Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Dolphin Day 24 June

After an extremely last minute flurry of emails and organisation, it was with a great sense of excitement that I drove up to Fishguard to join a Sea Trust Dolphin Day, to look for cetaceans and other interesting marine life on a Stena Line ferry trip to Rosslare and back. It's something I'd promised myself I would do, even though I was a little daunted by the idea that I could be a lonely, know-nothing newbie in an established group.

My small rucksack lay unused for the past few years and all but one of the zips had stuck. With some white vinegar, patience and lip balm, I managed to unstick all but one (on a side pocket), which was so corroded, the zip pull just disintegrated. Some of the elastic fastenings have also gone, but I like this rucksack because it seems the right size for me and has a raincover. Into the rucksack went a packed lunch, sunscreen, binoculars, camera, purse, phone, keys, coat, long scarf, mitts and sweatshirt. I had a late breakfast on the patio, the cats begging a share as usual, and hoped that the forecast for a slight sea state would be right. It was a bit grey, but mild enough for a T shirt. Time to go - I shut up the house, locked the front door, and it started to drizzle on me. Typical!

Only a couple of miles down the road I joined a long queue of traffic into Haverfordwest, which seemed to have no cause. Halfway to Fishguard, I started to see heavier traffic and a number of Irish lorries. The ferry was obviously in, but I still had plenty of time.

I had no idea where I was supposed to go at the ferry port, as I couldn't see a sign for the long stay car park, but I saw someone else zoom past and used the 'follow someone who looks like they know where they're going' method, ending up where I needed to be. After that, I found the group quite easily, and everything was friendly, relaxed and well-organised.

The ramp up to the ship and the three flights of steep stairs up to the deck were hard on my knees, but I soon forgot that in the fresh air. There were Cormorants, but no sign of any dolphins as we left the harbour, and I soon put on first the sweatshirt and then the coat in the damp wind. It didn't look promising as we headed toward Strumble Head, the lighthouse eventually flashing out of the murk.
Foggy and grey around the coast, looking towards Strumble Head

Thankfully, it wasn't foggy at sea. Standing on deck with a foghorn sounding and no visibility would have been horrible. There were quite a few of us, so we divided into three groups. I was in group 2, and we spent the first and third hours on deck, and the second in an area next to the bridge. The initial greyness lifted and we sailed on into Irish sunshine, despite the wind which had us all lined up against the port side rail, as the buffeting on the starboard side was a bit much. No dolphins or other cetaceans, but the Manx Shearwaters and occasional Fulmars, Puffins and Gannets kept us entertained. Attempts to capture some of the beautiful shearwaters flying close to the ship highlighted the limitations of my little point-and-click camera. All I could see in the back screen was my face. It seems I saw a Cory's Shearwater (not that I knew it, at the time, just noted it was bigger and greyer). Occasional gulls over the ship kept an eye on anyone with a sandwich as we scanned the sea for feeding seabirds, splashes or other possible tell-tales, difficult to discern amongst the glitter and occasional white wave tops. By the time we got into Rosslare, there were still no sightings.
Tuskar Rock lighthouse
Tuskar Rock lighthouse
We didn't disembark, but had an entertaining quiz and a meal to while away the time. The quiz was fun, but I really need to mug up on my seabirds and cetaceans, because there were very few questions to which I knew the answers. Sorry, team, will do better next time.

I also saw some terns, but couldn't pick out enough detail to identify them, even if I'd know what I was looking for. ('Use it or lose it' applies to knowledge too!) Oh, for more powerful binoculars and a camera with a viewfinder and more zoom on the lens! I caught a Turnstone skittering away, but missed lots of other birds. That wasn't all I missed. Although there were no sightings on the way out to Rosslare, there were some on the way back. A report of a possible Risso's dolphin, too distant to be certain, generated some excitement, and a little while later, a couple of pairs of dolphins came up to the ship, and then under it. For the first pair, I was looking in entirely the wrong direction, and for the second, could see nothing but glare from the perspex deflector (a problem of being a short person!) Then nothing for ages, with Cliff of the Sea Trust groaning 'Come on, find me some dolphins!'. Eventually, I needed to find the ladies' (or perhaps that should be the heads, since we were on a ship), which was aft and 2 decks down, quipping to Cliff as I went that he was bound to see something while I was gone.

Sure enough, I got back having missed all the excitement, and Adam Tilt showed me a couple of shots on his camera which you can see (and read his post on the day) over on his blog My Life Outside. You can also see more photos and another post on the Sea Trust blog Whales in Wales.

After that flurry of activity, there were no further sightings and we arrived back in Fishguard as the light was fading. Stiff and achy from standing for the best part of six hours or more, I staggered back to the car and was back in my house by 10.15, to the relief of my fretful cats.

So, I was perhaps the only one not to see any dolphins on the trip, but so what? I had a really enjoyable day in good company. It was affordable and good value for money. Stena Line staff were stellar, and Sea Trust interns Rens and Laura were outstanding for their organisation and quiz.

I paid for it the next day! I was only a little wind-burned, so the factor 50 did its job, but found my hands were stiff from clutching my binoculars, my knees and feet were on fire from all the standing, my back hurt, even my fringe was tangled, and I felt dehydrated. Evidently, doing anything productive was going to be a bit difficult. Some serious rest was in order, something to bear in mind for next time, along with finding my Buff (the scarf was a bit too warm and cumbersome).

Yes, next time; I want to go again! So, when's the next one?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Garden Plans - Still on the Drawing Board

I haven't drawn out neat plans for the garden yet, but had formed some definite ideas about the way the front and back gardens might look. The wisdom of living in and with your space has asserted itself recently, as my ideas have changed.

In the back garden, I had an idea for a second path curving from the left side of the patio up to the shed, which sits two-thirds of the way up the garden on the right, and branching off to (eventually) a greenhouse on the left mirroring the placement of the shed. A perspective path, it would start wider than it finished, hopefully fooling the eye into thinking the garden is longer than it actually is. However, it would have required a potager-style arrangement for the vegetable growing, and I was having difficulty envisaging how to place the fruit. Once I started sowing and planting out the vegetables, I remembered how practical it is to have fixed, rectangular beds, maximising the space to plant in blocks or rows (considering that I want lots of veg, not just the odd item here and there) and facilitating rotation and soil preparation. I couldn't make that work with a path curving through the space.

Then I became quite fascinated by the internal geometries in the garden space. The garden (excluding the patio) is approximately 9.35 x 14 metres, which is about half a standard allotment plot. The length is about 1.5 times the width, and I decided that I would divide the space into thirds; the first for the shrubs, flowers and herbs, the middle section for the veg, and the end for the shed, compost, greenhouse, and fruit (although the latter may spread slightly into the other sections). The area for the veg is going to be roughly 5.4 x 4.6 metres or approximately 24.75 square metres.  I'll need 6 beds for rotation, (1.4 x 1.7 metres to allow for narrow paths between, or perhaps 3 strips 1.4 m wide x 3.8 long, with a virtual divide halfway up each bed?)

I haven't changed my mind about having herbs close to the house, arranged in two quarter circles either side of the path. Mints, lemon balm, parsley, chives and Welsh onion on the right, where the south-side fence and the side extension cast some shade. A couple of friends have reminded me to ensure I plant the mints in a sunken pot to constrain them, but I haven't had a mint patch yet which supplies as much as I can use when I start making mint tea, tzatziki and various salads. The area is currently covered by membrane and gravel, so I hope there is soil under there, and not concrete a few inches down. On the left, in an arc around the washing line, will be the herbs which like better drainage. The heavy soil has been improved in the past as there is lots of top-dressing gravel in the soil, but it will need more grit and some horticultural sand, and probably a top-dressing of grit too.

One of the most difficult things will be choosing what to plant by way of shrubs and flowers, due to limited space. Looking at my notes, I see recurrent themes:
  • sensory (primarily scent, but also colour, sound, textures, taste)
  • a 'twilight/moonlight' area close to the house using white and pastel shades which reflect light and with night-scented flowers such as stocks
  • richer shades between the mints and the lilac
  • roses and more roses
  • perhaps some dye plants?
  • buddleias for the butterflies
  • other food plants for insects (although when it comes to larval food plants for the butterflies and moths, it gets a bit difficult - but some sacrificial flowers such as nasturtiums might distract from the brassicas!)
Actually, that doesn't narrow things down very much, if at all! There are plants which aren't scented, which I really want to include, and excuse them on the basis of texture in terms of contrasting leaf shapes and colours, or because they attract pollinators. Things like Stachys lanata, with the silvery, furry leaves (definitely by the path in the 'moonlight' section). And although once the lime green, frothy heads are past their best and flop untidily everywhere, Alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle) is a must because of the way moisture beads and collects on the leaves - irresistible! And aquilegias, polemonium, Siberian iris, bugle, any type of poppies, cottage garden annuals such as cornflowers and nigella (love-in-a-mist). And foxgloves, Verbena bonariensis, and I might need something to continue the colour into autumn. I have lots of primulas and grape hyacinths in spring, just because they seem to like it here, but currently I have nothing for winter, scented or otherwise. I shall have to think about that. Can I make space for a small pond somewhere too?

In the front garden, I wanted to create something scented, bright and colourful which would lift the spirits of passers-by. Originally, I was inspired by Monty and Sarah Don's Jewel Garden, and envisaged bright and jewel colours (not just greening grey Britain but splashing it with multi-coloured paint!). It's quite a small space, approximately 5.3 x 4.5 metres, surrounded by a low wall on three sides and the house on the fourth side. (I've just done a double-take at those figures - it's almost the size of the veg patch!) Anyway, I thought that a rainbow mix of colour might be a bit much in the space, so decided to go with mainly shades of yellow, orange, blue, purple. Mainly, that is, because there's a crimson rose one one side of the door, which I shall pick up with a scarlet oriental poppy on the other side, and I suspect some red monarda will find its way into the planting (though I intend to keep pinks to the back garden!). A path needs to carry on across the front of the house, to the gas meter, but after that, I'll need a pathway which will give a little space and working access to the planting without being too fussy. Something based on a quarter circle, an echo of the herb arcs, considering this is almost the same size as one of the thirds of the back garden? Another thing to think about, as well as ensuring the planting has something of interest for autumn and winter.

After all the recent coverage of Chelsea and Chatsworth's show gardens, it's easy to think of gardens as things which are created, springing into being over a matter of weeks so that you can just enjoy the space and maintain it a bit, like mowing the lawn. Indeed, that's possible if you throw money and a team of landscape gardeners at the project. But, as Monty Don reminded us in this week's Gardener's World, gardening is a process. Working on my own and with next to no budget, it's going to be a long process, but between working in the garden, enjoying its produce, planning and dreaming, it will also be hugely pleasurable and fulfilling one!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Too Much and Not Enough

A drier and sunnier than average April (although only slightly warmer, and it didn't feel like it!) gave way to a drier and sunnier (and slightly warmer) than average May.  I have a 'farmer's tan' - forearms, face and V neck. I love it when my face goes freckly!

I'm still removing the blasted brambles. The patch I'd cleared about a month ago for the main lot of broad beans and peas showed a new bramble shoot the other day, so I dug it out. It was at least a foot long! I was sure I'd got all the roots out of that area, but at least it was easier to remove from the worked ground than the stuff which is coming up through grass, the shoots only noticeable when they scratch me as I walk through. I  fold and squash the bramble into and old compost bag, and then weigh it down with a brick so that the top isn't open to light and moisture. The bag is now full, because it doesn't die easily, even when it's been left to dry and wilt in the sun. Thank goodness for my big hide gauntlets!

The cats have loved the sunny, dry weather, sprawling in the grass, on bare soil, on the patio in the sun and then in the shade under the swing seat. Greebo has been poorly; he came in limping one day at the end of April, the right hind swollen and hot. He was uncomfortable rather than in pain, but I ended up taking him to the vet just in case, after he transferred the limp over the following couple of days to his left hind, then left fore, then left hind, then right hind, then left hind again. He had anti-inflammatories, and I discouraged him from jumping anywhere for a week, but he seemed happy enough limping around the place. No sooner had the limp disappeared, than he came in one morning, threw up and a couple of hours later, was miserable with abdominal pain, lethargic and growly (always a bad sign when he growls at me and won't eat!). A dash to the vets the same afternoon saw him pumped full of painkillers, anti-emetic and broad-spectrum antibiotic, in the hope we were dealing with enteritis and not something potentially nastier. A follow-up appointment the next morning saw him still a bit lethargic, but eating, drinking and purring again, so he had a week's antibiotics. He was very good about the tiny, 'palatable' tablets, daintily taking them from my fingers as if they were sweets. One morning, I was a bit slow about getting the tablet out of the blister pack and he miaowed impatiently at me. He seems fine now, although I think his old injury of his left hind when he was young (a subluxed hip and/or knee) has led to osteoarthritis, as he now sits and lies unevenly, favouring that leg.

I meant to record butterflies, but forgot, and just enjoyed seeing the first, fresh large whites, female orange tips and once, a small copper, gleaming in the sunlight. This was sometime in mid-May, I think. Since then, they have been conspicuously absent. I have also not done any moth recording. A poplar hawkmoth came into the bedroom one night, and the cats went mad trying to catch it before I managed to get it back out of the window.

The Bunyard's Exhibition and Express broad beans are flowering and are being visited by at least 2 different species of bumble bees, neither of which are Early Bees. There are plenty of those too, working over the various flowers including the thug campanula. They're not nesting in the compost heaps this year, but presumably there's another nest around somewhere.

I wrestled my bird feeder stand out of the shed several weeks ago and set it up near the pile of hedge prunings, more in order to provide a dish of water for the birds in the dry weather than to feed them (although the feed dish has been a handy receptacle for soil pests, heh heh! There you go birdies, grub up!) I put out my last net of peanuts and fat balls, more to support the nesting parents. The blackbirds didn't nest in my hedge, nor in next door's shrubbery. Mr Blackbird seemed to disappear off to a tree somewhere in the vicinity of the garages at the north end of the terrace. Mrs Blackbird was very much more elusive. Wherever the blackbirds were nesting, they came back into the garden to feed and preen, shouting at the cats if they were around. Still, Mr Blackbird is now using the hedge and the lilac as a home base to feed 2 chicks, and presumably Mrs has a chick to feed too, somewhere. The net of food didn't last long; a few of the rooks found it and one tried very hard to unhook it, pulling it up and then standing on the end to pull some more with his beak, turning and yanking it to try to get it off, but I'd made sure it would be hard to remove. The jackdaws in my chimney have fledged in the past week too. The house sparrows beat everyone to it; their first chicks must be at least a month old now. The alpha male was strutting around importantly for about a week, while guiding the chicks around. I was quite worried for him, as he was so pumped up that he almost had no fear of me or the cats, and sat cheeping with his wings spread and tail cocked, at arms length from me as I worked in the garden.  I've seen him taking bits to the nest in the corner of my roof today, so I take it there are more chicks on the way.

The buddleias from under the washing line survived their move, as did one which had grown down into the gravel bed and then fallen over, breaking its root. One of the fuchsias has still got its leaves and is putting on new growth and I thought the others had had it, but another two have sprouted strongly from the base. I'm still trying to get the washing line to stand upright. despite wedging the spike in with bits of rubble, it somehow works loose and the line itself ends up listing. It's driving me mad. No wonder people set the spikes in concrete, I might have to do the same!

The compost (presumably my own rather than the shop-bought) has volunteered some tomato seedlings and they have been growing away strongly. I've no idea what they will be, bush or indeterminate, cherry or beefsteak, but they look happy and healthy plants so apparently they're happy outdoors. There is a tray of tomato seedlings in the growhouse, but none of the various pepper seeds have germinated. I didn't really expect the older seed to germinate, but the new little tester packs of mixed sweet peppers and a couple of different chillies should have been okay. Maybe the temperature in the growhouse is a bit too variable. Too late to resow now, as peppers really need a long growing season; I might have to buy in a couple of plants. The germination rate on the runner beans was low too, but that's okay, the germination rate on the French beans (bush and a few climbing from older seed) was great. The maincrop peas also completely failed. The seed was Hurst Greenshaft from 2 years ago, and it should still have been viable, but it just rotted, so I had to buy some more seed, (Ambassador and Vivado, since the local garden centre had sold out of Hurst) and the second sowing is just sprouting now. The earlier peas have some flowers on. The courgettes, bush and climbing beans and sweetcorn are all hardened off and waiting for me to clear some more ground, the brassicas ready to grow on, and there's the problem. The monster freestanding compost heap is at least a metre high, everything is growing like mad and the longer it takes me to dig the over the space, the more compostable material there is. Soon there will be nowhere to put it. Until, of course, it has rotted down to a beautiful rich loamy soil, and then there won't be enough of it!

As is traditional for the late May bank holiday, it poured with rain. A couple of days later, there was more rain, and spectacular thunderstorms. I lay in bed, cats snuggled against me, watching the light show outside while watching the lightning strikes appearing real time on a map (courtesy of LightningMaps.org). Since then I've only managed another couple of gardening sessions (although one was really just trying to get more bramble out rather than clearing space), it's been too wet to work. Then, last Monday's torrential rain (two inches in 24 hours!) gave way to a yellow warning of high winds on Tuesday (5-6 June), since when it's back to a spot of unsettled weather. The occasional fine half-day isn't enough to dry the soil enough to be able to work it. We needed the rain, but it's a bit all-or-nothing!

Compared to what I was used to, this space feels really small, so I shall need to get smarter about interplanting and catch-cropping. However small it feels, it's taking me forever to clear and prepare the soil. I think I've managed to clear a third of the veg area so far (because I'm also attacking the area for the flowers and herbs, which is roughly the same size, plus a 2 metre wide strip which is currently a gravel bed)

A good digging session will see about a square metre cleared; the turf taken off the top, deeper weeds dug out, hard pan broken up a bit and the various stones and bits of glass, plastic and other rubbish (most recently, the remains of a shoe!) taken out. On average, I think I manage about half a square metre at a time. But I shall clear the area, half a square metre at a time if needs be! Hopefully, it will stop raining for long enough for the soil to dry a bit and allow some more digging time!

Too much and not enough seems to be a theme at the moment. Not enough rain, then downpours. An area to clear which seems enormous, until the plants go in and eat up the space. Too much compostable material, taking a long time to create compost which will disappear across the space in no time at all. Even the cut-and-come-again salad crop doesn't come again fast enough, but I have really enjoyed being able to add my own crops, including some herbs and radishes, to my salad bowl, and love adding a mixed handful of home-grown chard, spinach and rocket to wilt down with pasta.

First garden salad of 2017 on 25 May
First garden salad of 2017, 25 May

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Spring Flowers without the April Showers

The April high pressure settled in and only gave way to rainy weather a few times, so it's been a dry, cool month. Ideal gardening weather, but I had to mostly sit it out for a couple of weeks to rest my back.

I gingerly planted the short rows of pea Early Onward and broad bean Bunyard's Exhibition, grown from small 'sample packs' of seeds, creating pea supports from some of the privet branches I'd stacked after hacking back the hedge in February. I found the back pain very limiting. The slightest bend, twist or stretch and my right quadratus lumborum (QL) would go into spasm. I did some seed sowing - more broad beans, peas, a trough of cut-and-come-again salad leaves, a cauldron of rainbow radishes, rainbow chard, more sweet peas, and resowed the beetroot, which hadn't germinated from the first sowing (probably too cold, and old seed). As I pottered, I reflected that if I was out of action for long because of my back, I wouldn't have the ground ready for any of this to go into.

Bed rest and gentle exercises seemed to help. I treated myself to a cheap 'growhouse' - a tubular metal frame with shelves, topped by a transparent plastic cover with a zipped 'door', it probably gets warmer in there for anything needing to be sown 'in heat' than if I put it in the house (even if I had the space on the window ledges, which I don't). Courgettes were the first of the tender seeds to be sown, along with some sunflowers and nasturtiums, more sweet peas, more broad beans and some peas.

A friend from Saundersfoot offered me a massage to help with the back. I hadn't seen her for a few years while life got a bit busy (although we keep in touch via Facebook - love it or hate it, it is good for that sort of thing!)  She was brilliant, finding and releasing lots of painful trigger points and making sure I was comfortable. What an angel! Although I still felt a bit sore for a couple of days, it really helped. Nearly a month after injuring myself, I still get the occasional twinge, but I thought I would be out of action for a lot longer.

25th April was quite a windy day when I went to Saundersfoot, and just as I was leaving, I heard a crash from the patio, and could see the growhouse had fallen over. Later, I found it had impaled itself on the buddleia. I put it upright, but it wouldn't stay up in the wind, and each time it flew a few feet and fell over, it landed on a different pot or shrub and the cover tore again. I left it for a few days (it rained hard on the 29th and was still a bit grey and drizzly on 1st May, despite a weather forecast for dry weather!) This past week has been quite nice and dry again, so I sorted out the growhouse, put it back together, mended the cover, re-potted the spilled and now sprouting seeds it contained. (Almost everything was okay, except for the peas, of which there was no trace at all!) Then I found some bubble-wrap to go around a paving slab, which I put in the centre of the bottom shelf. To hell with whatever the weight limit is supposed to be, try falling over with that weight in the base! It was tested by the extremely brisk easterlies a couple of days ago and stood firm. It now also contains sweetcorn, French and runner beans and Florence fennel.

During the couple of weeks I was 'resting', everything seemed to burst into bloom. The dandelions, which I had been persuaded to leave as an important nectar and pollen source for bees, flowered and burst into a sea of dandelion clocks with scarcely a bee visiting them. So much for that, the smart bees know there are much more interesting flowers to visit. The Clematis montana and the lilac look particularly gorgeous. The bugle I propagated last year has beautiful flower spikes. The aquilegias, which I had been digging up to pot on, suddenly put up flower spikes, and I realised how many had self-seeded across the back of the garden. They would completely collapse if I tried to move them now, and are in the way of the difficult terrain near the back fence, so it seemed like a good idea to go with the course of least resistance and clear some ground from the centre of the garden instead.

I started by digging up yet more blasted bramble, and just randomly dug around. As the dry spell continued, it has become easier and easier. The soil is still stony, so I'm still met with the 'thunk' of fork tines hitting stone, but there isn't so much of it. There are patches of hard pan, which needs a bit of work. There is also quite a lot of pea gravel, so it has been improved, probably by the original owners who were keen gardeners. Although the soil is obviously fertile, it is also obviously clay-based and could do with further improvement. I'm amazed by the amount of broken glass in the soil. I had expected to find greenhouse glass, as I'd been told panes were broken when they removed the old greenhouse with its warped frame. There is quite a lot of bottle glass too. I've also dug up more pendulous sedge, this time apparently planted with a bin bag around its roots, and there are all sorts of bits of plastic. But, on the bright side, no bones, bits of asbestos sheet, lengths of barbed wire or rusting chunks of farm machinery. Also, no stone axe heads, spindle whorls, coins, or buried treasure. But I have found a jingle-bell (which doesn't jingle, as it's full of mud), a blue seed-bead, a button and a bit of clay pipe-stem. Treasure enough!

While digging, I've been thinking about my technique. I used to be good at using both sides of my body evenly, standing square to my fork and not working to one side or twisted. Obviously I lost the knack in the few years when my knees were really badly painful and I stopped working the veg patch on the farm. So it has been good to do some mindful digging, reminding myself to correct my alignment, to use both hands. Between improved technique, less back pain, taking frequent rest breaks and lighter soil, I've found I am clearing the ground quite well. The area to be cleared still seems quite dauntingly large, although I know once I start planting, it won't seem big enough. Broad bean Express has lived up to its name and has now been planted out.

The problem with digging up all this turf and weeds (not to mention still trying to root out brambles) is that the freestanding compost heap is now a complete monster. I've been using turves to build walls to it, while loose weeds and kitchen waste go in the middle, adding accelerator every few inches.

The swifts arrived sometime around the 5th or 6th of May - I forgot to note the exact date, although I remembered thinking as I heard their excited squees as they scythed through the blue sky that they were a month later than the swallows. I'm making the most of the fine weather while it's here; I have a feeling this might be our summer!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Remembering 'Rhythmic Ginger' Adam Warne

Sometimes, thankfully not very often, someone comes into my life and then leaves it quite abruptly, and I find myself mourning their loss terribly and completely out of proportion to how well I knew them. The disproportionate grief is made even worse by the knowledge that it is utterly selfish self-pity. My potential friend has gone, not fair!

The latest was Adam Warne, known by many in the UK belly dance community (and elsewhere) as Rhythmic Ginger (the latter for the colour of his hair. I've never understood why red-haired people get teased and bullied. Red hair is beautiful.).

He was an awesome musician, particularly at home on drums, hence the belly dance link, but he was also a percussionist for the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds. He could pluck rhythms out of the air, weave them together, and make the drums talk, sing, whisper, sigh.

I grabbed an opportunity to go to his workshop with Josephine Wise on dancing to live drumming at a JWAAD Fantasia festival, and was delighted when my friend Rose invited him to come with Catherine Bartholomew as our 'visiting teachers' in February 2016. His love of drumming was tangible and infectious and he was a great teacher. I got so much out of those several hours of workshops, covering lots of rhythms, various middle eastern percussion instruments, different techniques for playing darbuka and frame drums, ergonomics for both dancing and drumming, and what to look for in a drum. I bought a frame drum from him, and treated myself to a new darbuka with my birthday money.

After my solo in the Saturday night showcase, he came up to me and complimented me on my dancing. He sees a lot of dance and dancers, so it meant a lot to me that he enjoyed my dance and thought it and my interpretation of the music were good.
It was a great weekend. We wanted him back for more workshops.

The shock and disbelief at the news that he had died suddenly in early April echoed around Facebook. We knew he'd been ill and had major surgery, but he seemed to be getting better. Then he died, apparently in his sleep, so we can hope it was peaceful. As the tributes and memories started to pour in, it became clear just how many lives he had touched, how well-known and loved he was. So many photos and stories of the bands he'd been in, holidays, his music and lyrics, his humour; so many friends, so many happy memories.

Another reminder, if any were needed, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, and you never know what will happen, so seize the day and live life to the full! I am so grateful for those workshops and the brief conversations I had with him.

Not being one for selfies, and concentrating on the workshop too much to take photos, all I had was some video of him summarising the day's workshop. So I took a still from that, while he was in full flow about the maqsoum rhythm and a framework for practice.
Adam Warne Rhythmic Ginger teaching Cardigan Small World Theatre February 2016
His funeral is next week on 4th May, a month from his death. As a Star Wars fan, I hope he's looking down on us and enjoying the joke. May the fourth be with you Adam, you already are and will be sorely missed.
Although I hardly knew you at all, it looks like you left the world a better place than you found it, as far as those who knew you are concerned. Goodbye, you lovely man.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Backbreaking Ground-breaking

The Spring Equinox arrived, and I really hadn't done much in the garden, nor been able to. Trying to hasten the end of the vile cold, and take advantage of a few fine, sunny days (high pressure and a chilly easterly wind, before the prevailing westerlies brought more of unsettled, grey, rainy weather), the garden called. Oh, the pleasure of being able to go out every day for a little garden fix! In the recent rainy weather, I really started to miss the polytunnel we'd had on the farm, where I could sit and sow seeds or pot up/on seedlings, warm and cosy while the rain came down outside.

I'd decided that, since I can't afford to deal with the structural elements of the garden, the main planning and framework could wait, since most of what I wanted to grow more or less come under the heading of annuals - in other words, vegetables. And for that, I would need to clear some ground of the weeds, omnipresent brambles, dandelions and a dense thatch of grass. Which meant that the compost heaps would need to be dealt with, ready for the mountain of grass and weeds to come.

The compost seemed like a big job, so I put it off in favour of a little light digging to clear a patch ready to take sunflowers, peas, beans, courgettes and whatever other vegetables I manage to grow. Working back from the rear fence seemed a good place to start. This is the area which was formerly under a Leylandii (probably)-topped earth bank, although you wouldn't know to look at it now and I wondered how long ago it had been done.

I found another couple of purple crocus had popped up where I'd removed a few previously, so I lifted these and potted them up for safe keeping and replanting. Last year, I'd found some gold-painted pebbles close to the patio and path, (where I'd also found a broken plastic label buried a few inches down which read 'Happy Mothers Day') and was amused to find another gold pebble with the crocuses.

A big clump of pendulous sedge came out easily enough, and appeared to have been planted with a plastic bag around its roots. Everything else was hard graft, and after an hour I had only managed an area approximately 1 x 0.5 metre. This is a heavy, stony soil, so I'm not digging in the usual sense, using a spade and making decisions about whether to double-dig or not (I wish!). I could scarcely get the fork in 10 centimetres (four inches) before hitting stones and it soon became clear that it was not just natural stone. Bits of concrete, broken brick, glass (lots), tile and pot, odd bits of plastic - basically, household and building rubble, which I removed as I found it, separating the glass from the rubble into a separate pot. Oh dear, it is going to be a long, hard job.

The last Sunday in March, when the clocks changed to British Summer Time, spurred me into a flurry of garden activity. I bought a load of bagged up, 'bare root' style perennials very cheaply from Lidl, bought bags of compost and potted them up. Then, since I had already had a few attempts at getting the buddleias out from under the washing line, I had another go at them, determined to get them out before the weather broke, as the soil would get wetter again. The soil is so claggy, it sticks to everything and seems to pull against the thing you want to dig up. It has been getting drier and easier to work, but it was hard work just getting the smaller of the two buddleias out.

After much digging and cussing, I wrestled the larger buddleia out, leaving broken bits of root somewhere in the depths of the earth. I had to cut the roots back further to get it into the enormous pot I'd prepared for it. It remains to be seen whether the buddleias cope with the move.

I continued to tackle the ground-breaking in small steps, gaining less than a 50 centimetre square patch for an hour's work, ending up with more by way of weeds, rubble and glass than seemed possible for the area cleared.

On 2nd April, I decided that the compost really needed to be done, so most of bin 3 was emptied into 3 empty compost sacks and a selection of pots, ready for use. The contents of bins 2 and 1 went into the emptied bin 3, and then bin 1 got a mix from the top of the free-standing heap, while bin 2 got mostly slightly older stuff from lower down the free-standing heap, which cleared most of the heap, but left a layer of perhaps 20 centimetres. Oh my, the number of worms in the heaps now is wonderful! (I even disturbed some making more worms, oops, sorry wormies!)

7th April: the first week zipped by and I had still not got some good clear space to plant the first batch of peas and broad beans. I had another go near the back fence, then tackled a large dock in the grass nearby. despite dry-ish weather, it was like digging into a wet sump. I didn't manage to get the whole root out, but hopefully enough of it to put it off growing again.

The weather was lovely, and it was a pleasure to work outside with the occasional peacock, small tortoiseshell or orange tip flitting by and a red kite flying over for the second time that week, much to the disgust of the local seagulls. I potted on and tidied up the lemon and olive trees, taking off the first two lemons and reflecting that small things like that make me so happy.

I dug up and transplanted the fuchsias which were coming up out of the grass. Where the wet grass had lodged against the main stems, the bark just sloughed off as I tried to separate them from the grass and bramble which was coming up through them. The three plants I thought there were turned out to be five, though whether any will survive the move ...?

I keep finding bits of plant label for the garden thug campanula. (How many of the wretched things did they plant? One is more than enough! The same goes for the crocosmia. I'd toyed with the idea of interplanting something with crocosmia in the front garden, but I can see it doesn't grow like that - it spreads to form dense patches. Anything planted with it wouldn't stand a chance, even the campanula!

All this exertion called for a sit down with a glass of water, and I watched Mr Blackbird attacking a pot's contents. I went to have a look at what was so interesting. The primula in the pot was not looking well, and there was no sign of the hyacinth which was supposed to be in the pot with it. Emptying the pot out revealed several vine weevil grubs, which were duly squished and left for the birds to clean up, should they so desire. Blasted things.

I went into the front garden to have a dig there. I started attacking an area of old grassy thatch and peeled back the 'turf' to find loads of grubs and caterpillars. Each bit of grass I got up revealed more. It looks like I have an infestation of vine weevils and cutworms, with the occasional chafer grub thrown in for good measure. Much as I love moths, this number of caterpillars is excessive and between them and the weevil larvae, nothing would grow. Something will have to be done.

As I tidied the tools back into the garden cupboard, I wondered when the swallows would return and though my mind might be playing tricks when I heard 'chi-deep, chi-deep!' I looked around, but saw nothing. Then again, an excited 'chi-deep, chi-deep!' and a couple of swallows tore past. They're back! Poor things, it's still quite cold.

A couple of days later, and some more digging up near the back fence, slowly but surely a couple of metres by perhaps 1 metre, large enough to put the first few peas and beans in. Such slow and heavy work, my back really ached and I had to have a hot bath and early night. Around three in the morning, I awoke in agony, my right quadratus lumborum, (the square-ish/rectangular muscle which connects the top of the pelvis to the bottom of the ribs at the back between spine and waist) was in spasm, and I found I was doing involuntary hip lifts as the contracting muscle lifted my hip up to my ribs. I'd obviously strained it while digging and reaching mostly with my right hand, and it was rebelling. Cursing, stretching, massaging it and doing some mindful breathing, accompanied by concerned, purring cats, got me back to sleep again, but it's been a really painful three days of rest since then.

It looks like gardening might be unwise for a while, just when a spell of nice April high pressure, dry, sunny, cold weather is forecast. Perhaps I should somehow find a catapult, collect some of the vine weevil and moth grubs and fire them into the air for passing swallows, although they haven't been much in evidence since their appearance last week, because with the cold wind, they could surely use the extra food after their long journey back to us.

Still, I have fresh lemons for my favourite drink, so it could be worse.


Friday, 24 March 2017

Mindful Meditation and the Common Cold

Why is it that, when you have something to do, somewhere to go, some anticipated event or just some happy holiday time to spend in serious lazing about, a cold makes an appearance? I've been lucky this winter, successfully fighting off a couple of incipient colds, but this one has descended on me with a vengeance, making me feel ill and irritable. If the old saying 'Three days coming, three days here, three days going' is correct, then it is now here, although I have already had a rough couple of days. It's not due to start going until Sunday, which means I'm not going to be on top form for the belly dance party on Saturday evening. If it weren't for the fact that I have offered lifts to others and have some pre-loved clothing to sell in aid of Medecins Sans Frontieres, I would consider cancelling. Yes, I feel that poorly!

I nipped out yesterday to buy a stack of menthol and eucalyptus sweets and treated myself to a sandwich while gazing out at the Cleddau from Brunel Quay. The tide was heading out, and there was a lot of water in the river, running very fast, but otherwise not a lot to see. I felt a bit better for a little while, but decided to get home before the next wave of sneezing and coughing made my driving too erratic for safety.

I'm half-way through a 6 week mindfulness course (run by Mindful Future Wales, a local CIC), thinking that it would round-out and gap-fill my existing practice (which it is). Last week, we covered Compassionate Acceptance, so I thought it would be a really good time to practise a little mindful meditation on accepting that I have a cold and, while I can't change that, I can change how I feel about it.

So, settle and focus on the breath.
Yes, it would be nice to be able to breathe normally. How can a nose be blocked and dripping at the same time? My head feels as though it's full of heavy cotton wool, my eyes stream as if I'm crying and I can scarcely keep them open.
Re-focus, breathe. Shut your eyes, it's okay.
I have to breathe through my mouth. My mouth and throat become dry and a tickly cough starts.
Take a sip of water, have a cough sweet. Breathe. Relax.
My nose is dripping onto my front. I wonder if it's possible to tie a handkerchief, like an under-nose face veil, to catch it?
Nothing needs to be fixed. Let it be.
I feel a tingle in my nose and grab a handful of tissues just in time to catch the outflow from a series of gargantuan, bladder control-defying sneezes, which leaves me shaking and groggy. I have a splitting headache.
You're okay. It's just a cold. Everyone gets them from time to time. It's here to give your immune system a workout, then it will go. It's a signal to be kinder to yourself.
Yes, indeed. And the kindest thing I can do at this moment is to make a mug of hot lemon juice and honey, and retire to bed early.

Well, that was yesterday. I slept for nearly twelve hours (again - third time this week!). I still feel ill. This morning, the sun is shining, it looks beautiful out there. I shall do a little meditation on my patio swing-seat, then do some digging, where my nose can drip away onto the earth and I can sneeze or cough without making the furniture rattle. Then a hot bath can sort out any aches and pains.
Isn't this self-indulgence?
No, it's self-kindness, giving yourself what you need to feel better sooner.
I find myself re-reading what I've written, stuck.
Go on out, enjoy the sunshine; it will do you good!