Hancock’s half-arsed… Coughing your life up… The return of gray text… Enviro-morons award for 2019… GW and the end of everything.

Quote of the Week

“The brutal reality is that we live in a world that is under constant siege by sharks of many different kinds, from the financial markets to Silicon Valley and the White House. The ultimate goal of Russian interference and billionaire voter suppression campaigns alike is to get us to ‘Keep Out’ of politics: to accept the dominance of transnational oligarchs, and to lose hope that things can change.” – Paul Hilder, co-founder OpenDemocracy.org

Jeremy Corbyn with Labour supporters in Middlesbrough, January 2019

What makes you think I’m going to start now?
(With apologies: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

“This is the stupidity of the public pushing itself unwittingly to the brink of oblivion in pursuit of human vanity.”

Hancock’s half-arsed

Genes marking for antibiotic resistance in bacteria have been found in soil samples taken from the beaches of Svalbard, the world’s northernmost inhabited islands up in the high Arctic.

The scientists aren’t sure how they got there. Birds? Tourists? They don’t know. All they know is, it’s pretty disturbing to find that potentially lethal infectious disease organisms can spread from India, where the genes are believed to have first mutated, to the Arctic via the rivers and seas.

How and why they found the genetic material – not the actual bacteria, which would presumably be easier – is not explained in The Guardian story this morning. Were they looking for it? Have either the pronounced warming of the sea around Svalbard – an average 16.9C increase over 2010 was recorded last year – or defense interests got anything to do with it?

The BogPo in its ignorance wonders if the rogue genes might even be naturally occurring and found everywhere?, being unsure of how genes can exist independently without a host cell, but whatever, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has declaimed in his infancy that this is a worse threat even than global warming.

We don’t think so.

The prognosis is that by the year 2050, 10 million people a year could be dying from untreatable infections around the world.

That pales into insignificance, compared with the billions who are not going to make it past 2030 if the planet goes on heating at the present rate, with consequent food insecurity leading to violent socio-economic breakdown.

It is nevertheless concerning, which is why the BogPo raises one critically arched eyebrow at Mr Hancock’s proposal to restrict the use of whatever antibiotics are still effective over the next five years.

Five years? Two thousand people are dying from untreatable infections – sepsis – a year in the UK already.

Doctors could be ordered to stop prescribing antibiotics now for contra-indicated conditions, such as colds and ‘flu, merely as placebo to get rid of demanding patients. Online supply could be made illegal and inoculations (such as tetanus shots) and other preventative measures made compulsory.

Veterinarians shovel huge quantities of antibiotics into the nation’s pets and farm animals, often (it seems to this veteran pet- and farm animal owner) entirely unnecessarily “as a precaution”, or as a growth-promoter, when it bumps the fees up a bit (I don’t care. So sue me!)

Heavy sanctions could be imposed for non-compliance. One of the sillier things the Blair governments did was to get rid of the Central Office of Information, that used to make effective public information films and TV spots – as, for instance, the AIDs campaign pushing safer sex, or the “Clunk-click every trip” campaign promoting seat-belts, that I can still remember 40 years later – and not just because it starred Jimmy Savile. Those boys were good.

People must be made to understand that if they continue imagining antibiotics are a cure-all for runny noses, they could die unnecessarily painfully from a scratch. The script practically writes itself.

The government has already announced that it’s thinking about ways of incentivising the drug companies to invest more in researching new classes of antibiotics. Greedy drug companies haven’t discovered any for the past 30 years, because generic drugs the NHS can afford aren’t as profitable as mass-marketable weight-loss pills, indigestion remedies and hair restorers.

Again, this is the stupidity of the public pushing itself unwittingly to the brink of oblivion in pursuit of human vanity.

 

Coughing your life up

Sometimes it’s necessary to live nearly your whole life in a cloud of self-mythology and bitter recrimination before you start to realize what’s been wrong with you all along.

Take, for instance, my lifelong depression and ‘Eeyore-ish” attitude of “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”, that so frustrated my employers and colleagues, that I protested was just sensible, prudent pessimism: a glass half-empty being soon refilled by the attentive waiter.

I’d long assumed something awful must have happened when I was small, that has gone echoing down the decades and strikes with an underlying negative emotion whenever similar situations arise. Maybe it was those moments of powerlessness we all experience as children, when you lose the sense that you control anything and have to resign yourself to whatever the adults want, even if you imagine it poses an existential threat.

Or maybe it was something someone said, something critical to me, that rankled at the time and stuck in my brain as a self-perpetuating neurosis?

Such as on my first night away from home, in the strange new environment of boarding school, age just 7, when an older boy suddenly asked me a demanding question over high tea, and I let out a small fart in fright. In front of the whole school, he jumped up, pointed at me and shouted “God, you stink!”

I still remember his name, 62 years later: he was a pale, thin, carrot-headed, freckled youth called Sorby. (I hope he’s good and dead by now.)

And I have stunk ever since.

To the extent that I came to believe that I might have been physically abused as well. That is, before I was. Public school followed, and the relentless pursuit of my perfect 12-year-old ass that preoccupied the older boys, day and night for two years, I’m glad to say mostly fruitlessly, until I developed a carapace of boils and a heavy smoking habit, sloping off to the town pubs and failing miserably to win a place at any university in the land – especially Cambridge, where my clever uncles had all got firsts (one, a double-first!).

Now, however belatedly, comes some relief from those demons.

I may not be as I am, profoundly insecure (deadline-driven) and self-loathing because of that and similar experiences; of shitting my pants, age 5, on a school outing and not daring to tell anyone – in antiquity I seem to have started doing that again, to go with the alternating urinary retention and incontinence, the ongoing battle for space between my bladder, my colon and my hyperplasic prostate; latterly with a rubber pipe running between them all to make sitting on both cheeks a trial.

(Congratulate me, I’ve just been informed by letter that I am being allocated my very own Community Health Visitor! They might be perplexed that I seem to be able to cope perfectly well by myself, given the chronic state of most people my age, but it is surely one of life’s significant moments.)

Because neurologists are waking up to the possibility that post-childhood depression could be largely to do with your early environment:

“Of the 284 children studied, those who lived in the top 25% most polluted areas at age 12 were found to be three to four times more likely to have depression at 18, compared with those living in the 25% least polluted areas.” (Guardian report)

And that compares with only a 1.5-times likelihood of developing depression as the result of physical abuse.

TS Eliott famously wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

“The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes. The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes. Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening. Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains.”

He was writing about London, city of my birth seven years (for me) before the passing of the 1956 Clean Air Act, when those famous Sherlock Holmesian pea-soupers were common in winter; caused by tens of thousands of fireplaces burning cheap, inefficient brown lignite, a form of compressed peat pouring out huge quantities of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and CO2, that sometimes got trapped for days beneath atmospheric inversion layers.

“Primarily because of latent high moisture content and low energy density of brown coal, carbon dioxide emissions from traditional brown-coal-fired plants are generally much higher per megawatt generated than for comparable black-coal plants.” (Wikipedia: Brown coal)

Astonishingly, the burning of millions of tonnes of this filthy stuff is still permitted – even encouraged – in many otherwise civilized countries; but its domestic use was eventually banned in Britain and, for a time, until traffic emissions took over, air quality improved.

Not before I had lived through the notorious 1953 Great Smog, which may have carried off as many as 12 thousand Londoners in a few days, weakened by years of wartime privation, habitual smoking and endemic lung disease; and many other similar atmospheric events around that time. And through dreary days and nights in the school sanatorium, coughing my guts out as a victim of the “bronchitis” doctors couldn’t tell from childhood asthma in those days.

Research is now showing that not only is carbon dioxide – whose atmospheric concentration has grown to 414 parts per million, from 405 just a year ago and from about 280 before the industrial era – a “greenhouse gas” that absorbs and retains solar infrared energy and is heating the planet to a dangerous degree; but also, that inhaling it in greater than normal quantities over time seriously impairs cognitive function.

Lowered intelligence is a marker for depression. It’s easy to guess how that mechanism works. The inability to fully comprehend, to order events, or to fulfil your potential is profoundly frustrating, especially in a small degree.

The brighter you are to begin with, the more frustrating it can be to find yourself unable to fully maintain concentration; to not quite be able to focus on things or to argue a case coherently; to lose track of words, names, faces, dates and events; to find yourself in situations where you are not fully in control, and to lose motivation as a result.

“Oh, it’s hopeless! I’ll never be able to do that complicated task; solve that puzzle; understand those instructions; read those map directions; hold my own with those clever people; say what I mean; cope with those responsibilities; land that job; write that novel!”

If the piling-up of tiny failings is indeed a symptom of the “yellow fog”, developmental brain damage caused by breathing foul air for so many years, as many city children still have to, it adds yet another dimension to one’s gloomy self-reflection: why despite many apparent successes have I felt such a repeated failure all my life? (It might also cast light on social issues such as inner-city knife crime, and supposedly conquered diseases that seem to be worsening again after many years of amelioration.)

Or was it just a small fart – a whiff of bad air – that set it all off?

I guess we’ll never know.

 

The return of gray text

I’m reading that even relatively reputable, reliable online news sites like the newsy part of Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post – owned by something huge called Verizon – are shedding staff at a frightening rate.

It seems they’re unable to find a sufficiently flexible business model to cope with fluctuating demand for their product while producing any revenue at all to pay the wages.

Several of them went in for video as a distraction from the kind of endlessly boring text you’ll get here, with The Boglington Post. (That’s only because I’m so tech-averse that despite being a Film School graduate (analog-era), I have no clue how you make and upload a video.)

But apparently fickle subscribers no longer like short videos, they want longer ones, and only – erm – broadcasters are geared-up to producing those.

People also like audio podcasts, presumably so they can multitask without chopping off their fingers or getting their ties caught in the machinery.

So we’re back to radio and TV.

What goes around, goes underground, as they say. And indeed, there’s been a revival of interest in this, muh li’l bogl – four viewings yesterday confirm it!

Maybe boring text is due for a comeback.

Postscriptum

I just invigilated another exam today. One poor girl was panicking. She was being asked to base her answers on “two texts”. But they hadn’t sent her any texts!

Turned out, the “texts” were her set books. She had no idea what the word meant outside the context of her phone.

On the shelf

Speaking of layoffs, Tesco has announced 9,000 jobs are to go in the fresh-foods sections of their supermarkets.

No fresh food in Tesco.

Isn’t that going to be rather a bad look?

 

Guitar bore: Loony Tunings… Has been relocated to the next issue for reasons of space.

 

Enviro-morons award for 2019

First candidate up: Morrison’s supermarkets

Morrison’s are to trial 20p paper carrier bags as an alternative to the 10p “reusable” plastic bags I seem to have a kitchen full of, that are henceforth to cost 15p.

Morrison’s marketing hotshop says that the material used to make its paper bags will be 100% sourced from forests that are managed responsibly.

And if new forests are grown to replace lost trees, they say, it will help to offset the climate change impact, because trees lock up carbon from the atmosphere. (Yes, which they immediately begin giving back when you cut them down!)

So no, it won’t. If each tree cut down were to be replaced with only one tree of the same age, the process would be (sort-of) carbon-neutral.

That’s as long as you don’t count the emissions of the chainsaws and stump-grinders, the disturbance of the soil, the journeys of the logging vehicles, the sandwiches and cups of tea of the loggers and the shipping around the globe of lumber on highly polluting diesel-powered cargo ships; the emissions of the power stations required to produce the energy.

The only way to get a carbon-negative outcome would be to replace each cut-down tree with two trees. But then they’d be only a foot high with few leaves and you’d need to wait 15 years before they grew and started to lock-up the same amount of carbon between them as the tree you cut down to make the paper bag. In the meantime, you’d have cut down millions more trees….

By then we’re all dead.

Making, recycling and distributing the paper bag is a carbon-intensive process requiring the use of energy, many liters of otherwise drinkable water, polluting chemicals and waste pulp discharge to the environment. Whereas the plastic bag made from oil you haven’t burned lasts longer and can be reused more times, as long as you remember to take it with you to the store and not feed it to a passing turtle.

The BogPo’s quick ‘n’ easy solution?

Ban supermarkets.

 

GW and the end of everything

Cuba: “A tornado (F3) and pounding rain have smashed into the east of the capital, toppling trees, bending power poles (overturning cars) and throwing shards of metal roofing through the air as the storm cut across eastern Havana. President Miguel Díaz-Canel said on Monday at least three* people were killed and 172 injured, as power was cut to many areas.” (Guardian, 28 Jan) *Now 6.

USA: Winter Storm Jayden. “Warnings have been issued across the upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions. Blizzard warnings have also been issued from central North Dakota into northeastern South Dakota. High wind warnings have been issued for the northern High Plains and northern Rockies.” It’s cold, too: “The Windy City will unfortunately live up to its name, with the National Weather Service office in Chicago predicting wind chills of –35° to –60°F for Tuesday night and Wednesday night.” (The Weather Channel/Wunderground) Death toll as of 31 Jan: 8. (It’s only -27° in northern Siberia…)

Australia: “Torrential rain and swollen rivers have left communities cut off and farmland inundated in parts of northern Queensland, Australia. Over 620 mm of rain was recorded in Whyanbeel Valley, between Port Douglas and Daintree in northern Queensland, in a 48 hour period to 27 January. Several other areas received over 500 mm during the same period.” (Floodlist) Meanwhile, hot air from Australia’s long-running heatwave is beginning to affect New Zealand, with temperatures climbing over 35C.

For a heartrending moment, watch a koala holding the hand of a householder who is feeding her water. news.sky.com/video/koala-demands-water-during-record-breaking-heatwave-11617129. Thousands of animals have died from heat exhaustion and dehydration during two weeks of 40C-plus temperatures.

Europe: Snow in some quantity is forecast for Tuesday 29th spreading across much of Ireland and the British Isles. Update, 31st Jan: “The UK weathered its coldest night of the winter so far. Braemar in Aberdeenshire was the coldest place in the country as temperatures dipped to -11C (12.2F), which was 0.2C lower than the previous record for 2019.” Really? It’s not freezing here on the west coast, and no snow, certainly none settling at sea level.

Meanwhile a severe low is forming in the Bay of Biscay, with peak winds expected over Brittany, France of 160 K/h. Intense rainfall is indicated once more in extreme northwest Spain and in particular in northern Portugal, where totals will exceed 100 mm over a large area. Significant snowfall is expected over the Pyrenees and parts of northern Spain where up to 50 cm is expected.

As many as 5 tornadoes hit Antalya, southwestern Turkey on the 26th. Major damage was reported in the city center. Antalya Airport was also hit – 12 injured. Skies turned orange over the Cyclades on the 25th and more Sahara dust is expected this week across Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, pushed by a broad low over the eastern Med. (All from Severe-weather.eu)

Japan: Organisers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have “decided to shift the start time for the men’s and women’s marathons to 6am – an hour-and-a-half earlier than originally planned – to avoid the health risk to runners and spectators from the intense heat later in the day. The men’s 50km walk will start two hours earlier, at 5.30am, the newspaper said, citing sources close to the Games. In July last year a record 133 people died from heatstroke or heat exhaustion with thousands of others admitted to hospital.” (Guardian)

CO2 latest: “On January 21, 2019, hourly average CO₂ levels well above 414 ppm were recorded at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, the highest levels since such measurements started. A recent Met Office forecast expects monthly averages to reach a level of 414.7 ppm in May 2019*. The forecast expects annual average CO₂ levels at Mauna Loa to be 2.75 ppm higher in 2019 than in 2018.” Contributing thus to an additional 0.5C of warming by 2029. (Arctic-news.blogspot.com). On January 23rd, “sea surface temperatures near Svalbard were as high as 18.3°C or 64.9°”.

*Postscriptum: at end-April 2019 daily average CO2 was exceeding 415.5, with hourly readings over 417 ppm.

Yellowstone: Steamboat geyser went off on the 25th for the third time in 2019, after last year’s record 32 eruptions. Earthquake swarm continuing. (Mary Greeley)

Cretins’ Weekly

“On a day that Trump ridiculed concern about climate change because of the current blast of arctic weather in the midwest, the (chief of) intelligence’s report also includes sombre predictions of the repercussions of global warming. Trump has dismissed climate change as a hoax, and on Tuesday tweeted: “What the hell is going on with Global Waming? (sic) Please come back fast, we need you!”

We suggest the permatanned amoeba goes to live in Australia, as he clearly has no idea what weather is.

 

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The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Phone Aug 15 029No-one takes me seriously.

I have tried explaining to various people. They smile and nod and carry on with their conversations.

This year, there has been an effusion of vegetative matter, the like of which I have never seen before. Does that sound so far-fetched?

Although the winter was not cold, and April saw the usual sunny spells, everything was late. Even by June, the Ash trees were only coming into leaf. One usually notices the road verges dotted with wildflowers by the end of May, beginning of June. This year, there was nothing but the acid yellow flowers of the gorse.

Then, in July, it all went berserk. You’d expect the flowers to have faded by August, but here we are, the 18th, and the valley is filled with Pennyroyal, Rose Bay Willow, Purple Loosestrife, escaped garden Crocosmia lily, thistle and much, much more.

It is the sheer exuberance, the density of the tree canopy, the impenetrability of the ground-cover; the sheer height of things – the invasive but pretty Himalayan Balsam, surely never more than four feet high, everywhere towering over my head. Spreading bramble thickets you can barely see over, choking under great mats of cleavers and trumpet vine ; yellow masses of ragwort, vast clumps of reed grass in the dried-out bogland; the proliferation of Goat Willow, of ripening sloes and acorns, of hazelnuts littering the valley floor, already their nut cases emptied for the squirrels’ larders.

What on earth are we to attribute this astonishing outpouring of green stuff to? I’m in my sixties and I’ve worked as a gardener for almost 20 years and I can honestly say I’ve never witnessed anything like this in my life. Is it just a freak year, unusually favourable weather? Is it to do with last year’s early winter storms and long hot Autumn? Global warming, record levels of atmospheric CO2? A one-off, or a significant annual event in years to come?

It  might be a sign: Nature’s desperate last gasp.

Wake up!

Phone Aug 15 025

The times are out of joint

What has happened to all the bees?

Their drowsy hum in the meadow grass used to be the stock summer accompaniment to the thwack of ball on willow and the drone of Dan Maskell reporting the early exit of yet another British tennis hopeful at Wimbledon.

I’ve seen fewer than a dozen bees out this year, and it’s already July. Several of those were dead, their little furry corpses lying curled and dried-out on the footpaths through the exurban space that passes for a park in our seaside town.

And I’m constantly being emailed to ask me to sign petitions calling on the government not to overturn the European ban on the family of pesticides known as neo-nicotinoids, in the face of angry buzzing from the agripoisons industry and the always despicably self-interested Farmers’ Union.

Neonics have been implicated in the collapse of commercial bee colonies and a worrying reduction in the wild population. Research suggests that complex chemical compounds accumulating in bees from a range of crop sprays are causing them to lose their famous sense of direction, which prevents them from foraging or flying back to the hive with food. Weakened, they fall prey to more lethal viruses borne by proliferating mites.

There’s clearly something more complicated going on than just pesticide poisoning, as the industry argues that their own research has shown no direct effect on bees from neonics in the doses prescribed. If anyone should want to save the bees, it would be the farmers whose crops they pollinate for free.

As it happens, I live in a small part of the world where there is no arable farming, or very little. It’s sheep country. And here on the edge of town people have gardens, and we’re a yard or two away from open countryside, hill pasture, much of which is being allowed to revert to scrub, and from the undeveloped valley floor with its dense copses and riverbanks and marshy heathland vivid with wildflowers.

There is no intensive farming here whatever, unless you count the open savannahs of the sports clubs, cricket and rugby grounds, where some preventative spraying does go on in early summer. An enlightened local authority, too, is responsibly maintaining meadow grassland along road verges and on traffic roundabouts, and planting trees.

You would imagine therefore that our local bee population would be virtually unaffected, certainly by the kind of intensive crop spraying that used to put our son in hospital with asthma every summer, when we lived and had our little smallholding in the midst of a 300-acre industrialised wasteland of acid-yellow rape.

And you might think that the proliferating wildflowers of many kinds would offer them plenty of fodder. Yet there are no bees, or almost none, to be seen. What is going on?

To quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The times are out of joint”.

My theory, for what it’s worth, is that the flowers and their specialised pollinators are continually missing one another at the critical times when they need to arrive together. This would be due to the disrupted pattern of the weather as our climate appears to be changing.

Most of Nature can cope with minor annual variations in light, temperature and rainfall. But those factors critical to growth and reproduction have begun to oscillate a little more wildly in recent decades. Spring, for instance, is said to be arriving in Britain earlier each year and is now three weeks earlier on average than forty years ago.

This year, I have noticed that, for some reason perhaps due to last year’s wild and windy but warm winter (or perhaps due to rising CO2?), the tree cover is the most densely foliated I can remember ever seeing it, the scrub vegetation impassably jungly; yet the wildflowers, probably due to a long, cool, dry spell in March-April, have emerged very late, only in the last two weeks of June, in the sort of profusion that would guarantee sufficient variety to feed all the insects that depend on them.

Light levels, too, may have dropped in a Spring when there has been more volcanic activity around the globe than in most years; and un-civil aviation continues to cross-hatch the sky with vapour trails freighting sooty particulates into the stratosphere.

In other words, until the last few weeks there’s been almost nothing for the bees to eat. And now, this week, while most of England has sizzled in 90-degree temperatures, here in the West it’s been cool and cloudy, and it’s been raining all morning, so the bees won’t be flying today either.

Normally, they would survive these minor irritations; but add to them, the probability that wild bee populations are now already dangerously reduced, it may take time for their numbers to build up again, assuming no further environmental stress is inflicted on the survivors; which we can’t. Is there another possible factor causing stress disorders in bees?

Facebook pioneer, Mark Zuckerberg, has announced this week a plan to introduce a parallel service of mobile telephony, using “invisible” lasers beaming down from satellites, to improve his social media coverage in the parts where land-based communications haven’t yet reached. More high-frequency irradiation is all we need.

We live now in an electronic soup of low-energy radio waves emitted at all frequencies by innumerable devices. The cumulative energy of electromagnetic radiation emitted by all this communications technology is experimentally sufficient to power domestic electrical devices when captured, literally, from the air.

Again, the “industry” research has concluded that its by-product – radiation – must be harmless; yet we also believe and warn, especially children, that continual proximity to your cellphone might induce brain cancer.

All I can add is that it is unreasonable to suppose there can be no effect.

Electromagnetic radiation is only apparently safe at certain frequencies; at other points on the spectrum we know it can injure and kill, cook food, prove medically useful, and see through solid objects. We know, because we do those things with it.

Is it too far-fetched to think that the smaller and more delicate a neural organism is, the more vulnerable it becomes to disruption by radiation, inducing altered behaviours and perceptions?

Alterations that might indeed threaten the extinction of a uniquely susceptible – ecologically irreplaceable – and economically invaluable species?

Postscriptum

Many years ago, a bumblebee smashed into my car’s windscreen. It set me calculating (I’m a bit OCD) how many bees might be killed by cars on British roads, given the number of vehicle registrations (36 million +), the average mileage driven (about 7,000 a year) and the total mileage of British roads (about 250,000), if each driver kills only one bee every five miles….

Millions of bees are killed by cars every summer.

Post-postscriptum

The better news is, there are quite a few bees of varying sizes out foraging in the sunshine today. It helps that my magnificent  privet hedge has finally decided to flower, it’s always an attraction for the gatherers.

It doesn’t help however that today, the parks department has decided it’s a good day to send a man with a noisy tractor and a topper to cut down the wildflower meadow boundaries around the river. I imagine they have a date they do it on every year, regardless of what’s actually happening on the ground.

It might also make some sense to seed the strips with bee-friendly wildflowers in the Spring, rather than leave it to Mother Nature; who, as we know, prefers tall grasses, thistles, dock and (highly poisonous) ragwort in her garden. I’m not sure we can leave her to make the decisions anymore.

Golden threads amongst the grey

“If you’ve developed a crush on someone, you should pursue your heart’s desire.”

– Yahoo! horoscope, Saturday 19th Dec.

Oh, Russell, I have, I have!

You know me only too well….

I hadn’t thought about romance for years, not even once, nor given it thence a second thought but for the occasional passing regret that my life was certainly over, despite the coy looks I get from choirladies d’un certain age upon hearing my resonant basso profundo. In any case, with so little income and only a dreadful car, smelling of wet dog and the previous owner’s socks, who would look twice, even at a handsome old git like me?

I know I am far from a promising bet: a depressed, monosyllabic, autosexual pensioner dwelling pointlessly and underemployed in a tiny, unsaleable cottage on a thunderous main road in the echoing outskirts of a dull provincial seaside town, miles from anywhere. Why, it must be two years since I read a book or went out for the evening.

My last affaire d’amour left me for another woman, I don’t remember what year that was, probably what, five? six years ago? She always denied our relationship – how do you deny you are in a relationship with someone you have shared a bed with almost nightly for eighteen months? I found it funny. What wouldn’t I have put up with?

She used to pause in the midst of lovemaking to ask with a quizzical note if I was possibly using Viagra, which was cheating? Or, if I was sure I was not dyeing my hair? Because my relative youthfulness seemed such an unexpected attribute. Her practical and forthright parents (I am the same age as her father) would sit around the table discussing the awful possibility that we might make mentally defective, genetically dubious babies together, with my elderly neutrino-battered spermatozoa hobbling around on tiny Zimmer frames…. Yes, I’m afraid she was twenty-three years younger than I, and the difference became first a joke, then a concern, and finally a reason to move on.

She had done the calculation: by the time she was still only 47, I might be 70…. The future with me was too medicalised to contemplate. But, by a horrible irony, a bloody joke perpetrated by a vindictive and uncomprehending God, here I remain, needing no Viagra, no hair-dye, walking the dog and drinking too much wine, talking balls, writing rubbish, and there she is, inurned at not-quite 42, snatched from her choirs and pupils and infant son, her much younger partner and her mad family by a brutal and incurable, rampant disorder of the cells.

The unmistakeable message therefore must be, “Pursue your heart’s desire”: or, to resort to the Latin, gaudeamus igitur.

Since her, there has been no-one. Not even now, for my new passion is still and maybe forever distant and confused. But something has definitely stirred in the depths of my ancient reptilian brain, a saurian eye has opened on the world and the dragon begins to unfurl his leathery wings. I have indeed developed an all-consuming crush on a glorious personage with a fine sense of the absurd, little more in years than a child, yet who in my madness seemed from the moment I first saw her to be attached to me by some golden thread of destiny.

Lock me up now, but the last time I was with her, standing near to her at a gathering, babbling drunkenly something-or-other, she volunteered me a quick, squeezy hug in the kitchen…. Oh, rapture! An entire landscape of life, love and true happiness has since unfolded on the unsteady campaign table of my brain, many times over. I have vowed to pursue the dream, as far as it will take us.

That may of course be nowhere, it being in the nature of crushes to remain unconsummated. I don’t even know where she lives. I’m afraid to find out. Romantically challenged, frightfully English, I don’t know what I should say, what the magic words would be, were I to be vouchsafed another opportunity to say anything unconnected with the weather.

But if the power of infatuation can persuade the Universe from time to time to actualise your heart’s desire, don’t close it down, will you? Not yet. For the years are falling away, like the tanks of a Saturn V rocket on its way to the Moon.

Now there’s an image to conjure with….

Gardening News: a note of impatience creeps in with the late-summer weeds

‘Old Bogler’ writes:

During the past 15 years, whenever the necessity has arisen, which as I grow older is increasingly often, I have gone out to work the odd day here and there, whatever I can get, for an unskilled wage as a jobbing gardener. It is hard work, but honest, and I very much welcome the opportunity to get out in the wind and rain without being attached to a dog.

As the result of forty-plus years’ experience of owning my own homes with gardens; of having spent time around my grandfather, who lovingly bred dahlias; of listening to episodes of Gardeners’ Question Time on rainy Sunday afternoons, and of poring over learned books on gardening; whose London garden once featured in The Observer Colour Magazine (for its ‘natural’ appearance!), I may no longer be able to recall the names of plants: I don’t have an RHS certificate, like my ex-wife. Nor, having only a town garden of my own now, do I have my own tools.

Nor do I have ‘green fingers’. None of my clients has ever, to my recollection, asked me to sow any seeds or plant-up a border or grow edible vegetables for them: all I ever get to do is cut stuff down or dig it up or haul it out; and rearrange the compost. I am a human bulldozer, who practices a form of ‘extreme gardening’ from which I emerge like a Japanese soldier who has not realised the war is over, covered in scratches, stings and bites and totally exhausted. It’s a good excuse for a bath.

But I am also one of those people who retains weird tidbits of information, quite like a sponge. Consequently, I have excellent technical knowledge of garden management; my head is buzzing with a lifetime’s supply of handy hints for successful growing, acquired from here and there.

Which is why there are certain secret frustrations I have with my ‘clients’ that, if you too are a jobbing gardener, you will understand and sympathise with. Because, although a good garden ought to be like a slow-motion fireworks display, a year-round succession of colourful and thrilling explosions popping-off everywhere, gardening is not ‘rocket-science’ (unless you are growing rocket…). Remembering the names of all the plants in your garden is good, you can and I can’t; but caring for them is pretty straightforward.

You just need to know a little about how, why and where they grow best; and figure the rest out for yourself.

So why don’t you? Grrr!

People by and large don’t have money to spare. But they very often have mistakenly acquired gardens that prove too big for them to manage by themselves. (I have been lusting this morning over details of an outstandingly ugly but affordably cheap property the interweb thing has sent me, with 10 acres… sheer lunacy to contemplate, at any time of life!) They are also time-poor, which is why they will get halfway through a project in the garden, leave little heaps of stuff rotting quietly everywhere, abandon their tools in the undergrowth; and then call me.

Much as I love them all, there are six things I would say to my clients, if I dared, as follows:

  1. There is no point paying a man to cut the grass or weed your herbaceous borders to get rid of all that suddenly explosive alchemilla mollis or escaped crocosmia once a year, because it is “all you can afford”, if at certain times of the year you need to cut the grass or weed the bed twice a week…. It is simply not a cost-effective management strategy! It is impossible to achieve the permanently cultivated effect you naturally want, in this haphazard way. Gardens respond to regular, patient cultivation; they quickly recover from my infrequent visitations to resume their happy path of regression to temperate forest. God knows I understand, you are living on a budget, but maintaining your garden in dribs and drabs like this is worse than doing nothing at all – as, whatever I do in May, will have to be done again before July! Why not put a little money aside during the winter months, to employ me once – and then briefly twice – a week in the late spring and summer, and in early autumn, when I am needed most? Or invite me to live rent-free above your garage?
  2. Why are your compost bins and burning ghat as far as you can possibly put them away from where your garden is generating the most combustible material? I have to spend half the money you have scratched around to pay me, trundling to and fro, conveying the greenwaste for disposal to a heap somewhere over the horizon. Where, invariably, your bins will be far too small to compost properly, the amount of greenwaste your acre of garden is liable to generate, and is overflowing with material that can never rot down, to which I am going to add another half-ton by the end of my shift; and sprouting nettles. One of my clients follows me around, obsessively sorting my greenwaste into separate heaps and plastic bags according to its degree of softness or woodiness, and spends hours shredding material and spreading the chippings everywhere, on paths and beds. Most laudable, but none of the recyclates ever gets properly composted because her bins are too small and disorganised and too far from (and steeply uphill of) the garden, being distributed around a number of distant specialised sites where they are never given time or sufficient heat to rot down, and are therefore of little nutritional value. “Calm down, dear!” is Old Bogler’s advice. Gardening takes time and patience. And money.
  3. If your hubby must mow the grass at the weekend by racing his crisis-red lawn-Ferrari around it in five minutes flat, and then rush off to play golf, leaving little heaps of browning detritus everywhere, you should expect a) a ‘lawn’ full of broadleaved weeds, dandelion and plantain, sycamore seedlings, ruts and furrows; and b) all those cuttings the machine spews out sideways to pile up in your border margins, on top of the weed barrier, stifling those tender annuals, until they rot down and the creeping fescue invades and forms mats and, in a couple of years, produces a nice environment for those nasty, sticky cleavers and convulvulus and horrendous burnets (I de-burred my poor Hunzi the other day after a walk in the country, the viciously hooked seeds in his thick fur had blood on them. They have become carnivorous!) Eventually, bramble runners and sowthistle and ground elder take over. Please establish a careful mowing regime (a cylinder mower is best for lawns), respect the lawn edges, try to maintain a few helpful hygiene measures, rake out grass cuttings and compost them somewhere else, or you will forever be hiring me to clear out your beds. I know, “it’s not really a lawn…” You’re telling me?
  4. Please, PLEASE STOP! chopping the ends off those inconvenient side-branches of your trees and shrubs, that you have planted too close together and too near to the footpath! It breaks my heart to be confronted with a forest of tortured, dying gargoyles, beset with spindly water-branches and bottle-brush epicormic growth, and to be asked with a hopeless air if I can “do something with” them? The only thing to do, is to put them out of their misery…. Your trees and shrubs are like your pets. They are eager to please you by growing just how you saw them in the catalog. They have genes, just like you, that are trying their best to grow up to be just like their mums and dads. Chopping random bits off only panics them: they no longer know what you want them to do, they suffer an identity crisis and start growing frantically every which-way. If you must cut them back, because you didn’t believe when you bought them that they would really grow up to smother your azaleas, then carefully prune them back to a growth node that is pointing in the direction you want them to grow – or take off the whole branch, but try to leave enough leaf-cover so they can still get some sunlight into their hungry little chlorophytes. Better yet, call me before you reach for the secateurs.
  5. Who told you if you put down a barrier it would stop weeds growing? Why on earth did you listen to them? Expensive woven black plastic sheeting; odd junk like carpets and cardboard – these are known as ‘membranes’; and ‘mulches’, consisting of chipped wood or bark, nutshells or coconut fibre (‘coir’). They have only a limited role to play in the garden. The latter are perfect for growing annual weeds and fungi: the longer it stays down, the more rotten and soil-like it gets and the more soft growth like chickweed and creeping Jenny will spring up, as a precursor to worse. Nature abhors a vacuum. No-one ever wants to spend money on putting enough mulch down to really make a difference. Your membranes on the other hand provide the perfect environment for aggressive perennials like nettles, brambles and wandering raspberry canes, all of which will happily propagate (among other infernal habits) by growing extensive root systems along the surface under the membrane, where they are warm, dry and free of competition; sending up shoots wherever the opportunity arises (around the edges, or where you made planting holes for garden-centre ceanothus that didn’t survive the dry conditions). If you must ‘suppress’ weeds with a membrane, do so tactically, a season at a time. In three years, if you leave a membrane down on the ground, mats of grass will grow over it and rot down; wind- or bird-sown weeds will root into it (woven plastic sheet is not impermeable, it only keeps out light. Stuff mostly won’t come up, but, just like your savings and investments, it can grow down.) Then try digging the roots out…. your membrane cannot stop weeds growing, but it will successfully resist a spade or fork. Finally, the membrane itself rots, leaving a scrappy mess – but, by then, your garden will be gone, lost forever under a six-feet-deep thicket of brambles, beneath which your roses have been reduced to long, spindly suckers gasping for light. No, the best way to suppress weed growth is to hoe beds regularly – or pay me to clear them out once a fortnight, starting in April. Weeds soon learn when they are not wanted, and go elsewhere.
  6. For heaven’s sake, keep your power-tools properly serviced! I waste hours struggling to start stubborn mowers and strimmers whose spark-plugs are sooty and worn. It can take three days for my wrists and hands to stop jangling, after three or four hours of operating tools that are vibrating badly because of worn gears and bent shafts; forcing them to do heavy work they are not rated to do. I honestly fear permanent nerve damage. Don’t wait for the spring to get a service, the engineers are up to their necks by then. Do it before Christmas. And make sure there’s enough line loaded on the strimmer! You can’t cut anything with only an inch or two of line, it’s the least efficient use of the machine. Smaller power tools are designed not to last forever, three seasons at most; and are very often not robust enough to do the jobs you expect me to do with them. The bigger and wilder your garden, the sooner you must consider replacing them; or ensure that what you buy to begin with is of a capacity able to cope for years with your dream acre of wilderness.

I know, you don’t have money for tools. Have you thought of moving to town? (No, don’t, I need the work!)

Cheerio, m’dears!

– Old Bogler

Hedge fun management explained

It’s time I introduced you to Horace Hedge.

Some people are hedge fund managers. They manage hedge funds, whatever those are. They make hundreds of thousands a year, have nice shoes, WAGs in stockbroker belts, join country clubs, own holiday villas in Antigua and order their yachts from Camper & Nicholson.

I just manage a hedge, for fun.

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The really interesting thing about Horace Hedge (who is over eight feet tall!) is that he is not made in the usual way, by truncating some beech or Leylandii or laurel trees and then pruning them viciously. No, Horace is actually made from those taller trees you see on his left. He is the right-hand side of the trees as we look at them! The garden next door is lower, so the trees start growing well below the lowest part of the hedge. Carefully sculpted from the lateral branches over many years, Horace emerges as a solid shape, and I have been lucky enough to inherit him with the little house.

Now, isn’t managing Horace Hedge more interesting than owning fifty pairs of Loakes and a boring, servant-infested beach hut in some windswept tax-haven? Why, I don’t even have to count money all night!

I haven’t any.

Postscriptum

Explicatio

The vertical bar towards the right of the picture is Young Bogler’s personal flagpole. The union flag is flown from it whenever he is in residence.

Plain water, please

But back to the present.

There are people who just don’t get the natural world. A recent survey showed that some phenomenal percentage of primary school children think potatoes grow on Mars, and that milk comes from angels. Or something.

And then there are those who can look at an ancient woodland scene, a distant view of purple hills,  a flower-filled meadow, and dream only of strip-mining tar sands. Nature? What’s the fuckin’ point? We humans can do it so much better! What’s a few species going extinct? Who needs ants? Moths? Rhinoceroses? When women the size of barrage balloons can drive SUVs a block to the supermarket, now there’s a miracle!

We’ve had, what, two dry weeks here, with lots of blue sky and hot sunshine. It got so good, I realised I had to water the garden plants every morning, filling my watering-can from the tap, sluicing down the concrete, imagining I was a Greek shopkeeper. And sat out in the sun with my coffee, watching them.

Yes, they grew, a bit. They survived the drying weather well, some of them even flowered during this period, and the first tiny apples began to appear on my little tree. I imagined them eating-up the sunlight, all that chlorophyll, those delicious carbs going into the fruit, the flowers.

Then last Tuesday, we had rain overnight. From real clouds.

I went out at about noon, after the sky cleared, with my coffee, and sat looking at the plants (it’s a very small garden!) And some of them, I kid you not, like the potato haulms in their orange tubs, had put on an inch of growth since the previous day.

Okay, so then we had two more days of intermittent but heavy rainfall, and by today the little green apples on my patio tree, still with the dried blossoms clinging to them, had swollen from a few sixteenths to a good inch across, and were already blushing red. I counted twenty of them.

Natural water versus man-tampered-with water. I don’t know what the magic ingredient is, I just know we’re all doomed.

Postscriptum:

Here we are, a few days later, and it is pouring, pelting, bucketing – nay, pissing it down outside my little studio, gusts of wind shaking the garden fence with the rotten fencepost, as I obsessively edit and re-edit my Posts (incidentally, it is always worth revisiting my Posts if you have Liked one, as it won’t have been the final, final edition. There’s still time to tell your friends.) Luckily, Hunzi and I got back from our long Sunday combination walk (Round the Industrial Estate AND Round the River Bridges) just as it was starting.

This is becoming predictable. The third week of June , I predict, whatever year it now is or shall be, it will rain in the west of Britain. Heavily. Thanks to the warming Atlantic, we have a regular new monsoon season, that follows a short summer and coincides neatly with the start of Wimbledon fortnight, running on into the Autumn.

I predict, too, that thanks to the long cold winter following nine months of rain since last June, and the ‘summer’ that lasted only ten days, there will be warnings of food shortages and vertiginous price rises.

You have been warned. Panic-buy now!

Post-postscriptum

A note to posterity

As things turned out, in the second week of Wimbledon the skies cleared, the sun shone relentlessly out of a cloudless sky. Players mopped their brows and drank copiously from their powerade bottles as temperatures on Centre Court touched 90 degrees, and blinked hopelessly as their opponents served past their ears, out of the sun. (What lunatic designed the All-England club courts on an East-West axis?)

The heatwave lasted about three weeks before breaking, briefly. There was heavy rain in the South and East of the island, but here in the West just a few cooling showers were enough to green the parched grass… (That’s enough Countryfile copy. Ed.)

It just shows how wrong even the experts can be.

– E.P. von B. (By Appointment)