The Strulch arrived today. Strulch stands for straw mulch. It consists of chopped up straw, treated with a mystery mixture of minerals, that prevents annual weeds from germinating in the borders, helps keep moisture in the soil, and lasts for about two years before rotting down. It is very useful in the garden, though not so exciting as some new plants or a sculpture would be. None of the local garden centres stock it. You can buy it by the bag from Crocus, but it is much cheaper per litre if you buy it by the pallet load direct from the manufacturers.
This must have been my fourth or fifth order, which represents an awful lot of plants and sculptures I could have had, but also an awful lot of hours I could have spent weeding and watering. I ordered by phone, to make sure I got my five per cent off for ordering before the end of February and to try and give precise delivery instructions. The company founder, who still answers the phone herself by name when you ring up, balked at the instructions, saying plaintively that the delivery company only gave her a very small box in which to write anything.
It is the delivery stage that is most problematic when buying a pallet of Strulch. Ordering it is fine. The company founder is always polite and very pleased that you are buying her product, the Strulch always arrives on the day you have specified, the correct amount is always charged to your credit card. Persuading the carrier to communicate anything about the delivery to the driver is another matter. Add that to the unpredictable and congested roads of the south east and you have a perfect witches' brew. There was the time the lorry didn't arrive until dusk due to catastrophic traffic delays on the M25 and the A12, and still had more deliveries to make after unloading ours. There was no working interior light, and as the driver lowered the tail lift with the pallet on it the whole thing collapsed, scattering bags all over the drive. There was the time the driver could not get the pallet jack off the tail lift because it bogged down in the gravel, and we ended up breaking down the pallet in situ. He was jolly grumpy about that. It does say in the terms and conditions that the driver is not obliged to handle the bags. There was the driver who drove in forwards, having not read my instructions to reverse up the track because they were taped to the pallet with no copy in the cab. We had to give up with the tail lift that time and offload every bad individually off the side of the lorry. I think that driver was quite cheerful about it. The others blur into a composite of wing mirrors sticking in the eleagnus hedge, and the jack never, ever working on the gravel. I know they don't, but gravel is what we've got.
I wanted to tell today's driver to reverse up to the house, but the instructions on how to find the house and when to start reversing wouldn't fit in the little box, so I told Strulch that he (or she, but it is always a he) should ring us when they got to the farm and we would come and explain. The message didn't get through, as usual, and I spent the morning cleaning the kitchen within earshot of the phone which never rang, until at noon I went out to do some weeding by way of a change, still within easy reach of the phone, and instead heard a lorry which seemed not to be part of the lettuce farm because it was getting nearer. I scooted down the track and explained he would do better to reverse in then he could drive straight out, and it took him ages to turn round at the farm and come back up again. I was slightly puzzled that the lorry belonged to a firm of sash window specialists, and the driver said that his lorry was being serviced and he had never driven this one before.
Then it took some time to unhook the rear curtain which was very stiff. Our pallet was impressively guyed with several ropes and seemed to be the only cargo, and the pallet trolley provided was barely able to lift it off the floor. The driver asked hopefully if the Systems Adminstrator could come up and push. I stepped well back out of the way, wondering what the penalties for the driver would be if there was any kind of accident, and ready to shout if the SA looked like stepping backwards off the tail lift. The pallet did not want to be pushed, and the tail lift was barely wide enough for it, but eventually they got the pallet to the ground, and then the trolley would not wheel off the lift, even though we were doing the whole exercise at the gate where it's mostly just tarmac. I suggested they might be able to topple the whole thing off, since it wouldn't hurt the Strulch, but it was too heavy, and we ended up dragging all fifty bags off by hand as usual.
Fifty one hundred and fifty litre bags of straw mulch make an impressive barricade, and the driver now saw why I was so keen on him reversing in, if he hadn't before, while I was very glad we didn't have to move all fifty bags past the lorry before he could leave. The SA set about hauling half the bags in the garden trolley over to the concrete by the greenhouse for later use, and I humped the other half round to the back garden to use more immediately, and luckily no other vehicles arrived before we'd finished. Lunch was very late, and there were no pancakes left over for breakfast even though I'd made a pint of batter.
It rained in the afternoon, and I honestly felt as though I'd lifted enough straw mulch for one day. I'm all set to go, though. I have fifty bags of Strulch and twenty-five kilos of blood, fish and bone. A full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes. It's dark and I'm wearing prescription safety glasses. There is going to be some serious mulching going on in the next couple of weeks.