44 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd

Trains, ferries, Gok Wan

Apologies for the slightly late post this week. The last of the big three summer hurdles needed jumping at the weekend: thirty hours of perpetual motion from here to Leeds and back again. After the parched ordeal of the recent drought, the Journey to pick up my oldest two kids proved surprisingly restorative. Geography streamed by and induced that change-as-better-than-rest phenomenon.

I know by now where all the allotment sites are between here and there and peer eccentrically out of train windows to see how they’re getting on… I look aghast at set-aside fields which are now yellow seas of ragwort. I read an astonishing book written by a Breton peasant and listened to Clarissa Dickson Wright’s life story. The former taught me that scratching an existence out in this part of the world has always had its nightmarish aspect. The latter that just having every advantage doesn’t spare you from some living nightmares. Like I said at the start, it’s all very confusing.

(I would have sought Gok Wan’s guidance, but he looked very flustered. At least he provided me with a new addition for my collection of “Z-listers I have seen in London” joining Pete Burns and Mike from Mike’s Carpets…)

More and more, the reality of this way of life is unhinging us from the mainstream. The field is a weedy expression of this shift in the psyche – completely misinterpreted and (I think) underated by most visitors. I’m also finding books about nineteenth century peasants speak far more vividly than present day garden manicurists. That slightly derelict and retrograde realisation came to me somewhere around Godalming (the second time, heading south) and made me even more grateful to be back and part of my own, big family.


Gardening with baby, and others…

It’s in the nature of summer holidays that getting on in the garden has to go hand in hand with containing – sorry – entertaining the kids. Emma had things to do in town, so all five were left in my hands. The alarm that would go off in most people’s head when faced with this chaotic prospect burnt out in mine years ago. A dull sense of acceptance has replaced it.

I’d pitched a tent on the field yesterday. This acts as base for their games and adventures, means they can retreat under cover from too much rain or shine and they can throw all their clobber in there at the end of the day.

Biscuits and drinks are packed into their bags, baby into his papoose… and off we go. Having a sleeping baby strapped to your chest does place some limitations on gardening: using a chainsaw or strimmer is probably out of the question. But jobs like hoeing are pretty easy. I’ve had beer bellies heavier than him!

He even let me cut a cut a couple of cabbages. The ranks of green ones I planted in spring have got horribly disfigured by baking sun and no rain, but Red Drumhead would survive a nuclear strike:

A walk in Botmeur

Botmeur is a lovely village in the otherwise wonderfully bleak – and sometimes downright spooky – Yuen Elez. The latter is the place your soul goes to haunt if you’re really bad, apparently. It’s one of our favourite haunts. There’s some beautiful old houses and some very tidy potagers too:

Oh, and a mystery road side flower – anyone know? Update! It’s betony – thank you ejo!

A word of thanks

Some lovely children’s books have arrived from distant parts of the world – places where we have no (known) friends or relatives. I’m guessing that someone has read this blog and decided, anonymously, to send gifts to our newborn. Emma and I agree it takes a special generosity to do something like that. So, whoever you are, thank you very much.

That water problem

Yesterday the many-handed Akroyd army was deployed in clearing hundreds of greenshed pots and trays of their useless, withered contents. This efficient but dispiriting exercise is seemingly an annual event. Due to some plague, pestilence or other unfortunate mishap the droves of spring sowings never make it into the open ground. This year’s killer setback – other than an escapee goat which nibbled the tops of my seedling kales – has been a drought which rendered plantings out into soil ‘comme béton’ completely futile .

One day – soon preferably – these acres will return a bounty of vegetable plenty you will not believe. In the meantime, I’m sure it is out-yielded by some inner-city balconies. Although grateful I will never have to look up hubris in the dictionary again, this regular summer calamity is becoming as unpalatable as my other cabbages are looking. I can’t make it rain any more than I can improve French driving standards, but clearly to lose everything to drought next year would be careless.

While suburban gardeners happily water their plots from the mains, this would cause bankruptcy almost overnight in this metered household. And thus the bigger the plot the bigger the problem. Serves me right for trying to do this thing without a big tractor and chemical weapons.  However, a conversation with my farmer friend has presented another option. There’s a patch of grass at the top of our field which is forever green and usually damp. Another neighbouring farmer is – I learn – an acclaimed practitioner in the art of divination. You can guess where I’m going with this… Funny how scepticism surrenders in the face of despair!

With the harvest from early spring plantings dwindling, I’m faced with the interesting prospect of August as a new start. I bloody hate new starts. But devising a diet from late summer sowings will be a good discipline to acquire for next year, even if my abundant spring water supply obviates the traditional summer crash and burn.