Another Year Backwards.

Don’t even ask about Christmas. The year ended with endless awakenings in the early hours to the tune of my phone telling me my 97 year old mother had been carted off into the night and admitted to The Conquest Hospital in Hastings once more, only to be followed by another call next morning to say there is nothing wrong with her and she was being discharged yet again.

Trust me, extreme old age is no bundle of joy. I’ve not quite arrived there yet myself and I don’t think I’m a callous person but I’ve had over twenty two years of this now, ever since my father passed away, and you do become kind of numbed to it all. A defensive mechanism I fancy to preserve your own sanity. I can never become numbed, however to her delightfully cheering book of death. Rolled out every Christmas morn to log up the mortal toll of yet another year. As can be imagined, at 97, this has grown into an enormous tome (tomb?) of joy, guaranteed to set the mood for the whole of the festive season.

I often think that we are no more humane in our treatment of the elderly these days than the old nomadic tribes who simply left those who could no longer keep up behind for nature to take its course. I just hope that when the time comes I will have the courage to book my ticket to The Great Spirit in good time, before I end up in some piss and stewed cabbage scented refuge, balanced on a pile of incontinence pads, jabbering on about the demise of rurality and slagging the neighbours off. Oh bugger, too bloody late!

Hopefully after three and a half years of anti democratic political stalemate we can finally look forward to some form of resolution of what was a seemingly insoluble situation. Whatever our personal views, even those as senile as me must be thinking enough is enough, lets just get on with it.

I’m not making any resolutions this year. In common with most of the population I never keep them. As for efforts to update my technological skills to at least the latter years of the last century, that can go and $+*! itself!

We recently went to Tunbridge Wells in order to pay Ma’s electric bill; First problem was that you pretty much can’t park without a smart phone anymore, Luddites like me have to pay extra for using old fashioned cash and the machines will only accept certain coinage, invariably the ones you don’t have with you.

Car parked and off to the bank. We went to my wife’s branch as she knows how to do everything there. We had to queue for the single teller as she required change or something. The queue was enormous, as apparently many other Luddites had arrived and the fine array of sophisticated electronic wizardry lining the walls stood silent and unused. Apparently the teller didn’t understand what to do with real flesh and blood people and we remained stationary for over twenty minutes. That the chap in front of us was dressed entirely in red will become relevant presently but for the moment just bear with me.

We decided to temporarily abandon our mission and decamp to Wetherspoons for breakfast before regrouping at my mothers bank to try our luck there. It was great, I highly recommend them both for value and standard of service. You can order and pay by many different means. Oddly I chose the antiquated system of speaking to someone and paying with cash. The meal arrived hot and prompt, together with a large cup of coffee, and we enjoyed a leisurely, meal before departing to continue on our difficult mission.

Breakfast had taken us a very pleasant forty five minutes or so, so imagine my surprise when, as we emerged, I saw the easily recognised chap in red only just coming out of the bank opposite. Wonderful, modernity is bloody efficient I thought.

We rounded the corner to try our luck at my mother’s branch. Spirits soared as we found only two people in front of us. The work of moments. Wrong! The lady at the front must have been enquiring as to how the universe worked, the meaning of life or something, certainly not a simple banking issue as we stood there for another twenty minute session before some confidently besuited chap arrived to rescue us and assure us that one of their smart-arsed flashing gismos could happily cope with all of our desires, i.e. process one transaction.

He stuck our cheque in this way, that way, in fact every which way except where I was thinking of sticking it. In response the gismo spewed forth reams of beautifully printed receipts into what I have long understood had become our paper free world. Of course, although they would have graced the walls of any of the great art galleries across the world, they were all entirely wrong.

Our guiding techno genius finally admitted defeat. We would have to rejoin the queue and avail ourselves of the services of that most obsolete of devices, a human being.

Another ten minutes and the near impossible job was finally done. It had only taken us half a day to pay one bill. So much better than back in the terrible, dark days of inefficiency before computers arrived to enrich our lives, when I could have walked into any bank in the seventies, shoved a cheque over the counter staffed by warm blooded sentient beings, to be rubber stamped, and been on my way in less than ten seconds. Progress eh! However did we manage before?

Speaking of such issues; at time of writing our local roads are running in torrents. Yes, we’ve had a lot of rain but no more than we’ve had many times before. Once we had a complete system of drains and ditches linking to gullies and ghylls which ultimately flowed into The Medway via The Eden, perhaps lingering for a while to warm and fertilise the flood plains with alluvial silt, before continuing seaward to complete the water cycle. The difference today is that we’ve built on the flood plains, around 70% of our ditches are grown over or have been filled in to provide parking for cars and most of our drains are blocked solid.

Before such trendy disregard of practical necessity arrived on the scene we had had, for many centuries, a ‘lengths-man’, the last of whom was called Mr Pocock who lived in a shack opposite The Greyhound, down Uckfield Lane. His job was to roam the parish armed with spade and billhook, clearing ditches and maintaining our hedgerows. Of course when he passed on an opportunity arose to economise on the parish precept and it was not deemed necessary to replace him. His old shack was sold, doubtless for a considerable sum, and redeveloped into a fancy new MFI Tudor palace, replete with impervious hardstanding to replace the front garden. This morning they had a new river flowing past their door, eroding the verge and driveway, but no functional ditches or drainage.

Progress, as I’ve said before, is change for the better. Change for its own sake is pointless, while regression is change for the worse, usually associated with profit and greed. We would be wise to learn one from the other before it is too late.

Do leaf blowers count as progress? Probably not, as I can understand them. They have been in the news recently, being blamed for not only, of course, climate change (What isn’t? Did you know that a single sly fart in London can melt an entire iceberg thousands of miles away in The Southern Ocean?) but the demise of insects across the planet.

I would take issue with this. Obviously they use fossil fuel so there is some input into the warmists CO2 obsession but I used to use them on a commercial scale, clearing the autumn leaves from up to 28 estates of flats. This used about a gallon of 2 stroke, over a fortnight, at peak times and so speeded me up that it probably saved two journeys by van, totalling around a hundred miles of driving.

Back in the day I drove a diesel vehicle because they were supposedly far less polluting. With hindsight, I was the lowest form of social pariah as usual. The government of the day later did a 180 degree U-turn and told us we were poisoning the planet with particulates. Truth be told, I may not have been so bad after all as only a few years prior to that we were confidently informed that we were rapidly sliding into another ice-age which my actions appear to have warded off. A long life gives you a somewhat broader perspective on the bullshit we are fed on a daily basis.

Insects would be unlikely to be killed by being blown, it is if used in suck mode that there may be a problem as they could then be drawn through the impeller blade and minced. However, bear in mind that these machines are used primarily in autumn when very few insects are still active. My contention is that pesticides, loss of habitat, etc are immeasurably more damaging and there is a positive side too. These machines are excellent for gathering wildflower seeds. Used on suck they are great for sweeping whole meadows of seed heads and collecting everything for redistribution. Even then any smaller insects drawn in appear to be alive and well when the bag is emptied.

With my garden being on the small side there is little point in my owning such a device these days, or indeed trying to manage it with a view to attracting vast herds of wildebeest, let alone attempting to preserve the northern race of white rhino with an in-house breeding programme (There are actually only two females left, so fat chance anyway). Instead I concentrate on attracting rather smaller mammals, reptiles, amphibians and of course insects. In this I pride myself that I have been very successful, I was going to include a species list but find that this extends to many hundreds and would probably warrant a book to itself.

Of our herpes (reptiles and amphibians) I boast a regular list a list of five (four of which breed there) out of a potential of twelve native species. As for the minibeasts, insects, arachnids, molluscs, crustacea etc there are too many to count. Not too shabby I feel for a plot measuring around only 80 x 40 feet.

The secret, if there is one, is to leave a few scruffy areas, don’t clear up to much before winter is over, plenty of niches to hide in and loads of flowers, especially native species. Compost heaps, piles of rotten logs and as few chemicals as possible also help but the real must have is a pond. It need not be big, although the bigger the better, or deep, in fact too deep is a bad feature. Mine is no more than about six feet by five and eighteen inches deep in the middle with a shallow shelf around the edge and a boggy area to the rear.

I think this last year is the first in which, hand on heart, I can say I have truly not used any chemical pest controls aside of soapy water (excellent for dissuading aphids from feeding on roses) and one puff of something more noxious, early on, to stop the sawflies once again stripping my gooseberry bushes. Excessive attempts at control can in fact be counter productive on all fronts especially slug killer which can be devastating for hedgehog and song bird populations and further exacerbate the situation by killing off the natural predators of the very pests you intend to control.

I spend most of my time in the garden in summer. In part working on it but largely just looking at aspects thereof. I always puzzle as to why anyone agonises over searching for miracles when they are so obviously surrounded by them. I find a dozen new ones every time I leave the house, you just need to look. I once spent a whole afternoon watching crickets in a patch of bramble down the lane. Its amazing how many species we have but if you don’t look you’ll never know!

If moving about or actual gardening sounds like too much hard work just sit yourself down with a drink and watch. If nothings doing on the ground try looking up, its quite amazing what goes on up there. Don’t flog yourself to death working for money you don’t need. No amount of cash will buy better than this and we’ll all be dead soon anyway. All we need is a decent summer, but at the moment that seems an awful long way off.

Sadly as I was writing about the glory of the garden and our natural world I heard that David Bellamy had passed away. He was once a lab technician at Ewell Technical College where, back in the sixties, the final futile attempts were made to educate me. Unlike me, despite his first love being, perhaps surprisingly, ballet and the odd unblended malt whisky, he went on to gain his BSc, and later became a well known TV presenter and professor at Durham University.

He didn’t get that nose for nothing, like me he would sometimes get into trouble for telling the truth as he saw it, regardless of the consequences. So it was with his contrary views on climate change, which he described as “Poppycock”. He didn’t agree with the establishment stance and voiced his opinions loud and clear. In our glorious nation of free speech, that proved fatal to his public career and he disappeared from our screens overnight. At the time he was president of The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, for whom he had worked for over fifty years. They dropped him like a hot potato without even bothering to tell him. He found out when he read about it in the press. Loyal bastards!

Grapple me grape nuts, we desperately need a few more like him now, freethinkers who cannot be bought, in our bland, brainwashed world of new-speaking politically correct pigmies.

Happy New Year.

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