Monday 5th November 2018
I love this picture – there’s so much going on. Behind is one of the best views for miles around. The historic hill on the left with the panoramic vista over the town. You can just make out how the remnants of the track drops towards the town centre – almost certainly an old pack horse trail. A strip of sunlight runs across the middle, highlighting the viaduct built in 1847. Between us is the ghastly St Peter’s Centre and to our right is the straight mile of the canal.
The three horses have run to the corner of the field to see what’s going on. Billy (son of Olive) is a proper lurcher. Mark needed an IBC tank to put diesel into, from the leaking heating tank at his mum’s old house in Grassington. He reckons it will be fine on the roof of his Skoda estate – I’m a bit wary (caution is my middle name) – it’s a very windy day.
I’ve put the tank on the trailer and pulled it up to the top of the gnarly track with the tractor – the Skoda would have struggled. Mark is from a farming background – he has a licence to collect tree seed, which he sells to nurseries.
The tractor was made in 1954. When I first considered getting a vehicle to help with the work on the field, I studied the form very carefully. Quad? Kuboto? – far too nickable. The historic Fergie was still widely available and you can still get all the parts – people are buying them up and exporting them all over the world to places like China and Africa – I thought I might have made a mistake at first, because the field is steep in places and it can get very wet, but the tractor handles it fine. This summer it pulled the bowser (weighing about a ton) up the steepest part. It’s a truly magnificent piece of engineering – so utterly simple and functional. I took me a while to work out why each rear wheel has its own brake pedal – if one wheel starts slipping, you put the brake on and all the drive goes to the other back wheel – genius.
The picture could almost have been taken fifty years ago and it represents the enormous value of a way of life that has died out in so many places. It represents an alternative to the terminally destructive consumerist madness that is the norm of today. Friends helping each other out – there’s no money changing hands – we’re not putting anything into the coffers of the already mega-rich – Mark will get me another tank and help me out on the ranch for an afternoon at some point. Both the old and the new have value, but a lot of the old is forgotten – a lot of old gardening techniques will never be bettered. A scythe and a pair of shears is honestly more efficient than a strimmer.
The ranch is a sprawling enterprise where the jobs are endless. How to prioritise? How to avoid getting distracted? Everywhere I look, there are unfinished projects: Demi-sheds A&B, the greenhouse, the new well. I always say that the lessons to be learned on the ranch can be applied anywhere in life. This year I’ve learned loads about working efficiently – the propagators are closer together with their own water butts and a feed from the tanks at the top keeps them topped up – less time spent watering. The kitchen waste goes straight onto the beds with a covering of manure – the compost bin step is excluded. I’ve learned to concentrate on a couple of projects at a time and alternate between gardening and project days – this Winter – finish the bottle well surround and the greenhouse. Prune the hedge, get loads of plants ready to sell in Spring.
I’m not big on anniversaries but there are two that cement the year – the going back and forward of the clocks. They neatly divide the year into two practical halves. November to the end of March is the indoor 5/12 and April to October is the outdoor 7/12. It just so happens that the Winter portion coincides with the Celtic festival of Samhain which is ok by me. I love all of it. In Winter I can do more indoor stuff.
I can’t remember which came first – the book or the blog. I like the idea of juxtaposing the outdoor and the indoor life. I was sitting in the staff room with Liz and Arun last week and we were talking about writing. They both dabble and they both said that they do it because it’s therapeutic and it makes them feel better. I never thought about it like that.
When I had the idea for the book, I never had any intention of putting in the harrowing stuff – it just came out – a sneaky catharsis. Maybe Liz and Arun are right? As for the day job in the dirty old town – that certainly wasn’t going in. Regardless, it snuck under my skin and wrote itself five chapters. Writing is one of my many apprenticeships. I learned the process. I learned the ropes. It was an introduction. A starting point. Now I can do it. I’ve cemented my style. I’ve found my stride. I have at least four stored in my head. Books that is. That conversation was the cue to get back on it. I’ll bang out my first novel – it’s rather graphic in places, so I’ll probably have to go underground. JFDI.
Rock & Roll has ground to a halt and I’m without a band. Fate is telling me something. I don’t like playing on my own – I can’t bear the thought of being a folk twat or having the most banal of titles ‘singer songwriter’. I’m longing to find a good double bass player – I decided years ago that most of my songs are better suited to double bass but I can’t find anyone to play it. I did once play with a fantastic double bass player at the magic weekend in Wales – he picked up my songs instantly and played then sympathetically, but he’s way away in America. I have my first ‘proper gig’ coming up in Feb, so I’ll have to find a band by then – there are tickets and it’s on a website. It’s high time I did a gig in the Dirty Old Town. Meanwhile, I’m going to sit on the settee and record all my songs one by one. Here’s Don’t Fence Me In – Cole Porter’s 1934 anthem of personal freedom. Where are The Andrews Sisters?
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