The Big Dig.

March 8th  

In 2011, to the derision of my son,  David gave me a birthday present of two strong professional gardeners to dig over my entire allotment, and clear it ready for the Spring planting. And very helpful that was too.  This year, aided certainly by the prolonged dryish weather we’ve had in the east Midlands, I have done the whole lot myself, unearthing a little pile of potatoes, parsnips and a huge amount – I am talking 20lbs here – of artichokes.  Very good exercise for the muscles I can tell you. The only problem is that Jerusalem artichokes are virtually impossible to eat without turning into a veritable windbag, so they will probably all have to be recycled into the compost bins again!  I wish I had a pig to feed them to, but can you imagine living with a flatulent pig?   The mild warm days have encouraged me to risk planting the new potatoes, which have chitted very well in the greenhouse and are eager to start primary school.  I am trying Sharp’s Express this year, and the old faithful Arran Pilot, so they have both gone in, making two 10 ft rows.  Talk to me again in July and I’ll tell you if this slightly early planting has paid off.   I have decided not to be too ecclesiastical about my potatoes this year, – having always planted them on Good Friday before, but that isn’t for another three weeks. Life is too short folks!

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Deep in the Compost bins something stirred. . .

March 4th.

The most exciting thing in the garden which has happened lately has been inside the compost bins.  On the allotment I have four, in varying stages of decay and regeneration into usable material, and the first one, piled up with layers of all sorts of crud and corruption has transformed itself over the winter into the classic sweet-smelling dark brown  feathery compost you read about in books!  Easy to dig out, light to fork into the soil, it has produced enough to cover my two big main beds, mulch the current bushes and gooseberries and provide feed for the  raspberry canes I inherited when Jayne decided to dig over her raspberry bor4der and grow flowers for bees instead.  When I think of all the vegetable peelings, weeds, old leaves, eggshells and even the odd mussel shell which went into this bin, I feel I have shared in a little magic. Bins 2, 3 and 4 are younger and therefore less experienced, but the scheme obviously works.   I have produced compost in previous years but this has been  the best by far.  Now we just have to produce the crops!

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Iguazu Falls and chubby Gauchos

The last of three mini blogs from Uruguay:

Two weeks ago,  Chris and I went on a multi-national trip up to see the world famous (I’d never heard of them before!) waterfalls on the border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, staying a night in each of two hotels, one in Brazil, and the next in Argentina.  The falls, now counted as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, can only be reached on the Brazilian side by a seven kilometer special road, so we hired a taxi for the day, and ended up by hiring the driver again the following day.   The temperature was up in the high 30s C, and yet they said they had had no rain for a month. This, our driver said, would make the falls more visible. In the height of the rainy season you can see nothing for the spray.

I’d recommend the Brazil side, where you walk for about an hour along the side of the river and get up close and personal with a lot of water. The Argentinian side seems dominated by the need to take little trains, two of them, to get within a mile of the falls. You then have to tramp across endless metal walk ways.  The main problem was the heaving crowds of people, jam packed all the way there and back. I was astounded by all this human endeavour.  The falls were large, wet and noisy. I am even going to break the habit of all these blogs and try to upload a picture to show you.   This may be the start of more illustrations. You never know!  (Sorry, but the picture has now fallen to the bottom of the page as I haven’t discovered how to do wrap-around text here yet.)

The following weekend we went down to Colonia de Sacramento, a sleepy and attractive little town on the river and finished by  driving two hours inland and staying on an estancia where the horses were lovely and the food was dreadful.  Included in the price was a two hour horse ride. Chris, being too tall and with a busted shoulder, stayed behind but I went out with a group of six led by an over weight gaucho, who spent most of the time on the phone, and his two dogs who managed to catch an armadillo and a green snake in the fields. This caused a lot of shrieking from some of my fellow riders.. It was quite an adventure as we were then caught in a thunderstorm, complete with forked lightening, torrential rain and thunder all around us.

We came back after three hours in pitched darkness at 9pm, but intact, thanks to my very sensible and steady horse.  A TV crew were making a film about this touristic experience, but we avoided being in it, as they weren’t going to wait out in the rain for us. I was soaked to the skin and had to get off my horse by step ladder, but proved there is life in the old bones still. Very good scheme, riding on a sheepskin!  I have no photographic proof of this experience, as Chris too did not stay out in the rain to record our return.

The falls at Iguazu- from the Brazil side.

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Iron Ladies

Of all places, I was able to catch The Iron Lady in Montevideo, in English with Spanish subtitles. Very few people were in the cinema unit  to see it, but I went with a fellow ex-pat Mum, and we enjoyed the mutual memories of those dreadful eighties as the trailers warmed up.  The cinema is a great favourite with Uruguan ladies of a certain age, all much better dressed than we were, and fully coiffed etc, but most were there to see The Artist I think.

I found it a very moving film, mainly because of the resonances with my mother’s final year of gallant wrestling matches with reality versus fantasy, and the blurring of timelines between past and present.  By all standards, Merryl Streep was outstanding, and now that the Oscars are over, I can see as well why the make-up artist won one. You completely lose her in the character.  Whether or not it was the Margaret Thatcher, or one Margaret Thatcher I am not sure, but it had huge integrity.   My only feeling is that , well she is still alive on the planet, but then so is the Queen, and she has had to put up with several quirky and eccentric takes on her life and private affairs. Can’t be as bad as spitting image anyway!   Critics from right and left should go to see this film, but they whisked it off at Chesterfield far too quickly. frightened off by the ex-miners’ wives pickets? How sad, and bizarre, free speech is essential.

After the cinema our sons took us out for a late supper. Wonderful fresh crunchy fish gougons, and the speciality chips with mushroom sauce.  They talked business, both little children during the Thatcher years, now riding the wave of entrepreneurship she kicked out of the doldrums.  We mothers discussed retirement possibilities in Uruguay.  Here’s to you, Mrs Thatcher. All the best, wherever and however you are. I find I’ve forgiven you, which is strange, but then  I’ve forgiven many others who have done much worse!

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Montevideo – trees in every street

Gentle readers,

Uruguay is an amazing discovery of gentle urbanity and rolling farmland, that rolls, and rolls and rolls, as far as the eye can see.  . More European than Europe, Montevideo sits like a confortanble upmarket version of Bournmouth, welcoming Argentinians in their droves for the summer holidays, which on this latitude coincide with the February Carnival season. Every hotel room in the city is booked for the long weeked over February 18-20th.  Small flocks of cheerful green parrots fly through the urban avenues. There are more trees in this city than in any other.  From Christopher’s apartment on the 18th floor you can look down on the green highways guiding the way.  Pocitos, where he lives , is nothing if not respectable, but still the recycling teams of young boys with their horses come through late into the evening with their ramshackle carts collecting empty plastic bottles from all the dumpsters and trash cans.

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Up and running once more

Bright, crisp and clear February morning in Derbyshire. I have shaken off the winter sloth and resumed my story telling! Sorry to my few friends who were following the blog before and wondered what became of me,  and welcome to any new folk!

To bring you up to date, my mother’s sudden death in August last year changed the landscape to such an extent that it took until Christmas to sort everything out.  I also travelled to California, Utah and Wyoming in September, and then the Christmas concert season was upon us.  David and I have just had a week’s break in Madeira to celebrate my 60th birthday- and I am soon to make a trip down to Uruguay to visit Chris who is still working there.  I have written to myself  some stuff about losing my mother, and rethinking through our long and complicated relationship.  The overall sense was that at last she is at peace.   Suffice it to say here that the sudden gust of free time and renewed sense of self her passing gave me  is making me ponder what to do next! 

The cold snap has put aside my good intentions of finishing the winter digging on the allotment. The ground is hard as ice, – well it is full of ice!  waiting for the Zephyrs to take over and bring in some Spring balm.     I have some stories from Madeira which may appear soon.   But, we are definitely back in action!

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Big Marrows

Bakewell Organic Garden members came on an evening visit to our allotment and garden on Tuesday evening. Very pleasant people, several with beards, enjoyed a ginger beer with me in our hut and looked round the various enterprises. Jayne’s side of the plot was absolutely wonderfully tidy as she and Linda had spent all of Sunday clearing out every weed. Mine was a verdant jungle as I have been in London so much, and had my last all-day session there on Monday, but at least I had loads of things growing.  Jayne never appeared, but several were very interested in her bee hive so she would have enjoyed talking to them if she had.  They are starting a new bee club in Grindleford, only three miles from us. I must chase up Jayne. 

 It is our annual flower and vegetable show at Chatsworth on Saturday. I am not at all optimistic. For example, I put in for onions over 8oz and only have two that size, where you need three, the potatoes have a funny scabby thing on each one, and my marrows are bendy.   But at least they are big. Growing a big marrow is the least skillful thing in horticulture. I bet other people’s are bigger though.

We have a large experienced hen who is raising three tiny late chicks. When David went to close them up for the night it was obvious she had been in serious battle with something as her feathers were all over the pen.  Sparrow hawk?  Stoat?  But all three babies were safe, so she must have won the dust-up. Good for her.  Power of motherhood triumphs again.  (see last post)

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Small Stitches

Years ago I took a holiday in Georgia (USA, not Caucacus), and walked round the museum exhibition which was there  about the Civil War (American not English!). The most poignant exhibit there, and one of the most affecting I have ever seen, was the small uniform of a Confederate boy soldier, who had been wounded at least, maybe killed, as the blood stains were still on the clothes. His shirt had been hand sewn with little neat stitches all round the neck and cuffs. Who by?  His mother I am sure. Such love. Such pain.  Oh motherhood.  I expect he was so excited to be going off to war . . .

On  a lighter note, my friend Catherine told me her son managed to get the two As and a B he needs to go to Manchester University to study areonautical engineering. “I can’t think why you’re so worked up Mum, ” he said, “It’s nothing to do with you!”   Was ever a statement so untrue. The poor woman conceived, carried, gave birth to, fed and cared for this ungrateful male for eighteen long and arduous years, forced him to do his homework, sat up to 3 am to make sure he staggered home in  one piece from countless parties, advised him on how to do the million things one needs in order to survive adolescence. 

Now he is going off to study rocket science.  There is a big parable here for us mothers. If you want appreciation, keep a dog I say.

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Garden gate news

Sorry gentle readers for a summer hiatus in the posts. I have been tunneling through a pile of work assessing and writing about the world’s children, and like mole, only occasionally make it to the surface!  But from next week my deadlines should all be completed and I can return to writing more about picking beans.  I have two more trips to London this week and next and then – freedom!

The runner beans are coming through nicely now. We at them for lunch yesterday, along with cauliflowers, and the end of the peas and broad beans. Courgettes and marrows are tumbling out of every corner, and I have started picking tomatoes in the green house. The raspberries are rather like manna, one bowl a day, enough to eat but not to make jam.  Despite the essentially really dry summer, things have grown well this year.  – Oh and my sweetpeas are finally in abundance, –  they took their time but made it in the end.

We have Lucy staying with us while Tim and Clare have gone to Santorini for a week, so the house resembles a kennel of wild dogs, who rush around  all the time. Three seems to be a much more ganglike number than two.  Thank goodness we have a huge garden for them to play in.  

Two hens have hatched out little late clutches of eggs, which is nice, but will probably produce yet more young cockerels.  There seems to be a very nasty plague affecting garden birds down south, with huge tumours growing out of them. Hope and pray that it does not spread up here.

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Happy Days

A little bit of heaven in the allotment today.  made up of fragments of satisfaction, including;

sitting with Jayne in the summerhouse while I explain to her that a mars bar is really all from  plants and can be included in one’s five a day vegetables. (I will explain later if necessary!)

Digging up fresh round white and red potatoes ready for lunch, and finding enough peas and late broadbeans to go with them. 

talking to the little black cat who has come to join us there.

being presented with the first peach from Jayne’s peach tree, smelling its skin, and swopping it for a few spuds. – what a deal!  I can’t believe this little tree has come through the worst winter on record and is now giving us fruit. – well two at least – there is a second peach coming along behind!  We now have to wait for the grapevine to deliver.  There is a wonderful quote from someone which goes, “Those who believe that all fruits ripen at the same time as strawberries know nothing about grapes.”  The best can sometimes be trusted to be left till last.  

My work at Comic Relief has been extended for another three weeks, so August won’t be the summer break I expected, but hey ho. we all like to be needed.  I am planning a break out in September.

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