This morning, miraculously, it was not raining. I'm sure that rain was forecast through most of the end of last week, possibly even heavy rain, but it didn't arrive on the day. In a fit of optimism I decided to start clearing the beds in the vegetable patch. I think it was after reading an article by Jay Rayner in the Guardian, about how difficult life was for UK farmers and how the price of food was going to go up, and I felt exasperated with myself, that I had all this land and ought to be able to grow some food on some of it. Or my inner earth mother might have been boosted by the success of my latest attempt at making wholemeal bread, which rose up convincingly and really did look and taste like something you might be served in quite a good gastropub, and not like a brick. Whatever the reason, I had a sudden vision of abundant leeks and broad beans.
Although I didn't even try to grow vegetables last year, the plot wasn't left entirely untouched, as I sprayed the beds with glyphosate a couple of times. I never said I was going to grow vegetables organically, and having let the vegetable patch go extremely fallow a few years ago, I knew how long properly established weeds took to dig out, and didn't want to have to do it again. Once the more rampant weed grasses take hold, and you have the deep roots of mature docks to contend with, winning back the soil is a painfully slow task. Most of the current crop of weeds are fairly young, and dig out without too much difficulty, using a small and very sharp ladies' border fork from a kneeling position, as if it were a trowel.
I was keen to clear the asparagus bed before the asparagus started to emerge. That was covered with Strulch, and had stayed fairly weed free, except that strawberry runners had found their way across the path from the bed that is supposed to have strawberries in it, and had done a pretty good job of turning the asparagus bed into a second strawberry patch. I didn't think that a permaculture mixture of asparagus and strawberries would work, though it felt rather wasteful pulling young strawberry plants up as if they were weeds. Which of course in this context they were. The asparagus bed was planted in two tranches, the first of which is well established by now, but I'm not sure that some young roots I dropped into the space at the end have survived. I think they were planted just before one of our more severe droughts, and I'm not sure they got watered enough to take. It sounds terribly wasteful, and is, buying asparagus roots and planting them and then not watering them properly, but with all the other replanting I had to do to replace winter losses, it was very difficult to keep up.
Two robins watched me, beady eyed and eager for worms and other freshly exposed trifles. Robins are sensible birds. They understand I am far too large and slow to catch them, and in any case mean them no harm, and come and avail themselves of the delicacies on offer when I weed. Blackbirds eat worms, and no blackbird in this garden has ever witnessed me do anything even remotely hostile to a blackbird, while they have seen me fill up the bird table loads of times, but they won't come gardening with me.
My first passes of the vegetable beds are fairly rough and ready. I'm digging out what perennial roots I can find, but will be ready with the glyphosate to hit the leaves that emerge from pieces that I've missed. Some of the beds need more compost, which will have to come off the weedy heap that is the remains of the great compost barrow. I want to get rid of the heap anyway, so tipping it on the vegetable beds will fulfil two aims in one operation. It means the veg patch may acquire some new and exotic weeds, but it has so many already, it won't really matter if it starts throwing up Verbena bonariensis as well as everything else.
At a quarter to three I had reluctantly to remove myself and start scrubbing the dirt out from under my fingernails, since it was the last concert of the present music society season at four. We had a Lithuanian string quartet. The programme said they had been playing for thirty years and done in excess of two thousand concerts, but I think that must have been thirty years in the grandfather's axe sense, unless the viola player was an exceptionally precocious infant. The programme notes said that the opening Grieg had distinct overtones of Norwegian folk music, and it certainly put me in mind of an album by Shetland fiddler Aly Bain duetting with Danish-Norwegian (living in Sweden) Ale Moller (it's called Fully Rigged and I recommend it highly).
This was followed by a piece by a famous Lithuanian composer, dedicated to the quartet's cellist, who is his brother, thus keeping to the convention of putting the difficult, twentieth century element of the programme immediately before the interval, so that people can cheer themselves up with refreshments afterwards. If you put it in the second half there's a risk they might make their escape during the break. It was quite nice not to spend the whole of the interval frantically pouring tea and washing cups. The second half brought Schubert's Rosamunde quartet, and the man sitting next to me told me cheerfully that he had put his hearing aid in for the Schubert. Some quartets don't do encores, but this one did, and we got a charming lullaby by a composer whose name nobody caught, though the chairman said she would find out.
I was pleased to see that the customers I was chatting to last Monday did come, and brought some of their family with them. I really do very little on the music society committee apart from help with the catering, but it is rather wonderful that people like the booking secretary and chairman go to as much trouble as they do to bring professional chamber musicians with international careers to perform in obscure corners of the English countryside. Dear reader, the next time that you see a poster for such an event, or a tiny mention in your local paper, do pause for a moment and think about whether you might like to go. If quality music is to happen beyond London's south bank and the august spaces of the Wigmore Hall and St John's Smith Square, it needs public support.