Sunday, January 30, 2005

I look good in floral gardening gloves

Coming into gardening as a newbie allows me little in the way of comfort. The pain which brews neatly between the shoulder blades and arrives fully three days after digging; the wearing of flowery ladies' gardening gloves as I haven't any man-sized ones; the trenchfoot effect that's started to eat into my trainers as i have no wellies. After all, you can't be expected to buy everything at the start.

And yet after a weekend of digging, I'm able to look back at what I've acheived and feel exceedingly happy. I've dug in two thirds of the manure over two thirds of my plot. No mean feat as I found a turgid thick layer of clay resting neatly below the topsoil. While doing this I made friends with a robin, who typically, like all robins, sat on my fork handle. I even fed him a worm (which he guzzled up like a fat starving Texas boy who hadn't seen food for years). I'm sure David Attenborough would complain at me interfering with the balance of nature in this way, but the little blighter doesn't seem at all impressed with the bird food I put out for him. So it only seems fair to give him something to munch, even if it is wriggling and alive.

I even managed to startle a neighbour who lives in the flat below us. I bet my builder's bum beaming bright was the last thing she wanted to see as she woke, although it was about 11.30 when she peered out of her window half asleep. That'll teach her for being a moany old fart.

But the best thing that happened was the finding of a 1943, 2 Franc coin. I can't find out much about it, although the inscription says a lot about the state of the country in that year. Travail, Famille, Patrie (bury your money, bury it in your back garden! quick!). Even though it wasn't a Roman pot, it certainly made me ask how it got here. And that's the point of digging I think, to ask questions and wonder about things different to your everyday life.

It's not every day that I get to ponder over whether that bit of dirt's too clumpy, or whether that little robin chewed the worm enough (did he choke later and leave a whole family of chicks? Oh I couldn't bear it!?!). I might not be Tom Good just yet, but I'm a little bit further away from the nine-to-five existence.

Friday, January 28, 2005

A surprise at the door

Whenever I return home it’s always with the sense of expectation that something exciting might have happened. Have we been burgled? Is there a parcel full of goodies waiting for me? Has my cat left me a present on the carpet? This feeling quadruples when I really find something.

And so it must have been for my girlfriend when she arrived home to find three bags of shit blocking our front door. Not just any shit, but wonderful life-giving mucky shit. I’m sure she must have been thrilled to squeeze past it to enter the house. At least it was in bags and not just sitting there steaming on a piece of tarpauling. Actually, the thought of arriving home to find a pile of crap on Tom Paulin quite appeals.

But I digress. My weekend is now set. Saturday morning I get to shovel shit again. I vaguely remember, in my squeamish childhood years, pushing some manure around on my parents’ vegetable plot. I didn’t have the guts to really dig it in, and i paid dearly for it: the radishes they let me grow struggled to reach a centimetre in height. And then I don’t think I even ate those as I didn’t like radishes in the first place. Radishes? Oh so exotic for a nine-year-old’s taste.

So my vegetable odyssey is truly under way. Seeds rest on the shelf ready for planting; the muck will soon be spread; spring is threatening to be in the air. I haven’t felt this excited about a lot of hard work in a long, long time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I do love you fridge, honest

Due to a slight miscalculation as to how much we eat, or how much we need to keep cool, our kitchen is the proud owner of a fridge the size of Fort Knox. It was certainly a treat to get rid of the old banger when it finally died on us – I’d forgotten that milk had the capability to stay fresh longer than a day. There’s also the convenience of now being able to cool beers while keeping the butter close at hand. It’s funny how you forget such simple pleasures.

And yet most of the time the fridge is like the Ark prior to the Flood. It really will take a mammoth task to fill it. Maybe we’ve made an investment for our children (if and when they might happen). Currently, all it keeps refrigerated is eggs, cheese, butter, milk, beer and catfood. All of which normally reside in the door anyway – a door that is, incidentally, hung the wrong way due to a careless wall obstructing its edge.

So in many respects our fridge is living a life unfulfilled, and it’s a good lesson in how not to buy things over the internet: be sensible, go and see it in a shop first. Maybe we were buying on an empty stomach, with our eyes bigger than our belly. But I’m quite excited about the prospect of summer: the prospect of having a freshly chilled store of my own veg and produce. I know the fridge is there for me, and it will be for a long time to come. I just hope it knows I’m there for it too. I do love you fridge, honest, no matter how much I leave you out in the cold.

Ooh aay Tony!

Continuing my theme of digging, I feel I ought to come straight out and own up to my Time Team fascination. Again, it’s one more step on my quest for middle age – although the day I leave the TV on to catch Songs of Praise is the day I actively ballot for legalising euthanasia. However, little known to my girlfriend, the real reason I took part in digging the garden was to find remnants of some ancient Beaker tribe, or maybe a shard of Amphora.

As you can probably guess, I didn’t find one bit. Funnily enough, what I did find was the chargrilled remains of a bed. Springs, screws, nails – even an enormous steel bar rested in my vegetable-plot-to-be. Of course, I duly noted each find in meticulous detail and mocked up the site into a 3D diagram. (I did look into hiring the GeoPhys folk to do further research, but apparently the cost would outweigh the benefits. I also only had three hours to do the digging before my arms fell off.)

So I know from surveying the finds and placing them in context, that someone once burnt a bed in my garden. They probably chopped it up, placed some scrumpled newspaper underneath and set it on fire. I could repeat that last sentence in my country accent, if you like, just to make it sound more authentic. But why exactly did someone burn a bed?

I like to think the bed-burner had trouble sleeping and couldn’t take it anymore. Because one thing I know is that he (it must have been a he as a girl wouldn’t have taken part in such a stupidly thoughtless task in such a stupid place) really couldn’t have picked a worse place to leave the bits of an old bed. And I know my carrots are bound to grow all bendy due to the task of avoiding nails. Thankyou Mr Bed Burner.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The grave in my garden

One of my dreams in life has always been to dig a hole, and instead of stopping at any reasonable depth, just keep going. This dream was possibly inspired by the notion of digging for digging’s sake – a reckless pursuit where you get very little back from what you put in. (Or where you take an awful lot out, and put yourself in.) Much like alchemy, but with mud. And my planned answer to any probing questions as to why I am digging so deep being simply ‘I can't hear you, it's a long way down’. Thankfully, I was able to stop myself while digging a vegetable plot, and there is now what currently resembles the grave of a very tall person, freshly interned, just outside my window.

Never has a pile of mud filled me with such hope for the future. Nor has it provided cats with such a wonderful toilet either. But they’ll learn. They won’t be expecting the electric fencing and barbed wire defences that will surround my carrots. Nor the delicately primed burglar alarm wired up to one of my closhes. And if a snail so much as slimes nearby, the mantraps will get it.

Well, that could have been the case. But me being Mr Lilly-livered Organic, means there will be no such things. The power of mind alone will be all I have to fight these difficulties. Maybe I can challenge the snails to a game of chess: I win, the garden’s mine. Perhaps I can bribe the cats with some purple sprouting and promote a neighbourhood watch scheme among them: you look after the plot, the plot will look after you.

Whatever happens, this is all a long way off just yet. From the grave that confronts me each morning as I open the curtains, I know something good will come – even if it is just partially nibbled lettuces.

My view each morning.

Where there’s muck there’s veg

As far as rites of passage go, it must rank up there with my first kiss or being given my first razor. I’d even go as far as saying that it’s more life changing than reaching the age of 18, or getting my driving licence. Yes, as a slow-life craving 26-year-old, I eventually gave in to buying manure.

Now, I’ve bought lots of crap before – just ask my long-suffering girlfriend who has to share a joint account with me – but I’ve never been able to grow veg with it. I’ve been able to keep it in piles, definitely, but there was never the option to spread it out in the garden – at least not without the threat of a visit from the local council. But now my horizons are truly open.

Not only was I able to order the stuff over the Net – a truly liberating experience that hid me from any embarrassing situations involved with talking about manure– but at the same time I could order marigold seeds and give no-one the chance to question my sexuality. And before anyone questions the purchase of marigold seeds, I should add that they’re apparently very good, along with sweet peas, for bringing insects to my garden. Bumblebee heaven awaits me (I promise to build a bee box, I promise…), as does a beautiful crop of peas.

So I’m now a real gardener, of a sort. The plot is set, the dirt has been dished and the muck has been ordered. And I now await the moment when reality strikes, when a kind delivery man hands over three bags of manure. And I finally ask myself, do I really have to touch it?