Old Friends

With the relaxing of the coronavirus lock down we have been emboldened to travel further afield to see friends and relatives.  At the end of last month we went to Nottingham and Edinburgh and last week we visited friends in Eye, Suffolk.  It had been over a year since we had seen these old friends and over two years since our last visit to Suffolk.  There was much to catch up on.

Unexpectedly Spectacular View At Diss, Just North Of Eye

Once again, we had great Suffolk weather.  That showed off to best effect the improvements to our friends’ house and outbuildings, which had continued up to the lock down last year, and the private allotments that they have recently purchased and taken fuller control of. 

The Entrance To, And The Developing Harvest Of, Our Friend’s Allotments

These allotments are tremendous; they are colourful, well-tended and, judging from the health of the vegetables on show, fertile and not by savaged by deer or badgers.  I am particularly jealous of this last point having seen all my Jerusalem artichokes on my own tiny allotment plot excavated and eaten by relentless badgers in recent weeks.

Since our last visit to the Eye allotments, the wife in the couple has extended her animal husbandry alongside the vegetables, flower beds and an orchard cum meadow.  There are now pigs in addition to the squad of chickens and a grumpy, blind duck. 

Happy But Unsuspecting Pigs

There has already been a cycle of acquiring pigs, feeding them up and sending them to slaughter that the current pair Oxford Sandy and Blacks/Gloucester Old Spot crosses are blissfully unaware of.  Given how friendly and enthusiastic for life that they are, I’m not sure I could bear the emotion of farming pigs in this way but I have to say that the pork we had at dinner on the first night of our stay was delicious!

Eye Church In Morning Sun

Eye itself is a pretty town in which the wife in the couple seems to know everyone.  The town is a good size with a market and a nice range of independent shops.  It is surrounded by a mix of chicken factories and old airfields that are starting to be homes for small businesses.  One such is Bruha Brewing which we were able to visit (following my first and rather precarious cycle ride for several years) to sample their very satisfying craft beer. 

Big Fields, Big Skies

The town is also surrounded by arable farms criss-crossed by lanes and footpaths and we took ample opportunity afforded by the sunny weather to get our steps up to normal levels after the long drive to Suffolk.  There was time, too, to visit Wyken Hall Gardens and have a lovely lunch (again) at its restaurant, The Leaping Hare.  We have a lot of shared history with our Suffolk friends and it was great to catch up in such relaxed and attractive surroundings.

Views In Wyken Gardens, Suffolk

Then, this week, we had a visit from my best man (BM) who is another long standing friend from university.  Again, the formula of a pub visit, walking and a nice meal was a good, solid backdrop for a great mutual sharing of recent events and life developments.  BM’s life rarely seems dull and a recent hip replacement and impending retirement added to the normal interest.  If he doesn’t move on to a new job after all, perhaps we will be able to catch up more often.

Some Big Fields In Gloucestershire Too!
And We Have Sandy And Black Pigs In Gloucestershire Too!

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are starting to enjoy and plan more trips and visits as Covid lockdowns are eased to allow them.  Last month, for the first time for me in ages, we visited LSW’s aunt, cousin and his wife for dinner.  It was an evening enlivened by their dog amusingly pinching a third of the quiche (the rest that he left for us was lush!) and a spectacular view of a sunset over the Severn valley from their house. 

Sunset From LSW’s Aunt’s House

Now we are starting to schedule trips to Ireland, London, Scotland, Bath plus dates for local get-togethers with local village friends and neighbours.  Normality in retirement is returning.

Allotment Wars!

Just over 10 years ago, I was made redundant from a large consulting firm I had worked for since leaving university.  I took a break from 33 years of work and, a year later, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) persuaded me to buy a derelict corrugated iron bungalow with the remaining redundancy money.  Then, as the kids left home, we sold our family house.  That enabled some downsizing and renovation of the ‘Tin House’.  We lived in the ‘Tin House’ for a year while we upgraded our current home.  Now we rent it out with the vague plan to move back into it when we downsize again.

Our 'Tin House' Post Re-Build in 2013

Our ‘Tin House’ Post Re-Build in 2013

When we bought the ‘Tin House’, it had only a small front garden.  We bought a small extra parcel of land at the back so that, after any future move back to the bungalow, I would be able to continue my enjoyment of vegetable growing in retirement.  I also put myself on what I understood to be a very long waiting list for an allotment in the beautiful Rose Barrow allotment gardens just a little further up the hill.

View From Behind Our 'Tin House'

View From Behind Our ‘Tin House’

In practice, the wait for an allotment was much shorter than expected and, for the last half dozen years, I have been tending a quarter of a full allotment.  This has not been all plain sailing however.

View From The Entrance To Rose Barrow Allotments

View From The Entrance To Rose Barrow Allotments

The first challenge has been that, having moved from the ‘Tin House’, we now live 2-3 miles away.  Unless I undertake a stiff walk there and back carrying tools and (at least potentially) harvests, I have to visit it by car.  The result is that my visits are more infrequent that they should be to undertake the war on weeds, to water in dry spells and to pick any crops.  That restricts me to low maintenance crops and means I constantly test the patience of the allotment management who police the quality of upkeep.

Examples Of Well Tended Allotments At Rose Barrow

Examples Of Well Tended Allotments At Rose Barrow

One such manager has been keen to take over my patch because it is in between a couple of allotments he already operates and his back garden.  I have resisted, for a couple of years, giving up my investment of digging and composting effort.  In doing so, I felt like one of those long-standing house owners holding out against the big developer wanting to demolish swathes of buildings in order to erect new, swish skyscrapers.  But, last year, I accepted that this was an extreme view, and took the practical and reasonable step of relinquishing my plot in exchange for another.

Overall I was content with the move despite the risk that I am now too near the allotment bonfire space to avoid scorched lettuces and leeks!  I started to dig the new plot over last winter, planted some Jerusalem artichokes and harvested some rhubarb.  All was settled and agreeable.

However, last week I arrived on my little plot to find someone else has commandeered it, had trampled my planting, had taken my compost bin and had erected netting over my inherited currant bushes.  Outrage!

Recognising that possession is ‘nine tenths of the law’ (and because I had nowhere else to put them), I dug over part of the patch again and planted a few rows of leeks and beetroot.  I was ready for war!

It seems that a couple had spoken with the previous incumbent of the whole allotment of which my slice is a part and had agreed to take it all on without confirming with allotment management.  They were unaware of my existing claim, my payment (all of £2!) and my effort to rehabilitate the plot.  It turns out that they are old acquaintances and we have been able to work out a way forward which leaves me with a plot that is a little smaller than the one I relinquished last year but which will be adequate.  My compost bin is restored.  Peace has broken out.

My New Quarter Allotment

My New Quarter Allotment. The War On The Couch Grass Begins!

The new plot is freer of bindweed than the previous one.  However, it is largely covered by very deep and well-established couch grass – another allotment devil to do war with but a manageable one if countered with thoroughness and determination.  Once I have dug out the worst of the couch grass a few times over the next couple of years, and grubbed up some old currant bushes to create some more space far enough from the bonfire, I will have a good little plot to augment my vegetable patches at home.

I may not visit my allotment often until we move back to the ‘Tin House’, but when I do I will love the relaxation from the repetition of the physical exercise of digging and weeding. I like too the mundane chats with allotment neighbours about the weather, the persistence of the perennial weeds and the poverty or fruitfulness of this year’s crops.  I love the singing of the birds and the peace and quiet of the enclosed allotments.  I love it that I have more time since retirement to soak up all of this.  The war is over and I’m happy again.

Fun in Porto

Last weekend, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I had a short break in Porto, Portugal’s second city. We went with an old friend of ours.  We have a lot of shared history including our revelry at the Horsley Village Disco I wrote about last December.  Almost 40 years ago, I introduced her to her (now) husband and, a few years later, she introduced me to my (now) wife.  We had a lot of fun in those days of our relative youth and we had a great time again last weekend.

Porto From Torre Dos Clerigos

Porto From Torre Dos Clerigos

About 18 months ago LSW and I visited Lisbon, Portugal’s capital. Lisbon is a wonderful historical city with lovely walks and views, we were lucky with the weather, we found the people very friendly and we enjoyed ourselves very much.  We therefore were keen to try Portugal again.

We were not disappointed; indeed in many ways Porto was even more enjoyable.  Again, the weather was sunny and the people we met were relaxed and friendly.  The historic streets with their tiled and balconied buildings were attractive and interesting.  The views across the hills of the city and the river were sunlit and dramatic.  Porto is a little slower, more laid back and perhaps even more at ease with itself than Lisbon.  It has an atmosphere that was perfect for our little group.

Porto And The Duoro River

Views of Porto And The Duoro River

Porto's Graffiti, Trams And Tiled Buildings

Porto’s Graffiti (including The 3-D Rabbit!), Trams And Tiled Buildings

Our sketchy plans for what we wanted to see and do seemed to keep falling into place.  Even fully booked restaurants found space for us.  We managed to get prime tables in roof-top bars overlooking the stunning Douro River that splits the city in two.  We stumbled upon free port tasting and barely advertised museums that pleasantly filled the gaps between excellent meals and chats over bottles of local wine.  The relaxed approach culminated in a takeaway of chicken, chips and salad (accompanied by copious amounts of local wine and port, of course) eaten heartily in our very good AirBnB on the last night of our stay.

Porto Churches And Cathedrals

Porto Churches And Cathedrals

Upon our return we found that the weather had been even hotter in our garden than in Porto and that there had only been one short rain shower to sustain the garden.  It is looking increasingly parched and manual watering is no longer enough to sustain everything.  However, my focus on keeping the beans and blackcurrant plants going is paying off.  We are able to have a variety of types of bean at every meal now and I have made a year’ supply of blackcurrant jam with loads more still to pick.

Another Year's Supply Of Blackcurrant Jam

Another Year’s Supply Of Blackcurrant Jam

My allotment is faring less well – it’s a long story as to why I have it since it is a few miles from where we now live and so I can’t keep it watered sufficiently.  The good thing is that the weeds are not thriving there either due to the lack of rain – although the leeks I failed to harvest last year are looking impressive.  More on the allotment another time…..

Dry Allotment

My Dry Allotment With Last Year’s Unpicked Leeks

Meanwhile, I’m planning to visit London again next week and, beyond that, now Paris and Porto have been visited in the last month, LSW and I need to get another holiday into the diary.