The allotment: August and September

This summer was different from previous years.  We were away such a lot, and despite no longer working, somehow I seemed to have far less time than usual to spend on the allotment.

But it was a good way to learn about what works and what doesn’t in a life with just the two of us to feed (plus regular gifts to close family), and the two of us having the unaccustomed freedom to be away from time to time.

What I learnt was: less is more.  One (half) allotment plus a quarter plot is too much for me.  My plan to use the smaller plot (where the hens used to be) as a fruit garden was over-ambitious.  Especially as I haven’t used the main plot to the full this year.

So.  The new plan is to move all the fruit bushes back onto the main plot.  I have now given up the smaller one.  I will use the remaining plot much more intensively and efficiently than before.  I hope that eventually the council will let the smaller one to someone else.  Oddly, around here there doesn’t seem to be a waiting list for allotments, and it isn’t easy to find new takers.

I will miss my apple trees, but perhaps I will find a way to incorporate some into the main plot.

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What I learnt was: good planning is key.  Including within it the knowledge that I will be away from time to time.  I will grow only those crops which I can be around to plant, nurture and harvest.  There are key times when I need to be around to do stuff, but apart from that, the plot is pretty forgiving of me not being there.  But there is no point in growing things that will not be harvested and enjoyed, whether by us or by others.  So – this year (and we are now into the new growing year) my planning and doing will take all of that into consideration.

This has certainly been true of the hens.  Moving them and having the wonderful new enclosure, and buying a feed hopper have all reduced the work involved in keeping them, and made it easier for others to take over when I’m away.

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What I learnt was: sometimes a bit late is early enough.  This was true with the broad beans, which I sowed and planted out far later than planned, yet I had a wonderful crop and they were delicious.  Likewise, I was very late sowing and planting my french beans, but the crop has been magnificent (and delicious).

What I learnt was: look after the soil, and plant strong healthy plants.   So long as I do that, on the whole the crops will be good.   This year that was true of onions, garlic, new potatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, marrows (OK, they’re the courgettes I failed to pick small…), broad beans, french beans, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb.  This year it was not true of main crop potatoes (blight), later tomatoes (blight), carrots (badgers), radishes (badgers?), all salads (slugs), coriander (slugs), parsley (slugs).

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What I learnt was: keep the bloody badgers out!.  Otherwise I may as well give up all hope of growing anything with any sweetness in it.  This year they trashed my (newly planted) asparagus bed, and all the carrots and salads.  I’ve all but given up trying with sweetcorn.  A neighbour has fully fenced her plot and successfully grows all these things.  I’m hoping that my birthday presents will include the fencing of my dreams, and the labour to put it up.  Then I will beautify it with plants growing up and on it, and perhaps some new bunting and other decorations.  (Yes, this is a very unsubtle hint  request!).

What I learnt was: I so love working on the allotment.  The physical aspect of it certainly, but also the mental and emotional ‘work’.  The time to mull things over; the joy of plans coming (literally) to fruition; the joy of the sudden revelation of a solution to a problem or puzzle; the solitude.  Of course the crops nourish the body, certainly, but for me the act of nurturing the land also nourishes other aspects of myself, and this is at least as important to me.

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Street art, Padua

What I learnt was: I can never grow too many cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, courgettes, marrows or french beans for my own enjoyment.  When you buy cucumbers at the shop I doubt you would regularly eat a whole one in a single sitting.  When I grow them on the allotment, I can happily enjoy a whole one for lunch every single day. Day after day.  And then I’ll have no more cucumber until the next year’s crop (apart from those I’ve pickled).

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To sum up, this summer on the allotment has been as much about learning for the future as it has been about growing eating and enjoying the crops.  And the failures?  well, of course I’ve learnt as much from them as I have from the successes.  As is true of everything in life.

And here’s to the next growing year.

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Posted in Allotment, Family, Food, Gap year, Growing, Local food, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Remains of the day

Another year passes, another cousins’ gathering.  And a new (honorary) ‘cousin’ joined the fold this time.  She fitted in seamlessly (despite going astray at the end of our local stroll.  She was found and brought back though).

Pot-luck lunch and tea where everyone brought something and it all fitted together perfectly.  Good food, good company, good weather.  This time in our garden.

All that remains are good memories, some fruit cake (courtesy of my step-father – mum’s recipe, livened up with his own twist of added whisky), and a washing line of clean(ish) table cloths*.  Plans to meet again.  And a few more tea stains on the cloths.  Any good tips for getting those out?




*I’ve collected the cloths over the years from charity shops.  Most cost about £5.  Each represents many hours of careful work by some woman (I’m guessing these are by women, though of course I don’t know that for sure).  I’m saddened that they weren’t treasured enough to avoid ending up in charity shops, but I love, appreciate and use them, which I hope makes the labours (of love?) worthwhile.   Some are fairly rough and ready (though far far better than I could manage), and others are exquisitely made, with tiny cross stitches and caught thread work.

Posted in Community, Craft, Family, Frugal, Reflections on life (and death) | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

New York Parks – part 3: Bryant Park again

(most photos by Malcolm)

So.  We arranged to meet up in Bryant Park late one afternoon, after spending a few hours separately exploring different bits of NYC.  Just for a coffee.


This coffee stand uses part of its profit to support the Bryant Park bookstands.  The coffee and cake were good too.

But we ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and evening there, enjoying a (free) music festival.  The Accordion Band Festival was the culmination of a summer-long celebration of accordion music from around the world.


Ukranian music, including the world’s largest balalaika

Over the course of 5 hours we were treated to 6 bands.  The audience grew as time drew on and people joined after work, after school.



Bluegrass mix


(my photo)


(not the same evening, but I loved this photo)


A coincidence of colours…


There were some extra food stalls too, all recent start-ups from a nearby market.  We had filled matzo brei*.  I have NEVER come across matzo brei outside my home.  Only in America! as my mother used to say.  (It was delicious).



Different spelling, same food…. (my photo)

And did I mention that the festival was free?  Oh, maybe I already did.

We could have taken classes (after work juggling anyone? language classes? or how about fly fishing?).  There were fitness groups (6.30am boot camp, all year round on Wednesdays; early morning tai chi twice a week through the summer; likewise yoga).  The Reading Room has it’s own programme of events (authors talking about their books; children’s events; writing workshops; poetry).  See more at the Bryant Park website.

So much on offer.  So much to learn from.

I’ve just joined our local Friends of (the Local Open Space).   What about you?


*Matzo brei: hard to explain this to someone not familiar with matzo.  Break up a matzo into small pieces, soak it in water then squeeze most of the water out.  Add beaten egg.  Mix well.  Fry it over in a little oil or butter.  Eat hot.  Delicious.

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New York parks – part 2: Bryant Park


A green city space being used by – people

(all photos by Malcolm)

Bryant Park is a city centre (Manhattan) park that used to be a drug haunt but has been cleaned up and given a complete makeover (back some years ago now).  I’m told by one who knows about these things that it’s often used as a case study on how open spaces can be used to transform an area.  The quote below is from an article in The Guardian in 2000:

Bryant Park, just off Fifth Avenue has been transformed, with the help of $10m of private sector money, from a disused six-acre stretch of land that averaged 10 rapes and 150 robberies a year into a park that hosts fashion shows and open-air cinema and attracts 10,000 visitors daily

Today y0u would never ever guess at the park’s sorry past.  It is a lovely, busy, well-used, vibrant / peaceful space (yes both – find in it what you will), with a range of free activities that would make the average community centre green with envy.

We happened upon it by chance as we explored Manhattan.  I’d picked it out on the map as somewhere we could sit and recover from our long morning walk and maybe find a coffee. I wasn’t wrong.


But coffee and a peaceful sit wasn’t all we found there that middle of the day.

There was music.


Weekday lunchtime professional pianists scheduled all through the summer. This man was very very good.

There were games.


Speed chess, then back to work


Many tables like this. Lots of concentration.


Soon after this, the man in the suit and tie walked briskly off. Back to work? (my photo)

There were other games.  Free to borrow, suitable for adults and children of any and all ages.


(my photo)

There were books.


Several book carts, free to borrow and read there. Books for adults and children, newspapers, magazines. All free. Echoing an earlier scheme on that spot in the 1930s Depression. (my photo)

And then, on our way off to somewhere else, we found that there was knitting.  Oh joy!


Weekly afternoon knitting gathering, sponsored by a local yarn store.

These people gather every Wednesday afternoon through the summer.  They come from all across NYC.  The yarn is supplied by the sponsoring yarn store.  They knit beautiful scarves for a homeless charity, which distributes them for the winter.  Those who are experienced knitters help and teach beginners and improvers.  Win-win.



Of course I stopped and joined them. I sat and knitted, we talked. The language of knitting seemed pretty universal.

We returned to Bryant Park several times during our stay.  Of course.


Posted in Community, Craft, Frugal, Gap year, Inspirations, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Meanwhile, back in Bath…..

Earlier this week Bath hosted the end of Stage 5 of the Tour of Britain (cycling).  There was great celebration by our local council, and lots of publicity for the event.


Emma Leith’s yarn-bombed bike



Someone updated the wall art in Walcot Street to mark the moment

Many of us turned out on a lovely late summer afternoon to watch as the cyclists and their support teams arrived in Bath.  It was all very exciting – and very very fast.  In fact, all over and done with in about 15 minutes from the first riders coming past to the last.


Didn’t see Wiggo, but I saw the car…


The front runners rushed past…..


And lots, lots more

There were tents and displays to browse in the park, and the award ceremonies to watch there too.

A shame then that our local council (Bath and NE Somerset) has such a blinkered view of cycling that they can’t see past its value as a leisure and sporting activity to its potential for helping solve some of Bath’s seemingly intractable problems – traffic congestion, expensive public transport, pollution, and obesity.


Irony and truth collide

If only the council would invest in making cycling in and to the city safer and more pleasant, there is lots of potential for changing people’s habits and getting more of us on our bikes as the enjoyable and quick way to get from A to B and back again (A being home, B being the local shops, the station, the school, the college, the workplace – you name it).

Fortunately we have CycleBath doing a persistent job of lobbying the council and holding councillors to account, to try to achieve better provision.  This includes the useful mapping exercise Adam the Chair has put together showing which routes through the city work and which ones don’t.  Definitely worth a look.  And if you live nearby and could benefit from improvements, worth a letter to your local councillors asking them to act.


Posted in Bath, Climate change, Community, Cycling, Inspirations, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

New York parks – part 1: Brooklyn Bridge Park

Of all the places we went in New York, the parks stand out for me as the places that really wowed me the most.  This is the first in a series of posts about the various parks we visited.  What they all had in common (apart from obviously being in New York) was the way they provided a range of ways to use and enjoy them, in addition to the obvious ones of looking at the planting or just sitting and being (aka people-watching). 

Brooklyn Bridge Park is still in the making, but if the rest turns out to be as amazing as what is already there, it will be a triumph.


This is what we should have had in the UK as our Olympic legacy – real places around the country where anyone and everyone can take part in sport or physical activity, or just enjoy being outdoors, free of charge.


They have taken several former riverside piers (not the long thin kind, but the large concrete slabs that used to be part of the docks), and transformed them into open-access high quality sports places.  Each one has a different provision and a different character.  At each pier people can just turn up and do stuff, all for free.


Trainer frames, not zimmer frames (as I mistakenly first thought)

On offer are soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball, beach volleyball, roller skating, cycling.  And maybe I’ve missed a few.

Then they’ve joined them together with a beautifully landscaped park perfect for running, cycling, walking, and just strolling.




What a sensible municipal exhortation

There are also activities, again for anyone to turn up and join in on, for free.  Take your pick – yoga, tai chi, running, kayaking, film shows, music.

Then, if that weren’t enough, they’ve added a massive outdoor picnic-party space, complete with high quality long tables and benches and permanent barbecue spaces.  Anyone can just turn up (with all their stuff) and picnic – in style.


We were there on hot summer days at the weekend, and every single picnic space was taken by groups of families or friends.  From lunchtime till late in the evening, people came and went.  There were children’s birthday parties.  There were adult gatherings.  The cool boxes were giant.  The food was sumptuous and smelt delicious.  The groups were as diverse as Brooklyn’s people (i.e. very).  And what astonished us was that we didn’t see a single drunk or disruptive person.  Not one. Nor did we see evidence of vandalism or littering.

Maybe that was because there are also Rules.  And people around to make sure the Rules are kept (NYPD officers, park officials).  Lots of them, but we never saw any tension or unpleasantness.  On the contrary – relationships between the party people and the rule-enforcers seemed relaxed and cordial.


And all this on land that could so easily have been used to provide yet more ‘luxury waterside apartments’, just like we see all along the banks of the Thames in London – keeping the waterside for the wealthy, taking it away from everyone else.  I am intrigued to know more about why and how this happened, right here, yet not elsewhere.

We were there several evenings during our stay to enjoy the stunning sunsets across the river over Lower Manhattan.  Watching the Staten Island ferry come and go, the leisure and work boats moving up and down the river, the helicopters and planes silhouetted against the colourful sky, listening to the NYC soundscape – we felt as though we were in a film. (Beautiful photos to follow in a post to come, courtesy of Malcolm).

But there was nothing unreal about the (locally made) ice cream we bought from the kiosk in the park.  It was deliciously, perfectly, wonderfully real.  And surprisingly, it took me to a local poet – Walt Whitman, who grew up and lived some of his life in Brooklyn.  More of which anon.

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Ample Hills Creamery ice cream

Posted in Community, Cycling, Family, Food, Frugal, Gap year, Inspirations, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Gap Year: August and September adventure – Canada and New York

This is an adventure that will take more than one post to write about, plus time for me to mentally process all that we saw and did.  It straddled August and into September.  So this post is no more than a brief introduction.

It was a long-postponed trip, primarily to visit very close friends whose wedding we should have attended back in 2011.  They live in Quebec, and the plan was to spend some time there including being at their wedding, some time for a side trip on borrowed cycles, and then a trip on to New York.

It was all booked and we were ready to go, but sadly a few weeks beforehand Malcolm’s mother suffered a devastating stroke and we felt unable to leave her.  So we cancelled, and promised ourselves (and them) that we would make it one day.

And so we did, almost exactly 5 years late, but we got there.  And oh what a time we had!

We flew to Montreal and were met at the airport by torrential rain and our friend in his car.  We are not by any means seasoned long-distance travellers, so it was all very unfamiliar and exciting.  Malcolm had visited them in Canada once before, but that had been in difficult circumstances.  This was different – a holiday for us, a glimpse into their very different lives, a chance to spend longer with them than we have been able to do for years, and a chance to see something of their country.

We stayed with them for 9 days, while they were working (but he managed to take a lot of time off to show us around).  They are both medical professionals with busy and responsible jobs, and busy and active lives outside work.

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Knitting spot with a view: right by the St Lawrence River

We had some fascinating discussions about some of the differences between medical and social supports there and in the UK; and also about politics here and there. (He is from the UK, she is Quebecoise).   We met her parents and their friends, and spent an evening conversing in Canadian French, which I found fascinating.

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So many pretty verandas

We travelled to a mountain skiing resort to support him as he did (another) Ironman Triathlon.  We went to a remote lake where they have just bought a plot of land where one day they will build a wooden cabin.  We visited glorious waterfalls and parks.  We cycled to the city and back.  We had the most wonderful time.

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Summer street installation, Montreal

And then we caught a train from Montreal to New York – a story of its own, of truly stunning scenery and lessons in how not to run a railway (and how not to ‘welcome’ people to your country).

And then 10 days in New York, staying in an apartment in Brooklyn.  First time for both of us, and what a delight.  I am almost lost for words, all that will come is a string of superlatives.  We are captivated by the place, and especially by the people, and the vibrancy of everything.

If I had to choose a favourite it would be the city’s parks, but then I couldn’t nominate the great food or the stylish people.  Or the stunning sunsets we’ve seen.  Or views across from Brooklyn where we’ve stayed to Lower Manhattan.  Too too hard to choose then.

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Subway mosaic tiling

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Detail of subway tiling (Borough Hall station, Brooklyn)

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Ample Hills ice cream, with a surprising side serving of poetry (wait and see…)

It is indeed ‘the city that never sleeps’, and I am newly in love.  (Can you fall in love with a place and a people?  it seems you can).


Posted in Community, Cycling, Gap year, Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments