The Dog Days are Never Over

Autumn walk

The tail end of the summer and into the autumn and we are consuming the results of all our previous efforts .  And it is good to get out and do some harvesting or simply get out and about in the Somerset countryside. I have had plenty of time to do both with my uncritical canine assistants.

Ella is the espionage specialist and has all the patience of George Smiley in seeking out those elusive moles that continue to threaten our Western Gardening Meritocracy.  She stands for hours over the mole hills awaiting a false move. Then digs deep and fast as if searching for Arnie Saknusson*. We have found the occasional dead mole, so we assume she was responsible.  But it is all very Top Secret – she never admits to neutralising any of the underground threat.

Deaf and Dumb?

The more diminutive canine companion (Fudge) is a little less useful or co-operative.  As I opened the door to water the hanging basket at 8 a.m. one Saturday – a time when good working folk are likely to be enjoying their rest – the ginger flash spirited herself out like smoke and proceeded to play a game of Grandmother’s footsteps with me down the garden path.   As I followed her she maintained her distance.  As I accelerated, she (quietly, carefully) raised her speed.  As I whispered and gesticulated for her to stop, she pinned her ears flatter and stared straight ahead.  “Hear no command, see no command” is her motto in old age and she hopped over the wall and was crossing the road to disappear down the lane when my patience ran out.

“FUDGE!!!”  I shouted.

She stopped, thought for a moment, had to admit she had heard that command, and grudgingly returned to base camp – as our new neighbours were waking up, bleary-eyed, wondering what had provoked such a profanity so early on a Saturday.

Fudge is, physically, in remarkably good shape for a dog of her age (we reckon she is about 14), but mentally she is a dementia case.  She obsesses about stuff – God only knows what.  At least with the other pensioner in my life I know what his obsessions are.  The Old Man will tell me every time I see him what he is going to have for every meal, and precisely how he (or Gill) is going to cook it.  And this is only after he has told me what he had the previous evening.

And how he or Gill cooked it.

We think that Fudge is probably like the Old Man, with her food-based obsession.  If I bring veg in from the garden, she will compulsively try to take some from the basket.  I have lost chard, cavolo nero and broccoli to the ginger veg thief, which seems an odd diet for a dog, but there you go.  And it does not end at vegetarian “edibles”.

The other day I heard an odd sound in the living room and came in to see Fudge chewing a piece of coal that she had taken out of the container by the fire.  And she was consuming it on the (previously unmarked) new beige carpet….  It put me in mind of the day she and her sister (as puppies) ripped open a bean bag bed in the kitchen and looked bemused at the drifts of polystyrene beads wafting across the flagstones – not to mention my own declaration of them as “fuckwits”.

The demented fuckwit continues to lick anything that does not move such as her bed, the kitchen floor, the sofa, and even the hearth (though that is no surprise in view of the coal incident).

And what is the inevitable result of all this food-obsessed activity?  The Newtonian law of every action having an equal and opposite reaction dictates that this dog could shit for Britain.  But if producing crap was a competitive sport there are not many individuals that I would be able to put up against my fuckwit dog.  She defies the normal laws of physics.  In what is the defecatory equivalent of cold fusion she manages – in the space of one 45 minute walk – to produce faeces in excess of her own bodyweight.  She starts before she is out of the garden (before she is out the door if we do not move quickly enough) and is still pooping as she returns to the house.  I could name a few people who produce more than their fair share of metaphorical crap, but in literal terms, pound-for-pound my little demented Fudgey dog takes the biscuit.

(And the kale, and the coal)


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Late news from late summer

Sunrise on a wet field

It was a wet end to the summer and I never really got the garden under the level of control I might in other years have demanded.  I wrote this piece back in October, before a lot of other stuff happened so I will simply post this and update my loyal readership (both of you) about some of the goings on in my life in the next few posts. Here’s what I had to say in October:

I have continued to reap whatever I have sown, so we are, despite a certain lack of motivation, still harvesting a fine range of autumnal produce.

Some of the squashes are looking good, although I should probably have pruned them a little more:  they have produced an abundance of green foliage drawing on the rich soil in the pig pen, but there have not been a great many fruit.  The butternuts all failed to ripen properly, and I am seriously thinking about never growing them again.  The Uchiki Kuri have been pretty good (the ones that have survived the mice, that is) and the Crown Prince have produced some excellent candidates.  The plants grew up and over the fence and lelandii hedge and I discovered a couple of fruit on top of it this morning.

But looking ahead, I am increasingly like The Old Man:  just grow the reliable Crown Prince – stick to what you know.  They produce large, well ripened fruit that store well and so far as I am concerned, taste just as good as butternut.

It is a constant surprise to me that I can go into a pretty tangled mess of a plot and still come back with a trug full of vegetable joy.  Parsnips, beans, beetroot, tomatoes, green peppers (best ever) all complement the stored items such as potatoes, onions, garlic and shallots.  Our food bills are minimal at the moment.

I have taken steps to use what we have.  I plan to dry some chillis, but have this year actually made some green tomato chutney.  But will it be as good Mrs Chippington’s green tomato chutney which my flatmate would bring back at the beginning of each term at university?  I doubt it – Mrs Chips’s chutney was legendary.


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A Potatolypse Now

“I love the smell of digging in the morning…….The smell, you know that wet earth smell, the garden. Smells like………Arran Victory”.


Arran Victory: A potato to die for


“Someday this garden’s gonna end…”


(apologies to Francis Ford Coppolla et al.)

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One Month On

170614 (3)It’s been a month since I put finger to keyboard (or for some I know it would be thumbs to keyboard).   It is an interesting comparison to see how stuff has panned out in the past 30 days.

A month ago it was raining, I was at the end of half term, looking forward to a mad month of end of term activities and report writing. Now the sun is shining and I am on holiday looking forward to weeks of no school and starting to reap the harvest from the springtime planting, potting on and general nurturing.

In June I was worried the garlic was going over and rotting. It was suffering rust (was it the rain?)  and some did – but most are now drying nicely and have been joined by the shallots, spread out in the garage, away from the joists where the swallow fledglings sit and shit.  The Old Man’s reaction to the harvesting of shallots was typical:

“It’s a bit early for shallots”.

“Try telling the shallots” I replied: “they’re falling over”.

It’s been a good year for them (early or not) and many are the size of decent onions. I wish I had planted more now.

Up the top of the garden, a month ago the pig pen was a tangled mess of three foot high weeds.  I put my back into clearing a particularly fertile area of the pen (resulting in a trip to the osteopath) but I reckon it was worth the effort:  the new squash patch is thriving on what I cleared and what the pigs left behind.

Early June the runner beans were just beginning to grasp the canes.  Now they are over-topping them.  The first beans are formed.  The curly kale was being protected by boards – now the kale is big enough to stand by itself and the boards are protecting the cabbages, which suffered some mouse damage.

Mid-June saw the first Cosmos and sweet peas – ahead of the regular 10th July Sweet Pea Day.  And veggies came on stream: courgettes, new potatoes, peas, mangetout and any amount of kale.  And second plantings of lettuce leaves are in full swing when they were non-existent a month ago.

While the over-wintered chillies were originally small and red, they became large and yellow in June and have graduated to orange to proper sized red chillis now.   And this year’s new chillis are starting to bud.

And….much to my relief and Mrs B’s delight…we have the first tomatoes.

(A bit early for tomatoes wouldn’t you say?)

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Unvote-able in pursuit of the unquote-able

I noticed in the Conservative Party Manifesto that they are offering  a free vote on reinstating Fox Hunting if the nation decides to re-elect President May.  Around these parts the hunt still meets – but currently just ride to with the hounds or canter with canines or something.  The traditional Boxing Day Hunt Meet is always a well attended annual event outside the George in Cary, drawing bloated Christmas crowds to share in a mulled wine before the men in hunting pinks take the hounds to seek and destroy the vulpine vermin (by accident of course).

We tottered into Canaryville this year feeling content after a good festive feast the day before, but the feelings of comfort and positivity started to dissipate as we arrived at the Market House.  I have mixed feelings about the hunt and I am not entirely sure what to make of a gathering of people on horses sipping mulled wine, surrounded by others who have little or no attachment to the countryside other than the fact that they own large parts of it to enable them to graze their ponies for their offspring to ride.  So much green tweed, Hunter wellies and dogs smoozing in the thin December sunshine, ra-ra-ing at the strident political statements from the master of the hunt, as he stands up in his stirrups and lets forth at the usual subjects.

There are no longer any hunt sabs who some decades ago (prior to the ban) had the nerve to stand outside the George to protest.  They looked sad and a little forlorn surrounded by the congregation of slightly tipsy twits with terriers who were fencing them in.  But the Master these days has his unopposed moment in the sun to make his case and he took it with his whip hand in December.

In a rollicking review of the ills that beset the countryside he started with a popular subject, harking back to the days of Tony Blair “and his cronies” deciding to ban hunting with dogs – to general murmurs of support.  Except at this point – miraculously – a voice was heard saying “good job too” to some startled mutterings.  While someone was despatched to find the key for the lock-up on Bailey Hill into which to throw the woolly-headed liberal dissenter, the Master continued unabashed.  He berated such organisations as the RSPCA, National Trust and RSPB for having lost touch with the countryside.   This cheered the assembled throng who were further enlivened as the Master reviewed the three major events of 2016:  Leicester City winning the league (loud cheers); Brexit (even louder cheers); and Donald Trump becoming the Leader of the Free World (the audience were a bit confused with that – were they meant to cheer or not?).

Brexit is an interesting one.  Why did it elicit such a cheer, when, as I understand it, the farming community – with which the Hunt is supposedly intrinsically linked – has for years survived on the subsidies provided by the Common Agricultural Policy developed in Brussels.  Country folk for Brexit sounds like turkeys and Christmas.  Perhaps I have missed something and Brexiteers have discovered another £350m a week which can support agriculture as well as the NHS.

It’s part of the jingoistic nationalist tendencies that have left us as blinkered as the winner of the 3.10 at Kempton.  The Master said that all we want is to be left alone to hunt to our hearts content (and kill things) and thanked the farming community for looking after the country and making it a good place to hunt and shoot (and kill things).  These are the same farmers who have ripped out hedges and helped decimate numbers of hedgerow nesting birds, while we are left to dodge swarms of brainless partridge and pheasant chicks as they run around the lanes trying to end it all before the shooters get them in the autumn.

I wouldn’t say that it was a long address, but one portly gentleman in the saddle who had started a cigarette shortly before the start was forced to rummage around in his hacking jacket (pardon the pun) to light up another mid-way through in order to help him concentrate.

The Master’s final jingoistic message was to Buy British – buy local – which is a sure-fire winner, although the chances of Britain being able to feed itself in the near future are remote.  On the other hand the assembled throng could do worse than come into El Castillo di Cary to exercise their democratic right to vote, then take some time to support their local businesses – and nowhere better than their local  independent bookshop.  They might find something educational and informative to read rather than listening to the loud-sounding nothings that have populated the airwaves for the past months.



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“This One Goes Out to the Ones I Love”

There is a storm blowing outside: the manifestation of the metaphorical turmoil that is in the air around us at the moment.  It is a time to hold our loved ones close – if not literally then at least in our hearts and minds. And to remind ourselves of our own values which do not require violence, puerile tweets or egotistical rants to back them up.

So this post is for my daughter who is working her socks off for her 4th year medical exams and for my son who has just got his first teaching job, in a proper (multi-denominational) school which will treat him like an adult and support him in every professional way as he starts his teaching career.

So I could talk about the walk the other day with the dogs through the damp grass which was bent like a Hokusai wave, on which the Labrador managed to despatch two rabbits; or I could tell you about the shrew that I spotted scuttling into the Old Man’s kitchen as I sat talking to him in the living room, and which proceeded to do a full tour of the house – via French windows, underneath the TV and then through to the breakfast room (all without TOM managing to see it) while I made vain efforts to humanely catch and release it whence it came.

But no more jokes about illegal immigrants this week.

Instead I will just show pictures of the straight lines and pleasing colours and blooms in the garden.  Just before the wind and rain battered it to destruction…

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The Campaign Continues

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Mangetout for the many

April and early May was so dry, and yet it was not warm.  Without temperatures getting particularly high (we rarely had the opportunity  to be able to sun ourselves amongst the mole hills) the ground had dried and cracked.  At school, one of my colleagues was even proposing getting a hose pipe out on the playing field to water the bare turf in goal mouths that had been re-seeded.

I suggested we leave ground work to the groundsman who is, after all, the expert.  But I do not have that luxury in the garden. I am the expert in the field leading the campaign, so it was with some relief that the past week has seen some solid rainfall. It has meant some potentially dispiriting lessons at school, but the garden plants look refreshed and revived on it. I told the Old Man about how it all immediately looked so green and healthy and he drily opined that it is the water on the leaves that magnifies and enhances the colours. It seemed a fair hypothesis and reminded me that even though largely house-bound, the OM retains the title of overall expert around here.

I might not have him literally looking over my shoulder, but he retains some theoretical oversight and to that end I remembered to net the red currants and black currants, after last year’s crop went exclusively to the greedy birds who feasted on them.  My brothers come down at regular intervals to cook for him at weekends and find the constant stream of instructions shouted from the living room to the kitchen rather taxing.  I have a little breathing space in the garden – perhaps that is why I find it so rewarding – but in the veg patch I am doing what I imagine my parents might have been doing in their hey day:  planting out  peas, mangetout and Cavolo Nero while the potatoes are sprouting healthily.  I’ve also planted beans, although I know the paternal voice in my head tells me it is too early for runners.

Such advice is about as welcome as a Johnsonian justification of alcohol consumption in a tee-total temple, so I am sticking to my campaign promises because the future of the garden is in my hands, I am planting not for the few, but for the many, and I expect all those plants to be strong and stable…

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