Friday, 6 September 2013

The biggest one you ever did see

Having a Kenneth Williams moment
On the subterranean last leg of our journey back to Blighty on Sunday, the only possible sport was in contemplating what awaited to cheer us on our return from civilisation.

One thing, of course, is The Girls. We are not immune to a syndrome, while away anywhere, of musing between ourselves on what the cats would think of such and such. After all, however daft it may seem to some, they’re our family.

In Collioure, for instance, we have occasionally seen small lizards – which provokes comments about how the cats would hunt them and then be rather surprised to find that their tails can come off without killing them.

And indeed, the terrible trio were delighted to see us. They didn’t even bother with the usual: ‘Who are you? You’re scary’ or the formality of a five-minute sulk. Their major concern was simple: fuss!

We’ve been immensely lucky over the years, with friends who will come in and feed and water them, and clean their litter trays. I much prefer it this way because, even if they do fret a little, they’re ultimately still in their own home, with their own familiar smells and places and toys and food and so on.

And I’ve heard more than a few horror stories about cats and dogs coming home from catteries and kennels with illnesses, fleas and whatever.

Some years ago, one of our cats – Trickie, who we’d ‘rescued’ from Battersea and was approximately 12 at the time – died suddenly while we were away on a long weekend. She’d gone and found somewhere dark, in a box under the bed, and simply curled up and died. It was unexpected and unpleasant to discover, obviously, but I’m glad that she was somewhere quiet and safe and familiar.

This bunch have had plenty of entertainment while we were away, as Ian, who is an absolute diamond, has been in both looking after them and sorting out our tiny home office.

He’s turned it from being a cramped, dark room into a light one, with – somehow – both more storage and more space.

Since his wife is allergic to cats and he loves them, this gives him the opportunity to enjoy some feline company. And we know from past experience that Otto in particular will sit for hours watching (supervising?) any work he’s doing.

We moved into the flat 18 years ago. As a new-build housing association block, it had carpets and basics – points that, as very low-paid hacks at the time, were both essential and very welcome.

But after 16 years, it needed work, so we’ve been steadily dealing with it over the last couple of years. And of course, once you sort one thing out, another goes – and everything else looks even shabbier by comparison.

The supervisor
We had been intending to do the kitchen this summer – the cupboards are falling apart – but after the boiler died early this year, that went out of the window. So we settled for a rather easier (and cheaper) job.

Good god: I remember the days – and with no faux romantic fondness whatsoever – when that boiler would have wiped us out. It should go without saying, but unfortunately doesn't in the UK at present, that low pay is no fun, and that poverty remains a very real situation for many, many people.

But anyway, there was also the question of seeing a ‘new’ room to welcome us home.

And then there was the patio and the potager.

By the time we unlocked the front door, dark had descended outside, so a full and proper inspection had to wait until the following morning.

In the event, there was plenty to be pleased with.

While the tomato plants have not produced a vast harvest, there is a nice collection of sizeable fruits that are just coming toward ripeness. And thank you to Lucie, who donated four to us after my attempts to grow from seed had all come to naught.

The chilies too are doing well – small, but the first ones are now turning red.

The thyme has died, but the oregano is flourishing. And the little olive tree, bought for decoration alone, is still sporting tiny olives. I doubt they’ll grow much further now, but it’s going to be transplanted into a bigger pot this autumn, replacing the lemon tree, which seems much more temperamental about temperature and water, and much less inclined to bear fruit than had been thought.

That south-facing wall of the patio really does have to be treated like the Mediterranean – in fact, very much like Roussillon, where frosts can hit, but where the heat in summer is high. I have much thinking to do.

Olives cope with frost, without needing to be wrapped in fleece – and indeed, a sharp spell of cold in the winter can actually help to promote to development of fruits in the summer.

Beyond the patio, in the carpark, the potager has done well. There are runner beans in various stages of development – even still some flowers – and I was able to enjoy harvesting the largest ones last night for dinner.

There’s some lettuce and the chard is knee-high and looking fantastic.

The shock was the courgettes. When we left, there were a number of very small ones, and when we returned, most had grown a bit larger – but one had grown insanely to at least a foot in length!

It was harvested on Monday evening and weighed in at a staggering 713g. And it still was a lovely delicate flavour when sliced and cooked for around 10 minutes with some mince and onion, that was simply garnished with fleur de sel, pepper – and nothing more.

Actually, it contributed to three meals.

Away from matters horticultural, I’ve always said that I don’t do new year’s resolutions.

But I have, in effect, made a number of post-holiday resolutions. I don’t want to lose all I gained in that three weeks in Pays Catalan.

Yesterday evening, I had an appointment at the local leisure centre, to sign up for a membership. I’m going to get back into a gym for the first time in 15 years. There are two reasons.

One: a bit of physical activity is a good way to deal with stress. And two, if I want to do more kayaking – and I do – then strengthening my torso, back, shoulders and arms wouldn’t go amiss.

And then there’s the writing.

According to a piece at the beginning of the week at BBC online, the ‘post-holiday blues’ include the feeling that nothing has changed – not least because you didn’t start that novel.

Well, I did.

And keeping more relaxed and energised could just be things that will help me continue it. That – and whopping big, home-grown vegetables!

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