Friday, December 26, 2008

Time for a Heart-Starter

I think I'm turning into my Dad. He used to go out on his motorcycle on Boxing Day morning and come back frozen.

Ditto, this morning

Easily rectified by what a Normandy farmer would describe as a Heart Starter. Village cafe before work starts; double espresso and a shot of Calvados.

If that doesn't get your heart started you're very dead indeed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve, 1825, Fort Vancouver

As yet there has been scarcely any frost [writes David Douglas, botanist and plant collector, at the Hudson's Bay Co'y establishment on the Columbia River, 183 years ago today]. When dry, weather generally very pleasant during the day; the nights invariably cold and damp. [But this will very soon change]

On the 24th December the rain fell in such torrents, without the least intermission, that my little hut of Thuja bark, which stood in rather a low situation, was completely inundated; 14 inches of water was in it.

As my lodgings were not of the most comfortable sort (!), Mr McLoughlin [the Chief Factor] kindly invited me to a part of his house in a half-finished state. Therefore on Christmas Day all my little things were removed to my new dwelling

Happy Xmas David Douglas.

Roast Nuts Chesting on an Open Fire......

..... observed Wilma Wilbury this morning. And that was before we'd opened the drink.

It follows in a long tradition of Mixed Matadors which we collect in this house. Dark horses run deep, you know.

We have a long list and I'll share some in due course. But for the moment, have a great Xmas and remember:

All's well that ends.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Here be Russians

December 1825, Pacific Northwest

At the mouth of the [un-named] river there is a trading establishment on a woody island where ships come in the summer.

The people have large beards and are very wicked; they have hanged several of the natives to the rigging and have ever since been in much disrepute.

Douglas is in no doubt as to their identity..... as he showed me several small articles of Russian manufacture, among which were small copper Russian coins, metal combs etc, together with large malleable iron pots of very coarse workmanship, and very different from anything in the trade of the British Fur Company. [one can almost hear him saying "How very different from the home life of our own dear Queen".

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Rainy Season being Set In.....

....with my infirm state, totally banished every thought from my mind of being able to do much more in the way of botany for a season. It is with serious regret that I am compelled to resign my labours, so much sooner than if that accident had not befallen me............. writes David Douglas in December 1825, having fallen onto a rusty nail and incurred a suppurating knee, all this at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, Pacific Northwest.

At midday on the 18th the Express (two boats and 40 men) arrived from Hudson's Bay, which they left on the 21st of July [this is the westbound Express; readers will recall following Douglas and the eastbound Express earlier this year]. In this distant land, where there is only an annual post, they were by every person made welcome guests. I hastened to the landing place, congratulating myself on the news from England [but] I learned with much regret there were no letters, parcels or any article for me. I was exceedingly disappointed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Looking Ahead

Two minutes after winter solstice, on a cold, damp non-skyclad plot (see previous), seemed like a good time to look around and MAKE A LIST.

You can never have too many lists; sometimes you need a "list of lists". Sometimes the list is a substitute for action. Expert listmakers put into their lists things they've already done, just so they can relish the sense of achievement of immediately ticking them off again. I wouldn't do that of course. Oh dear me no; well, not often.

So what is the LIST about and what's on it? It's stuff to do on the allotment next year, innit? ya need a list to give ya'self some structure, dun't cha? Here goes:::

  • Move the straggly Mallow (to make room for the yet-to-be-ordered pile of ordure)
  • Construct the ordure area (buy posts & post-hole spade)
  • Order ordure
  • Dig in ordure (listen, it's a crap job but someone's gotta do it).
  • Complete digging of remaining plots
  • Move "rotten rubbish wood", excavated from bottom of plot and still lurking there only marginally tidier than when un-excavated) to the top ere it goes to the tip.
  • Construct chicken-wire-hurdles to keep pigeons off cabbages etc. Could I perhaps automate this, with a motion sensor to detect incoming pidg and unleash barrage of "**** Off, you fat B*st*rds"? There's money to be made in this.
  • Burn other rubbish when dry, or encourage with paraffin
  • Bring fallow plots back into production
  • Leave more space around plants, and hoe more (more space = less chance of hoeing the innocent)
  • Fix hole in water butt (concrete?). Ever the optimist, eh, that summer 09 will be so good that watering may be required?
  • De-buttercup the raspberry plot (why do you build me up, buttock up?) before tying them in (buy posts) and adding more (buy raspberries).
  • Buy & construct either a greenhouse or polytunnel
  • Put a glass lid on the former cold frames to transform them into, wait for it, cold frames once again.
  • Major Tidy (that's what we need, some military discipline. Attention, Major Tidy) of the bottom end of the plot excavated last year to uncover the grapevine
  • Prune the grapevine, prune the blackberries, prune the Autumn Bliss (a state I aspire to), prune everything.
  • Cut down the rogue hawthorn. That's a very British, Rogue Male, sort of name isn't it? hawthorn's the name, Rogue Hawthorn. I could have that as a pseudonym. Perhaps I May. that is of course a clever allusion, which you can follow by dint of looking-it-up.
  • Shall i coppice the cobnut? Come, Felicity, let us coppice yon cobnut. Coppice yer cobnuts while yer may.

And that'll do. Happy Xmas & see you next year. Don't forget to coppice yer cobnuts.

Winter Solstice 2008

Today is the shortest day. The sun reaches it's highest elevation at 12:04 before giving up and heading south again (at least that's what it said in yesterday's Times). So from here on in it'll be getting progressively lighter. Yippee. I think that does begin to happen, in quite small ways, quite soon (like, it starts getting lighter again). It'll be noticeable by mid-January.

If I were a pagan I'd be dancing skyclad around an allotment bonfire to celebrate. I can hear the Salvation Army band in the background. Perhaps they know that acts of skycladness are imminent and are here to save me from myself.

But it's too wet for a bonfire and too cold for skyclad. you'll just have to visualise it.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The pleasure of a well-turned sod

Digging today! Digging!!

I love digging. I love to see an untidy piece of ground transformed into a uniformly turned over, waiting for winter cold, well-dug patch. Robins seem to like it too. One ate so much I'm surprised he could still fly.

It's been glorious here today. A really heavy frost overnight then clear blue sky and wall to wall sunshine which, as the plot faces due south, hit us full-on. It was almost (that's, almost) shirt-off weather. Days like this remind me why I have an allotment. It's my own bit of land to work, deeply rooted in my family agricultural background.

My dad was a farm labourer and in winter after school I was straight into the byre for evening milking. Although the byre had electricity, for the milking machines, for some reason (probably parsimony) it was lit by hurricane lamps and Tilley lamps. I can still see the soft glow of the hurricane lamps and the altogether fiercer light of the Tilley's, and remember the hissing sound they made.

The first house I can remember living in was lit entirely by paraffin lamps (and the toilet was an earth closet at the end of the garden). These lamps were a design classic - the Aladdin lamp, which was a staple of isolated homesteads across the USA and England throughout the first half of the 1900s. My parents kept theirs and used it regularly until they had central heating installed, because it was a source of heat as well as light. I still have it and it still works (very useful in power cuts!).

Anyone else got/used/seen an Aladdin lamp?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Khaki, Khaki

I saw a bloke yesterday, a pensioneer, sat in his car (a Rover) wearing a khaki car coat, with a khaki cap, khaki shirt, khaki cardigan and khaki tie. I couldn't see his trousers but suspect they were khaki too. Probably considers beige a dangerously avant-garde colour.

Friday, December 05, 2008


"Kinderkopje" in Dutch is Children's Cups, used to describe cobblestones. In the infamous Paris-Roubaix "Hell of the North" early season classic cycle race it's used to describe the appalling cobbles over which much of the race takes place. Colloquially, they are known as Babies Heads.

Why am I telling you this in an otherwise seemly allotmenting blog? Because the rhubarb stools I've just planted out resemble nothing so much as Hell of the North Kinderkopjes. Here's a pic.

I now have 8 large rhubarb plants, known round here as a Triangle. Surely you've heard of the rhubarb triangle? Hopefully I won't have to harvest it by candlelight, like they do at Oldroyds.

Last year I made a Rhubarb Bellini & commend it to your attention.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Parallel Blogging again?

All is quiet in the allotment blogosphere, although I have five "Kinderkopje" of rhubarb in the back of the car waiting to be put in. Not heard of Kinderkopje? All will be revealed, with photos. For now I'll just tantalise you with "Hell of the North".

Needless to say, the car smells heavily of earth.

Anyway, all being quiet on the planting front, I'm toying with the idea of revisiting Davey-boy Douglas in the Pacific Northwest, circa 1826. You've already seen him travelling across the Continent with the Hudson's Bay Express to York Factory but he'd had adventures aplenty before then in an almost unexplored part of North America. Remember, this was only 20 years after Lewis and Clark.

I'm minded to start with some extracts from Autumn 1825 so that I can get him teed up ready for 1826/2009. 2009 is the Year of Scots Homecoming and our Douglas film project is aiming to premiere next autumn in Scotland. Seems appropriate somehow to be following Douglas himself in parallel. Any views? Interested? Couldn't give a stuff? Hello? Anyone there?

Try this for a taster, from October 4th 1825, Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River:

"In consequence of receiving a wound on my left knee by falling on a rusty nail when employed packing the last of my seed boxes, I am prevented from proceeding with my collection to the ship. On the 7th my leg became violently inflamed and a large abscess formed on the knee-joint which did not suppurate until the 16th. It is needless to observe that I was unable to continue my journeys or increase my seed collection during the time. This very unfortunate circumstance gave me much uneasiness with regard to my harvest of seed."

Never fall on a rusty nail!