So, as I alluded to in my last blog, a rather amazing and unusual thing happened as I was doing my final edit of 'Sensing the past...'.
As I sat quietly checking spelling and the grammar of the piece, a robin landed on my knee. Quietly, without fuss, and rather comfortingly. Now I have had birds land on me in the past, a robin or two and maybe some sparrows, though never inside our home!
You see, when I was editing my last blog I was sitting in our front room where we do Sunday Chat, I was on the other sofa - the 'Live' sofa. I'd heard a brief fluttering of wings which, with the front sash windows being slightly open, I thought was simply sparrows chomping at the cabbage palm tree seed pods. It's something that they do at this time of year; we often have sparrows in the palm trees and blue tits in our callicarpa, so a fluttering of wings is not unusual. However, the sound of the fluttering of wings was soon followed by a blur in my vision and then the complete 20/20 clarity of a robin landing on my knee... our robin landing on my knee. And yes, I'm totally sure it was the one that has been pecking to get into the house for some time!
My last blog, 'Sensing the past...' had proven to be quite emotional, as it took me back to very happy family times, with reminiscences of many happy faces around the Christmas table, smiling, laughing, joking, eating, drinking and being generally merry. The sounds and voices and smells and smiles were all at the forefront of my mind, when our little robin decided to land on my knee. For some reason it felt incredibly normal to have a robin on my knee... though of course, after a moment I realised that this wasn't at all usual, as we were in the front room!!
Our little robin then flew to the sash window, which as I have said was only slightly open, a few centimetres at the top and bottom to let the air flow through to room. My next thought was then to get this little robin out of the house as WE live in our house, in here, and HE lives outside, out there. So, nice and slowly and carefully, I moved to our front door and opened it wide. I then went and got the key to undo the locks of our front sash windows so that I could fully open them at the top, offering up another route for our robin to fly out. Of course, I was making sweet talk with Mr Robin all of the time, to calm him down, as well as myself.
"Are you OK Mr Robin? Do you want to go back outside?" Mr Robin didn't reply, in fact he seemed to feel quite at home.
By this time Mr Robin was sitting on top of our Virgin Media router, quite happy and contented, and then he decided to fly into our chandeliere-style lights and check out the view from there (as well as the dust on the glass drops I am sure!). Quite happily Mr Robin was going about what he was sure was his business. As I opened the windows he then went on to the cushions on the teal sofa, those that Richard plumps so carefully each day. Then it must have been time to check out the view from the top of our front room door, as that's where Mr Robin went next. Deciding he had had a good old mooch, he flew a few feet towards me, hovering in mid air for a short second as they do, wings all a flutter, turned back towards the door of the room, then took a swift right turn and made his way out the front door.
When I followed into the hallway Mr Robin was quite happily sitting on our coir front door mat, looking at me. He then made a few hops onto our pathway and started pecking away between the old red bricks of the pathway, and I'm sure finding tiny bugs where we would see nothing. He didn't seem at all concerned by his foray into our home.
After saying goodbye to him - "Bye bye Mr Robin. See you at the back door later" - and closing the front door, I just sat down and blubbed for 10 minutes. For me there is so much symbolism of a red robin being in our house, even more so at a time when I'd been thinking about so much joy in my past. Once I had come to, and composed myself, I checked around the downstairs and noticed there was a little bird poo in our kitchen sink. You see, the kitchen window was slightly open. As you may remember, a robin has been picking at our french windows for some time, and we have even thought about letting it in - and I have no doubt that that robin and our red-breasted house guest are one and the same.
Clearly, Mr Robin decided that morning that he had had enough of our inhospitality and chose to make his own way in through the kitchen window, and come and check up on me whilst I was editing my last blog.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 15
Gosh, it was a rather busy and unexpectedly emotional day yesterday!
I said to Richard on Saturday that I wanted to make a Christmas Pudding, as it was Stir-Up Sunday this weekend which is the traditional day that people in the UK would make their Christmas Puddings; families all coming together and giving the mix a stir, each making a wish as they did so. It's obviously one of those traditions that is dying out swiftly now that we can go to any supermarket or corner shop and buy the pasty, sweet, microwaveable, unrecognisable Christmas Puddings that they sell these days. However, I was absolutely sure there is nothing like the real thing that mum used to make, and I wanted to make it. So make it we did!!
Now, I haven't made mum's Christmas Puddings for many decades. In fact, I don't think I've made a traditional Christmas Pudding since I last made one with mum when I must have been in my very, very early 20s.
Mum had given me one of her old cookery books some years back. It's an old Hamlyn cookery book with a pale blue cloth-like cover. The dust sheet has long been lost, and various splodges of cake batter and gravy now sit comfortably alongside the jaded and faded fake gold lettering on the cover binding. It wasn't actually the recipe for Christmas Pudding in the book that I was looking for though. You see, I knew that mum's handwritten recipe of HER Christmas Pudding was on a piece of paper cradled between two of the leaves of the book. I took Cooking In Colour off of my cookery book shelves (note... MY cookery book shelves, not OUR cookery book shelves!). I found the slip of mottled paper with red writing, and then remembered what I had known all along... the list of ingredients used and their weights was for 16 puddings, and I certainly didn't want to make 16!! So I set to and converted all of the ounces into grams and millilitres and then divided all of the total amount of each ingredient by 16. In the end, looking at the full list of ingredients and their weights for one pudding, I decided that I would do one and a half times this reduced amount of mix. It turned out that this was perfect for making 8 individual puddings; it was Richard's idea to make individual puddings rather than one large one, and I think that he had the right idea.
It was in the first moments of stirring this scented mix that the initial sense of the past came back to me... Standing around the dining room table with mum at my side and a huge plastic Tupperware in front of us. We would stir the mixture thoroughly, ensuring that everything was incorporated; no pockets of dry flour here, and no clumps of gooey, squidgy chopped prunes there. Just one unctious flavourful dried fruit, almond, sugar, suet, rum and stout paste. We'd have to take turns in doing the stirring as the quantity of mixture was so large it was really quite tiring on the arms!
My second sense of the past was when I could smell the puddings steaming. The gentle spicy aroma filled the kitchen, then our middle room, the ground floor, then the upstairs until the whole house was engulfed in scented memories. And boy did that aroma take me back decades again! I've obviously smelt Christmas Puddings over the decades, though none have given me this sense of days of old.
And then we jump forward to the tasting, and wowsers... didn't that bang me right back to being a child!! Sitting around the table at Christmas, with family and friends and some people that I didn't even know who they were. Presents had been opened and played with and the turkey carcass was sitting under tinfoil on top of the fridge. There we all were with our coloured paper Christmas cracker hats on, all feeling slightly boozy (even us youngsters as we were allowed Babycham!), terrible jokes had been read aloud, useless cracker gifts were spread around the tablecloth, some gleeful choir was singing updated carols and festive songs on the radio... and then would come mum's Christmas Puddings. Glistening. Flaming. And beautiful. In my opinion, heavenly. 😊
If you've seen the video of us making the Christmas Puddings you will see how I got rather overwhelmed by emotion. It was simply because the taste of this pudding just sent me back decades to all the memories above - to the joys of those people, of which too many are sadly no longer in our lives today, though they will live forever in our hearts... dad, my brother Perri, Aunty Phil, Uncle Len, Aunty Betty and Uncle Mick. Life is so short, yet it can also be so joyous.
And I guess that's the wonderful thing about food, along with many other daily necessities and luxuries.
In the depths of our minds we have so many memories that are associated with a smell or a taste or a sight or a sound, and even a touch. It's in moments like these, sometimes decades later, when these special times are relived, most often unexpectedly, that we're just taken back to our childhood or back to special moments of remembrance. It can be quite overwhelming, though it can also be so enriching too. I for one am so pleased that we have these moments as they highlight time's gone by; for me many are wonderfully sweet and happy whilst some are more bittersweet. However, these memories and events are part of the person each of us is today, and hopefully even more memories can be made for us to fall back to as we get older, and wiser, and remember.
And... as I sat in our front room this morning quietly doing the final edit of this blog before posting it, something quite lovely, unexpected and extraordinary happened, though this story will have to wait for another day...
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 14
It may not seem like much of an auspicious start... but it's a start!!
Almost three months ago now I first noticed that a whole load of bricks had been stacked up against a wall at the bottom of our road. Who had put them there? Was someone going to use them for something? Was there a carefully concealed camera looking on to catch a thief?
All fair questions maybe, though knowing folk in our area often 'freecycle' by popping unwanted items on the pavement or their front wall, my immediate thoughts were "Can I take them?", "These could be very useful at the allotment", and "I need to get a wheelbarrow to trundle them across to our plots."
And the next time I passed them I had exactly the same thoughts... and the next time I passed... and the next time... and the next...
On Monday, I took the bull by the horns, or maybe it's better to say I took the bricks by a wheelbarrow.
It might seem like a relatively simple job, and it certainly was, though the time it has taken me to get round to doing this is symptomatic of the last few months. I'm really hoping that now, as we get in to the real darker days of winter, I will have more time at the plots, allowing me (and Richard!) to get them sorted for spring sowings and the happy onslaught of growing all that is green.
So this simple job was really our first task to getting the new plot into some sort of shape; albeit only by moving bricks from one place to another! The bricks, which are a hodgepodge of different colours, shapes and sizes, will be used to put on top of cardboard to weight it down so that the winds don't blow this ground cover away over winter. When we can get compost, from our bin or elsewhere, we will place this on top of the cardboard, and the weight of that compost will replace these bricks, though these bricks will do well in the meantime.
So it was from here (above left), at the bottom of our road, that I wheeled the bricks to here (above right), at the side of the shed on our new plot. We also acquired some tiles (though I'm not really sure what we can do with them!), and a few pieces of wood which I'm sure will come in handy at some point.
The scavenging of bits and pieces that one finds on one's daily jaunts certainly help keep the cost of an allotment down, and sometimes you get an unexpected and truly treasureable find.
Happy days. 😊
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 13
It has to be said, the last few weeks have found me with little impetus to get on and do the things that really needed to be sorted. Unlike other years, the recent time change of falling back an hour seems to have also let me fall into an “Oh, I will sort it tomorrow…” state of mind, and we all know where that can lead!!
So, I needed a bit of a kick up the arse, or at least a nudge in the right direction.
Thankfully, the lovely Kelly Bramill of Kelly’s Kitchen Garden gave me a right, royal kick up the arse… at least metaphorically! And, to be fair, it was less of a kick and more of a warming nudge of “Go on… you know you will like it”. And like it I did!!
A few days back Kelly uploaded her latest video where she sows White Lisbon Spring Onions and three types of lettuce. Early sowings of a lettuce that Kelly did at this time last year have provided her family with over 2.5kg of salad leaves this year!! A monumental harvest of salad leaves in anyone’s book.
So today, following Sunday Chat, it was time to get some sowing of my own done. Admittedly, I could have stayed in front of the TV watching Vivi’s first Sunday on the Sofa - and believe you me I was quite comfy watching it on our sofa in our warm front room with a cuppa in hand. However, as I watched my fingers were growing increasingly itchy, and I knew a spell of seed sowing was going to be the only thing to quell them. So, about 10 minutes in and with Vivi’s washing machine seemingly nearing the end of its spin cycle I said to Richard “Nope, I'm going to have to watch Vivi later. I'm going down to the plot to sow some seeds.” And after a rummage in my seed box, where I found gifted and ‘magazine’ seeds, that's exactly what I've done!
Following Kelly's advice, which you can watch fully in her video, I've now multi-sown White Lisbon Spring Onions in modules, and I've separated one of our half-size seed trays into three using seed labels and sown All The Year Round lettuce, Southern Giant mustard and Arctic King lettuce. The compost was already moist and the seed trays have now had a light watering and will stay in the polytunnel under their little plastic hat for some months, or at least until we move the poly to lower down on our new plot. I've never sown salad leaves or spring onions at this time of year before, though clearly it did very well for Kelly who lives much further north and in a colder environment, so fingers crossed!
If your fingers are getting itchy too, and you know that only a bout of seed sowing will sort it, then why not grow along with Kelly also? It will be interesting to see how we all do.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 12
An 'after seed sowing' darkening sky at our allotment.
You may have seen already the video of me planting out our Messidrome Garlic, and our Bunyard's Exhibition Broad Beans. It felt like such an achievement after seemingly endless delays; day-on-day and week-on-week 'other things' needing to happen since their respective beds were ready in early October. However, they're in, and hopefully the plump garlic cloves are each putting down their thread-like roots, and the broad beans are swelling so that the little primary root of each seed – the radicle root - can force its way out of its shell and into soft, loamy earth. Bliss!!
This morning, in sorting out various photos on my phone, I noticed I had accidentally taken one of the Messidrome Garlic bed after the cloves had been planted. The thing that struck me was the tiny difference between the two pictures - the 'before' and the 'after' shot if you like. On the left is the 'before' shot, with the soft soil topped by a small guideline, whilst the 'after' shot looks virtually identical though without the line.
It made me think of two things.
The first is that what we see above our sacred soil can hide so much of what's going on beneath a quiet surface. So much of what we do in growing our own food starts off, after planting or sowing, with nothing seemingly happening... then a shoot breaks through the soil and we smile. Though still then, especially with root and tuber crops, garlic, and ground nuts like peanuts, we don't fully know what is going on underneath; a forest of vibrant growth above may simply only suggest what is going on down below.
My second thought is that by simply removing that guideline, and without knowing the time and energy I had put in to planting the individual cloves, it would seem as though little had happened. In fact I had spent a good while splitting each of the garlic cloves from the bulb, checking each clove for disease or damage, gently raking the top of the soil, placing down the guideline, laying each clove along its line and in its row, adjusting the spacing here and there, using a trowel to gently make the planting hole, placing each individual clove in its own growing space in the damp soil, covering each clove up and then carefully smoothing out the surface of the soil. So much time and effort had gone into this planting, though the only visible sign to show for it that day was the removal of a piece of string.
It made me think that we humans are similar.
What others see on the surface of us, in our face, our gestures, our stance and even our words often tell a very different story than what is happening beneath the surface, inside our bodies, inside our brains. And the fact that we might go along with the actions and words of others does not make us them, and to understand that is key.
In addition, what might seem a simple task to one person may to another be herculean. The result of an activity for two people may be the same, though the process for each may be entirely different. For one that activity could be a simple run-of-the-mill, day-in day-out task, whilst to the other the task may be monumental, take much more thought, energy, learning, fear and time. Again, understanding that we are each different is key.
Being thoughtful, caring and understanding of others is so important in today's exhilarating and vapid world - a world where good traits are often seen as a weakness, and time spent on good, thorough achievement is often disregarded.
It’s important to find one’s own guideline in life, and the line that is right for each of us can show itself at very different stages of our life, and they often change as the years pass. What was once so important is now irrelevant, and vice versa. Endeavouring to find that line and follow it is again key.
In my life, where others have seen a weakness in me, I have learnt to find a strength, and seeking and finding the right guideline has brought me to where I am today, and I am quite happy with where that is.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 11
It was a job that I'd been putting off for quite some time. Mainly because I'd never done this with seed so small and light, though in reality time had just slipped by in October to who knows where!
I'd harvested our Portuguese Cabbage seeds at least six weeks ago, and they had been in our polytunnel since. With the days drawing in, and nights getting colder and damper, our polytunnel wasn't the best place for these seeds now. If we'd left them here they would surely have germinated; several months too soon and at completely the wrong time of year! Brassica seeds are a pretty hardy bunch and a little cold is easily shrugged off!!
It was time to bring home all the brittle, sharp edged seed pods and their many thousands of seeds in a single brown paper bag. I left the bag and its contents to dry out for a further day in the warm utility room, and then it was time to do some winnowing.
It's an ancient craft, and having tried it myself with these gloriously dark brown and minuscule seeds I think the word craft is used wisely! Winnowing is basically separating husks from seeds, using an air current to literally 'separate the wheat from the chaff'... or in my case the seeds from the seeds' pods using some judicious pouted blowing.
It took some time, and then a little more time, and then a little bit more time again. The seeds chose to take flight like tiny cannonballs as I blew, speckling the kitchen surfaces with their minute grains of destruction... Richard would not be a happy bunny!! I decided it was time to give in and get the tweezers out; removing the remnants of virtually invisible stalks and broken seed pods by hand.
Admittedly I wasn't winnowing the whole day through, though it took much longer than I'd imagined when I started!
As I now drink my nicely brewed English Breakfast tea and look down on the smile in the seeds traced out by a finger, I too have a smile on my own face... and a new found respect for this winnowing craft. Yes, it was a bit of a chore though it also brought a semblance of purpose, fun and calm.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 10
...long term partners.