of peas with enough in the freezer for several months. I’ve managed to grow a big patch of French beans for the first time and tomatoes are doing well. The runner beans are draped with more red flowers than ever and I think there’ll be even more than last year – a great winter food source when dried – high in protein with a taste somewhere between butter and kidney beans.
I’ve improved the irrigation by putting soak hose into the beds in the field. The roof on the greenhouse feeds 2 more IBC tanks – that’s 2000 litres. Altogether, I’ve got 6000 litres and could double that if needed. My neighbours Jimmy and Chris have jokingly christened the greenhouse ‘The skyscraper’. I need to crack on and get the front and back of the roof filled in, otherwise it will fly away like a parachute when the gales come.
The soak hose has improved the rhubarb so much so, that I’ve got huge amounts. I need to find a market and I’ve been talking to a local crop-share scheme. I’m planning to get a lot more organised next season and I reckon I can almost double my yields.
Ever since I’ve started, I’ve had the romantic notion of being able to survive if things became apocalyptic. Living off the land is a universal primordial theme – as food prices soar and the value of the pound continues to plummet, it’s becoming closer to reality.
Politics is getting extreme and people are scared and worried. Tied in with climate change, there’s an underground revolution going on as it becomes abundantly clear to many, that the food chain is chronically poisoned by the chemicals and pesticides used in intense farming. There’s more and more evidence coming out to support the blatantly obvious idea that eating a clean plant-based diet is better for your health.
Alas, the beautiful 54 year old VW van hardly gets used these days. I don’t need it to camp on the ranch any more because I have my cosy mezzanine den at the back of the lean-to. I haven’t even had my annual trip to that there big hill up North. It came into its own however when we finally got round to doing a plant sale on a Sunday afternoon in June. It was father’s day and it was raining. The track to the ranch was overgrown and slippery but we managed to load the van up the night before with plants. It was something I’ve been wanting to do for years, so it was a modest ambition achieved. The best seller by far was the rhubarb.
It was good fun. We talked to an ex physics teacher who knew loads about Tesla and renewable technology, a lot of which he reckoned had been suppressed by governments.
The 65 year old tractor is earning it’s keep – I still marvel at the quality of the engineering and Harry Ferguson’s iconic design that revolutionised farming in the late 1940s. The hydraulics on the tipping trailer are now fully functioning and we mixed loads of concrete last week with the mixer that hooks up to the PTO.
I’m continuing to research an all-round repairable vehicle with the potential to run on self-produced fuel – either fart-gas or biodiesel. An adapted Land Rover perhaps? Please you buffoon – have you not learned your lesson? Yet another ancient bone-shaker!
Rock & Roll
When my lads where 13 and 14, I shouldn’t have been surprised that a lifetime of living in a Rock & Roll house filled with musical paraphernalia rubbed off on them. They formed a neat little modern Rock & Roll band with friends Matt and Tyler. I was their reluctant roadie, chauffeur and unmanager. It wasn’t always pretty, but we some neat times. We recorded a 7″ single in this room where I’m writing and went on annual summer hols together.
They never split up, but meet infrequently as Tyler and Matt live in London. At least once a year, they try and do a gig and I try and help them organise it. This year, there just weren’t any available venues. I suggest that we just have a party and they play in the house which we’ve done a few times before, or do it on the ranch. The consensus is the ranch and so Sagefest is finally born.
The date is in the middle of my two weeks off. The preparation is immense. Demi-shed B is the DJ booth. Demi-shed A is the food and cooking area and demi-shed C is the stage. On the night, demi-shed D (the skyscraper) is taken over by the young generation.
There’s no way that I could have done it on my own. My neighbour Alex and his mate Phil are both as practical as me. They have the bottom two allotments down the hill from me. Between us we build a new bespoke compost toilet and put a roof on demi-shed A. We service a generator that’s been in a cellar for 10 years and install it in the field under a makeshift shelter, complete with hefty earth strap. The weather is balmily and sometimes searingly hot and includes the hottest day on record. At the beginning of the week weather apps hint rain. They turn out to be right.
The day before arrives and torrential rain is forecast (complete with weather warning). I’m despondent. Louise, Sam and I go up and consider the options: cancel; default to house; default to barn; continue as planned. I phone Alex and he wisely says see what it’s like the next morning – the weather forecast isn’t always right.
At least it’s fine as the day dawns. I decide to go ahead as planned. Phil helps me put up tarpaulins over Demi-sheds A & B and that turns out to be the saving grace. The start time is 3 and the rain comes – I haven’t even got the PA set up. The rain is lashing and relentless and the whole thing looks like a complete disaster.
Fenny has suggested putting an impromptu band together. We’ve known each other a long time. I introduced him to playing in bands and he’s never stopped. He turns up with Lez (another old muso vinyl mate) and pianist blind Steve – getting Steve up the wet muddy track is risky. Fenny mentions that their singer Dawn is coming.
A few people trickle in. I’ve invited people from work but I don’t expect any of them to turn up in this rain. Fenny and co kick off – Steve on piano, Fenny and me on guitar and Lez on Sax and gob-iron. We do Incredible String Band’s Log Cabin Home in The Sky – a fave of mine and Fenny’s.
Dawn is due to sing and I ask offspring generationals Bryn and James to play bass and drums – they’re both brilliant. We do CC Rider and Betty Wright’s Shoorah Shoorah. It’s a game changer – the hairs on my arms stand on end. Dawn is an outstanding soul singer – somewhere up in Aretha territory. The whole effort is worthwhile just for that.
Me, Gaz and Eamonn do a few songs – 2 Notsensibles still playing – not bad. Sam, James and Bryn’s band Bulbeater play and sound great – a bit on the heavy side with a hint of prog.
Finally, the mighty Strange play and sound as fantastic as ever. The interplay between Matt and Sam’s guitars as always is crisp and tight. Elias’s bass playing is rock steady and Tyler remains the best drummer I’ve ever heard.
The overall sound is brilliant through the little PA and the generator holds up – I’ve never done outdoor sound before. Once the bands have finished, I breath a slight sigh of relief. I’ve been up since 5 and I’m knackered.
The rain briefly lets up. We’re also celebrating Tricia’s birthday. Fiona turns up from work and I’m pleased. She’d just qualified as a consultant when I started working at Salford 20 years ago. I show her round and I just can’t resist telling everyone that she’s a professor. Yes that’s right – a professor on the ranch.
I had planned to stay the night, but by 10 I’ve had enough – we bundle everything into the car and I’m home by 11. There were some mighty surreal happenings but given the weather, it was a success. We’ve nailed the infrastructure of an outdoor off-grid event. Would I do it again? Not sure.
The best thing for me about Sagefest was the preparation. I had to clear out years of detritus from the sheds. It was also a head clear out. Now that everything is tidy, I’m determined to keep it that way. It means that every time I need something, I have to go and root for it in the stable, until I can buy or build proper storage.
It all ties in with an overwhelming sense of clutter – it’s stopping me getting stuff done. It’s time to chuck some of it – possessions and habits. Sagefest was the catalyst. Louise casually observed that the people who were there were the people that mattered. Sunday was a day off then Monday was day one.
Another serendipitous twist is the arrival of my friend Jack back from Barcelona. I’ve known him in passing for years. He’s an artistic whirlwind. It just happens that he’s starting a writing project that warrants some mutual marketing, so he’s going to help me do what I can’t do and it will tie in with his plans. He’s sensibly stipulated a couple of things that I need to give up for it all to work.
One of them is swearing in my writing. He points out that the things we’re talking about – growing clean food etc is applicable to everyone including children. Swearing alienates a whole swathe of potential audience. F*ck. T**t. N*b. T*t. B*gger. That’s the end of that then.
I phone Fenny to chat about the fest. We talk at length about what an amazing singer Dawn is. I suggest getting her round here to record a song. She and Fenny come round on Tuesday evening (day 2). He’s mentioned that they do Betty Wright’s Clean up Woman, so the night before, I hastily try and learn it. It’s harder that it sounds – it has three amazing guitar parts, which although on the surface sound simple, are difficult to play. The whole record is a masterpiece with impeccable production.
Sam plays guitar, Gaz bass and Tyler drums. We’ve bitten off a bit more than we can chew with Clean up Woman but persevere and get down a rough and ready version. We record it live. Dawn sings using headphones, so the rest of them hear her voice properly for the first time at the first playback. They’re stunned.
Once we’ve got it down, we blast through Shoorah Shoorah a few times – that’s much easier with only 3 chords and we get a better recording.
I get the taste for recording back. My default inspiration has always been American R&B, most of which was recorded in very basic studios such as Sun and Stax. That’s what I’ve always tried to emulate with my set-up and on a good day it works.
Afterwards, I feel that we haven’t done Clean up Woman justice, so I suggest recording the backing track again. Sam, Gaz and Tyler come round on Friday (day 5). We quickly realise that it’s almost impossible to play without the vocal so we listen to the record several times and count out every bar. They play the backing track and I count out the bars like a conductor. I’ll put the other 2 guitar parts on then hopefully get Dawn and Fenny back to do their bits.
Earlier on day 5 Jon comes and starts filming for the series of little documentaries that we’re working on. The idea is to capture the ranch and its weaving threads in a gentle rustic stylee.
For so long I’ve been banging on about giving up all processed food and eating as much of my own as possible. It’s not easy but I’m doing OK – today is Sunday – day 7. Eventually, I’ll keep chickens for eggs and feed them from stuff grown on the ranch – they have a valuable role in organic gardening. If I was out in the wild somewhere clean, I’d have no qualms about catching and eating fish, but I’m not, so for the time being at least, it looks like I’m nearly a vegan.
There’s more to it than that though. I’m getting more and more interested in the value of diet in targeting specific health issues. There are a whole bunch of doctors banging on about it. The best way to study it is to live it.
I decided to get bees in Spring when there were hardly any wild ones about and Beryl was nattering about them. I put the hive out and got some swarm lure, but nothing happened. I thought it was too late for this year, then out of the blue last week, Dewy phoned and said he knew someone who was selling a colony. They’re nicely settled in. Buzz buzz.