Monday, 31 March 2008

Men in flat caps

There aren't that many celebrity allotment-holders around - probably because once you are rich and famous you are not going to spend your time getting dirt under your fingernails just to make sure you can bring a few cabbages to the table - so it is always nice to discover a new one. Here's the latest addition to the roll: John Humphrys. He was interviewing a couple of allotmenteers on the Today programme this morning, and mentioned in passing that he got his first allotment at the age of 14. 14? Did the young Humphrys have to support his family even before he left school? Things must have been tough in Cardiff back in those days: did he fit his veg-digging activities in between shifts down the pit? I think we should be told.
He was interviewing Andy and Dave Hamilton about their book, The Self-Sufficient-ish Bible: An Eco-Living Guide for the 21st Century, and got on to the subject of whether allotments are populated by old men in flat caps, or young and trendy types who knit their own tofu. I don't know about the Hamilton twins' allotments in Bristol, but I can report that where I am in East Acton, the flat cap is alive and well. My allotment neighbours Michael and John are never to be seen without their caps, and I would go so far as to say that I would not recognise them if I came across them bare-headed. I don't wear a flat cap myself, but then again I am a little way off retirement age. I will probably buy myself one for my 60th birthday, if they still make them then.
Intrigued by the Hamiltons' book, I Googled the twins and found an interview with them in the Times from a few days ago. It mentioned Andy's tip for preventing slugs from eating your lettuces. "Chuck a load of slugs in a food mixer, blend them and then put the goo around your plants," he said. "They won't come near it."
I must admit I had never heard of this method, for perhaps obvious reasons. If anyone feels like trying it on, I would be most interested in hearing about the results.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Smoke gets in your eyes

Down at the allotment we have been having trouble with the neighbours. It's the age-old problem that has caused fractious relations between gardeners and their neighbours since forever: the bonfire. Gardeners need to burn their rubbish. Bonfires produce smoke. And anyone unfortunate enough to live downwind of that smoke usually finds the experience distinctly unsettling.
(Perhaps the eviction of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden had nothing to do with apples and snakes, but an unfortunate misunderstanding concerning the burning of some autumn leaves).
Most of the time you can get away with it. With a bit of sensitivity - waiting until the wind is in the right direction, only burning the stuff when it is good and dry - it is possible to have the occasional bonfire without sparking off civil war.
On the Bromyard allotments, however, it has all gone a bit far for that. There is a new block of flats just across the road, and they have been getting very narked at the smoke coming their way. Voices have been raised. Threats have been issued. It has all got very nasty.
It is not nice of course having smoke blowing in through your bedroom window. But the allotments were there long before the flats were dreamed of. Are they telling us that we are going to have to run our allotments without ever being allowed to burn our old prunings and cabbage stalks? Are these people for real?
I can foresee the next complaint. Every spring I go to a nearby stables and stock up with horse manure for the following year. What with the noxious smells, the environmental disturbance and the health risk, I expect to be on the receiving end of a restraining order before the year is out...

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Purple sprouting time

There is absolutely no point in having an allotment unless you are going to show off: so here, without further ado, is my dinner from last night. Lovely purple sprouting broccoli, as fresh as you like, not to mention young and tender. Delicious. There was also some fish and potatoes, but they were merely supporting players in a culinary production where the PSB was the undisputed star.
Mind you, you've got to be patient with purple sprouting. You sow it in about a month's time, which means that it takes up valuable allotment space for 11 months of the year. Some people might consider that a bit of a waste, but when you consider that it is one of the few green crops around at this time of year, and is the prince of vegetables, I reckon that it is a price worth paying. In fact now I come to think of it, March is an undervalued time of year. Not only is the PSB coming into its own, but there are also leeks to be had - my other favourite vegetable. Let's hear it for March!
I wonder if Anita Pallenberg grows purple sprouting. Remember Anita Pallenberg? The ultimate rock chick, she was Brian Jones's girlfriend and then Keith Richards's partner for many years, and made a number of movie appearances including Barbarella and Performance. These days, I read in the Observer recently, she lives in west London and has an allotment in Chiswick. "This is the third year, and I go out there twice a week at least with another girl and it's fun," she told interviewer Lynn Barber. "I've got strawberries, artichokes, leeks, broad beans."
It never occurred to me that my allotment neighbours might include a former rock icon. Perhaps I had better check.
PS There was a lovely mention in Publishing News of my book One Man and His Dig (published on 6 May by Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster). It said: "He's entertaining, amusing and his chirpy optimism would help anyone staring glumly at their current patch of mud." Which was nice, except that my wife asked when we were going to see a bit more of that chirpy optimism at home. Oh well, you can't please everyone.