May 29, 2012

This Life of Luxury

Early every morning we are woken by a chorus of birdsong, accompanied by bright morning sun from our large, east facing windows. With enough sleep behind us, it is an absolute joy. With too little, it reminds us how precious sleep is, and is deeply frustrating.

So today I make curtains. Using a throw that is way too large to be useful for anything else, I cut it into four, hem the sides and trim a strip off the top to make loops for the poles. Flo selects a straight Sycamore pole, strips it smooth and screws it onto two round stumps drilled into the wall. It makes the curtain permanent, but is the simplest solution, and it is after all how we need it to be!

The hall is slowly emerging once again out of the pile of stuff carted over from the flat in town. With the sound system plugged in, the mood is all at once light and expectant, anticipating the buzz of activity to come, as summer majestically rolls in.

The feverish planting-out of seedlings is gradually abating.

In the tunnel we now have Okra, Peppers, Tomatoes, Aubergines, Cucumbers and Chillies. Outside are Lettuces, French Beans, Sweetcorn, Leeks, Onions, Garlic, Elephant Garlic, Potatoes, Carrots, Parsnips, Cabbages, Cauliflowers and Russian Kale.

Down by the house (in front of the north entrance) are Rhubarb plants, Jerusalem Artichokes and Sunflowers, and next to the greenhouse, Pumpkins, Gourds and Courgettes.

A new phase of planting will occur after some harvesting, but for now it is time to stop sewing seeds: there is no ground left that is prepared and no time left to create more.

It is also time to take stock and create some order by strimming the overgrown pathways and access areas, tidying borders and clearing mulch from slug prone young plants. Some plants remain in pots until sturdy enough to fend for themselves. Ash strewn in a circle around the plants does seem to help a little, but the evening ritual of picking the rampant buggers off the succulent leaves of our future meals, is never ending.

Strawberries are ripening everywhere. There are hundreds of wild strawberry plants in surprising corners and the kids take great delight in discovering their bright red bellies in the undergrowth.

The Elderflower are also suddenly in bloom and catching the right moment is something that has so often eluded me. As soon as the fragrant flowers begin to drop pollen, hordes of aphids cluster on their stems and rapidly march onto the most exuberant, sun-kissed heads.

We manage to gather a generous basketful and lay most of it in the attic to dry for tea. The rest we trim into a pan with freshly boiled water and lemon juice, on track for Elderflower Champagne!

And just beside our camp fire we discover tiny fruits on a tree we had previously overlooked, that now reveals itself to be a Peach tree!

The luxury of the moment is our newly reinstated fire-powered bathtub! A traditional system still used in rural parts across Germany, it is very simple: a cylinder with water inlet and tap outlet into the bath and a small fire cage beneath that can only take stumpy logs yet when in full swing, has your bath ready within an hour. It is the only room downstairs that is renovated, tiled and clean, yet the experience makes you feel like you are in a state-of-the art hotel!

This is my last day of being thirty two. I remember when I turned twenty two, in my final year at art college, wondering what it meant to be an artist, whether indeed it was possible to simply be an artist, whether there was indeed any point, whether I would ever find the existence that truly satisfies my values, dreams and ideals.

I think that now I may well have found it...   

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @

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