I never enter the greenhouse these days without at least a sense of trepidation. The worst’s over, that much is clear and those plants which haven’t been totally ruined, even if they aren’t looking as healthy as they might or cropping with the usual intensity, are at least still alive. The onions, leeks and various beans seem to have fared better than the tomatoes, the strawberries are heading for a bit of a (misshapen) revival (if the resident bloody blackbird doesn’t get there first) and the pepper/chili “garden” seems to be on the verge of delivering most bountifully. I should be thankful for what I have, not mourning the loss of what I’ve lost, but I guess, at least on my part, that’s a symptom of The Human Condition.
The synopsis of gardening progress will be both short and sweet this episode, I was away from it for eight days, during which time nothing actually died, some things thrived and the blackbird arrived. The nets over the strawberries are no deterrent so I’ve placed several big sticks in strategic places and I’m just waiting for the right moment to strike a blow for humanity. It may seem cruel to contemplate “offing” one of our feathered friends and I’m open to suggestions, but if I catch it, it’s a gonner.
I’ve touched on this before, obviously, but the “chili farm” is showing signs of being extremely productive (he say’s, touching wood) twenty seven plants, of at least six varieties (I misplaced several tags during re-potting) all appear to be doing at least reasonably well. The twin ploys (if I can call them that) of standing the pots on a grid to allow them to drain more easily and to hold off water until the compost is virtually dry to the touch seem to be about to pay dividends, although, given previous experiences in past years, my optimism is slightly muted. The chili jam I made last year, which didn’t get a great set, is full of flavour and spicy heat, more of the same, but with added liquid pectin this year, all being well.
This morning (27/06) there were fifteen viable (looking) tomato plants; again there are several varieties and again I have no real idea which is which, the smaller ones are, I’m guessing, cherry varieties (of which there may be a couple) with the others being (I believe) a mix of St. Pierre, Tigrella and San Marzano. I doubt there’ll be much in the way of soup production at the fag end of the year, but I’m growing a couple of pots of basil in anticipation of at least a couple of decent servings of bruschetta.
I’ve left most of the dying tomato plants in the ground. They stand as a reminder of my personal hubris, born of several years of producing great tomatoes and a decent run of firsts at the village show. I have no doubt that seeing them every morning feeds my fear that I’ll never get back to where I was, greenhouse wise but, at the same time they act as a reminder that things sometimes go wrong and the best way of dealing with it is to make the best of a bad job. Mixed thoughts and emotions but also some cheer to be had, as evidenced by this specimen of (hopefully) robust tomatoey health. The last plant in the row, which had gone unnoticed until today,sits directly under one of the many leaky sections of the greenhouse roof. It chucked it down all day yesterday and, although the plants alongside it weren’t troubled by the water this particular plant seems to have just soldiered on. I carefully dug it up to find the roots in excellent condition and no trace of manure under them. A rough gardening win, by the looks of it. Up to sixteen now.
The trip to the north east was a welcome break, I didn’t even phone Dave, secure in the knowledge, I suppose, that if he couldn’t manage to water a few plants every couple of days then there wasn’t a great deal I could do about it. We stayed on a “Holiday Park”. They used to be called caravan sites when I was a lad, but times have changed and the quality of the accommodation has changed with them. We had a “Luxury Lodge”, complete with three bedrooms (one en-suite) a well equipped kitchen within a spacious open plan living area and a wide decked area. All quite comfortable and a snip (if you’re in the market) at just a fiver under £85k, plus site fees. It’s clear that this price tag doesn’t put many people off, the site’s obviously occupied predominantly by owners. Cheaper options are available, but I wasn’t really tempted. Edward The First stayed at Chillingham Castle on his way to see off William Wallace, but Braveheart fans shouldn’t be put off by this. If you’re ever in the area I fully recommend half a day here, highlights everywhere, weapons, armour, ephemera of every shape and size, ghosts, implements of torture and quirky handwritten descriptive notes. Be aware though, if you do visit don’t steal anything, or you’ll face “The Curse Of The Spanish Witch”.
Walking on the sandy beaches, sometimes for miles, is part of the attraction (for me and Mrs. C at least) of a break in Northumberland. Bamburgh, Druridge, Embleton and the Seahouses to Beadnell are just a few worthy of mention. Sad to see though, probably as a result of Avian Flu, many dead sea birds, particularly gannets, washed up and just left to return on the tide to whence they came, no doubt. There are also a couple of roped off nesting sites, but the birds using them must have been particular well camouflaged. We also took a walk in The Chiltern Hills along a section of St. Cuthberts Way, more undulating than the Lake District Fells, but strenuous enough, with great views across rolling English countryside.
I include a picture of Beadnell Harbour for no other reason than I can. There’s a fabulous house, about a five minute walk away from it, that sits above the beach with nothing to the east of it but The North Sea, unrestricted sunrise views, every morning would be just one of the many positives of living in a place like it. It’s one of those places that you see and say to yourself “If I won the lottery I’d knock on the door and ask the owner to name his (or her) price. We can all dream, can’t we?
A trip to Northumberland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to The Inner Farne Islands, one of the spiritual homes of many a Postalier and a wonderful place to see not only Puffins, but Arctic Terns, Shags, Cormorants, Razorbills, Eider Ducks and Guillemots, amongst others. The sight of a Puffin in flight, with a beak full of sand eels or a Tern attacking a human for having the temerity to look at one of its chicks the wrong way is worth the trip alone. A hat is essential, with bubble wrap insert for added protection, but it’s to no avail if you have your cap turned back to front, to allow photography to happen. A pecked forehead is a virtual certainty. It was a bit lumpy on the day we went out, but the crew on the Billy Sheils boat we took knew their onions and got us out and back, safe but a little damp. I know there are other places to see Puffins, but the sheer profusion of wildlife (not just birds) makes this a “must do” trip.
Another “must visit” is Holy Island, it does get cut off by the tide, so if you’re going to go you need to be aware. You can walk across, but I’ve tried it and it’s a lot further than it looks. It’s a grand little place, with a population of around 200 and, although it’s geared up for visitors, it retains a charm of its own. The Priory is managed by English Heritage and the castle itself by National Trust, but you don’t need to pay any money to enjoy the island itself, or to walk out onto the long stony beach and around the castle, which has some interesting Lime Kilns (if you like that sort of thing) underneath it. All in all a great day out and finished with a splendid pint of local ale, to wash down a decent fish pie at the aptly named Lindisfarne Inn. I’m not sure if I could ever become a “caravanner”, mobile or static, but, as a one of break it was good enough and, although not cheap, was at least a couple of hundred quid less than a cottage in the same area.
I’m a man, obviously and the intricacies of the “Wade vs Rowe” argument currently raging in the US are beyond my male mind to comprehend, I wouldn’t want to have to make the choice to kill a foetus growing inside me, for whatever reason and I certainly wouldn’t want to do so because the child was a “mistake”, but I’ll never be in that position. I do have personal knowledge of a woman being coerced, by a married lover, into having two abortions and I know, even though it was over 30 years ago, there’s rarely a day goes by when she doesn’t feel some regret for her actions. Some men can be unfeeling bastards. That isn’t the point of this little rant though; we all know what a bunch of ne’er do wells and wasters we have in western politics, sly, entitled, arrogant shits who will say anything to ingratiate themselves with the populist side in any argument, but surely they must recognise the inherent hypocrisy of not being able to define what a woman is, whilst, at the same time, claiming to stand up for the bodily autonomy of women. Even more so when they repeat the “my body, my choice” mantra, stating no man should have the right to tell any woman what to do with her body, whilst they deny both men and women the right to choose not to be injected with a drug they don’t want, probably don’t need and certainly (and very wisely, as it turns out) have no faith in. I hope there’s a hell, because these people (and we all know who they are) deserve to burn in it for eternity.
© Colin Cross 2022