Going backwards to go forwards?

Sometimes it’s worth looking to the past to help us move forward.

As I am increasingly doing in my journey with food – revisiting old ways of doing things; gradually reducing any reliance on ‘convenience’ foods; trying to ditch unnecessary  and unsustainable packaging.

This is a thought that repeated itself to me several times during our recent trip to Germany.  As usual, most of our stay was spent in a holiday flat on a vineyard.  We witness just how hard the owners (and their neighbours) work to grow the grapes that will become the local wine.  Every month brings different chores to ensure as good a harvest as possible.  This is the first time we’ve been there during the grape harvest.

This year their son has joined the family business.  Until now they’ve sold all their grapes to one of the larger wine makers in the village.  With his parents’ blessing he has taken the first steps in a new direction.  He is using some of their grapes to produce their very own wine.

Rather than buy brand new (and very expensive) modern pressing equipment, he’s bought a press that’s 40 years old.  He worked hard on stripping it down and rebuilding and refinishing it, and now it’s ready to go.  With all his academic and practical study of winemaking, he believes that this older kind of machine will actually make a better wine than the modern ones.

The first pressing took place while we were still there, and we all stood around as he tweaked and adjusted.  Finally all the grapes were pressed and the juice ready to ferment.  He’s aiming to gather local (wild) yeasts for the ferment.  We hope that next time we visit, we’ll be able to taste their first wine.  The raw juice we sampled was simply delicious.

Collecting the wild yeasts

He’s worked hard, this young man, to produce something in the ‘old way’ that they hope will become his (and their) future.

We left there to visit a young relative who is working on his PhD in Tubingen, a beautiful old university town we’ve never been to before.  He took us for a walk near where he lives and works, which included in a nearby collection of small farms farming traditionally.

There were several small farm shops open for limited hours during the week, but you could buy some of their produce any time you like from their vending machines.  Eggs; smoked ham; bacon; vegetables.  At one of these farms you can buy their own-produced raw whole milk.  From a vending machine.  Wow!  I would love to have one of these near where we live.  That would solve the plastic milk bottle problem I’m still grappling with in an instant.

But then there are those times when going backwards really doesn’t take you any further forward, it simply takes you backwards into a very dead end.  Like Brexit, for example.  The more time I spend time in other EU countries, the more despair I feel about where the UK is headed.

 

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Posted in Community, Farming, Food, Growing, Local, Local food, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Allotment update: September 2017

One of the things I love about working an allotment is that it really keeps you rooted in the annual cycle of life.  And yes, the pun is fully intended, and very appropriate.

Now, in September, as many of the summer crops are coming to an end, I find myself looking back over the year to reflect on what went well, what needs to be different next time around, and what I’d like to add into the mix.

This year the success that gave me most pleasure was growing the sweetcorn in a fenced off corner of the hen pen.  Final score this year: badgers: 0; me: plenty!  At long last, we had the sweetest, most delicious sweetcorn I’ve ever grown.  There is nothing like eating sweetcorn cooked straight from the plant. (Though I dimly recall reading something by Garrison Keillor in which he described the inhabitants of Lake Woebegon comparing the joy of eating sweetcorn with the joy of sex; I can’t now recall which came out better).

Other things were more of a mix.  The broad beans were delicious, and we could have used more.  Some of the plants I overwintered survived, and I supplemented them with some spring-sown plants.  This was a success, because it meant we had a longer succession of broad beans.  On the other hand, once the french beans kicked in, as they did quite early this year, we suddenly lost interest in broad beans and were ready to move on, so the last of the broad beans got left behind.  I should have picked and dried them, but somehow didn’t.

French beans, as always, were a huge success, and we have eaten pounds and pounds and pounds of them.  These beauties never go stringy and always taste fresh and new.  I’ve been collecting my own seed for several years now, and will do the same again this year.  I’m aiming to gradually increase the range of plants I save seed from.  I use them myself, and give some to friends and relatives who have even the tiniest space for growing.

Potatoes have also been a success this year, after last year’s disappointing losses to blight and slugs.  I put them in earlier, and was more careful about earthing them up.  I noticed as soon as the badgers began rooting around in them, and I covered them over.  I also got them in out of the ground earlier than before.  I think maybe it wasn’t the potatoes the badgers were interested in, it was the masses of earthworms in the very rich, crumbly broken-down muck I’d covered them with.

Onions and garlic – not so great this year.  We had a crop, but much smaller than I would have expected.  I’m not sure why – maybe that long dry spell we had in April?  Perhaps I should have been watering them to ensure that they swelled as they should have done.  That was a weird patch – I’ve never before used so much of my stored water in the garden so early in the year.  Worrying about running the water butts in April?  never before.

Tomatoes – blighted again.  We had a few, but not nearly as many as we should have had.  On reflection I wonder if it was carried by the rings I grow them in.  I’m always careful to grow tomatoes and potatoes somewhere they haven’t been for several years, to reduce the chance of blight.  This year I will carefully wash and disinfect the rings before storing them away.

NOT my tomatoes! but what an inspiration for next year….

Cucumbers – most of the plants got eaten early on (slugs? badgers? No idea).  I wasn’t able to replace them.  I harvested just 2 cucumbers in the whole season.  I was picking more than that most days in previous years.  I missed them sorely.

Courgettes and squash – another success story, and for once I didn’t grow so many that we were overwhelmed by them.

Soft fruit – a great success and a complete failure.  Strawberries and raspberries in great  and luscious abundance.  I made jam from both, once we’d eaten our fill.  Blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries – none at all, but this wasn’t too much of a surprise as I had moved the plants twice and I figure they just need time to get their feet well into the ground and settle down.  Next year will be different (I hope).

Tiny alpine strawberries, picked and eaten with yoghurt for breakfast one morning

Flowers – those that I grew looked really lovely.  I want more for next year, including plenty to cut and take indoors.

Salads – I started well, peaked too soon, and failed to continue sowing.  So now I have nothing to take us through the autumn and winter.  I may be able to remedy that by buying in some plants, and resolve (again!) to do better next year.

I did manage to plant leeks and brassicas at the right time, and they are doing well (despite the best efforts of the caterpillars on the brassicas), so I look forward to a few winter dishes from the allotment.

Eggs – it remains a joy to keep hens.  There were some frustrations this year when the three so-called ‘point of lay’ birds turned out to be some long way away from actual egg laying. But now they’ve settled in well and all five hens are laying, and we again have enough eggs to give away regularly to our sons and others as well as providing several meals a week for ourselves.  Recently I’ve been pondering on the feed I give them (bought-in organic layers pellets, supplemented by weeds and leftovers from our kitchen), and wondering how that fits with our general policy of using locally grown and produced food as much as possible.  More on that later this year perhaps.

My plans for next year (to be put in place this autumn and winter) are:

  • build (for which, read ask nicely for Malcolm and youngest son to build) a fruit cage – to protect the soft fruit bushes from the birds;
  • construct (probably myself) better protection for the brassicas, with finer mesh netting to keep out the butterflies as well as the birds)
  • to plant some fruit trees – I would so like some apples and pears, and maybe I’ll risk a plum again (my dreams would be a mirabelle and a zwetsche, if I can find them and they don’t succumb to silver leaf disease)
  • more succession sowing and planting of all sorts
  • finish making the pallet terrace in front of the shed, and kitting out the shed with shelves and hooks for storage
  • clear out and re-fit the greenhouse in the garden to enhance my ability to grow things in there

So – plenty to keep me busy!

A satisfying morning’s harvest

Posted in Allotment, Food, Frugal, Growing, Local food, Retirement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Catch-up time

Oops, there goes another month with barely a post.  But now it’s September, a new year beckons, and I’m ready to go with renewed energy and time.

I have some catching up to do, and some things maybe that just will never be caught up.

I’ve had a wonderful summer – I seem to remember mostly the sunshiny bits, whereas Malcolm mostly remembers the rainy days (perhaps because they were what stood between him and his plans to go camping more this summer).

I spent the time working my allotment, improving the garden back and front, cooking, crocheting, seeing friends, walking (a lot!), and continuing my love affair with Bath City Farm (including catching up with a backlog of things I’d said I would do).  There were visits from friends and relatives.  There were several trips to London to visit a friend.  It’s been lovely in all sorts of ways.

And now I’m ready for that September feeling of a fresh start.  Jewish New Year (21 September this year) has always felt to me like exactly the right time to celebrate and begin a new year.

Crochet blanket, sold to raise money for Bath City Farm

and another, now finished and ready to sell….

The Kinks had it right….

(one of the things that’s got in the way of me posting on here is that I seem to have run out of space for images.  I’ve got round it as a temporary fix by removing some I feel are superfluous, but in the longer term I’ll need to find a better fix.  In the meantime, I’ll have to manage by using fewer photos.  I hope you can bear with me….)

 

Posted in Community, Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Whatever next? – August 2017 update

Ok, so I missed June.  And July.

Whatever.

Here we are in August.

There is so very much depressing stuff going on out there.  Sometimes we need an antidote to all that, to remind us that there is hope, that there are amazing people doing amazing things, and that we too can be amazing – and maybe we already are ;-).

So, right now I’m going to

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive, Eliminate the negative, Latch on to the affirmitive, Don’t mess with Mr In-between  (thanks, Johnny Mercer – if you need cheering up, listen to this!)

LISTEN

I’ve been to two really interesting (free) talks in London in July and August.  They were in (under?) this year’s very beautiful Serpentine Pavilion in Hyde Park.  Designed by Francis Kéré, it’s the first Serpentine Pavilion designed by an African architect (he’s from Burkina Faso), and he was inspired by his memories of ‘gathering, debate and community around a tree in his village’.

The talks were part of a series called Radical Kitchen: Recipes for Building Community and Creating Change.  They were preceded by a buffet picnic mainly for the presenters prepared by Masi Mas, a group of refugee women who come together to cook.  Delicious food, beautifully presented, all with interesting back stories.

The first one I went to was a presentation by people from the Brixton People’s Fridge (SUCH a great idea!).  The next one was by You Make It – a programme of workshops, mentoring and courses to empower and inspire young unemployed women in East London – the two inspiring things about this were hearing the CEO explain why and how she set it up; and hearing from three young women currently on the programme talking about the difference it has made in their lives.

There are more to come – one each Wednesday in August.  I hope to get along to at least one more.  Do go if you have the chance, I promise you’ll come away feeling uplifted.  Or just go and visit the Pavilion.  Especially if it’s raining hard.

And they have planted a seed in my mind to think about how I can use the ideas myself to…..

TAKE CONTROL

It’s clear that waiting for ‘them’ to make the world or our town a better place is simply not going to work.  So I was heartened last month to see a really positive and thought-provoking film reflecting the ideas of the Transition Movement.  Called Demain (Tomorrow), it follows a group of young-ish French people in their exploration of what they personally can do to change the future facing them and their children.  It’s a really positive film, and if you haven’t yet seen it and particularly if you aren’t familiar with the Transition Movement, I would really recommend seeing it.

Afterwards you can look around your own community and marvel at what’s already being done, and ponder what you can do (or maybe you’re already doing) to make the positive demain a reality and not just a dream.  Which is what I’m doing right now.

BUILD COMMUNITY

At Bath City Farm we have long had an ambition to build a real cafe, which can be open all year round and provide space indoors for people to sit and eat, drink, and chat.  At the moment we have a very sweet little kiosk, with a small covered pavilion for shelter but nowhere in the warm and dry for those occasional cold, wet, windy days (like, in July and August for example).

We’ve edging closer towards being able to achieve this, because we’ve recently been given a  grant from a local charity to pay for all the professional help we need to ensure that such a project is viable, before we go ahead and launch a major fundraising campaign.

It’s very exciting to be involved in, and also very daunting, but we have masses of support in the local community and beyond.  If we get the go-ahead, we’ll need to raise A. Huge. Amount. Of. Money.

But I’m a great believer in the power of positive thinking.  One of the things that spurs me on with our cafe project is that, several years ago now, I was out walking locally and met two cycling friends who asked me to sign their petition asking for the long-closed nearby railway tunnels to be opened up for cyclists and walkers.  I laughed, and said I would sign but it would never happen.  How wrong I was!  With much hard work by them and a small band of supporters, a crazy idea they dreamed up one night in the pub became the reality that is now the Two Tunnels Greenway.  I use it most days, and so do many, many other people.  Which just goes to show.

LOOK AFTER THE PLANET

Yesterday I came across a small pocket garden on Walcot Street in Bath.  Created recently by a group of local people on what for many years has been a weed-covered eyesore.  If they can do this there, we can do it anywhere.  Or everywhere.

On which note, I thought I would share with you the progress we have made in our hitherto lacklustre, unloved front garden.  Which you may recall looked like this.

I removed the hebes, which had long outgrown their space.  Malcolm cut the box hedges down to a more appropriate height (more trimming to come).  I have planted some fruiting shrubs along the front wall bed.  In time they will cover and hide the breeze block wall.  I have cleared all the beds of weeds and started to improve the soil (and boy does it need it).  I have planted hydrangeas and climbers along the fence bed; roses, pinks, pansies, wallflowers, sweet williams, and some bulbs in the bed alongside the paving.

But my proudest achievement is the hollyhocks I grew from seeds collected from the roadside last year.  I started them off in the late summer, planted them out in the autumn, and am enjoying their blooms right now.  Previous attempts with hollyhocks have all failed as the slugs have eaten them all.  Now I think the front garden is less prone to this, and putting in larger plants to begin with helped too.  So next I will do some more hollyhocks (of which you can never have too many) and some lupins as well.

There’s plenty more to do here, but I feel I’ve made a good start.

Watch this space as it develops – my plan is to plant a dwarf apple tree inside each of the four box squares.

 

Posted in Climate change, Community, Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized, Whatever next? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gone fishing??

No, just living life as it comes and goes.

So sorry for my (unplanned, unintended) absence.  I have several started-but-not-finished posts in the pipeline, and normal service will be resumed.

Back soon, I promise!

Posted in Reflections on life (and death) | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

“Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner…..

…that I love London town.”

This song from my childhood played on a loop in my head, as I walked towards and through the London Bridge and Borough area of London on Tuesday evening, just 3 days after the horrible attack on Saturday night, to catch a train.

I revelled in the familiar scenes around the City, and the ‘business as usual’ going on around me.

I bathed in the friendliness of all the other commuters making their unfamiliar way to London Bridge, around the taped-off areas of the attack.  Unfamiliar because the normal route was inaccessible in the aftermath of the attack.  We joined together to figure out where the detour went and what the best route might be.

The Globe Theatre

Individually many of us approached some of the many police officers and thanked them for their work, their courage, their dedication.

I saw the growing piles of flowers, and witnessed others adding their tributes.

I felt very emotional, remembering that my son had passed through that very area just 10 minutes before the attack.  How easily we could have been one of the grieving families.  How easily we still could be.

Life can change in a split second.

We carry on, we live our lives.  We can choose to ensure that events like this bring us closer together, not pull as apart.  We have more in common than divides us, for sure.

I’m proud to say I’m a Londoner through and through, even though it’s years since I lived there.

I bloody love London.

Memorial to the firefighters who died in WW2 (near the N end of the Millennium Bridge)

Choose hope not hate.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Community, Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized, Whatever next? | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Gap Year – May adventure

What an appropriate way to end this Year of Adventures Great and Small, as we began it last year with a circular walk around London (The Capital Ring).

This month we did something I’ve long wanted to do – a point-to-point long distance walk.  The West Highland Way.

and they’re off……

Having decided we’d like to do a long walk together, serendipity resulted in us both coming up with the same suggestion, via different routes.  My inspiration was Kate Davies’ blog.

Kate has written her blog for many years, through massive life changes – the biggest forced upon her (a stroke at a very early age), others from choice (career change, move from the city to a rural setting right next to – The West Highland Way).  She is both an academic and a very talented knitter/designer/writer/now entrepreneur, married to a talented photographer.  Definitely a winning combination!  In particular, her many mentions and pictures of her beloved West Highland Way formed a drip drip drip in my brain, hence my immediate agreement when Malcolm suggested it for May.

A friend who did the walk recently encouraged us to do it the ‘easy’ way (ie through a company that would book all the accommodation for us and carry our bags) – such a good decision!  It all worked perfectly.  We stayed in a selection of very different but all fine places, and we were able to focus on just enjoying the walk.

The West Highland Way is officially 96 miles, from just north of Glasgow to Fort William.  In reality we reckon we walked just over 100 miles.  We chose to do it over 8 days, though with hindsight 7 days would have been just fine.

We walked through glorious countryside in (mostly) unexpectedly fine weather, surrounded variously by hills, Loch Lomond, massed bluebells, vivid gorse, wild moorland (Rannoch Moor), and forest.  We had rain on the last two days, but it wouldn’t have been a Scottish walk without some rain and it certainly didn’t spoil anything (apart from on the last day my walking shoes – if I wasn’t morally opposed to such things I could offer them up for germ warfare, such is the smell).

The way was well marked, our guide book excellent (informative, accurate, easy to use), and we met many other walkers doing the same thing.  We both enjoyed the mix of walking together (sometimes), walking apart (our comfortable pace is very different), and from time to time greeting others along the way.  We met people from England, Scotland, Canada, various US states, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, and France.  We chatted amiably, drifting in and out of each others’ lives.

At the end we celebrated with a well-earned tot of whisky from a bottle bought at the distillery we visited on the first day.  And a Mars bar.  Of course.

We ended the trip with a day out on the train, riding the West Highland Railway from Fort William to Mallaig.  It was stunning.  I’m told that Harry Potter fans among you will recognise this line from the films – particularly the viaduct and the steam train (which we didn’t take but saw the next day).

Then home via Glasgow and the rest of the West Highland Railway (also stunning), and a couple of days exploring Glasgow.  A lot crammed into 11 days away from home.

We enjoyed it so much that we’re already planning another Scottish walk for next May.

Some practical details:

  • Comfortable walking shoes or boots and socks were a must
  • So were lightweight waterproof clothes, and an umbrella was a welcome bonus
  • A comfortable day bag was essential, ideally including plenty of waterproof bags inside to protect contents from the inevitable rain (I forgot mine and had to borrow plastic bags)
  • The shortest day’s walk was just 7 miles or so (not long enough, it felt).  The longest was about 20 miles and tough going.
  • Some of the walking was deceptively challenging – not difficult, but clambering over stones and tree roots was tough on the feet and hard.  Especially when it went on for mile after mile (day 3, alongside Loch Lomond).
  • Planning food for the next couple of days was essential – knowing when there would and would not be somewhere to buy lunch things and snacks enabled us to ensure we carried enough food with us when that was needed.
  • Booking food for the evening early as soon as possible after we arrived also proved to be essential – there were a lot of people walking, and not many pubs/inns
  • A disappointing absence of places to eat good (or any!) tea-and-scones-and-cakes.  Luckily I had some of my step-father’s excellent home made fruit cake with me
  • Travelling by train to Glasgow from Bath and booking well in advance with a rail card kept the cost to a reasonable level

It was bluebell time in Scotland….

Welcome visit halfway through the first day

The strangest place we stayed – but fun! (lovely people, good food, bizarre decor)

Just outside Fort William

A welcome celebration at the end point

And for the Harry Potter fans out there, a couple of photos from the train ride from Fort William to Mallaig:

Posted in Gap year, Retirement, Travels, Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments