Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Wordless Wednesday

A rare sighting of someting the cat didn't manage to drag in.

Thursday, 12 June 2008


I'm not the best of travellers. I listen with interest to those who recall their trips to far flung shores but when it boils down to it, a caravan, forty miles away in Chapel St Leonards, with enough sound proofing on the roof to enable conversation to take place when it's raining, is good enough for me.
It's not really worth travelling far if you're going to be worried about your veg being neglected but I was persuaded by Mrs MV that a six day trip to France would not signal the demise of my carefully tended crops.
My hectic lifestyle and social calender is such that I must occasionally slow down and relax so I accepted an offer to join Bill and Dick on a 'writing' holiday in Bergerac. I have no desire to relate the full story of the disaster that befell me for Bill cunningly got his version in before I arrived home but needless to say, as I sat in the cafe adjoining Bergerac airport for two hours, that caravan in Chapel St Leonards was inviting indeed.
I would go so far as to say, that the shed I was forced to shelter in from the rain whilst Blunt was miles away meeting the wrong plane had its merits and I did consider spending the next five days in a hermit-like state under its roof, if only to avoid the Pastis-fuelled grovelling apologies from Blunt.
It would be pleasant at this point to announce that all ended well but my torment was to continue when I attempted to return to these shores.
It appears that a certain airline is happy to cancel flights at the drop of a hat (or in this case a whiff of fog) and leave their customers to their own devices. Once again, dear reader, I was forced to study the architectural majesty of Bergerac airport for several hours and share my concern at the lack of Health and Safety measures of the men working on the new extension with my fellow, abandoned passengers until I could return to the UK some 12 hours later than I intended.
It was an anxious Blunt who spoke to me as I prepared to board the train for the last leg of my journey home after I'd told him of my latest setback.
His only concern I suspect was that I may have had problems 'smuggling' the three packets of seeds into the country that I purchased in the beautiful village of Issigeac.
I had no such problem as I am well versed in hiding a variety of objects on my person from my days as a 'mule' for the Oldham Cactus Society.
I have recovered from my ordeal you will be pleased to hear and the only thing that keeps coming back to haunt me is a song. One that I'll probably not forget in a hurry.

Saturday, 31 May 2008


I think you will agree that it is relatively unknown for me to stray from the world of vegetables but I will make an exception just this once to share news of a rare night off I had this week. Regular readers will have realised by now that my twin passions are the allotment and Oldham Athletic, so it would no doubt surprise many of you to learn that I found myself outside the home of Manchester United during the week.
Normally, if M********r U****d were playing in my back garden, I would close the curtains and let the dog out but I was at Old Trafford for an entirely different reason. Thirty-odd years ago, I heard Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run' album and I have harboured plans to see him perform live ever since.
Just as those jobs you always intend doing get done eventually, my appointment with Springsteen was kept on a rainy, windswept (is M********r ever anything but rainy and windswept?) evening. Sat in the car park eating our sandwiches, (I had no desire to sample a Rooney burger or whatever) it soon became obvious that the average age of the audience was going to be in the mid to late fifties.
This suited me just fine, as teenagers high on cider and pot noodles tend to spoil the listening experience for us older rock 'n rollers.
I did think that many of the audience looked like they might grow their own veg but the almighty hike to our seats in the clouds at the top of the North Stand meant that any attempts at conversation once we got there were impossible.
I didn't know every song Springsteen played but I can vouch for the fact that he put his heart into every number. A true professional.
One of my favourite Springsteen songs is 'Hard Land' which begins with the line:
"Hey there Mister, can you tell me what happened to the seeds I've sown"
Bruce Springsteen has an allotment? I wouldn't be surprised.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Where's Popeye when you need him?

Those of you who have followed my progress in attempting to educate the local youngsters to embrace the joys of growing veg are due an update I feel.
I have been squeezed into the school timetable on a Friday afternoon and I'm pleased to say that the number of children who would rather weed the school garden than tackle prism's and parallelogram's shows no sign of waning.
I still have to answer a variety of questions, most of which have nothing to do with gardening and I have also been educated on the complicated world of computer gaming but I feel I am now suitably knowledgeable about the difference between a Nintendo DS and an XBox 360.
I have been impressed that the school encourages the children to drink plenty of fluids during this hot weather but it does mean that they continually need the toilet. I've lost track of the number of times the children have said "I want a wee".
The garden is filling up with plants fast and I decided to introduce some vegetables that the children may not have tasted before. A packet of spinach that I've had lying around for ages was the obvious thing to try and I wondered if the kids would find it as disgusting as I did at their age. Remembering my youth, I asked one group today if they knew who Popeye the Sailor man was. I was met with 4 blank faces.
"Surely you know the song?" I added. It appeared they didn't and I felt it was my duty to give them a version of the classic song.

They were unimpressed with my singing voice and seemingly less impressed with Popeye, who I had to point out was not a Super Hero, Ninja Turtle or Power Ranger.
If the children of today spent less time swimming, playing football, cycling and running around and more time in front of the TV watching the likes of Popeye, the world would be a better place I'm sure.

Thursday, 8 May 2008


I stopped buying newspapers the day after the blatantly biased match report of Oldham's narrow 7 -1 home defeat by Cardiff in the South Wales Tribune and Herald in March 2002. By all accounts, I haven't missed much and knowing that I would be unable to give a positive answer to "Did you see that story in the paper?", my good friend Bill often drops me a line to draw my attention to any gardening related stories he thinks I might want to cast an eye over.
The latest missive from Bill concerned a story in The Independent who have jumped on the 'grow your own food' bandwagon in a big way.
Alarm bells should have rung when I saw the headline 'Grow your own veg - you'll dig the savings' but I soldiered on and was stunned to discover that Kate Hughes, the writer of the piece, claimed that 'a standard allotment can yield about a ton of vegetables'. Now I don't know what size allotment the lass had in mind but unless you're growing giant pumpkins around the clock, on a plot the size of a football pitch, you're not going to need industrial-sized scales.
I stopped reading when she suggested readers might try growing wheat in order that they could make their own bread. I believe that a letter from a reader the following week asked how a threshing machine could be operated in the confines of an allotment, so I was pleased to discover that I wasn't the only one who thought it was a daft idea.
I treated the family to a weekend in London recently and we hit the usual tourist haunts including Covent Garden. Amongst the stalls selling scented candles (they're bloody everywhere) was a 'working allotment' which was the centrepiece of the Spring Renaissance Festival.
I am not normally impressed by such blatant attempts at 'going green' but there were plenty of people showing a great deal of interest in it and a young woman, sat by the shed, apparently willing to offer growing advice to anyone interested.
I dutifully waited my turn, which is more than several European visitors were able to do, and decided to quiz the young lady about the current state of my rhubarb.
I'm afraid to say, despite my high standing in the allotment movement, that my rhubarb has created a certain amount of mirth amongst the plot holders.
Unlike everybody else's, my rhubarb has decided to flower several months early.
I do have a rough idea as to why this has happened but I thought I would get the advice of a fellow 'expert'
I was not prepared for the answer she gave me when I told her that the rhubarb was trying to flower and it must have shown in my face.
"Wow, fabulous", was her answer.
Now there are a lot of things in life which are 'fabulous', Andy Ritchie's injury time equaliser for Oldham in the Littlewoods Cup quarter final against Southampton in 1990, obviously springs to mind straight away but flowering rhubarb doesn't come halfway close.
Knowing my reaction in similar circumstances, I was bundled away by Mrs MV and it is true to say that I was a little bit lost for words. If Jocasta (which was probably what she was called) had answered "You're a pretty crap gardener then", I would have taken it like a man but I couldn't get her words out of my mind for days.
I have decided therefore to widen my campaign net to rid the world of the scented candle, feng shui decorators, decking 'experts' and now Patsy Stone imitators in dungarees. You have been warned.
Incidentally, if your rhubarb is flowering early it is likely that infertile soils and extreme drought may cause a flower stalk formation. Age may be another factor. Old plants tend to flower more than young ones.
Regardless of the reason, flower stalks should be promptly pulled and discarded. Plants will be less productive if allowed to flower and set seeds.
Either that or you're a crap gardener.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Another pretender to the throne

My views on TV gardeners are well documented. The people (and they know who they are) who are responsible for 'decking' should be banned from ever setting foot in a garden centre again. Acres of rainforest has probably been cleared so that Vince and Marjorie can 'entertain' the neighbours with their gas barbecue once there's a break in the clouds.
For me, there was only ever one gardening guru and that of course was Percy Thrower. Percy didn't need the help of horsey women in low cut t-shirts or feng shui advisors. His advice was accurate, helpful and innovative at the same time and there wasn't a obelisk in sight.
I fought off any ideas my allotment members had of inviting TV gardeners to our site. The insurance premiums go through the roof when Titchmarsh calls round and the Health and Safety issues associated with cameras, lighting and equipment are a nightmare.
I thought I had avoided any further mention of 'celebrity' gardeners but it appears one or two of the members, contrary to Association rules, have invited Radio 2's Terry Walton to pay us a visit. For those of you who don't know who he is, Walton is an advisor to the BBC programme Coal House and gives advice about growing vegetables on the Jeremy Vine show every week.
I decided to tune in to hear what he had to say and if you can put up with his Welsh accent, he is worth listening to.
I was particularly impressed with an answer he gave somebody who asked if April was too late to sow onion seed.
"Boxing Day is the day you sow onion seed" he replied, giving him instant kudos in this neck of the words, not only for the fact that he expects the excesses of Christmas to be finished by then but
for his no nonsense reply to a daft question.
I have decided to let the obvious breach of our rules pass this time and have invited Mr Walton to pay us a visit on May 17th around 3 pm.
I know this time clashes with Cardiff City kicking off in the FA Cup Final for the first time since 1927 but I am sure that Terry knows where his priorities lie and I've also informed him that he is more than welcome to bring along the barrel of beer he's got his foot on.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Who's looking after the gerbil?

Getting a school full of youngsters to appreciate the joys of vegetable growing isn't as easy as say, teaching them to read and write. If some of the teachers kept a bag full of teeth-rotting sweets hung up on a nail as a post-gardening bribe, as I do, they might find that getting their young charges to pay attention was a lot easier.
Consequently, as I think I have mentioned before, there are plenty of volunteers to work on the school garden. The leaves of the broad beans that were planted a few weeks ago have appeared but as I feared, the inability of the kids who planted them to understand what a straight line is has resulted in a mad flourish of greenery that occupies about fifteen square inches.
I will of course correct this little mishap before the children return from yet another break in their education, a two week Spring holiday.
Their absence has thrown up the usual dilemma of who will water the greenhouse or feed the gerbil and it is fortunate that I am considered trustworthy enough to be issued with a key to the gate. It is a strange feeling however, to walk through the deserted school grounds without the cheery greetings from the children or the sounds of a non-contact, non-competitive game of rugby.
There is consolation in the lack of company however and that is the speed one can get all the jobs done without having to stop to answer various questions or listen to an account of why Jacob's Mum won't let him have a dog (the last one gave her a headache).
I've lost count of the number of times I've been mistaken for the caretaker and if I was an impish type I could have had contractors and all manner of visitors running around in circles.
Some of the teachers forget that I don't actually work there. I have been asked for screwdrivers, ladders and one of them actually asked me to give her class a talk on garden wildlife. Considering that teaching is simple if you keep one chapter ahead of the kids in whatever book you're reading, I invested 20p in a copy of Collins Garden Wildlife at a car boot sale and I have contacted the NUT to see what sort of hourly rate I can expect to receive. I have yet to hear from them however regarding my enquiry as to whether the tawse is still an accepted means of chastisement.
The questions the kids throw at you are the best ones however. "Why have you got no hair?" is a popular topic along with "Do you live in the shed?"
I was nearly stumped when one child asked me how the solar fan in the roof of the greenhouse worked. I quickly formulated two answers, the first being "The sun shines on the solar panel which operates the fan", which was accepted thankfully, as my second choice answer was "It's magic".
I was politely told by the headteacher that I was not allowed to give out house points after I had set a new school record by awarding one child 500 of them for making me a cup of coffee.
With no one about for the next 10 days or so, I did wonder whether anybody had remembered to take the school gerbil home. Still, it should make a game of "What's that smell?" more interesting when school opens up again.