More amusing signage.

This time the mirth-making is utterly unintentional. Indeed I would suggest that that person responsible for this is utterly devoid of any sort of humour.

As you will see it says “Steep Drop” and as it is attached to the railings on a third floor stairwell it’s difficult to think of a drop that could be any steeper.

Of course I could be pedantic and say that it is not steep since that suggests an incline, but rather it is a shear drop. But then I would be as small-minded as the dolts responsible for twerposity of this sort. By which I mean the kind of Health and Safety tediousness which litters our world and serves no purpose other than an extremely slim, anti-Darwinian possibility of stopping idiots harming themselves.

Phew, relax, Clarkson moment over.

Glad I got that off my chest.


stone train

Stone trains.

Big. Ugly. Long. Boring.

Necessary, I’m sure, but tedious.

Of course I’m entirely biased, because if anything wakes me at 3 a.m. on a summer’s morning, when the windows are open, it will be a stone train. That I can guarantee.

To add to that, I will also be certain not to get back to sleep until five minutes before the alarm is due to go off.

And it’s always the case that if our local crossing barriers are down on an occasion when it’s really important to get to the other side, the cause will always be a stone train.

I’m not a fan.

Lately I’ve seen a few (it’s not the same one) that have been lightly bombed. In the spray-can sense that is. And that fills me with glee. With their big flat sides they make a great canvass and it seems a shame that such enhancement has to be illicit. It would make the world more a interesting, and illustrative, and less grindingly gruesome, place if someone routinely jazzed-up these dull, ugly behemoths of the rails.

Following on from the post before last – a name I was surprised to find amongst those revered by the traditional angling tribe was that of Jack Hargreaves.

He was a television presenter that I recall well from my youth, but at the same time know very little about. This was no doubt because my father would not allow his programmes to be on in the house. So the most I ever saw was a minute or two.

Such ire was exceptional, even for my father who regularly watched TV programmes featuring people he disliked and, rather than change channels, would spew forth futile Alf Garnet-like rants about them. But Jack Hargreaves was beyond even this.

The general vein of this excoriation was that he was a “bullshitter” and not just that – the old man seemed to actually like bullshitters – at least the ones that he sensed didn’t themselves really believe the line that they were peddling. Hargeaves was something worse, a bullshitter of a townie pretending he was a countryman.

I have no idea myself having never seen more than a snippet of ‘Out of Town’, and being too young to judge even if we had been allowed to watch it. He starred in another programme, ‘How’ which we could have watched when the Old Man was at work, but we thought it was rubbish. My dad might have tolerated that one though, because it also featured Fred Dineage (a man with a ridiculously dodgy comb-over who was often on Southern TV programmes) who he loved to watch seemingly solely so that he could call him a w***er.

One specific incident sticks in my mind with regard to JH and that is when he was on some programme or other. I can’t believe it was his own, so he must have popped up and caught the Old Man unawares. He had a ferret and claimed that as a young man he would go to church on Sunday morning with a ferret in one pocket and rabbit net in the other and do a spot of rabbiting on the way home.

“Bullshit!” said the old man, rising rapidly into a boil of raging disgust. “You’d never catch a rabbit on your way to church, never mind on the way home.”

Whether this is true I don’t know. I guess there is an optimum time to snare rabbits, but it did cross my mind that if my Old Man (and his dad) had got up at the crack of dawn to go rabbiting it might have more to do with them not getting caught by the landowner, than it being the best time to catch bunnies. I did seriously think he was going to kick the telly in until having reached a crescendo of expletive abuse, he grabbed the remote, hesitated as if considering throwing at the screen, and then changed channel.

As his anger subsided, he turned to me. ” Do you remember that c*** when he judged you in that fancy dress competition? What a c***!”

I do recall the occasion and do struggle to understand why the old man was so cross because I won and took home a really good model JCB. Maybe I just won my age group and not the grand prize – I don’t know and probably now after his stroke neither does the old fella.

It was a good costume and later won prizes when my siblings wore it. From the ground up it consisted of some very long thin grown-up’s boots. They were vintage even then – the sort that fastened above the ankle via buttons and eyes. Next football socks, one blue, one red. Then a pair of grey adult trousers, cut off just below the height of my knee and held up by braces. The gaping waistband was held out in a hoop by a circle of wire, and they were decorated with multicoloured patches. On my top I wore a bright t-shirt and a waistcoat. My head sported a battered top-hat from which a blousy crepe flower danced on a springy wire stalk.

Obviously I had my face made up to look like a clown, though I don’t know exactly how. I do recall my round nose, made from a ping pong ball and held on with thin black elastic, because it was a long way from comfortable. It was horrible to touch too as it was coloured red by smeary red lipstick. For the first effort my father had used car paint from the garage where he worked. Apparently it had looked great initially, but had then slid into mush as the paint reacted with, and then dissolved, the ball.

But the piece of the costume that my father had spent most time on was a squirty flower. The petals were made from red and white vinyl and the centre was the nozzle from a car windscreen washer. This was linked via tubing, presumably of the same source, to a bulb from a bicycle horn, hidden in the trouser pocket. It was quite effective, though good for only one decent squirt before refilling was needed. I remember my father’s regret that he could not get a bigger bulb and that trials with a water-filled balloon instead proved unsatisfactory. Nevertheless it would have to do.

“When he gets close give him a good squirt” my dad instructed. “He” was Jack Hargreaves who was judging the contest at the village fete. Well I won my prize and was delighted, but my father’s disappointment was palpable. I had not drenched my assigned target. Not through lack of nerve on my part, I should add, I was more than prepared to carry out the hit, but the flower had a four foot range at best and he just never got close enough.

In hindsight I suspect the illusions wrought by television played a part in my father’s distain. Thanks to the edit suite a shot of Hargreaves casting would shortly be followed by one of him playing and landing a fish. The Old Man was convinced of a more blatant deception. As far as he was concerned there were a number of “proper fishermen” downstream who were hooking the fish which they’d immediately hand over to be filmed being brought in.

But apart from the fish fakery and the bullshit I think what grated most was the mellow theme music and opening scenes of a gently plodding horse-drawn-trap which painted the countryside and its past a golden mellow colour – the Old Man knew from generations of experience that the lives of the rural poor were seldom anything approaching golden.

Helping build a garden at Chelsea was the fulfilment of a long-standing ambition.

It wasn’t achieved without cost.

I don’t mean the money I spent on travel, or the time taken off work.

No the cost was to my boots. My beloved Blundstones have died.

True they were getting on a bit, I bought them on a trip to New Zealand in early 2002, but I had taken a lot of care of them and didn‘t even wear them as work boots for a number of years. I reckon it was the corrugated steel roadway that helped shred the soles, but I’m sure they would’ve given up the ghost sooner or later – it just happened a bit suddenly, that’s all.

To make matters worse they’re a model (Blundstone 140s) that you can’t get in the UK. What am I going to wear to Hampton Court?

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.

Part One in an occasional series on a few of my favourite things.

New York is so good they named it twice; I like these knives so much I bought three.

That’s not strictly true. The first one proved so useful, with its easily replaceable blade and the fact that you can open it with one hand, that it quickly became indispensible. And then, quite predictably, I lost the thing.

I was sure it would turn up quickly, but nevertheless missed it so much that I bought a cheap replacement (the yellow one). It’s not as good, but at least because of the colour I thought, “I’ll never lose that.”

Again, quite predictably, I promptly lost that one, and since the original had not surfaced, I invested in a third. This is my least favourite – despite or perhaps because of, having little rubber grips on the sides and its own little carrying pouch. However its purchase meant that the first two immediately re-appeared. But not for long.

As I write this I only know where one is. This is largely due to the fact that I tend to tuck them away where Little Boots can’t find them, and then can’t find them myself, but also because that’s the way of small useful items – they are constantly disappearing.

I have the same relationship with pencils and tape measures. I am always buying them, but can seldom lay my hands on one without a great deal of digging about and a certain amount of swearing.

Originally I planned to write a post detailing a disagreement I had with someone over Heuchera “Palace Purple”. I said it was a horrible little plant, that went tall and woody in its second season, and in any case didn’t work with anything, and just sat there looking murky, much like copper beeches in the landscape.

She liked it.

But I decided not to go through all the ins and out of the matter here, because…well because I’m right, frankly.

So, with that in mind, I have the following quote:

“Gardening is a form of art which everyone, rightly or wrongly, considers to be within their talents.”

Nan Fairbrother