Dosy

I smell of Weetabix; Weetabix that has had warm milk poured over it. The few days of beautiful sunshine have dried things out enough to get the tractor and topper out and cut that long stuff down. All fine, until two rows in I noticed a clowd rising out of the ground. I'd mown over a wasps nest.

They were, as any homeowner might be on observing his domicile under attack from huge spinning blades, a tad dischuffed. I dropped a cog and closed the tractor windows. Cue the not so gentle drumming of jaspers against glass.

A very hot lunchtime became a very hot lunchtime in an enclosed glass box with a hot engine a yard in front. I was already sweating; now I was making my own gravy. Most of you won't know what sweating in a tractor is like...I suggest you keep it that way. Every pore leeks, every inch of clothing becomes soaked. It is a sauna only more so. And for some inexplicable reason it makes your clothes smell like Weetabix and warm milk. This is bad not only in that it's not an aroma high on my list of preferences for colognes but hot milk on any other breakfast than porridge is very very wrong.

I think I may have to apply for the National Collection of Wasps to be conferred on Otter Farm. Every year there is some ridiculous episode or other with the little Hymenopterae... in little over a month there was Trent and his commando comedies, hot on the heels of an ill advised experiment with a pint of diesel.



I should have been working indoors on something thinky but the combination of sunshine and feeling dosy pushed me outside. I'm dosy having run up to London yesterday afternoon with Pam the Jam for Bloomsbury's 25th anniversary. I ate, I worried the cocktail bar and spent part of the evening playing Celebrity Bingo with Laetitia Maklouf. I also half tripped up Michael Palin and spilt hazelnut ice cream on Hanif Kureishi's shoe. He didn't see to mind, which may have something to do with him not seeming to notice.

A quick cab across town, the last train to Clarksville Dorchester, a 40 mile drive and a short sleep later and I'm supposed to be writing an article....and I wasn't in the mood.

I'm involuntarily making a habit of short sleeps. Last weekend was the Malvern Autumn Show. Last year with Joe Swift and John Wright. Trent and I dressed the stage and I did some demos. This year I was there with Steve, Gill and John from River Cottage...me doing cocktail demos and being their
Debbie McGee
for curing and smoking, offal, mushroom and fish demos. For each demo I raided the many fine gardens and stands for herbs and leaves..and the Orchard Pavilion for sparkling and still perrys and ciders, and pear spirit from Charles Martell (the man behind stinking bishop cheese) and Once Upon A Tree's 'The Wonder' pear dessert wine. All the ciders and perrys were special but Tom Oliver's particularly so. Refined and delicious without being poncey. And it's not often can you say you've had perry made by the hand of The Proclaimers' tour manager.

All went well until about 10.21pm on Saturday when Steve and I realised that a very pleasant evening could only be improved by watching Match of the Day in bed. Let me be clear: separate beds, separate rooms. Hilariously, even though we had been booked in by the show organisers, the hotel gave us rooms over a wedding party that was taking place. How we laughed. Even more amusingly, they had put the party guests in rooms above ours. The church bells provided delightful distraction for the last time at 3am.

We thought that Gill might've been getting a few minutes extra kip when he didn't show for the early breakfast...he called around 8 to let us know that he too had heard the party but only intermittently between visits to the loo. Food poisoning.

Sunday was good nevertheless...the sparkling perry and cider saw to that. Although Steve needed a bit of geeing up backstage to get him going...

Tainted loaf (slight return)

Out picking sloes and I thought I'd check the almonds. We only planted these trees 18 months ago and already they have a few nuts...the outer casing, like a tough peach, has started to split. When it opens fully they're ready to pick. A crap pic it maybe but that's what you get from a phone camera on a cold, dewy morning.




I may have mentioned this before, but I intend to make a bread using the first nuts and call it Mark's Almonds Tainted Loaf

Nowhereisland

I shouldn't be writing this blog, I should be somewhere even colder than this office. I should be in the High Arctic, standing on a football-pitched size island with a group of people I've only just met.

I had an email from Alex Hartley a few months ago: would I like to come to the High Arctic and be part of an expedition to do something very exciting...to visit an island that climate change has exposed from the retreating ice, dig up a bagful of it and sail it out into the sea. As the bagful of material arrives into international waters it will, like Prince, become the Artist Formerly Known as Bagful of Material and be declared Nowhereisland...and that we, you, anyone who signs up to the idea of this new island nation will be declared a citizen of Nowhereisland.

This island will be the world's newest state and it's citizens will all have an influence in what that island stands for, the politics, the direction it takes, its identity. It's a chance to do the equivalent of having your life/our lives over again, if you knew what you know now.

This autumn's expedition is only the first part...next year the island will visit ports along the south west coast of England, as part of the Cultural Olympiad 2012 that ties in with the Olympics.

I was, apparently, one of the 'bright minds' chosen to be a founder member of a notional new society on this bagful of uncovered island. I thought Alex might have mistaken me for someone interesting but I am shamefully weak in the face of flattery so I replied. I suspect, in reality, that Alex has a weakness for cakes and had seen my blueberry muffin recipe (which, frankly, may be the summit of anything I do in this life) and wanted reasonable midmorning refreshments on the trip.

I may not be explaining this very well, so watch this and let Alex tell you.

Nowhereisland - Alex Hartley from Claire Doherty on Vimeo.

By coincidence we met a couple of weeks after he sent the email, over a very large piece of beef and many dozen excellent roast potatoes*. I had been trying to extricate myself from existing commitments to make the trip but it wasn't possible. It knew it would've been an amazing to go and finding that he wasn't a tedious arse made not going considerably worse.

So instead I'm here, sketching garden plans, trying to get on with the new book, eating a cake at 9.49am.

A lot of me wishes I was there.

However, I will be a citizen of Nowhereisland. And I will be one of the Resident Thinkers, writing something to contribute to how the island takes shape. With current sign ups the state will be twice the size of the Vatican state and is on it's way to becoming the same citizenship as the Falkland Islands.

I invite you to become a citizen too - you can sign up here.

It's a chance to do something a little different, to be a part of something starting again, to see if knowing what we know now we'd make a better go at it. That doesn't happen everyday.


Follow the expedition and beyond on Facebook, Twitter and with updates on their (your?) website.




* I think if you get on with someone over a Sunday roast, it's a fair indication you'll get on with them at anytime...given that at least a small portion of your brain is seeing each roastie that hits their plate as robbery, begrudging them every mouthful.

A man who doesn't have to try too hard

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to write a review of Cleve West's book, Our Plot. Say how rubbish it is and he'll get the hump with me; say it's great and I'm bigging up a book on MY territory. Snookered.

Cleve's also had far too much of a good run this year - his garden won
Best in Show at Chelsea Flower Show and despite being diminished by the ravages of late middle-age the ladies still seem to fall for his dark, unsophisticated charms. I was in no mood to add to his list of accolades. I thought I ought to go and visit his allotment (the 'plot' of the title) and check it out for myself, see if I could puncture his bubble a little.

I hadn't planned to but I got the phone out and recorded a little. Anyone who knows Cleve knows that the intervals between him mentioning his youthful almost-Olympic standard athletic exploits are about as long as it takes the flavour to leach out of a Juicy Fruit. I've edited them out where I can but one may have snuck in. What follows is a Smörgåsbord* of advice for anyone aspiring to be on the box, anyone aspiring to create something out of box, a little domestic animal care advice, some companion planting ideas, a bit of celebrity topiary and a distinct lack of coffee.



The review, begrudgingly reasonable, should be in next month's English Garden magazine.


On the way up to London to visit Cleve, I sat over the seat from a fellow train traveller who smelled of something rather strong. I thought it might've been Toilet Duck. I suspected it might have been Hai Karate or possibly Denim**. It was a very powerful recollection of a smell - someone I knew in the distant past had this as their chosen smell.

I pretended to go to the loo so I could get a look at him, to see if I might deduce from his appearance what the aroma might be. I should've had a good look on my way back but the sod was reading the FT, held up and covering his face. Half an hour later I went to the loo again (a real visit this time, stats fans) - he was still reading the paper. How was I going to figure out what the smell was if I couldn't see his face?



On the spur of the moment I asked him if he knew whether this one stopped at Clapham Junction. Bingo: paper down. Young/middle aged, dark haired, not unfashionably dressed in a worky kind of a way. He said the train did indeed stop at Clapham Junction. I thanked him and sat down.

I had expected a moment of revelation...curly perm - Brut; long hair, shirt too open - Blue Stratos, etc. But no, I hadn't a clue. And now, it dawned on me, I faced a conundrum; there were 15 minutes til Clapham....and I wanted to go on to Waterloo...but if I stayed on the train he'd think I was weird for having not got off at Clapham having asked him if it stopped there. He might think me asking him was me making a move on him.

The train stopped at Clapham Junction.

I made my decision. I got up, got my things together...he looked up from his paper as I walked past and I said 'thanks' in an overly deep voice. I got off the train. And walked quickly to the next carriage and snuck back on.



I sat down. I could smell the same perfumey smell. I was puzzled...maybe it wasn't Mr FTreader after all. The tea trolley approached. I had an idea. I got a packet of ready salteds and faux-casually asked the man what that smell was: "apparently some joker stuck a nail in a can of Lynx last night, right between the doors of these two carriages, smells like a whore's drawers it does".

Aha. Lynx. Solved. I was pleased but also not pleased: confusing the 70s/early 80s scents with the much later Lynx was a schoolboy error, the olfactory equivalent of mistaking Liquid Gold for Fool's Gold.

Into Waterloo and as I got off the train I saw Mr FTreader getting off a carriage up ahead. He saw me too. He did the James Finlayson doubletake only slower. I nodded and half pointed behind me in that 'I'd explain but I can't really' kind of a way. He must still be wondering whether it's halitosis, whether his wife was having him followed him, whether I was a stalker...



* You try finding all the novel characters for Smörgåsbord on a Mac

** I tried very hard be able to perfect that deep voiced advert as a kid....so to this one. I remember thinking that if I ate them my voice would actually go that way too. I moved quickly on to these, voice unchanged.

That pic is rhubarb crumble made with sweet cicely seeds...very nice it is too

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