I Have Worms!

Pam Lazos wrote recently, here, on the joys of compost which I can echo. It made me, once again, recognise a parental lesson I received from a young age.

My parents, specifically my mother recycled, repurposed and upcycled well before these activities had trendy titles. It was that wartime ‘make do an mend’ mentality. It had its downsides. Pretty much bugger all got thrown away. The loft was so full at one point that my father wistfully speculated on whether, removed of this load, might the house not spring from its foundations and make a bid for freedom.

We all benefited from her commitment to being able to fix and/or create answers to problems. She even did it with food with her ‘ifits’. An ‘ifit’ is a meal made from leftovers which would not normally be associated with each other, often combined with pasta or rice. When asked what it might be she would say ‘I don’t know but if it works it’ll be fine’. Hence Ifit. We were full, we never had food poisoning and I’ve had an eclectic sense of taste ever since.

Her passion for a ‘no waste’ policy extended to the by products from her kitchen especially things like peelings. We ‘composted’ most by-products which couldn’t be combined to make a soup or stock. My father would build a compost bin every year from any old odds and sods of wood which would be filled with biodegradable materials (when did we learn the word ‘biodegradable, I wonder? Up to that point it was ‘will they rot’? The point being there was no point putting resilient weeds like dandelions or buttercup or bindweed onto the compost because they wouldn’t rot). Dad called the end-product – the delicious loamy fertiliser – guff and spread it around his vegetables and Mum’s precious plants. It took a season to make a binful, a lesson in patience and perseverance but as a something for nothing joy there were few to beat it.

First house, shortly after arrival

The Textiliste and I bought our first house and garden in 1985. Mum inspected the derelict and weed strewn plot and declared herself jealous. Where I saw sweat and hard work she saw opportunity and experimentation. She knew best. We both loved changing it and one of the things which she encouraged me to make was a small compost bin.

The same house three years later

Later we moved to a bigger garden and grew both plants and children there. Their exponentially expanding diets – directed healthily by the Textiliste – generated substantial vegetable waste alongside the prunings of lawn and herbaceous borders.

Last year, two of my three compost bins collapsed from the inevitable rot of the panels and posts – this was why Dad’s needed rebuilding annually. We decided we work reorganise our working area and, where once we had three bins, we now have four. During my Dog walks I would mark the position of skips and builders at work. If I saw someone I’d ask if they minded me half-inching* the redundant pallets on which their materials were delivered. They were delighted, saved from the hassles of disposal.

With an outlay of fifteen pounds on some metal and wooden posts, a friend and I made four bins which we lined with left over pond liner (why was it left over… oh heck, if you need to know, click here) so we can have the perfect progression of vegetable waste to luscious loamy compost. At any time, the optimum position is thus

Bin one is being filled with whatever we want to rot down – here you can see pruned leaves and kitchen waste. You’ll see it is partially covered; I don’t want the materials to get too wet; there’s a lot of moisture in the material anyway.

What goes in

Bin two is being dug out and used where needed around the garden.

Bin three will either be like bin two, depending on the time of year (right now we’ve put down a mountain of compost, in the autumn we have little need of such feeding) or it will be empty, as here and used for temporary storage.

Bin four will be shut down and doing its stuff. We cover and seal it with old carpet which keeps the rain off and the heat in. A newly closed bin, if opened can burn you from the natural thermal properties of rot.


Dad taught me about this process: take your time, prepare the ground and all sorts of benefits will flow.

Mind you he could never explain how the worms could find the bin quite so quickly. I’ve even seen a concrete floored bin were the worms have appeared. Nature might be marvellous but it’s also rather weird.

Ah life; as a teenager I wondered where the noses went; now it’s marvelling at where the worms come from.

*pinching – rhyming slang

Posted in family, gardening, home, miscellany, thought piece | Tagged , , , , , | 46 Comments

Walking With Rosie #bookreview #the rosieresult

I did a daft thing a few weeks ago; I signed up with the Long Distance Walking Association to undertake their 3rd Capital Challenge. Starting at St John’s Church Waterloo it circumnavigates some of the best bits of London’s green spaces, ending up at the Viewing Pod on the southern edge of Queen Elizabeth Park, where the 2012 Olympics were held. If you walked directly from start to finish it would probably be about 8 miles.

The way I went it was 27.9 miles. According to my phone that’s 64,000 steps.

Normally I’d take Dog as my trusty companion. The Textiliste put her paw down. He’s small. He has a bit of arthritis. He’s not given a vote. I was on my own.

Over the last few years I’ve become an Audible books addict and I listen a lot when I’m out and about. Timing being everything a new book became available last Tuesday, the third in the series of ‘Rosie’ books by Graham Simsion. If you’ve not discovered Rosie and her extraordinary husband Don, a man with autism, albeit undiagnosed then you are missing a treat.

Starting with the Rosie Project where Don uses his training as a scientist to find a life partner, this is the third book. Don now has, with Rosie, a ten year old son Howard and they wonder, under pressure from his school, is he on the spectrum? The book is a delight, in equal parts funny and poignant. This time, though, it is also both educational as well as addressing some very topical relevant issues, not just about Autism but also other neurological conditions, society’s need for labels and the harm that best intentions can do. Simsion deals with his characters, with whatever non typical neurological conditions they may evidence, with tact and compassion but also without fear, treading on toes at the same time as subverting received widsoms.

However don’t go away think this is anything other than a great read (or listen). As I left the start at just after 8 am, I pressed play. I walked and listened. I stopped a couple of times to buy a tea and have a slice of something and still I listened. A few people chatted to me and I paused the story. At about 4 pm I approached the Greenway that leads to the Viewing Pod and the narrator told me the epilogue had started. I paused one last time, collected my certificate and headed for the train. I almost didn’t want to turn it on again, not wanting it to end. But that wouldn’t do. As I stepped onto the tube at Stratford, the credits rolled.

What a great story. And how neat that it fitted inside the framework of my walk. I don’t particularly recommend this as a one sitting book. That’s just the way the cards fell. But I heartily recommend you read or listen to it.

As for the walk, well it was grey and cool.

the start

Not great for the views the notes promised us, from Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath but ideal conditions for a walk.

The first stretch, across the river and past Downing Street was iconic but hardly green.

apart for the Victorian taxi tea hut – that was very green

But then having entered St James Park opposite Horse Guards

before the parks there are some iconic views

I spent the next 3 miles crossing that park, then Green Park, giving Her Maj a nod as she partook of her morning Weetabix

before crossing into Hyde Park

full of runners who may or may not have been undertaking a Parkrun.

North of the parks there’s a stretch of a mile, through to Paddington station – homage to the little Bear

before we joined the Paddington Basin, Little Venice and the Grand Union canal

The twee little canal boats and occasionally odd statuary

caught the eye before we climbed some steps into Regent’s Park past the enormous. Mosque.

Regent’s Park is probably the poshest park, with the ambassadorial homes skirting the boundary. The walk stretched down and then back up through the park, past some of London zoo and a rather lovely rose garden

well sort of almost lovely as it’s not in bloom yet.

Crossing one road and the canal again, being used by paddleborders

and it was Primrose Hill park. This is basically the eponymous hill and a few trees and none the worse for that.

Off the other side and it was another mile of so until we entered Hampstead Heath at the southern end. There was a plus to the road walking hereabouts: the rather lovely Chamomile Cafe where I procured a decent coffee to ease me on my way.

Hampstead is a vast and wild area by comparison with the manicured Parks we’d just visited.

Walking between the ponds and up to the view point on Parliament Hill – not sure why it’s called that other than on a less misty day you might be able to see Parliament you become conscious how big it is, we meandered through paths, fortunately not getting lost until a checkpoint in a car park. And on we went, passing through the rather extraordinary hidden gem of the Pergola and Secret Garden

for 90% of the walk the two ladies in pink seen here were always 50 to 100 metres ahead of me

a raised brick walkway with vines and creepers that directed us towards the exit and the Old Bull and Bush pub,

famous from the song of the same name.

Beyond the Heath is Hampstead Garden suburb, part of London’s expansion in a mean sort of red brick and not, to my eye, that pleasing though some love it. St Jules Church

is a neat landmark without any of the splendour of the earlier churches we’d seen around.

Still we weren’t on road for long and it was then a series of woods and open spaces that link Hampstead with Highgate woods.

15 miles in and we were doing well.

There was a bit of road walking hereabouts and this being north London and a Saturday you couldn’t miss the Orthodox Jewish communities out and about. Sadly, as we saw at the Central London Mosque earlier the rather obvious security presences at the places of worship belied our supposedly tolerant society, probably the only jarring note on the day.

Dollis Brook

The walk joined the Capital Ring which I’ve written about before, the stretch leading along a disused railway, now a linear park to Finsbury Park. I’m familiar with this section and put the directions away, only to drag them about half a mile on when we encountered the first of four detours. We had Abney Cemetery with its weirdy memorials

and more manicured parks, Finsbury, Clissold and Springfield which lead down to the River Lee in Hackney and the Canal, The River Lea navigation.

Checkpoint five came and went and I managed to lost the route briefly but not badly, rejoining the canal at the top end of the former Olympic, now Queen Elizabeth path.

The end was in sight (and hearing). I was still feeling perky which was just as well as the train I planned to catch back had been cancelled necessitating a change of stations. Still, that was not going to blot the day and Dog was anxiously waiting for me to join him on the sofa…

Posted in Book review, walking | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

Fire And Earth #carrotranch #creativewriting #loganandmorgan

‘Why the long face, Morgan?’

‘It’s Mum.’

‘Really? Is she ill?’

‘She’s planning her funeral.’

‘Some people do. Was she miserable?’

‘Not at all. Quite energised.’

‘That’s good.’

‘Is it?’

‘What did she say?’

‘She wants to choose her music. Three songs. Two were easy, cabaret stuff, but the third caused the difficulty.’

‘How?’

‘She couldn’t decide if she wanted to be cremated or buried. If cremated she wanted Arthur Brown’s Fire…’

‘And buried?’

‘Going Underground by the Jam.’

‘What’s bad about that?’

‘I can’t have a mother who’s a punk fan. That’s just wrong on so many levels.’

This piece stems from the latest prompt from The Carrot Ranch, here:

April 4, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fire. It can be a flame that burns or a light that inspires. Follow the flames and go where the prompt leads!

Posted in carrot ranch, creative writing, flash fiction, logan and morgan, miscellany | Tagged , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Paddy O’Reilly And The Leprechaun’s Gift #stockpicturechallenge

Paddy thought exile would free his mind, but Norman was always the reminder.

He eased the foot high piano-player from inside his guitar and they began to duet. A crowd gathered, astonished at the tiny virtuoso.

As always one had to ask. ‘Who’s he?’

‘My curse.’

Paddy couldn’t explain. Saving a leprechaun meant he got his dearest wish but, of course he had to save the only deaf imp in Ireland. He’d been young, foolish and only thought of girls. Slipping Norman away, once again he relived his astonishment when he received his wish: a twelve inch pianist.

This was written in response to Don Massenzio’s #stockpicturechallenge, here

Posted in flash fiction, miscellany, prompt, stock picture challenge | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

Pearl Barley And The Seven Gnomes (Oh, And A Stone Frog)

‘What is it, girlfriend?’

Pearl Barley, five foot and small change and built for comfort not speed hurried towards her front door.

Her hair pulled her back. ‘Hold on. We’re not going out with me looking like an overwrought bramble hedge.’

‘You’re the stylist, you do something.’ Pearl could feel a strop forming in her follicles. Having possessed hair was a pain at times. ‘It’s an emergency. The lollipop lady has been kidnapped by gnomes.’

Her hair fluffed and coiled, but began to plait.

As a recently graduated forensic exorcist, Pearl wanted more than spiritually animated ornaments. You could only analyse so many banging wardrobes and Welsh dressers inhabited by departed baritones. At least this was outdoors and didn’t involved place mats of Carnarvon Castle bursting into Land of My Fathers.

Pearl approached the small crowd. In the centre a tall, pale, and moist policeman failed to look in charge. Spotting Pearl, waving her accreditation he sagged with relief, although Pearl would have preferred it if he’d tried some personal reabsorption. ‘What’s up?’

The constable moved to one side, causing Pearl to gasp. Surrounding a terrified Philandra Twinnipples the aged lollipop lady were seven chanting garden gnomes, their beady eyes fixed on her. During Pearl’s schooldays Mrs Twinnipples had constantly criticised her appearance. She’d made Pearl’s life hell.

Be professional, Pearl, she told herself.

The old woman glanced at Pearl, her expression mixing hope and desperation and neither gave space to the other. There was certainly no room for recognition. ‘Mrs Twinnipples, what’s happened?’

The lollipop lady’s eyes glazed. Her mother moved but no sound emerged. Pearl turned to the policeman who pointed on the far side of the crossing. ‘The frog knows. We apprehended him when he tried to escape.’

As if on cue, the crowd, being a well behaved example of the genre, politely parted, revealing a scaled down version of the policeman holding a two foot high olive-green frog who held a maroon mushroom parasol.

The frog sniffed at Pearl. ‘Maybe you’ll sort this out?’

‘I’m a forensic exorcist. Who are you?’

‘A bloody frog. What do I look…’

‘I mean who’s possessing you?’

‘Abbot Bertram, though the lazy sod can barely be bothered to say.’

‘My name is Pearl Barley. I’m a forensic exorcist and it’s my job to assess any unauthorised non corporeal possessions.’

‘A ghost buster?’

Pearl winced. ‘If you must. Abbot Bertram, can…?’

‘He says please don’t shout and can you talk to me?’

She nodded.

‘We were perfectly happy garden ornaments, in the Abbey grounds, me and the boys,’ he nodded at the crossing, ‘when the Abbey collapsed killing all the initiates. One minutes it’s raining bricks and mortar, next we’ve been possessed. It doesn’t sit well on my reptilian misanthropy, you know.’

Pearl allowed herself a little internal dance. Very unusual for religious orders to possess anything; they were usually the first in the queue for the Afterlife bus. ‘Why didn’t they go on? It’s all nectar and musical soirées.’

‘It wasn’t that simple. These chaps comprised the last of the Glorious and Indolent Order of Evangelical Apathists, formed by St Indifferent the Notbothered formed so long ago everyone’s forgotten why. They embrace utter inertia, their days spent doing nothing, before failing to retire because they didn’t care enough. Only the Abbot ever moved and that left him drained for weeks. When they died their spirits assumed they’d lie around for a bit, but this angel appeared, told them to shift themselves. They were booked onto the 11 o’clock heavenly choir auditions, before being allocated a cloud.’

‘Why didn’t they go?’

‘You any idea how far Heaven’s Gates are for the newly departed, especially those whose life has been one apathetic inaction after another? In a fit of action unprecedented in the Order they decide to hide by possessing the nearest suitable objects.’

‘The gnomes?’

‘Exactly.’

‘How did that end with them giving Mrs Twinnipples the hairy eye-ball?’

The frog gave a dramatic sigh. ‘The contractors planned to clear everything. None of them could be bothered but I’m not about to give up on being animated that soon. We’re off to find a new garden. I couldn’t risk crossing just anywhere and thought a lollipop lady would understand. But we’d hardly stared across she started: “get a shift on with you lumps.” Lumps? These are the last members of an ancient order and their concrete with no feet. I said if she could do any better, she was welcome to try.’

Pearl waited for the frog to compose himself.

‘She told me to hop it. So I did. Next think I know, she’s screaming. This reject from the lumpen proletariat has grabbed me and you turn up, threatening exorcisms. Can it get any worse.’

Pearl studied the gnomes, piggy eyes fixed on her old nemesis. ‘I understand you don’t want releasing, but what about them?’

Who knows? Their Apathists. They haven given a monkey’s cuss since Archimedes found he had a screw loose.’

‘You could all come back to mine, if you like. While you decide.’

The frog studied Pearl carefully. ‘It might take a while. And once there we’ll be difficult to shift.’

‘I’ll talk to Mrs Twinnipples.’

Pearl took the old lady’s hand, forcing her to look. ‘Pearl Barley? Is that really you? You’ve done your hair nicely.’

Hair coiled mischievously.

‘These gnomes will come with me.’ Seven pairs of eyes turned to Pearl with studied indifference.

Mrs Twinnipples nodded. ‘One thing. You’d do well to put a shift on.’

Pearl looked confused. ‘There’s no hurry.’

‘Over that dress. Green was never your colour.’

This story was written as part of this month’s #blogbattle over at Rachael Ritchey’s blog, here.

Posted in #blogbattle, creative writing, humour, miscellany, short story | Tagged , , , | 33 Comments

Releasing A Jamie #writephoto #shortfiction

Cassandra Apostrophe thought geography field trips with year 10 were like being consigned to one of the seven halls of hell, alongside dinner with her Aunt Joanne where she was expected to plead for her inheritance and her annual checkup with the halitosisian dentist Wellington Parchment. This year’s sojourn, to the Cornish Coast, was living down to expectations. Mr Mumbles was in hospital with suspected ruptured grommorods, Ms Jollijapes had retired to her room with a bout of repetitive vapours and even the usual resilient Colin Plasterboard had developed an alarming list to the left that meant he had to sit out today’s descent down Mandeville’s Bosom to Carmichael’s Coffin.

‘Come on, you lot.’ Cassandra might be petite but she refused to be daunted by physical challenges. ‘There are some interesting rock formations and…’

The collective groan drowned out her encouragement.

Oh well, she thought, some of them might drown and immediately regretted her wish. The paperwork involved would be horrendous. ‘Come on, only a few steps and then you can run on the sand. Wait!’

Too late. Two boys broke ranks at the front followed by an uncertain gaggle of girls and then the more studious ones, aware she wasn’t chasing, joined in. Only Jameson Parfitt stayed by her side, tutting. He tugged at his tweed jacket and adjusted his cravat and not for the first time Cassandra had to remind herself he was 14 not 41. Or 414.

Sadly his disinclination to run was not as a result of his natural instinct to comply with her wishes. ‘That went well,’ he said with the pious smugness of the serially dull.

Cassandra knew she couldn’t blame him; having the Honourable Member for the 1950s as a father was enough to turn anyone into a scaled down bank manager.

‘Miss Miss!’ Jeremiah Fobgibblet waved from the sand. ‘Miss! Miss!’

‘Oh for heaven’s sake what does he want now?’ As she hurried down the steps, Jameson’s reedy voice trailed after her like a persistent fart, ‘probably another pee…’

Yes, she thought, that would be typical. In fact the reason for the child’s excitement became apparent as soon as her foot touched the beach. Standing by the entrance to a large cave – which Cassandra couldn’t remember from her last visit – was an enormous hairy headed warrior carrying the sort of sword that would have given any knife crime tsar kniptions. The children had gathered round him, sensibly (Cassandra noted) more that a sword length away. For his part the man stared out to sea, apparently oblivious to the chatter of youthful voices around him.

‘Who is he, Miss?’

‘What’s he doing here?’

‘What’s he staring at?’

What indeed, she wondered. ‘Perhaps you’d leave this gentleman alone, and I’ll have a quick word.’

Reluctantly the children dispersed.

‘Sir, are you alright?’ She noticed the man was dressed in a dirty woollen cape with what looked like animal skins on his legs. ‘We won’t disturb you, then.’ Silly bugger, she thought, noticing how wet his clothes were. He’ll catch his death in this wind.

She began to turn when a large hand stayed her progress.

‘Wench,’ The man’s voice was strained, ‘What is your desire?’

Not to be called names by some misogynistic patriarchal lump of smelly gristle, she thought.

‘You have three wishes.’

‘What?’ Cassandra goggled at the man who was now staring at her with the oddest amber eyes. ‘You’re kidding me?’

‘You called up the spirits of the ancients and the wise. You are the liege of the King Across The Water. You…’

‘I’m an underpaid overstressed teacher of a bunch of hyperactive fourteen year olds and I really don’t need your mumbo-jumbo.’

‘But you must have desires.’

‘Look, don’t get me started down that route. Crickey, I mean a new car would be nice.’

The man’s forehead crinkled. ‘Car?’

‘A Golf maybe, or one of those hybrid ones.’

‘You sure?’

‘Well of course a bright red Porsche would be lovely but who’d insure me and I’d never have the space to get the homework in and a weekly shop, and my mother would…’

The man held up a hand. It was the sort of hand than, once raised, expected to be greeted by silence. Cassandra decided it wasn’t the sort of hand that handled disappointment well.

What happened next Cassandra was never sure but it certainly involved some clouds parting and earth moving and the oddest tingle where she’d broken her arm as a four year old.

Woomph.

Yep, definitely ‘Woompf’.

‘You did say red?’ The man looked momentarily concerned, not that Cassandra noticed. She was transfixed by the brand new Golf that had materialised next to her. The children began to gather round. Had they not been there, the urge, suppressed by years of dealing with school politics and parent’s evenings to exclaim ‘what the actual fuck’ in a voice more accustomed to singing the Aria in Madame Butterfly would have overwhelmed her.

She spun on her heels and faced her class. ‘Who was it? Come on, We went through this in the Health and Safety briefing. What don’t we do when confronted with a mountainous cliff of igneous rock?’

The class looked sheepish. One girl, whose name Cassandra momentarily forgot, raised her hand. ‘We don’t incant and say “Open Ses…”.’

‘Thank you. So who in all the fantastical worlds was dumb enough to release the beast?’

The girl – Siobhan or Saorise or something – peered round Cassandra at the man, back in his initial pose but with what might be described as a trace of ‘a job well done’ smugness around his eyes. ‘Is he a Genie, Miss?’

The man bristled. ‘I’m none of your Saracen infidel thigh-strokers, Young Miss. I’m a Jamie.’

They all turned. ‘A Jamie? What’s a Jamie?’

The man looked surprised they didn’t know. ‘Like a Genie, only we wear wool and can’t fly. He hurried on. ‘It’s more your Viking than Visigoth schtick. But you get the same wishes.’

‘I want…’

Cassandra made a cutting motion with her hand. ‘Jameson Parfitt, be quiet.’

She turned to the man. ‘And if we accept them all, you’re then free to wreck havoc on the surrounding countryside.’

He looked a little put out. ‘It’s only fair. I’ve been in that bloody cave for 473 years and this is the first chance I’ve had of a release.’

Cassandra put her hands in her hips. ‘Oh come on. You’re a mythical creature, conjured up to give hope to a deprived people, subjugated to within an inch of their grimy existences. When you were imagined into being, your creators didn’t anticipate that an over indulged, sugar addicted generation of gamers and social media addicts would find you, did they?’

He sighed. ‘There’s so much in that sentience I don’t understand.’

‘No well, take it from me, you really do not want to be giving this lot even half a wish.’

He began to look forlorn. ‘You have to. You can’t leave me standing out here. I mean, what about when the tide comes in? And all that seaweed. I hate seaweed.’

Cassandra thought for a moment. ‘Alright, how about this? What if I wish you back inside your cave with your magical door shut. That way you’re no worse off than you were.’

‘I suppose. Though technically you still have one wish.’

‘Yes, I was coming to that. There was a memo around school the other day. You’d do well to take it seriously.’

‘Yes?’

‘I want you to change your password. All that Open You Know is too easy. You need to Rebrand. Jamie 2.0.’

‘But if I do that, no one will be able to release me.’

Cassandra looked at the sparkling eyed, possibly demonic stares of her class. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. This generation can hack GCHQ and every porn channel. You’ll be back out soon enough. It’ll just give me a chance to work out how to get this car off this bloody beach and put some miles between me and your Bring a Blood Axe party.’

This was written in response to Sue Vincent’s latest #writephoto prompt, here

Posted in miscellany | 29 Comments

Education: The Thinking Man’s World

Norah Colvin, one of the first three bloggers I followed when I started, asked me to write about my school days and offer up some thoughts on the state of education now. This is the link to Norah’s post of my thoughts. Please explore her blog. It’s a treasure trove of good sense and entertainment.

As a teaser for what you’ll find there, here’s what I wrote about where education works well.

Ah me! Maple Road Primary School uniform, circa 1965

What do you think schools (in general) do well?

When they do it well they inspire lifelong learning and in my experience that comes from the spark of an individual teacher capturing a child’s imagination. They give a child tools to learn, to teach, to educate him/herself – reading and writing and, no doubt today IT skills and after that to be inquiring, not to accept what they are told is the answer but to question – the ability to frame the right question is perhaps the greatest gift a teacher can give a pupil.

Posted in education, memories, miscellany, teaching | Tagged , , , , | 28 Comments