The Idler Magazine

A Country Diary – 32

Posted in Tom Hodgkinson’s Country Diary on 1 November 2005

1 November 2005

IT’S JUST PAST TEN AM and I’ve already sowed sixty four broad bean seeds, a variety called Imperial Green Longpod. I carefully read Lawrence D. Hills on the subject, and Dr Heyasson. Then I came back to the house and read them again, and realised I’d done it wrong: you’re supposed to stagger the rows and not plant them in neat symmetrical lines. Something to do with support. Oh well. I don’t care. It’s a lovely sunny morning, the leeks, brussel sprouts, kale, parsnips and broccoli are all looking very healthy. I cleared up the strawberry bed yesterday. Those strawberries really are a drag. I think they may even be more work than the dreaded tomato. Each strawberry plant had sprouted a load of new ones. These new plants are called runners and you’re supposed to clear them away as they will compete for food with the main plants. I must have cleared away about two hundred of the blasted things. I think I may have been too ferocious in the end and chucked some of the proper plants away as well. I planted a dozen in pots and asked if any gardening friends wanted them, but all declined. So some were flung into the wilderness at the side of the allotment, in the hopes of getting some wild strawberry plants, and the rest went on to the compost heap, which I am now trying to build up in layers, in the hope of getting some heat in there. I have also spread seaweed on two of the beds, collected the other day from Woody Bay, and sown a load of something called Hungarian grazing rye on empty patches of soil: this is called green manuring, and the idea is to grow a plant that will be dug back into the soil in spring, providing it with all the nutrients it needs. Instead of sowing the seeds carefully I just scattered them around, and then raked over the soil a bit. Scattering seed is very enjoyable.

WE HAD THE IMMENSE PLEASURE and privilege of another visit from the Larry Love Showband this weekend. They are the acoustic version of the Alabama 3. It was a relief to get them in the house as the singer seemed to have treble-booked himself at one stage and was threatening to cancel. He was also in the middle of a domestic crisis. They played to a packed house in the local town hall on the Friday, and then on Saturday afternoon, they played at the Tea Dance that I managed to organise in our own village hall. After finding it impossible to get a music and dancing licence, we’d decided to have a private party instead, from four till eight, kids welcome, and a great success it was too. I printed the invitations on my new Adana press and drove around with Arthur and Delilah delivering them. Most of our friends and neighbours from roundabout came. Children rushed about, some dressed as devils and witches. I noticed that very little tea was drunk, and most of the crowd decided to plough into the wine and beer, or used their tea cups for gin and tonic. The band played two superb sets and completely charmed the local farmers, hippies and middle class exiles alike. Everyone donated generously to the event and we were able to pay the band a reasonable fee and cover our costs, the main one of which was an enormous ham on the bone that Victoria had spent the previous three days preparing. It was the best ham we’d ever tasted, done to a Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe, and inspired many compliments. Guests brought cakes and friends from nearby helped me set up and clear up. We were also lucky to have the great Louis Eliot playing, who opened with the lovely song Country Life, as his pregnant girlfriend and two year old daughter sat alongside him on the stage. There was a lot of smoking and drinking, even the odd jazz cigarette, and one lady on the Village Hall Committee said that the village had never, ever seen anything like it. A modest triumph, then. We made merrie.

WE HAD A VISIT the other day from a farming couple. The wife’s great-aunt had grown up in our house, and she was keen to come and have a look. Their first comment was how dead the village has become. She said that in the old days, it would have been teeming with life, with children running about and playing. We are the only family in the village now. There was also a school here, and photos form 1900 show about thirty kids, all beautifully dressed, lined up for a formal pic in the churchyard. So as recently as 1900 the place would have been absolutely teeming with life. We heard that our farmhouse, which has a huge dairy, used to supply the milk to all the households in the area. It would be taken around with a horse and cart. Her great-aunt, said our visitor, “never bought a pint of milk, never bought a pound of butter, never bought a pair of socks, never bought a pint of cream, never bought a pound of cheese all her life.” Shopping in supermarkets, she said, would have been unheard of. There would have been hams hanging up in the fireplace, she said, and the room which is now the sitting room was the kitchen. Ten children grew up in the house, and each was apprenticed to a different craft so all the kids could contribute something useful to the household economy. “And we were straight outside when we got home from school,” said Mr. Working. “Now they come in and they’re straight on the computer.” I thought of Arthur, five, who does just that and it made me feel sad. I think I should get the chickens again. We were enjoying that. Even Arthur seemed to enjoy feeding them. Our visitors also told us stories of mammoth drinking sessions at the village hall. They agreed that there are glimmerings of people starting to go back to the old ways of life. And we might be forced to: I was speaking to a friend yesterday who was convinced that we’ve got some sort of oil crisis looming and we’ll all be back to horses and carts before long. Which reminds me, our winter horse arrives next weekend, so before too long I’ll be riding into town. Heigh ho.

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