Monthly Archives: August 2015

How to make a difference

I’m in reflective mood today, so here’s some ideas on how to make a difference to the situation we find ourselves in regarding wrecking the planet.

Sorry if this sounds a bit political, but it strikes me there’s a lot of small things we could do that won’t affect our lives much but might just help to save the planet. Or at least make it last until it doesn’t concern me – about 30 years should do.

Eat less meat – unless you’re a vegetarian, because that won’t be possible. If you cut your meat eating by 50% you will save approximately one tonne of CO2 per year. You will probably live longer and be a little bit better off too. Pescatarians are only 2.5% more expensive (in carbon terms) than vegetarians (though I always consider them morally suspect, to be honest, particularly the ones who claim to be “vegetarian but I eat fish” – that’s not vegetarian at all). Vegan diets produce 25% less carbon than vegetarian diets.)

Go on holiday at home. A return flight between New York and London produces about a tonne of CO2. That means I’m giving up bacon sandwiches so you can have a holiday abroad? I don’t think so. Stop it!

Build a wildlife pond (even a small one) – that’s my new enthusiasm this week.

Don’t drive as far, and buy a more efficient car. We’re not all going to take to bikes anytime soon, not with my knees anyway, and the buses aren’t that good round my way so, being realistic, I need a car. It’s not too big, I don’t generally drive above 60, even on a motorway, and try to be economical in the way I drive as it saves money anyway.

Do something else (lists really need 3 or 5 or 10 items I always feel).. It just needs to be a small thing, or a few small things. I recently stopped having drinking straws when eating in fast food places. That will save about 750 straws over the course of my life. It isn’t much, but it’s now got me thinking about reducing other plastic, and about the number of times i eat fast food (remembering I sometimes have tea, not soft drinks).

That’s the depressing thing – I can actually find a lot of small changes to make and I’m only just starting to make them. I am, to be honest, a little bit ashamed of myself.

Just when things seemed to be going well…

Yesterday we had a visit from Dr Jo Sempik, a leading academic in the field of Green Care and Care Farming, and five Korean visitors who were keen to know how the concept worked. I’m not sure that we actually know all the answers, or we’d be a lot better off, but we seemed to pass muster.


This morning I had a steroid injection in the joint of my arthritic finger. I was just congratulating myself on zoning out the pain of having a needle inserted into my joint when the doctor depressed the plunger. I didn’t feel so pain free after that. It’s pretty good at the moment.

I’ve also been picking more of the harvest including my mini carrot harvest. I did mean them to be fashionably small but I might try to get them a bit bigger next year.


That’s some of the group artwork in the background.

Finally, those nice people from Shipshape Arts¬†loaded up their latest piece on a 40 foot lorry – which was only just big enough to fit everything in and only just small enough to get into the yard. If you think the man in the photo with the butterflies looks familiar, take a look at the Time Traveller scarecrow. Is it clear yet? He denies all similarity but I’m not so sure…


Of course, there’s always a balance and today it came in the form of something that made my mind up about the way things have been going recently.

So if anyone knows of a job that would suit a fat man with multiple useless skills and a bad attitude to customers let me know – I’m likely to have a few days to fill in the near future.

I became self-employed because I didn’t like taking orders from idiots, but I’ll say no more. It is, after all, not a great thing to discuss in the sentence just after you’ve asked if anyone knows of any jobs going.


This knife of Sheffield steel (2)

So there is was, isolated, disorientated and vulnerable in a small cubicle Рpresumably to make me answer all their questions. The Big Man with entourage came, then the gormless medical student and, eventually, the Bandage Nurse.

I had an overwhelming urge to call her “Sister” on account of her air of authority.

By the time she’d finished the bandaging it looked like I’d grown one of those comedy fingers you see in cartoons. You could imagine that if she removed the bandage the finger would pulsate and light up bright red.

“You’ll have to hold it up,” she said, “to stop the bleeding.”

I humphed. It had now taken over four hours since cutting the finger and all I had to show for it was a bad attitude and a comedy finger. Did I mention which one it was? Shall we just say that passing Americans looked at me aghast, unsure of what they had done to merit such an insult.

Anyway, they let me out of the claustrophobic cubicles and moved me to a chair in a dingy corridor with light-absorbing paint and a line of gloomy people that made  American Gothic or  Lowry look like tourist posters. Apart from one bloke, who was doing a passable impression of an idiot.

“Of course,” he said, “i’ve to them all. haven’t I Grace, been to them all?”

His daughter smiled in embarrassment as she sat there, small, pale and clearly in pain.

Then he went on to name all the local casualty departments he’d been to (many now closed) and all the uninteresting injuries he’s had. If I say he was the sort of man who remembers the names of consultants I’m sure you get the idea.

“She’s put her hand in a riveting machine.” he said.

If I’d have lived with him I’d have happily put my head in one.

When he left, smiles broke out what had looked like a line of professional mourners suddenly looked like a line of contestants in The Price is Right, though one of them did have an offensively raised finger..


What I learned today

I’ve been having a bad time of things. You may have guessed from some of the things I’ve written. But today I learned it doesn’t really matter.

A week ago I’d have seriously considered amputation as a cure for my arthritis; I was considering a shallow grave as a solution to a problem I was having with someone, and there was no hope.¬†It’s also been raining copiously, which probably sounds great if you’re in California but isn’t great when you’re in the middle of harvest or trying to grow vegetables in clay soil.


The lesson, which I should have learned before (and thought I had, if I’m honest) is that things pass.

My finger, indeed my whole body, is pain free as a result of the pills I’m on. The irritant is still irritating, but I decided to forgive her and make her as significant as dust.. So far that’s working. I now have hope again, though it’s a roller-coaster (more of that later) and the rain just stopped. Even before it had stopped I’d accepted that it will rain. Living in the UK you really can’t afford to get het up about the rain.

Anyway – hope…

We had two good, though tediously overlong, meetings yesterday and we’re now well on the road to finding an artist in residence. As part of that discussion we also talked to a few people about finding more groups to work with (hopefully in a profitable manner) and although we’ve been here fruitlessly before, my inner optimist says “Yes!”. .

Today we had a short meeting, which was good in itself. Even better, we now have a number of local doctors who know what we have to offer.

In a couple of weeks I may be less hopeful but for now, I have hope.

Tomorrow we have a leading academic and some overseas visitors. We’re clearly doing something right, but at the same time we’re failing to establish a financially sustainable project.

Away from all the grown-up stuff I’ve also had a good ladybird¬†spotting session with the group, though much of it centred round the fact that not all ladybirds are red with black spots. Seems years of cartoonish ladybirds have set a precedent. You can’t be down for long when you have the group around.


When the doctors arrived they gathered round like a flock of helpful locusts, telling them what we did and giving all sorts of helpful upbeat information. That’s the sort of testimonial you can’t buy, though they could perhaps have left out details of the post-lunch burping session.

I had to point out to the doctors that the winner (with six) didn’t have a medical condition, merely a talent for eructation.

We Built a Pond

It’s only a small pond – just a washing up bowl sunk into the corner of a raised bed.


The plant in the corner is Water Mint. Most of the rest is gravel or bricks, which form steps to get out if anything falls in.

I think I’ve told you all this, but as you can see from the main picture we had our first dragonfly, a Southern Hawker. Not sure if it’s a coincidence or if the “pond” really worked.

Get details here.

The Ornament of the House

‚ÄúThe ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.‚ÄĚ

Ralph Waldo Emerson

We had several visitors today, with our fortnightly Lincoln contingent (who brought cake), Ibrahima (the exchange student), one of the ladies who staffs the cafe, and Dave, one of the Quercus directors. He’s been ill recently and has been confining his activities to doing admin from home. I’ll be sad to see him well again, as while he’s doing the admin I don’t need to, and we don’t have any trouble with mud from his tyre treads.

Yes, I know it’s not very charitable but I never claimed to be a nice person. I suppose I’ll just have to get used to doing more sweeping.


You can see the calibre of people who I have to work with…

He’s had a new wheelchair since he last visited, a rather fetching chariot in bronze metallic with alloy wheels and purple shock absorbers. It wasn’t a great success to be honest, as he chopped up the edges of two doors before he got the footrests adjusted and then got stuck several times.


Looking flash but it could do with  a decent set of off-road tyres

To be fair, the getting stuck wasn’t all the fault of the chair. With an adventurous driver and poor surfaces you are going to get any chair stuck. The fact that¬†they use gravel traps to slow down crashing F1 cars should have been a clue that six inches of gravel wasn’t a good finish for a wheelchair path, but you know what builders are.


Gravel trap!

The apples are looking good, and I’m looking forward to starting the pressing. However, we’ll need to do something about the wasps. With one nest in the sedum roof and one in the scarecrow by the back ramp it’s a bit tricky running the cafe, with several people being driven inside by the wasps this Saturday. Add nice sugary apple juice to the equation and you can see why I’ll be glad to get rid of them.

I know we should live and let live but there are limits.

This knife of Sheffield steel

I’ve been writing about my arthritic finger recently, including a good helping of melodrama and a shameless bid for sympathy. However, this isn’t the silliest finger injury I’ve ever had.

I was once trimming some leaflets for Julia using a steel rule and a Stanley knife. In order to do them more quickly I started making the piles of leaflets higher, pressing the blade down more firmly and cutting more quickly. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

After spending a few minutes on The Stupidity of Husbands who Bleed on Leaflets (which would make a good title for a book on marriage) she decided I needed to go to hospital.

“Don’t be silly.” I said. “All it needs is running under the tap and I’ll stick a plaster on it. Oh!”

The “Oh!” represents the noise I made when the force of the water peeled the top of my finger back and left it hanging by a thread of skin. It wasn’t a very big bit, no more than a quarter inch at most, and it didn’t hurt.

First stop was the doctor. It wasn’t an emergency so hospital wasn’t an option. Wrong. Doctors don’t do stitches anymore and it apparently was an emergency. (As you can see from the fact I was later to go to hospital with a swollen finger I was to adopt this approach).

There was a woman in the emergency department with skinned knuckles. That definitely wasn’t an emergency. How I scoffed. In fact I scoffed for ages because there was a long wait and I had not yet perfected my A&E skills. I now take a book, maybe two. And I don’t take a drink – you won’t enjoy it because you’ll worry about needing the toilet and missing your name being called. After two kids who did aikido and rugby I’ve become something of an expert at waiting. I was also, briefly, a bit of a legend in the dojo. They were all worried that I’d be freaked out by Number One son’s cut brow and bloody appearance, but calmed down when I said I intended going home to select a good book and have a nice cup of tea before going for a three or four hour wait.

Eventually they took me through to a curtained cubicle where a man came in and asked when I’d last had a tetanus inoculation. I couldn’t remember so I had to take my trousers down.

Yes, I thought it was a bit strange too, more like a game of Forfeits than a medical , though in the days before they all had ID badges you tended to believe that all people who gave you orders in hospital were staff. Fortunately he put my mind at rest by stabbing me in the leg with a needle. It was larger than the normal syringe they use so 25 years later I’m still left with a slight doubt in my mind as to whether he was a nurse or a keen amateur injector.

(To be continued…)

One of those days in England

It’s warm and the only sounds I can hear are the rumbling of passing grain trailers and the buzzing of a wasp nosing around my empty cordial glass.

I presume wasps “nose”. They look like they have noses. In fact, when I watched them eating jam last week they looked like black and yellow terriers. If only they were furry with floppy ears they might get a better press.

In fact, as I finish that line the only¬†thing I can hear is the wasp. Now there’s a pigeon too. The wasp is loudest though because it’s in the glass and that’s amplifying the sound.

We made fruit vinegar today, using gooseberries and blackcurrants from the freezer. It’s looking quite smart in its new bottles. Once we make the labels we’ll be ready to sell.


But first we have to decide on a “best before” date. One version ¬†of the recipe says 6 months and another says 12 months. The Food Standards Agency says that “best before” dates are about quality – it isn’t illegal to sell food after that date and it won’t harm you.

(“Use by” dates are a different matter and eating food after that date may well kill you. Try it by all means but don’t blame me for the consequences.)

Of course, if I was a cynic, I may suggest that “best before” dates are used by manufacturers to scare consumers into throwing away perfectly good food.

The good news is that my finger is improving and when the doctor saw it this morning they prescribed anti-inflammatories to complete the work that ice packs have begun.

The slightly less good news is that they also prescribed an antacid to stop the anti-inflammatory giving me an ulcer.

Next week they are going to give me a steroid injection.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forwards to that.

One of the things you can do with fruit vinegar is drizzle it on ice cream.

Seems good. After all, I am an invalid.

Singing the Blues

Yesterday, I had a quick walk round with the camera around 4pm. It was overcast, but reasonably warm and the wind had dropped. It wasn’t ideal but having added a few species to the list in recent weeks I’m always happy to have a look round. It would be nice, I thought, to add some decent shots of a Common Blue, or to see the Brimstone come back and rest for a while.

That’s the basis of positive thinking. Because it makes you believe that doing things brings a greater chance of success you do things. And because you do things you get greater success. It’s not the thoughts that work the miracle, it’s the activity.

I’m not knocking it, just pointing out to everyone who exhorts me to cheer up and be positive that you can be negative and still successful as long as you keep active. I may write a book about my philosophy “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success without Smiling” (Apologies to Frank Bettger).

Anyway, it paid off, though not in the way I anticipated. I didn’t get a better shot of a Brimstone and I didn’t get a better shot of a Common Blue. What I got was a mediocre shot of a Holly Blue. I thought I may have seen one by the ivy in the hedge on the day I saw the Common Blue, but I hadn’t been sure. However, it’s definitely a Holly Blue and the proof is now shown below and on the Butterflies and Moths page.

I used to see a lot of them when I was a gardener, particularly in the old-fashioned overgrown gardens attached to Victorian houses, so when I saw the flash of blue today I recognised it as being slightly different from the Common Blue and was pleased to be able to prove myself correct. I’m starting to like the butterfly garden!



Bottles and the art of Business management

The damsons are nearly ready and the plums won’t be far behind. Indeed we have had some plums on the anonymous tree that produces yellow plums, though only two. One is still in the tree and one was on the floor been eaten by wasps until I shifted them. The remaining parts were very juicy, though if the best it can do is two plums it will be having an appointment with a wood-burning stove in the next few years. I’m sure that I can encourage it to fruit in the next couple of years as it’s been neglected recently.

I’m doing the pruning this year, and with the old orchard, the new orchard, the agroforestry trees and the odds and ends it’s over 500 trees, so I’m going to have plenty to do.

We need 250 ml drinks bottles because we’re going to try selling more of the apple juice through the cafe this year, and we need 1 lb jam jars for the jam because people haven’t been bringing old jars in fast enough this year. We are still allowed to reuse jars, despite various scare stories in the press, but we just can’t get enough. It won’t be a surprise to anyone in the UK that the situation is so ambiguous, because we’re used to it. After all, if you read the last paragraph you will see I am buying bottles and jars in two different measuring systems.

Now, each seller has their own idea of what numbers to sell in, whether to include lids, what to charge for shipping and what to stock. The jars from one, for instance, were far cheaper than anyone else but they don’t sell 1 lb jars. Their shipping is so high that if you aren’t buying the jars that we ended up buying slightly more costly bottles from a company with lower shipping costs. One of the companies sells in dozens, one in 25s, 50s, and 100s. The calculator on my phone is a bit fiddly in the area of the small button/big finger interface but fortunately I had long division beaten into me as a kid so I was equal to the challenge.

As an aside, did you realise that long division is¬†In “a standard division algorithm suitable for dividing multidigit numbers”.Strange stuff this long division, I’ve been doing it all my life but I hardly recognise it when I have to read the definition!

I suppose this is the definition of management – when you spend more time buying the bottles than making the juice.