Summer has tumbled into autumn, with a brief late-summer hot and sunny reprieve which has given way to North-west lashing rain and endless sogginess.

It’s been a mixed season, with a late deterioration. Two of the four courgette plants got some kind of white mould on the crowns and died.

All the brassicas were completely decimated.

The beetroot all bolted in spring but later plantings have done ok.

Soft fruit has been paltry, but there’s an increase in the apples. It’ll be interesting to see the difference next year now I’ve got bees.

Beans and peas however have done really well and I’ve had the first hazel crop from the field, as the whips planted five years ago start to mature. I picked them all before the squirrels discovered them. Hazel nuts represent a big step forward in nutritional self-sufficiency, so It’s quite a thrill. The four walnut trees are also getting established after a slow start.

Hazel nuts

I noticed a foul ammonia/rotting flesh smell coming from the potato store and when I looked a lot were mush. Fortunately these were just the small loose ones piled on the top – the bigger cleaner ones underneath are all separate.

Such is my general gardening naivete, that I had to research it to find out that it was potato blight – Phytophthora infestans. This is the fungus that wiped out a large proportion of Ireland’s potato harvest in 1845. It is attributed to the so-called Irish potato famine in which around a million Irish people starved and around another million emigrated. The term is a grotesquely patronising condescending racist one with no historical accuracy.

The fungus did indeed wipe out Ireland’s mono-culture potatoes which constituted around 20% of the island’s food production. The country however had a highly accomplished and diverse farming industry more than capable of self-sufficiency with or without spuds. At the time, it was a colony of the British Empire. The real reason for the famine was the export by the ‘Empire‘ of the majority of Ireland’s home grown produce.

This year's spud harvest

I’m nowhere near as clever as the Irish and my potato store constitutes a large majority of my DIY food supply. I’ve foolishly made the mistake of planting the same variety (Desiree) for the last few years. The lesson is diversification, which is universal to permaculture and organic gardening. I’ll have to burn all the straw that the potatoes have been stored in, then plant next year’s crop in a completely different area + use blight-resistant varieties.

Usually, at this time of year I’m getting five or so delicious juicy figs every couple of days. This year, a new arrival is eating them all as soon as they approach ripeness. It’s not the wasps, although they are hyper-abundant this year – the characteristic marks of wasp-gorging are easily recognisable. It’s something that is scooping out the contents smoothly. Also something has been depositing damsons on the shed roof, leaving them a couple of days, then eating them. Is it really possible that an animal is intelligent enough to leave fruit to ripen in the sun before eating it? Possible culprits are: squirrels; rats; voles; magpies and crows. I’d have to stage a long vigil to find out.

Fig fiend

I’m fascinated by the fact that most human cultures are dependent on grain to survive, given that it’s so labour intensive to produce. I’ve experimented a couple of times trying to grow it. This year I grew four roughly one metre patches – a spelt, an old-English wheat, a patch from ears that I found in Linda’s hay and a patch of rye. The rye did better than the rest, growing half as tall again with long ears packed with seeds. Unfortunately, I don’t know the variety – I got them from Brown envelope seeds in Ireland and they don’t know the variety either. I was going to have a go at milling the seed, but I’m thinking of creating a new bed, and planting a much bigger row.

My friend Jon is a staunch vegan and we constantly debate the merits of a 100% plant-based diet and the wider issues of ultra-rich people influencing the way that we live – environment destruction, climate change and so on. We share a common interest in nutrition and incorporating clean food growing into everyday urban life.

I’ve always been convinced that the solution is to grow your own – not only food, but also micro-climate and environment. Now it’s full-on mainstream and mega-trendy. It might be of interest to other people, so we’re making a film, comprising ten 3-minute episodes – a bit quaint, mildly surreal – it’s looking good so far.

I’ve realised how addicted we are as a society to processed foods and how incredibly difficult it is to change entrenched habits. Clearly I have a massive advantage in growing my own. Louise has taken it on board and our meals are improving on a daily basis. My staple for weeks has been potatoes and green beans. Yum. There’s so much to learn about cooking and preserving home-grown produce.


Last time, I talked about having a go at trying to eat as much as my own food as possible + avoiding anything processed. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. I’d say I’ve achieved about 80 or 90% success. I’ve been pretty much vegan, living off mainly my potatoes and veg, and I had a whole seven weeks without drinking.

The biggest hurdle is being a dick from Burnley – I can’t suddenly disengage from my community and family. For example, Sam and I walked up the park yesterday with the dog and he had a full English in the cafe. I had a cappuccino and a toasted current teacake, but I couldn’t resist mine-sweeping his left-overs. Similarly, when Elias and I, very late in the season, finally made it to the special place and sat at table 41, no way on earth were we going to drink f’ing lemonade.

Table 41
The other Ranch:

South down the motorway to the dirty old town – I work in a Major Trauma Centre with the finest bunch of people you could ever hope to meet – Smithy and I drive Smithy-mobiles and have old-fart conversations. Erin, Lizzy and I make outrageous off-the-wall observations about the soap-opera-like goings on in a louche kinda way – ‘mi bitches, I’ll wear mi sovereign rings and mi gold chain and you just call mi daddy’ – we need that oblique sense of humour – it keeps us (in)sane – we’re planning a promo vid to attract colleagues – that will be a hoot. Thomo and I ended up having adjoining desks and sharing muso musings as predicted in the book. There’s a lot of love in that place.

A couple of weeks ago we had a trauma call for young lad whose car had gone under the back of an HGV at speed. He was very severely injured with a smashed-up chest. The helicopter service had got to him pretty quickly and gave him blood by the roadside and intubated him whilst the fire-brigade cut him out. We were ready when he arrived, with a full trauma team and the major haemorrhage protocol activated, with the blood ready to go.

It was clear that his chest was badly injured – within a couple of minutes we had chest drains in – Arun did the left side and I did the right side. Umang was team leading. After a few units of fresh frozen plasma and packed red cells, he was stable enough to go to CT. He’d torn his aorta – he was transferred to the neighbouring cardio-thoracic unit and they put in a stent then transferred him back. He had several other injuries to deal with, but he survived. Even a couple of years ago, he would have had no chance.

The whole thing was a triumph of teamwork and co-ordination. Throughout his hospital journey he had the benefit of the attention of at least twenty consultants and hundreds of other staff. It wasn’t just exceptional – it was almost miraculous. If a single word could sum it up, it would be science. All of the skills involved are the product of the very best of modern science. The blood given to him by the roadside is probably the single most important intervention that saved him – Whosoever saveth a life, saveth life entire.

If anyone tries to engage me in political debate I just tell them about the NHS.

Despite having two science degrees, I’ve never been big on research, but I’ve been getting more interested lately. I’m intrigued by the way that science can be manipulated by the rich and powerful to serve their own agenda and I’ve been looking at some of the research on climate-change.

Dirty old town sunset


Rock & Roll:

Rock & Roll is neat. I deliberately don’t do gigs in Spring and Summer, but we did a couple with Danbert Nobacon & Kiri – they live in North America and were on tour. The second gig was at Rosemount Working Men’s club in Bacup – I loved it. They have a nice little scene with the local old punky musos. They asked us to play on a Saturday night which I’m looking forward to – I’m itching to get playing again.

Our fourty-year-on punk project is coming on nicely – I’ve done a few more interviews and Casey came over and did some portraits. Ticker’s interview was the best. He’s not called Ticker Le Punk for nothing. He nailed how non-judgemental and accepting it all was. I’m realising more and more how massively influential the scene was – particularly how the Rock against Racism movement completely changed the status quo in Britain. Boff observed that all the old punks that he knows have livelihoods in benevolent areas – teaching, healthcare, the arts and so on.

NOTSENSIBLES - belated non-trendsetters

I’ve restored a big old lawn mower that was left on one of my other allotments. It was good fun – everything is so accessible compared to working on a car.

Elias and I managed to get away for a couple of nights in the van. We grabbed the last two hot sunny September days and managed a late annual trip to our favourite place. There is no finer vehicle on earth for small-scale glamping.

It started raining heavily on Sunday so we just chucked everything in the van and headed for home. The rain was so heavy that the roads were like rivers and I was really scared. When we arrived home safely, I decided that it’s time to sell the van. It’s served us well – years of festivals and gigs and camping trips, but I don’t get enough use out of it, and I have other plans – I’m weighed down with an overwhelming sense of clutter and I need to get rid of a lot of stuff.

Erin keeps saying ‘I hope me and Lizzy are in your next book’. It looks like they will be. I’ve decided to write a sequel to Painting Snails. All the themes from the first book are still ongoing and there are new characters. The story is even more fascinating. I see myself as an observer and narrator of an unfolding drama – it will be from birthday to birthday just like the last one, only this time I’m hoping to write it as I go. The blog and the book are kind of interchangeable.

Last camping trip with van?