Tuesday, 21 December 2021

The shortest day...

      Well thank the Northern Gods that I have made it once again to the shortest day of the year! On top of all my other instabilities I am damn sure that I suffer from seasonal adjustment disorder (SAD, quite apt). It affected me mostly during those happy years that I spent toiling away in factories with not a window to glance through at the outside world. I would travel to work in the dark and then travel home in the dark at this time of year, not really suitable for an outdoor loving caveman like myself. These days SAD has much less a hold upon my mental condition as it did in those oil and grease covered days, as my working day is spent primarily outside. Even when poor weather dictates that gardening is 'off', I can spend time in the Orc's Workshop with the main door open allowing the short day's light come in. The only problem with having this door open though is that passing neighbours will just 'drop in' for a chat which, although is fine, means that I am distracted from my work.

     Tis been a tad different this year because of the bloody 'snap' and I have yet to be able to work outdoors nor in the workshop due to the slower than desired healing of my bones and I can feel the effects of SAD bearing down on my mind, compounding everything else that is peeing me off at the moment through not being able to work, money worries, frustration born of not being 'the provider', inactivity, weight gain, feeling more aches than I care to mention, disrupted eating and sleep patterns and the list goes on. It all takes it toil on one's mental health yet somehow I am getting through it, albeit with good days and bloody awful days. 

     But enough of the doom and gloom, though hopefully talking about my mental health helps others, tis the shortest day of the year and after today daylight starts extending its time with us pushing the hours of darkest back a tad every day. Before long the days will be that long I might even have time to do everything on the lists (though I am damn certain that the 'lists' just reproduce faster in the the longer days!), broken bone allowing. 

     I quite happily admit that today is probably  definitely my favourite day of the year, Birthdays? just another bloody reminder that I am getting older, Christmas day? bah humbug just a waste of money and anyways it's not even that usurpers proper birthdate, New years day? again another year older and stupid resolutions that just don't last (especially the one about not swearing), Valentine's day c'mon really? I am a bloody caveman after all! I think that you may just about be getting the picture by now. No, today is most definitely the best day of the other three hundred and sixty four and a bit days for me. 

     I always feel so positive when I have managed to get this far through the year, each lengthened day just lifts my heart and soul that little bit more and its a good feeling to have so I give a little nod to the Northern Gods for letting me through to this part of the year. 

     Not to sure if I shall post again before Christmas as daughter and son in law are due up tomorrow evening for a stay over the festive time (Omicron allowing) and I may be far to busy quaffing ale, extending my girth and generally just basking in the sheer pleasure of a proper family Christmas, although if you mention I said that I will, of course deny it. So I shall take the opportunity now to thank one and all of you who have visited here, followed my ramblings and have taken the time to comment upon them. 

     Wishing you all the very merriest of Christmases and an absolutely wonderful and bountiful New Year. 

     With much love,

      John the Caveman

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

House plant I...

      Last month I scribed the post ‘Not of this time’, found here, in which I tried to describe the  my internal feelings of being from an earlier era and how this, and other factors  has led to both mine and G’s interest with some of the aspects of the Victorian era. I briefly described our desire  to bring a ‘Victorian’ feel to our small abode as we proceed to make it and its garden our little haven. As with many of us this is destined to be a long process, to be carried out as and when a small budget and very little spare time dictates.

      But sometimes a little something falls into place that just gives a tiny step towards the long term goal. Take the other day, we had taken in a parcel in for neighbours whilst they were away over the weekend. I called around to drop it off and obviously stayed for the compulsory hot drink and catch-up. I noticed they owned a particular plant in their porch that was a throw back to my childhood and I pinched (after asking damnit, oh you people!) a couple of cuttings to grow on for myself. The particular plant in question?....

Chlorophytum comosum

      Yep a Spider plant, it was one of those plants that seemed to be in everybody’s household back in the day. Its popularity was probably due to the fact it was as damn near as indestructible a houseplant as you could get then, rivalled probably only by the Aspidistra in its toughness. It popularity has waned over years but it is still a very versatile and reliable houseplant and can add a touch of greenery to most rooms.

     The plant was first introduced to the shores of this country from darkest southern Africa by those plant hunting Victorians, the pesky blighters. In its native land it can be found as ground cover within several different situations. The fact that it once was found in many a Victorian home makes it an ideal candidate for what we would like to introduce into our own home. 

   It has several commonly found variations of leaf colour:- green with an inner white strip, green with outer white strips and all green. Not only does the plant’s foliage  make for attractive viewing but the plant may also produce clusters of small, creamy white flowers. It does not depend though upon the flowers being fertilised for reproduction as it produces masses of small plantlets upon runners that hang downwards from the pot allowing the plant to be utilised in a hanging situation. These small plantlets are where the plant gets its common name from as they are said to resemble spiders hanging down on their silken threads. Though perhaps a little bit of poetic license has been used here as the runners are a tad thicker than a spiders silken thread and they’re the weirdest looking spiders that I have ever seen m’thinks.

     As I mentioned earlier, a Spider plant is a tough little bugger and is very undemanding in its care. Once established it may tolerate all but the lowest and the brightest of light levels  and will survive forgetfulness in watering to the extreme. Its only probably weakness in general care is that it does like being overwatered and requires a reasonably well draining substrate. They are a relatively disease free plant with their most common ailments coming from overwatering which may lead to the roots rotting away and over fertilisation which can cause the leaves to ‘burn’ and die off leaving a papery brown remnant.

     Another benefit of giving a home to a Spider plant is that studies have found them to be very effective at absorbing airborne pollutants. So not only do they improve the look & feel of a room, bring in a little nature, produce lots of mini plants to give as gifts, are easy to care for they also improve your air quality, hell it’s a no brainer m’thinks.

     So the very first, albeit very small, step has been taken to enhance our little abode and bring to us that peaceful refuge that we both so need. Just need to find a suitable pot for the bloody thing now.....

Monday, 13 December 2021

Tis a slow recovery...

      I have to admit at becoming rather frustrated at my recovery rate after t' snap. But then again I might only have myself to blame, being impatient and wanting to get back to living instead of mopsing around. We had a blocked outside drain t'other week which had been overflowing every time we showered, bathed or used one of the kitchen cleaning appliances. It was becoming worse, flooding the yard, and, as I was concerned about possible health issues that may arise I decided to clear the bugger myself. After all my shoulder wasn't feeling too bad and of course I would work slowly and carefully, oh the greatest plans of mice and men (m'thinks you already know where this is going!).

     So against my better judgement (actually against any grain of common sense I might have once possessed) I proceeded to clear the offending 'grey water' drain only to find the nearby 'run off' drain was also blocked. A couple of painful hours later found me shattered and prone upon the sofa thinking "well that was a crap idea", as my clavicle throbbed and the pain killers were having little effect, bugger! So two hours of manly stupidity has probably set me back a couple or so more weeks which is not ideal when there are not two pennies rubbing together in my pocket, ho hum at least the drains are clear and flowing freely.

     So that was t'other week and yesterday was the first time that I actually felt like stretching my stumpy little legs for a short walk since the snap. Hell, just half an hour's walk found me back home, sweating profusely and absolutely bloody knackered. But mentally oh what a difference it made, if I could have taken another step it would most certainly contained a spring within it m'thinks. I had just about forgotten the mental health benefits of simply walking in the countryside and the easing of a troubled mind that it brings. Over a decade ago I used to walk seriously, a fifteen mile daily walk on the welsh hills (yes daily) became a normal stroll for me and longer walks on seldom visited paths became the norm over the weekends. Yesterday's walk, as well as reminding me of the mental health benefits of such exercise served to show how easily it is to lose ones fitness levels (and for moi, pile on the pounds since the snap). 

    So today, being the brave little soldier that I am, I set off to repeat yesterday's short walk, yep same knackering result plus the addition of aggravating the tendon that attaches to my tibia by the knee joint causing excessive limping and a dull ache to rival my shoulder pain, oh the joy (damaged both of these tendons chasing my van down a hill a couple of weeks before the snap, after I forgot to apply the handbrake, but that's another story). So here I now sit at my keyboard bemoaning my physical decay and smelling like a chemist as I am swathed in gel to ease the aches and pains. But once again mentally I am feeling so much better, and this is the only incentive that I need to tackle the very same short route tomorrow.

     There was a reason for today's particular route, I had previously agreed to 'baby sit' a neighbour's Jack Russel (tis a mutually beneficial arrangement with Bramble spending time there when we are on our trips to Londonium). So this is the little tyke that I picked up at the halfway point of the walk...

    He is a cracking little bugger, full of the spirit that is so typical of the breed, and fortunately Bramble gets on with him like a house on fire...

     As to the walk, it was very uneventful under a grey sky but at least I finally observed a little of the destruction wrought by the latest storms...

     Apparently the lower fallen tree blocked the road for several days as the local council and Scottish power (yes I am still here in Wales) argued the toss over whose responsibility it was to remove it due to its close proximity to overhead power lines. I was sorely tempted to fire the trusty van up and pay a visit once the evening's light had gone, pretty pointless though as both trees were pine so not good for the log burner, yes my shoulder would be even more knackered and finally (and the deciding factor if I am honest) G would have probably .. ahem.. sorry, G would certainly have had something to say if she had caught me reverting back to my pirating days!

     And that is about that for this post other to say that I now know my resolutions for the New Year which are being determined to increase my fitness levels, decrease my recently gained poundage and finally, most definitely not get caught pirating by G.

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Good bloody riddance....

      It all started around two years ago after a rather unpleasant encounter with a nearby neighbour. I had a considerable amount of building and gardening materials stacked up in front of the Orc’s Workshop (as my garage has been newly christened), and yes it did look a tad untidy but that is a result of running a business such as mine, especially when your garage is stuffed to the rafters with ‘stuff that one day may come in useful’! As one small nod to security I had also attached a 'no trespassing sign' onto the garage door....

Ok it's not quite this tidy...again!

     This particular day I was busily organising my van for the next day’s tasks when I heard a very well spoken woman’s voice behind me asking if  “she could have a word?”, dusting off the day’s detritus I said "certainly", expecting a neighbourly chat. I recognised the elderly woman as one who lived in one of the two more expensive houses on the road and inwardly rubbed my hands together thinking perhaps there may some work forthcoming, oh foolish mortal that I am. 

     The woman immediately launched into what I take was a well rehearsed speech, about how her and her husband were desperately trying to sell their house and that the state of my drive was affecting their asking price and was also “bringing the neighbourhood down”. I gently pointed out (when she had finally paused for breath) that the materials were for gardening projects but as I was a sole trader it takes time for myself to clear and utilise the materials because, if I am not working then unfortunately I am not earning. I also suggested that mine was not the untidiest driveway in the local as several were stacked with materials having building work carried out on there homes and one driveway in particular on the road was just plain unkept. Begrudgingly she agreed that she could indeed explain to prospective viewers that I was having building work done. I was just thinking that this was not going too bad when it took another turn, with her asking “when was I removing that sign?”. 

     The warning signals were now hammering upon my dull senses but still were yet to set off my ‘spidie senses’ although I becoming a tad wearisome of her tone. “Which sign would that be” I asked her innocently (it is the only sign on my garage, re piccy). Now understanding that she was talking to a simpleton she pointed to the no trespassing sign sharply, rather snappily saying “that one, it’s not funny and is ruining the neighbourhood “ (again?) I have to admit to being a tad irked at this point and patiently explained (perhaps slightly gritting my teeth) that the sign was a legitimate message that I did not wish uninvited people on my drive, or within my workshop as I kept my business dependant machinery within. Unfortunately this did not appease her and she kept going about how I should have more respect and do more for the community etc, etc, etc.....

     I could see that the conversation was now going around in circles as nothing I said was going to placate her, and I was also bloody hungry as it already been an exceptional long day. So I just put my hands up and explained firmly that the drive will be cleared as time and finance allowed and the sign would be remaining on my garage door. I was certainly not expecting what happened next....

     From this tall, well dressed and very well spoken lady’s mouth erupted a torrent of vile language that, to  honest, would have made a sailor blush with embarrassment! Apart from the lavish use of Anglo Saxon she screamed at me that “all my neighbours hated me and were scared of me" and she was going to waste no time in reporting me to the police and to the council. To say that I was taken aback by this outburst was as big an understatement as when one of King Harold’s henchmen suggested that “if those Normans were not careful they were going have somebody’s eye out with all them bloody arrows”. I just stood there, perplexed, as she turned and strode back towards her house, only for her to wheel around mid road and scream “you’re a f..king nutter and should be f..king locked up” before finally turning and leaving.

     Now I happen to pride myself upon being able to handle myself in most situations but this really cut me down and left me dazed. As most who visit these pages know, I suffer from severe depression and as I sat at home re-running the encounter through my head it had a massive effect upon me. I doubted myself, did not sleep at all that night and questioned myself time and time again until it was running around within my head like a frenzied tornado. The next morning found me calling in upon all my near neighbours and asking them if they had a problem with my drive, the sign and importantly with myself. All the conversations followed the same pattern with myself explaining the reason for the questions and each and everyone of them basically telling me not to be so daft and that I happened to be one of best ‘new neighbours’ in the village (had only been here three years up until then). Two of my neighbours recounted similar stories of conversations with this particular woman were she had ended up ranting at them like, as one put it, a bloody deranged banshee. 

      Feeling reassured by my neighbours responses and reassuring words I tried to put the matter behind me but it continued to prey on my mind and every time I approached my drive, garage or van (a daily occurrence) I could feel a sense of misgiving inside and I found myself glancing across to see if ‘she’ was there. Eventually my mind eased as no further episodes occurred, until that is about ten months ago when both her and her husband this time approached me ranting together. I think it re-ignited because I parked in front of their house for twenty minutes one evening, I only did this as there was no other space within over a hundred yards of my garage and I needed to unload the van ready for a clearance job the next morning (actually it was their car in my usual spot that caused me to have to park there even though they had a clear drive...go figure). 

     This time though I started filming them on my mobile phone which immediately put them on the back foot. The language abated although she did try to grab the phone out of my hand a couple of times. The lines that I was hated came out, how dare I park in front of their house! and that I was a bloody disgrace was banded around a couple of times, I wouldn’t have minded too much but my driveway was a lot clearer as I had taken some time off earlier in the year but I guess you cannot placate folk like these. I stood up for myself a little better this time and explained that they were wrong in their assumptions about me, that if they would like to come with me and talk to the other neighbours I'd be happy to (they didn’t want to do this for some reason, again stating that the neighbours were all afraid of me), that if they had not baited me with parking on  several occasions where I usual parked, away from their house with its clear drive that I wouldn’t have had to park in front of their house this once, which is the last thing that I wanted to do. Oh and anyway I had done nothing illegal as it is a public road. No amount of reason was going to diffuse the situation so I just told them to go as I had reached my limit. Her final shot was the nutter line again but she was careful not to swear this time. The next day I reported them to the local Bobbie, but as usual he proved as much use as a chocolate fire guard, and a village councillor who sided with me having himself having similar experiences with this silky spoken lady, ahem, and politely offered to have a word if anymore situations arose.

     I am not exactly sure as to the reasons I have written about this, only that today there was a large removal lorry loading up outside the 'dynamic duos' house and that the feeling of pressure relief I felt was indescribable. Mental illness is a terrible affliction that cannot be seen by the casual observer, nor can it be quantified in a specific measurement. You never realise what affect your words or actions may have upon a person, especially one who is suffering inwardly. The Black Dog respects neither gender, age or colour and from personal experience is a bloody terrible thing to suffer, I would not wish it upon my own worse enemy. I am truly relieved that today I can now close the book upon this particular chapter and hopefully the use of my own workshop and drive will not fill me with that sinking feeling anymore when I approach it.

Sunday, 5 December 2021

Wildlife gardening, episode I of a highly irregular series...


     Episode 1, a short introduction 

     A client's one question that brings me the greatest joy as a gardener is "how do I encourage wildlife into my garden?", just the very thought that another soul wishes help wildlife warms me cockles. There are many answers to this question and these are dependant upon the many variables that can occur within the client's garden. The variables may include soil composition, the aspect of the garden, the existing planting within the garden, the garden perimeter composition, the location of the garden (our garden in the welsh hills can be up to 4 degrees cooler than gardens not two miles away at a lower elevation), garden usage so the list goes on. It soon becomes apparent that the task of encouraging wildlife can differ greatly from garden to garden. 

       Having said this, for me there are four basic steps to be implemented  that will increase the variety of fauna within the majority of gardens, regardless of there size. In no particular order they are as follows: Improve the soil quality with organic material, add shelter for beneficial insects in the form of a log or stone pile, reduce or eradicate the use of chemicals, and add water. These are the basic steps that I try to encourage clients to implement, even if they have not considered encouraging wildlife to their garden before meeting with myself. The basic premise of these steps is to encourage the invertebrates and micro fauna to flourish in the garden as these are essential building blocks in the development of a successful wildlife garden.

     All of these steps are reasonably easy to implement regardless of the size or location of your garden. It is also worth noting at this point that a garden that encourages wildlife does not have to appear as an untended and unloved blight amidst the surrounding gardens of perfectly striped  lawns, arrow straight borders and chemically induced ‘pest’ free (i.e. wildlife sterile deserts) of your neighbours little ideas of suburban heaven if that is what worries you.

     So the premise of this irregular series upon wildlife gardening is to hopefully introduce people to the concept of a type of wildlife gardening that will not only provide a haven for our beleaguered native flora and fauna in a way that does not turn a garden into a blight within the gardens of suburbia but will hopefully introduce people to the sheer joy and peace that may be found when you can sit quietly surrounded by a myriad of different species of our native wildlife. It will be then that your garden will truly become a place of peace, meditation and joy. 

     Finally just a thought for you to consider, take a moment to consider the amount of land within this country that all of our gardens take up, its a huge area of a mainly untapped wildlife resource. Now consider what could be achieved if every garden was managed in such a way as to encourage wildlife to flourish within its borders. If this was ever to happen the combined area of wildlife supporting land would total more than any one of our national parks. 

     Hopefully you will enjoy this irregular series, and maybe it may just encourage some of you to consider changing the way you garden, you never know, you might actually enjoy it!

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Workshop blues...


apocalypse workshop

     I guess I must now have one of the untidiest 'workshops' known to man (I used to write "mankind" but age has taught me that as a race there is not an abundance of kindness within it), which is quite bemusing for me. As an engineer I was extremely methodical and ruthlessly tidy in my work habits and to have my workshop in its present state is extremely frustrating for me.

      I could give you many excuses as to why it is in this chaotic mess such as : I have no time, I cannot throw it  away as it may be useful one day (after my expiry date!), I am far too busy working to earn a crust, there is always something more pressing to do etc, etc, etc.... the list goes on but you get the general idea. 

     Well at the moment, because of 'the snap' I certainly have time but unfortunately not the capacity to work, bugger! But being unable to work has given myself the time to re-evaluate various aspects of my present life including how I earn a crust. Part of the original plan, when I became self employed, was use the growing seasons to push the gardening side of my business and then, as this work tailed off in the winter months use the workshop to service and repair garden related machinery. But, as with most great plans, things did not work out as I had thought they would. Over the last few years I have taken on only a small amount of machinery maintenance as I have had a reasonably steady flow of mainly landscaping work throughout the darker months, from patio laying, garden wall building, ditch clearing, garden clearing, some house decorating, concreting shed bases, shed erection and other such tasks and as a result the workshop has fallen more and more into the sorry state at which we now find it.

     But now, after this time spent re-assessing my work and also after realising that my body does not bounce anymore (surprising when you consider how rotund I am), I realise that the heavier work must slowly taper off and work of a slightly less physically demanding nature must come more to the fore. With this in mind I have been planning for when my clavicle bone is un-snapped  and I can once again become pro-active physically as well mentally. So the plan for the workshop, as it stands, is as follows:- 

1. Ruthlessly clear the workshop by either selling, giving away or dumping absolutely anything that is not required (if it's not used it goes). 

2. Install workbenches with implemented storage.  

3. Divide workshop into two distinct areas, machinery area and a larger project area.

4. Ensure adequate lighting and power outlets, 12v and 240v, replacing fuses with trip switches.

5, Re-lay and seal concrete floor as the old one is just breaking up and the dust finds its way into every nook and cranny.

      So that is the basic plan to establish my workshop as a going concern that will contribute income to the business. As well as machinery maintenance I am also planning other projects but there will be about these as and when they develop.  But in essence my long unused engineering skills will hopefully start to come more to the fore and the heavier landscaping work diminish a tad, well a lot. 

     Oh and one final thing whilst I am here, this workshop side of the business cannot be expected to take off under a gardening banner so I have come up with a title for it to set it apart and that is 'The Orc's Workshop', catchy is it not?