July 2011

Last year, around mid-December, one of my pair of Chinese finger-root plants (Boesenbergia pandurata) flowered. I was thrilled as I had grown them both from tubers, and there isn‘t a lot of good advice on the subject.

One is flowering now. In fact only one of them is doing anything – the other hasn’t even thrown out a shoot after dying back last winter.

For a fleeting moment it did cross my mind that they might be monocarpic i.e. die after flowering, but I dismiss that quickly because the tuber seems absolutely sound.

It is perhaps sulking, or more likely needs re-potting.


Little Boots and I have been planning a journey, an adventure. Actually that’s the wrong tense as we have already completed the first stage. You see, it’s a trip that we aim to cover in stages. I am recording it in a journal which, like the journey, will probably be long and boring in parts. It’s not my intention to post it up here in its entirety, but I will be blogging some bits.

Here then is part of part one:

It was a Monday and a faintly spontaneous adventure was about to begin.

Little Boots had an army webbing belt, with a camouflage pouch containing camera, walkie-talkie and sunglasses. Attached to a loop on blue Beaver-Scout shorts is a small compass. With a khaki Lego cap on at a jaunty angle, no six-year old ever looked more of an adventurer.

I was carrying everything else and looked like a podgy packhorse. Listed amongst the essential items were a notebook and pencil (for Little Boots not me), map, binoculars and provisions.

While we waited for the train that would take us on the first leg of our journey. Little Boots passed the time by taking photos of such exciting things as the train track, the railings and the CCTV cameras. At this rate the batteries would be flat by eleven.

I was just grumpy because my camera died 2 weeks ago and I can’t afford another.

The train tooks us to our local market town. Little Boots passed the time voraciously gnawing at Digestive biscuits, while I sketched out a report I had to have done for work at the end of the week. I thought I was having the whole week off, but it’s actually just M, W,Th, which is probably just as well as I have more than a week’s work to fit in during Tuesday and Friday – hence scribbling down notes on days off.

At the station the simple act of buying a ticket was rendered ridiculous by a woman behaving like Molly Weir on ketamine. Trailed by her impressively spotty son, she raced from machine to machine in an attempt to pick-up some prepaid tickets. After pressing a single button she would announce “No!”, swear and move onto the next machine, ignoring pleas from her teenage child that it was possible to pick up tickets from the vacated machine. Thus by repeating this process over and over were two people after one set of tickets able to tie up three machines.

Still when you’ve only 20 minutes before the train arrives panic can set in.

The short wait for our second train was actually less than the length of the journey itself. It was still long enough for Little Boots to persuade me to buy an over-priced KitKat from the machine on the platform.

Though only on the second train for minutes Little Boots was able to lose the ticket given out only seconds before. Eventually it was located stuck in the clip of a walkie-talkie and after racing after the ticket guy, LB returned just as the train arrived at our destination, and luckily before we wound up in the next county.

C is named for the river on which it stands and I explained this to Little Boots as we left the station. The munchkin’s directional awareness has always been good and after a brief look at the map LB (correctly) said we need to go south for a very short distance and then east.

Briefly I raised my eyes to the pub across the water and a ghost flickered through the cobwebs of my memory. The path in front of us pulled me back to the present and the phantom faded to where it belongs.

We’d barely set off when we stopped to admire a black heavy horse, with a white muzzle. He was a beautiful creature and used, I got the impression, to pull a barge. But Little Boots is a bit windy about horses and was keen to press on.

Not much farther down the path we stopped on a wooden bridge.

“Let’s see if we can spot some fish,” I suggested.

“You look that side, I’ll look on this one,” commanded Little Boots, whether through instinct, luck or device bagging the best side. “A fish!” came the cry within seconds predictably announcing I’d lost the contest.

We watched it for a few minutes and I explained that it was a roach, which you could tell by it’s red fins.

Swelled by this fish spotting prowess the little person pointed out plenty more fish over the next couple of hundred yards, before completely losing interest in any of the fish that I pointed out during the rest of the walk. By their shape and black tails I told him all these fish were chub, but there’s a notion in my head that small chub and dace are difficult to tell apart. It’s the sort of fishing knowledge I need to refresh I told myself as we sauntered on. Whatever they were there were plenty on the surface throughout the whole of the trip.

“I’m hungry,” announced my child. No doubt prompted by the recently acquired knowledge that there were kabanos in the rucksack. There was one each and as they were quite small I stuck mine into my mouth whole.

“Don’t eat it all at once,” scolded the gastronaut. “You won’t enjoy it as much.”

“Squirrel!” splurted a mouth full of Polish sausage.

“Where?” I asked looking above our heads

“Over there,” said another splurt, this time with pantomime pointy finger in support.

Beyond the far bank was a narrow field and sat on the fence at the back of it. where it borders some woodland, a squirrel.

“Good spotting,” I praised, because it was. The rodent was quite a way off and stationary. Or at least it was by the time I sighted it. Seconds later it made an apparently kamikaze leap into a small hazel and was gone.

It’s Little Boots’ 7th birthday soon and I’ve bought a fishing rod as a present.

This is something of a gamble. It’s certainly not a gift that features in the comprehensive list of birthday booty that’s been complied, which mostly features games for the Wii and Lego. And Lego games for the Wii. But I think, at least I hope, there is flicker of interest there.

Occasionally I might watch a bit of one of the thousands of fishing programmes that saturate satellite television, but they are dreary and bore me; they are as like to the real thing as a faded, stuffed Victorian pike in a glass box is to a living “river shark”.

But there is one that LB was drawn to – Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters. Undoubtedly this was initially because of the presence of monsters in the title, but after the first programme there was a request for the rest to be series-linked. This may all be something to do with piranhas which hold a special fascination.

Whether the lurid dramas of exotic, toothy, piscine killers presented in bite-sized chunks on TV will translate into the enjoyment of sitting on a river bank steadily drowning a pint of maggots whilst being pointedly ignored by anything other than midges is a difficult question.

If you have read this blog in the past you may recall that we have in the garden, as well as Daleks, giant spider webs.

And of course if you have them, then you must have giant spiders.

There is already one of these lurking somewhere outside from a previous years’ web, but Lord knows where it’s scuttled off to so I’ve made two more.

You need some wire (I use copper), a bead, and a stone with a hole in it. The latter may be hard to find, so you could use a large bead, or make something out of clay.

As you can see I used an old piece of terracotta, which I drilled a hole in and shaped. About 2 seconds in I realised that it, a piece of old roofing tile, was nowhere near as soft as I had anticipated. So my advice would be to find a piece of terracotta that is soft enough that it marks easily with something metal, such as a nail. Otherwise you will, as I did, spend ages shaping it.

Still, at least it will be frost-proof.

Tuesday was a funny old day.

After leaving work I had a mad dash for the train, only for it to be announced, as I sat down, that there were long delays into London. While the train sat at the station not moving for about 20 minutes I spent most of the time trying to put a money spider somewhere safe. I’d remove him from the book I was reading, and place him by the window, only for him to appear on my hand (and not the one I’d used to move him). Again I’d put him somewhere safe, only to spot the pesky arachnid minutes later on my notebook. And so on, over and over. Finally I decided that there was more than one spider, at which point he/they stopped appearing. Very odd.

Eventually we were off on a slow High Speed Train journey to London, which only sped up after we passed the station where “a person had been in contact with a train”. There were coppers on the platform holding thick, yellow plastic bags of I hate to think what.

After battling through the slack-jawed crowd held up by delays I made it to the Tube and was soon emerging into the madness that was Oxford circus. It was barely spitting with rain and yet everybody seemed to have an umbrella up, making movement little more than incremental. I dodged across the road away from the stationary pedestrians and headed for the rendezvous with my mate Sam the Illustrator. He works close by and had already sneaked a pint down while I was delayed.

The reason for the trip was the book launch of On Nature by those groovy Caught By The River people

As the event wasn’t due to start for half an hour we went to a nearby pub for a beer. Sam had been looking at the CBTR website and was waxing lyrical about the book’s cover and also a book of his own that might be in the offing.

We moved on to the venue, but apart from a poster, there was little indication anything was going on. Over a pint we chatted about the CBTR website, which to any eavesdroppers probably sounded like me trying to bore Sam about fishing and him trying to do the same to me about Gene Clark.

There were quite a few people drifting in and out of the bar without buying a drink including one red-faced, scowly looking bloke, who had the air of someone looking for his wife’s missing cat, whilst secretly wishing it was dead. He gave me a “look” – perhaps cos I was laughing at him.

“You know,” I said to Sam, “I reckon this thing’s been cancelled.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well the barman has just told that woman that it’s been called off.”

We debated having another pint but given the rail chaos it made sense to strike out for home. Luckily the mayhem was in the final stages of clearing and we got back in good time, managing to squeeze a couple more beers in on the way.

It was an amusing enough way to spend a few hours, but it was a pretty expensive way to have a couple of pints. Perhaps that money spider had been trying to tell me something.

I bought this book three days ago.

It was a book I knew intimately, but not one I ever owned. It was in the school library and I recall taking it out and devouring it, until I had absorbed all the information it contained, which to be honest wasn’t much, and also didn’t take long, because in those days I could read something once and have virtually total recall.

But I haven’t seen one since I last read the school copy, and when I saw it on the charity shop shelf it was like meeting an old friend.

Sometimes I worry a little about buying things that I have known in the past, with thoughts that they might be symptomatic of some kind of mid-life crisis, but then I reason that I’m not trying to recreate my youth like these sad bastards you see dressing up as mods and rockers to twat around on the machines they could never afford when teenagers. Nor am I trying to kid time by dressing like a fourteen year old, or getting a tattoo. No, this is like the art thing I blogged about before, about rediscovering a part of myself.

I feel myself drawn back to fishing, but don’t seem to remember very much of the art, or at least am not confident about what knowledge I retain. It therefore seems appropriate that, to some extent at least, I retrace my own footsteps of discovery. Added to which the book is easy to read and has good pictures which will mean Little Boots will enjoy it too, which is an interest I’m trying to encourage.

Being involved in a Chelsea Flower Show build was a long held ambition, but with that and Hampton Court receding into memory it’s difficult not to feel a little flat.

That’s not to say that I don’t have anything to look forward to. There are at least three weeks off with Little Boots over the next month and a half, and we have plenty planned.

But there’s nothing in the here and now and I’m finding it tough. This is largely boredom and self-indulgent self-pity, but the thing is I’m longing to do something immediately, rather than just mark time until the summer hols.

There is I think another aspect to this. A yearning to spend more time outside. Occasionally I used to take an alternative route to the station. Instead of the L-shaped couple of hundred yards of boring tarmac, that only varied seasonally because in the dark winter months there was more dog-shit to avoid, I’d duck down a bosky footpath that covered the same journey, but took slightly longer. At first this was an impulse to break the tedium, but the more I did it the more I noticed. There were plants in such variety it surprised me, although it shouldn’t have. On really crappy days I’d reflect back that the most interesting thing I’d done was something like spotting white Herb Robert flowers, and pondering whether they were formed that colour, or if age, or sun had made it so.

A few months back I made this my regular route, quite simply because it makes my that little bit richer.

But they say the taste of honey is worse than none at all. And I think it has very much made me wish for more of this.

Yes I have the garden and the allotment, but when I’m in/on them that’s work, diverting work, but work nonetheless. I’m feeling a need not just to wander, nor just to “stop and stare”, although they are surely part of it, but also to well, fill a nature shaped hole in my soul.

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