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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Salvaging the garlic, and thinking about the day I should've died.

As the rain lashes down outside, the wind tugs at the trees, and reports come in of flooded roads, rivers bursting their banks - well, you’d almost think the summer was making a comeback. But no, it’s autumn, and the proof is that last night we got out the seed catalogues.

For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel that surge of hope and joyous anticipation that usually overwhelms me when I feast my eyes on those glossy photographs of plump, ripe vegetables. This year has been such an appalling one for gardening (and farming) that it seems all the usual verities have gone out the window - or been washed down the gutter. We have never had such a brutally cold and wet summer as this - and it seems that our weather has ceased to be reliable in any respect other than its utter capriciousness.

However, I made a list of likely purchases, avoiding spuds (this year full of slugs) and selecting in their place asparagus and artichokes. And maybe, I thought, we’ll try to sow onion seeds instead of relying on sets; or plant our broad beans in November to give them a head start. Maybe.

One of the few crops we’ve salvaged this year is the garlic. About half of it took off - perhaps due to having been planted in that brief warm spell in March - and a fair portion of those that survived did reasonably well. Ha! What we did gather, a few weeks ago, soon showed signs of being infested with some kind of mould or mildew.

Thankfully, I had a brainwave. Last night I broke the heads into individual cloves, blanched and peeled them, dropped them in hot, seasoned vinegar, and bingo!

Something attractive to put in the pantry. Today, using shop-bought supplies, some windfall apples from a friend, and a few of our own onions, I hope to make chutney.

As to desk-work, I shall carry on with my railway memoir, today attempting a rather downbeat story about the time, in December 1980, when I was dragged, on my back, in the dark, by my own train. I was very lucky to escape with my life. My daughter was less than three weeks old, and that’s who I was thinking of as I bumped along the trackside, whacking my head on the sleepers (ties) and trying to figure out how to get upright.

If I am up to it, there’s another job to tackle: namely, preparing a talk for a gathering of romantic novelists at Harrogate next week. I’m looking forward to this. My brief, my dream brief, is to talk for an hour about how I became a writer, how I scratched a living together, how I ended up ghosting for Mike Pannett, and how that has affected my other writing. I cannot resist revealing here that the first time I heard Mike’s voice, other than in a brief phone conversation, was when I decided to play one of the audio tapes he’d made about his policing career. I was in the western States, following veteran rodeo riders around Utah and Nevada from gig to gig. One night I was camping by a creek up a canyon, surrounded by willow, sagebrush, tamarisk and a bunch of bawling cattle. I lit a fire, ate my supper, and decided to sit in the car and play the tapes. Hearing that Yorkshire voice in such surroundings was, if I may be excused a cliché, bizarre.

One more notice, before I get dressed and start writing: I have managed to get the RSS feed up and running - and can report that it didn’t give me a headache. Neither did I resort to strong language. It wasn’t that hard to do, and should be even easier to use. All you need do is cast your eyes to the right-hand side of the page, top right, and click on  “Subscribe to Alan Wilkinson”.

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