Two ambitions

I've achieved two ambitions this week. Firstly I've finally met someone with a surname for a first name. All the Bradfords, Taylors, Mitchells and Hamiltons seem to pass me by....colleagues with friends, but never with me. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. No longer, for this week I have met Trent. Not only that, he's working here a day a week (more of this later). Sadly he doesn't hold the perfect hand as far as names go - to gain that honourable distinction he'd need the first name as a surname too...eg Trent John, Trent Bruce etc, but it's plenty good enough. Perhaps he's gay and will marry someone suitably monikered. Barry John, Craig David or David James maybe. No, of course...George Michael.



The second ambition was one I didn't even know I had. On Trent's first day working here, while he got stuck into tidying up the vines, I pulled the nettles growing up around the pecans. The pecans are the only thing I've planted in any number that have all survived (well, all apart from the one i mowed over). Apples, olives, quince, peaches, whichever, one or two always have something better to do than live up to their catalogue description - it's what happens if you plant 40 or so, you'll lose a few. Not with the pecans though. They're all there, where I left them.

Pecans aren't for the impatient. For a couple of years they sit there apparently doing little, yet below the ice they're busy throwing down a fat taproot. Once it's happy that the root has crossed a certain invisible threshold you'll start to get the reassurance of above-ground action. This is the year of reassurance. Pulling nettles around the trunks at the end of a long hot day, I lazied into a knealing technique, ludicrously damaging for my otherwise beautifully aligned chakra. Everything went dark. Was I going blind? Had my rogue eyebrow hairs formed a cloth in front of my eyes? No, I was in the shade of a pecan tree. I've just realised that I maybe the only person to have said that on English soil. Just in case: I was in the shade of a pecan tree, humming a Tim Buckley song.

OK, I couldn't have stood up and been in the shade of the pecan tree, but there's no debating: between me and our rather marvelous sun were leaves, and many of them, and they were keeping me cool. And they're rather beautiful leaves at that - double-edged saws, curved like Elizabeth Taylor's eyes.



The thought comes into my head that they're good enough to grow just to look at, followed quickly by the thought that that is exactly how most people choose what to grow.

Wordless Wednesday

Tomorrow

Tomorrow night, on primetime TV, someone will offer me the opportunity to eat slugs. It'd be churlish to reveal whether I thank them politely for their kindness before ingesting, or offer to rehome said invertebrate within the location about their person that best offers the dark dank conditions they favour.

Even being in the position of someone offering me slugs to eat got me thinking about how much my diet has changed over the last few years. I actually eat salad. There was a time when I had a block about eating anything that didn't have the courtesy to give me the calories to finish eating it. No more. And 5 years ago I didn't eat meat, yet within a few short months I was keeping pigs and even chopping them up, making sausages, salami and a mess.

I was hoping to keep a couple of weaners this summer but I've been snookered by the local wildlife. The day before the little piggies were due to arrive I noticed the odd wasp flying into the immovable oak and iron ark. Further investigation revealed a tennis ball sized nest, small now but a potential basketball in a few weeks. I was dim enough to mention it to a friend here to fly fish the river. As I told him about the problem I had entirely equal and simultaneous feelings of relief and trepidation: I knew he'd have ideas for getting shot of it; I knew he'd have ideas for getting shot of it that would have to sidestep the Otter Farm Health and Safety Officer. Luckily the Otter Farm Health and Safety Officer was busy making my tea.

Within two minutes we were at opposite ends of the ark - he with one of those handheld squirty things for watering cacti that someone really ought to think of a snappy name for, and me at the other with one of those large outdoor candles that comes on a short bamboo cane, attached with string and poor knots to a longer cane. If you are beginning to suspect that the aforementioned squirty thing wasn't filled with a potash-high foliar feed, you are most certainly beginning to get the picture.

I should locate the wasps nest in your minds eye: the ark is of the classic design with a semi-circular profile when viewed end on, and has a door-shaped opening at both ends...as shown in the green ark below. Why I no longer have the entirely moveable green ark in the photo below is a lengthy tale for another time. Of course, the nest was at the most inconvenient location it could possibly be - onside, immediately above the door opening, tucked in behind the crossbeam.



The only choices for viewing the nest were either by leaning in the nest-end and looking up at a nest a couple of inches from your nose, or crouching at the far end and squinting against the sun until your eyes adjust to make out the tennis ball nest. I'm pleased to confirm that we were bright enough to choose Option 2.

We tossed an imaginary coin (ie I chose the soft option), and on the nod he squirted at the nest while I moved the (now lit) outdoor candle immediately under and just within the top of the door entrance. 'Woof' doesn't quite do justice to the noise that resulted, not in that size font at least. As a kid, I spent quite a few after-school early evenings watching the Tomorrow People entirely transfixed and envious of their power to 'jaunt' - to transport themselves to another place in an instant. Little did I know I'd acquire that superpower several decades later in a sunny field in East Devon: we were instantly cross-armed, nodding at the result our handy work, fully 50 yards from the smoking ark, with only the merest bouquet of burning arm hair hanging in the air. The silent relief of distance and tentative self congratulation was punctuated by a second 'woof' - the dropped outdoor candle had found the corner of last year's straw bedding. Under the protection of the ark it was as dry as Gandhi's sandal - it went up quicker than greased gooseshit out of a tin horn.

Two hours later, and after a lengthy (enforced) debrief with the Otter Farm Health and Safety Officer, I approached the now quiet, non-smokey ark taking the sort of circuitous route one takes at a school disco when approaching 'her' - some faux disinterest/nonchalance is required however obvious it is where you're headed. No wasps. Not a hint of a wasp. Where once the nest had been, a char remained. Splendid.

I slept a sleep fending off diving dream-wasps with just a thin bamboo cane.

In the morning, I barrowed down some fresh straw for the new arrivals bedding - pre-coffee, such was my enthusiasm/coarse pride in victory. The now burnt-away straw had revealed a large rabbit hole (why would a rabbit want to shelter in the ark when it's home's underground I wondered) which I avoided as I spread the straw around. That's when I heard a buzz. I leapt out. No wasp, just a bee. Marvellous, a bumble bee. And what a year for bumble bees it seems to be, I thought. Two, hurrah. Oh look, they're friends, going into the ark together. And another. Brilliant. And another. Hold on. They're going into the rabbit hole. And out again, and back in. Then two more. My grasp of non-edible plants isn't what it might be, but I'm reasonably confident that underground plant species requiring pollination may not be numerous. It was a nest, sure enough, and (according to the Winged Insect Spectrum of Love) you can't 'woof' a bees nest.

Love<<<<<<<<<<The Winged Insect Spectrum of Love>>>>>>>>>>Hate
Bumble Bee<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Jasper

I had to take my hat off to the bumble bees - they'd survived two reasonable infernos (inferni?) and were still calmly, quietly, going about their business unruffled. I hadn't felt that combination of irritation and grudging admiration since happening upon a couple having frontseat carsex besides a public footpath on a sunny Sunday afternoon last year.

So no pigs. Looks like I'll be buying a whole (dead) pig from a friend instead, but it's not the same. I wrote the first piece I had published as I was on the cusp of eating meat again and keeping my first few pigs. Since then, it's always felt complete only when I've kept the animals myself. I miss them being here. I miss the movement about the farm. I miss their sense of fun. There's very little that's matched the first piglets being born here, although the second litter came close, then there's the frustration at them dying, and the weirdness of taking animals off to slaughter. So, until next year the on-farm drama will have to be limited to dying trees and tales of ill-advised pyromania.

Ezetha’s Krombek Blauschok

A purple podded and rather beautifully flowered pea - from Thomas Etty

Too busy sometimes

Rather happily, most of the small seedling olives I mentioned in a recent blog are showing signs of living up to their billing as an early producing hardy variety capable of nudging the balance of probabilities a little nearer to making olives a viable crop in previously marginal regions like south west England. I really must learn to write shorter sentences.



Most of the 100 or so seedlings are flowering, rather splendidly in some cases, even though they're only 18 inches or so tall. I should confess a few things at this point that I 'forgot' to mention before: all the seedlings suffered the rather unSpanish ignominy of being carted off out through the front of the polytunnel (the doors were actually locked at the time) in last October's flood, and having been located at various points down the field, plonked upright and generally tousled up a bit, they got a good sitting on and scuffling about by the local rabbit populace. No, I really must learn to write shorter sentences.

You may well be wondering what on earth I was doing through all this, and perhaps what right have I to have a wedge of land and plants to mess about with if all I do is mess about with it, but give me a break...I've got another job, a family, 3500 grape vines and endless trees to look after and I was writing a book at the time, and it was raining and I was etc etc... somethings don't quite get optimum treatment the whole time. It's the Otter Farm way. So bugger off with your 'wondering' (unless you're wondering nice things that flatter my ego of course)...

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