Sunday 11th November 2018
I normally associate the yellowing of leaves with the end of September but it’s nearly mid November and the trees are still festooned with the most glorious russets and golds – normally at this time of the year, most of the leaves have fallen. It’s still uncharacteristically mild. The world is changing. I’m observing about one natural disaster a week, in places that were garden paradises even ten years ago (this weeks it’s two – fires in California and floods in Lebanon).
The notion of growing all your own food in the area where you live is as old as humanity. With globalisation it becomes more efficient to import food from all over the world, except it doesn’t, because it’s not sustainable. Home-grown has got a bit lost, but it’s coming back big time for a hundred different reasons. Let’s fly over lots of goodies from California. Not for much longer.
Nothing is possible for human beings (and all the other animals) unless they have food. Food production underpins everything and seeds underpin food production. In particular, open pollinated seed bred to do well in a particular environment is vitally important. Thankfully, there’s a strong movement of people who understand this and in England we have the wonderful seed co-operative. If I’m buying seeds, that’s where I get them. You can buy shares and become a member for a hundred quid. I’ve been gathering seeds for years – not particularly successfully. I’ve got a bit more organised this year – the raised semi-greenhouse at the back of the lean-to is pretty dry and I have about twenty bags of seeds in alphabetical order – mainly herbs and medicinal and native plants. I’m planting autumn garlic and onion sets and I’m experimenting with three patches of autumn wheat – I got two packets of seeds from Brown envelope seeds – a family-run organic farm in Ireland and I’ve grown another patch from three ears of wheat that I found in bales of straw.
I have a kind of aching restlessness relating to diet. My whole being knows from the inside out that eating clean unprocessed food is a no brainer, with unparalleled health benefits but it’s actually very difficult to achieve (I’m starving – I’ll just nip to the shop for a Haffner’s pie). At the moment I have: potatoes; onions; cabbage; kale; broccoli; spinach; rocket; parsnips; pickled gherkins and beetroot; dill; parsley; chillies; horse radish root; lots of jam (which is cheating because of the sugar). With a few extras – oil, salt, pepper, mustard, I can throw the odd acceptable meal together. I’m wrestling with the whole vegan-veggie debate and I still don’t fully buy it although there’s plenty of good evidence of the devastating environmental effects of conventional meat and dairy farming, not to mention the mistreatment of animals. Meanwhile, processed meat has been classed as a group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation. As a troubled teenager, one of the most exhilarating things I ever did was hunting rabbits – I only ever got two and I skinned, gutted and cooked them myself. Now, I would never kill anything but I would have no qualms if I was starving. My dad’s parents were genuinely poor and went hungry at times. A rabbit or a salmon or a pheasant was a blessing, particularly during the war.
My dad was a great orator and I wish I’d listened a bit more to some of his stories. Born in 1929, he was too young to join up for the second world war, but had lots of stories of wartime Britain. One of my favourites is when he was working on a farm cutting hay with a scythe. The farmer and the other workers went off for their dinner and he was left with an Italian prisoner of war to finish the job. Spurred by his nationalist pride, he was determined to outdo the prisoner so they both worked at full speed and finished the job before the others came back. His brother, my uncle Jim was a chief petty officer in the navy and escorted convoys. There was national service after the war my dad joined the Air Force and stayed on for nine years. Louise’s dad joined the Fleet Air Arm and sailed to America where he was trained to fly Corsairs off aircraft carriers. My granddad escaped the first world war when he was wounded at Gallipoli. Like lots of WW1 veterans, he never talked about his war experiences. He carried a ring which my dad said was a magic talisman – there’s a story to it which I put in the book.
I don’t like labels but accept that they are necessary. What’s the best label for common sense sustainable gardening? It has to be permaculture. Is there a relationship between permaculture and war? Absolutely. War adds an important extra ingredient – desperate need. Britain in the second world war is a fine example. Pre-war a lot of UK food was imported – this quickly dried up, due in a large part to The German U-boat blockade. Millions of acres of land were turned over to farming. Most of the agricultural workers were away fighting, so it fell to the women to sort it. The farmers didn’t like it one bit – they preferred to use prisoners of war. Women? You must be joking. It took a couple of weeks for the farmers to change their tune. Feminism 1. Misogyny nil. The women were paid less than men (28 shillings vs 38 shillings). The Women’s Land Army began in 1917 and was reformed in the second world war. Was it permaculture? Well permaculture didn’t exist, but they were using common sense principles to farm sustainably. Ferguson’s magnificent 3-point linkage system wasn’t yet in widespread production and tractors weren’t that good, so a lot of the farm work was still done by horses. Now we don’t perceive any desperate threat hanging over us because the latest monstrous genocide isn’t on out doorstep and the totalitarian fascists wreaking havoc under our noses, are dressed up to appear reasonable. This summer’s drought affected UK farming badly but the ranch did very well and I put it down to the little common sense tweaks that come under the banner of permaculture.
Rock & Roll
I got despondent with music last week – keeping a band going gets harder as you get older. I’m over it now – I realise it’s entirely up to me and it’s just a case of sticking at it. I’m a songwriter but I never deliberately write songs – they just come along when they’re ready – there’s no pressure to keep making records for a livelihood which is a great blessing. I’ve got a couple of gigs coming up which I’m looking forward to – Gaz is on bass again and Eamonn is playing drums so we’re two-thirds NOTSENSIBLES. I’m working on the plot for a new John Lee Hartley video which will be fun and hopefully take my film making up a notch.
My latest oeuvre is an observation of the over medicalisation of the human condition both by the profession and the public. One Sunday afternoon after some gentlemanly requisites, Bish and I recorded a very rough version in about an hour. We did bass and drums in a single take, then I did guitar and vocals in a single take – the recording is so viscerally vernacular that it’s unshareable but I enjoyed doing it – I tackled the three common medical acronyms that didn’t exist when I started medical school. The song makes the point that humanity is a spectrum and it’s not always helpful to medicalise certain states of being that lie on that spectrum. The trouble is that the expression ‘on the spectrum’ is now universally applied to autism, so the song would be unintentionally offensive so I can’t use it.
I have a notion to start a club. It’s a club with lots of things going on and everyone takes turns at what they like and do best. It begins on a hillside where we grow our own food. We cook it together and have a laugh. Down in the town we have a little spot which is a cafe and a music venue. We make pure raw visceral music – it has an edge – at times it’s smoulderingly outrageous but never banal. We dress up and dance and make music videos and play records. We don’t bother with the music industry as such – we have our own record label. We have an annual Sagefest, and occasionally we take our show on the road. Being on the hillside helps us out if we’re head-fucked and we look out for each other, so no-one is bored or lonely. We do our research and look at the bigger picture and try and avoid stuff that fucks the world and the animals living in it. We accept that there is twatness everywhere and within everyone so we weave and wind along the upward facing common ground, accepting people for what they are. Occasionally dicktards viewing from the outside think that we’re a soft touch – watch out, we come from battle-hardened stock. By all means stick your head in the pet tiger’s mouth – just don’t squeeze its balls at the same time.
My club has actually been going for quite some time with a membership of just me and the trees – the trouble is I’m just too uncompromising – I have no tolerance for rude ****s or fuckers who can’t be arsed to turn up on time, so my club membership hasn’t exactly thrived. I’m realising that I’m too rigid for my own good (and probably the rudest ***t of them all) – yin and yang and all that shit, so there are signs of new members on the horizon. I’ve already had a few Sagefests where I’ve camped on the ranch on my own and watched the full moon rise. We did actually have the first mini Sagefest this summer but I didn’t tell anyone it was a Sagefest – a few of us just had a bit of food and wandered round the field in glorious sunshine and I got the tractor out. We lit the stove as it began to go dark. It was perfect.
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