Sunday, 23 November 2014


It sleeted the other day in Teddington, which I'm taking as a sign that the Wintersmith has stepped up for his turn at the dance.  As there's no planting or plant-activity left to do in the garden, I thought it might be an idea to just take stock of where me and my garden are at this year and what's planned for the quiet season.

First, we have a new addition to the family.  Our Sam had a baby.  I've mentioned her before, her name is Ellie, she's turning 1 in December and she's already toddling at a run.  She's got a fair vocabulary up to now:

Miaow = Bill or any cat
Doos = Juice
Doyan = Diane
Durj = George
Door = Door
Edjig = Hedgehog
Mum = Mum
Nana = Nana
Chickenchickenchicken = Chicken.

I buried my Dad this Autumn, which was as hard as you might expect.  I might write more on that in the next few months, but I'm in a weird sixth stage of grief right now.  I've gone through the five as normal, but my mind still isn't at rest so I've been making a lot of jam and I've been poopsocking heavily on the xbox.  On the plus, I can now make lemon curd.  He liked lemon curd did our Cubby, he liked the Beatles too, so when I did a job up Hampstead the other week I swung by Abbey Road on the way home, spent some time sitting by the zebra crossing with my thoughts.

It seems I've been shortlisted for a job as a lab tech.  Won't find out until tomorrow.

The garden then.  The trees out front had a fungal thing but I've treated that organically by dousing the leaves with diluted milk and by adding calcium to the soil.  The new thornless brambles are making it easier to gather the fruit, and Ellie loves doing that.  She sits on my Mum's lap out on the ramp and picks the blackberries that grow along the handrails.  There'll be more planted on the other side too, but not just yet.  I want to get two more cherries in first.

The back garden is having its annual lawn die-off.  The back garden faces North so we can only keep a lawn for a Summer.  The fruit bed is doing well though.  The loganberry plant is halfway along the trellis now, chasing the last of the Sun.  The gooseberries are looking iffy, in that I can't quite tell if they're dead or just hibernating and I shan't know until Spring.

Out front the neighbours' fence is still a bit dodgy.  It was put up by cowboys and so in the first breath of wind it collapsed and damaged their car and my pear tree.  I've made some repairs to it (because it's cheaper than cleaning up after cowboys - the last time they came out to make repairs they dug a hole round the post, filled it with dry cement powder and buried it) but I'm still not happy, so when I get some dough I'll buy a couple 8' tree stakes and drive them 4' deep.  Against that fence I've got an elderberry and three kinds of raspberries.

I'm looking at ways to make my front garden more wildlife friendly.  The bark on the ground is attracting woodlice, I've got a log with holes drilled into it which attracts ladybirds in the warmer seasons.  Plenty of dead wood for beetles.  Once my dwarf orchard grows to size it'll start attracting bats, at which point I'll consider bat boxes in the eaves.

Now birds and hedgehogs...  My front garden has two plantable areas, which I term the Island and the Outside.  Here's a map, not to scale:

The North edge of the Island is already lined with rosemary and lavender.  I think I might continue those around the Western edge and then along the South edge.  I'll site a hedgehog box in the centre and fill out the middle of the Island with gooseberries and bush roses.  There's already jasmine and brambles growing against the railings, and together it should make for a dense enough hedge to support birds and hedgehogs.  

At the Northernmost end of the Outside, up against the wall I've got climbing roses, Etoile de Hollande, but as they grow the bottom will need cover to look nice.  I'm thinking Buxus sempervirens, maybe bush roses, maybe lavender.  This'll come out by a foot or so and again I can work in a hedgehog box.  I'll put blackcurrants in front of that.  Maybe I'll separate the blackcurrants from the rest of the bush with a little hidden chickenwire so that Ellie isn't grabbing rose prickles. 

I'll put a narrow path down the middle of the Western bit of the Outside, from the blackcurrants down to just East of the Westernmost cherry.  At the end of this path I'll put a wee storage thing in the shade of the front fence (where little else grows), while either side of that path I'll sow herbs and strawberries.  I'll also put in bee pots to encourage bees.  

Next year I'll fit windowboxes for basil and sage.  I'm gradually accumulating nice pots, some of which will house a mix of flowers and herbs, others will hold mint by itself because mint is the Britain of plants: it'll colonise the entire pot! 

This year we were sufficient in three things: rosemary, bay leaves, and blackberries.  Next year we ought to be sufficient in those plus sage, raspberries, verbena, loganberries, blueberries, gooseberries and hopefully thyme.  Thyme's tricky though in my garden.  Within the next three years we should become sufficient in those plus strawberries, basil, mint, blackcurrants, elderflower, elderberry, figs, and seasonal stonefruits (apples, pears, cherries).  

And that's been my year!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Why the Samaritans' Radar is bone stupid.


The Samaritans have launched a Twitter Bot - those annoying things that follow you for no other reason than you once quoted a Beatles lyric or what have you - which will alert people's followers whenever they use a word or phrase on a list identified as having connotations of potential suicide.  I don't deny that this is a well-intentioned thing, but nonetheless it'll do more harm than good so I'm going to deconstruct it here.

1)  The Invasive Argument

  If you contact the Samaritans and they intervene then they are serving their purpose with your consent.  If you do not contact them, if you want nothing to do with them and they intervene anyway then that is an invasion.  Corporations can ask to be "whitelisted", ie the bot will ignore them, but in a shockingly arrogant display of paternalism individuals cannot.  You cannot in any way direct this thing to leave you alone.  If you are on Twitter then it deems you as being on its radar, and it will interfere in your business.

  We have this idea that all people who are contemplating ending their lives are lost souls in need of heroic salvation.  Some are, some aren't, but we cannot force this upon people from afar or we will ultimately achieve nothing.  Those who are genuinely bent on suicide will require something more than tweets to talk them down, if at all.  Those who want help, who want to be talked down, will often as not phone the bloody Samaritans!

2)  The Data Protection Argument

  This bot will end up sitting on a great list of tweets it has sent to people.  Essentially it is gathering links to personal data into a coherent archive without either the consent of those whose data it links to or any lawful authority to do so without that consent.  It is also potentially alerting people to the likelihood that someone has a mental illness, which is arguably a breach of Data Protection, the Equality Act, and accepted counselling ethics, and it'd be a daft judge that would consider the Samaritans to be acting as anything other than a counselling agency.

  Consider also that many people are followed on Twitter by their employers!  Telling an employer - rightly or wrongly - that an employee is suicidal could end up costing that employee their livelihood!
3)  The Equality Act Argument 

  Because disabled people, the mentally ill (as a subset of disabled), and LGBT people all have higher rates of attempted suicide and actual suicide than the rest of society, the negative effects of this bot will be disproportionately felt by these communities (and any others I've missed out), potentially leading to a civil breach of the Equality Act.

  If it inadvertently outs a person as transgender then that could arguably constitute a criminal breach of the Equality Act, which is highly likely given as one in three transgender people attempt suicide.  Furthermore:  a small subsect of feminists who notably use feminism as a front for transphobic bigotry has a proven track record of hounding transgender people to suicide.  The Sandyford leak happening at the same time as the release of Radar essentially hands these people an automated hit list.  All they have to do is follow the email addresses contained in the leak and see who pings the Radar, then lean on that person.  This is not a paranoid fantasy, this is a very real concern with genuine historical underpinnings.

4)  The Desensitisation Argument 

  If every time someone uses the language of bog-standard depression they get flagged to their mates as a suicide risk then their mates will turn the bot off or block it or what have you.  They'll grow sick of it and come to regard its warnings as spam, no different to the "Nigeria Letters".  When eventually the person is at genuine risk of suicide there will be a boy-who-cried-wolf effect in play and the warnings will likely go unheeded.

5)  The Own-Goal Argument

  Consider the arguments under 3 and 4, above, with suicidal people being encouraged or ignored.  Consider the argument under 2 with people's jobs being jeopardised (by the Samaritans, no less, who they might otherwise speak to after being laid off).  Consider the argument under 1, with vulnerable people feeling violated by the bot's interventions.  You have a person who is already at risk of suicide, who has had additional stressors, who has been dissuaded from reaching out to others, whose friends have been desensitised to their plight.  You've turned a person who might waver into someone more determined.  This has the potential to increase the rate of suicide in Britain.

For all these reasons I see Radar as nothing but a menace.

Saturday, 4 October 2014


I've been putting bulbs in for the new year.  

Behind the pear tree I've put in crocus bulbs.  They'll come up in Spring and hopefully they'll set seed.  I'd love for some pretty flowers to become naturalised in the garden.  I'll be planting bluebell bulbs in the January to the same purpose.  In both cases, crocus and bluebell, they'll grow in the wee nooks between other plants without bothering anything.  

They go up as far as the end of the fence, the full width.  Against the wall there in back I intend to grow climbing roses up and along the wall.  I'm considering growing Elder against the fence, so it's likely that not all of my crocuses will grow to flower, but with 75 bulbs in the ground you can be sure that a few will.  

In the island I've sown French garlic cloves.  Garlic is a magic thing: break a bulb down into cloves, sow the cloves 4" apart, and each clove becomes a whole bulb!  With anything from eight to sixteen cloves in a bulb, varying by cultivar, you have a greater than exponential increase if you replant every clove.  I shan't though.  I'm going to select for my five or six biggest bulbs each year and the rest will go to the kitchen, either for braiding and drying or for pickling.  They need a nice sharp frost in the Winter in order to divide out into bulbs, otherwise you just get a slightly larger clove than the one you buried, so with that in mind I'll be hoping for a good chill in the Winter.  Apples are a bit like that too, they need a cold Winter to produce a good yield.  

The garlic's in under the bark, to the left of the rosemary and this side of the sage.  The bark's a little thick just now, but that'll rot down over the Winter and put some carbon in the soil, mitigating the worst of any frost.  I'm quite tempted to close off this end of the island with a fan-trained damson, as the extra fruit will be very welcome.  

Still waiting on my qualification and transcript.  I've earned a distinction at HNC, which is all very wonderful, but it's doing me no good if I don't have the paperwork to show to universities or potential employers.  I'm feeling rather stuck right now and I don't like it, but with luck I'll have it all sorted ready to apply for the January intake.  


Saturday, 27 September 2014

Stuff in jars for the Winter

Now bear in mind a chutney has some staple ingredients: vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, that I shan't bother listing again for each.  I also tend to include bay leaves and chilli flakes in all my chutneys.

Rear, from left to right: 

  • Pickled shallots with apples, peppercorns, beet stalks and juniper berries.  
  • Pickled garlic with red peppers, basil, lemon thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns.  
  • Dried, home-grown sage.  
Middle, left to right: 
  • Dried, home-grown rosemary.  
  • Beetroot, onion and plum chutney.  
  • Tomato, red pepper, red onion and garlic chutney with home-grown oregano.  
  • Mango, green pepper, carrot and onion chutney.  
  • "Rhubramble" jam.  There's eight jars that size rather than one big jar in order to combat Bready Knife Syndrome.  
That should be me and mine set up for the Xmas period.  Our Sophie lives down in Reading so she's got an 0.25L jar of each chutney and one of the wee jam jars as cupboard-fillers for the Winter.  

Saturday, 13 September 2014


It's been a while, to say the least.  My first year as an undergrad was mayhem mayhem, so I've cashed out for an HNC.  I had the grades, no problems there.  It was pretty much straight Distinctions in everything, but the politics got to me.  Suffice it to say I've been busy.

My first niece, Ellie, was born in December.  She's adorable.  I shan't blog photos though because internet.

Got away over the Summer.  When you're part of the many worlds that I inhabit you tend not to have a circle of friends so much as a diaspora, so I arranged a list of couches to crash on, got myself a Golden Ticket - *sings the line* - and went off to see, well, the UK I guess.  England and Scotland at any rate.

I ended up staying in Aberdeen, Northampton, Dundee, Inverkeithing, Manchester, and Leamington, with stops in Stonehaven, London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, York and Coventry, before ending the Summer in Brighton with Julia from Stages of Succession where I picked up an award!  

In all, I probably racked up 3,000 miles in three weeks.  It was awesome!  This map by @scattermoon doesn't show the Brighton leg but other than that the lines taken are accurate, it should give you some idea.

Muchly recommended!  If you get the chance to put in a fortnight city-hopping then do so.  I saw more museums and galleries in that short space of time than I do in the average year.  I went on the RRS Discovery, stood inside a mock-up of the Large Hadron Collider, finally saw Body Worlds, and got to stand on the footplate of a very handsome steam engine.  Ain't stopped grinning since :)

So the garden then.  The garden has changed considerably.  The buddleia got cut down, so I put in fruit trees, thornless brambles and rosemary.  I've also painted the railings British racing green so's they don't make the place look like a doctors' surgery any more.  Alas, with the shade from the departed buddleia having gone away I'm having weeds come up out of the ramp faster than I can pull them out, but once the trees get a little bigger that'll sort itself out.  

On the left along the fence line are three cherries: morello, dessert, and another morello.  Visible on the right, between ramp sections, is a family-grafted apple and behind that, near to the taller fence is a family-grafted pear.  

As you can see I'm training thornless bramble to wind around the railings.  This year's growth will turn woody next year, providing a broad and steady platform for next year's growth.  In time the railings will all be covered in blackberries, I may even put in an arch with bamboo and have blackberries cascading above the ramp.  Yum!  Ellie's been picking blackberries all Summer, she loves them.  

My new bay project - Stan - is coming along nicely.  Here he is next to the entry out front.  

That's all thyme in there.  The two in front are orange thyme, then three lemon thyme in the middle, Stan in back.  Oh you should smell that planter after a storm!  

Out back, meanwhile, I've had a little change of heart.  My veg beds will never grow anything like enough veg to feed my lot, but they can grow enough herbs.  They're now my herb beds.  The little ones that were my herb beds are now my odd-job beds.  The fruit bed is mostly planted, save for raspberries which aren't even stocked until October.  

From the left we have rose, thorned bramble, three kinds of blueberry, a fig, and loganberry on the right.  The roses and brambles are to discourage a cat from sitting on the Strawbrary because it pisses George off, who then runs around the garden frantically, and my flower beds get trashed.  No cat, no crazy dog, no destruction.  

This being Autumn now I'm drying rosemary for storage, where it'll keep us in home-grown herbs until the Spring.  

And meanwhile we've got enough fresh in the kitchen to last us a while.  

Rosemary - Sage - Thyme - Bay

Looks kinda Skyrimesque.  Ah well, until next time :)