One potato, two potato, three potato, four – million!

Potato

It seems like an age ago that the little, wizened seed potatoes with their weird white sprouts and spooky rootlets were carried down to the allotment in their cosy egg-box homes and planted in the cold, dark soil.

That couple of dozen of the ugly little lumps were left to their own devices and the Calverley elements. Though after last year’s potato paucity, I was taking no chances and offered a prayer to the weather gods and made a ceremonial sacrifice of one of their number to Blighty, the Blight Destroyer, which involved robes, candles, chanting and a sharp spade.

It’s year three of our allotment, and it’s fair to say lessons continue to be learned. Who knew that dwarf beans weren’t just small beans, but small plants and didn’t need a splendid wigwam of two-metre-high canes with artistically-arranged strings? And what were the odds of pigeons pecking the tops of everything that wasn’t covered? And just how much damage could a badger do to a seed bed?

With my artist’s head on, I’m telling anyone who’s prepared to listen without bursting into hysterical laughter that the wigwam is a feature in the allotment, adding balance, depth and sound, with the breeze making gentle hissing sound through the string. The pecked leaves are fractals, each unique, yet ephemeral. The neat rows of seedlings re-distributed by the digging badger are a metaphor for the world of 2017, unpredictability and chaos, yet still with hope that something will grow somewhere……No-one has believed me so far.

As the potatoes sent up their stalk, leaves, flowers and faux tomatoes, yes, potato fruits are like tomatoes, though not to be eaten, the rest of the allotment burst into life. The broad beans just keep on giving, the strawberries were fantastic fresh and live on as jam, and the second harvest of golden raspberries is nearly ready. Broccoli, sprouts and cabbage are on their way, beetroot and onions keep on giving. The dwarf beans are disappointingly small.

Fun though the rest are to harvest, the most rewarding of all is definitely the humble potato. In the intervening months, those wizened seed potatoes had cast off their scruffy jackets and transformed into not just one, but dozens, possibly millions, of potatoes. I claim a little artistic licence here. It’s not like onions, where you plant a little mini onion and it grows to be a bigger onion, potatoes multiply like Hydra’s heads. In goes the fork, our come the potatoes, it’s so fantastic that I have to exclaim and chuckle with every potato I unearth. Noel tends to wear noise-cancelling headphones at potato harvest time.

And there we have it, two piles of potatoes, one perfect, the other with feature holes and other insect nibblings. But never fear, the perfect ones go into our magic black keeping bin for consumption right through the winter, which if the current weather is anything to go by, starts next week. The holey ones become chips for freezing, slices for Lyonnaise, little cubes for roasting, or just mash. Happy, happy days.

A swim in the Irish Sea

 

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More than a toe in the Irish Sea

 

According to Maika, in Japan if the sea temperature plunges below 23C, competitive swimming is called off. Oh dear, I told her, if that were the case here in the north of England, we’d never go near the sea.

We were on our way to the Wrong Side of the Pennines for ridiculously inexpensive Blackpool Airshow 10km (£1 a mile, that’s my kind of entry fee) and had promised our Japanese friend that we’d swim in the sea afterwards. Not competitively, just for fun, so her 23C rule didn’t apply.

I wasn’t sure how wise a promise that was as I well remembered childhood holidays to Blackpool when the Irish Sea was so cold it was like grabbing hands squeezing the life out of my skinny little legs. I couldn’t wait to get out and resume my futile quest to build a sandcastle that would withstand the advancing tide, I don’t need to tell you how that panned out. Remembering the cold, I did wonder about purchasing a wet suit or maybe a dry suit for this little swim, but was pretty sure that would be seen as being over the top.

Maika is earning her Yorkshire stripes, having eaten mucky fat and Fat Rascals, supped real ale and gained her certificate in Intermediate Tyke, mastering weather-related phrases including ‘it’s coming down like stair rods’ when it’s raining hard and ‘I’m nithered’, meaning it’s rather cold. We’d warned her that the water may not be near 23C, in fact a nithering 13C was a more realistic temperature. She confesses she’s nesh (soft), or certainly was before her stay in God’s Own County, there has been a certain amount of acclimatisation to our soggy, cool climate.

With the run done, we picked up our swimming costumes and skipped down to the sea, the tide was on its way in so we made sure our dry clothes were on the sea wall, I didn’t fancy seeing my underwear bobbing up and down on the waves as they made their way across the Irish Sea.

Maika and Noel were straight in, none of this splashy-splashy toe-in, toe-out faffing. In fact I was a little worried that they’d set off to swim all the way to Ireland, Maika is a seriously good swimmer and I wouldn’t put it past her to have a go, if only to rescue our clothes if they were washed away.  I watched, I had an excuse, I had the camera. But being a gentleman, Noel came back and offered to hold the camera so that I didn’t miss out. Gee, thanks…

But as it turned out, the water was rather warm and the swimming was lovely. Unfortunately the advancing tide had its eye on our dry clothes and we had to head back pretty sharp. I could have stayed in for hours, well, several minutes at least, but it certainly made me want to swim in the sea again, which is just as well, because we’ve promised to take Maika to swim in as much of the water around the UK as we can – plus the inland lakes. Maybe that wetsuit isn’t such a bad idea after all..

 

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Me NOT going in the sea when I was a lass

 

 

 

Always a friend

Wendy.jpg

I remember seeing Wendy tearing open a pile of little brown envelopes and money tumbling out. These were her winnings from the Harrogate Flower Show, where her daffodils and tulips had come first, second and third. There was even a trophy to add to the other trophies she’s had over the years.
Her flowers were always amazing, but she was quite modest about it, as if anyone could cultivate such perfection and beauty. She not only grew flowers, she knew them, Latin or common names, show her a plant and she could tell you what it was, give her a palette and a brush and she could paint it for you too.
Wendy, who passed away on Saturday, was my mother-in-law, she was also my friend. I’ve known her for about 18 years and the more I got to know her, the more I admired her.
We’d regularly turn up at their Wakefield home to find it full of their friends and family, eating something delicious that she would whip up, just like that. She was used to mass catering with five children and their families. Though more often than not they were not at home, usually not in the country, gallivanting off to foreign parts in pursuit of something horticultural.  We’d find out where they were when we got a postcard.
They’d head for the mountains, seeking out rare daffodils and tulips in their native habitat. With James, her husband, not being that keen on heights, she’d trot off up something scary to investigate and report back. Or they’d be at the Chelsea Flower Show, or giving talks just about anywhere in the country, or visiting friends, or having yet another adventure.
She was a voracious reader and writer, penning many articles particularly for horticultural publications. She was interested in everything, with eclectic tastes, including classical and rock music and old Mr Chuckletrousers himself Leonard Cohen.
We’d regularly get an envelope through the mail, addressed in her beautiful flowing hand, inside would be a newspaper clipping, or recipe, or article she thought we’d be interested in, we always were.
She also delighted in the world around her. I remember us taking the pair of them to the French Alps via the beautiful floral town of Yvoire. She walked around smiling serenely at the blaze of colours and heady perfumes of the flowers.
They have lived in the Wakefield house for nearly 50 years, spending thousands of hours on the massive, sloping garden, it was hard work. I remember once seeing Wendy yank up something with a huge tap root, it took some doing, but came up twisted through a dog’s skull. Ah yes, she said, it was a neighbour’s dog buried there many years ago, adding matter-of-factly that it was good for the soil.
The last time I saw Wendy, it was a couple of weeks ago, we’d called in to help with the gardening, which she always found amusing as the gardening gene certainly missed Noel, he says it brings him out in hives, I think it’s just an excuse. She was sitting reading, making plans, looking forward to yet more adventures.
Yes, she was my mother-in-law, but she was always my friend. I can’t believe she’s gone, I’ll miss her terribly.

Yorkshireness on Yorkshire Day

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Atop Malham Cove

August 1 is Yorkshire Day. It’s not an official holiday, not yet anyway, but it’s only a matter of time. When that happens, the white rose flag will be flying from every pole in the county and saluted by the doffing of flat caps and exclamation of ‘sithee’ before retiring to a local hostelry in the hope of someone else buying the first round.

Yorkshire is the largest county in the UK, nudging County Durham in the north and Derbyshire in the south, with the Pennines, the spine of England, separating us from rainy Lancashire. We have two national parks of our own, the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, and a share of the Peak District National Park. We have two World Heritage Sites at Fountains Abbey and Saltaire and an Area of Outstanding National Beauty in Nidderdale. The Museums of the Year this year (the Hepworth) and 2014 (Yorkshire Sculpture Park). Not that I’m bragging or anything.

There’s a lot of Yorkshire on the large and small screen, including Harry Potter, Calendar Girls and the Full Monty and of course the popular Emmerdale, Heartbeat and Downton Abbey. Famous Tykes include the Brownlee brothers, Geoff Boycott (that’s Sir Geoffery to you) , David Hockney, Henry Moore, Dame Barbara Hepworth, Corinne Bailey Rae, Ed Sheeran and the Arctic Monkeys. Not forgetting Dame Judy Dench, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean. Oh I could go on – it’s a Yorkshire trait, but I won’t show off too much, because we’re humble, us Yorkshire folk. But you get the picture, and what a picture it is.

Yorkshire Day isn’t really that ancient, it only started in 1975 as a way of cocking a snook to the re-organisation of local government which tried to tell us that Yorkshire wasn’t one big county. Now, each year, there’s a bit of a do with every expense spared, we like to look after our pennies, we do and then chunter about the cost, one of our mottos is ‘how much?’ repeated at least twice, getting louder each time.

My friend Maika now proudly tells anyone who cares to ask that she’s from Yorkshire. Rightly so, she’s thinking of establishing a Yorkshire enclave in her second home of Japan. To celebrate this transition to Tykeness, we presented her with a white rose Buff, Yorkshire flag and copy of The Dalesman, the quaint publication that used to be found in doctors’ waiting rooms and took her to the Yorkshire Dales.

As we picked her up, she dodged the raindrops and announced it was ‘coming down like stair rods’, adding, with that dour Yorkshire tone we have taught her so well, ‘but it’ll burn off’. And so it did and we celebrated in style, with a mug of tea and slice of cake on top of Malham Cove. Yorkshire, there’s nowhere like it.

The Great De-Cluttering

 

Wardrobe
The massive middle section

The house has been in chaos for what seems like months now. First the old windows were ripped out and replaced, then the kitchen was ripped out and replaced. There was a lot of ripping out and replacing going on. Nothing was where it should be, boxes of who-knows-what were piled up randomly, dust was everywhere and the cats were so stressed out, they needed counselling.

Noel must have been affected by the solvent fumes because as he stepped over all the leftover plinths, flooring and architraves stacked in the spare bedroom because he announced that we should prolong the chaos and have built-in wardrobes the full four-metre length of the wall. That would be some storage space, Noel could even sleep in there if he misbehaved, not that that happens very often.

On the plus side, 17 years’ worth of clutter could be cunningly hidden behind floor to ceiling sliding doors, on the minus side, all the clutter would have to be sorted, moved and moved back. Plus we were looking after the contents of a friend’s flat as he took a cycling sabbatical and that too was stacked up in the spare room.

He argued that another month or so of not being able to find anything would be worth it, we’d be de-cluttered. The cats weren’t so sure and I had my doubts, especially as we seemed to have so much stuff. Good grief, where did it all come from and why did we keep it? Do I really need every birthday card I ever had (that’s a lot of card) and every newspaper cutting I’ve ever written, hell, yes, that’s proper history, that is!

We got to be on first name terms with the guys at the tip, our trips there were frequent. Leeds City Council has a superb re-cycling set-up ensuring the minimum goes into landfill, we are now experts on what goes into which skips. The local charity shops also welcome us with open arms and a cup of tea, though heaven knows what they make of our eclectic tastes.

Our personal joiner (as we now like to think of him) did a superb job, though it was touch and go getting the three huge doors up the stairs and manoeuvring them around the corner into the room. At one point I thought we’d have to move the wardrobe to the landing which would have been a bit of a squeeze. But then it was done. The clutter decanted and the doors closed.

Now, about the wardrobes in our room, they’re looking as if they’ve passed their sell-by date. I feel more chaos approaching….

 

Pumps. That’s what we ran in. Pumps.

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Pumps. That’s what we ran in when I was a lass. Pumps. Thin white canvas glued to a cardboard last and a thin rubber sole with a fancy bit of border to hide the seal, unless they came from the cheap stall on Dewsbury Market. Mine came from the cheap stall so I’d to be careful not to break them, which was zero chance really.

The only way to keep them in their pristine white condition was a thin, white paint. It was the forerunner of the new-fangled non-drip sponge applicators and unlike them, applied as much of the stuff to hands, face, legs and best kitchen lino. I was permanently white, except for the tide mark around my neck and the bits behind my ears. If you didn’t get dirty playing out, then you weren’t having enough fun in my book.

They looked magnificent in their white whiteiness, but as soon as the laces were pulled through the eyelets, the whole lot cracked and fell to the ground like a giant shell. Still, it didn’t affect their performance, I was a slow runner then and I am now. But in their favour, they only cost half a crown, or 12.5p in new money. Yes, it was a long time ago.

Sadly now, there’s not a pair of pumps to be seen, unless you count the Dunlop Green Flash, which is sold as ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’. I saw a posting on a runners’ forum by a guy who said he’d done a 100-mile ultra in a pair and had to have his feet cut out at the end.  Well, that was a waste of good money, that was!

My beloved Salomon Scream trail shoes, which were not cheap, have finally given up the ghost. They’ve seen me through many a mile of mud, streams, forest floors, canal towpaths and, of course, poo. I have three pairs of Salomon trail shoes, ranging from Speedcross, which scythe through mud and peat, bounce off rocks and help form a very special kind of blister, S-Labs, which were eye-wateringly expensive but are comfortable and great for long runs (plus, they are red) and the not-very-off-road-but-too-rough-for-road-shoes Screams which serve me for the training treks through the local woods. Sadly the Screams have screamed their last.

It is all very well ordering replacements over the internet, but there’s nothing like shopping locally and getting the benefit of a good piece of Yorkshire advice, whether you want it or not. Plus, the internet doesn’t know your feet and you never know quite what you’re going to get.  I’d learned this the hard way earlier this year when I ordered replacements for my favourite Asics road shoes. The model had changed and they didn’t fit, yes I could return them, but I’d run in them already, deluding myself they fitted. Thankfully the Complete Runner at Ilkley had the answer, free Yorkshire advice, I’ve loved them ever since.

The choice of running shoes is overwhelming and the prices that go with them unbelievable, none of your half-crown Dewsbury Market pumps there. It turned out that Asics did some rather nice purple shoes, which go well with my hair and club colours. Oh and yes, they fitted very well and were nearly half the price of the Screams, which the unassuming footwear-fitter said he’d only wear in the car going to and from a race. You don’t get that kind of advice from your internet supplier. He offered me a Gore-Tex version but then said he’d only wear them for faffing around in the garden, pointing out that once the water was in, it couldn’t easily get out. I agreed.

So now we’ve had torrential rain, the mud will be nicely sticky, just right to try these beauties out….

Who’s the coolest?

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The Dutch, the coolest at RIAT?

Even before we reached the showground the sky was blasted by the sounds of screeching and ripping, aviation fumes permeated the air and there was a strong whiff of testosterone. While I never actually heard anyone say, ‘Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast’, I know that’s what they were thinking, in many languages.

The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford is one of the biggest displays of air power, hardware, software, one-piece flight suits and embroidered squadron badges this side of Moscow. Air forces from all over the world come to strut their stuff on the ground and in the air. It’s an impressive and rather scary sight.

If Noel was to appear on Mastermind, his specialist subject would be aircraft. Any aircraft, any era, any country. His knowledge is encyclopaedic, he can tell an aircraft just by the smell. Given that he has spent many any hour accompanying me in pursuit of my specialist subject, shopping (any era, any country), I couldn’t say no to a day looking at planes, plus there was a rumour that Maverick may be there.

We went with a couple of friends, Chris is a former RAF engineer, another self-confessed lover of all things aviation, and his wife Jane, who, on balance, probably prefers shopping, but she’d heard the Maverick rumour.

While the boys talked planes, we compared the different airmen to determine who was the coolest, purely in the interest of research, there may be a PhD in it. Somewhere along the line there will be a Coolness Scale, but at this evidence-gathering stage, we were just observing and taking notes. Here’s our findings.

The Americans were garrulous and polite, they had great teeth and top-of-the-range Ray-Bans, their F-16s where rather impressive, but very showy. The Brits were chatty, helpful and frightfully polite. The French had that Gallic shrug after screeching through the sky in their Mirages, but no, none of these were the coolest. The Danes came close to being the coolest, they were based in Greenland and had a very shiny plane. The Germans had magnificent helicopters which were very cool indeed. The Belgians got a special award from us for the uncoolest hats, red, white and blue berets balanced on their heads to outshine the regulation khaki, what WERE they thinking?

Anyone piloting a Spitfire or a Lancaster is automatically cool and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight must have blown up some fine dust as I certainly had something in my eye…The Red Arrows knocked everything else into the Vauxhall Conference League, they are pure class, there is no better flying team, anywhere. Fact. But they weren’t the coolest, not quite.

On the ground, the coolness award went to the Dutch, they sat on the top of their plane and played rock music through loudspeakers, they clearly know how to party.

But Top of the Cool Pops was the Italian Air Force whose C27-J Spartan took to the skies and did things an unwieldy propeller plane had no business doing,  Looping the loop, banking, and all without spilling their rather fine espresso. Yes, Italian Air Force, it’s official, you are the coolest, well, in my book anyway.

Unfortunately, Maverick didn’t show, he was buzzing the tower somewhere, so I had to make do with coming home and watching Top Gun, for the 50th time, I’ve certainly not lost that lovin’ feeling…..