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The bleary eyed baker

Up early as I am wont to do on these light summer mornings. 05.35 and I hear what seems to be a lot of traffic on the road outside. Early shift workers. I wonder what the birds think of the traffic noise.

The oven has been switched on, preheating to gas mark 7. The multigrain sourdough, proving overnight in a bread tin in the fridge, is ready to go in. Another hot summer’s day lies before us.

The garden is still and through the open doors of the conservatory the dawn chorus has abated to an every day chatter. I need to learn avianspeak. Moving out to the patio I’ve just spent 10 minutes playing various birdsong on the laptop but still can’t identify my neighbours. I need to call on an expert.

Back inside the oven temperature has been reduced slightly for the second part of the bake. Loaf looks good. The resurgence of my breadmaking efforts during lockdown has given rise to contemplation, if you pardon the pun. It is a huge contrast to the full on life I was leading before coronavirus hit the street.

When I was a student a baker named Ray used to come into the Globe pub just after lunchtime. He had been up very early and had now finished for the day so would reward himself with a couple of pints. No different to anyone else hitting early doors after a day in the office. You might ask what I was doing in the pub after lunchtime? Hey…
bread sliced

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I stare at the tomatoes. This requires patience. Training. It is a modern version of meditation. Staring at the plants, knowing that they are growing but at speed imperceptible to the naked eye. Or the human brain. We are talking seasonal not glacial or geological time frames here. 

In my meditative world people will be trained to sit cross legged and stare at the tomatoes. Those unable to be in the greenhouse can join in remotely on the internet. That’s why we have the live stream on the website. 

Inside of the greenhouse is reserved for the inner circle. An extended group is able to watch and meditate from the outside. This is not an elitist thing. It’s practical. Only so many people can fit in the greenhouse and be comfortable enough to stay focussed.

Typically those coming for meditation have to bring their own chair. We have plenty but not enough to go around if more than say ten people want to watch at the same time. This movement has elders. They are people who have watched many seasons of growth and have great wisdom that is sought after by the less experienced.

Watching the tomatoes grow feels like I’m lying barefoot in a hayfield, arms folded behind my head gazing up at the blue sky through my straw hat. The sun shines through some of the holes in the weave, There is a chorus of crickets somewhere nearby and the song of the stream reveals it still has life.

The tomato plants are in flower. We need bees to pollinate the flowers so the door to the greenhouse is left open most of the day.

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Pigeons ate my plums

Total disaster in the jardin de Tref. The pigeons have eaten the plums and the blackcurrants. They weren’t even ready. Moreover the bastards have broken some small branches on the plum tree in their attempts to get at the plums.

You will notice that I used the word “bastards” there. It is not my custom to use profanities in  public fora but on this occasion I have been driven to it. I am sure everyone will understand and am confident there will be no complaints to the watchdog, whoever that is. I don’t think there is a watchdog for greenhouse websites anyway.

This act of flagrant natural vandalism happened two days ago. I’ve been too busy since then and unable to compose myself to prepare the announcement. Even now as I sit here and mull over the appropriate language it gives me grief. My plum crop will have to wait another year. 

I guess in the great scheme of things worse things have happened. We are. in the middle of a pandemic and many people are losing their lives. Who cares about plums when you are fighting for breath in an intensive care unit. Nobody is going to include the plum crop in their last will and testament.

I need to consider my course of action. This morning I googled “importance of pigeons in the food chain”. It came up with something like “food for predators and eat seeds and grubs”. I’ve only ever seen one being eaten by a predator: a peregrine falcon which devoured one over the back fence in the allotments. We need more predators.

The question of the moment is do I attempt to remove the problem myself. I do not possess an air rifle and anm told that the use of such a weapon is proscribed within 50 metres of the public highway. The bottom of the garden falls inside this exclusion zone. I’m not into killing things anyway, unless perhaps it is a slug chomping away at my salad.

In the absence of a definitive solution I can only think that next year I will have to cover the tree with net curtains or some such protective envelope. 

In the meantime you see before you the output of a grieving man. I know I will get over this but for now I am happy to accept expressions of support.

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Early to the shed

Early to the shed this morning having broken the fast on a bacon and mushroom sandwich on homemade sourdough. My specific purpose was to spend time on the phone getting a refund from Eurostar for tomorrow’s cancelled train and which we no longer needed due to coronavirus and the cancellation of Macca’s Paris gig. Parisienne gig sounds better but that’s not how the words spewed initially onto the page and was therefore not used.

It has to be said that Eurostar is not in my experience a particularly impressive company. The customer services department is only open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. That’s not customer service, that’s a delaying tactic. Pathetic really. Enough negativity. Life is too short.

Today is one of relaxation. One or two jobs to do. Putting the cover back on the trailer. Not really a job. Just something I should have done when accessing it the other day. Another is putting the canes in place to support the tomatoes. I’m not totally sure whether this variety is a bush tomato or not and wouldn’t therefore need support but support they are getting anyway. Finally I think today is the day the water butts get refilled. There is no sign of any significant rainfall so I might as well get on with it. I’ll also give the toms their first feed although they are growing in horse manure composts so not sure they really need it.

The relaxation part is the usual Sunday morning Tai Chi class and a walk somewhere with Anne this afternoon. Post perambulation I am spit roasting a chicken on the Weber and in parallel easing into the night. 

Halfway through Tai Chi Simon Dalton rocked up with the table he’s made us out of old scaffold planks. He’s done a beautiful job. I now have two such tables in the shed. One is my desk and the other a general purpose table which is currently being occupied by two Davies offspring sheltering from the white coronavirus heat that was London. 

The chicken is roasting away on the BBQ at a steady 180℃. I made a “Cuban” marinade comprising orange juice, lime juice, cumin, oregano, salt and lots of garlic all mixed in olive oil. Must say it’s not looking too bad. I will have been basted three times during cooking and I seem to have discovered the right “gas knob” setting to maintain a steady temperature. Anne is sorting out the rest of the meal although I will have to stick some corn on the cob on towards the end of the cooking.

Did all the other jobs fwiw and went on a pleasant stroll to see the new bypass build beyond the Carlton Estate. I’m not getting enough walking in and that was a good start. 

Interesting to see other people’s attitudes when you are out walking. They are divided mainly into two groups: those who make a real effort to maintain a separation – change from line abreast into single file etc and those who don’t. There is no point saying anything to the latter. They wouldn’t understand anyway hence their attitude to staying away from others.

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One sits and one sips

Sat, as one does, in the sitting room. On my own. This room is hardly used. I am probably the only regular user. Innit. I hear John upstairs chatting to someone. The others are in the library watching some “do your house up” programme on the audiovisual screen on the wall. It’s not my bag, man.

I am sipping occasionally an excellent rum, purchaysed at the duty free in St Lucia prior to our return last June. It is a 21 year old example of the genre, very expensive and in consequence very easy to drink. You might consider that such a beverage might be reserved for special occasions. This is such an occasion. It is of its moment. I am alive and able to enjoy it. When it runs out if I want more I will just have to sort that out. As it happens I will enjoy it now while I can and then move on. Everything is of its time. Everything has its time.

It is dark outside. I am not sure whether I can hear rain. We need rain but I am not confident. The forecast suggests not. It might just be wind in the trees. I have locked the doors. The hatches are battened down for the night. The storm still rages. Were I a sailor on my tall ship I would now be thinking of taking in another reef. Worrying. I discovered today that the hosepipe reaches the nearest waterbutt outside the greenhouse. Tomorrow I think I will fill the reservoir system. It is preferable to leave it to rain as the plants prefer this but needs must. I may well add some tomato feed into the butts so that the plants are automatically fed as they are watered.  Innovative innit. Please excuse the repeated use of the word innit.

I observe that strangely the temperature inside the greenhouse is colder than outside. Some inverse thermal gradient going on here methinks. No idea what really. I made that up. 

Today I made naan bread and another sourdough dough. This one is looking promising and I will report back tomorrow. Goodnight all.

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Raindrops very occasionally keep falling on my head

Raindrops very occasionally keep falling on my head. All the plants are doing well. This is the peak growing season. I mentioned that to Hannah in the shed and she sang out “this is the greatest show”. No idea where the tune comes from. However she is right. The physical act of growing things is the greatest show. Nature displays its power.

Been a productive day. Trying to get used to my new desktop setup: Apple magic keyboard and a touchpad. The footprint is different from the macbook pro that has now been moved permanently to the house. I keep having to correct typos. If you want to know what I‘ve been doing I was working on a proposal to provide a customer self care portal to a telco in North America. Can’t tell you who right now :))

It is a Thursday and as such the beginning of the weekend. I therefore have a gin and tonic in my hand, figuratively speaking. The astute amongst you will have noticed that it is not possible to simultaneously type and hold a gin and tonic. Just humour me.

I note that the new lot of lettuce seeds planted only a few days ago (I’d have to revert to the seed planting record book to remember exactly when and I don’t keep one of those although maybe I should) are emerging. The lettuces have been a real success story thus far this year. We harvest some every day and those left after the thinning out process have developed into healthy looking heads.

When I started this blog I intended it to be just a record of my gardening activity. I have had other blogs. was a communications and internet industry site that peaked at 27,000 unique visitors a month. I stopped writing stuff for that site 3 years ago. Lost interest. I also have which I don’t post much to anymore and which perhaps is easing into retirement. It was good while it lasted. Of its time. A record of my creative output over 8 or 10 years. `It’s ok to park things like that. A bit like Picasso having specific periods of creativity – the red period, blue period etc. I consider to potentially have a wider appeal. Lots of people like gardening. More people than are interested in tech or poetry. However my aim is not mass market appeal. Only a limited number of people are going to be interested in watching my tomato plants grow in the greenhouse. The people who are interested are the important ones to me. To some extent its a bit like Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Zen and the art of growing tomatoes is what my site is all about. I think I will change the tagline on the website to reflect that.

I’ve been reading Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations. It’s a great book. His life philosophy, apart from the fact that he believed in the existence of gods, is very much in line with mine.

Lunch btw included home grown lettuce – see end of vid.

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There is Angel Delight and there is an old Sudanese friend

Close your eyes and turn your face to the sun. Soak up the warmth, draw deep the smell of spring and listen to nature’s avian choir.

There you have it. Today in Lincoln. It is a Monday and therefore the start to the working week. I have work to do. Some tedious form filling. Supplier questionnaires for a new customer. Whether they will still be a new customer after they read the questionnaire responses remains to be seen. “Do you have an anti slavery policy? What’s your global warming policy” etc etc There was no place for comment. 

Planted some more coriander from last year’s seeds in a clay pot and did a row of lettuce in a plastic trough. No harm in keeping the supplies going although the regular harvesting seems to be doing the job of stopping them bolting and maintaining leaf production. It’s so far so good on the food growing front. The output won’t keep us going through the winter but that’s what Waitrose is for.

Seem to have some fairly aggressive blackbirds around. I think there is at least one nest in the beech hedge. Get the occasional magpie swooping down as well.

This evening caught up with my old pal Mansour El Tahir El Magboul who is Sudanese and lives in Khartoum. I have spoken with him very occasionally over the four decades since we were at Bangor University together. Now one of his daughters (via Facebook) hooked me up with him over WhatsApp. It is Ramadan so they are fasting during the day. Now that we are connected via WhatsApp we will be speaking more often.

Earlier I polished off the bowl of strawberry Angel Delight. Turns out nobody else likes strawberry flavour. Only chocolate. Potentially means the banana flavour one that remains in the cupboard will also just be for me 🙂

Made another sourdough for baking tomorrow. Leaving it to prove overnight in the fridge. I read a recipe that talked about hydrated dough which turns out to basically be quite sticky stuff that is hard to manipulate. This, quite coincidentally, was how the dough for yesterday’s successful loaf happened to be. I gave it an overnight proving so am trying that again.

kadai fire bowl

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To Bombay with intent – overland to Mumbai

Sat on the patio in what felt like blistering hot sunshine after breakfast. Roughly 20℃ in actual fact but the brightness affected my ability to see the screen so moved into the shade. On the deck in front of the shed it is just about tshirt and shorts weather which is a good job really as that’s all I’m wearing. Flipflops too fwiw.

I’ve decided that today is the day to wage war on the ivy in the hedge. Have to stay on top of it. I also have a tai chi class at 11am taken in front of the AV equipment in the shed. As I sit here I note that the grass needs mowing. I saw something the other day about leaving it unmown for a while to encourage flowers that insects like. This would take some discussion with my chosen life partner and unlikely to get past the committee I’d guess. We have a large enough garden to make something interesting of it though and this I think can be a medium to long term project.

So now I’m sitting here enjoying the morning to the sound of chattering birds. Switched on some relaxing classical music. A gentle breeze flutters through the garden. An occasional bird flits from hedge to hedge across the lawn. The grass grows at an invisible pace. My hair needs brushing. The Alice bands have not yet arrived.

Currently flicking through Dishoom, From Bombay with Love. It’s an excellent read and good inspiration for recipes. What struck me is that it leaves me thinking that it would be quite nice to visit Bombay. However there are loads of other places I might say this about. I also really like being at home. How do you strike a balance? The biggest issue is time. Money also plays its part but really it is time. 

I think that to visit Bombay I’d want to go by surface transport. You can’t google a route so I took a look. It is very direct by air although the curve that Google draws is I’m sure not a direct replication of the flightpath. The route by land to Bombay (ok Mumbai) is an interesting one. Were I to draw a line that represented the most obvious, direct, route it takes you as follows: Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India.

Recognising that Iran is probably a non starter you could head South from Turkey and get there via Syria or Iraq and then catch a  boat from UAE or Oman. Hmm that might not work either. You could look at other alternatives but they all have issues. It’s either a long sea voyage or partial land trip with long sea voyage assuming you can hitch rides on boats these days.


Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays

Not mine. Google it. No viable options in there either really innit. I googled “boat to mumbai from uk” . The first result showed a 109 night cruise from Southampton to Mumbai for £12,609 pp. Outside cabin, sharing presumably. I’d want a balcony but £116 a night doesn’t seem outrageous. Biot a of a gamble though being cooped up for that length of time. What if you found you didn’t like it? Looking into it it is a round the world cruise. Not bad really but we have to remember I want to spend some time in Bombay.

I went back to the search and discovered that from that it is 7,059 nautical miles from the Port of London to the Port of Mumbai and takes 29.4 days at 10 knots.  Goes through the Med and Suez. I couldn’t find anyone offering such a service though. Only results are historical ones. I’d probably have to do some digging to see if I could find a cargo (read container) ship willing to take passengers.

Have found merchant vessels that take passengers. However they are just as expensive as cruises and not currently taking customers during the Covid19 outbreak. Not sure I really want to go on a cruise. I’m not old enough. 

This is turning out to be a bit of an adventure. It’s a long term plan. Might want to consider a different destination. I suspect many “exotic” destinations will have similar transportation problems. Air travel has destroyed the old transport infrastructure:). 

If the only long haul choice is by air then at least you should consider doing it in style. First class travel with top notch hotels are the far end with limo pickup from the airport. This is what we did last year for our trip to Hong Kong and Thailand. We did it in January which made sense diary wise for us. Also it meant nice (not too hot) weather in Thailand although conversely it was bloomin freezing in Hong Kong. We hadn’t planned for that either.

We now have no travel planned because of the coronavirus sitch. Only two hotel bookings. One in London for the Eagles gig in August which is almost certain to be cancelled and one in Newcastle in September to watch Joe take part in the Great North Run. That too is likely to be cancelled. Hilton has extended my diamond status until the end of March 2022. They are a company who knows how to build brand loyalty. It is worth having Hilton Diamond status.

Cut some elder out of the laurel and holly bush at the front. It’s a constant battle and I’m not sure it is practical to totally get rid of it. However cutting it off low down every year seems to keep it mostly at bay. Then removed some ivy from the beech hedge. There’s a lot left to go at but it is filthy stuff to handle. Really gets on your chest.

Today’s sourdough loaf btw was a success. I was a little concerned that the dough was too wet. It stuck to the bowl after the second proving. I knocked it back again and put it in a tin which worked. See pic/vid. Had a nice salad with fresh garden leaves and freshly baked sourdough bread. I’ll get going on another loaf later as this one ain’t going to last.

loaf of bread on a rack

In other news the Alice bands have arrived. Wearing one as I write. I suspect my hair needs to be longer for it to be totally effective and Anne doesn’t like it but I’m sure it will grow on her 🙂

You will have to be patient with the relaxing water feature in the middle. I decided to leave it all in.

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Supermarket pacman

Supermarket pacman. Just discovered today that going to the supermarket when they have coronavirus mitigation in place is like playing pacman. You turn a corner to go down an aisle and find someone else coming towards you which means you have to turn back and head in another direction.

Went for a walk down the road with Hannah before breakfast. Destination B&M ostensibly to get some spring onion and cucumber seeds. Came away with a box of rice crispies, a two pack of SPAM, two bags of sour cream and chive pretzels, three potted herbs for a fived (oregano, sage and thyme) and a melamine tea tray for the shed. All good stuff innit.

The weather today is a beautiful fresh British spring day. Ideal for the coast. Fish and chips, ice cream, that kind of stuff. I quite like the concept of a couple of beers as well. However  our nearest coast is an hour away in Skeggy and I don’t fancy driving home from there after a beer even if it is within the limit.

So far the day has gone well. Relaxed breakfast on the patio then some tidying up before removing the old wooden milk holder from the porch. As of yesterday we have porch doors out front and the old box, which has probably been there since 1939 when the house was built, is now surplus to requirements. It had a removable lid to keep off the birds and held two pints. We always have more than two pints delivered anyway. Birds never peck on the milk bottle tops anymore because the semi skimmed stuff we consume nowadays doesn’t have cream at the top and therefore holds no attraction for the birds.

Ably assisted by Hannah the herbs have now been planted outside the greenhouse. I will leave them this year to get bedded in. Unfortunately in the process we dropped a rake and damaged a couple of the greenhouse tomato plants. I’ve swapped them for a couple of good ones from the ten plants we moved back outside this morning. The beauty of growing industrial quantities of the plant 🙂 Did a bit of hoeing around the garlic and onions.

Had a crumpet for lunch and made some dough for the next loaf. Perused the available media options and found them lacking so am now sat in the shed listening to the French Cafe Lounge Spotify playlist. A laid back jazzy compilation with a French accent.

Pizza for tea tonight. Following the successful experiment with the naan bread on the kadai we are trying the pizza using the same method.   Will either report back later or tomorrow. 

C ya.

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the watering can and the tomato flowers

Bought a new watering can today. Just needed a new rose for the old one since the last one was destroyed in youthful high jinx (one assumes) at a party when we, the parents, were away somewhere. Initially went through the process of click and collect at B&Q but the other things I needed (paint) were not in stock so I decided it would be easier for me just to nip down there and check out what they had. Turned out to be a mahoosive queue so we executed Plan B and resorted to Wickes where there was no queue. 

Got what we needed but Wickes doesn’t do plants so left without some essentials such as spring onion seeds. The watering can was identical to our existing one and was only a fiver so it wasn’t worth trying to find a rose for the old one.

Also came away with some fence paint, white gloss, paintbrushes, a couple of light bulbs and a joiners pencil which was an impulse buy at 50 pence.

Bit of weeding in the raised beds and onions. Constant battle innit 🙂 Also some spinach action. I’m assuming it is spinach. Won’t find out for a wee while. Could be weed.

The big news is the fact that the tomatoes are coming into flower. We all know what that means. That is why we are all here. Check out the video. Pinched out a few spurs whilst I was in there. Also harvested more lettuce and a red chillie off the plant I bought in Waitrose, It was suitably very hot and in fact I didn’t finish it all. Will find a use for them though don’t worry.

Set the sprinkler going on the lawn this afternoon. Not had much rain at all and decided that would be appropriate. Waters the onions at the same time.

Before lunch I had a pleasant walk to the cricket ground, twice around and back. Looking at upping the number of laps each time and next week will start doing some very gentle running. A few people around, mostly mowing the grass and such things.

Tomorrow I had planned to take most of the day off as we were going to take a campervan to Woodhall Spa for a weekend with the gang. Not going now obvs. I have a conference call at 10am but otherwise nothing in the diary. Might throttle back a little anyway.