Thursday, 19 October 2017


Plant on wall in the orange light of October 16th 2017.
You know when the sun went red earlier this week? And the sky went orange? And it was because ex-hurricane Ophelia had brought dust from the Sahara and debris from Iberian wild fires in the swirl of her skirts? It was a very wonderful orange and the atmosphere almost pre-eclipsical and it cast a special and golden glow over what was already a golden autumn.

Naturally just about everyone who owns a camera went out and took pictures.

Grass on wall.
Yellow leaves looked fantastic but, initially, my camera was keen to over-do the look, to make it seem pretty much as if we were ourselves in the middle of a forest fire or that the end of the world was truly nigh. Indeed, while I was taking a photograph of the sun - with lens pointing straight at it (what a day!) a man walking by stopped to let me know that this strangeness was not caused by humans but it was God's way of telling us the world was about to end. This might be today, tomorrow, five years time, ten years or hundred . . . but end it would . . . and that people who had accepted Jesus into their hearts (hand on chest) would be ok but everyone else would not. He said this in a very cheerful way so perhaps he's hedging his bets on a hundred-year scenario.

Small rowan on wall.
I didn't quite subscribe to his end of the world theory but if it were to be the end of the world I was anxious to get my photographs in first. So I think I should be congratulated for patiently and politely waiting for the man to stop warning me of my possibly imminent demise while what I really wanted to do was to capture the red circle which was the sun while it was there.

Previous arrivals of Saharan dust have left gritty deposits of brick red on the roofs and bonnets of cars. And on Monday I assumed the red of the sun and the orange of the light were because sand in the Sahara is red. So I pottered around town thinking about camels and celebrated the light with an ice-cream . . . and fiddled with the settings on my camera . . . and found which colours 'worked' and which were distorted in the eerie atmosphere.

Cars, vans, buildings, street.
Later, a weather forecaster explained that the reds and oranges were nothing to do with the colours of sand but that debris in the atmosphere was deflecting greens and blues from the rainbow which makes light white. (All science is daft.) But that was later. By then I'd already found I could filter out Ophelia herself and that my camera could turn everything back to 'normal' if it wanted. Or if I wanted. (That's the challenge.) So . . . while photographs of wall plants in this post show what things really looked like on October 16th, the street picture (cars, van, buildings) shows what things look like on ordinary days even though I took it when the light was orange. It's a camera lie.

Clever things cameras. Strange thing light. Funny thing reality.

To see the red sun, go to my other blog (Message in a Milk Bottle)
The Day the Sun Turned Red - 4 - The Sun
and the preceding posts
The Day the Sun Turned Red - 3 - Leaves
The Day the Sun Turned Red - 2 - Street Light
The Day the Sun Turned Red - 1 - Portrait

Thursday, 12 October 2017


Onion seedling on Halifax allotment.
Onion seedling. Here one day, gone the next. 9th September 2017.
My allotment neighbour and I say little. We call out a cheery 'good morning' or say 'see you tomorrow' as we wave goodbye. We have few words in common. We speak different languages. But we both know 'slugs'. She showed me a heavily nibbled vegetable. Later she waved a big container of slug-pellets, pointed at it and smiled.

She may be right. My onion seeds germinated and vanished. I think I had kohlrabi seedlings at one point. It's of no account. Whatever they were, they've gone.

I planted fifty ornamental alium bulbs; badgers came over night and dug them up leaving one left on the surface. I replanted it.

Red clover germinating under a heavy black mesh
On the upside, I now I have a use for some of the rubbish strewn around the place. I covered the bulb bed (which may now be an empty bed except for one flower) with plastic mesh and weighted it down with old bricks. The next day, I sprinkled red clover seeds through it. The seeds weren't meant to be scattered across the surface of the soil but I was reluctant about dismantling my badger defences. The germination rate was wonderful; visible. But only briefly. Mesh may deter badgers but slugs sniffed at it and surged in.

Brussels Sprouts Plant
This week I planted curly kale and Brussels sprouts plants from a garden centre. The big windows in our new house light our rooms surprisingly well - but the sun isn't strong enough to properly warm our sills. Everything gets a bit bedraggled. They had been there for a while before I had time to move them. None the less, I cleared a new bed and interspersed the slightly unhappy plants with slug traps. Beer is conventional. Milk works just as well and the plants have survived. But the half buried traps were soon dug up and overturned. Badgers!

I'm assuming badgers. There are round indentations where they've placed their feet. And round indentations where they've pressed their snouts into the soil searching for worms. And there are diggings which go nowhere. And slimy grey poo! (Next time I find some I'll show you.) And the soil, though not sandy, is fine. I suppose they like that.

The beginnings of a compost heap.
The red blob which looks suspiciously like a tomato is a crab apple.
At least, I hope it's a crab apple.
I wouldn't intentionally to put tomatoes or potatoes in compost.
I now have compost bin where I feed brandling worms from Dorset with specially bought veg. from here. Rats have found it and burrowed in. We can buy rat poison in the allotment shop but I've blocked their first hole with a stone.

In theory there are carrot seeds between the rungs of an old wooden cot side tugged out of the long grass and weighted down against badgers. But slugs are undeterred by wooden bars. So . .  no carrots!

I have onion sets and peas to put in. (Seed-selling sites recommend which varieties can be planted at this time of year.)

I hope slugs enjoy them.
Long live badgers who cavort in my newly dug beds.
And a toast to the birds which don't seem to be there to feast on the seeds.

Could do with a robin for company though. Or a blackbird.

Or perhaps not. Do robins and blackbirds eat slugs? I think they might be interested only in worms. Maybe they eat other things too for some of the time but when you are digging - it's worms.
And pigeons would want brassicas and peas.
Bother wildlife!

* * *

'How do Slugs Eat?' - Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
For masses of information about badgers - Badgerland.

Sunday, 3 September 2017


Man in yellow upside down on Pole. Circus Raj at Piece Hall in Halifax UK.

Every day I'm here in Halifax, my affection for it grows and I'm glad for the move.

It's different.


Definitely different from Dorset. But that was the point - to seek something new.

Yellow flower in grass. Dorset.

Recently, though, I had to go back south to take final readings on the gas, water and electricity meters and to hand back keys to the house.

This might have been painful. I might have had a crisis. I might have changed my mind. I might have decided I didn't want to live in Yorkshire after all. Disaster! But I didn't. I wanted to blow my life in Dorset aside like a dandelion clock. Done.

Leaves of prickly plant in grass in Dorset.

Rather than sleep in my old house void of furniture carpet lifted etc. etc. . . . I lived in a tent. There were ground level plants everywhere.

Tiny plant growing between paving stone and kerb, Halifax, UK

And so there are in Halifax! It's just that I'll have to pay more attention!

Red and yellow upright flowers in grass in Dorset.

Summer in Dorset is full of colour.

Security guard in yellow vest. Red no-entry sign. Halifax, UK

And in Halifax too.
I'm here.

(The performers in the top photo are part of Circus Raj - one of the re-opening events at The Halifax Piece Hall.)

Sunday, 13 August 2017


Halifax spire, Minaret, chimneys and railings.
Coming up this hill one is always looking into the light
so grey dominates - and lines - and silhouettes.
What was unfamiliar is rapidly becoming part of the everyday. For much of the time now, I'm not much aware of the contrast between Halifax and Dorset. Perhaps the only thing which is particularly startling is that large patches in the hills around are turning purple as the heather flowers. You can see them from town.

What I haven't quite got used to yet, is the number of straight lines, especially the vertical. There's no point in listing them. You can see!

Portland Harbour, Dorset, with boats, Harbour Wall and Purbeck Cliffs beyond.

Contrast this with what I've been used to for more than the last twenty years which is lines curvaceous, horizontal and on the move. Admittedly, the masts of boats are vertical. But they sway, so however neat they are, however firmly attached to their buoys, they are never entirely parallel. They don't have the stolidity of the spire and minaret and railings in the first photo!

In contrast with urban Halifax, the lines which dominate 'my' bit of the Dorset coast are definitely and predominantly horizontal. The horizon itself. Portland Harbour Wall, the white foam streaks, the boat decks, the cliffs. (Chesil Beach.) And these horizontals tend to curve; the wavy waves, the rippling cliffs.

If we were to look out to sea, even the horizon is curved; and if I were to turn round in this picture, I'd be facing straight into a hedge, the broad line of which is irregularly horizontal. The function of a hedge is much the same as railings but in a hedge not a single shape is repeated  And nearly everything is non-stoply on the move. Nothing is fixed. Nothing rigid. And for every upright tree trunk there are masses of sideways(ish) branches. Some young hedgerow leaves (say elder) grow upright but once they've got going they tend, elegantly, to stretch sideways. I may be exaggerating - but you'll see the point. Apart from pine needles, glossy leaved plants and succulents (which don't tend to live in hedgerows) hedgerow leaves are likely to be in trouble if they are hanging straight down.

Pellon Lane Mill with blocks of flats behind and car-park in front.
But here . . . if I turn round to see what's behind me, I find this. In the photo at the top of this post, for all its starkness there are wild plants. (I doubt many of you will have noticed and we can come back to them another time.). With a 180 degrees swivel, we find the usual, regulated, car-park planting: an uneventful tree and boring bushes and low growing stuff that's easily trimmed back or never does much in the first place. So although it's greener, it's more 'urban' in the sense of nature being kept at bay.

And beyond the car park there's one of the old mills I've been telling you about with broken windows, collapsing roof.

Pellon Lane Mill with buddleia.
We'll go a bit closer. I don't know what the circular, red, stunted chimney thing is but earlier in the year there were pretty yellow flowers on its plinth. However, predictably, wherever there's an empty space there's also buddleia. And there it is on its pedestal. For all that we're getting brickier, we're also getting wilder.

But you ain't seen nothing yet.

Pellon Lane Mill with buddleia and willow-herb on roof.
Down the hill and around the corner a bit and looking up at the roof of the same mill there's more buddleia. Willow-herb too. Now look at the windows on the top left. This is where it gets scary. Really scary. There's a tree sticking out of the one second from the left. An odd place for a tree or a large bush but at least it has breathing space. But behind the very top left window is one of the scariest, creepiest things I've ever seen. 

Flowering buddleia trapped behind window at top of Pellon Lane Mill in Halifax.

It's so horrid I have to look away. A buddleia, in flower, but completely trapped. It's hit the glass and can go no further. It's as if alien hands are pressing and sliding and scrabbling to get out and all the while can't stop growing so it's squashed further and further into itself by its own self. An image of claustrophobia. Aaaaaaaagh. I like everything about my new home except this.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017


One raised bed cleared of 'weeds' with paths either side.
The adventure begins. The first cleared bed.
One of the adjustments I've had to make in my move to Halifax is to try to consider some wild plants foes instead of friends.

We could have chosen a part-allotment with the soil already tilled, useful plants already growing on it, a green-house and a shed. Or we could have chosen a wacking-great almost-field, full of grasses and willowherb, sorrel, ragwort - and a whole (erstwhile) raised bed solely packed with rib-wort (broad-leaved plantain) and nothing else.

Willow Herb, wheelbarrow, blue water-butt and bramble.
I've clipped back the bramble
but haven't yet had the heart to destroy this willow herb.
Traditional, gardening-book wisdom says go for the green-house and weed-free soil. Our hearts said to go for the field. And being a true believer in hearts - it's the wild field we have.

What I'd have liked best would have been to leave it as we found it. It was beautiful. So for several days I went and stood there half an hour at a time and did nothing but look at it. Drinking it in. Saying 'good-bye' - in the sense that allotments are for carrots, not wild grasses.

Eventually, my friend Esther insisted that one of the important things about allotments is not to annoy our neighbours so the flowering grasses really had to stop being admired and be chopped down instead.

At that point, I was still feeling disoriented. And just as one may be unable to eat when anxious or displaced, I couldn't take photos. So there are no 'befores' and 'afters'.

I would have liked to have photographed the grasses. I knew I would be sad not to have recorded them. But there we are. I wish I'd photographed the soil where they fell - so you could see their masses and masses of seeds. Ditto the sorrel - thousands of seeds turning the soil slightly rusty. Ragwort stems are too stout for garden sheers so they were reprieved for a few days, then we went back with secateurs.

Ragwort is one of the most beautiful plants ever, yet it has to go!
Ragwort is one of the most beautiful plants ever, yet it has to go!
It's a wonderful site. The gardeners there are clearly accomplished. There will be a lot to live up to. Fruit bushes drip with raspberries and blackcurrants. There are rows and rows of strawberry plants. But there are flowers too. Some people are even making a feature of the grasses. And there are lots of sheds and greenhouses. And nearly everyone who has a greenhouse or shed has a 'backgarden' behind it - an area hidden off from the rest of the world, where they can simply sit and 'be' which is a wonderful resource in a densely populated area.

I've never seen an allotment site like this one. There's an office and a store and a water pipe which loops up and down the plots and a loo - and really importantly - we are not expected to achieve perfection in a year.

And no way will we.

In the first post on this blog I said I wanted blackberries. And now we have them - growing on a bank on the other side of the wall; and they are reachable - hurray! But it's a bit odd. I've had to clip them back to their boundary. But the balance is good. We will be able to lean over for the fruit when it's ripe but there's no bramble patch to clear.

There's no bind weed either. No nettles. The soil is black and fine. The grasses can be dug out without too much trouble.

Pile of orange bread baskets.
Brightly coloured, industrial bread baskets litter the plot. Don't know why!
None the less, it took about three hours to prepare the first bed. A second one is part-way there. Once that's plant-free we will sow four vegetable crops. The current idea is for onions, kohlrabi, spring greens and chard. If anyone thinks this is a bad choice, please say soon because the first sowing will be in the next few days.

A previous allotmenteer created slightly-raised beds over about a third of the plot so that's where we are making a start, digging out wild-plants on alternate beds and chucking them onto the other alternating beds so the cut down grasses and other plants will begin to suffocate, making it easier to dig them out and replace with green manure later. (Gardening is disgustingly destructive.) There is no overall plan yet but this seems a good way to start. There are loads of objects to clear - masses of industrial bread baskets and other 'containers' and 'troughs' so each 'session' is divided in un-equal parts between gathering rubbish, cutting down grasses and, sadly, pulling out wild plants so we can grow food instead.

When it's cool and quiet and slightly drizzly, it's a lovely place to work. Sad and exciting. Can't have all joy. I saw a toad. Three days later I saw it dead.