38 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd

Only the three of us now. The reluctant end-of-holiday diaspora has taken place and the four older children have returned to school. After seven weeks of teasing out time for gardening from the knot of family things, suddenly there’s yards of the stuff – all in the subtle, slightly sombre colours of autumn.

Charting a course between here and edible abundance is now uppermost in my mind. Once this would have had me reaching for the spade and digging maniacally. I’m a bit wiser now and have spent some of this strange, free time planning for next year- with one foot gently doinging the baby’s chair because even he needs to get off to sleep sometimes. 

My spreadsheet comprises a list of the 99 types of vegetables I’m planning to grow, how best to germinate each one, what type of bed it likes and where it’s going to grow. This season, I intend to have all my beds ready by the shortest day so it’s important to know whether I’m digging trenches, weeding the raised beds or laying down mulches. Turns out the first priority is clearing the old potato beds in readiness for the direct, September sowing of spinach and the October one of peas and broad beans. Then it’s on to the raised beds which will get a green manuring this month.

If it’s raining too hard (the novelty wears off quickly) I’ve plenty of potting on to do in the greenshed. I spent a happy three hours in there this afternoon – each plant label written by the kids was a cheerful little memento of the summer just gone.

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A chunk of last week was bitten out by one of my regular trips to the UK with my oldest two children. After the careful accord won over the long summer holiday, delivering them back to their other home in Yorkshire represented a pretty dismal prospect.

Trying a new route meant that, within only a few hours, we were back in the sooty suburbs of my past: Yeadon, Rawdon, Shipley. The road to our destination was a dreary travelogue of “Roundabouts I have Queued At”. Nothing else much has changed in the intervening twenty years: just more enlardment with new estates of pumped-up muscle houses on postage stamp size gardens. Lots of ‘For Sale’ signs. 

And yet, a sense that everything has changed since our suburban seventies heyday. That way of life made some sense in a cheap oil economy. In a wretched, debt-laden and spindly service economy where mortgages are big and pensions pointless – what on earth will all these good people do? I got the distinct and sudden impression that the ready-meal life was the true experiment and that my project is merely an attempt to re-engage with the underlying, constant reality of subsistence.

Like the taste of farewell tears in my first-born’s long eye lashes, truth is salutary. I readily concede that if there was a button marked “Return to previous life” I would have gladly hit it on a good few occasions in the last two years.  Thing is, I’m not sure my old life even exists any more…

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