Sunday, 24 February 2013

Techno Luddite

If you are reading this then we have both pressed the right keys in the right order and therefore can claim to be technos. However, it seems strange to me that whilst we embrace this wonderful world of technology we also love to engage in a pastime that can be totally free of it. So is it good or bad?
Dorking is a quaint little market town with some odd ways about it. Full of small independent stores it feels no need to open much before 9.30am and sometimes shut up at 5.30pm if trade is poor. 10 years ago it still had an early closing day! but it can boast an old fashioned ironmongers at which I purchased my onion sets from the sack. 100 each of Red Barron and Stetton which were duly weighed on an old balance scale and paid for. It seemed a bit light for the price but we rely on trust so you can imagine my chagrin when weighed at home it came up a whole kilo less. Was I annoyed - yes, but also philosophical as they were still very much cheaper than down the garden centre and I had picked the best ones myself.
We also have in Dorking a Friday market. The greengrocer stall is always very popular and standing in line to pay for a small item I marvel at the mental agility of the stallholder as he calculates the price per kilo for each vegetable (this time on electronic scales) whilst keeping a running total in his head of the final bill. When the lady in front left with four bags of veg she had paid a whopping £50+. Now maybe growing our own has blunted our perception of the true cost of things - had it not been for the appalling harvest last year.
At a supermarket near us they have introduced hand scanners so you do not need to queue at the checkout and with no veg in these hungry months I found myself scanning and weighing a weeks worth of vegetables (two bags) that came to just over £14. Now of course you'll be saying the market veg are fresher and better had not the small item I'd purchased been a 'lover-ly ripe pineapple' that still had the label of a notorious supermarket, that is know to reject deliveries if not perfect, beginning with 'T'.
The bakers dozen (13) is an old term that ensured you got full weight when buying bread, the penalties were severe on any baker selling underweight. Even now with technology the trading standard officer will still go round checking scales, and had it not been for technology we would never have known that those beef pies we were eating were in fact horse.
 In conclusion technology is good and I embrace it wholeheartedly but I'll still dig my plot with a spade!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Train of thought

You knew something was coming from the faint whistle. It sounded familiar, like an echo from the past, an almost lost memory. There it was again, sounding closer, and you straightened to catch it on the wind. Yes, it was a steam train, like the ones from our childhood, the ones we rode on to London or our holidays, those icons of nostalgia that mean so much to us as we get older.

The whistle was a warning of the many footpaths that cross the Reading to Redhill line. With the last one came a vibration that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It roared into view, the A1 Pacific 'Tornado' pulling old cream and crimson coaches, and suddenly it was gone. What wonder, what bliss, you  now know how Toad felt in Wind in the Willows, sitting in the middle of the road watching the automobile disappear in a cloud of dust murmuring 'poop-poop'.

It occured to me as I stood leaning on my hoe that in years gone by how many old allotmenteers had witnessed what I had just seen, though perhaps with not such a grand locomotive. It gave me a strong sense of connection.

Not far from the allotment and just below the National Trust car park on Ranmore Common is a view looking west, beyond Landbarn Farm, along that same length of railway line. What I see must be similar if not the same as anyone standing here when it opened in 1849.

We are rooted in the landscape and by virtue of that have a real connection with the land we live on. Most of us could probably go back just two or three generations to find an ancestor that lived from or on the land. Sometimes it can be a hard thing to get the dirt from beneath our finger nails and maybe for the sake of our children's future we should not try.


Monday, 4 February 2013

Year of the slug

I have just looked back over my gardening diary for 2012 ( yes I know, sad is'nt it) and just realised what a truly awful year it was. A sort  of Anno Horibilis, as Queenie would say, for veg growers in the U.K.
It started all right, in fact for the first 3 months we had a drought leading to a hosepipe ban in April. The temperature was well up too, bringing on the blossom much earlier than it should, which then of course was hit by the frosts. Result, no pears no plums and about 15 apples. Great show for my little orchard.
Of course as soon as the hosepipe ban started so did the rain (it's sods law apparently) and then did'nt stop. For slugs it was like winning the lottery, and did they party! caution was thrown to the wind and without any protection whatsoever they multiplied in a hedonistic orgy (in one 10 minute foray after dark with a torch 54 three in monsters were dispatched with grievous bodily harm). The trouble was just about everything else intent on making hay did just as well.
After two sowings of carrot failed to show I put in plugs of beetroot, swede and cabbage carefully nurtured in the greenhouse and were much appreciated by the flea beetle which turned them into a sort of green colander. Potatoes, long a staple on the plot, have been difficult in recent years with the blight becoming part of our altered climate. This year even my sound spuds were turning to mush in the sack, so were given away before it became a total loss. Strangely the corn did well and would have been a good harvest if the mice had not decided it would be fun to nibble a small hole in the base of each cob. That in turn was like a calling card to every Magpie in the district (I counted 13 in a tree nearby)  to come and strip back the husk? and devour the unripe corn. A third sowing of carrot after the potatoes were lifted grew well and promised at least something from the plot, which was just what the rats thought as well. All that was left were the scattered tops and a small depression where they had scraped the earth back. Their distinctive trails led across three plots before disappearing into a compost heap - thanks a bunch pal.
For those who still deny global warming here are a few facts and figures gleaned from the web. Despite all the rain, 2012 (1330.7mm)  was not the wettest year on record (records began in 1910), that was 2000 (1337.3mm) . Four of the five wettest years on record have been since 2000 and over the last 30 years we have seen a 5% increase in rainfall. Call me silly but that does suggest there is something going on!!!