Thursday, 31 January 2013


The Met Office had got it right, although it was one of those days when you wished they hadn't, since it was blowing an absolute hooley.  I had to dismiss the idea I'd had of finishing pruning and tying in the climbers under the veranda, a notion which had lasted for about the length of time it took me to fetch the step ladder.  I put the step ladder down at the back of the border, and it blew over.

Strong wind is incredibly distracting, in a way that goes beyond the immediate impact of being buffeted.  I can feel myself becoming stupider and more clumsy under its influence, more likely to tread on things I didn't mean to step on, or make pruning cuts I immediately regret.  I think it is partly the noise, which if you live next to a wood is intense, like being near the sea.  It calls up some primeval fear of being drowned, or crushed, and the knowledge that you are robbed of your sense of hearing and some predator or person could creep up behind you, is unsettling at some deep level.  Added to that is the more immediate frustration as piles of prunings blow away or your tub of weeds tips over, and the nuisance of flailing branches waiting to grab you by the sleeve, or poke you in the eye.

I ended up hand weeding.  Clear of whipping branches or trees that could fall on me, already at ground level so I couldn't fall over or off anything, not using any tool more lethal than a border fork or a pair of secateurs, and not trying to make any structural decisions, it seemed a wind-proof task.  It was.  There may have been things I hadn't thought of that could have gone wrong, but they didn't.  Safe, just not very nice, and not totally effective.  The gale made my eyes water, which meant that I couldn't see what I was doing as well as I might have, especially when the tears fell on the inside of my spectacles.  Every so often I'd have to stop and wipe my glasses, which meant that after a while they were faintly smeared with mud.  I found myself having to put my face very close to the earth from time to time, to look at individual weeds.  I pulled up annual grass, and clover, and plantains, and baby goosegrass, and a gazillion tiny ivy seedlings, and little brambles, and small nettles, and scraped up quantities of moss.  The moss is a sign of sour, acid, hungry soil.

The weeds were only bad in the top part of the near rose bed where I'd laid a set of paving slabs to indicate a path through to the back of the bed for maintenance, and planted some bulbs, and not replaced the Strulch.  It goes to show how effective the Strulch is, and reminds me that I need to buy some more.  In fact, I need a lot more, which is a pity, since it will be expensive, and buying composted straw mulch is not nearly so exciting as buying plants.  It is a sign of increasing gardening maturity to make oneself spend an appreciable proportion of one's garden budget on the soil, and a lesson I was slow in learning.

By four o'clock I was getting horribly cold, and decided to call it a day.  Sunday's forecast is now for it to be mostly dry, and the wind should have blown through by then.  We might yet get a crack at the hedges.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

cutting back

My original plan for today was that we would cut back the boundary hedges that separate our garden from the lettuce farm, and the neighbour's field.  For weeks the air has periodically resounded with the grinding, crashing sound of the surrounding farmers cutting their hedges with huge mechanical flails, and one by one the lanes have acquired a shorn look as the roadside hedges were cut.  At work in the plant centre I've been able to hear mechanised hedge cutters crunching through the hedgerows of Suffolk.  It's time to get on with it, before the sap rises too far, and the birds start choosing their nest sites.

If you don't keep a hedge trimmed then after a few years it goes bare and see-through at the bottom, and turns into a row of scrappy trees.  For ultimate hedge thickness we would lay it, but don't.  It is planted between two runs of rabbit wire, which would get horribly in the way, we wouldn't want to live with no effective hedge for a couple of years while it grew back, and we are not trying to produce a stock-proof enclosure.  Cutting it will suffice.

We cut our hedges not with a mechanical flail but with loppers and, for the fatter stems, a chain saw.  This is why we, or rather the Systems Administrator, has to cut the hedge, since I don't do chain saws.  The SA has not been on a formal course, but has got the protective chaps, the gloves, boots and visor, and after nearly twenty years of learning by doing is probably reasonably safe, though not qualified.  We have the henchman platform for working at height, and go about the whole thing quite sensibly.  Yesterday, when I saw that today was forecast to be dry, I asked whether tomorrow (today) we could cut the boundary hedges.  The SA agreed, with a slightly cautious expression as if we were making a provisional arrangement, and this morning I found out the reason for the caution, which was that it was blowing half a gale of wind.

When I looked at the weather forecast I'd fixated on whether or not it was going to rain, but hadn't taken predicted wind speed into account.  Wobbling around on a metal platform two metres above the ground wielding a chain saw and trying to cut through branches which are themselves waving around in the wind is clearly not a good idea, and I had to sadly agree that we'd defer the hedge cutting to another day.  I was hoping that maybe we could do it tomorrow, but according to the Met Office five day forecast tomorrow is going to be much like today, with a predicted wind speed of around twenty miles per hour, and gusts double that.

This is how the gardening timetable slips.  On Friday it is forecast to pour with rain.  On Saturday we have family coming to lunch, then on Sunday it's supposed to rain again, and on Monday I have to go to work.  That puts us practically at the end of the first week of February before you know it, which is how the hedges didn't get cut properly last year, and why the task is all the more urgent this time round.

In the meantime I busied myself with pruning shrub and species roses in the bed behind the house, which I call the near rose bed to distinguish it from the far rose bed on the other side of the lawn.  Pruning consists mainly of cutting out the dead wood.  I occasionally tip back very tall shoots to stop them from becoming too straggly, but they aren't like hybrid teas that you cut hard down.  Some varieties make it very clear which are the quick stems and which the dead, since the live ones are a nice bright shade of green while the dead ones are mottled brown.  Others require you to pay close attention, since all the stems are brown and twiggy and the buds are tiny, and you have to look carefully to see which stems are even browner, drier, and devoid of the small red leaf buds that are a sign of life.  In fact, I need a good light to do those, to avoid chopping off parts of the bush that on closer inspection turn out to be perfectly fine.  Bright sunlight like we had today is helpful, as long as you don't stand facing the sun, in which case you won't see a thing.

Each time I found a dead piece I traced back down the stem until I found a live branch, or in some cases to ground level, to cut out the whole of the dead section.  New growth is straight and unbranching, and tends to be more upright.  Old growth is elaborately branched, and tends to fall outwards from the bush.  It typically dies first at the tip, and I take out the ends of the older branches over a season or two, until the point comes when I need to remove them completely.  When you start pruning, each plant seems almost impossibly twiggy and congested, then as the pile of prunings mounts on the ground behind you, the bush starts to appear more open, and greener, as if it were more alive.  Which, in percentage terms, it is.

I was itching to reduce the willow leafed bay, which is getting far too big for its boots and the spot where I have asked it to grow, also a Cryptomeria which would be more delightful if it were kept in check.  However, when I checked the month long forecast with the SA I discovered the Met Office were warning of the possibility of below average temperatures in the second half of February.  Better to leave the bay and the conifer until the textbook time and do them in March.  Pity, though.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

a trip to Britain's oldest recorded town

I had to go into Colchester for a haircut this morning.  Last week the news websites were running stories about how hairdressers are among the happiest people in their work, along with gardeners.  The stories were  based on the findings of a survey conducted by City and Guilds, and are not new.  Googling the phrase 'hairdressers happiest workers' brought up versions from May 2005 and June 2008 at top of page one, though in 2008 the poll was led by beauticians, and gardeners didn't get a mention.  I considered my hairdresser carefully, to see if she seemed like the happiest person I knew.  She always seems on a very even keel, though it is difficult to gauge someone else's mental state when they are concentrating on your hair, and you have taken your glasses off so you can't see their face.

Explanations of why hairdressers, beauticians and gardeners are so happy vary from one article to another.  Some reporters say that it is down to having autonomy over your working day and control of how you do your job, others that it makes people happy to make other people look good.  That wouldn't explain the happy gardeners, but maybe by extension making a garden look good has the same effect.  The survey finds that people doing vocational jobs are happier than white collar workers.  Funny, that, in a survey conducted on behalf of an organisation supplying vocational qualifications.

After the haircut I called at the opticians and got them to adjust my glasses, which had become so loose they were in severe danger of sliding off my face each time I looked down.  That's another thing that can't be done over the internet, though the Systems Administrator has just ordered a cheap pair of back-up spectacles on-line.  I prefer the reassurance of buying my glasses in person from someone who will measure how far apart my eyes are, and make sure the arms of my spectacles don't feel as though they are pressing down on one ear.  Then as I was in town I called at the library, the Minories art gallery and the independent bookshop in the High Street, and asked nicely if they would put up one of my posters for the next music society event, or let me put one up.

Apart from that I couldn't think of anything I wanted in Colchester.  I read a depressing report recently in one of the local papers about how the council in Manningtree were preparing to soften planning regulations to allow empty shops to be converted to hairdressing salons, or restaurants, or offices, or banks, but not housing.  Any alternative use had to be one that provided employment.  In this part of the world we have too many shop premises, hence the vacant ones on every high street, and not enough housing.  Employment is clearly desirable, but there must be a limit to how many restaurants and hairdressers the inhabitants of north east Essex can support.  And when did you last hear of a bank opening branches?  Allow some of the surplus retail space to be redeveloped as residential, bring more people to live in the centres of our towns, and you will push up demand for town centre food shops, newsagents, and cafes.  Plus creches, dry cleaners, secure mail boxes for people who can't ask for their internet shopping to be left in the porch, and other business models we haven't thought of yet.  Forget pop-up shops and community hubs as a long term solution.  They aren't going to bring in enough money to keep the roof of their erstwhile shop water-tight.  We already have community hubs in the form of public libraries, and we can barely afford to keep those open.

In the afternoon I should have been going to Pilates, but my teacher is ill, so I pruned the buddleias instead.  It is practically February, and not forecast to be cold in the next few days, after which it will be February and the textbook time to do it.  The leaves of daffodils are emerging in the borders, and I am starting to feel a great sense of urgency to get things pruned, weeded and mulched, before the great spring surge of growth starts in earnest.  Rain is forecast later in the week, alas.

Monday, 28 January 2013

chilly Monday

I wasn't expecting my car's windscreen to be iced over this morning, having vaguely imagined that the thaw, having started, would continue.  Fortunately the traffic at the potential Monday morning bottleneck where the road has to get over and under the railway was extremely light.  You never know how that road's going to be.  One week you sail straight through, the next you spend fifteen minutes queueing to get under the bridge. The weather has opened up some evil potholes, though.  There is a long, deep one on what is already a nasty corner on the A133, which looks as though it is just waiting for some luckless motorcyclist to put a wheel down it.

The owner was very cheerful that trade had been so busy yesterday.  Yesterday was the first time since I've worked there that I didn't process any cash transactions at all, only credit and debit cards, and the owner was equally happy that the till had been completely correct, and that the daily reconciliation had taken only a couple of minutes.  She went so far as to announce that I was 'marvellous'.  This was the first time in nine and a half years that I've been considered marvellous, and I asked if I could have it in writing, but she wasn't going that far.

She had a present for the young gardener, a bag of eight hundred tie-on aluminium labels for the garden.  They are used in conjunction with clear, stick on labels, which the young gardener has been preparing over the past couple of weeks while it's been snowy.  He spent most of this morning sitting in the cafe sticking the clear labels to the metal tags, and the afternoon attaching them to the plants in the garden with bonsai wire.  The trouble with tie-on labels on shrubs is that on specimens that are regularly pruned, the label tends to end up on a branch that's cut off and put on the bonfire by mistake, while on specimens that are not pruned the label gradually disappears inside the shrub as it grows, given that woody plants make new growth from buds on the existing branches.  That isn't the only logically possible way of making new growth, and lawn grass and daffodils do it differently, the tip of each leaf remaining the tip while extra growth takes place at the bottom.  Occasionally I have to explain this to customers who are having difficulty visualising how a tree is going to develop, and imagine that the junctions existing branches make with the trunk will get higher as the tree grows.  They won't.

The most urgent task for the manager and me was to finish the shrub stock take, so it is strange that we didn't start on that until getting on for half way through the working day, at twenty to twelve.  The manager had to collate the results of some of the other stock takes, to give the woman who works in the office something to work with, inputting the data into the computer.  A mail order customer rang wanting to add a plant to his existing order, which set off a panic about why his existing order that was packaged up on Saturday for collection today was still sitting in our garage at half past ten, instead of being a delivery van on its way to him.  Incoming e-mails had to be read and replied to.  Our compost suppliers rang up about a delivery of compost, which we need this week because three lots of potting are due to arrive imminently.

The fairies, or rather the weekly van that brings seasonal things in flower, had called very early before we were even there, and left our order of trays of hellebores, primroses, and tiny bulbs, the latter not quite out yet.  We put the display tables by the front entrance back together, now the creosote substitute has dried, and I priced up the pots and arranged them in an artistic and enticing fashion, with some coloured stemmed dogwoods and winter flowering viburnums in the middle, to add height and because the hellebores and bulbs alone weren't enough to cover the tables.  Looking at the primrose flowers and the fat buds of the irises I felt a surge of enthusiasm about getting back out into the garden.  The sun was shining at that point.

By the time we got on to the stock take it was getting windy, and by lunchtime it was spitting with rain.  I stock took the shrubs under the canopy outside the shop while the manager was at lunch, and when he got back we moved on to the heated polytunnel.  It is heated in the sense that at night we switch on a gigantic paraffin heater, not in the sense of being heated at three o'clock in the afternoon.  As I sat in my green plastic chair working my way alphabetically through pages of Excel spreadsheet, with random excursions to other parts of the alphabet each time the manager got to an odd shrub that was out of order, it began to feel as though the blood was congealing in my feet.

When I got home I had some cocoa, and then some tea, and then some more tea.  Still, looking on the bright side I'm not due back now until 4 February, and given it's a January year end they should have finished the stock take before then.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

signs of life in the horticultural trade

Last night's rain melted the remaining snow nicely, with only the odd tiny patch skulking here and there as I drove to work.  There were some huge puddles in the back lanes, though.  I was alone in the plant centre for the first hour, since my young colleague is on holiday, and was beginning to wonder whether the rumour that the manager had booked one of the other part-timers to come in was true, when she appeared.  She is a useful but not quite perfect substitute for my young colleague, since she normally works behind the scenes potting and weeding, and while she will operate the tills she doesn't do telephones.

She announced her intention of going to pot bulbs until we got busy or I wanted my tea break, and disappeared across the car park.  I thought I might as well get on with the stock take, and went on working my way along the shrub beds through Chaenomeles, Cornus, and Corylus.  By the time I got to Enkianthus the rising wind was starting to flap the pages of the spreadsheet about rather aggressively each time I turned over, but I kept going until the phone calls started, and I found myself trying to run around the plant centre in search of Metasequoia glyptostrobides in half a gale of wind, with the phone in one hand and the flapping spreadsheet in the other, while needing a third to turn plant labels the right way up to read them.  That was the end of my stock taking for the day, though I thought I'd done quite well getting to the end of Prunus.

The Metasquoia man turned up with his wife, and bought the yellow leafed version 'Gold Rush', which he hadn't previously heard of but liked the sound of, along with three Sorbus and some fertiliser.  Someone else came to collect three trees which had been reserved for her since early October, though to be fair she had rung us a couple of times since to ask if we could keep them a bit longer.  A couple from Islington arrived via Beth Chatto, having asked there what other nurseries there were in the neighbourhood and been sent to us.  They hadn't quite known what to expect, but liked what they saw, and bought a Magnolia tripetala, roses and Sarcococca.  Trying to remember what had been stock taken, meaning that sales had to be written down, and what hadn't, made the whole process more complicated than it would have been otherwise.

An elderly lady who had moved house fairly recently, and employed a gardener on our recommendation, was delighted with her gardener and equally delighted with the garden design and build firm the gardener had in turn recommended.  Phew.  It would have been rather embarrassing if she'd said the gardener we recommended was completely useless.  She wanted a standard bay tree in a pot, and chose the particular specimen she liked, which was already planted in a different pot as one of a pair used to grace the cafe earlier in the year.  She wanted us to plant up the pot and deliver pot and plant to Colchester.  My colleague said the pot was not that heavy and look, she had already lifted it, and took the bay and the new pot away across the car park for re-potting, while I charged on the basis of a standard delivery to Colchester.  After the elderly lady had gone my colleague reappeared, saying cheerfully that she didn't think one person could lift the bay in its new pot, since the pot lacked a rim to grip, and the whole thing had come out unexpectedly heavy.  Though, she added, she had put plenty of crocks in the bottom.  I felt rather crushed that I hadn't charged for a double person delivery, then it occurred to me that the gardener could simply un-pot the bay again, put some of the compost in a bucket, and transport the whole lot in three parts for final assembly at the other end.

My most entertaining customer of the day was my first, who wanted some plants for a tub at work.  It turned out that he worked on the tugs in Felixstowe harbour, and that work was not even an office, but a small flowerbed he'd made out of an old box somewhere on the deck of the tugboat.  He said his colleagues thought he was mad, but he loved his plants.  He was blase about the dangers of his trade, saying that he only worked inside the harbour.  Even so, the forces involved are huge, as the memorial in Ramsgate to the crew of an overturned tug testifies.  I hope his crocus survive to flower.  They don't have the strongest flower stems.

My new horticultural fact for the day is that male and female flowers of sweet bay, Laurus nobilis, are carried on different plants.  I never knew that until a customer asked about it, and I looked it up.  You don't generally grow bay for the berries.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

a tale of two stocks

Nobody seemed to mind that I didn't make it into work on Monday.  The manager didn't make it in either, and my young colleague who normally works on Mondays was on holiday, so the gardener had to look after the shop for the day.  There were no customers, but he couldn't have done any gardening anyway.  To judge from the limited number of footprints and trolley tracks in the remaining snow in the plant centre, we didn't have many customers all week.  The peacocks had left trails of arrow-shaped prints, three large toes pointing forwards and one pointing back.

If it's late January it must be stock taking time.  I volunteered to get on with the trees and shrubs section, and neither of my co-workers tried to wrestle the clip-board out of my hands.  They were finishing the stock take in the shop, which was a marginally warmer place to be than outside in the polytunnel.  On the other hand, having done the rest of the shop stock take they were familiar with the layout of the stock list, whereas it would have taken me about five minutes of paper shuffling to find every single bag of bird food, dibber, Gertrude Jekyll vase and kneeling mat.  And I hate the shop stock take.  The list of possible stock items runs to about sixty pages of Excel spreadsheet, which are arranged according to supplier, so that half the time it is not at all obvious where in the spreadsheet you should be looking for galvanised plant supports, or brown plastic saucers, or whatever it is.  Half the time the manufacturer's stock codes are not entered on our computer, and it's a challenge to match the products and their packaging to the descriptions on our system.

Apart from the fact that it can get chilly I don't mind spending a day counting trees and shrubs.  It's a chance to look at them closely, and having to distinguish between 'Gilt Edge' versus 'Gold Splash' or whatever it may be forces me to notice the differences between varieties, instead of mentally lumping them together as variegated.  By the end of business I'd stock taken all the trees and shrubs in the warm tunnel, and got as far as Caragana arborescens on the shrub beds.

As for last night's supper, the Savoy cabbage was delicious, boiled until just wilted and finished with a knob of butter.  Savoy cabbages are so beautiful, with their elaborately veined and textured leaves.  I must try and convert the Systems Administrator to Savoy cabbage, which is nothing like the boiled slime of the days of school dinners that left the SA with an implacable hatred of cabbage.  The chestnuts got about six out of ten for taste, but a maximum of two for presentation, since they looked terribly like something the cats might have sicked up on the hearth rug.  Little pieces of bacon and greenish slices of celery stood out among the crumbling lumps of chestnut, while the slug of port specified by the recipe gave the entire dish a vomit-pink tinge.

I was ambivalent about the pheasant.  I'm not sure it was even fully defrosted when I started cooking, despite having got it out of the freezer before lunch.  I almost never cook frozen meat, and don't have any feel for timings.  Nor do I know how to tell whether a pheasant is cooked.  I ate one breast when I thought it was probably ready, by which time the chestnuts had been sitting around for a bit too long, and it tasted sort of all right, but not delicious.  I'd rather have had chicken.  Or cheese.  Or even lentils and rice with fried onion.  At least I didn't find any shotgun pellets.  I lost my nerve about the rest of the bird, and decided to boil the whole thing for stock.  I ate some soup once at a friend's house which was truly wonderful, and she said it was made with pheasant stock.  I left the stock simmering overnight, but when I looked at it this morning the pheasant and the liquid didn't seem to have combined forces very much, the carcass still seeming remarkably solid and the stock distinctly on the watery side.  I shoved it back in the simmer oven and went to work.  By this evening things were looking more hopeful.  Of course, if I put the stock in the freezer then that defeats the object of getting the pheasant out of it.

Friday, 25 January 2013

from Russia with honey

The Systems Administrator greeted the news that I had offered to house the beekeepers' library in the spare bedroom with a look of mute suffering, combining an I hope you haven't bitten off more than you can chew sort of expression with fear that we would be liable to beekeepers dropping in at odd hours to borrow books.  The last time I saw quite that look on the SA's face was the Christmas I announced that my brother had given us a goat, in the brief interval before the penny dropped that this was a remote charitable goat somewhere in the developing world, and not a bleating animal tethered in our garden.  I explained that it was only some boxes of books, and I would e-mail the list out to members for them to collect at the monthly meetings.

The SA is otherwise fascinated by the workings of the beekeepers, and frequently describes them in terms of post-revolutionary Russia.  The local association is apparently a perfect Soviet, being a self-organising autonomous group at the bottom of the hierarchy.  Occasionally, if I get home from a particularly tetchy and non-productive committee meeting, the analogy switches to The Sopranos.

The Soviet comparisons sometimes extend to other areas of life, since one day recently when I was well wrapped up to go out in a thigh length leather coat with sheepskin cuffs and collar that I've had for years, and a close fitting grey knitted woollen hat, the SA said approvingly that it was a great coat, and I looked like a Russian partisan going out to fight the Nazis, only I needed a sub-machine gun tucked under my arm.  I think it's a pretty good coat myself, though I'm fairly sure the original sales line in the 2000 Boden catalogue wasn't an invitation to look like a WWII Russian partisan.

Meanwhile, the SA has escaped to Cheltenham with a great mate.  As the SA said, I'm going to be out at work this weekend anyway, and they've been eyeing up this meeting for a long time.  What was already set to be a good meeting has now acquired a superlative race card, since several races cancelled due to snow in the past couple of weeks have been rescheduled for tomorrow.  The Irish horses will be over in force, and may be fitter than the English contenders, since it hasn't snowed over there so training won't have been interrupted.  At one point there seemed to be a risk that the races would be pushed back until Sunday, but by then the SA and the SA's great mate had discovered that there was rugby in Bath on Saturday, so they were covered either way.  I don't grudge them the trip.  It's nice to be allowed one's own space now and then.

In the SA's absence I'm attempting to cook a pheasant that's been lurking in the freezer for rather a long time.  We were given it, but the SA finds game too rich.  I have never cooked a pheasant before, and this one may be too dry after spending ages in the deep freeze, but I don't suppose it's poisonous.  I've got a Savoy cabbage as well, and some frozen chestnuts I'm cooking with bacon and celery.  I might listen to a baroque violin CD of Andrew Manze playing Pandolfi while I eat them.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

the annual general meeting

I have survived my first AGM as the beekeepers' Treasurer.  Indeed, in fourteen years of membership I had never previously been to the AGM.  I was worried before the event in case anyone quizzed me too hard about the breakdown of membership fees between money retained at the local level, and subscription income raised on behalf of the county and the national association and passed over to them during the course of the year.  All I've done is pay the invoices sent to me by the County Treasurer, but I don't understand the relationship between the breakdown the way I did it for 2012, and the way the previous Treasurer did it in 2011.  Fortunately nobody asked about that.  I had a fall back position, if I had been given a hard time from the floor, of agreeing sadly that I was an inadequate Treasurer, and suggesting that my inquisitor might like to take the job on.

Everything else passed smoothly as well.  The new Chairman is in place, as is the new Vice Chair, Technical Officer and Librarian.  The new Librarian is me.  I haven't told the Systems Administrator about that yet.  We have so many books in the house already, a few dozen more won't make any difference, and since I go to most meetings I'm well placed to dish them out to people who want to borrow them.  Mostly, nobody does, but there again most members don't know that we have a library.  The space under the spare bed where I thought I could house the library in plastic boxes is currently occupied by an old mattress that got shoved there to get it out of the way, so I am going to have to own up to being the new Librarian since I'll need the SA's help to take it to the dump.  It's probably good to be forced to get round to getting rid of the mattress.

A new member who joined at the start of this year was slightly startled to find himself volunteering to join the Committee as New Members' Representative.  When a group of people have belonged to a club for years they don't always realise what new members might find confusing or intimidating, so having someone on hand in Committee meetings to put the newcomer's point of view seemed a good idea.  Apart from him, and one volunteer from the floor who I don't remember ever meeting before in my life, other appointments were sewn up well in advance, and there wasn't even the ritual of proposing and seconding that the music society goes through.

After the formal proceedings we had a tutorial on how to run a public honey tasting hygienically, from the member who runs the tasting at the Tendring Show.  If you don't watch your visitors very carefully it can rapidly become horribly insanitary, with people dipping spatulas they have licked into a second jar, or dropping dandruff into the pot while inspecting it.  She runs a very tight ship at the Show, and is extremely firm with would-be tasters, but the more I hear about the things that can go wrong, the less I fancy public tastings of most food-stuffs.  It's like those Bombay Mixes they offer in takeaways while you wait for your order.  Best not, stick to eating them at home with your friends.

The next Committee meeting is scheduled for 14 February.  The new Chairman is fizzing with ideas about name badges, fixing meetings further in advance, new joiner's packs and all the things that have been talked about while making zero progress since I've been on the Committee.  None of us minded it being on Valentine's Day, which must say something about the stage of our lives we've all reached.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

I shop therefore I am

The snow is melting.  I switched the heaters off yesterday in the greenhouse and conservatory, and was relieved today when I got up to see that the Met Office had got it right, and the temperature was already comfortably above freezing.  The thaw is maddeningly slow, though, and there are still great patches of wet slush covering the gravel, borders, ivy hedges, lawns, and practically everything else in the garden that I'd like to work on.

The newspapers have been debating whether or not the cold snap will be enough to push the UK into a triple dip recession.  My initial reaction was that of course foul weather hits economic activity.  We cancelled our pub lunch last weekend, and there are lots of people, from the roofer on the news (can't do people's roofs in this weather) to the spate of gardeners on Ken Bruce's Popmaster (ditto), who have not been able to get on with their jobs.

Then I began to wonder how much economic activity had been lost for all time, versus deferred or displaced.  After all, our lunch has not actually been cancelled, but rescheduled for early March.  True, tables left unfilled last weekend can't be filled retrospectively, but perhaps when we finally go the pub will be busier than it would have been otherwise.  Maybe the roofers and gardeners will end up doing the same amount of work in total during 2013, but doing more of it in the summer, when they might have preferred shorter working weeks, and taking an enforced holiday now.

Certainly being stuck indoors only a mouse click away from Amazon and the Boden catalogue has pushed up my level of consumption from where it would have been given milder weather.  If I'd had a solid week's gardening I reckon my total expenditure would probably have been twenty pounds' worth of well rotted manure.  Maybe double that if things were going well and I had time to go back for a second car load.  As it is I have ordered three books, two CDs, some jeans and a cardigan.

Seasonal Spanish Food arrived today, and looks promising.  It's by the owner of Brindisa, whose Borough Market outlet I used to visit when I saw more of my former City colleagues, and the food was always very good.  The book reviewed well.  Large numbers of new copies have started to appear in the on-line remainder bins, which is normally the point to strike.  I held off for too long with some of the titles on my wish list, and saw prices rise again when the glut passed.  A paperback copy of An Omelet and a Glass of Wine which was described as new has a signature inside the front cover and a distinctly shelf worn look, and would have been more accurately described as used but in good condition with no annotations.  That's the trouble with Amazon book vendors.  If I were spending a lot of money I'd go direct to a specialist I trusted, but for a fiver I can't be bothered to make too much of a fuss.

The beguilingly titled How to Tune a Fish is from a Northern Irish band Beoga.  I bought another of their CDs on the strength of hearing one track on the Radio 2 folk programme back in the reign of Mike Harding, and it was great fun.  I am optimistic that the Systems Administrator will enjoy How to Tune a Fish, whereas I know that Philip Glass's violin concerto will have to be a solitary pleasure.  The SA's response at being expected to sit through the whole of that would be comparable to my feelings at being asked to watch the whole of a Grand Prix.  You know intellectually that other people enjoy these things, but imaginatively you have no idea why.  Philip Glass has not arrived yet.

The cardigan looks very hopeful.  It is in merino wool, a splendid and hard wearing, non-pilling fibre that has gone infuriatingly out of fashion.  I ordered it to go with a dress I bought last year, that has a pattern of rose pink, off-white, dark blue and duck egg green on a greyish blue ground, and turned out to be utterly impossible to match to anything.  I spent half an infuriating day trawling the length of Oxford Street trying to find any jacket or cardigan that matched the colours in that dress.  Indeed, most of the cardigans I looked at were designed with such skinny arms that they obviously weren't meant to be worn over anything that already had sleeves.  I have no idea why the jackets in last year's Boden catalogue seemed to be designed with no reference whatsoever to the colour or style of their dresses, or why most shops cling to the fiction that we never need an outer layer for warmth over our dresses in the rainy and windy season that passes for the English summer.  Blue is a notoriously difficult colour to reproduce, and I was not at all confident about matching the dress to a cardigan only seen on-line, but I have draped the cardigan over the dress on a hanger and it seems OK.  I need to see the colours together in daylight, and will try it on tomorrow morning when the bedroom is a little warmer, since I don't really fancy peeling off my two layers of fleece now.

The jeans were a compromise between ambition and necessity, since I am slightly fatter than I was before Christmas, but down to one pair of very tired ones from Marks and Spencer.  My legs could be more streamlined than they are, but I don't think they are very likely to drop an entire dress size from here, so I might as well order new trousers now rather than in two months time, when I will still be the same size, give or take, and the only remaining stock will be in horrible colours in size 6 or 16.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

iron kingdom

The iron kingdom of the title is not Essex, which is thawing out quite nicely, despite the continued doom-laden weather predictions with today's lunchtime news.  It is Prussia.  My auto-didactic long march through Iron Kingdom: the rise and downfall of Prussia 1600-1947 has finally reached page 688, The End.  Prussia was dissolved as a nation, and history came to a stop.

History was dreadfully badly taught at all the schools I attended, when it was taught at all.  At infants school we did the hypocaust.  Underfloor central heating, Roman style.  I don't remember any history being taught at the convent school.  Aged eleven to thirteen, history lessons consisted of being read facts and dates about the voyages of Columbus, and Acts of Parliament pertaining to women's property rights and the female franchise, which we were required to write down in notebooks using a system of abbreviations of our own devising.  The notebooks were then marked for neatness and comprehensibility.  I gave up history and did geography for O level.

When I met the Systems Administrator the SA was astounded that anybody could know so little history, let alone someone who had been to an academically selective private school, and Christmases and birthdays for the past thirty years have been taken as opportunities to try and remedy the deficiency.  After three decades my realms of historical ignorance are still practically boundless, and so it didn't have to be the Prussians this time round.  I've still got most of the history of north and south America to tackle from Columbus onwards (and I'm pretty shaky on Columbus).  I'm extremely vague about most places east of Europe, and indeed most of Europe, and my knowledge of England in the eighteenth century is a blur of Lunar Men, Queen Caroline, and Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, with a tiny bit of architecture thrown in.  However, I became curious about Prussia.

My first German enthusiasm was for the Hanseatic League, after being sent on an educational trip around the Baltic aged fifteen.  Since I have still not managed to track down a good book on the subject it remains a hazy area of interest.  A couple of years ago I surprised myself by reading and enjoying Buddenbrooks, saga of a merchant family in the former Hanseatic city of Lubeck, which further piqued my interest in the Baltic fringe, and the religious and cultural gulf between north and south Germany.  Then I discovered the semi-autobiographical writings of Sybille Bedford, born Freiin Sybille Aleid Elsa von Schoenebeck on an impoverished noble estate outside Berlin.  An uncle rejected military service, with catastrophic and brutal results.  Gunter Grass's Peeling the Onion had me scratching my head over the relationship between Danzig, city of his birth, and the surrounding countryside, which seemed neither wholly German nor Polish.

Curiosity whipped up by novels and memoirs will only get you so far, and last year I bought Max Egremont's Forgotten Land: Journeys among the ghosts of East Prussia.  It was interesting and I'd recommend it to anyone who has a thing about Prussia, but it is not a history as such.  Instead it is a series of encounters, interwoven with stories of figures from history and fragments of myth.  It gives you a vivid flavour, but nothing approaching a coherent narrative.  Cue the SA to step forward (it may have been last birthday rather than Christmas) with a proper history.

Iron Kingdom told me quite a few of the things I wanted to know.  There are a lot of facts and dates packed into the 688 pages.  You start off with a small kingdom in north east Europe, not blessed with great natural resources and hemmed in on both sides by powerful neighbours, and follow how, with a combination of judicious alliances, military action and frantic fence-sitting, it manages to annexe more and more of the surrounding teritories until it is a European power.  This is slightly difficult to keep track of at times, partly because Christopher Clark doesn't always follow a strictly linear narrative and tends to loop around in time, and because it really does make it more confusing that almost every King is called Frederick.  You get a lot about constitutional developments, which are not easy to grasp from a starting point of knowing practically nothing about the Holy Roman Empire.  You get very little economic history, presumably because at 688 pages it is already long enough and there wasn't room.  I would have liked a little more myself.  Starting from a position of thin infertile soil and no mineral wealth, how exactly did Prussia manage to become so powerful?  Surely military organisation will only get you so far?

It gets a 4 star review on Amazon.  I deliberately avoided reading any reviews until I'd typed the last paragraph.  Some readers loved it and gave it five stars, but there is a long tail of those who didn't.  A common criticism is that military actions are glossed over.  As a non military historian I was quite happy not to get detailed battle descriptions, but even so I was surprised that the Seven Years War was dealt with in a couple of pages.  Some think the build-up to the First World War is skipped over too quickly, and they are probably right.  By that stage of the 688 pages I was beginning to flag.  Overall it is worth the effort, but only if you have a definite bee in your bonnet about the history of Germany.

Addendum  There is a strange postscript.  Kaiser William at the end of the war fled to the Netherlands, where he lived out his days on a small country estate outside Utrecht, called Doorn.  When I read that it rang bells, and I recalled that a month or two previously I'd heard a mention of Doorn on the radio.  After the Kaiser's death the Huis Doorn passed to the Netherlands government, and was run as a museum, a preserved slice of Prussian life in exile.  At the end of last year the Dutch government voted to half the funding given to Doorn, as part of their austerity measures, on the grounds that it was not Dutch enough.  There is no proposal yet to sell the house or disperse its contents, but historians are afraid that once it is no longer open to the public, that will be the next step.  Information on the topic is hard to find if you don't read Dutch or German, since the Huis Doorn's English language website is sketchy, and none of the UK broadsheets seem to have picked up on the story so I haven't found a nice archived page from the Telegraph.  Instead my knowledge of the future facing the Huis Doorn is pieced together from chat rooms of unknown reliability.  I can see that historic relicts of the Kaiser are unlikely to attract much popular support from most quarters, but it seems mad if as Europeans we can't find the extra £200,000 per annum to keep the museum together and open, the year before the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War.

Monday, 21 January 2013


I didn't try to go to work.  I thought yesterday afternoon that I probably wouldn't, as the snow came down, and set my alarm for an hour later than usual, so that if in the light of morning I decided it really wasn't that bad I could still be there before opening time, while if I wasn't going I hadn't dragged myself out of bed at six to no good purpose.  I rang in at twenty past eight, five minutes after the official January starting time, and got the answering machine, so clearly my employers were not standing in the office snapping their fingers and waiting for the staff to turn up.

In truth the snow wasn't that deep.  If I'd had to get out, if I'd had a crucial appointment or interview or had run out of essential medication, I'd have ventured on to the roads.  The postman made it at much his usual time, proving the lanes were not impassable.  But it would have been a miserably unpleasant drive to work, and there would have been practically nothing for me to do when I got there.  I don't suppose there were many customers today (if any), while the pots of herbaceous plants that still need weeding would have been covered in snow and frozen solid.  And I don't know how much snow they had on the Suffolk side of the border, but suspect it may have been more than we had here, thanks to the Clacton coastal strip effect.  My memories of driving to work the last time it snowed are still nerve racking enough that I've no desire to repeat the experience.

The Systems Administrator and I retreated back to the study, after breaking through to the sitting room for the weekend.  You can burn coal in the grate upstairs, and the SA had bought several bags and was getting paranoid about the rate at which we were chewing through logs.  We even put the radiators on, telling each other that we needed to get some heat into that end of the house, and in celebration of the fact that we had a full tank of heating oil.  The oil, however, has to last us a minimum of twelve months, so today it was back to burning poplar.  By lunchtime the temperature in the study had climbed laboriously from thirteen degrees to eighteen.

The snow was not deep and crisp and even, but already starting to melt slowly in splodgy lumps by the time I got up.  I detest melting snow, cold and wet being one of my least favourite combinations.  In this I am at one with the cats.  The fat indignant tabby spent the day on the chair by my desk.  This is where she spends most of her days, whether we are in the study and the stove is lit or not.  It is inconvenient, since I don't have the heart to move her when I need to print odd things, and have to work standing, leaning awkwardly forward over the desk.  The black cat began his day in the sitting room, becoming increasingly pathetic as he realised that the fire was not going to be lit and the radiator had been turned off, before coming and trying his luck in the study with the rest of us.  The big tabby and Our Ginger alternated between sleep and prowling around in circles, intimidating each other off the hearth rug, the footstool, the back of my chair and my lap, in a slow ceaseless swirl of bored cat.

I started off reading in the kitchen since the SA had Radio 2 on, but decided that the kitchen chair was doing my back no favours and that I'd have to ask the SA to listen through headphones so that I could join the party in the study.  Our normal routine is that we don't meet much in the mornings.  I generally get up first, and am often out in the garden before the SA surfaces, so that our first sustained conversation of the day is at lunchtime.  We happily pass twenty-four hours a day in each other's company when we're on holiday, but holidays are different.  You spend them charging about looking at things and doing things which in turn gives you lots to talk about.  You aren't sitting in one room surrounded by slightly irritable cats, one of you clamped into headphones watching a war film on a laptop, while the other checks all eleven pages of their Amazon wishlist in case anything has got cheap.  Devoted couple that we are, we will still be glad when it warms up enough for each to have some more personal space.

After lunch I started making a loaf of bread using Elizabeth David's basic bread recipe.  So far it hasn't risen as much as it is supposed to.  There is some good news, though.  The SA identified that my iPod battery was practically flat despite it living on the docking station which is supposed to charge it, charged it fully, and synched it with my laptop, and it has stopped stuttering.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

cabin fever

It didn't snow in the night.  Again.  In the morning the weather radar showed heavy snow out over the North Sea, which dissipated as it came ashore.  The wind had dropped, which was a relief, since it makes the house even more difficult to heat.  I sat at the kitchen table near the Aga until the Systems Administrator had got the fire going.  By lunchtime it was snowing gently, and the BBC website was talking about heavy snow at Chelmsford and difficult driving conditions and a crash on the A12, which made me feel better about cancelling lunch in the pub (on reflection a very selfish reaction, since I should have been thinking about the crash victims).

It's been such a wasted week, I feel I should have accomplished something in the time.  At least polished off the history of Prussia I've been working my way through since Christmas.  Really with a whole week at my disposal I should have mastered the basics of a foreign language, or bashed out the first two and a half chapters of what might have turned out to be the next Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey.  I haven't.  There is something about the insidious creeping cold, and the awareness of being stuck indoors by circumstances and not choice, that is deeply inimical to creativity.

Instead I have spent a great deal of time surfing the newspaper websites, and reading the first half of Katie Caldesi's Italian Cookery Course, picked up in hardback (new) for a mere six pounds (plus delivery) from an Amazon vendor.  It is still available at that price on the Amazon website, and I recommend it highly.  True, I haven't actually cooked anything from it yet, but the recipes sound as though they ought to work, and there is a lot of technical advice about things like making pasta.  Twenty-nine out of thirty-one Amazon reviewers give it five stars, and the other two give it three.  I would only give it six out of ten for design, since there are too many different fonts and random coloured pages for my taste, but at that price for over four hundred recipes from someone who does actually run an Italian cookery school and two restaurants, I'm not grumbling.

I made some soup, not out of a book but invented from first principles of country soup.  Leeks and onions sliced very fine, potatoes diced very small, softened in butter for about quarter of an hour and then simmered in chicken stock with the last bits of a gammon joint, shredded finely.  The soup was good.  The milk rolls were OK, but the dough took an age to double in size during the first proving, and formed a skin on top in the process.  I was experimenting with clingfilm, but am going back to my damp tea towel, even though the bread book tells me not to use it because it will chill the dough.  Then the tops of the rolls caught slightly, even though I don't think the Aga was as hot as the temperature suggested in the book.  It is a very non-linear art, converting conventional oven settings to positions in an Aga.  They tasted quite good.  At lunch today I ate one of mine, reheated, followed by a supermarket soft white roll, and the home made one tasted more of bread, or indeed of anything.

I booked a ticket on-line for Manet, after reading an article about how well advance ticket sales were going. I opted for a Tuesday in March, after the initial rush and before the closing panic, though I dare say it will be busy anyway.  I was going for a date in February, then decided there was no point in choosing a week when we might still have wintry weather, since the trains would probably be shot.  There were disruptions on three days out of five last week according to the papers, with snow, failed trains, failed signals, and a general failure of will to live.

I thought about buying a smart phone, without reaching the point where I clicked on a Buy Now button.  Which phone?  Which network provider?  I read an article about research conducted into people's jam buying habits, which found that customers given more choice ended up buying less jam than those faced with a simpler decision.  That's how I feel about internet-enabled telephones.  Will I regret the compromise if I opt for the reduced pixel budget Samsung instead of the SII (by now SIII) recommended to me by someone much more tech savvy than me, who had done extensive research?  How many megabites do I need?  Can anybody explain 3 Mobile's pay-as-you-go pricing packages, which are about as intuitively clear as mud or the concept of an ethical foreign policy?  Do I even need a new phone?  Exactly the same number of people will try to contact me, with the same frequency and about the same things, whether I have a smart phone or not.  It's not as though in upgrading my phone I upgrade my lifestyle, suddenly acquiring a whole new Contacts list pressing me with first night invitations and Wildean bon mots.

The Systems Administrator had a good idea for an app for chicken minding, if we could fit a miniature transponder to the leg of each chicken.  Then we could track their whereabouts in the garden on-screen.  It is a drawback that miniature transponders are still rather expensive, and the SA thought the GPS signal would only allow us to locate each chicken to around thirty feet, which is a large margin of error when you are looking for something the size of a chicken.  I thought the US military had stopped degrading the signal.  We argued about this for some time, inconclusively.

It will be a relief when the cold snap ends, and I can get out more.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

no snow

The promised heavy snow didn't materialise overnight.  We had a light dusting, but no more.  The authorities are still predicting the worst, with stern warnings on the BBC Essex website from the police to motorists to Be Prepared.  There is heavy snow shown throughout Sunday on the Met Office five day forecast for Colchester, and regional warnings for snow and ice stretching out until Tuesday, when, rather prosaically, it is going to rain.  It's going to be rather a let-down if, after all this anticipation of ferocious weather and precautionary cancellation of tomorrow's lunch, nothing much happens in Essex after all.

I needn't have insisted on taking my beekeepers accounts over yesterday evening to our examiner in Clacton if I'd known it wasn't going to snow heavily in the night.  I thought that if and when it did snow hard I'd never get there at all, and the AGM is on Thursday.  Clacton seafront is a pretty desolate spot in January after dark, even when it's not snowing.  The red warning lights on the wind turbines out on the Gunfleet have an air of eerie desolation, and light up the sea just enough to show you how unpleasant it is.  On a windy night like yesterday the cold cuts through to your bones.

The examiner rang mid morning, to ask about the subscriptions included in expenses.  I explained that these were repayments of subs overpaid in error, plus the bank reversing out a cheque which bounced.  He didn't ring again, and as the morning wore on I thought this was a good omen.  After lunch he e-mailed to say he approved the accounts, which was a relief.  They are rather untidy accounts, income being a hybrid of gross income, and surpluses on events banked by the organisers after deducting costs.  I was afraid that a proper accountant might object to them, though I had done my best with the information presented to me by my fellow club members.  Fortunately it turns out that most small club accounts look like that.

The Systems Administrator's great friend in Hitchin is Treasurer of the local cricket club, whose income includes match fees.  I never thought about how you would structure the membership fees of a village cricket club, but apparently it is very cheap to join, then you pay per match if you play, to cover direct costs of the match including balls and your tea, as well as a contribution to the club's running costs.  It's something like a tenner a game, which sounded quite a lot to me, but I suppose you should view it as similar to a gym membership.  In theory the captain collects the match fees from his players on the day.  In theory.  In practice members run up tabs then pay for several matches at once, so that it's quite complicated from the Treasurer's point of view keeping track of who is fully paid up, versus who still owes.  Remind me not to offer to help with the finances of any village cricket clubs.

After lunch I started off the dough for some milk rolls, going back to my ancient Good Housekeepers cookery book.  The bread book I used for the wholemeal recipe and the stollen, which both worked, is rather sniffy when it comes to rolls, talking about how the flavour is improved by two stage fermentation processes.  That would be fine if I'd started off stage one yesterday, but I didn't.  I just want some rolls to go with the soup for supper.

Settling down to cook brought the unwelcome discovery that my iPod was malfunctioning.  It normally lives on a docking station in the kitchen, whose two small speakers produce remarkably decent sound quality, and it was working beautifully before Christmas, but is now jumping slightly within tracks, like the stylus on a turntable if the floor is vibrating.  The SA tried wriggling the iPod on its connector in case the connection was faulty, but that didn't improve matters, then tested the iPod quickly with headphones, since my hands were covered in dough and I don't have any headphones.  It still jumped.  That means it is the iPod and not the docking station.  Blast.  It is a fairly old iPod, but not that heavily used.  I'm not impressed.  Look at our Marantz stereo system, still going strong and only needing a new amp after nearly twenty years.

If we don't get heavy snow tomorrow, or any snow at all, then there will have been no need to cancel our pub lunch.  I wish the forecasters would get it right.  Over-forecasting everything just to be on the safe side might make the Met Office and authorities feel better, but it doesn't help the rest of us.

Friday, 18 January 2013

cancelled due to extreme weather conditions

The thermometer was reading only half a degree below freezing when I got up this morning, an improvement on the last few days, but the wind made it feel much colder as I crouched outside in the chicken run, trying to knock the block of ice out of the bottom of their water container.  Looking at the weather forecast over my breakfast porridge I discovered that the forecast snow had shifted later, but with more of it.  Heavy snow was no longer expected until nine in the evening, plus or minus an hour and a half, versus heavy snow expected by six tonight when I went to bed yesterday.  On the other hand, the forecast for the weekend had got snowier, with more or less constant falls expected through Saturday and Sunday.

This left me with the dilemma of whether or not to try and get to the concert.  My usual route involves two steep hills, and the last time it snowed heavily and I ventured to go to work, the hill on the Suffolk side wasn't gritted at all.  I managed to drive there and back then without disaster, but made a mental note at the time not to do it again.  I searched the Met Office site for a five day forecast for the nearest place to the concert, and began to doubt the reliability of the forecasts, since they seemed to differ so much.  How could Hadleigh get heavy snow all day when Manningtree was only expected to have a few sprinkles?

Even if I got to the concert, I would not be likely to enjoy it very much if I were sitting all the time wondering how hard it was snowing now, and what the drive home would be like, and whether I would even be able to get out of the car park.  By late morning I'd come down on the side of not going, and was just starting to compose an apologetic message to the Secretary, warning her that I probably wouldn't be coming and so wouldn't be bringing any fishy nibbles, when an e-mail popped into my in-box.  Interrupting myself to open it I discovered that it was from the Secretary.  CONCERT THIS EVENING CANCELLED.  That solved that problem, then, though it leaves me with a lot of mackerel pate.  It isn't suitable for home freezing, I checked on the pot yesterday.

Two minutes later another e-mail arrived.  CANCELLATIION OF THIS EVENING'S CONCERT.  The Secretary reiterated the information given in the first e-mail, and apologised if we'd received it twice, but she had received a failure notice.  Cancellatio9n of concert tonight.  She had received another failure notice.  I felt for her.  The pianist is stuck in Vienna due to flight cancellations.  He was supposed to be giving a master class to aspirant local pianists tomorrow, as well as today's concert.  Everything will have to be rescheduled.

The Systems Administrator asked whether we were insured for losses on the concert, since we will have hired in the piano to no good purpose, and I realised that I didn't know the answer.  The Treasurer always seems to deal with that side of things.  It is the un-nerving thing about being the beekeepers' Treasurer, wondering what I am supposed to be dealing with but haven't, because I never thought of it.

Meanwhile, I contacted the friends in London we were going to meet for lunch on Sunday in a pub mid-way between us, suggesting that in view of the forecast we'd better put that off, and rang the pub to un-book the table.  I don't suppose they were surprised, but it seemed polite to give them some notice.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

a necessary evil

This morning when I got up the weather station was reading minus five degrees outside, and nine degrees in the sitting room.  The cold snap is intensifying.  The chickens came bouncing out of their house happily enough despite the plummeting night time temperatures.  They look good running around on the straw, and it makes me feel better to think that they are not now getting damp feet, though in this weather the ground is frozen anyway.  I had to defrost their drinking water when I let them out, and again later in the morning.

The Systems Administrator was very determined about volunteering to go to Tesco.  I was quite willing to go myself, since I need ingredients to make post-concert nibbles tomorrow, assuming I make it to the concert.  There are now forecasts of blizzards on Friday evening, and dire warnings not to travel after dark.  Blizzards in this context means winds up to 25 mph and up to five inches of snow.  Goodness knows what they make of us in parts of the world where it really does snow.

The SA went out and was some time, returning with the news that there seemed to be panic buying in Tesco and they had run out of packets of rye bread.  That is a nuisance, since I was going to make miniature open sandwiches with (ready made) mackerel pate.  The SA bought two packets of pate anyway, and an un-sliced rye loaf, so if I don't manage to get to the concert then that's my lunch sorted out for several days.  We have got adequate supplies of cat food, fire lighters and loo roll, which are the main things.  Everything else one can improvise.

Since it was most definitely not gardening weather I thought that after breakfast I'd do my tax return.  I hate completing my self-assessment form, which is why it always gets left until January, though logging on to the government website I saw that this year I am two days earlier than in 2012.  I hate the scrabbling around for the one unit trust tax voucher that always seems to be missing, and the way that on-line savings accounts don't even seem to send tax vouchers.  In the end this year's form wasn't too bad, as I had managed to save all the key documents, and lied on the form at the end when I ticked the box saying there were no provisional or estimated figures.  Actually, I did estimate the interest on one pathetic account that was paying approximately £5.48 per month in interest, deciding I couldn't face spending the time to discover exactly how much it had paid in the twelve months to April of last year, and that twelve times £5.50 would be an acceptable figure to use.  If ever challenged, which I won't be, I shall invoke the accounting concept of materiality.  I'm not a higher rate tax payer, and the account is taxed at source, so it doesn't matter exactly how much it was.

I gave up with the charitable giving section as well.  I do give to charity, in a modest way as befits my income.  The National Trust, the Barn Owl Trust, the Essex Beekeepers, the Art Fund, the Tate, the RHS, the Woodland trust, and the RSPB are all registered charities.  The RSPB membership is held jointly with the SA, just to complicate things.  Whenever asked by a charity I tick the Gift Aid box, since I am a tax payer, but I really can't be bothered to go through my bank statements and try and work out how much I've paid them in total in a given tax year.  And I have not kept a record of all the entry fees to museums where I've made a Gift Aid declaration while buying a ticket.  I don't know why HMRC even wants to know how much I gave to charity, since it's not as though I can claim tax relief on it.

In the end I owed them a small amount of money.  I thought I would.  I passed on the opportunity to set up a direct debit and paid by card, since I don't fancy the idea of giving the Inland Revenue carte blanche to remove money from my account.  According to the cheery adverts on Classic FM, once I'd sorted out my 2011-12 tax before the deadline I should have experienced a sense of euphoric relief, but I didn't, I just felt as though I'd had a really tedious morning.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


There was a power cut in the night.  I woke up at some point, and before I noticed what time it was, my bedside clock made a tiny peeping noise and the display went blank.  There were further faint bleeps from the rest of the house, as power was momentarily restored to various appliances, but the clock didn't come back on.  After a while the Systems Administrator volunteered to go downstairs and check whether power to the house was now cut off, or whether our fuse box had tripped, and set off down the corridor clutching a guttering candle.  I lay in bed, reflecting that it was not very warm, and wondering what time it was and whether the Aga would have at least partially reheated itself before the power went off, before remembering that my greenhouse heaters would have gone off when the power did, and that unless electricity was restored fairly soon then all the Geranium maderense were going to die.

The Systems Administrator returned, having swapped the candle for a torch, and said that it was not our fuse box but the general supply, and that the lights on the farm had all gone out.  More electronic squeaks from the telephones downstairs indicated that power had very briefly returned several times, then suddenly there was a squawk from my alarm clock, the time began flashing as 12.00, and there was the blessed noise of the boiler coming on.  End of power cut, all that remained being to reset the clocks on the umpteen appliances that had forgotten what time or day it was.

When I got up there was no broadband.  I assumed this was a legacy of the power cut, and tried restarting my computer, and unplugging the modem and plugging it in again.  That exhausted my repertoire of self-help techniques for loss of internet access without solving the problem, leaving me with my fallback position of waiting until the Systems Administrator got up.  I do not think of myself as an internet junkie.  I'm still not on Facebook, or Twitter, and most of my friends don't e-mail from one week to the next.  Even so, I felt strange not being able to check out what was going on first thing in my digital world.

The SA got up eventually, and investigated and found that we had not merely lost the line, but that the BT service for reporting broadband faults was unavailable.  Major broadband problems are generally better news for us than small, local problems, since BT tackles them immediately.  Loss of service to just one or two rural houses somewhere in the Tendring peninsular comes a long way down their list of Things to Do.  The SA plugged in the 3 Mobile dongle that is kept for holidays and emergencies.

The temperature outside was minus 3 degrees Celsius, according to the weather station.  The sky was very blue and clear, and the frozen snow on the shrubs and grass stems in the garden objectively speaking very pretty, but there isn't a lot to do here when it's that cold.  A friend who lives in a small, neat house in Islington and still does the sort of job that entails spending a long time in meetings with spreadsheets and PowerPoint, or sitting in airport lounges, occasionally asks me with some incredulity if I don't get bored at home.  Or even stuck at home.  True, if I were stuck in her house I would get extremely bored, since I'd have run out of things to do in the garden after a couple of days, and I couldn't look at art galleries all the time.  But here there is normally lots to do.

But not when the garden is lightly coated with snow and the thermometer remains below zero for the entire day.  I looked at the newspapers on the internet, once the temporary connection was up, noticing with disgust that train services from Essex to the capital were delayed.  Again.  I read a book of pasta recipes in search of new ideas for supper, finding the idea of all those carbohydrates vaguely comforting, and wishing the Italians would not keep putting fish and spinach in things.  I went out to defrost the chickens' water for a second time.  I would not say I was bored.  It is very un-Zen to be bored, and I can generally find something to think about, only there wasn't much to do.  I could have done my ironing, but activities that required me to move out of sight of the Aga had lost their appeal.

The Systems Administrator had to go outside after lunch to split some more logs, but came in again as soon as that was done, saying that the cold air really aggravated the hole left by the departed molar.  Apparently an extraction like that, done on a tooth which has only just died and not had time to go loose in the jaw, may hurt a lot for up to a week even in the absence of infection.  You know you have an infection if the pain progresses to become excruciating.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

poem for the day

I woke this morning to find that we'd had a light dusting of snow in the night.  A very light dusting, which I suppose is what you'd expect given the Met Office has us on a Level 3 Cold Weather Action Alert.  As the Daily Telegraph pointed out, that is one level below a National Emergency.  The thermometer outside is reading 0.9 degrees Celsius, and on the five day forecast it's going to drop to minus three overnight.  Minus three in the UK in January.  At night.  Who'd have thought it?

Unfortunately even that much snow and cold weather means I am not likely to see a great deal of gardening action this week.  Indeed, the highlight of today is probably going to be sliding down the lane to Waitrose to pick up some Click and Collect water glasses from John Lewis.  They have embossed bees on them, very pretty.  Our existing bistro tumblers are getting rather scratched to offer to visitors.  In the meantime I am writing the blog early, to put off the moment when I have to re-format the plant centre newsletter into boxes with pictures, which is the way the owner wants it done nowadays.  You will not find boxes with pictures in Cardunculus, no Sir.  If dense paragraphs of text are good enough for Caitlin Moran, they're good enough for me.

At the New Year I said that maybe Cardunculus concentrated rather on the Little House on the Prairie How to Build a Log Cabin side of things, and was a bit light on intellectual content and the inner life, so this morning I will share a poem with you.  I heard it on Radio 3 during Choral Evensong driving back from work on Sunday.  It seemed beautiful, in that half-concentrated-on way that poetry does when you're listening to it while negotiating a mini-roundabout involving the exit from a petrol station forecourt as well as the normal flow of road traffic, and oddly familiar.  I thought it might be by T S Eliot, and Googled the lines I could remember when I got home, without finding the poem.  I flicked through Eliot's collected works, again with no joy, so finally thought of looking at the Radio 3 website, which listed the readings as well as the music.

The poem turned out to be The Bright Field, by R S Thomas.

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it.  But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it.  I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it.  Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past.  It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

I became very enthusiastic about R S Thomas and thought I should get some more of his poetry, until I looked him up on Wikipedia, when my enthusiasm began to wane.  He was a Welsh Anglican priest, who believed fiercely in all things Welsh.  When I read that he was in favour of the burning of English-owned holiday homes in Wales, and turned against the project to re-introduce red kites when he discovered that some of the birds would be of non-Welsh genetic origin, I began to dislike him.  When I read that he was against modern technology, and that the only appliance ever allowed in his house was a vacuum cleaner, but he banished it because it was too noisy, I began to really dislike him.  I didn't suppose it was R S Thomas who crawled around on his hands and knees with a dustpan and brush and a damp cloth, trying to get the floors clean, after R S Thomas banished the vacuum cleaner.  No, I darkly suspect it was Mrs R S Thomas, while R S Thomas sat in his study writing beautiful poems about eternity and fulminating against the alien gene pool of the foreign kites.

My guess that the poem was by Eliot wasn't a bad one, though.  R S Thomas was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature, losing out to Seamus Heaney.  Thomas Stearns Eliot won it in 1948.

Addendum  Caution:  I found the words of the poem on somebody else's blog.  I'm not sure if I have The Bright Field in an anthology, or have just heard it on the radio before.  If I knew where to find a published text I'd have copied it from there, since poems on the web have a way of mutating.

Monday, 14 January 2013

health, safety and frozen hostas

The owner was on a health and safety drive this morning.  Indeed, she was yesterday afternoon, which was why she was auditing the contents of the First Aid box in the shop.  By today she had got on to the safe handling of fuel, rather timely after my conversation with the Systems Administrator yesterday evening when the SA wanted to know why I had come home smelling so strongly of paraffin.  The SA said then that by law we ought not to be handling heater fuel without nitrile gloves, since it was carcinogenic.  By this morning, and without any prompting from me, the owner had come to the same realisation.  I think there is some official initiative via the fuel distributors to make small businesses more aware of the issues surrounding the use of kerosene and heating oil, much to the disgust of the boss who is a fierce libertarian.

The owner was also concerned that my young colleague had been creosoting wearing her uniform coat when a set of overalls was supplied, since the coat would now give off noxious fumes and smell of creosote for months.  My colleague explained that it was so cold working outside that you really did need a coat, and that she had been wearing the overalls underneath it.  The owner said in that case to wear the overalls over the coat, but I don't think that's going to work, not unless they are a 54 inch chest size.

I had gone prepared and put my gardening radio in the car, ready to volunteer to continue tidying up the pots of herbaceous plants behind the polytunnel on The Other Side.  The manager seemed entirely happy not to have to think of things for me to do, and I spent a peaceful day scraping frozen moss off the hostas.  The Amadeus quartet playing Dvorak was a particular highlight, and the nice dollop of Dowland, then I was able to time my lunch break so that I was back just in time to catch The World At One.  After lunch it began to snow, initially in small dry flakes that didn't settle, and then in big, wet, sleety ones.

My poster for the snowdrop walk finally emerged into the light of day.  The boss had intercepted it when I e-mailed it over from home, where I composed it sitting at my kitchen table, and instead of simply giving it to the woman who works in the office to get on with, had sent it to the owner, who sat on it for over a week.  The poster took me twenty minutes to write, including finding a nice photograph of snowdrops on Google images, and a further twelve days for the logo to be inserted and the poster to be printed and laminated ready to be put up in the plant centre.  When I worked as a small companies fund manager, a recognised hazard for recently floated companies was that the original founder would be unable to delegate the quantity of decisions to the post-flotation management that needed to be delegated in order for the business to function smoothly.  Having now worked for a small business for nearly a decade I can attest from personal experience that this issue arises long before the flotation stage is ever reached.

Another aspect of the health and safety drive is that the owner is worried that the paths in the garden are so slippery.  She told the young gardener to rake up the fallen leaves more frequently, and move them further from the paths, and be sure to order grass seed in good time ready to re-seed the paths.  The young gardener is not convinced that any amount of raking and re-seeding is going to do the trick in some parts of the garden, where the paths are most heavily shaded.  The manager said the boss should start using bark paths.  I reminded him that the boss distrusted bark, in case it encouraged honey fungus.  I thought they needed to look at the plastic grids the National Trust and similar bodies use to reinforce their grass in heavily trodden areas, or those fine, sandy gravel paths much used by gardens open to the public.

It's a classic difficulty in opening gardens that features that worked perfectly well when it was a private space just used by family and friends, can't cope when visitor numbers rise to commercial levels.  The Systems Administrator and I have twice driven all the way over to see the gardens at Anglesey Abbey, and on both visits found key parts were cordoned off because it couldn't cope with the press of feet.  After the second trip I complained to the National Trust, who replied rather huffily that in order to remain true to Lord Fairhaven's design they had to restrict visitor numbers in some weather conditions.  I thought that if they were going to build a visitor centre the size of a battleship, as they have done, then they were going to have to modify the garden as well to cope with the numbers.  The boss, on a smaller scale, is going to have to start grappling with the same problem.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

kerosene and creosote

As I was driving across the marshes on my way to work, I noticed that some of the gulls circling overhead had wings with white leading edges, and remembered from my bird watching trip that this was a marker for identification.  Unfortunately I couldn't remember which species of gull it denoted, but at least knowing that it matters is a start.  If I hunt through the bird books I should be able to work out which ones they were.  In fifty years of staring vaguely at seagulls I have never noticed before that some have extra-white strips along the front edges of their wings, a sort of white-on-white effect.  Truly, seeing is a cognitive process.

Trade once again was quiet.  It's not surprising.  It was a cold day, and who buys plants when the forecast is for imminent snow?  A few people did.  One couple bought a trolley load of shrubs and climbers, another over a hundred pounds worth of daphnes.  In the afternoon a plumpish young man with a tiny smudge of paint on one cheek bought a pear tree, and a definitely plump older man bought a medlar.  He rejected my polite offer to help him load it into his car, saying that he was decrepit but not that decrepit.

My young colleague volunteered for creosote duty.  She says she enjoys it.  I can see that you might, since the newly treated wood looks so very shiny and dark.  I myself have a soft spot for applying black tar oil varnish, only I would rather do it in September than January.  The smell of creosote was pretty strong, almost strong enough to mask the smell of kerosene, which we both got on our coats in the process of refilling the heater in the polytunnel.  I thought I hadn't noticed my male colleagues fill it yesterday, and although the tank was not empty, tonight was forecast to be cold.

The kerosene is stored in a fairly new, properly bunded oil tank near the house.  That's fair enough, since you couldn't get a fuel tanker into the plant centre.  The tank was bought at the same time as the heater, which replaced an old paraffin heater.  That had to be got rid of because it had begun to dump soot on the plants in the tunnel, and because the oil company wouldn't deliver any more paraffin to the old tank because they said it didn't meet environmental standards.  It didn't.  It wasn't bunded, for a start, and the tap dripped slightly even when turned off, which we dealt with by hanging a bucket under it.  The new tank is lockable and has a hand-pumped dispenser, which needs two people to use it, one to turn the pump handle and one to squeeze the trigger, unless it was one person with extremely long arms.  Kerosene has to be pumped into a jerry can, trundled to the bottom of the plant centre in a trolley, and poured into the heater by hand.  It is almost impossible to pour fuel out of a jerry can without some of it running down the side of the can.  We made three trips, kerosene duly running down the can on each trip, and since we couldn't hold the weight of the full can without bracing it on our knees, we soon got kerosene on our coats.  Still, it was easier than refuelling a boat at sea.

I ended up over-riding my hygienic scruples and serving some people with coffee, kerosene smelling clothes or no, since by that stage my colleague was kitted up for creosoting and it seemed even more wildly inappropriate that she should go in the kitchen than that I should.  I asked the customer to tell me if the coffee was too weak or too strong, since my primary expertise was plants and not coffee, but she said it was very nice.  I should think that inside she was laughing like a drain.  There are so few customers for refreshments at this time of year, the owner has given up even sending  cake out to the cafe, and we are down to packets of biscuits.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

tidying in the tunnel

My car was lightly iced at twenty to eight this morning, including a thin layer of frozen condensation inside the windscreen.  The car thermometer believed it was a few degrees above freezing, but in the plant centre the paraffin heater in the hot tunnel was still blasting away.  I unplugged it, since I wanted to open the doors and there was no point in trying to heat the whole of Suffolk.

The manager's list of jobs to do included tidying up the remaining herbaceous plants in the plant centre, tidying inside the tunnels including watering anything that was too dry, and creosoting.  I didn't have any overalls or plastic gloves, and was not going to get creosote on my one pair of warm trousers (black fleece, irredeemably hideous but oh, so cosy) so that ruled out creosoting.  The tunnels sounded the best bet, out of the wind and with the prospect of some thermal gain if the sun came out at all.

Not many customers came, so while we were as nice as we could be to the ones that did, there was plenty of time to pick dead leaves off the plants in the tunnels, snip off mouldy shoots, and scoop fallen leaves and spilt compost off the floor.  There wasn't much mould, as we run a pretty tight and clean ship, but some of the usual suspects were afflicted.  Faded camellia flowers are always vulnerable to botrytis in the closed conditions of a polytunnel, and Cestrum are mould magnets at this time of year.  Fluffy fungus bodies coat their dead leaves and the tips of the stems and the affected parts have to be picked and pruned off.  It seems to be a generic Cestrum thing, since every one I've tried growing in the conservatory at home has behaved in the same way in winter.  In the summer they are fine.

There were quite a few dry pots, when I began to look closely.  The only water supply at this time of year is from a tap on the outside of the shop, since the main irrigation system has been drained so that it won't freeze and fracture on a cold night.  The tap on the shop is positioned immediately next to the exhaust flue for the boiler that runs the shop's heating, for reasons known to the boss's builders and quite unclear to me.  After positioning your watering can under the running tap it is best to take three paces back and turn the other way while you wait for it to fill, if you don't want to breathe the fumes.

There is an art to sweeping and watering in situ, which is to get a head start with the sweeping up and follow at distance with the watering.  That way, surplus water will not run on to the areas you haven't swept yet, and you will not get wet hands and knees.  In practice the most effective way of getting water into dry pots can be to soak them, and throughout the day I had three plants at any one time sitting in a pink plastic tub of water.  Callistemon tend to get dry in pots, which can be fatal since once the leaves crisp up the plant is a goner.  At that point they won't revive with watering, but have gone inexorably down their own Liverpool Care Pathway.  They make a lot of root quickly in a pot, another reason to soak them instead of uselessly sprinkling water on top of the compost which will merely run off again.

Cistus easily get dry in pots, though they are much harder to kill than Callistemon.  And the Correa or Australian fuchsias get rooty and dry in pots.  They bloom at this time of the year, with small, pretty, tubular cream, yellow or soft red flowers which hang uncharmingly on the plant after they have faded to brown.  Picking the dead ones off took quite a long time.  The leaves are small, oval, mid-green and undistinguished, and always seem to suffer slightly from sooty mould as if some small sap-sucking insect had attacked the plant at some point.  My Correa 'Peach Cream' at home behaves identically.

I had a long conversation about using ivy as a hedge with a man who needed to cover sixty metres of decaying willow fence that he was not going to replace.  That's the trouble with woven willow.  It looks utterly fabulous when new, but it is expensive and not all that long-lasting.  The man's face was familiar, and it was clear he knew who I was, so I found it difficult to concentrate fully on the ivy question because I was desperately trying to remember who he was, preferably before we got to the point where he placed an order for fifty Hedera hibernica and I had to confess that I couldn't remember his name.  In the end I was saved embarrassment by his saying he would go home to measure up and e-mail us on Monday to confirm the number of plants.  I helped him find something he wanted from the shop, we had a conversation about the unusual height of the water table where he lived and where I lived, and by the end of it I was practically certain I had worked out who he was.

A pleasant couple reserved five trees, and placed an order for a wild gean, and I promised to call them on Monday if the manager said we wouldn't be getting any Prunus avium this season.  I didn't ask them to pay today for the reserved trees, but probably should have, since the day's takings were pitiful.  Like I said, we were as nice as we could be to the customers that came in, but there weren't many of them.  The forecast of heavy snow overnight on Monday can't have helped persuade people that what they really needed to do on Saturday was buy garden plants.

Friday, 11 January 2013

an unsuccessful conclusion to an ongoing saga

I wish the weather would co-ordinate itself with the opening hours of the local tips (sorry, recycling centres). Yesterday when it was frosty I was all set to drive over to Manningtree to offload another load of bags of perennial weeds I won't have on the compost heap.  A trip to the tip is a good way of using the first hour of a frosty morning, and I needed to go to Manningtree because I'd promised to try and get concert posters put up in a couple of the local shops, that have notice boards where community events are advertised.  Then I thought to check the opening hours of the tip, and discovered that it didn't open on Thursdays.

Today it wasn't frosty.  The garden waste would have kept until another day, but since I still needed to go and put the posters up I had to go to Manningtree anyway.  I thought it diplomatic to buy something in both shops before asking about the posters, but fortunately the wholefood shop had my favoured brand of hand cream in stock, and I needed some milk and bread in the Co-op.  The drive to the tip is no further than the drive to the one at Clacton, but Manningtree is not my recycling centre of choice, since the access for cars is very tight, and the other drivers particularly doddery.  I always feel a sense of vague relief when I manage to leave without someone having accidentally reversed into my car.

I spent the rest of the day weeding the top of the big sloping bed in the back garden.  Initially I was watching while the Systems Administrator was out for a parcel van which was supposed to be bringing a part for the Ford transit, but it never came.  The part is a fan heater that will run off a twelve volt battery, which the Systems Administrator ordered to sit on the dashboard to de-mist the windscreen, in lieu of a working heater.  Having started in that part of the garden I stuck to it, even after the SA was back.

2012 was a great year for ants.  Not good for much else, but really good for ant colonies.  An area of pebble mulch had completely vanished under a fine silt of sand thrown up by burrowing ants.  Weed grasses had sown themselves into the sand, and as I pulled up the tufts of grass, their roots lifted with a great mass of sandy soil attached, suddenly exposing the pebble layer again.  I felt like an archaeologist uncovering a buried Roman pavement.  Brambles were advancing on that corner of the garden as well as the grass.  Gardening is a process of holding back encroaching nature.  Leave an area alone for a few months and it starts to look like the decaying ruins of central London in The Day of the Triffids.

The SA had to go out to visit the dentist, for the final, permanent filling.  I was expecting a triumphant return, tired but happy, after weeks of temporary fillings and toothache.  Instead a battered and irritated SA came to tell me bleakly that the tooth had had to come out after all.  It had split.  That would explain why it had been painful again in the last few days.  The dentist would not do the permanent filling until it had settled and was definitely not infected, and more than a fortnight after having the last root drilled out it was not supposed to still be hurting, so the SA was concerned about what was going on.  It is rather demoralising, after two sessions of root canal surgery and weeks of trying to remember to eat on only one side of the mouth and worrying about crumbling temporary fillings, to have lost the tooth anyway.  In the end it wouldn't have made any difference to have had it out in early December, and saved all the subsequent faff.

Having teeth out has become a more serious affair than in my youth.  I had four molars removed, in preparation for orthodontic work.  That was done under total anaesthetic administered by injection in the dentist's chair, something which is definitely not done nowadays (and several of my dentist's other patients did allegedly die in the chair).  Afterwards my mother took me home, and I don't remember any fuss being made about it.  The SA came back with strict instructions about the need to control bleeding, because otherwise infection might get into the bone.  Rest for the remainder of the day, preferably lie down, definitely no exercise or anything that might raise the blood pressure, no hot drinks.  I don't think that in my day anyone even mentioned the possibility of bone infection.

The dentist said, and the SA agreed, that it was right to try and conserve the tooth.  If it hadn't split the treatment would probably have worked.  One of my incisors was root-canal-filled around twenty-five years ago, and is still firmly stuck in my jaw.  I use it for eating every day  The dentist would have been quite happy if the SA's tooth had lasted even another five years, since the SA would have had the use of it in that time, and any replacement wouldn't have had to last as long.  The question now is whether the SA can manage happily without a replacement.  Most patients do, apparently.  The dentist is reluctant to fit a bridge and drill into the two neighbouring and perfectly healthy teeth, so the choices are a gap or an implant.  Let's hope the gap is comfy.