I’m Doing Too Much…

Everyone tells me that, but it doesn’t help. It’s like telling a depressive that he or she ‘should snap out of it’. It’s fine in principle, I concede, but how does one put it into practice? How does one set about doing less? I suppose one drastic solution might be to self-harm: lop off an arm, say. But even then I’d still be doing the same amount, only I’d be taking much longer to do it. The thing is, I manage to clear my diary for a few days, then sit back and relax. ‘Hooray!’ I shout in anticipation of several days of uninterrupted gardening, then the bloody phone rings. Could I do a quick interview with local television about a proposed wind turbine farm. And like a bloody idiot, of course I say yes. Next it’s the local radio and press. And bang go two days of my life. Eventually I get home, after a drive at breakneck speed across the Fens, rush down to the shed in the vegetable garden, and as I run I feel the first drops of rain. Then a clap of thunder and Twink, who loathes lightning, is a twitching wreck lying at my feet. So I console her for the next two hours.

Meanwhile, of course, I shouldn’t have been thinking about gardening at all. Contractors are replacing fencing around our fields and this morning I found a young lamb with fly-strike – and that took an hour to sort-out. Normally I’d have sprayed all the lambs by now, but the fencing hasn’t been there, so I can’t. Hence the close daily inspections. Still, I’ll get them sprayed next week, a day or so before shearing starts. And then of course there’s my book for Penguin, which was progressing quite well in May, but has hit the buffers in June. It doesn’t help that I’ve been filming a Time Team documentary for next season. And poor old Alan Cadbury. The Lifers’ Club subscribers’ list is very slowly grinding its way upwards, we’re at 55% right now and I have various plans to get things moving again, but they all involve work. And as I said at the head of this blog post: I’m doing too much! How do people find the time to take holidays? How do they follow soaps? I’ve never gone out ‘for a nice drive’, since I passed my driving test (half a century ago). I’m always hurtling from A to B – and invariably getting there half an hour late! And what would I have said to the police if I’d been done for speeding: ‘I had to get back to the vegetable garden?’ I can just imagine the supercilious look on the copper’s face: ‘Yes sir, frightened your marrows might burst, were you?’ Grrrrr!

I have to concede, I’ve never led an ordered life. I’ve never attended church on Sundays, for instance. I don’t do the secular equivalent, either. I don’t drop in on the village pub for a Sunday lunchtime g and t, or pint. I don’t have any regular habits, social or otherwise. Most of my time seems to be spent avoiding people who would like me to do something either with, or for, them, when I’d much, much rather be tending my runner beans in glorious silence, or with Test Match Special quietly on in the background (an Englishman’s equivalent of silence). That programme reached previously uncharted heights of Zen enlightenment on prolonged rainy days, when play was slow or intermittent… Bliss!

Anyhow, today I found the time to straw-up my strawberries and net them. I use the wheat straw left over from lambing and I grow several varieties, but I would strongly advise you to avoid El Santa, the most commonly grown commercial variety. They are well-shaped, a good rich red colour, but taste of absolutely nothing. I bought some by mistake three years ago and have grubbed them, all up. I even went so far as to burn them, imagining as I did so, that I was martyring the board members of all Britain’s big supermarkets. I do hope we get some sunshine, or else none of the varieties I do grow will taste of much. Last year’s crop were pretty tasteless and unexciting. And those little tiny Alpine strawberries are just getting ripe. They’re delicious dropped into a pre-meal glass of white wine or, strange this, but true, cider. Then I net them using a lightweight plastic net on a cobbled-together framework made from canes and those strange plastic sockety things one sometimes sees in garden centres. And wire. There’s always green, plastic-coated wire somewhere. One final thing. While the strawberry net’s up I make a point of checking it each morning and evening in case birds get snagged there. Every season one or two fledgling blackbirds or thrushes get caught in it and so far I’ve managed to find them before the cats do. So am I doing too much? Am I? I don’t know. It seems like normal chaos to me. I mean, would you let those young birds die? I think not.

I rest my case – or do I? Oh God: it’s starting again…

The strawberry bed

The strawberry bed, with red and black current bushes on the left.

They’re almost ripe, but not quite.

They’re almost ripe, but not quite.

Strawberry netting

The temporary netting cage. This is cheap-and-cheerful. They can cost thousands.

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