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.

Smile like you mean it….

 

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The lovely Christine

 

There are some races I’d much rather photograph than run, especially when, as we say in Yorkshire, it’s cracking the flags. Give me the cold and wet any day, especially when there’s mud, you can’t go wrong with a bit of mud.

The popular Leeds 10k was set up by Superwoman Jane Tomlinson, who fought a massive and brave battle against cancer, raising £1.85m before she died ten years ago. Each year thousands pound the pavements and roads between the city centre and Kirkstall. It’s a magnificent sight, which Noel and I like to support.

I take my camera, little wooden Ikea step to stand on, a good supply of water and a couple of Yorkshire flags. And my shouting voice, actually, I take that everywhere.

The beauty of not being any kind of official photographer is that I can take any photo I like, I’m not bound to snap snap snap. I do like to take arty shots, shapes and shadows, taking advantage of the angle of the sun and all that. Sunday was particularly good for sunshine and shadow, the runners looked like they had a golden outline, their shadows a mini version, joined at the feet.

By the time they reached us just beyond the 4km mark, the sun was high and the heat was rising from the black tarmac. Not many of the runners looked as if they were enjoying themselves, I didn’t blame them.

I do have a golden rule when photographing runners, I won’t upload any shot that will make anyone look terrible. It was a bit of a challenge with everyone looking so hot and bothered, so I had to resort to my secret weapon, shout something silly, make people smile. Actually, it’s not too secret a weapon, silliness would be my middle name, if I had one.

There’s always the added advantage that I know quite a few runners in the city, so calling their name and cheering them on usually brings a smile and I’m pretty certain they mean it. Then there are the folk who recognise me, there was more than one ‘Hello Mrs parkrun!’.

At one point my steps came in handy for a couple who needed a rest, and I did come to the rescue of a superhero who was rapidly dehydrating in his rubber suit. Well, they don’t get any sun in Gotham City, Batman should have known better.

I posted the best photos to Facebook, the others, I just deleted! Have a look and see what you think.

Rubbing the dockleaf

Country

Race routes are often like a little present for me, handing out surprise hills, cheeky little corners, the odd river crossing. But most of the time, it’s all there on a map, should I choose to consult one and if it’s the right way up and if I have my glasses. Anyway on the day there are friendly marshals on every corner assuring us that we’re ‘nearly there’, even when we’ve just set off. I suppose that there’s some truth in that, every step from the start is a step nearer the finish.

Usually, I just turn up and run, following everyone else because I know that chances of everyone following me are next to zero unless, of course, the are lost, and then we’re all doomed!

But the rather excellent Country Trail Series of self-guided races throws in a bit of jeopardy. You just turn up, get your instructions and run. No chip timing, no mass start, just pay your fiver in the pub where the organisers give you your number and instructions and off you go.

There is no map, which I’m quite relieved about, I can’t see the damned thing without my glasses anyway and I can’t run in my glasses, so that whole glasses on/glasses off thing is just too much of a faff. Instead, the instructions are written in a code, with the cipher at the start,. Fortunately it’s also on 14pt so even I can read it.

It’s a bit like one of those Magic Eye things popular in the 90s, look at it long enough and it makes sense. So TL out of the car park, go SA to the FPS now makes total sense, and as did turn left, go straight ahead and found the footpath sign. Personally, I’d navigate by coloured doors, pretty gardens, pubs and even fields with bulls, but that’s just me.

Our Japanese friend Maika was initially perplexed by the instructions, she confessed she could never follow those instructions. She wasn’t on her own, we did come across a couple of speedy runners twice, they pretended they’d taken the scenic route, but we know better, don’t we?

Our race last night was over in the east of Leeds, somewhere I’d never been before, so it was a pleasure to see new sights and even more so to point them out to Maika who is well on her way to becoming a true Yorkshire woman. She learned about dung heaps, we passed a steaming one, local crops, including wheat, barley and potatoes, noted the livestock and the very obvious difference between a bull and a cow and picked up the handy tip about rubbing nettle stings with a dockleaf.

We ran in a group of six, stopping to take photos and admire the view, then ambled to the finish where, best of all, we swapped our race numbers for a £2 beer (or soft drink) voucher and ordered chips. Definitely my kind of race!

Jam today, and tomorrow, and the next day

 

Jam
Home-made jam, home-baked rye bread and strawberries from the allotment. Yum.

 

The allotment looks like it’s covered by a red haze, there’s tons strawberries and raspberries.  Such an abundance of fruit, there’s a very real danger of me eating so many, I’ll have the belly ache of all belly aches, maybe even raspberry poops.

Now I need to avoid the above, but, being a Yorkshire lass, I can’t let it go to waste. Yes, I can hand out punnets to unsuspecting passers-by, and believe me I do, but the allotment just keeps on giving. So, inspired by a couple of friends who enjoy their fruit all-year round, I decided I’d follow their example and have a go at making jam.

There’s no jam heritage in my family, it was always Robertson’s damson from Lion’s Stores. I must have eaten a lot of the stuff because I collected the stickers from each jar and for the price of a stamped, addressed envelope, I received a ‘Golly’. A little enamel badge of a black-faced, curly-haired, thick-lipped man playing a trumpet, or a banjo, or some other instrument. I saw nothing wrong with that then, I was a child and everyone was the same to me (other than Mrs Pell, the Dinner Lady from Hell, who made me eat the peppery, watery mashed potatoes, I hoped she had raspberry poops).

I did progress in jam tastes, but never found the sweet, sticky stuff to be anything special, certainly nothing to write home about, so the idea of making it was more of an experiment that anything else.

Making jam is incredibly easy, fruit, sugar, boiling and a bit of a faff with sterilising jars. The first effort was with gooseberries, there’s lots of those on the allotment, they’re usually snaffled by the resident badgers, but I beat them to it. The berries magically turned from green to red after the great boiling. I have no explanation for why that happened, but it happens to everyone. The result was rather good, it was time to try it with strawberries.

All I can say is, wow. W. O. W. The flavour is intense, like nothing I’ve ever tasted in a jam context. If Noel hadn’t spotted me, I’d have just eaten the lot straight from the jar. As it was I scooped up the drips on my plate with my fingers. Honestly, I’m salivating writing this, in fact, hang on a minute, I’ve just got to nip to the kitchen…..

So that’s Christmas presents sorted, and birthdays, provided the jars last that long. For as long as the allotment keeps on giving, it’ll be jam today, jam tomorrow and, if I have anything to do with it, jam every day after.

A certain pride in my city

Aliblog

 

At the risk of being accused of as a lackey for the Leeds Tourist Office, can I just say that I am so bursting with pride over my city that I think I may go ‘pop’?

Them there southerers don’t often let world championship events escape north of Watford, let alone to the badlands of Yorkshire, unless it’s snooker and that gets as far as Sheffield (and the best green snooker table in the world cloth is made in Leeds, don’t you know).

But for the second year running we (I do like to talk about ‘we’, I am a ratepayer after all) welcomed the World Triathlon Championships to Leeds. I’m not a triathlete, unless it’s running, shopping and faffing, but I have friends who are and it’s great to see them enjoying their sport, and be grateful I’m not doing it.

Then there are the elite athletes, they swim with hardly a splash, cycle without squeaking wheels and run without touching the ground, or so it seems. I do always tell anyone who’s prepared to listen and even some who aren’t, that I have raced against the Brownlee brothers, a couple of times, in fact, in the Chevin Chase and the Auld Lang Syne fell race. I needn’t relate here how that ended, except to say they’d been home to change and eat a three-course meal before returning to hand out prizes.

This weekend, the weekend after a very strange week for all the voting public, enthusiasts and serious athletes got the chance to race in our city and not discuss politics. They were all magnificent, and so was Leeds, from the choppy Roundhay Park Lake where swans cast a puzzled glance at the swimmers sharing the water with them, to the city centre where tens of thousands of people cheered and cheered and cheered. Our Japanese friend shouted encouragement to the Japanese team, the couple next to us called out to the Mexican runner in his native tongue and I yelled for the Irish runner, to be sure.

But the biggest, loudest and most partisan cheer from the crowd was reserved for the Brownlee brothers. They’d already featured on the large screens, entertaining the crowds with their starring role in the advert for Yorkshire Tea, though I think they’d better stick to the day job!

The course was designed so we saw them seven times on the bike and four times as they ran, crossing over the commemorative start line for the Grand Depart, Yorkshire’s Tour de France triumph in 2014.  The Brownlees were always way out in front, which we definitely appreciated.

Another fantastic sporting event for our wonderful city, I was so proud. There’s talk of a return next year. Rude not to, I’d say.

Resurrection of the squashed seedlings

Round.CR2

There’s no polite way to say this, Socks Akers has a fat backside. Six kilos of cat nearly put paid to my part in creating a living, breathing, flowering, fruiting art installation.

I’d agreed to foster 60 seedlings, destined to join 2,440 others in a stunning art installation at Left Bank, Leeds. It was a simple task, plant bean, beetroot, sweetcorn and sunflower seeds in little peat pots and keep them safe for a couple of weeks, water them, watch them grow and return them to their pals. They were very happy in the greenhouse, then the great hunk of black and white fur decided he needed a new place to sleep.

So an emergency trip to the shops later and I was re-potting the pots and giving Socks the evil eye. The seedlings were safe, a little wonky maybe, but most art is a bit wonky, except Mondrian, no wonkiness there.

The 2,500 seedlings were placed in a huge circle in the middle of the huge former church, where they have become Anastasis, an immersive installation representing life and resurrection, somewhere to sit, walk, reflect, enjoy, listen, yes listen, there’s even birdsong. It’s rather lovely.

The seedlings continue to grow in their circle, unimpeded by cats. At the end of the week. Earth Day, the circle will be broken and they will all be offered new homes. I’ll be taking a few, they’ll have pride of place in the allotment.

Lower

 

An arty cat, in his own words

This is Socks Akers, I’m his human. He wants me to tell you that he is a very arty cat. Personally I think he’s more farty than arty, but it’s a free country, for the moment anyway, and every cat has his day. Today it’s Socks’, so here we go.

“I prefer to be known as His Royal Catness, The Great Hunter, Eater of All Things, Except When I Change My Mind and Turn My Back On It, Master of All I Survey, Especially From the Shed Roof, Digger-Up of the Garden, Jumper Upper onto the Wardrobe, Handsomest Cat Ever, but you can call me Sir.

“My life is good. It wasn’t good to start. I played in the road, the car didn’t want to play. I don’t like cars or roads any more, though I’ve learned to tolerate vets. But what the heck is it with the thermometer up the bum? The indignity of it all, don’t they know I’m His Royal Catness? The Royal Bottom is not to be messed with.

“I spent some time in a Cat Rescue, of course I was better than all the other cats there, I had my own throne. Fortunately for them there were a couple of humans I liked, so I chose them and let me take them to their home, I mean my home.

“It’s tough being a cat, seriously it is, you have no idea how hard it is to look good all the time, even when I’m sleeping. I keep having to check my form, legs splayed out, whiskers at a jaunty angle, just the right level of cuteness as I show my fluffy tummy, I like to be aesthetically pleasing.

“Getting to the point, I’d like to invite you to admire a bit of art I’m cultivating. She’s doing all the work, I don’t have opposable thumbs after all, but I’m the creative force behind it. She’s growing seeds for an art installation somewhere that’s not here. Evidently the idea is for 2,500 seedlings to be displayed for humans to look at and immerse themselves in, whatever that means.

“She planted 50 seeds in little pots full of dirt, then put them in a tray in my greenhouse. So I made a suggestion on improving them, aesthetically. I sat on them, I slept on them, I may have squashed them a little, but they were so warm and comfy, and I incubated the seeds. She’ll thank me for it, she really will. I am a very arty cay, though I am now a very sleepy cat, so I’m off, I have some seedlings to sit on.”

Anastasis, an immersive installation, opens at Left Bank Leeds, on Easter Sunday. Socks’ seedlings will be the wonky ones.