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.

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