2012
All manner of media, be it magazines, newspapers, TV or whatever run 12 month retrospectives at this time of year. They are often, it seems to me, just lazy fillers.

Bloggers do tend to put in a bit more thought and effort, and that’s something I shall try to do as I look back at my five best things from 2012. They are not numbered because I don’t want to rank them, except the last one, which will always be first.

Fishing – Since the summer of 2011 when I fell back in love with angling my life has been greatly enriched. This has continued and I’ve had some great sessions this year, particularly the opening day of the season and have even caught the odd respectable fish. But what has also been great has been passing on my (limited) skills and, I hope, a big dollop of passion to the next generation. Little Boots is already an effective angler, and now two young friends have joined in. Teaching my brother has not been so successful.

Camping – Rediscovery of another old love that had been allowed to fade. We managed only a couple of short trips this year but they were great, even the second one. A week too late in the year, we woke to cold driving rain. Striking camp and stuffing the car with wet gear was not a good experience. Nevertheless we will be going a lot more next year. Probably with a small bottle of rum.

My Ukulele – During the last part of this year, I have begun to learn to play the ukulele. Notice I didn’t say I have been learning to play the ukulele. The truth is that I rarely make anything that sounds like music, but know that if I keep plugging away at it I will do. There’s no belief that I will ever be any good, or even anything approaching competent, but that’s not the point. It’s fun, it has given me a touchstone (swapping chords, etc.) with Little Boots who’s learning the guitar and for reasons I find difficult to express without sounding trite, a house with instruments in it is a richer place than one without. And if that weren’t enough, the arthritic aches that were increasing in the fingers of my left hand have utterly gone.

Freedom – After a couple of years where I have struggled to find both time and energy not to mention interest I decided that 2012 would be the year when I got back on top of my allotment. But it wasn’t to be. A bad shoulder and the wettest summer on record holed those plans below the waterline. So I let the thing go. And to be honest it was one of the best things I could have done and something I should have done ages ago. The weight off my mind was alone worth it.

Little Boots – Where do I start? And once started, where do I finish? Some things just can’t be put into words.

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Listening to the radio is something I do a lot of. Rarely is it music though these days, but rather it’s comedy, drama or documentary. Mostly I listen while travelling, or whilst in the kitchen, or chopping wood, or some other noodling job. As such it’s nice to synchronise the task with something interesting on the radio.

Although this only needs me to simply look at the schedules, I rarely seem to manage it. Of course you can always catch up via the iPlayer, but that assumes that you know that you’ve missed it in the first place. As I mentioned in a blog a short while ago, sometimes you still miss a programme that you’d really like to have heard.

With that in mind, I’ve done a little bit of a trawl through the listings to create an aide memoire of my scufflings over this week’s radio. If I had more time on my hands I’d put the links in – sorry.

On all week – Radio 3 is something people tend to only associate with classical music, but I have found their occasional spoken word stuff is generally well worth a listen. This week has #6-#10 of their Anglo-Saxon Portraits Essay series. It sounds bit dull, bit I suspect isn’t. Runs to 30 episodes though.

Count Arthur Strong has repeats of two of his series on R4 and R4extra this week. I was giggling like a ninny on the train last week listening to an episode – a rare case of laughter and public transport being linked in a positive way.

R4Extra 4pm (every weekday) – The Four O’Clock show. Primarily aimed at kids (which allows presenter Mel Giedroyc to get away with being annoying. Sorry, more annoying), this magazine programme usually includes a range of subject matters – food, science, history, and always something to do with the natural world, often in Britain. The latter often features the work of Chris Watson and is well worth putting up with the drekkier bits.

Saturday – Slim pickings from my point of view as Saturdays tend to be a lot of twaddle. Though Ramblings on R4 has Clare Baldwin with Simon Evans discussing his work with the Wye & Usk Foundation. Mind you it’s at 6 a.m. And is hosted by Clare Balding. One for the iPlayer. Maybe.

Sunday – Generally a bit better than Saturdays if only because R4’s Pick of the Week (6.15pm) allows you to latch onto any good stuff you’ve missed, or smugly congratulate yourself if the programme features much of your own listening.

At 1.15pm on R4extra is the penultimate episode in Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round The Shipping Forecast. I’ve managed to miss earlier episodes, but enjoyed the book – so I’ll add it to the list.

Immediately after, on R4 is The ‘Arse That Jack Built – a programme about quirks of language and dialect. Normally I love this subject, but it’s hosted by Ian McMillan. File under Arse.

Monday – R4 9.45pm – Book of the Week – Into The Abyss – “The true story of a plane crash in the frozen north of Canada and the four survivors who survived the tragedy in which six passengers died”. First impressions – this sounds interesting. What I’m really thinking – how many did they eat?

R4 11am – Earworms – programme about songs that get stuck in your head. I’m really bad for this – singing “The Grand Old Duke Of York” is normally an antidote, but not always. Maybe I will learn others.

R4 4pm – Monty Python Fliegender Zirkus. The story of how a German producer brought Monty Python to his homeland. To me they are The Beatles of comedy – as in “We really don’t need to hear anymore about them”. Ever. But the German angle intrigues me. I remember being in fits as my brother tried to explain a Vic Reeves sketch to a nonplussed Dutchman – this could be similar. Give it five minutes. OK, ten.

Tuesday – R4 11am – Saving Species. Exploring the issues surrounding a rise in the bird of prey population. I see Red Kites daily and have wondered about this myself.

R4 6.30pm – Rudy’s Rare Records – not a great comedy series this – think My Family rather than Outnumbered – but for some reason I don’t dislike it and this week’s episode is based on the allotment – expect double entendres about carrots, marrows and pumpkins.

R4 11pm – Arthur Smith’s Balham Bash. I’ve listened to some of these in the past and seem to recall they were quite good. tho’ patchy. At least it’s not Just A Minute.

Wednesday – R4 11am – Lives In A Landscape. Second allotment programme in 24 hours. Factual this time, visiting an allotment in Hastings and hearing how people with plots on the site use them in different ways.

R4 11pm – My Teenage Diary – I’ve only ever caught this programme once when Caitlin Moran was the subject, and it was hilarious. I suspect that this week’s guest Arabella Wier will make this episode much less so. I predict that the phrase “does my bum look big in this” will put in an appearance.

Thursday –R4 3pm – Ramblings – more Clare Balding (groan), but it’s redeemed by the presence of Steve Backshall, who is best known for his Deadly 60 wildlife show and the spin-off, which we love here in Boot Hall, Deadly Art.

Friday – R4 3pm – Gardeners’ Question Time. I used to listen to this religiously, now I never do. Witless, joyless and tedious. Like Just A Minute only on the radio because it always has been. Emphasis on has-been.

R4extra 6pm – Of Withered Apples. A Philip K Dick story wherein a beautiful woman picks the last apple from a dying ancient tree determined to survive. Sounds like the sort of brain candy only radio delivers and a fitting end to the week’s listening.

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.

At the allotment Little Boots is no longer such a liability, and seems to actually enjoy working with me down there, rather than constantly demanding to be occupied and entertained.

Certainly my back is grateful, when digging spuds, for a short assistant to pick them up.

The munchkin can also be employed in picking beans, although this is not without problems.

This year I grew my climbing French beans on string cordons much as grapes are grown.

The idea was that they could then be picked from both sides which would be more effective than if they were grown up wigwams.

What I did not spot was that there was a fundamental design flaw in this plan.

Allotmenteers seem to fall into two camps. Gardeners and Farmers.

The latter generally grow regimented rows of vegetables which they could buy for buttons at their local supermarket.

It keeps them off the streets I guess.

The Gardeners can be broadly identified by the fact that they do not grow potatoes [other than earlies], seldom bother with onions, and because they annoy the fuck out of the farmers.

I am a gardener. My allotment is the best looking on the site. If you like shape and form and colour, rather than sterile monocultures, that is.

I’m going to get down to the allotment this weekend – I really am.

And I’m going to do loads.

And I’m going to sort the greenhouse and plant a mass of seeds.

I also plan to win a bundle on Euromillions tonight – which is probably just as likely.

After what seemed an age I’ve snapped out of my post-Christmas malaise.

I’ve finished the garden design for the competition. It won’t win – it is REALLY crap, but hey I enjoyed doing it. Well, some of it anyway.

Amazingly, I‘ve also found the time and will to read a book – it’s called The 3,000 Mile Garden and is an exchange of letters between British garden/nature photographer Roger Phillips & Leslie Land, an American food writer and gardener.

A nice, easy, diverting read, it’s been marked in my mind for two things. Firstly the phrase ‘tooting like a bandit’ in response to eating a lot of leeks. It’s a great expression but surely not an accurate one? I mean wouldn’t bandits, in hiding ready for ambush, give themselves away if they were tearing off great big farts?

The second was Tropaeolum tuberosum, a nasturtium relative which I was aware of but did not know was edible. Accordingly I’ve ordered some, given my 2010 allotment colour pledge.

What I haven’t done is any work for my exam on 10th February. I plan to do a bit of cramming and cross my fingers, but I don’t think anyone will pass. We lost 3 classes through not having a tutor, One when the new tutor only lasted a single session, two days due to the second new tutor being ill and one because of the snow. I make that 7 lost days out of what is only a twelve week term. Oh Dear – just have to KBO.

As usual when faced with some concerns over my useless college and an impending exam I’m indulging in displacement activity and have been planting quite a few seeds – bananas and peppers in the propagator – salad leaves in the green house. More have been arriving through the post. The OH is staring to get a bit miffy.

“More seeds I suppose!” was the grump when I arrived back from the Post Office having collected a parcel.

“No,” I replied innocently, “Just a book.” I didn’t let on that it was a book on seeds.

Little Boots has been planting seeds too. I don’t know whether school teachers can buy cress seed in bulk, but the pot that came home was absolutely thick with the stuff.

I’ve seen shallower gravel paths.