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And so like many of my fellow Scots we endure the strain of the countdown to today’s kick off in Slovenia at 5pm and the inevitable nail biting angst and suffering over 90 mins hoping we get the result we hope for.
I was reminded of probably my most stressful and heart pumping day at a game by this picture sent to me recently.
Wembley during Euro 96 when Scotland played England was the most intimidating atmosphere I’d ever performed in.
I’d been asked to sing ‘Flower of Scotland’ by the organisers for the pre match national anthems with Paul Carrack singing ‘God Save the Queen’. I was at the stadium hours before and the build up was terrifying. There was a soundcheck of sorts and my tiny monitor looked like it had been bought from ‘Woolworths’.
Paul and I were both shaking as we stood in the tunnel waiting to come on to the turf and above me there were scores of English fans hurling abuse at me. I’d been told that probably half the stadium was Scottish fans. They lied.
Paul walked out to rapturous roars and on my announcement it turned to a cacophony of booing. As I made my way out the tunnel all I saw was a sea of red and white with a tiny section of Scots fans in one corner. It was brutally hot and we had to stand for ages waiting on the teams coming out. All I could see in front of me were baying English fans giving me the finger. All I could do was smile.
The teams finally filed out and I felt a little better when a couple of the Scots team standing next to me gave the thumbs up and friendly winks of support.
‘God Save the Queen’ started up and the stadium burst into spectacular song, Paul doing his best to ride with them. I’d never heard it sung so loudly and so passionately and I waited my turn, heart pounding.
I was announced and at exactly the same time as the snare drum intro crackled out the speaker the booing became deafening. I just had to focus and count myself through it. After only a couple of lines the Tartan Army were already ahead of me and I had to stick with the song timing rather than follow them. It was a nightmare and it turned into a nightmarish cacophony that I just wanted to end. My adrenalin was spiking and my heart rate through the stadium roof. It was the longest 3 minutes of my life and as I walked back up the tunnel the relief was incredible. Paul and I were both drained and the come down was enormous. And now we had the most important match of the Euros to deal with.
The result didn’t go our way as was to be expected. A Shearer goal should have been nullified by a Scottish penalty taken by McAllister but even I saw the ball move from the stands as he took the run up and that miss was compounded by a brilliant strike by Paul Gascoine 90 seconds later that effectively left us dead in the water. It was horrible to take in and after the game I saw McAllister looking like he was going to the hangman.
Singing ‘The Flower’ at Wembley that day was an incredible experience and definitely one for the ‘bucket list’ ticked off. I just hope we get the result today and get into the play offs to give us a chance of our first major tournament for far to long. I will probably be drinking heavily from 5 onwards
It was a strange experience walking out onto a stage again after such a long lay off and I was glad I’d had a wake up call at rehearsals the previous week as I was rusty to say the least. The flight down to Southampton had me on edge especially as we had an aborted landing due to high winds. I had an hour or so drive to Sturminster Newton and couldn’t have picked better company for the drive. Nick was a retired master mariner and ex commander in the Royal Navy with a catalogue of tales to tell while our driver Martin had worked all over the world with all the top perfume companies as a display designer. Nick and I jumped straight into diving stories as he had been a deep diver with the navy. Tales of treasure hunts, sunken u boats, diving accidents to chill your bones and a host of other related incidents wiped the journey time and we ended up having lunch in the afternoon soaking away the hours before soundcheck. They were both fascinating and lovely gentlemen and I could have spent days listening to their yarns. In fact all the staff at the venue were so friendly and helpful and the day drifted by effortlessly. The ‘Exchange’ is a wee jewel of a place. and will definitely be in my plans when I take the next Fishheads Club tour out as the acoustics, staging and seating are perfect.
I was scheduled for 5 songs in the set, Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’, Lowell George’s ‘What do you want the girl to do?’, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, Dean Martin’s ‘Amore’ and ‘Kayleigh’ with a joint vocal on ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’. I’d originally intended to record the tracks for the ‘Songs from the Mirror’ third CD but had blown out the idea when costs started to mount and it became infeasible. I was glad I’d made that decision as my voice wasn’t anywhere near ready and the long travel day hadn’t helped. Soundcheck went well and I ran through all my songs with no hitches.I was nervous and uptight about the performance and discovering I was last on meant I had a long wait until my slot. Spike never gets a setlist time right and marks every song down as being ‘4 minutes’. He never allows for the gabbing of which he is as guilty as everyone else. At 1 hour 40 minutes into the set I was backstage being very frugal with the wine on the rider and very aware that Toyah still had her 4 songs and Tom Robinson had 5 songs to sing.There was a curfew at 10.30 and it was already 9.40 and as I didn’t know how strict it was I was worried I might not even get on.
Toyah was wonderful as always and then Tom followed up with a strong set including a powerful version of Leonard Cohen’s’ First we take Manhattan’. And then it was my turn. ‘Sledgehammer’ was a test and I clung onto the vocal as the band stormed away, horn section ablaze. ‘What do you want’ was an understatement as hardly anyone in the crowd appeared to know the song. I leaned heavily on backing vocals of the ‘Fabba Girls’, Suzie and Zoe and was stretching myself in the choruses. ‘Kayleigh’ had me back on familiar territory and my confidence was raised. I blew out ‘Alabama’ on stage with Spike’s consent as time was our enemy and then launched into ‘Amore’, a song I’d never thought I’d sing on a stage and one of my favourites. I remember singing it on stage at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh with the band and my dad in the audience smiling with disbelief on hearing his laddie perform one of the songs of an artist he’d force fed me on the 8 track player in his car when I was a kid. The audience in Sturminster lapped it up and I had them on their feet singing along as Spike, Jamie Moses and the 2 Fabbas and I performed an extremely dodgy step dance routine.Last up was ‘Friends’ which I shared with Ryan Molloy, a talented singer who was one of the leads in the ‘Jersey Boys’ musical. It brought the curtain down. The band had been on stage for over 2hours and 20 minutes! The musicians were exhausted especially Steve Stroud on bass and drummer John Marter. Steve had a bout food poisoning and John was down with the lurgy that he’d caught from guitarist Jamie Moses who was also well under the weather.Despite all it was big smiles backstage and the staff at ‘The Exchange’ were overjoyed at the show.
Back at the hotel there were a couple of glasses of wine and then the batteries fell out of this particular Duracell Bunny.Next morning Tom Robinson had his smartphone out and was filming Spike, Toyah, Suzie and myself for his video blog on his Radio 6 show site to promote the Portsmouth show later that night. I drove with Suzie to Portsmouth and with Spike stopped off at Costcos in Southampton to pick up the drinks rider for the Guildhall backstage. I resisted buying the 2.5 metre ‘Halloween Frankenstein Butler’ that growled out his recorded greetings which had I been on a tour bus might have joined the circus.Suzie filled a trolley full of scented candles and various articles of clothing and Spike, who lives most of his time in the US these days waxed eternally lyrical about the great offers on display and admitted he never went into his store in Palm Springs without emptying at least 500 quid on a visit.The knowledge I was flying with hand luggage next day tempered my consumer frenzy but I noted there was a store in Edinburgh I should maybe visit one day when I’m over flush!
The Guildhall was familiar but I couldn’t place when I’d last been there. A beautiful old venue with a cavernous backstage area I walked out onto the stage and felt ready for the show. Soundcheck was delayed and there were many mutterings about the set list which had to be axed into reasonable shape. We weren’t going to get leeway on a curfew and overruns were expensive. Ryan was off the bill and replaced by none other than my old mate Tony Hadley who I hadn’t seen since he came to the ‘Childhood’ show in Aylesbury last year when we had a long natter about all things ‘Spandau Ballet’ as he had just come back from tour and he was not sure if he was going out again. I hadn’t realised he’d left the band a few months before and it became patently obvious that his exit hadn’t been well received by fans and the rest of the band. There was a press conference in London that night with his old band mates who were announcing they were looking for a new singer and carrying on without him. Tony was with his manager on the night and I could tell he was really wound up with what was said as he listened to the live press conference online backstage. It wasn’t the best way to line up a performance. I have to be honest and say I was sad to hear about the continuing confrontations having been there when Tony and John Keeble, the Spandau’s drummer and also a dear friend, went though the original bitter court cases back in the early 90’s. I’d got to know the boys well in the 80’s and even gave away John’s wife Flea at their wedding. The Spandau’s divorce was an ugly time for all concerned and very expensive for everyone. The settlement back then meant that Tony was not allowed to reference ‘Spandau Ballet’ in any shape or form in any solo engagements and his recent US tour was plagued with legal problems. Obviously when he was back with the band this didn’t matter but now he’s broken ranks the restrictions are back in place. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like for me if I’d been legally shackled when I left ‘Marillion’ as sometimes promoters without my knowledge have advertised shows as ‘the voice of Marillion’ or ‘former ‘Marillion’ singer. To be in a position where I could be taken to court for contempt if a promoter or press officer inadvertently used my previous band’s name to sell solo shows is a scary thought. For Tony who is known worldwide as the voice of ‘Spandau Ballet’ and yet not allowed to acknowledge it without risk of prosecution, in my opinion seems excessive. Obviously I have only heard one side of the story but it remains truly sad that the animosity and bitterness remains among people who were once great friends. I understand more than anyone how brutal and ugly a ‘band divorce’ can be and I spent quite a few years in a dark place harbouring grudges and grievances with people who I was once close with. I’m glad the rest of the ‘Marillos’ and I sorted out our differences, rekindled our friendships.and managed to move on.
I met up with John Reid, who looks after the Fishheads Club site, in a pub opposite the Guildhall. It was a rare chance for a good natter away from backstage areas. Later on we would be joined by Stuart James and David Richardson who’d been at the previous nights show and taken some great photos.Before they arrived I’d gone to the bar and came across this story that I’ve already posted to the Face Book timeline and which reached over 300 000 people!
“As is my want and custom around straggling soundchecks I often have a wee wander for some soothing nectar for the ‘thrapple’. At first I thought the till was tied into the jukebox and then realised the lovely young lady behind the bar had just logged on.
I said to her ” I gave you that name” to which she looked a bit bemused. “So your dad is a ‘Marillion fan’. The penny dropped and she was quite taken aback when she realised who I was. We had a photo taken together to show her Dad who she called later. He was blown away as was Kayleigh who gave me a pint of ‘Doom Bar’ on the house.
A definite first for me and a lovely coincidence. She told me she knew loads of ‘Kayleighs’ in the Portsmouth area and she even knew a guy with that name. As I said on stage later I hope it doesn’t end up like the story line in Johnny Cash’s ‘A Boy Named Sue’
The gig was fast approaching and with Tony on the bill tonight to replace Ryan Molloy I was on earlier. The set list had been thinned down and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was dropped again. I followed a sparkling set from Toyah and another powerful performance from Tom Robinson. They had got the crowd buzzing and I was better prepared than at Sturminster with a voice that had the cobwebs blown away. Again ‘Sledgehammer’, ‘What do you Want’, ‘Kayleigh’ and ‘Amore’ made up my contribution to proceedings and I was a lot more confident in my delivery than the night before. The ‘Kayleigh’ story from the pub went down well and I got a few chuckles on my intros from both band and audience. I sung a decent set and left the stage for Tony Hadley. Being the same height I didn’t need to adjust the mike stand which is always a problem when following or being followed by Toyah 🙂
Tony , in my opinion is one of the finest and most distinctive singers in the UK and as I listened to his set I couldn’t but help admire his professionalism and be reminded that ‘Spandau Ballet’ are going to have a tough job finding his replacement. I got the chance to sing with him as we were to share ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ and standing next to that voice and taking in the sheer power and projection really made me feel slightly inadequate. We left the stage to a great ovation and as we took our bows I was reminded about just what a great bunch of musicians I get the chance to work with.
There was an aftershow party upstairs in the venue and as this was Spike’s hometown it was a family affair. I took the chance to have a look round the music exhibition upstairs where there were a couple of rooms dedicated to Spike.It’s incredible seeing just who he has played with during his career and the photos of him with heroes and dignitaries from all over the world is hugely impressive.
I headed back to the hotel on the seafront just as ‘Storm Aileen’ was picking up. I hoped it would be blown over by morning as I had a flight home at midday. It was an early night for me and I slept with the window open listening to the sea raging and the wind howling around the pier.
After fond farewells to Spike and his lovely lady Kyle I taxied to the airport and a flawless flight home to my own lady. It had been a fine couple of days and it whetted my appetite for my own December shows.I only had a few days to clear the control room before Steve Vantsis arrived to carry on searching for new writing ideas. It’s going to be a while until I see the SAS band again and with Spike out with ‘Queen’ soon there won’t be any traditional Christmas shows this year.Simone, Liam and I are invited along to their Glasgow show in December and with it being the night before the rehearsals and gig in Stirling it’s a perfect fuse to fire up my own stage sparks and send me back out on the road again.
I was reminded of just how far we are into this year when I started planting out Winter brassica and preparing the beds for Autumn onions.It’s been a trying summer with some of the fruit and veg really disappointing while others have been bountiful.
Greatest disappointment was the complete non performance of the tomatoes I planted straight into the soil in the old beds next to the wall. I’d covered them against rain to avoid blight but after high winds the Heath Robinson structure was shredded and I took my chances. The fruit just didn’t take and I was left with clusters of non pollinated flowers even though there were plenty of bees and other insects flying round the area and landing on adjacent flowers.Did the tomatoes flower too late and end up not as attractive as others on the pollen menu? There was lots of green growth; maybe there was too much nitrogen; but nevertheless I ended up with no fruit and eventually the plants, with all the alternating extreme wet and sunny weather, were whacked by blight. One solitary ‘Latah’ , an early tomato, gave us quite a few really sweet fruits but I think that was down to the pot position. Otherwise all the outdoor varieties were a waste of time with the few growbags I had positioned on the sunny kitchen wall all regularly flooded out as they were held in trays and emptying them regularly became a forgotten task..
The greenhouse tomatoes were a mixed bunch. A lot were lost to ‘blossom end rot’ ,which was down to my erratic watering and a bad uptake of calcium, but we did manage a decent crop from the rest. Cucumber tailed off after a prolific burst, again due to bad watering, but the ‘shooting star’ yellow courgettes came on late in big crowds and all the peppers and chillis have been producing well. The greenhouse is becoming sad and dilapidated with the vents needing attention. The doors are hanging off now and beyond being saved by a sanding and a lick of paint. It’s lasted well, over 12 years, but we have to take a long hard look at what we are going to do as we desperately need a bigger space that is easier to work. With the weather prospects in the coming years expected to be similar to recent years I can see us relying a lot more on indoor or undercover spaces to grown things where we can control the environment to some degree. The heavy rains interspersed with sunny blasts from blue skies are confusing the plants and we’ve had a lot of vegetables go straight to seed as they are stressed out. Carrots were patchy with some varieties such as ‘Solo’ and ‘Bangor’ doing well while ‘Amsterdam’s’ were stunted and went to seed.
Best by far were the onions which delivered big time this year across different soils and beds. Trying to dry them off was the problem and we have them stacked in the cold frames and hanging on the beams in the studio as we’re running out of storage space..’Shakespeares’ and ‘Red Barons’ took the prizes.
The garlics were ok but not as great as we had hoped and the sweetcorn so far despite the ‘ 3 sisters’ planting experiment haven’t performed. The squashes in the experiment seem to be doing well but we lost all the pumpkins. Beans were hit by rabbits as were the first sowing of peas. We sowed more behind a rabbit proof fence and had some luck but they were a bit late and ended up fighting against an ocean of nasturtiums and knot weed.
The nasturtiums exploded in the last weeks and are taking over some areas. Great for the white butterflies which are leaving the cabbages alone under the nets. The rabbits however are devious wee bastards and took 16 cauliflowers in a night when they found an unpinned area of netting on the front bed which we thought they’d never go for as there was a low wall only on one side that we hoped was inaccessible. It may sound cruel but I was glad the myxomatosis arrived on the farm and in a few days it seemed the orchard became rabbit ghost town. However they are back and we know there are residents under the wooden shed in the front garden as every morning I catch them staring in the bedroom window from
beneath the lavender bushes. There’s a hare out there too but so far the nets around everything green seem to be doing their job. Pigeons are one of the main problems and we awake in the morning to a Hitckcockian chorus. I’d hoped that after seeing a recipe for pigeon breasts on a ‘River Cottage garden’ programme Simone might relent and let me get the air rifle out but they are still off limits. The only positive is that sometimes when I lay in bed I make up rhythms from their cooing and try and build melodies around the endless racket from next doors roof. Anything left uncovered is raided and an entire bed of spinach and radishes disappeared in a day before we got round to netting it.
I couldn’t find time to summer prune the orchard and had really hoped I’d get a week to get it into better shape and prepare for the winter prune that should have been a mere tidy up. There are a lot of apples despite last winter’s savaging and this year we had the best cherries to date and which made it to our kitchen thanks to the huge nets we draped over the trees. The grey aphid that hit the apple hedge was sprayed with organic pesticide at least 3 times and we managed to save a good number of stems that have fruited well. I was told by ‘old hands’ that when a pest arrives its predator arrives soon after to redress the balance. I was so pleased to see swarms of hoverflies appear a month ago and feast on the aphids that have been a headache this year. The insect population in the garden has been amazing but I have notices a lack of black bees and general honey bees. Bumblebees and wild bees are prolific and there’s been a decent smattering of butterflies outwith the dreaded cabbage whites. There’s enough food out there for them all and the planting plan for flowers and shrubs to attract our wee flying and crawling friends is paying dividends.
If the rain gives us a break for a few days I can get into the orchard with the Stihl strimmer and get back on the tractor. It’s all a bit unkempt just now and the downpours have battered the dahlias and perennials into submission in some cases. I have to uplift all the diseased tomato plants and burn them on the bonfire which keeps growing on the wasteland next to the studio and general clear a lot of the beds , some of which are being sown with mustard seed to give me a green manure. One thing I have to get more into is measuring the Ph’s of the various beds as they are out of balance judging by some returns.It’s a lot of work but we are just managing to stay on top of it all. The big question is what to do with the greenhouse and when. That provides great meditation and doodles galore at night as we both dream about the space and what we can do with it. I have a fantasy to install a solar powered unit that can heat it relatively cheaply throughout the winter months and carry on growing using LED lights. Whether that can be achieved is at the moment doubtful as there’s too many other things including an album recording that have to be paid for. Maybe it’s time to brush up on my dubious carpentry skills!
The water tinkles in the Japanese garden and I keep my eye on the maple outside the office window. There are slight touches of flame in the leaves to remind me autumn is not far away and that winter is coming. Now a dragon to torch the damp bonfire, get rid of the knotweed and clear the garden paths would be something ! 🙂
Out of the blue yesterday I got a text from my good friend Ted McKenna reminding me of our amazing day in Belfast in 91.We were promoting ‘Internal Exile’ and miming the single on ‘Kelly’, a hugely popular TV chat show hosted by the legendary Gerry Kelly. Ted was on the drum kit that day as he’d performed on the ‘Exile’ album. It was a nice wee promotional jolly and a rare chance to visit Northern Ireland.
It would turn out to be one of the most memorable and enjoyable TV shows I ever worked on as the guests on the day were all legends that I could only but be in awe of.
Both Ted and I were jaw dropped when we were in the Green Room mingling with the others and I could have stayed there all night in their company. Michael Bentine, June Whitfield and Norman Wisdom were outstanding and put me completely at ease. They were absolutely charming and as you’d expect so funny with no airs or graces.
Russ Conway and Los Paraguayos were equally magnificent company and it was a genuine honour to share a stage with these legendary musicians even though we were miming! 🙂
To be in the presence of such genuine stars was truly humbling and I remember thinking at the time that I wished my parents had been there. One of those special days when you feel lucky to be alive and privileged to do what you do.
Just recently I had a flashback to my childhood days and had one of those connection moments where I realised a subconscious link was happening.
In the attic that was my playground as a very young boy, I remembered that my sister and I had various toys from Britain’s Ltd. I of course had toy soldiers but we also had farm animals and the Britain’s Floral
garden. Although I think it was intended for my sister I commandeered it on a regular basis and as well as creating battlefield scenarios with the various walls and divides I also took great delight in creating pristine imaginary gardens from the immaculate scored felted cardboard lawns, playing card size crazy paving and the hard brown plastic rectangular beds that were filled with soft rubber vegetables and flowers that you inserted using a single pinned miniature fork into the respondent holes to create immediate pop up flora .Add to that the gleaming white plastic greenhouse, pond features, garden furniture and the overhanging floppy rubber trees and my early designer instincts were fueled.
I was outside the other day when I realised I’d copied some of the Britains Floral garden elements into my present garden layout and have to say I was taken aback. The low walls that surround the house and mark out the boundaries between areas were particularly reminiscent of the Roy Selwyn-Smith models and even my ‘blue’ greenhouse had similar scaled dimensions.The big difference and where the mental jump occurred was the realisation that in Britains Floral Garden there were no weeds, nothing really grew , nothing needed divided, there were no pests or diseases.What I was staring at outside was nothing like a Britains Floral Garden. The reality of modern day, grown up gardening was a far cry from the sterile, plastic, manicured miniature version that was suspended in toy time with perfect eternal aesthetics. I now knew where the dream came from. Toys in the attic. http://www.brightontoymuseum.co.uk/index/Category:Britains_Floral_Garden
My garden is a daunting, demanding, ever engaging test of will with every day providing another challenge.
This weekend the orchard came to my attention and the plum and cherry trees that had gone uncared for over the last years and that couldn’t be pruned in the winter came on my radar.I thought they were plums and cherries but when I later discovered the “tree map” 3 of the 10 trees turned out to be a damson, a bluegage and a greegage. By pure accident I had decided to prune them at exactly the right time as when I guiltily googled the “do’s and dont’s” re pruning later I found out the perfect time was mid summer. I hit all the trees pretty hard as they were shading out swathes of light and especially from the apple hedge which is infested with wooly aphid https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=724
I’m hoping that by opening the canopies up and clearing all the nettles, sticky willow and other weeds at the base that have consumed the hedge it’ll let in air, sunlight and most importantly predators to curb the aphid population. Our new Stihl brush-cutter/ strimmer is proving a useful tool as there’s too much undergrowth and cover that I can’t get to with the mower and that’s acting as a refuge for an expanding tribe of rabbits that are munching their way through my plots and perennials.The rabbits are causing more damage than aphids just now and my airgun is useless and more of a scarer than an effective weapon against them. I can hear them sniggering in the long grass as I take aim over the garden wall parapet and let fly a useless pellet towards the distant horizon. Liam is quite happy at my many failed attempts as he has designated himself wildlife guardian and frowns on any violence towards anything but spiders and vine weevil. I have to admit that if I did somehow manage to hit one I’d be racked with guilt. I need to bring in a less sensitive man with a proper gun to despatch them so they can disappear and my conscience is only tarnished rather
With the garden split into a number of areas, the orchard, furthest away from the studio, tends to be neglected and this year I decided on a blitz. The apples were pruned hard in the winter and have nearly all managed to bear fruit as well as throw out tons of new water shoots that need to be brought under control in the summer pruning sessions.The pears are disappointing and one that I thought had been hit by Pear midge looks like it’s now been a victim of Jack Frost. All the fruits are blackened but as there’s no maggots inside as you get with the Midge it looks like a weather issue rather than an insect problem. The other pear trees are bare and I have them in the sights of my secateurs as a clever prune in the next weeks could sort them out for next year.
Out of the 5 cherry trees 2 are pretty decently laden with fruit, one has been hit by black aphids and is dripping with honeydew that the bees and wasps are loving and the other 2 are just disappointing and haven’t delivered.Again judicious pruning in the next weeks cutting back the new growth and training water shoots should pay back next year. The couple of trees that are dotted with cherries have had to be covered to stop birds ransacking them. A couple of 8m square nets arrived in the post a few days ago and were duly slung over the trees. Strangely the first and only bird that we inadvertently trapped and then released was a green woodpecker who was moving too frantically for Rab to get a photo
The plums are also mixed with the branches of one tree in particular breaking up under the weight of fruit. I had to cut off a lot of split limbs and really launch at the cuts to open it up. I’ll have to remove a lot of green plums as there’s no way the tree can bring that much fruit and if I’m going to get a decent crop then I need to thin them out and not be greedy.The rest of the trees were out of control and I had to be brutal with the saw. I remembered my old forestry training and made sure I dressed all the cuts with anti fungicidal sealant and washed all the cutting tools in disinfectant between trees so not to spread disease.
The reshaping has been drastic and I know the trees will survive although next year will need a lot of work on the water-shoots that will be sent out as instinctive survival behaviour. It may take 2 years to get a crop from some of them and that’s after a lot of TLC from my secateurs.
I learned so much about fruit trees this weekend and discovering the ‘orchard map’ made things a lot easier to deal with and understand what I have down there in the rows. It should have been looked after a lot better than it has since it was originally planted in 2009 and it’s only since Simone set up a small table and chair set we have spent more time down there getting away from the phones and the computer screens. Just the other day we had lunch together in the orchard and with the big hedges blanking out the big blustering South Westerly and reducing it to the sound of a loud ocean it was truly idyllic.It’s a great place to escape to and it should play a more important part in our drive to self sufficiency. Hopefully the new focus I got in the last days will pay dividends in the coming years.
I’ve still got a hell of a lot to learn and fights to fight. I discovered the pyramid caterpillars yesterday; wee bastards that create a pyramid cocoon to protect them from birds and then parachute into the apple tree canopy to defoliate a tree. Add them to the various moths and beetles, scabs and fungi and it’s a never ending war where the use of chemical weapons is a betrayal of spirit.
I was told that when diseases and insects attack it just takes a while for the natural balance to recover and for predators to emerge to take advantage of the food source. Interestingly enough in the last week or so I’ve seen an abundance of hoverflies on the local scene and as natural predators of aphids I welcome their appearance. I’ve bought in some allies and today was delivered 25 ladybirds who tonight will be parachuted into various places in the garden to begin their new occupation. I’m hoping that the new arrivals will breed quickly enough to help me out and God knows there’s enough food for them out there.
The problem is ants.
Now sit tight here. This isn’t ‘fake news’ and for those of you who aren’t gardening types this could win you a pub quiz prize or at the very least get a raised eyebrow and a moment’s silence as your mate’s bow down to your incredible natural knowledge.
Ants farm aphids.
Yes. Correct. Ants farm aphids.
Although ants do no harm to leaves, root systems or any part of a plant they do tuck away aphid eggs over winter and release the grown up mini monsters onto plants aphids love. The aphids gorge away secreting honeydew that ants love and thrive on and in return the ants kill any predators to protect their source of honeydew. That includes ladybirds, hoverflies and other insects. Ants are, in short aphid security and if you have a plant, as I do with 2 honeysuckle bushes infested with blackfly. you can find them patrolling the leaves seeking out aphid predators as they get their fix of honeydew.I knew they were clever but when did ants get into farming!?
And so now if I find an aphid infested plant I keep an eye open for the presence of ants and if I find them I drop a natural bomb on the trails that takes them out the loop before I parachute in any ladybirds.
The bird feeders I stocked up over the last winter have paid off and the avian population is acting as my RAF when it comes down to whittling away at the caterpillar population. Nematodes seem to have sorted out slugs and vine wevil but I still need some attachments of 7th Cavalry to deal with the blackfly and various aphids that I know will be teeming in the next weeks.
I lost all my turnips to grey cabbage aphid and perhaps ( crosses himself hopelessly) Cabbage Root Fly. 2 months waiting and thinning, feeding and nurturing and a bunch of sad stumps are attached to the greenery. I can only be disappointed and move on, rotating the plant types and hope for the best.
Onions have been fantastic in the main but the garlic ; even though planted in a “clean” bed has succumbed to “red rust”. The bulbs can be eaten but can’t be stored for long.
Carrots- great, Brussels sprouts and other brassica s holding up, salads wonderful and most everything else is moving on.
The greenhouse has ups and downs. Blossom End Rot on the tomatoes from bad watering technique lost me a bunch of toms but as with the plums there’s enough to fill the gaps and let’s go for quality not quantity.
Chillis and peppers are going to deliver and the cucumbers and courgettes are fab! We could just do with more space as it literally is a jungle in there.
There’s still more seed to sow as the season unbelievably moves into the second half plus extra time.There are a lot more perils and disappointments to be coped with.
We had a huge bonfire yesterday as the winter prunings and the new cuts became too much too handle. Getting rid of diseased branches and other material best off in the flames was a cleansing experience and a welcome pint in the Tyneside the perfect end to a day. It’s a never ending battle but as some of you know so worthwhile when you are sitting at table eating food you grew from seed and know exactly how it got there.
This week we will mostly be eating strawberries 🙂
I had a visit today from George Kerevan my local East Lothian MP with his good lady Angela and Chris who’s helping his campaign to be re-elected here. We’d been introduced by a mutual friend a month or so ago and had spent a marvellous Sunday afternoon talking politics, gardening and film making over coffee and cake.
The conversations continued in earnest today and it was interesting to get his take on all things currently political. Simone again delivered the home cooked Rhubarb cake for which George is rather partial to and he took a decent sized chunk away with him to his next meeting 🙂
He’s a very interesting and intelligent guy as well as being great company and we have similar views on a lot of topics as some of you probably already know.
I’d promised him some seedlings and plants for his garden but understandably he’s caught up with campaigning just now after the general election call took everyone by surprise and all his time is being spent traversing the county rallying votes.
The biggest problem is obviously voter fatigue after so many elections and referendums in such a short time. I genuinely felt for him as this next one in a few weeks is hugely important and requires a big turnout across the spectrum to give the result credibility.
The problem up here in Scotland is that the focus has to remain on Brexit and the settlement deal with the EU. This election has nothing to do with any future independence issues but solely has to do with the bargaining power that the Scottish government has in negotiations.
With a 60% vote given by the Scottish people in the last referendum to remain in the EU it’s obvious the present situation is not democratically to our liking and it’s in other party’s interest to muddy the waters between independence and the Brexit challenge to confuse and divide.
There’s the as expected, ‘project fear’ pronouncements and bamboozling “facts” and figures being bandied around by “experts” that no one really seems to have a grip on and that leads to a confused state where people sleepwalk into a nightmare reality.
I appreciate it’s difficult to find the fight after so many battles and so many disappointments but this is important and no matter who you support you need to get up and out to vote on the day. Shake of any apathy, open your eyes, listen to the arguments and read what is being said between the lines.
I’ll finish with a wee story.
I was in the gym today on the endless road that is the walking machine facing the TV screen and reading the subtitles on SKY news as Theresa May launched the Tory manifesto.
I watched her eyes flit coldly from the script on pages before her to the assembled devotees and the cameras. As I read the text and the summary on the screen I couldn’t but help but think back to the 80’s and other offers and promises given by another female Prime minister who went on to treat Scotland with contempt after she achieved absolute power.
I was reminded of a story I’d used in a lyric on ’13th Star’ where a turtle, about to swim across a river, was approached by a scorpion asking for help to get across to the other side.
The turtle was suspicious and said to the scorpion “but you’re a scorpion and you’ll kill me”.
The scorpion told the turtle that if he helped he wouldn’t kill him and that it was in his interest to get to the other bank.
The turtle agreed to carry him over but half way across the scorpion stung the turtle. The turtle turned around and said to the scorpion as the poison took hold.
“But why would you do this? You’ve killed us both as you will now drown”
The scorpion replied ” I couldn’t help it, it’s in my nature”
And I looked at Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond and the others and I could see the other side.
This is my personal opinion, my take on it all and I appreciate many will disagree with me. Don’t please argue the independence issues if you’re going to reply as this is not what this general election is about. The vote in Scotland is about getting the best deal for this country through being able to have a say in the Brexit negotiations and don’t be conned into thinking otherwise. It’s a country with its own important needs and issues and we need a voice speaking on our behalf and not being dictated to by someone who continually disregards that a large majority of the people here wanted to stay in the EU.
On Thursday 8th June, no matter who you support just make sure you make the effort to use your vote on the day and give this election the seriousness it deserves and a turnout that gives the eventual result the credibility it needs to show that we aren’t an apathetic and tired nation and that we have a genuine interest in commanding our future.
The cascade of splashing water in the Japanese Garden pond can lull me into a trance sometimes. It’s slightly masked by the water margin foliage that’s doubled in recent weeks but that sound with a breeze whispering the maple outside the window can be so calming even when there’s a storm blowing though the office.
The big rains finally came the other day and it was the first night in a while where I didn’t have to wander the raised beds and containers copying my shoulder physio exercises with a hose in my outstretched arm. The temperatures have kept me on nervous edge and even today when I was planning on docking the outdoor tomato plants in the beds and checking the techniques online I read a warning to hold off until the end of the month. Between those, Simone’s celeriac seedlings and the leeks my patience has been slightly tested as I wait to sink them into the well prepared raised beds.
Last night I planted out a mixture of cabbages in the ‘Fence bed’ that last year was used for the first time and grew me a decent herd of turnips. It was planned for the leeks but a bit of Google gardening had warned me about planting out the Chinese cabbage in a bed that last year had held the purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) They may be raised beds and the soil/ compost bulked up every year but not following good crop rotation and especially with a brassica that’s prone to the ugly club root disease could provide long term problems as it takes years for the fungus to die off. That particular bed is already in quarantine as I stupidly grew garlic and leeks 2 years in a row and picked up a nasty dose of Leek rust that also takes 3 years to kill off. I should have put potatoes in it this year but the PSB took ages to mature and again my impatience got the better of me and I planted up the tatties in another bed.
Crop rotation is putting plants that aren’t related into successive beds to avoid building up of diseases and benefitting the soil. That’s the simple explanation and in fact it’s a lot more complex and frustrating trying to keep the cycles going as certain crops mature at different times and sometimes it feels like I am organising the deck of an aircraft carrier in a war zone as one crop is lifted out and others land from the ‘Purdie Bunker’ cold frames. Raised beds can help out as soil is replaced and organic matter added every season but there’s still a chance of an accident as happened with the Leek Rust that wiped out the garlic in that particular bed 2 years ago.
On finding out that the Chinese cabbage was particularly susceptible I elected at the last minute to put it in the ‘Fence bed’. After setting in 20 plants I realised that was going to have to net it against cabbage white butterflies and decided to add the Savoy cabbages. They’re planted a bit close and in the 5 metre by 1 metre bed there’s about 45 plants in total. The Alaskan Savoy’s are a first this year and grow well into winter. They are a beautiful grey and blue colour and look magnificent when fully grown. They are in the middle row with All Year Round Savoys at the back. They’ll be hitting the pot in autumn so the space should open out for the Alaskans. The Chinese cabbage is a favourite of ours for stir fries and should be first out the bed as long as it doesn’t go into shock after transplanting as we should have sowed it directly into the soil.
I find a lot of good ideas come from intuition and I was pleased to find that both the savoys and Chinese cabbages don’t need that much direct sun and actually benefit from shorter days in full light. The ‘Fence bed’ has the southern side blocked by a panelled fence but after about 3 in the afternoon it catches the sun as it starts to sink. It should in theory be a perfect site for them.
So the ‘Fence bed’ is packed out, the quarantine bed may take the celeriac and I have to wait on the early potatoes taking off and out before I lay in the leeks which still need to grow on a bit in their modules. That leaves me with one 2 x 2 metre bed free and it looks destined for greyhound cabbages which will go in with fingers crossed as it had brassicas in 2 years ago although the soil has been well bulked up with new filling
I still have PSB to sow as well as more kale and there’s a crowd of dwarf French beans needing to be sown including our favourite Borlottis. The peas are now out in the ’50 pence bed’ where I’ve used a planting technique I read about in #Grow Your Own magazine. I’ve already used it in the ‘Ruin Bed’ by the old building that belongs to the Main House.
It’s called the “3 Sisters” method and involves using sweet corn in small blocks with runner beans planted at their roots providing nitrogen and squashes and pumpkins between the blocks to provide ground cover against weeds. It’s an ancient growing techniques used by native American Indians for thousands of years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Sisters_(agriculture)
I didn’t follow the planting rules exactly but think I’ve managed to find an imitation that should do the same job. The ‘Ruin bed’ has sweetcorn that’s been grown in 2 sowing sessions from the greenhouse but the ’50 Pence bed’ was planted direct with seed. The squashes are ‘Hokkaidos’ and the pumpkins ‘Kakai’, well known for their seeds. The peas in the ‘50p’ bed were grown in peat pots before planting out to give them a better chance and are in with the broadbeans and more peas sown direct into the ground last week. I’m interested to see if and how this works.
The ‘50p’ bed is earmarked as a strawberry bed this autumn as the present one although now flowering is getting tired after over 5 years of repeated use. That’s the new brassica bed next year.
I found a site that provides on line garden design and planning including rotation guidelines and crop suggestions and as my head is birling trying to keep the crops spinning it may prove useful as I set my eyes on next year.
Another big job is moving on the chillies and peppers in the greenhouse as the roots are starting to grow out the small peat pots. It’s the right time for the move up and I’ll be giving away a lot of plants this year as I have as always completely over sown. The temperatures rising and now the focus returns to the greenhouse as it has to be arranged to accommodate a large crowd of pots and containers. This is its last year in the present state as it’s starting to fall apart after 14 years of loyal service and despite coats of paint it’s all getting a bit shoogly and ramshackled. The idea is that this autumn/ winter, if we can afford to finance it, to extend it another 2 metres or so and give us more space to work in and grow some other indoor plants we can’t grow outside up here.
For now it serves its purpose and the 4 cucumbers we have in grow bags are already setting flowers and forming fruits with one of the ‘Longfellows’ already having to have the lead shoot snipped just as it reached the roof. The tomatoes I always have angst about and am never quite confident or sure how to deal with them. It’s a science unto itself and I just have to go with a mixture of Google gardening and instinct.
It’s a full on endeavour just now and Simone and I find ourselves out there well after 8pm still trying to deal with demands from the Green. With rain and sun finding a balance now there’s slightly less worry on that particular weather front and the rainwater harvester and water butt have taken on some fresh intake with the new pump doing its job well so far. Having new hose points meant that Liam and I have had our water fights and Simone gets a bit annoyed when the battle enters the kitchen but everything is pretty harmonious here in the Shire.
What made our day was the arrival of the herb plants from Germany today that we’ve been waiting on for months. Simone was overjoyed at finally being able to plant out her own herb garden that she’s been planning since Balcony days in Karlsruhe. It’s more of an apothecary garden and not filled with just common garden kitchen herbs. Although the thymes, sages, mints etc are all present and correct the plants that arrived today are all pretty exotic with most of them from Chinese and Asian backgrounds. More on them in another post as we wait for them to root on down and reach for the skies.
Its perfect timing as we both returned to the gym for the first time since pre shoulder operation in February and with these herbs designated for super healthy smoothies together with our vast spinach, beetroot, carrot and kale harvests coming on line it should be a buzzing summer.
After the rush of growth in a mini heatwave at the beginning of April it feels like everything has gone into slow motion in the garden.I had to get the fleeces and covers out a week or so ago when a frost bit down on us and the cold winds and low daily temperatures combined with minimal rain has meant unseasonal watering. Yes , you read that right, it’s not been raining in this part of Scotland.
When I had the extension built a couple of years ago I installed a rainwater harvester which meant I could collect water from the studio gutters and store it in a 3000 litre underground tank to use in the garden. I got a Hydroforce pressure sensitive pump with the system which meant that when I turned on the tap outside the pump kicked in and I got a decent PSI on the hose and more than adequate to water the raised beds.Being in Scotland and with accommodating heavens the pump didn’t undergo particularly heavy usage. All was well until last Autumn when everything stopped working.I checked everything and ended up sending the pump unit back to the suppliers.Within days I was told the pump was irreparable as it was an internal electrical fault, that the guarantee had expired 2 months before and that I would have to lash out £356 for a new one. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed and with few options open had to bite the bullet and get a new unit. I hung off until last week as I obviously didn’t need it during the winter and if it has a working life like the last one I wanted my money’s worth.As with all things electrical and “complicated” these days it seems the stories of “planned obsolescence” have a ring of truth. I expected more for the big bang in this particular buck and as a unit advertised as being so sturdy and dependable with rigorous factory checks before delivery at least something that could be repaired rather than written off for an electrical fault.Rab , my trusty gardening accomplice was even less impressed as he had to descend head first into the tank to retrieve it and today had to re install the unit and deal with foul smelling water that had been lying in the tank for the last 8 months.I had to hold his legs while he went into the murky depths and thankfully he managed to link it up without throwing up. We now have a working system and I just hope it lasts longer than the last one or there will be two distinctly unhappy gardeners up here.
As I said it’s been pretty dry up here in East Lothian and my new weather station continually reminds me of how little rain has fallen and how cloudy it’s been in recent weeks.I do like watching the wind speeds and directions on the indoor monitor and the little windmill on the outdoor unit looks important and professional.However it’s more of a toy than meteorologically dependable and the frost alarms went off a few times when the websites said “stand down”. It’s always edgy at this time of year and a bout of laziness can be disastrous and ruin weeks of hard work. The “Purdie Bunker”, the huge cold frame Rab put together has proved it’s worth and it’s currently full of young tender plants from the greenhouse that are now hardening off.I’m trying to be as patient as possible and not sticking stuff out in the ground until I feel more confident in the weather.I’ve enough reams of fleece and polythene to put up a good defense against Jack Frost but the laying out of barriers is a major endeavor.
In the last week or so I planted out over 150 perennial bulbs to go with the 100 or so plug plants in the ‘Longshanks’ bed which is about 20 m long. Between them and the dahlias that had to go in a few days ago it’s a big gamble and on the last frost warning the back garden looked like a scene from a Gothic horror film set as everything was draped in white cloth in the darkness.
I sowed more than enough tomato, pepper and chilli seed this year with the intent of trying to grow plants outdoors for the first time. I’d tried some in grow bags last year but late sowing after the ‘Childhood’ tour in May and a lack of TLC meant they didn’t result in much. This year I am planting up the original tomato beds by the greenhouse which have been set up with compost, manure and black plastic sheeting since last October. Back in the day the farm had a remarkable commercial vegetable and herb garden and the tomato houses incorporated the raised beds I inherited when I bought the place in 1989. The tomato houses were burnt down in a huge fire that took out the stables for the shire horses and the cattle byres the evidence of which I discovered in a layer of dark carbon and ashes when creating my own garden. Allegedly a result of some kid playing with matches in the straw barn the story is that it took days and hosts of fire crews working shifts to put out. I can’t get actual dates but I think it was back in the 50’s. It was the raised beds made of local brick that inspired me to follow the theme in my garden and I didn’t realise that those combined with the 2m steel stanchions and the long tall brickwork that used to be above the existing stonewall that I tore down in the 90’s made up an elaborate greenhouse.This year I’m replanting the beds with tomatoes, cucumbers, chillis and peppers and with their back to the warm South facing wall I hope to reap a harvest. My only worry is blight which I keep on reading about is acerbated by rain. I’m not sure whether to build a temporary roof structure to keep the plants safe or to trust to luck. I’m covering most of the other bases. I have 96 marigold plants to act as companions and ward of white and green fly, nematodes to sort out the slugs and plan on keeping the black polythene covers to keep the soil warm and keep weeds down. I also plan on buying some “tubes” of ladybirds once I detect any fly so they can feast and breed and act as another ally in the War.
Today I racked up the grow bags in the greenhouse as safety should the outdoor plants fail. I’ve got 150 tomato plants overall across 8 different types. Indoor I’ve got the dependable “Moneymakers” (3), “Alicante” (3),”Castalutto” (3) and “Super Marmand” (6) – the last 3 types all “beefsteak” – and “Grushovka” (3) – a very rare Russian tomato that is a tall bush type ( bought from “the Real Seed Catalogue”). I’ve got “Ailsa Craig”, and “Latah” earmarked for outdoors with the remainder of the plants although I’m going to try a “Latah” in a pot in the greenhouse just to see how it does as it’s a super early type.
I also have “Wautoma” and “Longfellow” cucumbers in a greenhouse growbag with others destined for either the bed or the ‘Purdie Bunker’. Courgettes and aubergines are also being split up between residences but I’m looking forward to the yellow climbing “Shooting Star” courgettes this summer.
While I was populating grow bags with Rab Simone was moving the chillis and peppers on. We learned that rather than moving them up to big pots that to take them up in gradients to help roots develop was the ideal set up. Again a myriad of types and a healthy return on sowing means we are overcrowded. “Pyramid Rainbow Chilli”, “Basque Chilli”, ‘Early Jalapeno”, “Amanda Sweet Wax Pepper” and “Yellow Monster Long Bell Pepper” from the “Real Seed Catalogue” suppliers as well as our own “Long Toms” from our seed and “Mixed Sweet Peppers” give us a great choice and a recent present ( Thanks Joe Beer) of some “Yellow Bonnets Chillis” to be sown mean our partiality to hot spicy powders will be well served this year.
I’m having a crack at sweetcorn this year and that together with the “Kakai” pumpkins and the seed grown from last years batch are all nestling in the cold frame waiting on the move to the beds.I’m fast running out of space and looking at the early potatoes urging them on so I can get a bed emptied and filled again. I still have to sow my special kales , the Purple sprouting broccoli and others and it looks like I’ll be holding them off in large pots waiting to crop the mass of garlic and onions in late June.Working out a rock festival line up is easier! 🙂
The various peas and beans are still pushing up the earth in peat pots as I want to make sure they are “adult” enough to handle any slugs and pests before they hit the ground. Together with geraniums and phlox plants and all other things bright and beautiful they have to wait till the time is right and the gamble is short odds. Even the potatoes are nervous both in the raised beds and in the crowd of bags we set up along the front garden wall. It’s just turned May, we live on an island and weather ambushes are all part of the glorious game of gardening.
I am working on music business stuff as well but for those of you out there who are reading without yawning this is the big set up as we all know. I should have been out there on the green front line on Saturday but decided that it was time to take in a bit of nature. For the first time ever I walked from Haddington to East Linton along the banks of the river Tyne. It’s only about 7 miles or so and turned out to be a glorious wee adventure. Simone, her son Liam, Rab and Brodie the Labrador and I spent a wonderful few hours following the riverbank and ending up in the Linton Hotel for a few beers and a delicious and well deserved meal that wiped out the calories we’d lost on the hike.
I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to make this trek and both Simone and I agreed it should become a regular saunter. The old mills, the ominous Hailes castle, the woodland paths laced with the aroma of wild garlic and sprinkled with the bursts of colour from wild flowers, the deep dark fairytale pools, whispering shallows below glorious yellow bursting gorse bushes, crowds of ducks with excited broods and a lonely imperial heron that commanded the river, still as death on a rock, all added to the adventure. I felt allowed to ignore the greenhouse for an afternoon.
I try and keep a garden diary but there’s too much to write up. I’m reminded every day about how lucky we are to have this together and how wonderful nature truly is.
A blackbird now sings from the whitebeam just as the LED lights pop off in the greenhouse. It’s 5 degrees overnight tonight. The sentries stand down but are ever vigilant.
I’m now about 6 weeks into recovery but the broken wing is still healing and causing me endless frustrations. At least I can now pull a T shirt over my head but as I am feeling the absence of gym time,stretching the waistband of the trousers over to button them is a trial when they first come out the laundry. I am constantly reminding myself to forego the right hand maneuvers such as the long sleeved shirt when a cuff goes over my wrist and I flick my hand to free it or the inadvertent reach for the bottle of wine on the top shelf at Tescos. The sharp twinge of pain that arrives is like a cattle prod reeducation. I still can’t sleep on my right side and as I can’t perform any back exercises to strengthen up my core muscles I’m finding aches and twinges returning in my lower spine as I am constantly on my left side or on my back. The first physio visit was positive and I have another tomorrow morning to ascertain where I go next. It does grind me down knowing there’s still many more months of this but the hope of driving a car in the next weeks brightens me up.
I’ve managed a fair bit of sowing in the greenhouse but again a moment of forgetfulness when I opened the top of a propagator and stretched over with a deliberately quarter full watering can caused a gasp and a minor shock wave in the shoulder area. I’d been told by the physio after he read my notes that the operation was one of the biggest he’d come across and that it was going to be months before I was anywhere near back to normal movement. The digging and lifting has to be designated to others and I get frustrated and angry sometimes at my incapacity to perform simple tasks. Simone, quite rightly, scolds me when I am dragging the wood in a basket across from the pile to the house to pathetically take a badly directed ax to a log with my misguided left hand.A weekend ago I thought some light trowelling of compost into a trug was ok but the shaking of the head and the twinges that followed indicated she was right as always. We’d been repositioning bluebell bulbs under the apple hedge and planted a pine tree and a couple of sycamores that had grown over the years from bird deposited seed in containers in the kitchen garden. It felt good digging them into the scraggy treebelt on the farm drive but my contribution was mainly heeling them in and adding the fish,blood and bone powder. I did however get to drive the mini tractor and took the long way round every time. I paid the price later and had my arm in a sling as a penance.
We are however on top of the garden demands. The bubble wrapped heated greenhouse glows purple with it’s LED’s and the chillis, peppers and tomatoes that started in propagators in the studio in the bright “new” room have survived the move although I shudder at the electric bill coming at me.I accommodate the expense with the knowledge they’ll taste better than anything supermarket bought and that we grew them ourselves. Cabbages, sweetcorn,broccoli,leeks and broadbeans have all been “brought on” out in the ‘Blue house’ under lights but I would have had more in the dining room if allowed.
Rab built a great cold frame from scavenged wood and e bay bought plastic roofing, now known as the “Purdie Bunker”. We finally got to use the metal uprights that used to hold up the old tomato house from the early 1900’s and all that were left from a major fire here in the 60’s. I’d contemplated cutting them down with acetylene torches many’s a time but they’ve become an integral part of the new design and a couple of big old timbers slotted in perfectly between them to provide me with the front of the new frames.We’ve needed a big set of cold frames for a while as the 2 I shop bought years ago were way too small to cope with the outpouring trays of plants from the greenhouse. The “Purdie Bunker” is immediately outside so load in’s are easy and we have more stuff destined for the garden this year than ever before as now there are two avid gardeners in the studio.
Today 60+ perennials that were bought as plug plants and brought on under the lights went out to the closet chill and 3 sets of early salad tatties that have been chitted moved out into growing sacks.Rab had set up the 7 types of potatoes to chit in large trays in the greenhouse but before he moved them out to the “Purdie Frame” he’d raised them slightly as there was rain coming in through the roof. In doing so they’d moved and mingled across the types. When I had delegated the tattie planting the “8M bed” was scheduled for maincrop and I’d measured out spacings against length. After he had planted there were still over 2m left and I had a head scratching moment. The ‘Rooster’ and Picasso’ types were 25 each variety and I had 15 each of ‘Charlotte’, ‘Anja’ and Vivaldi’ designated for the 9 growing sacks with 25 each of early ‘Belle du Font’ and ‘Red Duke of York’ for the other beds. In all honesty I’d got carried away with ordering and was well over my space.However in the cold frame the numbers didn’t work out and that was when we realised the types had got slightly mixed up. Telling the difference between tattie types is not my best suit and having over ordered already a few were designated for the “miscellaneous” patch. I just hope in a few months time we don’t find the labels were mixed up as well as there may be some very disappointing salad potatoes in June!
The ‘Romance’ and ‘Amsterdam’ carrots and ‘Boltardy’ beetroot in the ‘Kitchen bed’ are so slow I’m wondering if I screwed up with too much compost as it’s over 3 weeks and no sign of green. I covered them with fleece the other nights when we had a couple of frost scares but still no real movement. Just in case I sowed another 2 rows of each in the 2m ‘Gate Bed’, salad under a cloche and ‘Petrowski’ and ‘White Milan’ turnips with ‘Raab Broccoli’ in the ‘Bedroom Bed’. (They all have designated names)
There’s all sorts going into seed modules in the next month and the peas and beans I’ve sown in fibre pots in the greenhouse should be growing and stretching above “mouse size” in the next week ready to hit “the bunker”. This will be a big season and I’ll be here for all of it.
The ponds , all 3 of them, have been cleared out . I had to replace the pump in the ‘Japanese Garden’ as the cascade was keeping us awake. A 1000 litre a minute takes over from a 3500 litre per minute which means less visits to the toilet at night as the sound of the Niagara Falls was intruding not comforting. The new Arcadian trickle is better suited to peaceful slumber. The fish are active in the ‘Peter Pan’ pond with it’s new rejuvenating air pump bubbling away and we are watching the new frog spawn develop as excited as wee kids at school.The orgy that occurred a week or so ago took me by surprise as no sooner had I cleared away the debris from the winter than they were all rutting in a Dionysian apocalypse.I heard from a friend with a pond that they were even shagging his Koi carp they were so much in a frenzy!
There’s a new weather station here. Nothing too grand but enough for wind speeds, rainfall, humidity etc and frost warnings.I don’t entirely trust it as the wind was coming from about 6 different directions the other day and it signaled cloudy with rain on a a pair of blue sky days. I can only hit reset so often before it goes out the window.
I know some of you are thinking “what’s this to do with the music?”. Sorry to perhaps bore some of you but I really do get off on all this gardening lark and Simone and I even keep a garden diary these days. I need it, it keeps me sane and relaxed amidst all the other stuff. It also clears my head which is what I need just now as the recovery is gumming up my mind not freeing it.This is going to become a regular blog and there will be videos to follow. If you are into all this let me know, we can exchange tips! 🙂
Off to close the “Purdie Frame” now and check the greenhouse heater. I will ignore the electric meter. Watching the Hibs v Morton game on BBC text and quaffing a wee cheeky Savvy in the office. Tomorrow is parsnip sowing mixed with accounts, physio,paperwork and the next blog on the remasters !
3 weeks into the recovery now and I have to admit I’m feeling a lot more flexible and in a lot less pain than I envisaged at this point. Saying that I am being very careful and not extending myself in every meaning of the word. The sort of thing I have to be really careful of is the instinctive reaction like I had the other day when a cupboard door in the kitchen swung out and was about to hit Simone’s head. I reached up and out with my right hand and felt that sharp twinge of pain in the shoulder to remind me that movements such as that couldn’t be considered in the slightest.
The operation had been the most painful experience so far.
I’d been taken by my mate Rab and dropped off at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary just before 7.30 in the morning. I’d been told already my operation wouldn’t be until probably 2 in the afternoon and was looking forward to getting into a bed, stacking some zeds up and doing a bit of reading.
I eventually found the day surgery unit at the back of the main hospital and where the new Sick kids’ hospital was under noisy construction. Up the stairs to the reception where I registered and sat in an uncomfortable seat in the waiting room with about 20 other people. I noticed that patients were being called and returning minutes later. My name was called and an interview with a nurse re my identification and some basics lasted about 5 minutes and I was told to go back to my seat. Another call, this time with a friendly anaesthetist to confirm I hadn’t eaten anything in the last 12 hours. My last food was the day before at 4 when we dined gloriously on pheasant with my Mum, Simone, Liam and my friend Phil. My stomach was now rumbling and as I hadn’t had a drink of water for hours either my mouth felt like the bottom of a budgie cage. Did I mention I’d had a few glasses of wine with the meal?
The anaesthetist sent me back to the waiting room where I sat for another 15 minutes until the next interview. My back was now starting to ache and I just wanted to lie down somewhere. The final call out took me to another room where I thought that my next stop would be a bed in a ward. More routine questions followed always beginning with name and date of birth before being sent back to the waiting room. I asked when I was going to get a bed and was told that as it was day surgery I would have to sit and wait until I was called to theatre. It was by then only 9 o’clock and I had 5 hours to wait. The nurse took pity on me and showed me through to the room where patients waited to go home and where the seats were by far more comfortable. She also got the ok to give me a cup of water as the operation was far enough away to not cause anaesthetics issues. I was so grateful for the understanding.
I hunkered down in a big soft seat the only other occupant of the room being a Russian guy who could barely speak English and who I discovered was waiting on a liver operation. The TV in the corner was broken and the 5 hours felt like a sentence. I couldn’t sleep and was annoyed as I could have stayed at home and got on with writing up the sleeve notes on ‘Farewell to Childhood’ that I had hoped to have finished before the hospital appointment. I needed to do something and phoned home to ask if Simone could bring in my laptop so I could at least use my time more positively. 40 mins later she came to the front door with Elspeth and dropped off my computer before heading off as unlike my previous back operation at the Spire hospital there was no private room and nowhere for her to hang around and wait much to her disappointment.
The room I was in was by now filling up with other day surgery patients who’d discovered the comfy seats. I was being tortured as the area I was in was close to where they prepared the food for the wards and the smells of lunch menus as well as the wafting aromas of coffee were driving me crazy. The glass of water I savoured like a man adrift on a boat and it tasted wonderful.
I couldn’t find any wifi signal and my laptop announced that I had to download software to write documents. I resigned myself to writing up on an e mail which I intended to save and send to my home PC later. It was frustrating but I was happy to be working. 1000 words or so later I needed a break and headed downstairs for a vape. As I stood outside in a cloud of strawberry haze I had a shiver that wasn’t just from the chill in the weather. I returned to my seat and opened up the lid on the laptop to discover a blank screen. The computer had crashed. Windows 10 had done me over again. I knew I should have saved the tappings before I went outside and was now paying the price. All my mornings work disappeared. I was despondent and gave up any further attempt to write locking myself down into the Springsteen autobiography again. Time rolled ever so slowly by.
Around 1.30 I got the call. Again I was expecting to go through to a ward but instead found myself in a corridor where a nurse took my bags now weighed down by the computer equipment. She tagged them and put them in a luggage rack like you’d expect at a regional airport and I was shown through to another small room where I was instructed to change into a theatre gown behind a screen. It was quite surreal.
There were another 2 guys in the room which was pretty sparse apart from a sink, a trolley full of hospital accoutrements and 3 seats, the unoccupied one accepting my cold butt. A conversation developed and I discovered one of the guys had been brought in at short notice for an operation on his oesophagus after he’d been recently diagnosed with a recurring cancer condition. I shuddered and the other guy, who was in for an operation on his knee and I tried to keep the atmosphere as light as possible given the circumstances we were all now in. The cancer patient was unbelievably positive and open about his predicament and I listened to him with great admiration. He was incredibly brave and accepted his lot as given. It was obvious he was facing a huge fight. He was called and I never saw him again.
I thought I’d be last but my name was announced and I walked back through to the corridor and was instructed to climb onto the gurney that would take me to theatre. It was all happening so fast and I was thrown at the sudden change in the situation. I hadn’t quite come to terms with what was happening and the imminent surgery. I was a lot more nervous than I had been before my back operation when in this situation. Amazingly my blood pressure was ok but as the nurses struggled to put in the drip feed valve into my hand I had to concentrate on staying calm as the pain was threatening panic especially as the anaesthetists were beginning the procedures to deliver local injections into my neck and shoulder that were intended to block the severe pain I was told to expect after the operation. I was listening to the talk through of what was happening and acknowledging the strangely reassuring voices of masked people I could barely see. It crossed my mind for a moment to call the whole thing off and get up and walk away just as I sucked on the mask that had just been placed on my face. I started to drift, the anaesthetists and the room disappearing in the distance.
I woke in agony. “On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad is your pain?”
“9 point 5”
Both sides of the Q and A were repeated for what seemed like an eternity as I moved in and out of consciousness on a wave of morphine that didn’t seem to be touching the intense pain in my right shoulder. I felt really calm and composed and the strangers around my bed reassuring and comforting. I remember a flurry of jokes and trying to talk properly while laughing at myself. I was told that the operation had been more complicated and involved more repair work than originally thought and that I’d been in theatre for nearly 3 hours. I certainly felt like I’d been through a battle.
I was back in the ward and going in and out of consciousness. As expected I was being kept in that night as I’d been told that as I was the last operation of the day the potential problems of recovering from a general anaesthetic needed monitoring. On top of that I couldn’t be released without consulting the physio .
The physio had come round to speak to me but I was so out of it that I even told her to forget it as I wouldn’t remember anything she told me in the state I was in. I didn’t and only just remembered her visiting me and laughing when I spoke to her.
I called Simone a couple of times when I came out of my stupor and she told me next day that I sounded completely wasted and she couldn’t make much sense of what I was saying.
I kept passing out and waking up thinking I’d just slept for an hour or so and discovering from the hands on the clock on the wall of the ward that it had only been a couple of minutes. The pain came in rolling waves and I tried to ride them as best I could. It was a strange night full of wild dreams and a reality in the ward that was surreal at times.
The beds emptied as the day surgery patients vacated the premises leaving me and one other guy in the ward. He’d been babbling, sometimes quite aggressively. I’d noticed his top lip was badly cut and mashed up and one of the crude tattoos on his arm was “1690” the date of the Battle of the Boyne celebrated by supporters of Glasgow Rangers. That was confirmed when I heard him trying to sing Gers songs and asked out loud if anyone was a Rangers supporter. He was parked up next to me when the nurses decided to move us both to a “quieter” area which turned out to be a wide corridor. He sounded drunk and was pretty unintelligible and I was nervous of any confrontation with my right arm useless and being off my head on morphine. I might not feel any pain but didn’t need any more damage. I was wary and ignored him as much as possible. I was glad when they pulled the curtains around our respective beds.
I was still bobbing in and out of my confused state kept awake by the bright lights and willing myself to tumble into a deep sleep to get me through the night. I was offered some food at some point but couldn’t stomach it settling for coffee and rich tea biscuits. I was now navigating the very early hours but time seemed not to move. The lights in the ward and corridor were eventually switched off but then I came to and everything was fully illuminated again. There was so much traffic throughout the night it felt like I was in Kings Cross station or a war time medical facility in the height of battle. Convoys of gurneys moved back and forward, nurses chatting as they followed their wake, the lights blazing on and off as the units negotiated the corridor carrying damaged strangers to wards in other parts of the hospital. It seemed incessant.
The door to the nurse’s station directly opposite my bed opened and closed with tedious regularity. The darkness that was giving me some comfort interrupted by the beacon of light from the room when the door was left ajar allowing me to hear the alien chorus of conversations belonging to the bright green scrubbed minions that shuttled unflustered back and forward throughout the night. The hours dragged by and the pain in my shoulder turned from a dull ache to a bullet wound sometime around 7am.
I’d had a couple of tablets in the night but I asked a nurse for something a bit stronger. Name, date of birth and a soothing vial of liquid morphine was poured in my mouth. As I still had hours to go before seeing the physio and the doctor to get my release paperwork it was deemed ok to allow me a visit to the lands of Orpheus for a while. Just as I floated away what seemed like an army of fresh green minions flooded into the ward as the shifts changed, some smiling, others visibly unhappy to enter the fray. I was told that the previous night had been close to overwhelming and everyone had been stretched to the limits. I was made very aware of the strained resources and the eternal demands on services we mostly take for granted. I lay in my bed and watched the arriving angels scurry around and find their places and gave my thanks and farewells to the ones that had looked after me in the long night who were now putting on coats and jackets relieved to be leaving the trenches for a while. They disappeared quickly along the long corridor as I drifted into another dream.
When I came to I felt the need to pee, one of the main prerequisites of being granted my ticket home. A woozy walk and strained relief put me back in bed with a smile. I’d drunk at least 4 pints of water during the night and my bladder was now responding with a vengeance. My neighbour had woken and was rambling again. I’d noticed that during the night he’d been greeted by passing porters and was obviously known. In my delusional mind I had him down as a “face” that’d been beaten up, a Don of thugs now hidden away for his safety in the bowels of the hospital. When the curtains were pulled back for the morning doctors rounds I started to see him in a new light.
On the return from my second toilet visit I engaged him and was immediately overwhelmed by a crushing guilt as I couldn’t have misjudged the guy more. His name was Paul and the reason behind his slurred speech wasn’t just down to meds and the dreadful wound to his mouth but also that he was mentally handicapped. He had taken a hard fall and had badly damaged his knees. His right in particular was obviously worse and he had undergone an operation to fix ligaments. Like me he just wanted to go home and was practically pleading to be let go. The physio had come round and tried to get him to walk on crutches but it was impossible for him to manage. I felt really sorry for him as he valiantly struggled to stay upright and make the few paces that would take him ultimately home. There was no way he was going anywhere.
I was by now dressed and had been given the green light to go. I was just waiting on Rab and Simone to pick me up, pain meds in a bag, instructions on physio exercises given and all paperwork to hand. I sat and talked with Paul until my mobile chirped announcing their arrival at the main door. The screens were drawn around Paul just as I was leaving and I said my goodbyes and best wishes to the stranger I’d maligned in my imagination on the other side of the curtains. His farewell was saddening and I left him trapped in a system he really didn’t want to be in.
The confusing routes around the new construction site meant I had to walk through the main hospital to find Rab who was at the entrance. I was still wrapped in the cotton wool of opiates and the journey home might as well have been on a medevac helicopter. I was detached and part of the scenery at the same time. I’d only been interred for just over 30 hours but it seemed like 30 days in a hole. The studio appeared out of the misty blue and I dissolved into the couch in front of the fire to begin my recovery as soon as I entered the sanctuary. I’d crossed the line of the surgery and now it was the long haul to get back to normality. My shoulder ached. I took more pills. The warm soft fuzz enveloped me. I just hoped I’d made the right decision to go ahead with this operation. There was so much that could still go wrong.
I had my fingers down my throat just after midnight.
I’d wolfed down the creamy mushroom and chicken pasta Simone had made me for my return and that, combined with a couple of glasses of guzzled white wine had interacted with an already confused stomach blown by meds to lower the acid levels and leave me with a chronic indigestion. The pink slime of Gaviscon wasn’t touching it and I remembered warnings from the night after my back op when it was inexplicably rationed by nurses. I figured there was a good reason so I decided to empty the contents of my stomach into a plastic basin. It was a long and painful night as I tried to sleep propped upright on pillows on the spare bed which could be cantilevered to help the position I was supposed to maintain for the next 4 weeks. Simone was an unprotesting angel and didn’t complain once as I wrestled with the discomfort and slipped in and out of consciousness. My head was spinning like a slow motion blender. I honestly don’t know what I would have done on my own and thought of Paul back in the ward.
The following days were a blur, the nights filled with codeine fuelled dreams that were lucid and entertaining, never scary and none of which I could remember fully in the morning despite trying to take notes in my mind. They were beautifully bizarre and sometimes off the charts and I allowed myself to run with them wherever they took me. Novels exploded in my head and I would find myself staring out through the French doors of the spare room into the garden as the dawn came up trying to regain my upright position on the pillows which I’d slid from in the previous hours. The pain was never far away and neither were the pills which I knew were contributing to the visions and which I knew I had to stay in control of and regulate. It was easy to see how an addiction could surreptitiously creep in to a command position. Over the next days I would limit my codeine intake and rest heavy on the ibuprofen and paracetemol tabs using the heavy cavalry for respite in the darkness. I had to admit I was enjoying the dream machine.
I was frustrated at my inability to do things. I taught myself to plunge a cafatiere holding the vessel with my good left hand and using a towel to push my head down with my right hand to avoid a scalding upsurge of liquid onto my face from a displaced filter. I managed to chop kindling via some awkwardly misplaced down strokes that threw sparks from the flagstones in front of the stove and some left shoulder numbing hits as I misjudged knots in the wood and the momentum and force required to split the timbers. I wiped my own arse, showered effectively, lined a glass of wine from a bottle with a steady left hand and after 2 weeks I was carving my own meat and finished writing the 9000 words on the keyboard for the ‘Farewell to Childhood ‘remaster. The latter did have my arm back in a sling for a day. As I said although I was well aware of overdoing things I pushed it a little too far as I got eloquent and overconfident. I had been advised to leave any typing until the second week when I could remove the sling temporarily for short periods. 9000 words took me a little longer than expected.
I managed a few days in the garden pruning and houking with my left hand. I negotiated the undergrowth like a ninja very conscious of a fall and the instinctive right arm defence, fully prepared for my face to take any hit. I built up a sweat, cleared the ground and pruned like a crazy man feeling so satisfied I was achieving something.
At night Simone and I waded through box sets; the entire ‘Black sails’ series, ‘Sneaky Pete’, both series of ‘Man in the High Castle’ and ‘Fortitude’ were avid and addictive viewing. I tried to put off going to bed as much as possible only succumbing when I was on the point of delirium. Sleep was a luxury as I continued to sporadically wake up throughout the night with my angel at hand to deliver the necessary painkillers. She put up with my snoring, moaning and constant rejigging of position without complaint, fetching glasses of water and rearranging my pillows into the mountain I was supposed to rest on. The first week we at least had the benefit of young Liam being in Germany so we could lie long behind closed curtains but on the second he returned and she was up at 8 to take him to school. I volunteered to sleep alone but Simone would have none of it. Although I’d built up a stack of brownie points taking him to school every morning before the operation I still felt guilty lying beneath a warm duvet as she raised herself from yet another disturbed night next to a snoring agitated bear to defrost a car and drive to town with her son.
I was banned from driving for at least 6 weeks and although my exercises, which I performed dutifully and more regularly after consultation with the physiotherapist were loosening me up I still wasn’t allowed to attempt to raise arms above shoulder level. An emergency manoeuvre with the steering wheel was too dangerous to contemplate. I didn’t take advantage of having a driver to take me to the pub and didn’t leave the house until the end of the second week when a visit to the Polish barber was insisted upon by Liam as I was starting to resemble the Count of Monte Christo.
I was tired of wearing tracksuit bottoms and dreamed of wearing a t shirt again. I was discovering shirts in my wardrobe I’d forgotten about but I had mastered dressing and doing up buttons and could now pull socks on with relative ease.
Simone, Liam and I took the 4 stitches out of the small wounds after there was no need for further bandaging and I could now shower without worry of opening up the scabs. The loose single loops were starting to catch my soapy fingers that could now just about reach the top of my head and my left armpit. I was healing as fast as I did with the wounds in my back and I put it down to the Chinese herbs Simone was insisting I munch regularly on and the fact that the both of us had given up smoking over a month before my operation with exactly these benefits in mind. I was feeling relatively healthy despite all. We had both being going twice a week to the gym between the back operation and the shoulder operation and Mike, our trainer, had really helped me prepare for all this. The only problem was that now I was unable to do anything and all the core muscles I’d been building up were slightly wasting as I couldn’t do any back exercises because it meant putting pressure on my shoulder area.
I stripped the sling off during the day and kept myself as busy as I could without overdoing it. As soon as there were any twinges or aches I strapped myself in again and vegetated in front of the TV letting a codeine pill take hold.
A couple of friends came over from Karlsruhe last weekend but I have to be honest and say it was the wrong time and too early for socialising. It was tough for Simone as she had to play hostess and deal with extra demands in an already stressful situation. As always she dealt with it all without complaint and although I tried to do as much as I could I wanted to do more. It was great to see old friends but we both could have done with more recuperation time together.
I exercised my mind in the office, sorting out a change in LPG gas suppliers and BT broadband issues both of which got me fired up and where I could plant my frustrations at other doors. I carried on working on the ‘Childhood’ live album, picking out photos, listening to mixes, watching DVD edits and continuing to set up that project which is now a week away from going into production.
I still couldn’t set my mind into album gearing but was drawn to the keyboard and began this in an effort to clear my mind and train the thought process. I can’t spend too long and am accomplishing this in bursts of enthusiasm before the aching grows and I have to retire to the couch again.
I’m wearing jeans again but still can’t wear anything but shirts. I long to yawn with both hands above my shoulders, to sleep on my right side, to place an axe head sure and straight and powerfully on a log, to drive a car to town, to place a seed tray onto a shelf in the greenhouse and lift a watering can, to dig over a raised bed and carry a trug of soil over to Simone’s new herb garden. At the moment I am king of the keyboard and I have to say I am enjoying myself.
Everything will come in time; I just have to be patient in every meaning of the word. My first physio visit is in 2 weeks’ time and my specialist appointment a month later. I’ll discover more then.
Four and a half thousand words.
I head for the couch and an uplifting documentary made all the more interesting with a few grains of codeine.
The sound you can hear in the distance is one hand clapping.