Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘The Archers’ Category

Allotment Blues

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

It’s all ups and downs at the allotment.  Is this normal?  I don’t know.  I am a gardener, not an allotmenter.  There is a big difference.  Show me a shrub or a leaf, a bulb or a flower – and I can almost certainly identify it.  And I have grown vegetables and fruit for many years – on a tiny scale.  But I don’t know a squash from a courgette until it’s in the frying pan, and the range of insects and pests that an allotment can generate is industrial.

Before I start moaning, which I am going to, some pretty images from last week:


So, downs.  First, the potatoes have died in their towers.  Cause:  ants.  Huge colonies of dark brown or black ants had secretly and unseen, invaded the lower regions and in making their soil-cities, totally undermined the potatoes.  The tops just suddenly died.  We have dismantled two infested towers – the lovely pink ones – and await the imminent demise of the two others – ant activity is obvious.  I am just so sad about this. There was nothing but mush left.

Second, the brassica cage is preventing large butterflies such as cabbage whites from getting in.  But the mesh is not fine enough to stop smaller flying predators, notably tiny white moths (I think) and small flying beetles about 4mm long.  A few eggs have been laid so I have been frantically inspecting the cage every day.  This strategy is not sustainable. I think the producers of this cage and net probably assume that gardeners will also spray the crops for other pests, but I don’t.

Also in the cage, ants undermined three plants (this was about a month ago so I set organic ant-baits and this worked, insomuch as no more plants died.  Yet). And though we bought and watered in nematoads which are an organic and critter-friendly anti-slug treatment, slugs have eaten and killed some kale.  So I have set down some organic slug bait now.  The cage is also hard to weed.  This last problem is entirely my own fault.

In the lower part of the plot, slugs have eaten some of my climbing French beans – again, organic slug bait is now down.  I am not hopeful.  I think I may as well do an anti-slug dance down there and place the matter in the hands of the universe; it has about the same chances of success.

Ups:  the courgettes are starting to show fruits, as are some Japanese squash that Will bought off the interweaves and I germinated and planted.

Courgette, Black Beauty:

Courgette, Summat Yellow Off The Intertrawls:

The runners look OK – but they are right beside the blighted potato towers so I am on ant-alert up there.  The broad beans are all out of the ground. We have a fair few bags stashed in the freezer too.  In the end, it was so dry and warm here, they kind of bolted in that they just went from baby-beans that were tender and delicious, to being uber-leather-jacketed-beans in the space of about four days.  The garlic is also out and it was rubbish but I have some to use and store and after all, I only used shop bought bulbs for about a quid.

The carrots in the raised bed are great, as are the pea-shoots. And the free raspberries are all, bar one, alive and sending out new growth.

We have eaten the first cut of chard.  Hmm. I think I ought to have tasted some before I planted so much of it.  It is like spinach – which I love – but with an aggressive soil after-taste.  I hear from Lily that ‘soil’ is fashionable in them fancy restaurants where they present you with a box of grass and some dry-ice.  Any ideas for cooking it in easy ways that may mitigate the tangy earthy palette?  I cooked a mix of white, ruby and orange chard, all baby stems which I kind of steamed/fried with a little butter and then when that was tender I  added the shredded leaves to wilt.  I mean, it worked; it was edible.  Just not very nice.

The wet June a lot of places have had, has not happened here.  The communal water tanks, pumped from the pond, are dry and our own water butt is half empty.  It seems that it is ‘usual’ for folks to take from the communal tanks routinely and use the plot tank only when really needed, but we didn’t realise that.  Plus, it is a fair walk with buckets and cans to the pond area and I frankly do not have the time to schlep water in some soft-focus idyllic version of real allotment life, in which the truth is you need military standard anti-mosquito spray and clothing to go within five meters of the pond and the lush, bug-infested grass around the water tanks.  I sustained EIGHT bites a fortnight ago and lost the thick end of two nights’ sleep as a result.

Beneath this lot, there is a pond:

And there were a bazillion of these, this one was captured by Mark:

So…in month eight of Project Allotment, here’s what I think.  It has been incredibly hard work and to a great extent this has paid off.  It looks OK, it is all dug and we have had some produce with the potential for more.  I love the place it is in and, when I am not under pressure, I love the being there part.  I have learned a lot too.  However, I just do not have time to do this properly.  The reality of ‘sharing’ a huge project like this is that it needs someone to be there, if only for an hour or two, at least four times a week.  I am the only partner with a ‘flexible’ timetable, so this is almost always me. I expected it to be 60% me, and 40% the other three.  This is not the case – and it’s not a ‘fault’, it’s just a fact.  I find myself worrying in a low-level way about it more than I think happy up-lifting thoughts too.  If I went away for two weeks, even if the others were here, I know it’d be a nightmare when I got back because they just can’t spend the time there that it seems to need.  And at least half the work feels ‘remedial’ – weeding, pest-control, grass cutting, water schlepping.

I think I may be edging towards handing in our notice in October. Meantime, I will keep it clean, tidy and weed free, and get from it what I can.  But this model is not sustainable.



The Archers. My Life in Ambridge

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Like you (I imagine we are very alike), I grew up with The Archers.  The music will be one of my Desert Island Disc choices, when I am eventually invited onto the programme.

In fact, when I do appear on DIDs, I will ask for a compilation record called ‘Radio 4’, which will have on it The Archers theme tune, Sailing By (I know I do not need to explain), the old medley they used to play at the beginning of the Radio 4 day, which had stereotypical bits of Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English music, axed a few years ago by some eighteen year old BBC Executive, I imagine, the music for Round Britain Quiz, the intro music for I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, and of course, the DIDs theme tune itself.  This will cocoon me in a safe pod of memories of BBC Radio 4, with which I have grown up, along, and now, maybe, down.

I love Radio 4.  I feel as if it is literally woven into my life’s pattern, like a thread or a cable.  As a child, my mother often listened to it, especially Woman’s Hour, which used to be on in the afternoon.  When I revised for O and A levels, I did so with Radio 4 as my background noise, probably absorbing more information about poetry and eagle hawks from its varied programming than I ever learned about oxbow lakes and the origins of WW1 from my books.

When I got married, I remember the night before, lying awake and hearing Sailing By, a sure sign that I was awake too late.  In times of troubled or child-prompted wakefulness at night, I have been soothed by the BBC World Service, which slips quietly into Radio 4’s bed-slippers in the small hours.  I have been revived and reassured by Radio 4’s re-appearance, like the sunrise, the next day, as I hear The Shipping Forecast, mentally hopping around the British Isles as its coastal anti-clockwise journey unfolds.

Ever wondered where Rockall is?  Or how North (or South) Utsire is spelt?  And, as you expect, Biscay is a long way away, but Trafalgar is even further, look:

Map of shipping forecast areas

(c) BBC Weather

My mother also listened, every day, to The Archers.  I think she heard most episodes three times.  So did I, of course.

I listen to The Archers still, but not always.  Sometimes, we are on a break.  It’s not me.  It’s them.  The Scriptwriters.  I have extended breaks for a variety of reasons, such as when Nigel fell to his untimely death from the roof of Lower Loxley.  Not only did we lose one of the best voices, and most fully formed characters, with whom I grew up, but also his death scene was the subject of a great deal of torrid soap-opera style ferment in the press (the press I read, that is, not Hello!  or Heat.  As far as I know).  There was another longer-running story-line at the same time, Helen’s pregnancy, and the scriptwriters were touted as being sure to bump off a character at New Year.  I had my money on the annoying and unstable Helen in a labour-related death, but no: out of the blue, it was Nigel who plummeted to his demise.  It irritated me so much, I just stopped listening for about six months, but of course, I drifted back.

Recently, we have been treated to another excruciatingly contrived plot line, the possible sale of Brookfield and the move by the entire Brookfield-based wing of the Archer clan, to somewhere in The North.  David Archer is now the head-honcho at Casa Brookfield, and his wife, Ruth (whom I remember arriving in Ambridge many years ago, as a work experience agricultural student, and she was monumentally annoying even then) is his help-meet and comfort.  Not.  First, she is from the north east of England and thus David is now called Daaaayveeed in a drawn out version of his rather nice, modest, two-syllable name which, as Ruth enunciates it, lasts for almost as long as the opening music.  Second, she never gives over whining.  Third, she is rude.

Ruth has been driving this move with the same zeal she displayed when, decades ago, she fixed Daaaayveeed in her cross-hairs and went all out to snare him, plus the farm.  If they go, and I have offered to pack for them, we will lose Ruth, David and (probably) the kids.  Also, Jill Archer, the former matriarch of Brookfield, David’s mother, would go.  I would regret the loss of Jill, and to a lesser extent, David.  But the others can clear off now as far I am concerned.

Except, and here you may be relieved to learn that I do still have a tenuous grip on reality, and I recognise that it is  only a fictional drama, it’s completely obvious even to the Stupids in The Archers, which includes Helen, the least sharp cheese-wire in the dairy, that of course they won’t sell Brookfield.  Of course they won’t do the listening public a huge favour and clear off to the north of England.  Nor will the road development through the farmland, which prompted Ruth to insist on this move, go ahead.  There.  That is my prediction.  It’s solid gold, you may rely upon it.  What may have surprised the editor and the script team, is how much support there is for the whole lot of them to scarper.  No-one wants them to stay.

The problem with the scripts now is that instead of having one or two big story lines unfolding, plus two or three lighter-hearted plots, which they used to be so good at, they have lots of really big dramas all at the same time, and little room for the every-day events which used to make this programme so special.  There is so much drama, it has almost no impact any more.  At the moment, we have the development which threatens Brookfield and the whole village; this in turn has lead Jill to be unwell, and (fingers crossed) now maybe Ruth will stomp off and her marriage to David appears to be once again in doubt; we have Helen, as thick as an organic full-fat yoghurt, becoming ever-more drawn into the web of her boyfriend, Rob, clearly a potential killer; we have Tony shuffling, I hope, away from death’s door, but still in a very bad way; we have the inexplicable and frankly disturbing sex triangle formed by Hayley, Roy and Elizabeth, now degenerating into a farce; we have Kate, back from Africa in disgrace…too much already.

The dilution to this seething, boiling pit of angst, is lead by the joint forces of La Snell, and her lovely hub, Robert; Lilian, my absolute favourite character; and the Grundys.  Even this force is not enough to lift the fog of gloom over Borcetshire.  And thus, I fear I may once again be heading for one of my breaks.  It’s just too miserable.  I fully expect Ruth and David will stay, miserably and whiningly together, in an economic axis, and the development will fall at a Christmas Eve planning hurdle.  If I am right, we have ten months of this.