Month: August 2012
Whilst the country strives towards excellence and basks in the warm glow of a world’s admiration of our fabulous Olympics and Para-Olympic games I feel the need to discuss something of greater importance. A matter of such significance that it has exercised my mind for the past four months and that Dear Reader, is my vegetable patch. It’s hopeless. I mean really and truly awful. We had that fabulous, beguiling, deceiving weather in March and we rushed out to the garden and dug vegetable beds. In went the posts and paths, out came the weeds. Up went the poles for the peas and beans, in went the scarecrow. In the green house we cleaned down the glass, we sowed our seeds, potted out the tomatoes and sat back in the glorious sunshine and reflected on what an incredible crop we would have this year.
Then came awful April, followed by miserable May, are you joking June, just about had enough of this July and here we are in August. My runner beans have stood still, my onions bolted, my potatoes got blight, the Quince dropped all its leaves, the courgettes shivered, the strawberries were small and white and my peas were pathetic. My grape vine has produced nothing. It’s so disheartening; you expect some crops to fail but my sweet corn is only a foot high, my runner beans are not above my hips and have no flowers. Not that there are any insects around to pollinate them, all that ones that woke up early in March seem to have fallen by the wayside. My bumble bee nest has buzzed away, hopefully to a warmer spot and it’s been months since I’ve seen a wasp or a butterfly. Winged critters are in short supply but rest assured the slugs are fine. In fact my one and only success so far has been my broad beans. They’ve been lovely and I’m eating them by the handful, my favourite way to have them is fried with butter, garlic, chorizo and scallops. Delicious!
But what can you do? I can’t ask the heavens to stop raining. I can’t ask the sun to shine and trigger my plants’ photosynthesis, I’m tempted to take a hairdryer to my poor shivering strawbs the soil is just too cold. I’m just glad that I didn’t bother with many root crops this year, I don’t think Unwins do a line in aquatic carrots or parsnips but if they did they’d make a mint. Maybe I should have tried water chestnuts and watercress?
So now we are in August and whilst not delivering great heat or high levels of sunshine is a bit of an improvement on the last few months. I may get a few crops yet but I don’t think I’m going to have a glut of anything. I hope that you’ve all had a greater share of success than us and if you do happen to have a glut of anything we will happily take it off your hands. Not green tomatoes though, I suspect I’m going to be fine there. Anyone got any good recipes for green tomato chutney?
Something has been bothering me recently and has got me thinking about the phrase “help those that help themselves.” I was listening to an article on Radio 4 about the state of the Spanish Banking system. The experts were saying that the Spanish banks were doing less to support their local economy than that of the Bank of England. His reasons for them doing less were partly that they were tied by the fact that they were part of the Euro and partly because they were expecting Brussels to sort things out. This rang huge bells with me, only the other week I had been chatting to Steve about overseas aid. There’s another phrase that says “give a man a fish and he eats tonight, give a man a rod and he never has to ask for food again.” The same maxim as helping those that help themselves.
It seems a strange phenomenon but the more you give people the less they seem to do for themselves, what you are doing when you take control is quite literally that. You TAKE control. You take power away from the people / institutions that you are trying to help. In taking the power away people seem to give up and throw off responsibility for the situation. There is an argument that says third world aid doesn’t work, the Overseas Development Agency has lots of oddities to it. For example we give aid to India. Initially this seems OK to me when I think about the level of poverty in India but then I remember that they have a Space programme. If the Indian government has enough money for a space programme, which is no cheap venture, then they should scrap it and look after their own people first.
I am absolutely not against helping those in need. I am proud that we are able to help countries that are struggling. Those that have had regions wiped out by natural disasters but I start to get twitchy when I see us sending money to countries that are in a state of constant war, or countries that have enough money but choose not to spend it on their own people. If a country knows that every year it will receive X amount from other countries, it is viewed as income not aid. If the money was not forthcoming what would they do? I hate the thought that by withdrawing our money people would suffer but I would rather that we didn’t waste our money.
The solution to me in these cases is trade rather than aid. Like it or loathe it a capitalistic infrastructure provides stability , if we were trading with countries in a fair manner we would give them back the means of production and the ability to make their own money.
Regrettably I think the same thing happens much closer to home with our benefits system. Again I need to say that I am wholly in favour of benefits, I am more than happy that my money helps out those that can’t help themselves, I would even be prepared to pay more because I hate to think of the elderly and the disabled struggling, of mothers unable to feed their children, all these people I want to help. I just don’t want to help those that choose not to work. Given that we have over 2 million unemployed I wonder what jobs are found by all the foreigners that come over here to work? Of course there are good and genuine reasons why some people can’t work, what we need to do is make sure that we are not propping up those that find work a chore.
It started badly. It started very badly indeed with me trying to lift two bikes, weighing 15kilos each, above my head and then try to fasten them to a bike rack. It was made worse by Steve trying to help. In a perfect world I would have happily stepped aside to allow the stronger person to do it but Finn and I were about to go to the Peak District on our own, and if I couldn’t do the bikes on my own then Finn and I were doomed to spend a week just looking at two mountains bikes attached to the back of the car. Eventually with a scraped arm and covered in bike oil I managed it. The next task was to drive the car loaded up, again it probably sounds daft to anyone that can pull a trailer, zip around the country with surfboards, roof boxes and bikes hanging off their car’s extremities but I’ve never had so much as a comedy nose on my car. Off I set at 3 mph on a practice run certain that every speed bump was going to dislodge the bikes and leave them scattered across the roads ready to maim and kill everyone in my wake. Feeling vaguely confident that I wasn’t about to create carnage I popped Finn in the car and we set off.
|Dimension into parallel universe.|
For us things tend to be last minute, I don’t mind this but it can throw up problems. Last year we travelled to Scotland in a car that we had only bought the day before. This year we only managed to get the bike rack the day before, leaving us no time to test things out and fine tune them before the trip.
The journey north was wet and slow. It was slow because the driving rain wasn’t helping and I was still terrified that the whole system was going to collapse all across the motorway. It took us 8 hours to get there for what should apparently have been a 6 hour journey tops but to be honest once I entered the Peak District the roads become a challenge in themselves. Tiny lanes, sudden ravines, hairpin bends and lots of quaint villages oh and lots and lots of cyclists. Everywhere. Especially on every bend.
Something that the Peak District has introduced is a blanket speed limit of 50mph, no matter how wide and safe and rural the road, the top speed is 50mph. Given the types of roads and road users they have, this made a huge amount of sense to me and it got me thinking if Cornwall would also benefit from a similar restriction.
Going to a tourist destination like the Peaks you can’t help but draw other parallels with Cornwall. All in all they seem much more relaxed about their visitors, in Cornwall I sometimes think we are very up front and personal, sometimes too in your face if that makes sense. In the Peak District it was much more a take it or leave it attitude. There was no sense of bending over backwards or going the extra mile, sometimes it felt a bit brusque other times it was nice and refreshing.
The thing that impressed both of us the most though was the area’s attitude to bicyclists. There are trails everywhere to suit all abilities and all distances. There were extreme mountain bike routes and long distance routes over 50 miles, many of the roads had dedicated cycle lanes and all routes were well maintained and clearly laid out. Everyday Finn and I did about 20 miles almost exclusively car free. It would be nice to be able to do the same back home.
Finally the bit we liked the most about the Peak District was that although we were out all day long, every day, we missed every single rain shower!
Well flaming June was well named wasn’t it? Flaming awful. Apparently it was the wettest June ever (well it seemed it), the coldest June since 1991 and the dullest June since 1909, these figures are an average for the whole UK, how we fared in Cornwall hasn’t been established yet but I can’t remember a more hopeless month. So with that in mind I am packing to go on holiday, I’m taking my youngest son and we are heading off to sunnier climes. Well, we are heading off to the Peak District so maybe not but we are going to travel with suitcases full of hope and optimism. We may return with suitcases full of mud and water but we’re setting off in the right spirit. There is a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather just wrong clothing and so out goes the bikini in goes the waterproof trousers. Away with the suntan lotion and in with wellies. Sunglasses will be replaced with woolly hats and sleeveless blouses will be spurned for sensible raincoats and jumpers. I have checked the forecast and it’s shocking so we are also packing playing cards, books, films and activity kits.
When we get a long run of difficult weather and although it seems unlikely right now, heat waves are also difficult weather, we tend to grumble at first, then get really fed up and then we seem to chin up and get on with it and I think the country is now entering a chin up phase. People had been putting things off but as the days have moved on but the weather hasn’t, events have had to be cancelled or carried out regardless. I’ve been to too many events in the past month where people have enthusiastically commented on the fact that it’s only a bit of drizzle, we seem to have given up on hoping for actual sunshine.
In fact it seems to be getting to a serious situation for those of us who benefit from the tourist trade and here in Cornwall I think that’s the majority. I don’t know the figures but it feels like there are fewer people in the county and if there are fewer people around then there is less money going into our economy. What I am hoping is that there are lots of people like me out there who just decide that they will make the best of it whatever.
I have a sneaky feeling that the Peak District will be wetter than Cornwall and if it chucks it down everyday that will be a drag as we have loads of big peak walks and bike rides planned. Neither of us mind getting muddy in fact mud is something of a magnet but constant rain and zero visibility can dampen the most gun ho of spirit. I had hoped to go pot holing but I suspect with this much rainfall it will be rightly considered too high a risk. There is Alton Towers but it’s so damn expensive and throwing up in a roller coaster in the pouring rain having just spent £60 to get in holds little appeal, there is an outdoor swimming pool , which might have a novelty factor to it and will probably be empty and then there are the big stately homes that will be heaving with other damp, steaming families trying to entertain there disappointed and argumentative children; actually the more I type that sentence the more appealing throwing up at Alton Towers sounds.
Whatever happens I am going to love spending time with my son, exploring a new area of the country and hopefully not contracting pleurisy.
I’ve been learning lots of things this week, some you probably already know but I thought I’d pass them on anyway. The first follows on from my article last week about beach safety; I was sent a video clip this week about what drowning actually looks like. I had always thought that I would be able to spot a drowning person; they would be floundering, calling for help, splashing about and generally drowning. The clip showed footage of a swimmer drowning, surrounded by other water users; this person was saved by the fact that life guards know what to look for. Someone who is drowning generally doesn’t realise they are in trouble until it’s too late for them to call for help. Their body becomes perpendicular, and their arm movements become small and shallow. They start to bob under the water and the body starts to close down the speech functions so that it can concentrate on getting air into the lungs. This usually only lasts about 90 seconds and then they drown. I was stunned when I watched the footage, the person, seemed fine just a bit quiet and still. The best advice from lifeguards is if you see someone quiet in the sea in a vertical position to ask them if they are OK, if they don’t reply, they’re not. Get over to them, wave for help and tilt them onto their back. Once they can start to get air into their lungs again they quickly recover.
The next things I learnt won’t save any lives but it might save you some money and points on your licence. Friends had been out walking and when they got back to the car it was obvious the driver was pooped. Her friend offered to drive knowing that she had comprehensive insurance. Like me she thought she was also insured to drive any car. When she was pulled over by the police she discovered this wasn’t the case. In the past we tended to get automatic cover for third party on other cars but gradually that element of our insurance has been withdrawn. If you think you are automatically covered to drive other cars third party you might just want to check. She got a fine and 3 points for driving without insurance.
The final thing I discovered was that English wine is now not just palatable but really tasty. No longer do you have to sip it in trepidation and then summon a winning smile and positive adjectives whilst wondering where you can spit it out. I visited the launch of a new winery and vineyard near Trethurgy – yes I know it sounds unlikely but they were seriously impressive. The have small vineyards dotted all around the area including a large one down on the Roseland. To date they have made two whites and a rose and all were very pleasant. In fact an open bottle was an empty bottle and if great wine wasn’t enough they also cook up some pretty fine dining. The only dampener on the day was some chap who listened to winemaker’s talk and then said rather pompously to his own crowd, “the chap doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Obviously this was nonsense, as Knightor Vineyard are doing amazing things but I have learnt over the years that some people can only makes themselves look big if they are putting other people down. Still I guess that’s not news to you either. So that was my week and if the sun doesn’t make an appearance soon next week’s column is going to be all about the appalling state of my vegetable plot.