A spell of sultry, clinging, steamy heat punctuates an otherwise mediocre summer. Hot, hot, sleepily hot. Then come the night storms. Millisecond flashes of illuminating lightning, deep rumbling thunder and lashing torrential rain bringing cool to the clinging mugginess.
I see it all. I don’t do curtains and I make sure I’m at least half awake to witness the magnificence. I’ve seen similar but not in this country. It’s almost as if England is expressing its rage through its weather – hopeless suffocating national oppression smashed by Thor and Odin. The English of course are delighted. High on their list of favourite pastimes is complaining about the weather and a new precedent is set. ‘It’s too hot.’ ‘I can’t stand this heat.’ ‘I can’t think straight man’. Snivelfest full steam ahead.
I do well in the heat. I like it. I have a particular setting. Slow. Slow. Slow. Cover up and move at the same steady pace.
As mid-August approaches, I review the season to date.
I sometimes have a tendency towards pessimism and despondency. I compare myself to all those super-gardeners who grow so much better than me. The point though, as ever is the bigger picture. I realised a while ago that I can’t do it all on my own and I don’t have to any more. There are now other fringe-dwelling maverick loons on the hillside and between us we’re in small farm territory. Not just any farm – organic farm.
I don’t charge rent on my other allotments – just labour. The use of plasticky bits of oblong paper with pictures of the queen on are bypassed, transcended – at least for a while. Herein lies the quiet revolution. Within my daily bags of fresh carrots; beans; onions; garlic; rhubarb; plums; herbs; courgettes and beetroot, lies the concept of gardening as a revolutionary act. Like when the baddies stopped food coming into the country from abroad and we had to grow our own. Dig for Britain except this time the enemy of the ordinary is firmly within. It’s not surprising that the demand for allotments has skyrocketed – it’s even been on the news. I imagine myself as Stewy saying to Brian ‘Well didn’t I tell you so?’
The top of the field is untouched, undisturbed grassland. I haven’t even walked on it. Alex’s mate Gary told me the name of the predominant grass but I’ve forgotten it – it’s quite thin and delicate, maturing to a soft brown. He pointed out that along with the bush vetch and trefoil which grows further down, it’s typical acid grassland.
At the bottom, the orchard hasn’t done well, but a couple of trees – the Bramwell apple and the Victoria plum are laden with fruit. The trees are swamped with heavy couch grass and nettles which isn’t good for them. I’ve planted comfrey above every tree and a couple of patches have done really well, swamping out the more invasive species.
I’m seriously thinking of getting some chickens and ducks to live in the orchard to keep the grass down and fertilise it. I’ve been doing some nerd research and I’m trying to work out how to grow enough feed for them. The inner hedge is mostly thick and lush and eventually I’ll lay it, to provide stock-proof fencing.
The main beds which occupy roughly a 12 x 6 metre area are by and large doing well – it’s all no dig – just a layer of woodchip manure every year, sprinkled with volcanic ash for nutrients. Installing irrigation has been a blessing. It’s down to Elias finding a drip hose that works well from the pressure of the 1000 litre tanks around the greenhouse. There’s now also a big black water tank with a sack of comfrey in it which I use for watering the gherkins, which are running riot. I need to grow more dill for the pickling.
After a slow start, the beans have picked up and are now producing generously. This year’s experiment is a Borlotti bean, which I’ve never grown before. The main batch of purple pea blauwschokker has done incredibly well but is now succumbing to mildew – the other patch of mixed varieties from last year’s seed continues to give generously and we’re freezing them regularly. For a second year running, a patch of rye has done extremely well and the courgettes are going mad. The rhubarb, although fading is still producing. I’ve had the best onion harvest ever – Centurion grown from sets. The potato store is half full and there are just two patches left to harvest. As ever, I end up with loads of tiddly ones which I don’t know what to do with. Louise hates them – fiddly and time-consuming to scrub. However, boiled, they would make an excellent poultry food.
Alex has finished the outside skin of the greenhouse and after years of greenhousless buffoonery, for the first time ever, I’m getting a steady trickle of tomatoes. What’s more, their flavour is good. The chilli plants are looking strong too. Mog visited with her London friend Emily and pointed out that the design looked Japanese, which hadn’t occurred to me before. Emily acted as a catalyst for a descending spiral of fruit and vegetable related innuendo. It was downhill from ripe plums. She even got the carrot scene up on her phone and quoted it verbatim. I’ve always been fond of rrroot crops, but I only began to grow last summer.
Inside the main allotment, most of the beds are planted with second crops of beetroot, leeks and more beans. All the herbs that we planted to sell are bolting, and they’ll be planted out for seed. The fig tree is bursting but ripening is late – I’m keeping a close eye. If the pesky squirrel starts nicking them, I’ll put some mesh over.
All in all then, things haven’t done too badly. Am I the farmer?
Sick of being Normal?
My coming-of-age was into the heart of the punk movement through being guitarist in the area’s most well-known band. I didn’t really see or appreciate any of it at the time but it suffused our consciousness and set our path for life. It was the movement of acceptance and tolerance and the movement that spear-headed the anti-establishment contempt for Thatcher and her government.
In February, we had a celebration – 40 years down the line. We made sure that it included the new generation – not just an old-fart-fest. It was through Mid Pennine Arts Pendle Radicals project and it was a blast. MPA supported the original movement extensively, so it was most apt. We had a gig and an exhibition upstairs at Burnley library and it was swell. There was a publication of interviews and pics of some of the key players to go with it.
It was never intended to be just one event – rather an unfolding project with the exhibition touring Pendle with little accompanying gigs & talks. To this end, the gig was filmed and the film is now ready to show. It’ll be shown online on Fri 17th Sept and there’ll be some kind of gig to accompany it, even if it can only be streamed online – details & updates via the FB page.
Rock & Roll
Has been on a back burner. The COVID fuck-fest has affected us all differently and I just haven’t had the mojo. It’s coming back though. Gaz and I had a run-through for the first time on Friday and it was good.
It’s not surprising that my kids got into a punky band. Just like me, they had a teenage blaze of gigs and recording. Our house was at the heart of it – anarchy central. It was a similar mix to back in the day – band members and friends. The 1965 van was also at the heart of things taking us to every gig, festival and camping trip.
Nearly ten years on and the same bunch are still around and still friends. Tyler and Matt are now firmly returned from the vile capital and Garth is back from Madrid.
It’s a cause for celebration – such a shame that we can’t have a party on the ranch. We’re all in awe of the government’s superlative handling of the crisis – they’ve achieved the highest figures haven’t they? Whatever they tell us to do, we’ll do it. There’s no metaphorical red hot poker for them to swivel on and they’ve just earned the undivided loyalty of the bright young things. Punk rock? What?
I failed my A-levels
I had better things to do. I was guitarist in a punk band. It was more than that though. I was rebelling against my dad. He believed that he could use force to act in our best interest and I promised to prove him wrong. He even chose my A-level subjects – maths, physics and french ffs. Also, I just didn’t have the psychological wherewith-all. The head-fuckness related to my mum’s tragic life was starting to break through even though I didn’t see it at the time.
An advert in the local paper saved my life: Wanted – person interested in engineering. It turned into a proper apprenticeship and they sent me to college on day-release. I got distinctions in most subjects in my HTEC.
Years later, when I got the urge to do medicine, I started again from scratch, doing maths, biology and chemistry. I didn’t get in. I was shit at interviews. I tried again when Louise lost the baby the year after. I wrote to every medical school in the country and most of them said fuck-off old peasant (or words to that effect). The only place to give me a chance was St Andrew’s and I’m eternally grateful – I’m a big Scotlandphile – it’s all in the book.
I realised long ago that bourgeois doesn’t do radical. Nor does it think laterally or outside the box. The economic collapse continues, as so many with previously good careers face destitution. People are realising that it will take more than a few angry tweets to change things.
I think that the current A-levels debacle is a hidden blessing because it earns the government the utter and absolute, eternal contempt of the nation’s most intelligent, energetic and vibrant cohort. To any A-level student fucked-over by the heinous self-serving corrupt government, I would say don’t despair. Often an unexpected setback can provide breathing space to look at the bigger picture. It might even be an opportunity to avoid a lifetime of debt and usury. I would also rebel. Rebel cleverly. As a group, you have the power to challenge these grotesque monsters and even topple them. Get out there and do it.