Ramblings and wild adventures


It’s 11:27 on the 25th of November 2018. I’m on the ranch. I’m sitting at the table that I made to write the book and I’ve finally got to grips with using a laptop up here. I abandoned the traditional ‘work’ model long ago, but nevertheless Sunday is a day for relative chilling. I normally come up here and potter. Today’s goal is to write a piece and share it before 4pm chill-o-clock. It’s cold so I’ve lit the stove. I’m facing westwards with the stove to my left. I’m under a large lean-to affair which serves as a multi-purpose work space and hardening-off area for plants. The back of the lean-to is half-and-half bottle walls and re-used doubled glazed units. To my left is a raised mini mezzanine area which is the driest spot on the ranch. I use it for spreading out seeds to dry. It’s also a little gypsy caravan-like affair, with the ability to make a bed. There’s a little one-burner camping stove and a few utensils and a compost toilet at the far end. The stove pipe runs up the middle and acts as a radiator – it gets toasty warm in there. The default climate here is damp so it’s important to have the ability to dry things out.

Writing table

The two pictures below say an awful lot about common-sense gardening (or permaculture as some people call it). On the left is the pea-house in its new position – we moved it yesterday. I came up with the idea simply as a way of giving peas an early start but it’s turned out to be something more – so simple yet so utterly functional. It has four legs and the idea is to move it to a new spot every year. It blew over in the gales one year, so it’s secured in position with four posts which are screwed to the legs. Once in position, I fill it with hedge clippings and pile fresh manure and a sprinkling of volcanic dust on top. It has a guttering which feeds a water butt.

Over winter, the weight of the compost settles down the clippings and in spring I plonk well-grown pea seedlings grown in trays directly on top, then earth up the edges and water in. It works astonishingly well. The plants are quite close together. I’d say the yield is double or even triple that of a conventional bed. In late autumn, I move it and chop up the pea sticks and left over plants and put a layer of manure on top. A large raised mound is left behind ready to plant with something else next year. At the bottom of the picture is a row of yellow flag iris which has dense fibrous rhizomes forming a living road over soggy ground. There’s a big patch further down – I noticed that the tractor wheels didn’t sink in when I drove over it. The bottom of the beds get very soggy in wet weather – the iris will allow me to drive the tractor along the border and cut the adjoining grass.

On the right is the well and that represents another important aspect of common-sense gardening – namely forward planning of infrastructure. It also represents a way of resolving uncertainty by observing and waiting patiently. All the water tanks are already full so why waste time building a well in winter? Well we had our worst ever drought this summer and I want to be ready for if and when it happens again, so I want to finish the liner. Above the well was quite a steep slope – potentially dangerous for falling in. After a period of observation, and realising that it wasn’t quite right as it was, the idea came to dig out a walkway around the well, merging into a flat concrete area that will slope downwards, allowing run-off from the hill to feed the terraced water cress beds below. Simple.

Pea house
Rock & Roll

I was getting despondent because Bish packed in and I was lost, feeling too old and weary to try and find another band, but then, like the well, things clicked back in place. I realised it was just a case of getting on with it, except with a bit more focus and self-belief. I was inspired after watching an Egon Schiele documentary. What’s more, I found a band by accident, I never imaged that Gary (Notsensibles bassist) would want to play my songs. He only lives at the top of the street and all I did was ask him and he said yes. He’s already nailed some of the more difficult bass lines. As for a drummer, one turned up not from my music background and contacts, but from my medical career. He’s a paramedic. We’ve done 3 gigs so far and it’s been entirely satisfactory. Last Saturday, we played at Halton Mill in Lancaster, and it was one of my favourite gigs ever – lots of threads of serendipity from the past woven together into a perfect combination. One day, we’ll weave sails and balloons and drift to a better place.

Halton Mill with Gaz & Eamonn
Commoners Choir, Halton Mill, Lancaster.

When I moved out of my mum and dad’s, I rented a house in one of the town’s most run down areas. It was about a year after Notsensibles split. Close by were a bunch of Southern hippys, who like many had moved up here when housing was dirt cheap. They ran a whole-food co-op (it was cheap – I had no money). By and by, we trod a bit of common ground and they helped out with my fanzine and we did shared music events. It took me many years to realise that they were simply the previous generation’s renegades. Playing in a punk band is a perfect vehicle for being a complete musical snob.

They moved on to restoring a big mill. Chris Coates, one of their number tried to get into university to study architecture but they wouldn’t let him. He subsequently masterminded the building of an energy-efficient self build village on an old factory site on the bank of the river Lune and won a number of building awards in the process – ha – two fingers up to the establishment. I bumped into him at Kathy Reade’s birthday party and he asked me to come along and play along with Boff’s Commoners Choir. We were all together at Halton Mill and it was wonderful. Boff and I have trod similar paths since we met at school – the printed word is a common theme. I took two letterpress machines and printed a little memento to give out to everyone there – the smell of ink all glistening and fresh – it was the icing on the cake.

I love the English language for its variety and subtlety. There is so much scope for mystery and magic with a wealth of words including: metaphor; allegory; analogy; innuendo; cryptic. Again, like the well, I’ve been itching to write another book. I have at least five novels running round my head and finally one of them has come to the fore. There are a few threads running through it – one of them is the insanity of guns. I’m taking my inspiration from a real life event where a nutter shot a load of children. The back story is that he was known to the police and the details of what actually happened leading up to the shooting is under secret wraps by the government for at least a hundred years – he had some seriously dodgy connections with some very high-up establishment figures.

As well as that, I’m going to write a Painting Snails 2. The first book is me on my own, creating a magic garden. Volume 2 is what happens when I open the door and share it. It will follow the same format of using the annual cycle of the ranch as a framework except this time I will write it prospectively – a chapter a month. Each chapter will have its own woodblock print and I’ll release each chapter as I write in the same way that Charles Dickens serialised his books in a London newspaper, before they were published.

Recording Painting Snails

Last night we recorded a song in the back room for Sam & James’ new 2-piece band Bulbeater. It was a wonderful little exercise in the way that we like to do music – no frills just like Sun studios. They used all their own equipment including a big drum kit and a hefty bass stack. We recorded bass and drums using just 3 microphones (with the bass stack in the kitchen) then they put on the vocals. Neat. They were like two school children on a school trip, because they’d managed to get all their equipment into James’ tiny car – even though they’d only driven down the road, it was their first fully autonomous outing.

Brrr – it’s nippy and it’s raining. I’ve just had a brisk walk round the field to take a few photos. There are catkins on the hazels. Does that mean they’ll produce nuts? That reminds me, I must order some truffle spores. I called in the stable to take a pic of the tractor. In another of my moments of supreme folly, I bought a transport box last week – it’s over 60 years old and it was expensive. It was originally designed to carry milk churns. It will be useful for shifting stuff round the field and my tractor girlfriends will love being driven round in it.

Roy Bailey died last week. I’d never heard of him before. He was a folk singer. Boff put up an exquisite Chumbas song which Roy Bailey sang on and he wrote a lovely epitaph. I looked up Roy Bailey and watched a few vids. He looked like a really nice bloke – in fact he looked a bit like my dad. I’m terrified of playing on my own but I think I’ll give it a try at some point and perhaps visit the odd folk club – I know I have to cross that discomfort zone at some point to progress. I went to work on Friday to do an extra shift. When I got there, there had been a minor fuck-up so I came home with that ‘day off school’ joy and resolved to use the time constructively. I recorded Painting Snails using two cameras and two microphones into the 8-track – there I am in all my raw bald ugliness – c’est moi, c’est tout.

I wrote a song this morning – it just came out like a bursting boil. Ten quick 3-line verses. Good old English – at least three layers of cryptic to hide an unresolved anguish. I’m working on a new John Lee Hartley video – I’m developing the theme of humanity as a spectrum regardless of how we categorise or medicalise it. It’s going to have lot’s of daft dancing – a bit of winter fun hopefully. Right – I’ve finished. I’ll go home and get warm.

Ferguson transport box
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