Spayed

It’s been a funny old day. It started in a celebratory mood as my book finally got to be published in the UK. And also, in Dutch, in Holland. I have been basking in congratulatory messages, which has been lovely, and if you want to know what the fuss is all about, you may visit the book’s very own website, which is here.

But the day was also deviant in its routine as I had to get my faithful dog Lulu to the vet to be spayed.  This is an appointment of long standing, and calculated from the end of her last being in season. She is now back from having been spayed, surprisingly perky withal, and modelling a very smart babygro. But I’ll be nursing her this evening.

And it also happens to be Yom Kippur, a day in which publishing books and nursing spayed dogs should really be very far from one’s mind. Real life, eh?

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Failure

I’ve seen a lot of emissions on social media lately consoling those who might not have achieved the grades they wanted in order to go to their preferred job or institute of higher learning. Therefore I thought I should contribute to the now-customary general outpouring and effusion of platitudes by people saying that there are more things in life than exams, that things happen for a reason, and so on, and so forth, notwithstanding inasmuch as which I invite you to consider, therefore, my so-far stellar career…

— I failed my Eleven-Plus.

— I failed my Common Entrance for public school. I did however make the subs’ bench and was asked for an interview. I took my fossil collection to show the headmaster and didn’t let him get a word in edgeways. I got in.

— I failed A-level maths. That is, I got an ‘E’, which wasn’t good enough. I had to re-take a year. In the end I got a ‘C’, which was honestly the best I could manage, and enough (just) to get into University.

— I failed my entrance exam to be an undergraduate at Cambridge. ‘Don’t worry’, my Mum said, ‘you’ll get there as a graduate student’. Which I did. I did my undergraduate degree at Leeds, which I loved, and was much more fun than Cambridge would have been. I got a 1st and went to Cambridge to do a PhD.

I failed my PhD viva. They offered me an MSc as a consolation prize. No, I said, I’d rewrite my thesis. Which I did. I got my PhD.

— While I was writing up (the second time) I was invited to join the staff of the Submerged Log Company. That was more than 33 years ago. So despite the three six five failures listed,  I haven’t done too badly. For more advice on the sometimes circuitous route one can take to career success, I refer you to this recent eructation from my colleague Professor Rohn.

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August

August is a funny month. The nights start to draw in rather quickly as summer draws to a close with what seems like unseemly haste. Keen, fitful gusts of autumn are followed by a rumble of thunder.

I am in the garden, pulling up the last of the carrots (yummy) and the garlic (will weave into a plait and hang up somewhere); harvesting courgettes that have grown as large as zeppelins under what seems to be a jungle of tropical leaves; and seeing if we have any tomatoes yet (everything this year is late, late. late). I’m digging over the plot and will be sowing spinach and kale for overwintering; pricking out tiny baby leeks; and trying again with lettuces (a failure this year – usually we are awash with them).

When the sun shines it’s brassy and hot but somehow melancholic, as if it’s having its last hurrah. There is a kind of torpor.

And some people do not seem to have enough to do.

Twice, in as many days, I have received somewhat impatient emails from friends (two different ones), complaining why a third person (again, different in each case), with whom I am acquainted but over whose actions I have no responsibility, hasn’t responded promptly to some inquiry or other. One of these was actually complaining to said third person about the inaction of a fourth person of whose existence I had not previously heard.

I respond that, in August, that fag-end of blowsy summer, one must be patient. People are probably taking a well-deserved vacation. Or they might be beset with travails of which one knows nothing. Oh, yes, and COVID, that contagion/ government plot/ excuse for inaction (delete as applicable) which, whatever else one might say about its origins and career, seems to make everything take three times as long as it usually does, and that’s quite long enough.

In any case, what do people expect me to do about it? I have not the judgment of Solomon, nor, thankfully, the responsibility, and although I may Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk, reports of my omnipotence are greatly exaggerated.

Sometimes it feels as if the whole world wants a piece of me. But, really, I’m just as lost as everyone else.

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Ultramarine

One or two of you might have read By The Sea, my Gothick Bodice Ripper with Detectives, which was originally serialized by my Occam’s Typewriter Compadre Jenny Rohn on her LabLit website, but now published in book form and available on all good e-book platforms, and even as a paperback. One of the readers was my friend Mr J. W.-V., a fellow Norfolk resident, musician and newsroom journalist. Like me, Mr. J. W.-V. is a Driven Man, who simply must fill every minute with sixty seconds’ distance run, so in addition to doing — oooh — all sorts of things, he has decided to learn how to write an adapted screenplay, and, blow me down, he chose By The Sea as a text to adapt, egged on by Mrs L. W.-V., who had first devoured enjoyed the book.

Mr J. W.-V. sent me the completed treatment, adapted for some future televisual emission — full of apology that he had had to condense a somewhat ruminative, detailed story full of internal monologue into a zippy screenplay. I have to say he’s done a terrific job — and I can say publicly that no apology is necessary.

Here’s why.

Many years ago when I was a graduate student I found myself engaged in discussion with a literature major who told me what, then, to me, seemed an outrageous notion. That is, although an author might put their name on a work, it doesn’t really belong to them. Over the years I have come to believe she was right. It’s a view that authors as diverse as Tolkien and Borges certainly would have acknowledged.

Tolkien wrote that authors should hold on to their works but lightly, as, once they are in the world, people might well seek to embellish them in other means or media. Indeed, it is the failure of a jealous creator to allow others to share in their glory that is the driver of the Silmarillion, the root tale of his legendarium, and the debatable relationship between creators and their works is a theme that runs throughout his stories. When applied to literature, then, it follows then that if other people bring their thoughts to bear, even changing essential parts of the story, it is their right to do so. One might not agree with such changes — but in publishing a work at all such that others might read it, one has no right to complain. Borges, for his part, riffed on the idea of influence-spotting in his characteristically playful essay Kafka And His Precursors. So, if all this was good enough for Tolkien and Borges, it’s good enough for me.

For one thing, authors draw material out of their influences; things they have read; ideas that have in turn been influenced and shaped by myriad other influences, or just out of the air. Nothing is ever created that’s entirely original or new. When asked about the influences for his remarkable Ents – those strange humanoid mobile trees – Tolkien admitted that he didn’t know whence they had sprung, except, perhaps, from an array of influences that might have composted and mixed together in his mind.

Second, a book is no more than an pile of inert scratchings until and unless someone else reads it, and their picture of it might be very different from that in the author’s mind, bringing to it a raft of ideas and associations which are all their own, and nothing to do with the author. A book is an ongoing, ever-changing, protean conversation between author and reader.

The consequence is that once a book is let out into the world, the author really has no license to criticize what anyone else does with it, especially in another medium. So, if Mr J.-W.-V.’s screenplay gets taken up and actually realized, I’ll be the first on the sofa with the popcorn.

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Nautilus

I really can’t believe it.

I’ve been writing books for thirty years, but have never seen the anticipation that’s buzzing around my fifthforthcoming tome, A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth.

When a book of mine is published, it’s usual for me to receive translation offers in one or two languages, but only after it’s been out for some time. This time, it’s racked up twelve translation-rights sales, even before it’s out in English. Dutch and German editions are in preparation – editions are projected in simplified Chinese, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian and Spanish.

Such is the buzz that I have engaged the services of a PR company to capitalize on the interest in the US and Canada, to promote the edition from St Martin’s Press, published on  2 November. Picador, which publishes the UK+Commonwealth edition on 16 September, is doing the publicity in-house.

Not that I can’t get away without doing some initial spadework – the PR people don’t know me from any other Joe, so I have been busy updating my various social media profiles, constructing this useful website and facebook page.

But what I am looking forward to most is recording the audiobook. As far as I can judge from rankings on Amazon (ever a delphic measure), pre-orders for the book have been stronger for this format than for the print or electronic versions.

The audiobook people originally wanted me to come into a studio to do the recording. However, thanks to the proficiency I’ve gained by recording music during lockdown in Flabbey Road, my home studio, they are letting me do it all by myself, on my own, unaccompanied, and, what’s more, tout seul.

Inside Flabbey Road. Recently. Note home-made pop-shield on microphone.

Notwithstanding inasmuch as which, I can get to add some music, so I have been thinking up some themes.

To help me with this I have brought in the heavy brigade in the form of a Korg Nautilus, the kind of keyboard that composers use to create film soundtracks. The cinematic hugeness should, I hope, augment the book rather than swamp it (though I will have a producer to curb my worst excesses).

One of the primary sauces tzores sources of inspiration for the book was Life On Earth, a documentary series by David Attenborough from the 1970s. This transfixed the teenage Gee. Even though everyone remembers the (for the time) astonishing visuals, what captivated me just as much, at the time, was the soundtrack. I can’t remember much about it now, except that there was a lone horn figure at the end of the title music that it was both haunting and majestic. While I was writing A (Very) Short History, music was very much on my mind, so I welcome the chance to add some of my own to my narration. It should alleviate the boring drone of my voice, at least.

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Pride

Here’s a story about Pride, and the best party I ever attended.

It started in 2017, when the Gees had a wonderful family holiday in Northumbria. The fact that I could never seem to find Hadrian’s Wall, no matter how manically I drove along country lanes trying to find it, became a family joke. I had somehow expected some imposing structure like the Great Wall of China when, in fact, much of it has disappeared and the parts that survive are rather modest.

The following year Mrs Gee booked me and Offspring#1 (my regular hiking partner) into an establishment called the Hadrian Hotel in a village called Wall. ‘If you can’t find Hadrian’s Wall from the Hadrian Hotel in a village called Wall,’ she said, ‘then you are beyond hope’. So Offspring#1 and I traveled to the village called Wall, stayed in the Hadrian Hotel, and, after some hiking around, discovered Hadrian’s Wall to our mutual satisfaction. After that we traveled north, to Stirling, so we could visit Doune Castle, location for many of the castle shots in our favourite film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After much French Taunting, we drove south for the final leg of our three-centre holiday — Nottingham, where Offspring#1 is a medical student and a rising star in the LBGTQ+ community, and was due to do a cabaret turn in the DirtyFilthySexy Pride After-Party.

So there we were, and while Offspring#1 got trogged up, I nursed a pint in the bar and read a book. I am not a party animal. Having scored fairly highly on Simon Baron Cohen’s Asperg-O-Meter, I am not especially gregarious. I can never really see the point of parties, and, if I ever go to one, I’ll be in the kitchen, or somewhere on the fringes, or even not there at all, having made my excuses and left.

But then, something happened. The records they were playing in the next room weren’t thumpity-thump club beats, but disco classics from my childhood. I finished my pint and migrated to the disco, taking up a station in a dark corner on the wall, away from the flashing lights.

My feet started to move.

I got up.

I started to … dance.

So did everyone else. The go-go dancers on the stage were sexy. The harness-clad leather boys that followed were … interesting. I even managed something I have never done at a party, ever — I pulled. (He wasn’t my type). The cabaret was a lot of fun (and Offspring#1’s turn was fantastic, but I would say that, as I’m biased). After the cabaret I continued to dance. I was still dancing at 1 a.m., although more slowly, because I was getting tired, and, by then, the dance floor had become rather sticky. I didn’t know this then, but Offspring#1, in the Green Room, was trying to find me and asked their drag-act friends where I might be.

‘What’s he look like?’

‘Fifty-something. Beardy.’

‘Oh yes – he’s still on the dance floor.’

Offspring#1 sent out a search party. Thus it was that I was approached by a drag queen, at least six-foot-six foot tall (must have been the heels) and resplendent in purple taffeta and glitter, who asked me in stentorian tones, ‘Are you Offspring#1’s Mum?’

I said that I was, and remarked how much I was enjoying the party, and how I didn’t usually go in for such things, especially not the part about boogying until the small hours, as I wasn’t as young as I looked. ‘Yes, we all have that problem’, said my interlocutrix, who wafted off Offspring#1-wards.

How did a heterosexual and blokey and habitually non-partygoing person (that’s me) enjoy this party so much?

It didn’t take me long to work it out.

The reason was this – that everyone came not as the persona they are usually required to adopt to fit into everyday society, but as the persona they felt themselves to be, whether they were in street clothes or the most elaborate gender-bending confections imaginable. Everyone was, therefore, relaxed. Each person was there to enjoy themselves and have fun with other similarly-minded people, not to fulfil any prior expectations of what they ought to be, or do. As Nietzsche once wrote, to be is to do. And as Sinatra added, do-be-do-be-do. It didn’t matter if you were straight, L, G, B, T, Q, or even +. The important thing was to be there.

As someone who scores highly on the Baron Cohen Asperg-O-Meter, what I value in people is honesty. That’s why I loved being an undergraduate in Leeds, in Yorkshire, where everyone calls a spade a vertically operated digging implement, but didn’t really get on at Cambridge, where many people seem to have a ‘side’. The thing about the DirtyFilthySexy party was its honesty. It may seem highly contrived if, say, a marketing manager called Kevin comes out at weekends as a vampish dominatrix called Lola – but it is not contrived at all if Lola is the persona in which that person feels more themselves, more honest, more real.

I was struck by a sentence in a book about the style known as ‘camp’. (The book was called Camp, but I can’t locate it right now). The essence of camp, said this book, was a kind of knowingness — that even though we live in a fallen and damaged world, we should strive for innocence.

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Wild!

Cromer is going wild!

This notice from my daily constitutional shows that a small corner of a park, wedged between a childrens’ playground and the bowls club, is being allowed to let its hair down.

I suspect that this will lead to a bit of moaning, as the first stages of rewilding are rather scruffy, consisting of infestations of triffids stinging nettles and brambles, before the ground settles down into what we scientific types call ‘climax’ vegetation.

 

 

 

 

In fact, one doesn’t have to walk very far from this notice to see rewilding in its more advanced stages.

This picture (left) shows a sward of grass and other weedy plants (goose grass, cow parsley and so on) with tall young conifers in the background. If left to its own devices long enough this will turn into something like this…

 

 

 

 

 

 

… a sylvan glade of mature, deciduous trees such as beech and oak.

All it takes is time – but not as much time as you’d think.

These two pictures were taken in a patch of land only a few acres in extent that sits almost unnoticed between a council estate, a farmer’s field, a go-karting track and a country lane. When you’re in the woods it seems a lot bigger – especially when the trees are in leaf. Over the past year or so I’ve followed the progress of the wood, starting with snowdrops, then bluebells, then horse-parsley or alexanders (a kind of green umbellifer that grows well near the coast), then proper cow parsley and a riot of speedwell and red campion and ferns and goodness knows what (don’t shoot me, I’m not a botanist), leading to foxgloves and so on and so forth: in the autumn, sloes and brambles yield their bounty, and mushrooms sprout beneath, all under a canopy of beech, oak, sycamore, holly and pine of very all ages. Roe deer and muntjacs are a common sight, passing silently between the trees. Woodpeckers rattle away above my head, while jays and magpies and .. er … other birds flit between the trunks (I’m not an ornithologist, either).

You’d think it had been there for, like, ever.

You’d be wrong.

For a brief period at the end of the nineteenth century, Cromer was a tourist magnet, served by not just one but two yes two count ’em TWO railway lines, and this woodland was a writhing mass of lines and railway-related impedimenta where the lines crossed. One line led to a terminus at Cromer High: another sidled off eastwards to Overstrand (much more fashionable than Cromer, still has houses designed by Lutyens). Cromer High station no longer exists. Overstrand station, likewise, has been consigned to history. Today’s railway station, once called Cromer Beach, and now just called Cromer, is some way to the west. In the 1960s Dr Beeching made his infamous cuts — and, what with one thing and another, the land has gone back to nature. In less than a single human lifetime.

It might come as a surprise, given the often well-advertised hand-wringing about the state of the environment, that the UK has more woodland now than at any time since the Middle Ages. Back at the time of the Domesday Book, some 15% of England was forested, declining to around 8% in the 17th Century. In 1905 – the first date when definite records started to be kept — only 5.2% of England (681,000 hectares) was forested. By 2018, the area had almost doubled, to 10% (1,241,000 hectares). The figures for the whole of the UK are more startling still — from 4.7% (1,140,000 hectares) in 1905, to 13.1% (3,173,000) in 2018. And all this given that the population of the UK was just 38 million in 1901, and, as of today, it’s 68,214,575. Not quite a doubling, whereas the area of woodland has almost tripled over approximately the same period. So, contrary to what one might believe, the growth rate of woodland over the past century or so has outstripped that of the human population.

To be sure, some of this forest will be diversity-poor conifer plantation; there is precious little woodland that one could call ‘ancient’; and all woodland in the UK, these days, requires a certain amount of management. But once one adds up all the seemingly neglected wedges of woods that clothe what once groaned under the fires of industry and the clank of the locomotive, it comes to a bucolic lot.

The benefits are manifold. In 2017 alone, the UK’s woods removed enough air pollution to save the health service almost a billion pounds. Over the same period, the UK’s woodlands soaked up 18.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 4% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. And they do this without any fuss, all the while allowing me and my dogs a restful and healthful refuge during our daily walks.

I have come to value our woods during the past year or so. So have many other people. Our woods are a resource that should be treasured.

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Rock

There’s been a lot of it about. Musicians, that is, unable to play live during lockdown, finding other ways to express themselves. During the recent hiatus I have become very keen on home recording, and some of the results are available commercially (you can browse them here). Much of this is done all on my own, tout seul, and, what’s more, in the absence of others. An exception has been this, a collaboration between me and an old friend, Mr A. T. of Bracknell.

This. Recently.

At least twenty years ago, A. T. and I were in the same band, both together, at once, simultaneously and at the same time. As someone once said, much water has been passed since then. A. T. has since turned professional, teaches guitar, and plays guitar and drums in a variety of outfits notably the Voodoo Sheiks. It was the Voodoo Sheiks that got Adrian (that’s his name) and I back together.

Like me, Adrian had started to explore home recording and had asked a number of his friends to send bits and pieces to his ongoing Blues Alliance collaboration (you can hear an example here). Adrian also asked me to contribute keyboards to the Voodoo Sheik’s single, Norm (now available through Apple Music). One thing led to another, and, what with my finding a songwriting hot streak and a need for a guitarist better than me [that’ll be any guitarist at all, then – Ed] to turn my ideas into reality, Adrian was only too happy to oblige. The result has been our collaboration G&T and our album Ice and a Slice, which you can hear here for free, for the next month or so, before it’s released commercially for download. Release is scheduled for 21 June, and you can pre-save it on Spotify.

Ice and a Slice is a 9-track, 56-minute album that owes quite a lot to our formative years listening to rock in the 70s and 80s. There are some more-or-less obvious nods to Deep Purple (Indigo), Pink Floyd (Lorem Ipsum), Status Quo (Red), Jeff Beck (Silver Lining), and Joe Satriani (Bunky Flooze). I’d come up with backing tracks in my home studio Flabbey Road, email them to Adrian, who’d send back loads of separate guitar tracks done in ProSonus. I’d mix them all into GarageBand, duplicating, splitting and harmonising as I went. I think at one point there were 22 separate guitar tracks in my 80s-stadium-rock-power-ballad Slow Burn, though in my West-Coast style jangly choral pop tune Was That You? I lost count of the number of vocal tracks once they’d passed 30.

The album is now complete — and just in time as the Voodoo Sheiks will be back on the road soon, as will my own combo The D. C. Wilson Band. But Adrian and I had so much fun with G&T that we might be back for a second round. Watch this space.

MUSOS’ CORNER: For this recording, I’d do the backing track on Garageband 11 and email a rough mix to Adrian.

He’d then add the guitar parts, zip them up for easy emailing and send them to me. I’d unpack them, paste each guitar part into its own track in Garageband, and get mixing.

Adrian’s guitars were (in no particular order, as they say on all the game shows) a Fender Telecaster; two Fender Stratocasters; a PRS Custom 24; a Gibson SG, and an Ernie Ball Musicman. All were played through a Mesa Boogie Mk5:25 amplifier and from that,  a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface and into ProSonus Studio 1 Professional 4.5.

All the bass and drums and a few of the keyboard sounds come from GarageBand 11. Apart from that, the keyboards used were a Yamaha Clavinova CLP800 (mainly for piano, but there’s a cathedral organ at the end of Lorem Ipsum); and a Crumar Mojo 61 (Hammond organ, Rhodes piano and clavinet).

The rest came from apps on my iPad Mk2 played either from the iPad itself or from a M-Audio Keystation 49 Mk3. The apps included a Minimoog Model D, ARP Odyssey, Korg iMS20, Oberheim OBXd, Solina string ensemble, Mellotron XL, Tal-U-No-LX (basically, a Roland Juno 60) and Magellan2 synth. All non-Garageband, non-guitar sounds, including vocals (recorded with a no-name dynamic microphone) went through a Behringer Xenyx 802 mixer and into the computer. Monitoring was through a Behringer Xenyx 302 mixer into Beyer Dynamic headphones.

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Allotment

Many years ago when the Gees lived in east London, and I commuted regularly to an orifice office that was located away from my home [fancy! did they still have typewriters? Horse-drawn omnibuses? Public executions? – Ed]  I had an allotment. It was conveniently placed between our home and the tube station, so even on working days I could pop in, especially on summer evenings after work, when I could water things and come home with a bag of salad.

I loved my allotment. The Offspring enjoyed it, too. Our plot in London was bounded on one side by an abandoned patch on which fruit bushes had been allowed to run riot; and on the other by a plot laid out to grass, which I rented as an add-on to my own. I mowed a maze in the grass, and, when the Offspring had collected enough currants and blackberries on one side, they’d set themselves up inside the maze on the other, for a picnic. One gloriously sunny day in July I went to the allotment with the Offspring and spent a happy timeless time watering, tending, hoeing and harvesting, and when I had done pretty much everything I needed to do, I summoned the Offspring (they were aged about 7 and 5) for the short walk home. ‘Please can we stay for a few more hours?’ came the plaintive cry from somewhere in the tall grass.

But that was then. We moved to Cromer in 2006, and although we are blessed with a large garden, we have never had a vegetable patch of any size. And I have always missed my allotment. Until recently Mrs Gee has been head gardener and she likes to grow things in pots, on a smaller scale, though we’ve usually had a few vegetables and herbs for the table. This year, however, she is too busy for gardening as she’s doing Other Stuff (she is embarking on her Third Career) so I have stepped in. Think of me as Mellors to her Lady Chatterley. On second thoughts, don’t.

The Blessed Plot.

So I get to do things my way, and I have cleared a sizeable patch of ground on the sunny side of the garden for a plot. And here it is. The polytunnel in the background is the chicken coop: to the right of the path is the shady side of the garden, currently a shrubbery-in-progress, though some of it will be turfed in August, when one does turf. Regular readers of these annals will recognize this garden from earlier posts, of course. Over the past month I’ve sown potatoes, red onions, garlic, carrots, radishes, something called garlic kale, and dwarf French beans. So far the radishes have shot up – you can just about see them in a small green dotted line in front of my kneeling-plank. The garlic is following, as are the onions, although at a more leisurely pace. The carrots might just be starting to peep above ground though as yet there are no signs of spuds. I’ve sown some cucumber seeds in a propagating tray on a windowsill. After a promised spell of bad weather I’ll tidy up the front garden, plant a pumpkin in a planter, sow some lettuces and rocket and endive and… and … and …

Watching the plants grow is a never-ending sauce tzores source of delight, and having them in neat rows will make it easier to keep the weeds down (in the past we’ve hosted what looks like the British National Collection of stinging nettles).

And I have found something very surprising.

I love digging. I’ll say it again. I LOVE DIGGING. Give me my extra-long steel back-saver spade and I can dig (almost) indefinitely. I’m starting to get the kind of endorphin buzz that athletes do from running. It never used to be like this – but over the past year I have shed five or six kilos and have had a lot more exercise than usual. This means I am fit enough – just – to start to enjoy digging, rather than finding it a back-breaking chore.

More from the allotment as things shoot up.

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Egg

This is a egg.

A egg. Recently.

Now, you might say, so what, that looks just like any old egg. But the main thing about this egg is that it was laid by one of our own hens. This is remarkable. Now, we’ve had hens for more than a decade, but ours haven’t laid anything since last summer. Not a thing. It’s perhaps not surprising, as our hens aren’t really the best layers. The flock is ageing and some have died off. Only seven are left. Of these, only two — Bluebell and Esther — are what one might call layers. Two others — Poppet and Widget — belong to a fancy breed, more ornamental than egg-layers. The final three — Angelica, Eliza and Truly Scrumptious — are what one might call retired hens, or what others might call old boilers. Oddly, though, it was either Poppet or Widget that laid this egg.

But the timing is apposite. It’s spring, and we are in the middle of Passover, the second of three spring festivals. The first was Holi, just passed, and the third, Easter, is next week. And these are only the ones I know about: I’d have been completely ignorant of Holi had I not read A Suitable Boy last year. So it’s welcome to have an egg, just at this time of year.

It’s also the time of year, as the days lengthen and become warmer, when one gets the garden into gear. This year I have marked out quite a large area of the garden as a vegetable plot. It’s been used for this and that over the years — shrubbery, occasional part-time veg plot, chicken run, duck enclosure — so I thought it time to dig it over thoroughly and clear out any potential nasties. This means double digging.

The Trench Begins

What this means is digging a whacking huge great trench, as you can see on the left, probably a bit deeper than one would usually dig, and barrowing the enormous volume of soil to the other end of the plot for later use (be patient, I shall get to that part).

Double digging is great to get the ground into shape. It’s the best chance one will get to rid the ground of weeds, old pieces of rubble and assorted rubbish, and you never know what one might find. In this one trench I recovered the Ark of the Covenant and the Lost Chord.

When the trench is dug, you can start to dig another row, back-filling the first trench with the soil thus turned over, and creating a new trench, like this:

 

 

 

 

Further Entrenchment

So, basically, what happens is that the trench moves from one end of the plot to the other, rather like holes moving through a semiconductor (a nice solid-state physics reference there). When you reach the far end of the plot you can then fill in the remaining trench with the left-over soil from the first trench.

Or at least, that’s the theory.

In practice I find that one has a lot of soil left over, given that uncompacted soil takes up much more space in a heap than it does when stuck together in the ground. This doesn’t matter, as that soil, now dug over and freed from rubbish and weeds, can be used to fill pots, mix with compost to propagate seeds, and so on.

Over the coming long Easter Weekend I’ll be working off the eggy eggcess of a Passover diet, digging the whole plot, and getting some spuds, garlic and shallots in. And maybe some baby leeks.

 

 

UPDATE! Here’s the plot, almost done (somewhat later). As you see the trench has moved down to the far end. You can just make out my spade in the distance, together with the wheelbarrow on top of the large pile of earth dug out of the first trench. You might be wondering about the large blue tarpaulin – this covered the entire plot, and I rolled it back, row by row, as I went.

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