Monday, 20 March 2017


The Equinox is here, and that feels like the right time to review the progress of my 'learning by doing' indoor gardening project.

January: first kale shoots
I started in January as I meant to go on, finding out what sorts of things could stand to be sown indoors so soon after the winter solstice.  I settled on celery and kale.  Success has been limited.  Kale has been easy enough to germinate, but getting it to survive repotting has been a struggle.  (One problem is that kittens keep eating it, more on which presently!).  It's germinated slightly better in soil with a pH I managed to lower a little bit by mixing compost and bought 'potting soil' than it did with just my unadulterated compost, but only marginally so.  Thinning out the shoots a little has helped, but it's slow going.  Perhaps this is just the nature of kale.

Celery, sown Jan 17, pictured March 17
Celery has germinated a little better in the compost (of around pH 7) but again, it's slow going.  There haven't been too many sunny days yet, and the average daily temperature hasn't risen much above 15 degrees, so perhaps I'm just being impatient.  Good gardeners are patient.  Nature is patient.  I am not.  Anyway, the celery shoots are starting to show some signs of improvement, so maybe with spring on the horizon I'll get a plant or two to establish itself.

It's peas that have shown the most promise.  Now the kittens have discovered tinned food, and won't really settle for the cheaper, poxy dried stuff anymore I find myself with a steady stream of tins (they can get through one a day between the two of them).  Hammer a few holes in the bottom for drainage, and you've got yourself a supply of pea pots.  Pleasingly, the peas have taken well to any compost or soil I've put them in, and seem to germinate happily in very little direct sunlight.  So I'm calling that a win: every time the cats have eaten their way through a tin of food, another few peas can be sown.  Cycle of life I suppose.

My most satisfying discovery, that emerged from my celebrations of the recuperative power of spring onions, though, has been with cabbages.  After about a month in water, plant the ends back into your soil, and you will be rewarded with an abundance of edible leaves.  This I promise you.  Throwing a couple of leaves in each time I make a soup feels as good as it tastes.

"A house is a machine for living in" popped into my head as I was typing just now.  This is my fantasy: a house full of edible plants, so many that you'd never have to shop for food again.  Such a thing is clearly possible - but when and how could such a thing be available to the masses?  How much can you really grow in a bog-standard one bedroom flat.  Enough to feed yourself one week a year?  Even that feels optimistic, but such is the nature of fantasy.  Time to get working on the potatoes.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

On staring out the window

The feeling that you're supposed to be doing something can be a hard one to shake. I feel I'm luckier than others I know in this respect in that I'm rarely racked by a guilty feeling that I might be "wasting time". As Bertrand Russell, a champion of idleness who nevertheless managed to get plenty done in his long, long life, said, time to you enjoy wasting isn't really wasted at all. Russell lived to be 97, suggesting that if he practiced what he preached on the subject of "laziness" (his political activities and promiscuous sexuality gives us good reason to think so, viz. his many other writings on these subjects) his idleness may well have been a contributing factor to his longevity. Scientific evidence now appears to back this up. Work is bad for you. Overwork can literally kill you; and being dead is bad, at least my opinion. (Anecdotally, a director at the company where I still (sort of) work recently died of a heart attack at the distinctly un-Russelian age of 47. The rumour was he was on a treadmill (an actual treadmill) at the time, having realised only that day how stressed he was, and how little time he'd been setting aside for exercise, not to mention rest and relaxation. This was a man, I should also add, who was apparently healthy: trim, a non-smoker, a loving father and husband, happy and fulfilled. But stressed, and now he's dead. He will never be any of those things ever again. So it goes).
Of course, Russell's being an aristocratic, Nobel Prize winning philosophical polymath certainly didn't hurt his chances of longevity, free from the drudgery of manual labour that killed countless millions in the twentieth century for the sake of what today we call "prosperity". Most of us will never be any of those things, will never have the time to contemplate and explore the nature of life in this world to the degree and extent that Russell's privilege allowed. We are simply too busy most of the time. For all that we confide in each other about how tired and busy we all are (how often, when someone asks you how you are, do you use the word 'tired'? - and not just in the end-of-a-long-day sense, but meaning something deeper, more lasting than that, something that a good night's sleep just isn't enough to relieve) the business of 'busy-ness' has become a status symbol. We wear our oppression as a badge of honour. If you want proof that late stage capitalism perverts everything wonderful about life, you don't need to look any further than this.
What's the solution? I feel that what really eludes us in life is not how difficult it is to be happy, but how easy. The hardest thing in the world is admitting how easy it is to be free. We want it to be a struggle. We want to feel that freedom and happiness and joy and all the things that really matter in life are things that we must earn. We feel that if we haven't earned these things, that we don't really deserve them, and that if we haven't earned them, anything that feels like happiness can't be the real thing.
I resist these feelings every day, and I do so unapologetically. I celebrate my laziness. I stare out the window and let my mind wander wherever it may, and for as long as it takes for good ideas to come. As long as it takes to reconnect with Joy, with Life, with the Cosmic Giggle. That's where this blog post came from, funnily enough. So take some time today just to stare idly out the window. Think of something that makes you laugh. Or think of nothing at all. This won't be a moment, a minute or an hour, that you have earned, or need to justify to anyone, yourself included. It is your birthright. Go on. Just stare out the window for a bit.  It could save your life.