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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.
I was down with Simone at my Mum’s today on one of our regular visits as part of the mutual soup exchange programme we have and to pick up a couple of small slabs of smoked haddock from the fish van she’d got for us. As always we were gabbing and reminiscing and my Mum got out a couple of photo albums to show Simone some family history.
One of them had a collection of pictures of my Dad with his golf cups and some snaps of him with his mates on various golf courses. My dad was an avid golfer but had taken it up very late. He was good, in fact very good, and in all honesty if he’d taken it up earlier could have been edging on Pro status. He tried to get me into it but lack of patience and that father/son “I’ll not like what you like” teenage stance set me against it. For him it was an immense relief from the garage business and all the associated stress and pressures he had that I didn’t fully appreciate back then. Our mutual big thing was football.
During the 70’s my Dad had taken me down to London on the train to watch Scotland against England at Wembley. We had a few trips down, needless to say all were disappointing if not humiliating but the bonding sessions were unforgettable as I saw a very different side to my Dad. Football brought us together and all the alpha dynamics were forgotten at games.
In March 1988 I was booked to play a couple of shows in the Channel Islands with Marillion as part of a ‘Benson and Hedges’ music festival and decided to repay him. He had never been on the road with me only attending individual gigs throughout the years. He’d heard the stories and I knew he loved the ‘tales from the big bus’ (although there was some “tut tutting” and lowered eye brows at some recollections). My Dad was maybe a middle aged, middle class “boring” garage owner from Dalkeith but I also knew he had a great sense of adventure and a twinkle in his eye seen in old photos from his days in the REME in Kenya on national service that had been eclipsed by family demands.
With the help of my old friend John Cavanagh we set it up for my Dad to come down for a weekend with us in Jersey and told him to bring his golf clubs. He was up for it and excited at a chance to get away with me.
We all arrived in Jersey on the same flight; the band, the crew, my dad and I. We were ushered into the customs area, bags searched and all interrogated by officers. My Dad, golf bag over his shoulder sailed through unchallenged. We all looked at each other on the other side of the glass and realised we could have given him a stash.
Hotel, check in, dinner and what was a night off. Not for me and my Dad. Unbeknownst to him it had all been set up and we were going out for a show that was part of the weekend festival. He still didn’t realise until we got to the venue that we were in fact going to see his all-time hero, ‘James Last and his orchestra’. It was all totally ‘secret squirrel’ and even when I put the sticky ‘access all areas’ pass on his jacket it still hadn’t fully clicked.
To put this in context. My Dad was one of the biggest James Last fans in the galaxy and subjected me to endless repeats of his 8 tracks as we drove to Hibs matches or anywhere really. One particular adventure was our first ever family car tour through Europe in the early 70’s where James Last and his orchestra seemed to be the equivalent of cultural waterboarding to this particular progressive rock fan. Only Frank Sinatra, the occasional Carpenters album and a smattering of Beatles ‘greatest hits’ kept me from harming myself in the back seat of his Mercedes.
And here I was in Jersey with my Dad watching a live performance of a man I considered a Teutonic Satan as a teenager – and it was truly brilliant. My dad was in heaven. James Last I could only admire as a showman working a band that were pro/ talented/in the groove and totally on the money. Maybe through my Dad’s eyes and ears I was catching them from a wildly different perspective or maybe I’d just grown up and was seeing them as fellow musicians. I’d thought I’d be outside for most of the show drawing on my free B and H’s or in the bar but I watched the entire show and applauded wildly with my dad at the end of the gig. He was close to tears as he had never seen the orchestra before.
And the ‘hits’ kept on coming.
After show we hung around in the auditorium and then headed backstage for what my Dad thought was a couple of Bacardis before heading back to the hotel. When he was introduced to James Last the smile was incandescent and he was as happy as I had ever seen him. It was only a short introduction, the backstage glimmer, the deep handshake a few words and an exit as James was surrounded by admirers and fans as one would expect.
Back at the hotel my Dad and I were Number 1’s at the end of the bar holding court and I was tempering our curve as there was more to come.
An hour or so later James Last entered the building and took up a table. He was staying in the same hotel. That was our cue and I took my Dad over to the company, glass in hand, him full of cool and reintroduced them. As they’d already met and bottles were well cracked there was a meeting on the square and my Dad settled into conviviality easily with his musical idol. He was introduced to another member of the company, Tommy Horton, the professional golfer, then a Jersey resident. And that was when the cracker was pulled. “Dad we’ve arranged you’ll be going out tomorrow afternoon for a round with James and Tommy”. I’ve never seen anyone try and supress the amount of excitement my Dad was feeling at that time and stay so calm. He was beautiful.
His cool then was nothing compared to later in the day when we met before the show after his round.
“How did you get on Dad, fun time?” ( hoping it wasn’t England/Scotland Wembley scenario)
“Pretty good” (nothing given away but a slight smile)
“Did you win?” (knowing James Last was a serious golfer and Tommy a pro)
“yes” ( him starting to burst into full smile)
“ You just beat James Last and Tommy Horton?” (me incredulous)
“Yes” ( we both burst out laughing)
We delivered a hug to each other befitting of 2 grizzlies and I felt so proud of him. It was one of those moments, forever remembered, and never repeated, it happened, a spike in the glory tales. You could not have written the script.
My dad beat James Last at golf!!! And Tommy Horton the island golf pro!!
And that is the story behind this photograph. More important to me than the show; with all due respect to the Channel Islanders to whom it was more than memorable ( Hullo Will Smith 😉 ) to a lot of people and someday I really want to get back there.
To tie the circle. A friend of mine in the States has sent me a reconditioned 8 track player this week and as I lie with arm in sling for the next 4 weeks plus I will delight in racking those old James Last tapes in and thinking about Jersey and when my Dad cuffed the maestro and holed an unforgettable moment.
Three and a half hours at Edinburgh Royal infirmary today being assessed for my forthcoming shoulder operation.Endless questionnaires, blood tests and all the pre op trimmings before a meeting with the surgeon. I’m scheduled in for the 13th which thankfully is a Monday but the bad news kept on coming today.
I needed the calm of the waiting room and a few pints of water from the cooler to get my blood pressure down and hydrate after a couple of whiskies too many the night before when a shit grenade went off. The pin was pulled by some usual suspects from afar but Simone and I took the impact as intended targets. It rocked us but we’re too strong to let it get us down. Regular incoming we’ve come to expect over the years we have been together and when all is ranted and done it isn’t really our problem. I had other more important things to deal with next day.
My blood pressure was normal by the time they ran the tests and I met the surgeon feeling relatively calm about the forthcoming operation. This was the first time I was to be fully briefed about the
problem which I had been told a few months ago was a torn tendon. The scans on the screen made little sense to me but the diagnosis that followed certainly did. It wasn’t what I expected.
The “torn” tendon is actually completely detached from my arm and required bone shaving, pins and pulled over to be “glued” to the new anchors. That was one of the tears. There’s another on the other side of the joint and a possible tear on the left shoulder as well. I listened in soft shock.The word “pain” kept recurring.
It turns out my condition is worse than was originally diagnosed and the 6 month recovery could actually be 12 with no promises and a diary of excruciating physio appointments.I could opt out and put up with this existing painful condition with no power in my right shoulder for the rest of my life but I’ve decided to go for it and take the consequences, bite the bullet and accept the advice of my surgeon who is one of the finest in her field and who won me over by saying I am young enough to have a great chance of a full recovery.
I’m nervous and to be absolutely honest a bit scared at what I have elected to sign on for. This ain’t gonna be easy by any stretch of the imagination and it’s going to bite me hard and long.
In the last month I ,together with Simone have stopped smoking and we have been attending a gym in Edinburgh with a personal trainer twice a week. Mike Heatley has done wonders to help strengthen my back and develop my core muscles again. It’s the first time I’ve been at a gym for years and I’m so feeling the benefits. I’ve been using this window between operations to prepare myself and in all honesty will miss the sessions as I move into the initial healing period with my rotator cuff problem.God only knows how this will affect the writing of the album. I’m hopeful I’ll get a chance to alow the cogs to turn and pontificate on ideas and directions. I’m going to miss my right hand and my keyboard musings are most definitely going to take a lot longer and be a lot more frustrating.
I’m going to miss being involved in the garden for which Simone and I ordered all the seed and gubbings for the other day. The first 4 weeks will be hellish, sleeping upright a nightmare for which I’m going to need a lot of chemical help. It can be done and I’ll be all the better for it in the long run.
The shit grenades I am sure will continue to be thrown and I know I’ll take quite a few sniper attacks in the coming months. Bring it on! I have a strong loving lady with me by my side without whom I most definitely couldn’t deal with all this and the two of us are going to get through this together and in style. As for the doubters, the underminers, the “unlikers” and the cynics- this circle is unbroken.
We are family here. And we are strong.
I was taking a wander around the garden today armed with my trusty Polish licensed air rifle having seen a rather large rat scuttling below the bird feeders yesterday. I couldn’t but help notice roses in full bloom and green shoots peeking out of the dark muck. It was minus 5 about a week ago and 10 degrees today, now dipping into full bore on the wood burning stove territory.
I remember way back during the ‘Feast’ sessions a bit of a kerfuffle occurring on these pages as the global warming deniers rallied and ranted when I voiced my opinions. The “is he? isn’t he?” question about the president elect and the Paris agreement as Mr Trump performs more U turns on the issue than a taxi driver in the middle of an inner city riot sprung to mind.
Scrolling down to the depths of media web pages below the gory and provocative headlines I’ve noticed more and more proclamations from those once cast as ‘doom mongers who are now presenting information that’s hard to ignore and who are being slightly more resentfully respected these days.
Some of the pronouncements are rather scary. Areas of ice the size of India melting away, entire species on the brink of extinction and others struggling to cope with even a degree of temperature rise in their natural habitats. The jokey news item about how squid could replace our traditional battered cod and haddock in the traditional fish supper as the waters around this confused island warm and shift our shiny silver friends towards colder climes. Droughts and famine, floods and flames and storms out of the blue, we can still raise a smile at a Saudi skating along a snow packed highway as he shouts with glee at the new experience.
Against the savagery and overwhelming sadness in the Middle East and beyond, the posturing of babbling politicians and lawyers deciphering the “will of the people” , the cacophony of gibbering tweets from the new dank swamp and the whirling counters of this unholy Rapture that has gripped a World that seems to be creating new man made catastrophes every day, the ominous eventuality of our planet expiring through ecological reasons is the second bullet in a “double tap” suicide.
And what’s provoked me to write this?
I jogged a mouse onto the Amazon ‘Feast of Consequences’ reviews last night and was interested in the reviews for once. Not the ‘positives’ but the ‘negatives’. One of them delivered this-
“Even on the better songs Fish usual gift for a sharp lyric seems to have deserted him a bit e.g “We should have talked about the weather a bit more seriously,”
I smelled the open rose, came inside from the garden and locked away the gun in it’s cabinet. The rat can have another day scuttling around on this planet and I thank him for the inspiration.