Josh

This is not an easy read.

As most readers of this blog will be aware, four weeks to the day, on 1st October 2019, our lovely son Josh died after spending 27 days in hospital as an infection, which had entered his blood stream via an insect bite on his scalp, inexorably wore him down.  He was twenty seven.

The impact of this on the three remaining members of our family has been brutal and bewildering. I cannot speak precisely for either my lovely wife or phenomenal daughter, but I am struggling to grasp the reality that I will never see my gorgeous son again.

That is despite the fact that on Friday we committed his body to cremation in a service that was astonishing for its grace and hopefulness, led as it was by my sister-in-law, Anna, in a remarkable act of emotional control, purveying the succour of spiritual hope to all of us.

In the afternoon we held a service of Celebration and Commemoration for Josh at the local rugby club: a fitting venue for a young man so fit and full of life (and partial to the occasional pint) until the freak misfortune that struck him down. Something in the region of 300 people attended and we laughed and cried at the memories of our lovely boy.

And yet I cannot get that he is gone, not because I am in denial: we were with him when he died.  In an act of fidelity that I was unaware I was capable of, we sat at his bedside when the ECMO machine was turned off and we held his hand until his heart stopped beating.   So I know that he is dead. 

But losing your son is a monumental deal.  It goes beyond the physical reality.  So much of what I do as a person is predicated on the fact I have two children – a son and daughter.  I am very happily married to the wonderful Mrs B and we live in a beautiful part of rural Somerset in a house with views over fields towards Cadbury Castle.  And up until the begnning of September we would regularly voice our appreciation of our good fortune to possess such riches.

But now that is all changed – and it is such a fundamental change in our lives we are in a state of confused paralysis over how to deal with the next stage of life’s journey.  The landscape has altered and the maps we have are out of date.  The change is so much more than the simple absence of someone.  It is emotional, intellectual and philosophical. 

So we need to find something that is reliable and within our control.  On Sunday we took it upon ourselves to get out into the garden.  When merely getting out of bed seems a struggle, gardening needed a high level of commitment.  It is nearly two months since I did anything in the garden other than pick tomatoes or peppers.  And making the effort to get out  did help.  We felt our spirits lighten and almost rise as we cleared beds and tidied the greenhouse, taking out tomatoes and herbs, leaving it as a pepper house with chillis and green peppers ready for picking.

The act of gardening, as I have said before, is fundamentally a positive one.  You are making plans to create and nourish life; it looks to the future with the intention that it will be positive and plentiful.  It was also something that Josh enjoyed as a job before university.

In Josh’s memory we have asked for donations to a fund that his school has set up to support underpriveleged students’ physical wellbeing through gardening clubs and after school sports clubs.  It is a fitting way to remember our boy and will hopefully assist young people in improving their health.

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/josh-brooker?utm_id=1&utm_term=BYp3X7kpy

Feel free to donate if you like or simply leave a message of support.

 

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There’s No Smoke

Mrs B has been a member of the Village Facebook Group for some time and has been ahead of the curve when it comes to local gossip / news. So I decided it was time I gained access to the inner sanctum of this closed group and found out first hand the burning issues of the day.

And my efforts were rewarded.

A lot revolves around errant pets. There was one irate member complaining about dog shit in the entrance to their drive – leading to another member demanding a “name and shame” policy when the culprit was identified. (I am not sure that Fido from number 40 would be that bothered about being named on Facebook, but who knows?)

Then there are the lost cats which seem to be a constant worry in Village News. One owner was concerned about “Donald” being lost, before correcting himself five minutes later saying “Oops its Daffy who is missing not Donald – hard to tell them apart”. Donald had been lounging on the sofa while said owner typed message. WE were all relieved to hear that Daffy returned a day or two later, to a veritable spate of “likes”.

“Very pleased to say Daffy has come home. Found having a wonderful time at the Wild Garden having been on safari and clearly well fed keeping the rodents down. Thanks for all the kind messages and calls. Seems happy to be home”

Not being a cat lover myself I was unmoved by the discovery of the errant feline. And I would warrant that it was not only rodents he was feasting on, but some of our favourite songbirds too. And also I reckon it was probably Daffy who crapped in my veg patch on his way to the Wild Garden. But I refrained from posting my thoughts.

What gripped me next was the following discussion which almost literally lit up the Village FB Wall:

5th July

MW: Hope nobody’s home is on fire!! Has someone got a large fire in their garden? The smoke is all the way down Main Street!!!

ST: I was wondering where it’s coming from too. Have had to close all the house windows as smoke and smell infiltrating the house. Not great in a muggy weather evening.

FH: We have just walked the dog, the smoke is worse in Orchard St

MB: Yes and I had washing on the line

RL: Not us!

JW: It was from a bungalow on the main road. Some people are so inconsiderate!

For a moment I was worried as we reside in a single storey dwelling, but we are not near the main road – and I checked that I had not inadvertently put a match to my Forsythia trimmings. Phew!

There was no further discussion so I assumed everyone had managed to get their washing in, close their windows and dowse the flames. But then:

6th July

FH Oh no not another bonfire. Just grabbed the washing in, but can not shut all the windows

VD: thought the same as I had a line of washing out

MB: Let’s have a village campaign against bonfires on summer days and evenings.

I totally agree that a bonfire on a summer afternoon / evening is antisocial though the use of social media to share the experience and find the culprit does amuse. And I do love the idea of a village campaign against bonfires. In my mind’s eye I see villagers with pitch forks and flaming torches marching up to the bungalows near the main road demanding justice (and clean clothes). Torches and forks – just what you need to get a good bonfire going.

It is as well that I was not on Village FB when I had my first bonfire here back in Feb of 2018. I shared The Old Man’s love of a good bonfire at the Old Place where there were fewer neghbours to worry about – but I will have to think more carefully about how I dispose of garden waste around here.

(Names and places have been changed to protect the innocent and maintain the security of Village Facebook. However, data from the Group and this blog has been sold to Brexiteers4brexit.com and other similar charitable campaigns. This will enable targeted marketing of rural communities, in which the blame for all bonfires will placed squarely on EU migrants, “crazy” European Union Legislation and The Irish Back Stop)



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Stereotyping

As I dropped my daily aspirin into the glass of water, I asked Mrs B what it reminded her of.  Quick as a flash she said “Plink, plink, fizz: Alka Seltzer” and we laughed.  It was exactly what I was thinking too.

“And that is why they want to ban adverts that portray gender stereotyping” I replied.  If one harmless advert is still referenced by us forty years on adn influences our way of thinking, what effect is the apparent stereotyping of male and female roles in adverts going to have on the youth of today?  Not much, I suspect, as I am not too sure the sight of men getting their thrills being active while the woman enjoys peace and quiet with a book and a sleeping baby is going to have too deliterious effect.  Should we be concerned that some advertisers are suggesting that (white, middle class) women are good at looking after children and (white, middle class) men do not read enough?

At a time when we have politicians on a daily basis blithely reinforcing national and racial stereoptying without any noticeable penalty, I do not see that a few adverts making jokes at the expense of absent-minded fathers is that big a deal by comparison.  But hey we have to start somewhere I guess.

In the Midlife Garden we have no such worries of stereotypical activities, as Mrs B and I happily allow each other to take on non-gender defined roles.  Mrs B enjoys nothing more than a bit of slashing and hacking as she has chopped overgrowing ivy and Forsythia, keeping hedgerows in their place.  I take satisfaction from quieter activites such as sowing seeds, thinning and planting as I have started to attempt successive harvests of salad leaves and beans, as well as sowing some hardy annuals for the cut flower patch planned for the spring.

“Being a bit of a Marjory” is how Mrs B puts it, something that originates from the time I was pricking out (fnarr, fnarr) in the greenhouse while she was being active and energetic hurling stakes in the veg patch.  All very amusing, but could there perhaps be a hint of gender stereotyping in the pejorative use of the name “Marjory”?  I think she needs to be picked up on that…

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Too early or too hot?

Another hot, dry start to the summer, another discussion about climate change.  At the end of term I sat through several showings of documentaries on climate change which alarmed and depressed me in equal measure.  Alarming because the stats suggest we are going to global hell in a fossil-fuelled hand cart.  Depressing to hear climate change deniers like Nigel Lawson and American news channels, led from the front by The Donald, for whom  denying climate change suits their personal goals.  Nor was my dark mood alleviated by the attitude of the year 9 geographers who were more interested in trying to wind me up than discovering how to save the planet.

However, back at home Mrs B is leading our efforts to preserve Planet Earth for our descendants as we use our Bags for Life, watch our home-produced solar power being stored in our battery and even revert to soap-on-a-rope to reduce our consumption of single use plastics.  We can save the plantet….

Elsewhere, in the garden I have to cope with the change in crop behaviours as veg and flowers adapt (or not) to the latest hot dry spell.  And this summer – like last year – it feels as if a lot of the vegetables are out of kilter.  In the raised beds, only the early croppers did well such as garlic, onions, shallots and new potatoes, which thrived in the early summer warmth.

In contrast, the beans had all gone over by the time we returned from hols at the end of July, leaving us with knobbly Runners and Frenchies rather than the sweet tender pods we would normally harvest.  Perhaps I made an error in trying to reduce the wastage of previous years by planting just a wigwam or two, instead of serried ranks of them.  So when the purple beans got half way up the poles before stopping in their tracks, flowering and dying, I had no back up.

I have belatedly effected second plantings of lettuce and beans, but they have had a hard time of it with the slugs (and probably the dry weather).   Today I planted them out, giving them the same choices that Mrs B always tells me they have:  to live or to die.  I suspect the latter will be the inevitable path for them.

Of course, it might not be climate change or global warming that is the problem at all.  It might just be that I have simply not adhered to my father’s age old advice.  He always told me that I planted my runner beans too early.  So maybe it was just another case of “too early for runner beans”.

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The Birds and the Bees

Busy Bee on Allium

“Spring is Sprung
The grass is Riz
I wonder where dem boidies iz…”

Well Spring is definitely Sprung; the grass is needing a weekly mow  and I am delighted to say I know where a lot of dem boidies is, as we have seen plenty in the garden or on our morning walks with The Lab.

As we continue to expand our knowledge of birdsong we now recognise the Blackcap which has apparently been described as the Northern Nightingale.  Hopefully that does not mean that it sings in a strange accent, has suffered high levels of unemployment and has recently deserted its normal electoral preferences by voting for the Brexit Party.  But it does have a song that is indeed mellifluous although I feel it has a bit of a Scandinavian hurdy gurdy lilt to it.  More of an IKEA nightingale, I reckon.

But nothing wrong with that.

Identifying birds will always remind me of The Old Man who was a self-styled (and self-educated) expert on the subject. I will never match his knowledge and I felt his absence the other day when I saw a Wheatear, which I have not seen for years.  My first instinct is still to think of telling TOM about what – for me – is a rare sighting.  I would have loved to have shared the news with him.  We also saw a yellowhammer (bonus points to Mrs B for his one) which is another bird we do not see often and this evokes memories of childhood as I recall my mother teaching me its call of “a little bit of bread and no cheese”, although perhaps these days the Yellowhammer is more likely to be singing “a little non-smart phone and no 4G”.

Elsewhere we have had some significant, albeit brief, visits to the garden – first from a Greater Spotted woodpecker which gorged itself on the peanuts, and then a Sparrowhawk that picked off a small songbird and made off with its prey amid a chorus of angry tweets.  A Jay was another unwelcome visitor that left after a full-on assault from an angry blackbird.

A none-native passer-by appeared the other day when I was drawn outside by what sounded like a rusty wheel being scraped over corrugated iron.  One of the Guinea Fowl from The Manor down the road was sitting on the fence making a racket.  Fortunately, not being a Corbynite Fowl, it came down off the fence.  For the pollsters amongst you, it decided to Leave: much to the disdain of our Labrador.

There have been rumblings about how few swallows there are this year and at the Old Place they are still noticeable by their absence.  I did see one on the wire down the road and have seen house martins around, but swallows are in short supply which is a little worrying.  One migrant we did hear the other morning was a cuckoo, which I have not heard in these parts for some years.  Mrs B and I had a slight disagreement as I tend to talk about cuckoos with the definitive article:  I always hear THE cuckoo, not A cuckoo.  It is the only bird that I can think of which is spoken of in such terms.

Mrs B was not convinced – and she is normally the more definitive one.

Apart from the birds, the bees have also been busy around here.  None have taken advantage of my Bee Brick yet though some might have to as we came across the remains of a bumble bees nest strewn across the road from what I assume was a badger assault.  As we always say: “You can’t stop a badger”.

I was less keen to allow a bigger interloper to make its home in the garden when I found a seriously large hornet humming around the shed.  I jarred up the Big Mother for identification purposes as Mrs B told me we needed to check if it was one of those nasty Asian Hornets which are potentially a danger to our own native bees.  We I-D’ed it as a European Hornet – so I guess it will be gone by 31st October, along with the free movement of labour and last shred of respect for Britain as a land of fairness and good sense.

 

European Hornet. Over here, taking our jobs

 

 

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We’re Gonna Build a Wall…

Onion defences

The major structural engineering works in the garden this spring have revolved around defence – or perhaps I should pronounce that DE-fence.  You see we are facing a crisis, an invasion from migrants.  Migrant cats.  They are sweeping across our borders destroying our bird life and threatening our gardens with their illegal activities, cat nip dealing and violence.  We must repel this invasion.

OK, not an invasion and not a national crisis. And no drug trafficking, but why let the truth get in the way of policy-making? And I guess cats have rights too. And while they are not actually destroying all the bird life they’re probably taking the occasional tit. But what these cats are doing is crapping in my well-tended veg patch. I say cats – it seems to be just the one, with a particularly poor diet, judging by the liquid nature of its deposits. But it leads to one of two consequences. Either I clear it up before tending the garden or, if I am too slow, I have to watch as my Labrador does her morning “poo patrol” and eats whatever feline faeces she can find.

I am not sure which I find more disgusting.

So the solution, to borrow an idea from across the Pond, was to BUILD A WALL. But not just one wall – more like a series of barricades which could be built without recourse to Congress or any other budgetary authorities. So, using some spare chicken wire, canes and fruit netting we have sectioned off the veg beds with instantaneous results: no more cat poo. The dog is disappointed – she still patrols the garden every morning on the off-chance, which reassures me that the cats have not been back. And the netting might even have kept the sparrows from eating the young pea plants too, so it’s a win-win.

Plenty of peas and no poos: success. We’re making the Garden Great Again.  Now, how do we get the cats to pay for the wall…

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Pre-season training

Basil?!

We are into March. The days are lengthening.  The February seeds have germinated and are looking sprightly: the race to produce those early tomatoes has started and the chillis are up too.  We need to make sure they are in good shape for the summer ahead.

The change of month means that I can now allow myself to open those packets of veg and flowers seeds that advised sowing from March onwards.   Having a greenhouse is a boon at this time of the year, but before the seedlings graduate to this I have been starting some in the warmth of the spare bedroom before putting them in the conservatory which is no more than a giant leaky cold frame at this time of the year, but still marginally warmer than the greenhouse at night.

It’s not all seeds in trays, though:  I’ve sown a couple of rows of peas and sugar snaps in the raised beds.  The peas will once again be Hurst Greenshaft – The Old Man’s favourite.  I keep a picture on my desk of him proudly standing alongside the Greatest Peas Of All Time.  It is something to which I can aspire.  The key might be the soil – which was a friable fecund tilth at the old place: the result of decades of cultivation.  My one year old raised beds are composed of a thin layer of compost overlaying the claggy clay topsoil I bought last spring.  I have put some well-rotted manure in with the peas but I fear it will take many more years’ work before it gets anywhere near as fertile as the last place.

We’ll wait to see if their early form is good enough to ensure good performance this season, whatever the ground..

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