Primroses at the top of the shady lane

The primroses, in their exquisite pastel yellows are out on the shady lane, which leads past the ancient 17th century farms, down to the ranch.

The grim realisation dawned a week last Friday that NOTHING, or at least hardly anything will ever be the same again. The ranch is the same though – spring trundles forward unconsciously and the magnificent view, tempered daily by fleeting shades of grey and pastel changes, is consistent. A tenner was worth a tenner on that Friday. Now it’s worth less than nine quid and it will be less than eight quid next week.

Mist over Witchcraft hill

I’ve been as busy as possible. The 1965 van has come out of its abandonment and has been working hard at its mountain goat best. Nothing has any resale value any more. The only value of any object is its intrinsic value. An easily repairable work horse suddenly becomes most useful. Daily trips of building supplies down that crumbling rugged track – timber, aggregate, fencing. On Wednesday I went to Trawden over the tops, surrounded by magnificent countryside. I worked my way back via Colne, in and out of fencing places and builder’s merchants – the van negotiates the winding country roads with effortless ease and almost seems happy. I like where I live.

Van at the builder's yard

The floods are only just beginning to subside. On the hillside, rivulets still flow amidst the mud. The first trip down was punctuated with lashing rain and I had butterflies in my stomach. I was scared that the van would get stuck, but it didn’t. All 6 of those handsome aeroplane-like side windows are leaking as are all the doors (UK split screens have just 2 pop-out windows, mine, a South African import, has 6). I would have taken the car (a 4-wheel drive Volvo estate with 200 000 miles on the clock), but the sheets of poly-carbonate wouldn’t fit in the back.

Van on workhorse duties

My week off has been dedicated to preparation, particularly on the ranch. I’m trying to gear myself up psychologically for what’s coming and my sleep pattern is all over the place. The main solace has been rich red wine and good food after a day’s heavy labour. My veggiedom is out of the window – I’ll eat what the fuckety-fuck I fancy.

I’ve been in a bit of a daze, unsure what to tackle first. Apart from finishing the greenhouse, the number one priority is to make a roadway from the track into the field – past the long downward sloping beds towards the barn. Being able to get a vehicle on and off the field has become imperative. In dry weather, it’s no problem but the endless rain has transformed the existing thoroughfare into an eight-inch deep mud-bath.

Filling it with rubble and covering with concrete is the longer-term goal, but it would be pointless without putting in drainage first. Twice now, I’ve discovered old land drains when digging. The first ones were metal, which I picked up when dowsing for water in the main allotment (a lot of people are cynical about dowsing, because there’s no scientific evidence for it – it works. End of story). The second was the summer before last when I started digging the well in the field. These were 8″ diameter clay pipes – probably older than the metal ones. Both lots were about two feet deep in the clay. It’s clear that the land has been carefully managed in the past. I’d love to know more of its history.

Digging trenches

I’m digging trenches. The first is a horizontal one along the bottom of the beds. Forked arteries will then drain down to the run-off around the well. The horizontal one goes down to the clay level. The arteries will have to be deeper, because the slutchy top soil will have to come off before concreting begins. The diggings go in the wheelbarrow, half way up the hill to the area next to the greenhouse, which I’m slowly levelling off in anticipation of a poly-tunnel. It’s all heavy physical labour. Many times, people have said to me ‘Why don’t you hire a mini-digger?‘ It’s not practical that’s why – I simply wouldn’t get one on in this wet. Besides I like digging. It’s what keeps my weight down. I match barrow loads to my weight – more belly flab = more barrow loads.

Once dug, the trenches will be filled with an 8″ plastic land drain surrounded by rubble and topped with chippings. Elias, Sam and I have already dug the horizontal one.

Hot bed

Otherwise, I’m as up to date as I can be gardening-wise. Every propagator is full and labelled and dated. I’ve started to use the roof space in the greenhouse. I’ve made one of the propagators into a hot bed by filling the bottom with fresh manure. Mid-March is the time for first earlies to go in but I’m waiting a couple of weeks to compensate for the colder higher ground. I’ve got Pentland Javelin.

Growing food locally is soon to become a desperate necessity. Cutting the wheat from the chaff becomes more than a metaphor, both on the ranch and in the wider world. My tolerance for puerile thickos, rude cunts, dullards, bourgeois delusionists and patronising dicktards is terminally exhausted.

Muddy ranch

I’ve had to reset. Now EVERYTHING that is unnecessary has gone and it’s wartime mode. All I anticipated has come to pass. The supermarket shelves are already emptying. Emma tells me it’s the same in America – at least we have the NHS here. We’re in a crisis on a level not seen since WW2.

This war will not be fought by the armed services though. It will be fought by the NHS and its magnificent staff and we’re all scared. We know that we will be overwhelmed. Many of us have vulnerable dependants.  When I started in medicine, and for several years, I kept work and home life completely and absolutely separate. That changed when I was drawn back to the big aspirational hospital in the Dirty Old Town. My colleagues are now my friends and comrades.

The usual pricks have been talking about herd immunity. Their proposals, in some people’s eyes, constitute genocide of the vulnerable. The true experts give consistent advice – act quickly and radically. Alas, It’s too late for that. There’s already been a lot of unnecessary exposure. 

At work, it’s all changed. Everyone is working flat-out to prepare. Erin and I have shared the early shift today to cover for a colleague who is self-isolating. The department is re-configured in anticipation. The atmosphere is nervously charged and there’s still a lot of uncertainty as advice changes on a daily basis.

It’s as if the amassed enemy is appearing over the horizon – like in one of those epic films starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery. We’re doing the best that we imaginably can and our trenches are dug.