The ground has been frozen hard for a week. Fortunately, I got all the tree planting done before the cold snap. I planted 20 tree around the inner hedge. They’re from the excellent Agroforestry Research Trust. Martin Crawford advised me which varieties would do well in my climate – I’ve planted: sea buckthorn; persimonn; gage; apple trees; cornelian cherry; american elder and hazel. I’ve planted the garlic too. In American they’ve had a polar vortex, with life-threateningly low temperature in Minnesota and Chicago. Brrr. Here, it’s just winter but because it snowed down south (as opposed to Scotland or up North), the media has gone crazy and a bit of snow in Cornwall is headline news – the English will always snivel about the weather – it’s a national pastime.
It’s been as low as minus six – I have a min/max temperature thermometer. I’m concerned for my beautiful orange tree that I planted from a pip more than thirty years ago. At the time, I went through a phase of planting citrus pips. I ended up with more than twenty in my cold bathroom – only one survived. It has long thorns – who would have thought that citrus trees had thorns? It’s never flowered – it could be a lemon or a grapefruit – I’ve no idea which. We’ve always over-wintered it in the house. This summer, I moved it up to the ranch and re-potted it. It’s now under fleece in the corner of the lean-to and I’m hoping that it will survive the freezing temperatures.
It’s rare that we get long cold snaps in this part of England – it’s the only time that I’m limited in the jobs I can do. The ground is too hard to dig or plant. I was filled with enthusiasm for getting more people involved with the ranch after New Year, but it’s still just me and the trees – I’m used to it. Who wants to shovel horse-shit on Blue Monday? There is some progress – a lad from up the street has taken on the empty bottom allotment and he’s really got stuck in and has built loads of raised beds from scaffolding planking. I’ve told him I don’t want any rent – just labour. He helped me prune the hedge.
I made a start on the greenhouse roof. Everything I do on the ranch comes out of my head – I never bother with drawings. I designed a simple A-frame construction with enough room to stand up in – a two-storey greenhouse! The dogs trollocks. I started by making two sections joined together. Sam and I hoisted them into place with considerable difficulty. Once in place, it looked massive and I realised it was too frighteningly high to access to fix the polycarbonate panelling (I’m scared of heights). I took it down and had a rethink. I’ve redesigned so it’s just four feet high, with a slightly curved top section. I’ll still be able to plant stuff in it. I’ve tried to design the greenhouse with a lot of forethought. The central section has removable boards, giving the option to dig and install a heat pump in the future. The brick footing walls will nicely accommodate a rocket stove. If I ever get any poultry, they will live in the bottom section in winter, providing heat. They’ll be safe from foxes. It’s an example of what permaculture is all about – sustainable gardening and making the most of what’s already there.
Rock & Roll
‘What a piece of work is man’ says Withnall in his Hamlet monologue at the end of the greatest film ever made. I like the concept of ‘a piece of work’. No matter how un-confident you are, if you have an idea for something – making a record for example, then if you see it through and complete it to the best of your ability, you’ve succeeded. You transcended doubt and self-belief has triumphed. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. I also like the notion of escaping in impeccable craftsmanship. There’s a lot of it in Japanese art and philosophy.
Sam and I are building a 5-watt valve amp for Lee. I suppose that’s an example of a piece of work. We’ve nearly finished the cab and it’s very satisfying – everything done by hand. We’ve got the website up and running for our amp building business. We’ve designed three great-sounding amps, all with the same robust construction – hopefully we’ll find a niche – hartleyamplification.com
We rehearsed at The Golden Lion last week. WAKA had very kindly got the upstairs room all ready for us, with the PA all set up and ready to go. I’m running the open mic night there the 14th Feb and I’m DJing (Northern) at Gig’s birthday bash on the 1st March. We’re doing a warm-up for our Salford gig at the 160 cafe on the 16th Feb.
I went up to the ranch earlier and picked some kale for our Sunday dinn. We’re also having my potatoes, parsley and rhubarb. I’m not doing too badly with eating clean food – when I do eat processed food, I can certainly taste the difference. I had a frozen pizza from Aldi last night and it tasted like cardboard.
What a view from the top of the field – bitter cold, but hauntingly and starkly beautiful. My brother Michael came up last week and brought his bow and arrows. The bow is a modern recurve one and I realised for the first time that I shoot a bow left-handed. I’m avidly researching archery for a novel. The differences between the traditional English long bow and the ancient recurve bow used for centuries across several different civilisations is fascinating.
In the book I jokingly introduced the concept of Infrequently asked questions (as opposed to FAQs). I noted that I’d never been asked anything about anything by anybody, so I asked myself my own questions. ‘What’s your favourite guitar Stevie?’
‘What are you listening to these days Stevie?’
‘Well, funny you should ask. Of all things, I’ve been listening to a Maria Callas number – Norma from Casta Diva by Bellinin – it’s exquisite. I don’t know why, because I’ve never liked opera before. Maybe it’s from listening to the intro of Faithless’s Drifting Away, or maybe it’s because it’s beyond anything I could ever create myself. I’ve also been going back to my R&B roots and listening to the likes of Neighbour Neighbour by Jimmy Hughes and Cry before I go by John Lee Hooker. I’ve just bought Irma Franklin’s excellent Hittin on Nothin