Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Sorry it's been a while - I've had a lot going on: the rest of the potatoes to dig, several barrowloads of fruit and vegetables to deal with, a visit from my mother, a christening, and a Very Big Wedding Indeed. It's a good job I managed to pick some blackberries yesterday, as after Michelmas the Devil is supposed to spit on them. Or worse.

Lovely John D showed me my new allotment yesterday. At least I think there was an allotment there somewhere beneath all the weeds.

"How much to you want?" he asked me.

I tried to plump for an amount somewhere between a size that wouldn't be too daunting, yet wouldn't seem ungrateful. It wasn't easy. Anyway, John in his kindness has offered to dig it over for me. Just this once. But after that, all that mares' tail will be mine, all mine.

The new landlords moved into the Volly last week (although I'm not sure Arkells has got round to updating the website yet). Francois is French and used to be a chef on the QE2, so I have high hopes for the food. Olives and dipping oil have been mentioned... Mike comes from just over the border in Gloucestershire, but I don't think we should hold that against him. He has a working cocker spaniel called Eddie with a full tail, so he must be all right. Actually, it probably means he's a bit mad.

Alex, who's not quite eleven, spotted Adam walking down there on Friday evening to check it out, and grabbed his bike.

"I'm just popping down to the pub with Adam, Mum."

I've made Mike promise not to serve him for seven more years. Which may well be an improvement on previous service.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

T0 bee or not to bee?

Are these John's bees? I was convinced they were - they seemed to have just the right kind of cheeky-chappie look that I imagine bees of John's might have. And they seem to have made themselves right at home, about thirty of the little blighters, among my sedum. I was feeling quite pleased with myself that John's bees seemed to have found their way into my garden. But, having spoken to John this morning, I'm now not at all sure they're not hover flies. Which is slightly disappointing.

"You have to look at their eyes," John says. "And their bottoms might be a bit more pointed. And their wings might not be quite so tucked in".

I'm not sure I'm up to bee identification. So what do you think, John? Are they the bees knees?

This little episode put me in mind of a wonderfully evocative poem by New Zealand poet, Amanda Eason.

The Beekeeper's Granddaughter

I thought my grandfather's bees flew everywhere
and I could prove it. Twenty miles away in Manurewa

I'd cup a bee in my hands - amaze the kids next door.
Wings whirred against my palms, I heard them

but they didn't sting because they knew me -
because they were my grandfather's bees.

Amanda Eason, 1992

Thursday, 10 September 2009

As I walked out one September morning...

Well, the big news is, I’ve finally got an allotment. Yes, after all this time, and just as I was beginning to come to the conclusion that I didn’t really need an allotment as every time I venture over there I’m plied with courgettes or runner beans or a few raspberries – yes, and not always of the rude variety – without having to do any of the hard graft. This is just last Friday’s little haul.

* * *

It’s amazing what you can get done on a dog walk. And as it was a most glorious September morning and we’d run out of tea (and I wasn’t exactly managing to knuckle down to anything very much at home – well, you can’t really get much done when the sun is shining so brightly and without a ready supply of tea, I find) I set out across the Glebe field to the shop. On the way, I bumped into Sue and, after having a conversation about bees and the pros and cons of top-bar hives as opposed to Warr├ęs, I suddenly remembered her son was a tree surgeon and we needed a tree or two chopping down – perhaps he could advise. Then, further along I met Jon who does the Village website, and it suddenly occurred to me that he would probably know of a computer bloke who might be able to set us up with a new pc and sort out some cabling for the office… Coming into the allotments, I ran into John and Henry, who were discussing raspberries. I now know how far apart you need to plant them “About this far,” John shows me with his hands spread wide. About five times as far apart as I planted mine.
“And if they’re summer ones, you want to cut them back about this much, but the autumn ones don’t want cutting back until about February” Or was it the summer ones?

“Do you still want a bit of an allotment?” John asked, evidently sensing a latent interest in gardening that obviously needed an outlet. “I’m nearly seventy-one-and-a-half and I'm not sure I’ve got the energy to keep up with all this.”
Well, I supposed I did. It’s going to be a bit of a challenge being up by John, Dick and Phillip, though – probably three of the most experienced allotment holders on the site, apart from Bernard and Arthur, of course. Oh, and Aubrey and Trevor. (Have I missed anyone out? Probably.)

I got to the shop; predictably I’d forgotten my purse, so I tried to have a sneaky look through the Western Daily Press, an activity which garnered one of Gizzy’s Hard Stares. I couldn’t blame her really – there was a bit of a queue and Henry was trying to read the paper over my shoulder so we were taking up about half of the counter and there were people behind us wanting to buy things. I sauntered out again and collected Brown Dog, who’d somehow acquired a ball, and took him up via the old school field in West Street as I had a few letters I needed to drop off. Unexpectedly, there were cows in the field, so we went up to Shipton’s Lane and down to the river through Shady Lane – the quiet end of the village. I don’t often do the river walk in summer, precisely because there are usually cows down there. There seem to be fewer cows this year – I’m not sure whether there are, or whether they’re just somewhere else, but I was told earlier this year that there are no longer any milking herds in Great Somerford, which is sad after so many hundreds of years.

Coming up to the river I caught a flash of iridescent turquoise from the corner of my eye – the kingfisher was there. I stood stock still for about ten minutes, waiting to see him again, but he was somewhere up in the willow tree, out of sight. It’s a bit like the Pleiades – you can only really see them out of the corner of your eye; look at them straight and you won’t see them at all. I sometimes wonder whether happiness is a bit like that – an unexpected flash when you’re not really looking. I stopped on the bridge by the hatches to watch a water boatman skating gently towards the weir while what looked like a late honey buzzard wheeled high in a leisurely arc over the ripening corn. Brown Dog had found another ball, so he was happy. He always seems to find balls. It occurs to me that he’d be the ideal sniffer dog if ever the Police needed to hunt down the evidence in a mass tennis-ball robbery, although realistically it's unlikely this skill will ever be required. We can but hope, though. It would be nice to think he might be of some use that doesn't involve rolling in something unpleasant or irritating the neighbours.

* * *

During the course of the day, I find myself in the shop no less than four times, having once forgotten my money, and the other three times forgotten various other things. I’m beginning to wonder whether this might be a sign of some worrying mental-health problem so I ask Malcolm, as he’s ringing up my bread whether anyone else comes into the shop so often.

“Well, Debs is just as bad,” he reassures me. “Mind you, she does work here.”

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


Dispite the gloomy forecast, the weather was actually fine for the big allotments birthday-party picnic this weekend, and everything went - well, better actually - than expected. That morning, under a glowering September sky, Sid, John, Jackie and I had hoisted up a couple of gazebos in case of the odd shower, and later that afternoon, over a hundred allotment-holders and villagers turned out bringing hampers, rugs, bags, rucksacks - and in one case, a picnic in a wheelbarrow - to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the oldest allotments in the country.

The birthday itself had actually been a couple of weeks earlier - an even gloomier day, as it turned out. I didn't even go down to the allotments that day, but managed a blustery walk with Brown Dog past the old rectory, where the reverend Stephen Demainbray would have arrived back hot and tired, no doubt, after his long ride from the Angel Hotel in Chippenham where he'd signed the papers which assigned over eight acres of land over in perpetuity to those poor cottagers, parishioners of and residing in Great Somerford otherwise Broad Somerford, due regard being had for the number in family of such poor exactly 200 years ago.

It was a lovely afternoon, and all the better for being quite informal, without any speeches or ceremony, and we ate and drank and talked among the waving trees and fat cabbages until the sun went down.

Cake was shared, sandwiches passed round, someone found some cricket stumps, old friends were remembered and in one case, a friendship of over 30 years was renewed...

I think Stephen Demainbray would have approved.