Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Letter to the Ludlow Advertiser

Dear Sir

Last Sunday, in a rare and uncharacteristic act of public-spirited goodwill, I put some of my treasured tomato plants up for adoption. It was a heart-rending thing to do, but due to a lack of space in my greenhouse I had no alternative option. I had already given a surplus away to my next-door neighbours and my mother, but there were still eighteen of these plants remaining.

I placed these plants in a large plastic box at the end of my road in Ludlow (for the purposes of karma and self-righteousness I kindly ask you to not publish my name and address) with a notice attached bearing the following inscription:

“We are baby tomato plants. Our Mummy & Daddy can’t look after us any more. Please take us home with you and give us lots of water and sunlight. Thank you.”

An hour later I stole discreetly and covertly to the end of my anonymous road and to my delight found that five of the eighteen plants had been adopted. I was thrilled in the knowledge that some kindly motorist or pedestrian had passed by and taken pity on these frightened but verdant little plants. All notion of performing a selfless act fled as I basked in the profound personal joy that can only come from giving.

Later that evening, still basking in the glow of self-satisfaction, I tiptoed back to the end of the road to find that all of the remaining plants had been adopted. You can Sir, I’m sure only begin to imagine my relief at this discovery. The knowledge that each of my baby plants had been taken into the bosom of new families only served to enhance my sense of selfish smugness.

To cut a long story short, the purpose of this letter is two-fold. Firstly, and most importantly I would like to heartily thank the voluntary foster parents of my vegetal progeny for saving these plants from a slow demise on the compost heap. May your plants bring you unbridled joy and an abundance of tomatoes. Secondly, I would like to ask that whoever adopted my rather useful plastic box in which the plants were contained, return it at their earliest convenience. It wasn’t included in the deal.

Yours faithfully

Henry Mackley

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Day I Killed a Chicken

The other day I killed one of our hens. She had been ill for some time with 'compacted crop’ and her gullet had swollen with sour undigested grain. We read all the books and we tried to make her better but we couldn’t, and we had agreed that we’d never take a chicken to the vet. So I killed her.

I always thought that emotionally it would be easy to kill a chicken, but it wasn’t. I’ve killed lots of animals before – rabbits, pigeons, pheasants, squirrels, and the like – and never enjoyed the process as such, but been satisfied in the knowledge that it was pest control, or that the victim of my trigger-pulling would be eaten. But the chicken wasn’t a pest, and we weren’t going to eat her. I wasn’t even sure if I was putting her out of her misery, as she didn’t seem particularly miserable.

I thought that I should wring her neck, as that’s how good poultrymen are supposed to do it. Hold her upside down, head between the fingers and give it a good yank. Easy. But I couldn’t do it. I wimped out. I didn’t want to pull too hard and take the head off, but more so I didn’t want to be too gentle and end up with a live chicken with a compacted crop and a sore neck. So I shot her. I shot her in the back of her tiny little head with a .22 air rifle. I held her between my feet and placed the barrel against her head and I pulled the trigger, and when I picked up the flapping twitching corpse by its feet, my hands were shaking and I had a small but discernable lump in my throat.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

I Heart the Compost Heap

The compost heap, when one gets it right, is a thing of utter tear-inducing wonderment. I got my heap wrong last year and it still lurks there, full of ants, rat shit, and doom. And I don’t know what to do with it. But the one I started this winter, back in the frozen old days of January, by fucking jeepers-creepers it’s a good ‘un.

I stoked her (for surely any seriously super heap is a “her”) in January with some greenish but woody bits and bobs from the garden. Live twiggy bits of holly and the like. For as any composterer knows, one needs air to flow happily and freely through the heap. The live twiggy bits ensure that this will happen.

Prior to that I placed chicken wire beneath her. This was to keep out the rats, the rats who made a base in the old heap. The old heap was next to where the hens live, so it was a nice, warm, smelly, and tasty HQ for them. They could snooze on the Bad Heap during daylight hours and in darkness, prey upon the leftover hen food. The fuckers.

This time it won’t happen because of the chicken wire that keeps out the rats. It’s a good heap, and rats hate a good heap*. Through frigid February and March I wait. I wait for my garden to grow, I wait for the weeds to grow, so that the heap can start working. There’s nothing** that a heap likes more than a few weeds.

In April we get some warmth. The seeds I have sown have sprouted but it goes cold and they go on hold. The grass grows and I mow, and I introduce the heap to her first layer…

…On a hot weekend in May I smell the heap. I put my hand in the heap and it feels warm. I put my trust in the heap. I even ask my mother-in-law, a compost-expert, to take a sniff of the heap.

A lot has changed since January. We have made a baby, I have lost a job. But the heap goes on and on and on.

The compost heap is working, even if I am not. I feed it and worry about it and perhaps this will do as a pre-runner to fatherhood.

*I don’t know if that’s actually true
** Well, some things, but we’ll get to that later