STIFF UPPER LIP


I was thinking the other day of the large number of British Institutions we have in this country, far more, it seems to me than any other country. Those that came to mind include within sport; the Lords test, FA Cup Final, Wimbledon, the Derby, and Grand National. Others like the National Trust and the RHS. British theatre such as the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the West End, and of course Pantomime. Some British institutions are not to my taste such as elitist establishments like Eton, hereditary titles, or even the Royal family – I know, they’re good for tourists and what’s the alternative, but still I can’t warm to the concept – and there does seem to be rather a lot of them.

What prompted me to start thinking about this was the good old beeb. The bbc is much maligned at times, especially by Tory politicians who perceive it is run by a load of Marxists. There have recently been shown three comedy ish programmes which I found to be wonderful. The first, Fleabag, has received many plaudits and much publicity – but only reached mainstream by the third and final series. The other two, Back to Life and Don’t Forget the Driver, have passed somewhat under the radar, both with very good reviews but very little publicity. And both are excellent and well worth watching.

What made me think was the comparison between how understated these three bbc programmes were and the recent brash brouhaha surrounding the launch of the latest Game of Thrones series and the premiere of Avengers Endgame. My money is with the bbc and long may it be a grand British institution.

Just like the Royal family and Lord and Ladies, I can’t warm to fantasy films. I think it’s a generation thing – when I was growing up the nearest we got to fantasy was the Famous Five. Perhaps The Wizard of Oz and then Mary Poppins in the sixties, but it’s only really in the last twenty years that there seems to have been a proliferation of them. It’s one of those things that happen as life carries on. And don’t get me started on Netflix, what’s that all about - £9 per month for wasting half an hour each time searching for a film to watch, one which you don’t really want to watch anyway and then wished you hadn’t. Compared to this, the broadcasting licence is a steal.

But onto another great British institution, the allotment. The only other country I’ve noticed allotments is Germany, but the ones I’ve seen there appear much more regimented than ours with uniform sheds or summer houses, and more like a garden where people would go to sit and relax rather than to grow things. Wiki tells me there are 1.4 million allotment plots in Germany, by far the highest of any country. In the uk there are presently approximately 330,000 plots. This is far less than 1.5 million plots at the time of the two world wars. Demand since the second world war has been cyclical but is presently growing ,mainly, I guess, because of the growing green movement and trend towards sustainable living.

Incidentally, in Eastbourne allotments we have nearly 1,200 plots – that is roughly 1 in 300 of all plots in the uk. This compares to a total Eastbourne population of approximately 100,000 – roughly 1 in 600 of the total population of the uk. So per capita, we have double the number of allotments than the national average. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.

Meanwhile, back on the plot, I’m busy planting all the module grown plants out into the ground. I’ve nearly finished the vegetables, there are only pumpkins and butternuts to go – plus successional plantings of peas, beans, and of course salad crops.

I only sow directly into the soil the root crops of parsnips and carrots. Parsnips are very temperamental of course, and there is each year much anticipation as to whether they will germinate or not. This year I sowed parsnips on May 22nd and yesterday, June 7th I think I saw some peeping through – it could be an illusion but here’s hoping. I’ve also just started to plant out my flower seedlings which I put at the front of the plot. Hopefully I’ll be finished that in the next week and then it’s mainly maintenance and hoping everything keeps growing.

As for harvesting, salad leaves are coming a plenty and the asparagus is just starting. This time of year is probably the leanest of all for harvesting with all the winter brassicas, leeks, and root crops all but finished. But next week I think will be the first harvest of broad beans, my favourite vegetable of all. So it’s not all bad.

Two recommendations. Firstly, watering; I think I’ve mentioned this before but I reckon that holding a hose with a shower type gun is a total waste of time and a waste of water. Watering needs to be directed towards the roots and I find the best way to do this is to make a hose attachment with a piece of metal piping. This saves stooping and is quick and easy. Why such attachments are not available commercially is beyond me – if I could attach to mine both a form of on/ off switch and a way of regulating the flow rather than bending the hose I’d be in heaven.

Secondly, although seeds packets say sow winter brassicas, such as purple sprouting broccoli and sprouts, in March, April, and May – don’t. I find there is nowhere to put the plants at present with everything else going on, and they will just get too leggy and pot bound. I believe it’s much better to wait until June or July to sow – into modules and then plant out in September when some crops are being cleared. It means you won’t get sprouts in September, but there will be plenty available for Christmas.

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