The Ranch:

It’s me and the trees. I walk through the park and they are putting on their annual autumn fashion show, swaying, strutting in rustic hues and drifting down redundant pastel leaves to provide next year’s soil. They’re not bothered about shutting down for winter. It’s what they do. It’s how they survive.

I often walk through as a more circuitous flab-busting route to the ranch. Today, I succumb to an all day breakfast in The Stables cafe, kind of defeating the object. It’s the same stables where my great, great, granddad worked as coachman to Lady O-Hagan, the last occupier of Towneley Hall. I get my laptop out and pretend to be an #amwriting dick. I don’t get far. I’m too self-conscious. It’s lovely just sitting there watching people coming and going. I’m feeling particularly grateful because of the previous day at work, which once again reminds me how precious and fragile life is. I bump into a couple of people I know and chat. Heaven is in the ordinary.


Wasp on ivy


On the ranch, it’s business as usual. I’m a hair’s breadth from going up a jeans size so I have to up the heavy labour – digging up bricks from the bottom and barrowing them up the hill.

The rest is preparation for next year’s season – not just me, but the whole hillside and anyone and everyone who is starting to get it. I’m a broken record. I’ve been saying that incorporating food growing into ordinary everyday life, is revolutionary for decades. People only accept something when it hits them hard in the face. There was a taster this spring, when there were empty supermarket shelves and seeds sold out. Next spring will be so much worse.

My other broken record is: ‘At what point did the English become so utterly dull and complacent’. How much has to pulled from under their feet before they act?

I notice that large numbers of wasps are attracted to the ivy – I’ve no idea why. The autumn raspberries are doing very well. I painted my new tractor seat and fitted it and it gives me disproportionate Eeyore-like satisfaction. The tractor seems to run better?


Autumn raspberries


I bumped into Tony Martin on Monday. He’s an allotmenteer too. He has allotments near my house and he keeps bees. Like Dewy, he’s very knowledgeable about them and generous with it. He gives all his honey away. He adamantly describes himself as an allotment keeper who keeps bees, deriding traditional beekeepers as complete loons in the most vernacular way possible. ‘F’ing old c****s, banging in their f’ing panel pins.’

He’s there to help Billy harvest his honey. Billy has an allotment further down from mine and he’s one of the few remaining original association members. Tony has brought his spinner and they’re harvesting 3 supers (that’s the bit that goes on the top of the hive, where the workers lay down extra honey). There’s a generous amount of honey in there. It’s an electric spinner and it takes the two of them to hold it down. Billy makes a lewd colloquial quip about it having far more vibration than a washing machine.


Empty super frame


Coincidentally, it’s the day that I’m putting my sugar water feeders into my hives. Tony advised me to do it a while ago and I’m only just getting round to it. I dissolve 2kg of sugar into two pints of water on the stove, then don my bee suit. I’ve got just one super on the two year old hive and I’m anticipating my first honey. The feeder goes on top of the crown board then is covered by an empty super and the hive top. At first the hives are quiet but the bees go berserk when I take off the queen excluder.

I don’t like it. I’m not a natural beekeeper. I run off a couple of times and despite the bee suit, I get stung on the ankle.

Back to safety and it’s the moment of truth. I take out the super frames one by one. Zero. Zilch. Rien. There are wax cones drawn out but not a trace of honey. One of my incentives for getting the bees was to improve pollination and fruit yields. The orchard actually did worse than last year and Billy’s bees are just as close to my orchard as mine are. It’s not all bread and roses like in those cosy YouTube videos.


New freshly painted seat on the tractor


The Law:

I’m a fan of the immutable law of the cosmos which rules EVERYTHING. As above so below.

Humans are mere impostors and I’ve always had healthy disrespect for their law, through observing that it protects the rich at the expense of the poor.

It started with punk. We were in the thick of Thatcherism and the miners strike. Our contempt for the police was absolute.

Next was in 1997 when two of the tenants bought all our allotments behind our backs and threatened to sell to a crook. In order to buy it back, I had to learn a lot of land law – quickly. I formed an Association and succeeded. I learned that the The Land Registry exists so that anyone can register and transfer property. This can be done straightforwardly without ANY input from a solicitor.

I had no choice but to deal with solicitors when we first bought the land. Ours was OK. The vendor’s was abysmal and I had to threaten them with The Ombudsman. My contempt for solicitors grew, when I found out how they use bluffery and bullshit to charge people a lot of money for things that they could just do themselves (e.g. making a will). I learned a lot of the lingo: easements; covenants; restrictions.

My favourite though was consideration. When our transaction finally went through, our solicitor wrote to me and included the line ‘There is of course my firm’s final consideration’. In lay terms, this means that on top of the shyte service so far, he wanted to charge us even more for doing less than fuck-all. I was prepared when I met him and it was a great moment of glory, worthy of a scene in one of those epic law films. I verbally crucified him with phrases like itemised invoice and Land Registry Act schedule 6. I also suggested that if there was any consideration to be made, it should be a refund to The Association pending an Ombudsman review. He went apeshit and paced his office calling me a Barrack  Room Lawyer. Suffice it to say, he never got another penny from us.

I went on to transfer everyone’s plot from The Association to them, and I’ve since done the conveyancing every time an allotment has been sold. Transferring a plot (Transfer of Title) involves an identical process to buying and selling a house. A solicitor generally charges in the region of £500. I did it for nothing. Right at the beginning, I could have just bought my own allotment. I fought the battle because I believe in the rights of ordinary people to have a little piece of land. It’s an ancient concept, enshrined in law that goes at least back to the middle ages. There have been recent changes to land law, ostensibly to clamp down on fraud. Most people are aware that a tiny proportion owns the majority of land in this country.


Medusa statue in New York


My view of the law and lawyers changed through talking to our lovely friend Judith. She is wise, witty, gentle, kind and incredibly generous. She’s also a solicitor and pointed out to me that many solicitors work tirelessly to represent and protect the underdog. She even suggested that I train as a solicitor!

More recently, It’s dawned on me how essential and fundamental The Rule of Law is to the protection of democracy.

Alas, it is all but gone. A couple of weeks ago Lord Neuberger, a former president of the Supreme Court, chaired a webinar of senior lawyers. One of his quotes, which appeared in The Guardian was ‘Once you deprive people of the right to go to court to challenge the government, you are in a dictatorship, you are in a tyranny.’ This was in reference to the internal market bill which breaches international law.

Judicial Review is also under threat. A judical review is a court case allowing a claimant to challenge the lawfullness of a decision, action or failure to act by a public authority. An example of a successful judicial review was against De Pfeffel’s illegal prorogation of parliament. Another is the overturning of the governments A-Level grades shambles via The Good Law Project

The most frightening boot-stomping march to totalitarianism is the govt’s recent so-called #SpyCopBill = the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill. It effectively means that the police, the secret service and any of their agents can do ANYTHING to anyone at any time and still, people just don’t see it.


Being an #amwriting dick in the cafe


The other Ranch:

It’s always the same when I go back to work after annual leave. I’m scared that I’ll have forgotten everything and that I’ll be trouble for something. Once I’m back, I’m just part of the furniture – a worn comfortable piece of furniture.

Lorna the Glaswegian suggests starting a band. I re-tell the story of when I discovered that Angela had a double bass. It was one of the omens that led me to come back to the dirty old town. Angela, as inscrutable as ever looks on silently as I repeat the story that she’s already heard several times. She doesn’t know that when this shit-show is over she’ll have to learn how to play it for the Emergency Department rockabilly hit that I’m planning to write.

Carole and I talk about the value of at least being able to have people to talk to at work, when we can’t do a lot of the stuff that makes us human.

As soon as I arrive on the shop floor on my second day back, an ambulance arrives and I go out to see whether they might be better going direct to a hospital that can do coronary angiography.

Not so. The patient is in cardiac arrest. We go straight into resusc. I get a line in within a minute and give the first adrenaline. I’m not in full PPE – just mask, apron, goggles and gloves. It’s clear that we’re going to have to do an Aerosol generating procedure. The nurses bring me a fit-tested mask and other PPE bits.

For two hours we’re each in a bubble – sweaty steamy full PPE in a closed room. Me, an anaesthetist, an ODP, an A&E registrar and two of our nurses. It’s the best that teamwork and front-line applied science can possibly be. I’m proud to be a part of it.

Later, Louise tells me not to get too sentimental when I try and describe the regard I have for my colleagues. I sometimes get goosebumps at work – weird. Family is a less rigid concept than it used to be.

Last week I postulated that the increase in Covid admissions might just be seasonal in the way that all other infectious illnesses increase in autumn and winter. I was wrong. I form my opinion from what I see. It’s back. With a vengeance. I’m scared again. More personal lock-down.

It’s not possibly to speculate how much damage this disease will continue to do. There’s the obvious side, reflected in statistics, then there’s the immeasurable damage from loneliness and desperation that so many are facing. Above all, be kind.



Tapestry and tip-toeing:

I am going to miss Woman’s Hour. That’s the Woman’s Hour with Jane and Jenni, which has been my companion driving to work for my midday shifts over the last few years. I even mentioned them in the book. On Thursday, an artist talking about Medusa, used the phrase ‘living with your snakes’ as a metaphor for confronting the good and the bad. I like that. Another woman talked about writing as therapy, which certainly applies to me.

In English, we have the phrase life’s rich tapestry which alludes to the same – the rough with the smooth so to speak.

There’s plenty of rough at the moment, with Covid and the frog-march towards fascism by our stupendously inept and corrupt government.

Our tapestry is in danger of becoming bleak and Gulag-bleached by Mussolini-gurning goons.

We must not let it. It’s the responsibility of the creatives to weave back in the colour and imagination. 

The second lock-down is here and I’m in that weird place again – just me and the trees, where my head is in danger of locking down again as well as physically locking down to try and keep loved one’s safe. I won’t let it.

It’s different this time, because Louise is still at home. She’s like a little girl. If the shoppies are open, she’s happy. All inhibitions are gone and each day she brings back more and more improbable items from charity shoppes, auctions, skips and so on. I don’t care if it makes her happy. She doesn’t ask for much. I’m mending her sewing machine.


Mending Louise's sewing machine


I use the me and the trees metaphor a lot. I borrowed it from a friend who said that she would rather spend the rest of her life in the company of trees than have to suffer fools. My meaning is a bit different, because I’m the biggest fool of all and I get my best lessons from other fools. I mean it more in the context of finding peace in nature and avoiding bad energy that can come from certain people and situations.

I’m stepping back from screen-tapping. My work companions, me and LouLou and my twitty little secret ranch bubble are enough for me.

Someone warns me that ‘tip-toeing totalitarianism is coming to an allotment near you’ when I take exception to him spreading incorrect disrespectful information on Facefart. He also informs his audience that hospitals aren’t busy because he knows a nurse who told him so. I’ve been writing about ‘tip-toeing totalitarianism’ for years, trying to point out that doing stuff (such as allotmenteering) which is not part of ‘the system’ is quietly revolutionary.

Expressing opinions on Facefart is like farting into an invisible glass bubble and waiting for your friends to like the smell. I sometimes engage briefly as a sport to warm my writing fingers up in the morning, but not any more.

I have to continue my weaving even if it’s just me and my twatty little observational songs. Friday night is music night at Hartley house, but this Friday I’m on my own thanks to c**t Covid. I hate playing on my own. I record a song but it turns out shite. I’m out of steam and feeling lacklustre. Louise encourages me to have another go and I record it with my other camera in a single take – it is what it is. It’s my ‘going back to my roots’ and ‘letter across the ocean’ song for my friend Emma in America.