April 2011


It’s almost all painted and starting to look good.

And it’s already a major target for Little Boots’ water and mud bombs

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Yes, all that junk in my last post I made into a Dalek.

This had nothing to do with Dr Who’s return to TV tonight – that is a happy coincidence. Except that I don’t watch it – however Little Boots does watch Sarah Jane Adventures, and that’s who I made it for.

It’s already proving  an excellent target for water bombs.

The photo shows the components of my latest garden recycling project.

They are:

  • the lid of a plastic compost bin,
  • a couple of drinks bottles,
  • a bamboo cane,
  • a sheet of plastic of the type used for greenhouses and conservatory roofs,
  • the top from an ice-cream shake drink
  • and some cable ties.

The question is what am going to make with this little lot?

There’s not been a lot of horticultural goings on in this blog lately because there hasn’t been a great deal of it going on in my life. A short while back I mentioned that my gardening mojo had returned from wherever it had vanished to, and this was clearly tempting fate, because as I said in my last blog post I’ve had a sequential series of illnesses.

This has meant that I have done very little beyond getting some seeds started. More concerned with trying to get well again, this has not bothered me anywhere near as much as the amount of work I have backing up, but it has been lurking at the back of my mind.

Lurking is probably a good word because my main horticultural concern is the amount of crap I’m going to get from the Site Stasi waiting in ambush down the allotment. You might think “Oh but they’ll understand if you say you’ve been ill for a month”. I should coco. I can guarantee I’ll be getting grief. If I’d broken both legs, I’d expect to be greeted with a derisive comment along the lines of “Couldn’t be bothered to get down her on crutches then?”

I had an idea of getting round this by using my rotavator. In hindsight this was probably a touch optimistic as the thing hadn’t been used for six, maybe seven years. But in the past fresh petrol and a clean of the plug has normally worked. Now I’m not normally a fan of rotavating, I don’t think it helps soil structure, the worms in it, or anything else apart from chopping up and helping propagate any weeds that may be present. Which is why mine has lain unused for so long.

As to the question of why do I have one in the first place? Well the answer to that is simple – it was free. the thing is with rotavators, they are a quick fix. And it was a quick fix I was needing. So I dragged it from the shed, drained the petrol from that tank and put fresh in. But even though it had been kept in warm dry conditions it wouldn’t start. Taking the plug out and giving it a clean I then left it for a while to allow the engine to dry out from all the petrol flooding it, before trying again.

Still no joy.

Time to get serious.

So I stripped of the casing with the starting cord, and after some banging and swearing removed the flywheel so that I could clean the points before putting it all back together. Still no luck. In the bright sunlight it was impossible to see whether there was any kind of spark.

At this point LB demanded help with the large mudpie that for some reason needed to be transferred into a plastic bottle, so I gave up for the day.

Later, after dusk I came out and gave the engine a couple of spins, and in the half light could see that there was a weak and intermittent spark. The next morning I took a good look at the spark plug and discovered that the core electrode was moving around. “Great”, I thought, “a new spark plug and away we go”. Actually what I thought was “Bugger, I’m going to have to go and get a new spark plug now”.

Getting one wasn’t that easy and meant sending the OH off to a village garden machinery shop, which did result in a new spark plug, but also the word ‘tosser’ and the phrases ‘never again’ and ‘irritating dimwit who tried to show off his knowledge of small machinery’.

Anyway I got the plug. “All down hill from here”, I thought.

Fit the plug, start the rotavator, then take it down the allotment, get the plot dug, planted and the job’s a good’un.

There was a small problem with this plan.

Even with the new plug I can’t get a spark.

Back in April last year (was it really that long ago?), I explained that I have a small book in which I keep a note of any horticultural quotes that I come across which appeal to me.

For a little while I’ve been meaning to get something similar for the non-gardening quotes that end up on scraps of paper fluttering back and forth from desk to floor before disappearing forever.

Either the OH is binning them, or Little Boots is stashing them somewhere in order to build up a collection of amusing and unusual quotations, possibly with a career in after-dinner speaking in mind.

So today at last I bought a notebook, to record the quotes, miscellaneous references and various ideas I have for a couple of books I’d like to one day write.

The thing is it’s not a notebook. It’s a journal. It says so on the cover. That seems a bit grand for my tastes and so, despite its lovely, soft leather cover etc, I’m going to stick with notebook.

There’s little point in denying this week has been tough. Back at work after a chain of illnesses that go: cold-chest infection-another cold-sinus infection and partial deafness, I’m still far from well and faced with a mountain of work. Striking a balance between making inroads into that workpile and not pushing myself too hard, in case I fall ill again, has been a difficult, tiring and demoralising slog.

The sunshine has been a major boon, apart from the fact that I’ve had no time to be outside to enjoy it, but there have been three things that have lifted my spirits across this week.

The first came about as I was walking home up the hill, from the train station. Watching a pair of Red Kites weaving around the sky I thought “Jeez it must be a windless day”, because they were flapping their wings in quite an animated fashion and you scarcely ever see a Kite doing anything else than soaring effortlessly with ne’er a wingbeat. But then I looked at the trees moving and saw that it was actually quite windy. This made no sense, nor did the fact that one of the birds piled into a conifer tree and then crashing through the other side, tucked its wings back falcon-like and executed a barrel roll.

This is weird behaviour I thought and made no sense. At that point the Kite seared upwards sending in my direction what I thought was a mega-poo. As it dropped on the tarmac in front of me, the penny dropped also. It was a fir cone and the birds’ activity was courtship display. Marvellous. I stayed standing in the street watching them, grinning loonishly, until they goofed off out of sight, like a pair of hormonal teenagers.

Next in the things that made my world a better place was McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy. An ad hoc purchase from The Oxfam bookshop at the beginning of the week it was a book I planned to read when it came out ten years ago and had lost sight of. It’s the sort of book that’s been chiming with me in recent months (of which I might write later) and I have been both unable to put it down and kicking myself for not reading it a decade ago. A humorous read it was ultimately a melancholy experience. A theme that runs throughout the book is belonging, and as I finished the last page said to myself “Pete you should move to Ireland”. It was only afterwards when I asked myself what had become of him that I discovered that he’d died relatively young and suddenly in 2004, and never had moved there .

Wherever you are, thank you for the smiles Pete, you’ve helped me through this week.

And the third thing to lift my spirits? Well Again it was a bird and here I would like to categorically state I am not a twitcher. In contrast to the enormously winged Kite from the beginning of the week, this was one of our smallest birds and undoubtedly my favourite, the Wren. I first noticed this little chap when he was perched halfway along a long a branch, about 5 feet from where I was sitting, belting it out like a diminutive avian Bryn Terfel. My God they don’t half let it rip for such a pea of a creature.

He then flew off leaving me to read my book in the brilliant sunshine. A minute or two later, reappearing lower down the branch with a tiny shred of something that looked like a piece of hand-rolling tobacco. After a quick look around the little bird disappeared into the snug of ivy that hid the junction of the ash trunk with its branches.

Re-emerging, he flitted back up to the middle of the branch and fired off his musical salvo, and so starting the whole process all over again. This was repeated over and over as the Wren was clearly building one of their cave-like nests that give them their Latin name of Troglodytes troglodytes. It was an awe inspiring level of activity, unintimidated by my proximity nor the windy bow-waves of HSTs that kept barrelling past. Even more so because I have an idea that the male wren builds several nests for his mate to chose from.

Watching the energy he put into constructing just one (and singing about it) was fascinating, charming and a little bit humbling. Is it too much to see in the frenetic, optimistic activity of this little bird a lesson for life? I don’t know. Maybe.

Whatever the case it raised my tired spirits, on a Friday morning.

At the weekend I watched a few episodes of something called Art Rocks. Each one featured a potted biog of a performer together with them talking about their visual art and influences.

Moby was really interesting and draws micro-graffiti of little alien guys.

Iggy Pop was unintentionally hilarious, apparently talking knowledgeably about a local artist, but then only recognising the bloke on the street because he had his name painted down the side of his car. Later he did his own painting which he said was very much like the work of German impressionists. To my mind it was so awful the only impressionist it should have been likened to was Bobby Davro taking off Frank Spencer.

Funkadelic legend George Clinton was gloriously way out and produced some good abstracts that belied being colour blind from birth. He came out with the following that could be applied to gardening as much as art:

“It don’t bother me to clash colours. Way I look at it a box of crayons don’t clash. Only when you have two, three colours will they clash. Once you get over four colours, five colours they don’t clash no more.”