The Ranch …

is a scruffy field and a scruffy allotment above the arsehole corner of an arsehole Northern town.

Once behind the secret door however, at certain times in high summer, you could mistake it for California or Tuscany.

It’s spring. Incandescent in its shimmering electric greens emerging from the well-managed hedges, punctuated with the fluffy white of blackthorn blossom, in lots of crisp Easter sun.

And that view – especially from the top floor of the greenhouse. I showed Celia (an allotmentera) and King Richard at work a photo. Richard immediately commented that the top floor, with the double doors wide open would make a perfect gin terrace.

Blackthorn blossom


There’s some truth in his observation, as the lads have been swilling ales up there when I’ve been at work.

We’re not quite ready for gin though, as a G&T without ice is a crime (lemon is passé – it has to be lime these days). Once the substation is finished, however there’ll be a custom drinks fridge and ice maker.

The triple compost bin suite in the original allotment is now functional and the beds are all mulched, awaiting their charges. I’ve started on the big job of drains under the lean-to. Yes, I know. Starting yet another job before finishing the last one!

Louise’s dad used to jokingly refer to gardening as peasant work. It’s quite apt for an ultimate peasant like me.

Gin terrace


The greenhouse continues to be a childlike delight for a pooh-eeyore-tigger hybrid like me. (Where’s piglet?)

The cooler ground floor is the perfect potting/pottering shed and the much-hotter top floor is spread with trays of healthy seedlings, some of which (peas, broad beans and various salad leaves) are ready for hardening-off, with a view to planting out next week.

I’ve spent a lot of dosh at LBS polythine on trays, drip hose and fittings, giving me everything I need for fully automated watering.

Gazing from the gin terrace affords a splendid overview of the hedges, hives (both doing very well) and the field beds, which are already half full: wheat; rye; black barley; garlic; onions; spinach; lettuce; rocket; rhubarb; raspberries and first early spuds (Swift and Foremost).

I finally grew a shitake mushroom from the logs that I inoculated 3 years ago. I cooked it as part of a fry-up but was disappointed. It had a slimy texture (like that time that I accidentally ate snails in Spain) and I found the flavour (a bit garlicky) nauseating.

Greenhouse downstairs


As ever, the As above, so below principle applies – i.e. the workings of the ranch microcosm, apply to the wider world. Take science for example. I’ve been bumbling along gardening badly for years, but still managing to grow stuff using no science. Plant science is so developed – literally down to molecular level – and is harnessed widely in commercial growing, but it doesn’t quite capture that exquisite feel for nature, that can’t be measured. Both approaches have their validity. Now I’m somewhere in the middle with my solar set-up and irrigation etc.

Likewise with Covid science. By working in the thick of it we get a ‘feel’ for what’s actually going on. How full Intensive Care is and so on. Then there’s the pure science coming out, which doesn’t capture the human experience of it all. I look at both sides, and hover somewhere in the middle.

Today’s ward round (where I spend half an hour walking round looking at everything) was spectacular. Everything is bursting forth and looking more vibrant and healthy than ever before – the trees, the hedges, the fruit bushes, the seedlings. Everything. I have a feeling it’s going to be a productive year.

Fledgling road



The path from the track into the field remains a muddy problem – I foolishly drove on with the car on Monday and got stuck. I thought that if I put some flags down it would be OK. It wasn’t – they slithered all over the place. – I had to wedge mesh under the wheels.

I made a start on making it into a road, with a horizontal concrete strip but then it got too wet again. I’ve used the same method of path building for years. I incorporate whatever masonry I’ve found lying around into a matrix of concrete – a bit like crazy paving but more robust and slightly more elegant and arty, in a kind of ‘I can do wtf I want’ way.



Todmorden Rd, just round the corner from us used to have a nice ceramic sign which must be very old. One day, it cracked and fell on the pavement in pieces. The ‘Rd’ bit remained in place as did half the ‘T’. The bits lay on the ground until Louise spotted them and scooped them up – we are of the hunter-gatherer-snuffler class. Later the T bit fell off.

I incorporated the pieces into a path. I replaced the missing T with a Morris Minor wing mirror. The missing bit is placed on top in the pic. Brightonians would deffo call it art, but this is Burnley – if love is the drug, you should see my back street.

A few weeks ago, the ‘Rd’ fell off too and she quickly scooped that up too. It’s in the back yard above one of her macabre sculptures. Time and time again, I try and publicise her astonishing works, but she’s having none of it. When I tell her that she’s in Vivienne Westwood league, she says ‘Oh I’m better than her’. She’s the ultimate unartist. She just does it for herself and doesn’t particularly want anyone else to see it. ‘I don’t want anyone nicking my ideas.’

It exists either on the walls of our scruffy house; as jewellery accessorising her wardrobe or as astounding outsized cards for less than a handful of family and friends. I get bollocked even for taking pictures.


The 'Rd' from odmorden rd


The other ranch

remains convivial and surreal. I worked a 2-10 on Good Friday. I got up early and walked through the park to the ranch and saw a kingfisher for the first time in my life. I’m noticing lots of birds about. There were 4 other 20 year plus club members on as well. Our conversations can get mighty philosophical in a battled-hardened droll sardonic kinda way. Fiona is writing a book. Carole has planted the plants I gave her. Annette is in grey pyjamas at last – about time.

Bruce and I were having the same exasperated conversation that we were having twenty years ago. Yes, you’ve guessed it – other specialities refusing to accept patients, whilst continuing to ultra-patronise us as the village idiot speciality. WTF? We’re just trying to do the best for our patients. What’s wrong with these people? This is what they’re signed up for. This is what they’re paid (very well) to do. When they start snivelling, I enjoy telling them that for every ‘difficult’ patient that they have, we have a hundred. The truth is that some of them are a bit hard-work shy.

I read a story of a bloke who cups his hand over his arse when he farts, then quickly scoops it up to his nose to capture the maximum odour – there’s a metaphor in there somewhere for recalcitrants.

Shitake mushroom


There’s increasing talk about a big blowout get-together when the shit show’s over. It’s finding somewhere private, off the beaten track that’s the challenge, where a hundred or so front line workers can go apeshit. Nobody cares any more where it is. Do the government do a grant for that sort of thing?

The latest vaccine kerfuffle is about clots after the AZ one. For a start, COVID is very pro-thrombotic (= clot forming) and it’s still killing young people on our intensive care unit. Never before has a medical intervention been administered in such vast numbers, and rare side effect are inevitable. You have to weigh the risks of getting a rare side effect versus the perceived benefits. We’re in the same order as plane crashes and car accidents and being struck by lightning.

As ever I am the suspicious one peering through the crack in the curtains at the grown-ups. My mistrust of the corrupt government and massive drug companies remains (and also will remain) absolute. I insist on the right to question everything and keep an open mind. Informed consent is everything. It’s up to people to inform themselves of what’s really happening (how do the Sweden and the rest of Europe curves compare these days?)

I’m still asking the same old questions: How do innate and acquired immunity hold up against vaccine-induced immunity? Unfortunately innate immunity is difficult to research and there’s not much financial incentive to do it. Why do the government continue to ignore treatments used by large swathes of the rest of the world? I’m an idiot and every village needs one.

From top of field


Rock & Roll

rolls quietly along as ever. We now have 3 gigs booked (and they’re just the ones that we’re telling people about).

A few weeks ago, when Sam and I were both at a low musical ebb, we half-reluctantly recorded one of his songs. He was sitting on the settee, playing it on my Gretsch and I joined in on double bass. The day after, we recorded a guide tack using a single microphone – the Aston Origin that they got me for my birthday – it’s superb.

I re-recorded the double bass and Sam redid the vocals. The re-recorded vocals and bass track seemed a bit contrived somehow, so we ended up using the guide track.

Astin origin microphone


I came up with a Marresque finger-picked guitar line. When I showed Sam, he immediately came up with a single chord guitar part, finger-picked in the breaks. We quickly recorded our respective tracks, both through our home-built 20 watter. I used the Rickenbacker and Sam used the Gretsch. They’re panned left and right with Sam’s original guitar part in the middle and they sound great – a 60s Byrds feel. I put on a guide drum track, which Tyler replaced the week after. Gaz mastered it and bingo – finished. No messing about. No frills. That’s what I love about having the same tried and tested home-recording setup. I particularly want it to have its own characteristic sound. Like Sun, Chess, Stax etc.

Meanwhile the endless indecision about our tour bus persists. Keep the half-rusted, but functional 1965 breadbin on wheels and spend a fortune restoring it, or trade it in for something safe, comfortable and sensible? Hmmm. What’s the name of that band that I used to play in? If any of our gigs get cancelled, our plan B is to play out of the back of the van in a car park somewhere.