Saturday, 24 August 2013

Lost the plot

Today I got a text from Alex. He recieved a letter giving notice to quit the allotment.

What now?

Well I need to think things over, and to discuss stuff with Bren. Time, as ever, will tell.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

The unthinkable happened!

Still no notice to quit, so this evening, I went to the allotment and continued digging for the next lot of big bags. There were weeds and stuff growing in some of the soil I dug up, so I grabbed a handful of them and chucked them into a nearby bucket.

Have you noticed how flexibuckets are suddenly everywhere?

Anyway, I became aware of a slight itchy pain  on my finger. This rapidly became a stinging sensation across the backs of several of my fingers.

Yes! I got stung by a nettle today! It's been a long time since that happened, I can tell you. I got little white lumps where I'd been stung. I had to water the planted up bags, so I dipped a watering can into a nearby metal trough. The cool water instantly soothed my stung fingers. It wasn't actually all that bad, but I still have a phobia of nettles.

What else?

Well I've been working hard on the wording of something I want to add to my business website. As I've said before, I'd like to train other people up to become instructors, who I hope would then franchise with me. Turn some of the overwork into profit as well as charging a tidy sum for the training they recieve. The text is taking a lot of thought and revision. I'd say I'm about half way through. I'm also considering the logistics of taking such a step. The guy that trained me had a team of people all bouncing stuff off each other. Everyone contributed something. It was all based at a McDonalds on a small industrial estate. That gave us both a base, and some useful quiet roads nearby. One of the best places to teach early stage pupils locally is the Croft Ind. Est. in Bromborough. It has a variety of quiet wide roads that present a number of different situations. Junctions, roundabouts, some hills. It's an ideal place to train instructors too. It's located just behind the Croft Retail Park. This includes a McDonald's. Bingo!

The McDonald's is right at the bottom of this picture, towards the left, off Welton Road. I know they're evil and all, but what we'd really be doing is freeloading their parking facilities, and buying the occasional coffee to keep them sweet.

I've sort of started smoking again. That's always a risk when you go down to Dave's! I'll stop again in a few days/weeks/months.

And that's about all for today.

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Well... I'm back.

Folks, I went down south. It took 5 hours to cover 170 miles because I set the cruise control for about 50-55. Managed 80 miles to the gallon on the trip down.

Arrived Saturday evening. Went home on Sunday afternoon. The bit between arrival and departure?

Well I must admit, I/we didn't get up to much. We spent a long time playing Gran Turismo. We went to watch Wycombe Wanderers play Mansfield Town. We watched a lot of telly. We went out and had lunch in Aylesbury town centre, after which we went to the pub and played pool.

And that's about it. The inertia was fuelled by natural chemicals. Mainly smelly green organic matter, but yes I did smash up some poppy heads and brew them, in a teapot, with some teabags, and yes, I did feel something.

This is all to the good. If it had been mind blowingly powerful, it would not have been an effective way of intervening if Bren has some future migraine that her normal medication can't abate. We couldn't have balanced the risk of bad stuff against the benefits. As it is, we've calibrated it. One head per person does little. Two heads per person does something. We could easily stand three.

Wycombe lost. The last time I went to a football match as a neutral, it was to see Chester City play Bradford. Chester lost too. I'm thinking of hiring myself out to Away teams as a sort of talisman.

The Gran Turismo was interesting. Dave is not a gamer. He struggled immensely at first, but it was fascinating to watch both his personal development, and the techniques that enabled that development. In particular the repitition of particular methods and concepts using the license test part of the game was immensely useful.

Lunch was at a Moroccan restaurant. I forget the name. I had a weird thing called a Tortilla Burger. A veggie burger made from tortillas. It was much nicer than that sounds. Also coffee with cardamon. Small thick black intense. The cardomon wasn't that much to my liking, but I'm glad I gave it a go. Apart from that, we mainly ate pizza.

On the way home I was accosted by an assertive hitch-hiker, with his girlfriend, Pandora. I took them from Stafford to Ellesmere Port. It was good to give something back, given that I've sat in the opposite seat many times.

Since I got back, things have been a little chaotic.

For one thing, I left my diary at Dave's. If there's one thing holding my life together (apart from Bren) it's the fact that I can look at a page of a book, and see everything I need to see in a coherently arranged list. Without it, I've been making mistakes.

Also chaotic is the allotment situation. I've heard nothing, which may be good news. (I haven't had notice to quit) I have to proceed for now on that basis. So no rest for the wicked and all that. It's 230 in the morning and I have a 14 hour working day in front of me, starting at 730. I'd forgotten how busy I'd become. I got a reply from the DSA to an email I'd sent a few weeks ago asking about instructor training. I don't need to be ORDIT registered to train people, unless I want to create something much bigger than I have planned. So really really thinking seriously about training someone or several someone's to work for me.

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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

You load 16 bags, whaddaya get?

The lady from the council was due to inspect my plot today. I had to go to work so if she turned up, I wasn't there to see it.

The bit in front of the plot has been cleared.

The back of the plot has been cleared.

The front of the plot has been cleared.

And some of the things I've planted have already started to grow.

The site secretary clearly thinks I shouldn't be allowed to keep it. He wouldn't look me in the eye today. Fucking Judas.

I'm going away tomorrow for a few days. Presumably there will be notification one way or the other by the time I get back.

If they do kick me off, I will appeal. If that fails, I will be taking all the stuff I bought with me.

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Sunday, 11 August 2013

Carry on Regardless...

In the end, I bought a strimmer. It didn't cost that much more than it would have cost to hire one. My Dad came up from Neston, and we got the rear part of the plot strimmed down.

I'm hoping this means that I can now officially give up the top end of the plot, and that any assessment of the fitness of my plot will be based upon just the bottom end. That too still needs quite a lot of work, but it should be obvious to those with the power to decide on my future that I'm making a real effort.

Will it be enough? Only time will tell.

Today I got another 4 filled bags emplaced. They have nothing planted in them yet. The bags I put down last week have been planted up with peas, lettuce, carrots, rocket, mustard, Pak Choi, and lambs lettuce. Some of these are starting to sprout nicely. The beds are nicely weed free, and the pigeons, which love such things as pea shoots, can't get in because of the netting over the bags.

All good. Here are my latest batch of mobile phone pictures.

 The space for the bags has been dug out, and membrane placed over it.

The bags put in and filled with soil. For now I've covered them with some old plastic bags to help suppress any weed growth while I decide what to put in them.

The site is a haven for wildlife in the middle of Wallasey.  This female blackbird was very tame. It was obviously hoping my labour would unearth a few morsels.

It did. This moth for one.

Once the next 4 bags have been placed, and the next path put down, I will be about 40% through.

But I am generating an unexpected surplus.

Soil that has lain undisturbed for a few years occupies less volume than soil that has been dug. I'm ending up with bags of soil that, having been dug out, have no place to go. So the next block of 8 may not need to be dug out in order to generate the soil they need to be filled. It may be that I can do a block of 4 x 2 with very little digging.

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Friday, 9 August 2013

Uh oh...

Yesterday the site secretary dropped a bombshell. Before I can give up the half plot, I have to get it tidied. And I only have until Tuesday, and my busy work schedule continues unabated. He implied that whatever I do will be seen as too little too late.

I will try anyway. I'm hiring a strimmer, and I will level the tall stuff on the bit I'm supposed to be giving up, but it may not be enough.

Yet I have all these bags, and this approach is both modular and versatile to be applied more or less anywhere. I recently moved to a semi rural area. There are fields and farmland very close to where I live. They are mainly given over to horse grazing. My allotment, since I moved, is about 7 miles away.

My preferred option is to keep my current plot. I've put a lot of work into it, particularly over the last month or so. If I do have to give it up, I'd like to continue growing my own food, and buying or renting a small bit of land nearby.

Something else to consider is motivation. I'm making a living right now. Making ends meet. We don't need to grow our own food to get by, yet I'm persisting in something that's sometimes backbreakingly difficult, in the face of a hostile site administration. Some of this is sheer bloody minded determination not to give up. Some of it is a desire to see a plan through to fruition. When I said in a post the other day that this was my vision, my project, etc, I wasn't kidding.

Still, procuring a small plot close to where I live would involve Bren, who wants nothing to do with the plot anymore. We could spend more time together working such a plot. We would not be proscribed by local rules concerning how we ran our plot, the placement of sheds and greenhouses, etc.

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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Creativity and driving instruction

Most issues people have when learning are repetitive, but pretty regularly things crop up that require a creative solution. It's often something simple and straightforward, but encountering problems and finding solutions to those problems is one of the things that keep my job interesting and rewarding.

What prompted this post was something that happened today. My pupil was struggling generally with driving. A lack of technique and structure was combined with panic and a lack of confidence. The solution to this is generally to give them a structure to follow, then repeat ad nauseum until it goes in.

Here is the structure. It consists of 7 steps. There are reasons for each step to take place in the order that it does, but for now, let's just get the steps written down here. They are:

Mirrors -> Signal -> Position -> Speed -> Look -> Decision -> Gear

We went through this while parked up, then gave it a go on a right hand loop. Nope. Not happening.

We parked up again, and I asked her to recite the steps. She kept stumbling over step three. Mirror. Signal. Decision, she would say, time after time. I realised that the problem didn't have much to do with driving. It had everything to do with language.

So I changed "Decision" to "Decide". It became phonetically much more distinct from "Position", and after a little bit more work, she had the sequence down. Once she had it down as an abstract, she was able to apply it on the road and a big improvement too place.

Y'know what? I love my job for stuff like this.

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umpteenth allotment update...

Onwards and upwards with my vision. My mission. My project.

Today I have weeded the front of the plot.

I have pulled all the tall weeds from the flowery bed bit.

I finished filling the bags that have already been laid down, and I planted Pak Choi and Lamb's Lettuce in the two bags that had not yet been planted out.

Having now laid down two rows, it was necessary to leave a gap, so that I could access the bags easily. This required some thought, and a few decisions had to be made. In the end, I decided to not dig a sunken path, but to leave it at path level. This means less digging, will aid water retention, and helps to support the sides of the bags. The soil at this point will be covered by membrane, and some kind of solid covering.

I went down to B and Q, and weighed up my options. The most durable and weed repellent method would be to lay down paving slabs, but this would mean a lot of work and expense. In the end I compromised and got wooden decking slabs. These have gaps, in which soil will accumulate, so the weeds will grow there, but it is cheaper and far less work. Wooden slabs weighing a couple of kilo each are far more manageable than  concrete slabs weighing perhaps ten times as much.

I've put down a row, just to see how they look, and to give an impression of where I'm going with all this. They're not properly down yet though. To do so will require string and a spirit level and all that kind of stuff.

Here's what it looks like now...

The next step from here is to dig out the potatoes in the bed next to the path, and to dig it down for another 2x4 group of bags.

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Friday, 2 August 2013

Unflagging, am I..

White rabbits.

And return the next day I did.

Shit. I sound like Yoda.

The weather was against me, but I completed the first row, and made tentative inroads on the second. I was soaked to the skin by the time I left, and I didn't get anything like as much as I wanted to get done, done.

And I was back there again this evening. This time, I managed to dig out most of the second row. The bags should be down and filled in the next couple of days, if I get a moment.

When measuring up, I used an organic unit of measurement, the stride. Now that I've completed a row, I can tell you, O suffering reader, that a row of 4 big bags is roughly 5 strides. The entire plot is about 20 strides, or 15 big bags, but there will be gaps. I have to be able to get at each bag, so that means putting pathways between the bags.

What's the optimal arrangement then, in terms of maximum number of bags within set area? Assuming a half big bag/ half metre gap is wide enough...

Here's a U shaped arrangement. It allows me to put in 46 bags.

This arrangement gets me an extra couple of bags, and probably better access too.

But I don't need access right up to the fence. This means I could squeeze in an extra couple on the top edge, since there doesn't need to be any gap. That gets me about 50-51. A square metre of cucumbers. A square metre of potatoes. To help keep the weeding to an absolute minimum, I might pave the gaps with any old paving stuff I can get my hands on.

There is space for a few more down the bottom end, but my feeling is that I want to give that bit of the plot over to more conventional gardening. That bit of the plot has things that grow well beyond a single season, like rhubarb, and some fruit trees and bushes. The big bag approach seems too ephemeral for such permanent fixtures.

I do have some more pictures. Not from today. By the time I'd finished, it was too dark. These are from yesterday.

The pictures don't really give a true impression of just how wet it was. The last pic is the view from the shed. I spent quite a  lot of time in there, waiting for a break in the weather.

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