No ball

A fruit cage has arrived. It remains in its constituent parts, partly as I've been busy on other things and mostly because there are a few pieces to come. A discrepancy between the actual area to be caged and the size the supplier* was told is to blame**.

Having a fruit cage arrive has a strange rights-of-passage feel to it. Something previously impossible (or at least utterly irrelevant) - like buying a not-necessarily flattering coat because it keeps the rain off when your walking/working, being on tv, buying insurance, paying for software, not accompanying the breaking of wind with either a request to 'pull my finger' or a mime of revving a motorbike - has turned up. It's all a bit grown up***.



I have no shortage of fruit to go in it. Redcurrant, blackcurrant and whitecurrant half-standards, a good half dozen varieties of blackberry, a couple of tayberries, some summer raspberries, sunberries, loganberries, strawberries, a cherry, a dwarf peach and nectarine, a couple of kiwis and a few grapevines. Anything, essentially, that I've grown tired of the birds getting more than I do of. Not sure that was a real sentence - do feel free to rearrange.

It's quite large (8m x 10m) but still a little shy of the regulation length for a cricket pitch (22 yards). This is a shame as I have spent the last weeks absentmindedly bowling anything vaguely spherical around the fields. Small apples and apricots jettisoned by the tree to allow it to carry the rest of its load to ripeness have been picked up and delivered to one corner or another of the orchard. Usually in an impersonation of some famous bowler of yesteryear. Bob Willis (bowling wrist cocked for the length of his angled run in), Shane Warne and Max Walker (second ball in...judging from his run up I think he may have a wet medicine ball in his left pocket pulling him over, and only his right shoulder has a socket). All have graced the imaginary pitches of Otter Farm. I've even taken to bowling any wasp-attacked fruit into the pig pen for them to scoff on.

Why all this fruity cricketing wizardry? River Cottage played Gardeners World at cricket a weekend or two back and it's been a while since I turned my arm over. And the last time I did (16 or so years ago) my last action was to take a marvelous, boundary-edge catch to win the game. Had slow-mo cameras been in operation they would've seen me scurrying around the rope into position admirably early, watching the ball without waver, hands cupped, fingertips up. The ball reaches them, I move my hands towards my body to cushion the blow which parts my wrists slightly, allowing the ball to roll down my forearms past me elbows hitting me squarely in the testicles before bouncing back past my elbows along my forearms into my hands. I raise my hand in the seconds between contact and the pain kicking in. Team jubilation follows, somewhat through gritted teeth by your correspondent on the boundary.



It was mostly about cream teas and cider to be honest but some cricket was played. 25 overs a side, and River Cottage romped home to a 45 run victory. Not before I was out for a duck. A golden duck. First ball. Out. As I walked in, the outgoing batsman said 'watch out, he's pretty fast'. In the 17.4m to the crease I had wiped that remark from my mind. I took aim, he bowled fast and straight, on a good length - all those thigns you could reasonably be forgiven for not expecting in a mtch of this kind. Accommodatingly I chose to keep my feet still and play around the line of the ball. My stumps did this. I walked off to a generous guard of honour from my teammates - who kindly formed an arch for me to walk through. Read about it here if you've nothing better to do.

Modesty prevents me from recounting how my gameturning spell of misery medium pace quietened the opposition when they were in danger of winning. Let's just say that I bowled a gameturning spell of misery medium pace that quietened the opposition when they were in danger of winning and leave it at that. I'd also like to say I took a blistering catch in the covers****. There was a little mild sledging (conversations between fielders and batsman - such as this) - but nothing too strong. It's usually done to put your opponent off a little but it can always backfire. Brilliant but often fiery Australian bowler Glenn McGrath was bowling to Zimbabwe's last batsman Eddo Brandes – who refused to get out. McGrath, frustrated, asked Brandes 'Hey Eddo, why are you so fat?' to which he replied, 'Because every time I shag your wife, she gives me a biscuit'.

Huge thanks to those who played and attended - £900 was raised for the chosen charity, Thrive.



Back to the fruit cage. Although it will happily protect the fruit that will become the next fruity cricket balls to be sprayed, in character, around the farm when the rematch nears, it clearly cannot double as a suitable cricketing net, generously sized though it is. But I'm determiend to find a dual sporting purpose for it now my mind has strayed across the idea. I'm not sure if the construction will happily stand the weight of a dartboard, but once it's in place I'll see how it feels. Perhaps an outdoor table tennis table, although that'd mean plenty of ground space being left plant-free, although after Alex Higgins***** sadly dying this week, a snooker table might be appropriate if a little exposed to the elements. Any other suggestions for suitable double uses for the fruit cage would be most appreciated. Perhaps redcurrant marbles.




* Harrod Horticultural
** I'm currently searching for others to blame
***Having written all this, I've just discovered that almost exactly a year ago I was pondering something similar. I must be running out of things to say
**** ...but I can't
***** Even completely plastered he was something else

Scratches

So what could be causing this then?



I thought 'cat' until I saw the deeper scratches, the higher scratches and the fact that almost every one of the 40 trees in the apple orchard has been affected.

Most of the scratches are at knee to thigh height but some are up in the trees, even as high as 7 feet up.



A badger, mink or maybe a hugely strong tomcat maybe....but I'm thinking mink might be the favourite as we're near a river



To add to the mystery, all five of our chickens vanished in one night last week adn there are no signs of even a stray feather....



A neighbour is convinced it's a two legged pest arsing about...but could it be as Lia Leendertz wonders, something altogether spookier ?



Any suggestions welcome.....

Nine years out

Camping's crap isn't it. Someone had to say it. Yes there are magical moments, and an occasional sense of getting back to a more pared down, essential way of living away from the guff and distractions of modern life in a reasonably affluent western country yadda yadda, but they're few and far between.

It's a tough one to own up to. You may as well own up to having a small knob, loving the Nolans or being a dab hand at butterfly cakes for all the manpoints it awards. Don't like camping: you're half a man. It kind of implies you're awful in bed. I maybe* awful in bed, but it's got nowt to do with camping.




Actually, it's not that I don't like camping. I DO like camping. I just don't like packing to get ready to go; the setting the sodding thing up; the hot nights; the light mornings; the inability to sit in any way that might be regarded as comfortable for the duration of the holiday; the need for a strategic peeing regime (SPR) starting at 6pm, that will give you some hope of not having to get up in the night; the niggle in the bladder that says you need a pee around 35 minutes after you went to bed despite having stuck to your SPR; and finding that pee was perhaps two thimblesful and almost entirely the result of an overactive mind telling you that despite having adhered to your SPR you need a pee. This is the same part of the brain that swears they always score when you go for a wee in the middle of big football matches.

And, I forgot, that weird wax that your body always feels coated in after one night's sleep in a tent...like you're gently seeping beeswax from the moment of sundown to sun up. Showers can't touch it...only a hot bath, in your own bath, will remove it.



Camping is apparently simple living. Try going with even just a wife and one child - your car will be full of guff that is essential for making this simple living possible.

A couple of days near the Dorset coast are enough to make anyone happy. It was blazing with a cool breeze, lots of lovely food, lunch with Ray Smith and his wife Mary that involved very much in the way of cured pork. And a bit of champagne. With Ray and Mary you are in the company of greatness and a knowledge that is held by very few others. I made my very first sausages, salami, chorizo and airdried ham with Ray, butchering my first pig with him 7 years ago or thereabouts. I've met very few cheerier people, and very few less willing to live with laziness and incompetance - it's a combination I like very much and he's been a very good friend ever since. He's also never short of an opinion about anything, especially what it is that you do for a living. He knows best. I like that too. He's also very good at swearing. This may make him the complete human being.

A lunch and an afternoon spent with Ray and Mary, sunny paddling at Burton Bradstock, woodpeckers flying about being replaced by hawk moths when they went to bed, fish and chips on the beach at West Bay. All fabulous. All in the two days we were away. And that's a lot of loveliness for two days. It's also a lot of neckache and lack of sleep. Gristle grumble.

I think what I'm partly moaning about is wishing I loved the palaver that comes with camping more than I do. I want to be Grizzly Adams**, or at least on the odd weekend and sunny week I do. I also feel a calling to go to a hotel by the sea, sit outside sipping cocktails and eating stuff someone else has cooked and know I don't have to queue if I fancy a chod.



It makes me feel slightly older not loving camping. Or rather loving camping in the less than unconditional way that I do. I may be slightly sensitive to feeling older this week as it's my birthday. I really couldn't be arsed about getting older, not in that 'oh my God I'm 21, life's over' kind of a way. Even in my teens my brain always thought it was cobblers - surely it's about how long you have left (and the quality of that time) rather than how long you've had. I may live to be 67, 97, or anywhere in between***, and without knowing which, it really is entirely irrelevant whether I'm 21 or 51. I may have 46 years left either way.

Life has got incrimentally lovelier for the most part. I do, however, get fed up with life's creeping ignomies as the years shuffle by. For a man, these mainly involve body hair and its increasing propensity for poking out in places it was never fashionable to show. When having my haircut about 7 years ago the hairdresser made a wafty movement and asked 'Shall I tidy these up for you?' I really didn't know what he meant. Mishearing or misunderstanding a hairdresser gets me instantly embarrassed - it recalls a day when as a young lad I went to get my hair cut with my dad. He had his cut, went off to by some fags and a paper while I had mine cut...and the barber asked me if I wanted something for the weekend. I was left utterly confused. I must've only been 12 or so. I also wouldn't let it lie. 'What sort of thing?' 'What do you mean?' I carried this on even when my dad returned, genuinely wanting to be let in on the secret. I was carted off to much giggling between my dad and the barber and was not in any way enlightened on the X57 home. The blushing came years later when I remembered the event now fully acquainted with exactly what that 'something' was. Now if he'd have asked me if I'd wanted a seagulls welly I might have known what he was on about.

So, reddening, I asked him what he meant. My eyebrows. He had that look of a man familiar with the self-deniers. I genuinely hadn't noticed the odd lengthy one sticking out - but deny it and you sound like an arse, compelled to over-explain your surprise. Which makes you sound like you're making your ignorance up. That day was the start of the nasal and eyebrow hair war. Tweezers entered my world for something other than the infrequent nipping out of splinters. For a fleeting moment I understood what it must feel like to be a woman, to feel compelled by society to wax this, pluck that, cover those...but within a microsecond that vanished under a cloud of self-obsession. I just felt older. This shit happens to old men. I felt like Ursula Andress in the last minutes of 'She'.

There is still the odd day I wake up and think I'm in jail, before realising it's just dangling eyebrows, and winding the offending hairs around the doorhandle and slamming the door to pluck them free - but that's it: the sum total of feeling older. As it goes, it beats colostomy**** bags and arthritis.



There was a very lovely piece about Otter Farm in the Independent on Saturday by Anna Pavord. She came here a few weeks ago. I was a tad nervous. Anna is one of the queens of garden writing and Otter Farm is nothing if not rough around the edges. Very much a smallholding rather than a garden. I tried to get her onside with a piece of strawberry and rhubarb tart before she saw the jungle and it may have worked. Having spent a good part of her life creating a garden and reinstating the former glories of a house herself she completely understood the wrestling match that is trying to create something out of an unrelated starting point, on a limited budget, with a whole load of other stuff going on. There are a couple of teeny inaccuracies in her piece that I spotted - a few plants mentioned as being in Veg Patch that aren't, but most importantly she had my age wrong. 43 it said. I did the maths...but that would make this 2010. Oh balls.

It can't be true...but even saying that makes me sound old. Being surprised by how old you are, saying you only feel 29 or something are defining characteristics of being an old sod. 34 looks about right. Nine years to be wiped off the slate then. There was a patch between 19 and 26 when I worked in the odd seasonal job in a kitchen and spent the rest of the time either training around Europe grapepicking and all that but essentially on the dole. That's seven years. And I took 3 years getting an 'E' and an 'O' at A level. The last year of the three was reasonably dedicated to listening to music and trying hard enough to get that 'E'. Some of the rest of the time was spent in the pub playing pool. A couple of us were given the keys for the pool table as we played in the team and the owner wanted us to win the league, so many a lunchtime became a long afternoon. Apart from that, those 2 years were wasted.

So I reckon that's two years plus the other seven makes nine...perhaps that's the reason for the mental discrepancy between 34 and 43. I think I only really started being energetic or vaguely driven by anything other than music at around 26, but thinking about it it was probably much later when it really kicked in, maybe only since I've come here to Otter Farm.



So, here I am, 43 apparently. At least for today. Tomorrow's a different story but I haven't been able to account for another year of discrepancy yet, hence posting this in a rush, today, so that the maths still works.


* I said 'maybe', ok

** Played by Dan Haggerty, not to be confused with Den Hegarty.

*** Or maybe even either side of that, but you get the picture.

**** My wife: Who's this on the radio?...'The Cure' I said...'Sounds like that bloke off Dexys Midnight Runners doesn't he' she replied...'Wha..!??!?! Don't be dosy'....said I. Impossible. I've seen The Cure all over the place, the first gig I ever went to, I thought, but about three months later when The Cure was on the radio again, I noticed it. She was right. So close I couldn't see the wood.

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