Monthly Archives: May 2017

Comfrey Cuttings? Cut!

Image result for comfrey open source images

I just discovered this post lurking in the drafts folder: I wrote it a week ago and thought I’d published it, but not so.

I’ve got a bit carried away with gardening this week, and while the two lavender cuttings were settling into their pot, I looked up methods of propagating comfrey.  Mark used to joke about this herb, ‘it doesn’t come free, you know,’ but actually – it does.  Not only that, if it’s in a place where you don’t want it, it’s very hard to get rid of.  But I wanted to take some from between the cracks in the front garden and transport it to the back – to which end, I did some research – and, surprise, surprise, you can’t take cuttings.  I more or less knew this, but whereas the recommended method is to divide the plants and transplant one half, the only comfrey plants available to me have wedged themselves so tightly between paving-slabs that it is impossible to get any garden implement in there.

But all was not lost.  As I wrote ‘comfrey cuttings’ on my notepad, a small twinge occurred in my brain.  It reminded me of something.  Some poking around revealed this to be an abortive follow-up to Dad’s Army called Parsley Sidings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsley_Sidings

And all of this set me thinking about sequels to sitcoms.  Ones which failed include Joey, the unsuccessful follow-up to Friends; Going Straight, the much less exciting spin-off from Porridge, and one which only I seem to remember, Constant Hot Water, which featured Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner of Coronation St) as a B&B landlady.  I didn’t know, however, that there had been a sequel to M*A*S*H called Aftermash, but so it was.

However not all spin-offs are doomed to oblivion.  Some do even better than their progenitors.  Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? is widely considered to be better than the original, and Frasier is far superior to Cheers.

None of which gets me any further with the comfrey.  I did attempt to dig up a couple of roots, but they both perished.

And this post has gone all squashed.  Maybe that’s what happens if they don’t see the light of day…

Kirk out

 

 

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Gone With Noakes

Image result for John Noakes

People are dropping like flies now: the baby-boomer generation is being mown down like an army at Passchendaele, and barely a day passes without further news of a hero or heroine being taken from us.  Today saw the death of one of my childhood icons, John Noakes.  Like the rest of my generation I grew up with Blue Peter, specifically the Blue Peter of Val, John and Peter Purves (aka Peter Perfect) who to me were the definitive BP team.  I liked Val; she was pleasant and sensible, and Peter was OK but I never really felt close to him.  But John!  John was unique.  In these days of wacky TV personalities it’s hard to appreciate the impact of an eccentric personality on a child in the late ‘sixties, but John broke the mould.  He was not only physically daring, he was accident-prone and clumsy, tripped over his words and laughed at himself.  In an age of staid, respectable, word-perfect presenters, Noakes was a breath of fresh air.

I was upset, though, when I found out later about some of the programme’s secrets.  For some bizarre reason the presenters never had an autocue: they had to learn the script by heart which, for a live programme which went out twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays as God intended) must have been an added strain.  But Noakes later complained that he had felt underpaid and undervalued by the BBC – and when I heard that, I felt almost betrayed.  I had felt so sure that what we saw was what we got – a happy family all working together.  It made me sad.

So RIP John Noakes.  Those of us who came home from school to watch you in black and white will not forget.

John and Shep reunited.

Kirk out

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The Relief of Mattocking

Having come across it in an archaeological context (I have written on many occasions about my brief career as an archaeologist), I did not expect to find a mattock in a garden shed.  To be fair, it is a rather smaller mattock than I’ve been used to, having only one blade and no ‘pickaxe’ bit on the other side, so that at first I took it for a hoe.  But hoe it is not.  It is, as I told Daniel in an effort to engage his enthusiasm, an earth-smasher, a clod-annihilator, a veritable soil-threshing machine.  And it worked!  He smashed away with vim and vigour and mattocked half the area marked out for him to plant his own stuff in.

For which relief, much thanks.  And if you don’t get the reference, you must be younger than I am:

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/relief-mafeking

Speaking of Daniel’s enthusiasm, he has been far from idle.  In addition to learning classical and folk guitar, he is producing some stonking graphic art.  Take a look at this speed-video of him working:

That’s it for today.  Too hot to write much.

Kirk out

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Instead of Cats

I’ve never really been a cat person; I grew up with dogs and appreciate their ability to learn words and obey commands.  A dog is a companion, whereas a cat is an occasional visitor.  But plants?  How can plants keep you company?

Well, ever since I started on the garden here, I’ve been talking to my plants.  I welcome them the moment they show their shoots, and say hello to them every morning.  I tell them how beautiful they are and how brilliantly they’re doing.  When my potatoes poke their dark-green leaves through the soil I say how lovely it is to see them; when tomatoes thrive and grow bushy I give them plenty of praise.

There are two reasons why I think this benefits them.  First is the obvious: that I am exhaling carbon dioxide in their vicinity so that they can breathe it in.  Second – and this is just my opinion – I think it gives me a closer connection to them, which results in me looking after them more effectively and noticing problems early.  Just as the more you talk to your dog the more likely you are to notice when they’re off-colour, so it is with plants.

But it doesn’t end there.  I have a graded system of reward and punishment.  I am mildly discouraging towards herb bennett, harshly critical towards dandelions, vitriolic with brambles and ivy, and openly hostile with the current bane of my life, horsetail.  Equisetum arvense, as it is Latinly known, is one of the most ferociously invasive weeds ever.  Its roots can go down as far as five feet (yes, five feet!) and are soil-coloured: failure to remove any part of a root, however small, will result in lots of little pony-tails springing up like a miniature forest.  Not only that, but instead of flowers these plants have spore-bearing tips which, if disturbed, will scatter tiny spores over a wide area like a giant horsetail sneeze.

I’ve read a lot about this, and the advice seems to be, don’t try to dig it out.  Pinch or cut off at soil level and keep at it 24/7.  If you do this for the next five years you might stand a chance of getting rid of it.  Alternatively you can use weed-killer but first you have to crush the plant as it has silica in the stem and so will not absorb it otherwise.

And yet in spite of all this I can’t help having a sneaking respect for horsetail.  It’s clearly a primeval plant – you can tell that just by looking – and in prehistoric times it was much larger.  In fact it was a full-grown tree.  It’s kind of interesting, if abhorrent, to see this tiny tree-like thing poking through the soil; and I can’t help respecting its persistence.  In addition it has various herbal uses,  such as treating urinary incontinence and some kinds of arthritis.

I’d better stop talking about this now otherwise OH will want us to grow the stuff deliberately…

Kirk out

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All our Daughters? Desperately Seeking Meaning in Manchester

Like many of us I woke this morning to the news that another terror attack has happened in Manchester.  I guess this one was a little closer to home, in that our daughter goes to Manchester a lot, and theoretically could have been involved.  Imagining a loved one caught up in such an event brings it close to your heart in a way that no statistics can.  I got the news via Facebook messenger from our daughter (she’s in Leicester right now, so I wouldn’t have worried) and then went to other news sites for details.  I now know as much as anyone about what happened.  Presumably details will emerge of the who and the how; presumably as usual the why will remain a mystery.

So I go on Facebook briefly – and immediately I am assaulted by a scattering of comments about Muslims, not from friends (who would be immediately unfriended) but by members of groups I belong to.  I won’t repeat what the comments said, since they were fairly predictable; but it goes to the heart of my problems about Facebook.  I go there every day because I want to communicate with friends, to share life events, to find out what my children are up to, and to catch up with the latest news in, for example, the Labour Party (no campaigning today as a mark of respect.)  Yet every day I am assaulted – and that is not too strong a word – by hatred, vitriol, insults and prejudice.  When I post even the mildest of comments I am unsure whether it might, out of nowhere, receive an aggressive response from someone who has read into it a meaning which I never intended.

I’ve tried various responses to this: preventive, ie trying to make my meaning as clear as possible; asking questions, eg when someone posts an aggressive comment, asking why they think as they do, and most effective of all, hiding, unfollowing and in extreme cases, blocking.  I am careful to mind my mental health when on Facebook, and when posts have a detrimental effect on me, I hide them or unfollow the conversation.

All this seems as nothing in the face of an event like last night’s: and yet it is somehow relevant.  How do we deal with atrocities like this?  I am aware that, as mere bystanders, we don’t have to deal with very much, and yet there are our own feelings and responses, and those of others with whom we interact.  So how do we deal with the inevitable upsurge in hatred and prejudice?  Here are some ideas:

Hiding and unfollowing: don’t read the tabloids or follow the trolls.  The tabloids have vested interests and are not open to argument, and the trolls just want the attention.

Asking questions: when in contact with far-right groups, ask mild, polite questions.  Why do you think that?  What makes you say that?  Which particular aspects of sharia law do you disagree with?  Their beliefs are usually unfocussed and emotional – specific questions can cut into that.

Stand alongside the persecuted: when witnessing a verbal attack on someone, stand alongside them.  Ask if they are OK, or strike up a conversation.  (Naturally a physical attack needs to trigger a call to the police.)

Difficult though it is, avoid rage and vitriol: these achieve nothing beyond raising your own blood pressure.  As the Buddha says, trying to hurt someone with anger is like throwing a spear made of fire.  You burn your own hand first.  If situations and people enrage you, come back when you’re calmer and ask questions.  Above all, don’t get into arguments; debate peacefully.

The scenario in Manchester reminded me of Arthur Miller’s play, ‘All My Sons.’  A corrupt aircraft manufacturer allows faulty parts to be fitted into planes, resulting in the death of young pilots, one of whom turns out to be his son.  The title of the play comes from his final recognition that there is no difference between his son and the others: that they were ‘all his sons.’

And there’s the rub.  My daughter, thank god, was not in Manchester last night.  But other daughters were.  All our daughters were.

Kirk out

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Count Arthur Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeak

WordPress has recently informed me that I’ve been doing this blog for nine years.  Well, who’d ha’ thowt?  When I started I had just two readers (outside of family members); now I have – oo, at least, erm – actually it’s hard to say because although daily views are quite low, on aggregate (as they say in football) it could run into – well, dozens at least.

Actually I try not to worry too much about numbers.  I used to check my stats obsessively each day and try to work out what was popular and why.  I failed utterly.  There’s no fathoming readership statistics so, rather than spend my whole life worrying about them, I try to be thankful I have some readers and just get on with writing about what interests me.  Because the whole reason I started this blog was to practise writing about a variety of subjects in order to improve both thinking and expression.  Readers are basically a bonus: comments doubly so.

Of course many people like and comment on Facebook, since the blog is linked to that particular medium, and these do not show up in the blog stats.

None of which has anything to do with today’s title.  So let us consider the mystery of humour.  Why do the things that make you laugh do so?  And conversely, why does some comedy leave you utterly cold?

Now, I’m on record (buried somewhere deep in this blog) as saying that Count Arthur Strong is just absolute rubbish.  It’s utterly lame, there’s only one joke which they keep plugging, the actor isn’t remotely convincing and it’s just awful.  In my book he’s basically Harry Worth for adults (you won’t remember Harry Worth unless you’re over 40, but he was fun if you were a kid.)

 

And yet, I know of several adults – educated, intelligent, thoughtful adults – who claim to like Count Arthur Strong.  I simply cannot comprehend it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08r8dtk/count-arthur-strong-series-3-1-count-arthurs-house-of-horrors

Apparently there are people in the world who don’t laugh at Monty Python.  And they’re not the same people who like CAS eitehr.  Go figure.

Give me an evening of Victoria Wood any day:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08qhn17/our-friend-victoria-series-1-6-fame

Kirk out

* PS OH says that his Maths teacher used Harry Worth’s shop window routine as an illustration of symmetry:

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Register to Vote. Do it Now.

Gosh, it’s a busy time of year, what with elections and gardening and so on.  Everywhere you look there’s a Tory that needs pulling up or a weed that needs voting out of office: all my little seedlings are bravely hanging in there, though they’re getting a battering from a stormy press, and the gardener goes from patch to patch encouraging the troops while the evil weed-scatterer sits in her lair and doesn’t come out to debate.

So – are you registered to vote?  Because if not you only have two days.  And if you’re considering not voting for whatever reason I’d like to make the following points:

Not voting is voting Tory.  If we don’t get everyone mobilised the Tories will get in, and then you can say goodbye to a publicly-funded NHS.  Think what Bevan and others went through to found our public health service; can we stand by and see it sold off?  Trump is waiting in the wings, rubbing his hands: he and his firms can’t wait to get their hands on it, and neither can people like Branson.  Want to pay to see your GP, to call an ambulance or stay in hospital?  Then don’t vote.  Because not voting in this election is voting Tory.

You may think your vote doesn’t matter.  But YOU matter.  Your views matter.  You may not agree with mine: that isn’t important.  What’s important is that you consider the options and use your vote.  Think about what people went through to get the vote for every adult, not just homeowners, not just men, but everyone.  Use it!

What do you care about in this election?  Use your vote to express that.  Do you care about fox-hunting, the ivory trade, the environment?  Do you care about schools, public health, transport?  Because, no matter what they say, this election is about a whole lot more than just Brexit.

Even so, what sort of Brexit do you want?  A ‘hard’ Brexit that takes no account of workers’ rights?  Or one which is negotiated to retain those rights?

Whatever you want, remember what Jean-Paul Sartre said.  You may not concern yourself with politics, but politics concerns itself with you.  If you don’t have a vote, you don’t have a voice – and they will be making policies that affect you, and me, and all of us.  Your vote matters.  So I’m urging you – I’m begging you – if you’re not registered to vote, then register now.

You have two days.

Here is the link.  It takes five minutes.

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Kirk out

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