Thursday 28 May 2020

Leaving things alone

For years I've been attempting to hold our garden back from its natural urges.... It wants to be a half acre of weeds.
Not meaning to sound as if I am a control freak sort of gardener; not in the slightest, but come each May I do usually zip around with a small strimmer to get rid of what we perceive as weeds.
I can recall my mother ranting about ground elder in vicious terms, in fact it's edible apparently; if she had known she might have looked on it rather more fondly.
This year after reading so much horrific stuff about declining biodiversity, lack of bees and our general lack of understanding about the damage the human race has and is continuing, at an alarming rate, to inflict on all other lifeforms, I decided to leave as much as possible alone.
All weeds, or rather, plants that gardeners generally label unattractive or invasive, have been left to do their thing, and I have just cut tracks through the swathes. Of course there are a few plants, such as Japanese Knot Weed, that I might have attempted to keep well at bay if we had it here but so far nothing menacing has encroached.
The birds are noticeably more in numbers, which could partly be due to lockdown meaning verges all around were also left alone. Insects are everywhere, and the trees that usually get attacked by various blights are looking healthier. In a vague (and I want to vastly improve on this) nod to Permaculture I have mulched everything like mad, even using shredded bank statements and the vegetables are looking stronger than when I previously turned the earth and cleared away weeds.
It's all an experiment to be developed but our small patch of the world certainly feels more alive than any other year so far.




Our resident collared doves second nest of the year

Tomatoes and potatoes with bank statement mulch.

Postscript: I've just been down the garden to empty the compost bin and noticed a certain (don't know the name) vine that I usually pull off the laurel bushes is covered, and I mean covered, with honey bees...


Monday 25 May 2020

Junk shop magic

In the days long ago around mid March, when all shops were open and the sight of someone wearing a mask was an oddity. I was in an Oxfam shop on Goodge Street collecting together a load of old crockery to use for my book launch. After the event my kindly brother returned all items to another charity shop but I kept these two wonderments as a reminder of a particularly amazing evening before everything changed....

Saturday 23 May 2020

dog indifference to music

I've seen and heard other dogs howling along to various genres of music, but ours seem totally untouched by any type whether it be classical, jazz, Japanese noise terrorism, ska, opera, folk; Mark practising accordion, piano, cello, or Ezra playing guitar.
Here is a small experiment: me trying out a Kink's number on Gala.

Friday 8 May 2020


It is no doubt that our consumption of it has, and is having, terrible consequences on this sphere we inhabit.
I'm not a vegetarian, but have never eaten much meat seeing it as an occasional treat and more recently an occasional necessity - I have a low lying tendency to Trigeminal Neuralgia (sometimes affectionately (not) referred to as the worst pain known to man) - and feel that a from-time-to-time chunk of meat protein does keep my body stocked with B12 (vital in this case) and other vitamins. Having experienced the real full on TG thing I can honestly say I would eat a whole goat at that point if it would stop the attack, therefore chewing on the odd small steak feels warranted.
Mark (husband) would be totally happy as a vegetarian and often has been throughout his life, although travelling for music research in some countries required him to lapse - tricky to rebuff a host's kindness in refusing a meat dish.
He's now probably 90 percent vegetarian at home but accepts meat or fish if other options are not readily available when eating out - mostly the case in Southern France. My son is a true omnivore but happy to eat a mostly vegetable/pulses diet.
When I do buy meat I choose something locally slaughtered and usually from our town's bio-coop; just a small amount, maybe once a week. It might be a bit of minced beef to add to a pasta dish or a guinea fowl which will do for several meals - roast, curry, soup and two lots of dog meal scraps.
The word omnivore derives from the Latin omnis (all) and vora, from vorare, (to eat or devour), therefore we could conclude this means we eat everything, although many people would argue that we could but should we.


I don't know. Probably no one, as with just about everything else, has a finite answer. We have canine incisor teeth for tearing flesh, big square molars for chewing . . . would seem logical that humans are designed to eat whatever they encounter depending on the situation. We who live in countries where a massive food choice is easily available do have many options but certainly where I live in France meat is top of the shopping list, tofu something alien and mysterious.
Lockdown for us has partly meant going back to shop in town. We'd got lazy, driving to the supermarket to do everything in one go. We did always use the local bio shop for staple goods but now it, the town's veg shop and occasionally one of the butchers has become of prime importance.
A meat-based lunch planned yesterday (Mark the vegetarian makes a mean traditional lasagna) I cycled to town and joined the queue outside 'Jose's'.
We've been being buying occasional bits of meat from this shop for over fifteen years and part of the joy (if there joy involved in peering at animal carcasses) is engaging with the lovely couple who run the place. However overworked they are they always stop and chat, suggest the best way of cooking whatever it is you are purchasing, faces bright with enthusiasm over garlic sauce, accompanying vegetables, secret methods handed down, etc.
It's never a quick shop. All the clients receive the same treatment whether it's, in our case, buying a small packet of fresh steak mince, or two carrier bags bulging with carefully cut and wrapt flesh. I stood and listened to old Madame Whoever ordering an enormous and varied quantity of meats, each one discussed, advice given, choice of cuts offered. She was a small elderly woman who must have had a voracious carnivore appetite, or maybe she was shopping for ten people; I suspect not. Probably just her and Mr Whoever for a few days. But meat was obviously the central dish of every day: lamb cutlets, pork something, various sausages, paté, a chicken and two thick steaks . . . I watched Jose lovingly slice the steaks with a knife so sharp it literally melted through the flesh while they talked about pan heat and garlic.
My eyes wandered up to the old framed photographs that adorn the brown tiled walls and studied them as I have so many times while waiting. They have pride of place here, family members caught in sepia arrest, proudly holding splayed cow/horse? carcasses; the local abattoir, and a particularly fascinating photo which I must ask to look at in detail one day: a group picture, a family or small business perhaps. One man holding a large cut of meat, a dog grinning in the foreground, a man grasping the nose ring of a bull and another man holding - in demonstrative position - a huge lump hammer over the head of the bull, his job, presumably the 'knocker'. I don't know what the equivalent is in French, I just recall the name from reading Upton Sinclair's 1906 book The Jungle, a terrifying portrayal of (mainly) the American meat-packing industry.
Is there a safe point between the barbaric meat industry and no meat? Possibly, but it requires a complete rethink and education about meat generally. We have become used to anything being available whenever we want it; plastic wrapped, no preparation, no thought needed about where a pork chop or chicken leg actually comes from, the conditions the beast lived in before meeting its end.
As with so many other elements of how we live today, (which is being severely questioned at the moment as we attempt to deal with Covid), I think the answer is less. A lot less. Local. Small scale. Better quality. Occasional. Up the vegetable intake drastically, educate about real food, love the lentil, and seriously think about how and why this virus has come about. What nature might be telling us.

I've just found two of the mentioned photos, including the 'knocker'.


Sunday 3 May 2020

Latest Londonia review

Another positive and in depth review by Sarah Tanburn at HORLA - the home of intelligent horror.

I ENJOY a good sprawl of a novel about London and Kate A Hardy has served up a good one in her big stewpot of ideas and images with a solid side order of mystery. This is a long, immersive read, excellent for those of us waiting out lockdown... Hardy has created a complex world, rich in allusion and geography. It is satisfyingly sensual, full of smell and touch and noise ...

Saturday 2 May 2020

Great LONDONIA review

From Sci-fi and Fantasy magazine LOCUS.

Kate A. Hardy’s London of 2072 in Londinia  is  divided into two worlds. 
In the Cincture (hyper-center of old London Town, also called the Egg), the elite live a more-than-comfortable, mostly frivolous life, protected from the harsh realities of dire post-apocalyptic weather and a hand-to-mouth existence. Londonia (also known as The Pan), where life is nasty, brutish,    and  short, resembles Dickensian London. And like Dickens, Hardy portrays both the best and the worst of it.

Despite the poverty, vicious weather, and the considerable percentage of the population who are cruel and murderous, Londonia’s barter-based society is also full of true friendship, cooperation, and humanity. Hoxton, the protagonist, is of unknown and mysterious origin, but her intelligence, natural talents, and luck in attracting the best of comrades set her up as the best Finder – one with a knack and connections for finding desired commodities and trading them – in Londonia. She also becomes a Finder for citizens of the Cincture and moves between the two environments, which enables her to pursue answers to the puzzle of her past.

As compelling a heroine as the capable and beautiful Hoxton is, her finding partner, Jarvis, and her community of friends are just as well drawn, as are the denizens of the Cincture. The plot flowing through this rich world and animating the characters living in it is an intelligent commentary on current society and where we may well be headed, but it is also a traditional, if updated, story – and, consequently, a real page-turner.

Hoxton wonders who she is, but once she learns there is someone in her past she must find, her search for answers becomes imperative. There’s also a strong stream of romance, a dastardly villain, and room for a sequel. A deeply engaging and always-entertaining novel, the author’s superb use and invention of future language is brilliant. Paula Guran

LOCUS May 2020

Friday 1 May 2020

A few ink drawings

from my story 'The Katbells Fishing Community' which I'm about to make into a film for our 'Tales from the Vestry' Youtube channel.



life in detail

Constricted as we are in travelling about, the garden has become even more of a discovery zone; after around fourteen years of no pesticides and pretty much free range to all weeds every corner of it is a verdant surprise this year.
Maybe it's my imagination but there seem to be more insects, frogs and birds than usual. But not just in our garden, the whole area feels more alive: more bird song, uncut verges brimming with wild flowers and grasses. Nature must be nodding her head, hands on hips, smiling as she looks around: "Yep, this is better, yep, heading in a better direction . . .
We have a large collared dove population in the garden, a few resident pairs who nest - or attempt to nest - usually in bizarre places with no structure. This year a pair decided on a hastily constructed twig 'platform' in a large bush next to the terrace, so we were able to observe the whole young dove life cycle from egg to almost fully grown bird.
It was incredible how quickly the two lumps of fluff turned into miniature doves and then took their first wobbly flights, a matter of perhaps three weeks in all. . .
I felt quite proud as I watched them flap away as we had played a part in their maturity - the parent birds having largely nourished themselves and their offspring from our grain, and quite sad to loose that amazing little bit of life detail so close to the house.


Slightly blurry picture of the young birds as the camera homed in on the vegetation