Whenever I arrive at the ranch, I wander round, having a look at everything. I jokingly call it a ward round. A bit of weeding here, a bit of watering there. It’s one of the best bits – I get to see the leaves and blossom appear. Observation is the be all and end all of everything up here – it’s a three-stage process: observe and understand principles working in nature; design and adapt to local climate; make it happen. It’s in the big religions too. I like lists and Buddhism is full of lists. Some bright 21st-century spark has spotted that mindfulness is good. Of course it is – it’s only been around for several thousand years – it’s certainly one of the Buddhist biggies. They haven’t spotted the other bits that go with it though such as conviction; energy; concentration and wisdom. Mindfulness sits smack bang in the middle. It all fits with the above observation thingy.

I’ve got the roof frame on the greenhouse with Sam’s help – it was a monumental task – especially as I’m scared of heights. I’m currently working out how to cover it as cheaply as possible. We’ve had a very dry Spring and I was getting worried about another drought but it’s rained solidly for the last 2 days so panic over for now. I’m trying to finish the well liner, topping it off with sandstone dug up from various places on the ranch, plus some Victorian rope edging tiles.


I’m concerned about the bees or rather the lack of them. I’m sure that usually at this time, there a loads of bumble bees. This year there are hardly any. I’ve been debating for a couple of years whether to get bees – I already have a hive but have doubts about the extra work. Beryl keeps mythering about it. She and her daughter Lola fancy themselves as bee keepers. Dewy has given me good advice – swarming season is now. You can buy a swarm but they’re expensive. If he can catch a swarm from his own bees, he’ll happily give me one, but it’s very unpredictable. I’ve decided to put the hive out and use some swarm lure and see what happens.

I’m still hoping to do a plant sale in the van. I keep planting seeds – little and often.

In the field, the beds are already pretty full: Wheat; rye; peas; beetroot; onions; garlic; carrots; horseradish; rhubarb. The spuds went in last (Good) Friday as tradition dictates. There are beans, tomatoes and chillies coming up in the propagators and I’ve got lots of salad leaves and parsley and dill.

It was Easter last weekend and it was gloriously and continuously sunny. What’s more, it was the full moon and I was off work until Easter Monday. Early on Friday morning, with a small bag of provisions, I set off to the ranch and stayed there all weekend – it was bliss – heaven on earth. I watched the sunrise and the moonrise and pottered about doing not a lot in particular. Saturday was perfect for a party, but I was selfish and kept it to myself – I needed it – it’s good to have a rest. If you nurture the earth for long enough, guess what, it will nurture you right back. Far from the madding crown – just me and the trees.

April full moon

The climate change movement is interesting – I’ve read how it’s been infiltrated by the banks and giant corporations for their own profiteering ends. My lifestyle has suddenly become enormously trendy – i.e. incorporating growing your own food into daily urban life. Even in the middle of winter, I have enough of my own food to survive. I’ve been experimenting with a stew made from soaked dried runner bean seeds (very similar in taste to kidney beans), pickled gherkins and beetroot + whatever leaves are growing (= kale & parsley mid-winter). I heard a Siberian woman talking about her native cooking on woman’s hour. She’d made a borscht which was very similar to my stew. Another easy recipe is a variation of chips & gravy (fried potatoes + lots of veg in the gravy.) I still have another couple of months of potatoes in the store. We are so conditioned to eat processed supermarket food. I find it really difficult to make tasty recipes with my own stuff.

There’s a trend in Emergency Medicine at the moment called Wellness. Some brilliantly perceptive ones have worked out that if you do a couple of wellness modules and get some some exercise, you can be buffered against the incessantly harrowing soul-sucking pressures of Emergency Medicine. To me, being outdoors is the key.

Nobody can portray the grisly vernacularity of large sections of places like Burnley and Salford – the blokes in particular have a dry sardonic cynicism deeply etched into their DNA, me included. Talking about ‘wellness’ in certain pubs would be a swift ticket to getting your head kicked in.

Burnley-boy scepticism aside, I’m interested in how medical people balance the onslaughts of such an intense job with a decent life. I’ve seen suicide, addiction, serious illness, fucked up family life. Working in an ED ticks all the PTSD boxes. How do people survive without getting completely destryed? Doctors are invincible and if by some weird twist of fate, they got sick, there would be a dignified and discreet service to help get them better – of course there would. It’s a no-brainer – if the doctors are down who will run the NHS?

Cynicism aside, I know exactly how wellness works. It involves generating an environment where conviviality and trust can naturally flourish. It necessitates gatherings where common ground outstrips differences. Above all though, it’s about tackling loneliness and isolation. I’m sure the ‘L’ word comes into it somewhere. An exercise in wellness would be a camping weekend on the ranch – there would the finest party requisites and music – a simple formula – love conquers all – above all, be kind.


The tractor broke down again and once again gave me a Zen in the art of … lesson. I knew it was a fuel blockage. I changed the fuel filters. It worked for a bit, then broke down again. I noticed that the lift pump had stopped working so I bought a new one. Again, it worked for a bit then broke down again. I then took the fuel pipe off the fuel tap, just under the tank. Nothing came out – it was a blocked fuel tap. As usual, I should have started with the simple and obvious, and worked my way down. True to form, if there’s a hard way of doing something, I’ll find it. I used the tractor to pull a bowser full of water – weighing about a ton – up the field. It handled it no bother.

I’ve been wondering about the ideal vehicle. Motoring will change drastically over the next 10 years. Volvo have already stopped making cars with fossil fuel engines – they’ve gone completely electric. I still believe that having a vehicle that you can sustainably repair yourself is a valuable thing. I did a bit of research and it would take 75 1kwh solar panels to fully charge a small electric car. I was talking to Ratty at work – he swears by LPG. He has it on his Land Rover. I’d love to have the ultimate all-round vehicle that did everything. The van, despite its 54 year oldness comes pretty close – I wonder if I could get it converted to LPG or better still bio-gas (processed farts).

Tractor & bowser

Rock & Roll:

On the date of the spring equinox, I found myself staring out of a Travel Lodge window on the edge of an industrial estate. I watched an exquisite full moon rising and I felt miserably trapped. I was there for a life support course – a three-dayer. I’ve never liked these courses – I find the test at the end patronising and cruel, taking away any chance of enjoyment of the course. I think it’s such a hopelessly outdated way of teaching – especially professionals who already do it on a daily basis. At least one course has scrapped the test in favour of continuous assessment. ‘Have you read your manuals like good girls and boys?’ Seriously? **** ***. There’s a humming machine outside the window and I don’t sleep.

Back home, and I’m utterly exhausted and traumatised. Quiet note to self ‘never never again’. I had an afternoon of complete relaxation fortified with the finest wines and a large pizza and just as I was psychologically preparing to fall asleep in the chair, Louise suggested going to see Ticker’s Punk band Urban Blitzz. It was the last thing I felt like doing. ‘We never do anything.’ She said.

15 minutes later, we were on our way to The Tapster’s Promise in Colne in Gaz’s car. Ticker had phoned earlier in the evening asking me to go and take my guitar. I’d said no, explaining my post-course shreddedness. He was pleased to see us. I got up at the end and we did a version of Telephone together then Gaz and I did a couple of numbers with Urban Blitzz’s drummer. It was gloriously shambolic, but I loved it – the pure essence of punk rock. Gaz was laughing at my histrionics. It can’t have been that bad, because the day after, I got a message from the bar owner asking us to do a gig there. I also got asked to DJ.

We recorded a 3-song session for Radio Larne. It came about after Gary Fahy read my book. He does an indie show. By coincidence, it went out on the day of Lyra McKee’s funeral. I was pleased that we reached the airways of Northern Ireland.

The bottom of the field is the most sheltered and gets the best of the midday sun plus all the runoff in heavy rain. The inner and outer hedges now form a leafy lane into which are interspersed: cornelian cherry; mulberry; an edible haw; medlar; quince; rasberry; blackberry; redcurrant; blackcurrant; gage; persimmon and goji. The trees are good company at this time of year.

stray cats - she made them a little house
leafy lane