Thursday, 17 December 2015

Horsing About

Many, many years ago I used to frequent Bath Folk Club, when it was held every Sunday evening in the skittle alley out the back of the Ring o Bells pub in Widcombe. One of the artistes who'd play there probably about once a year was called Mike Absalom and he was brilliant. I am amazed to find that he's still going and nowadays paints (rather exquisitely as it happens) and also works as a children's entertainer. I am also glad to see that Bath Folk Club still functions and now meets not a stone's throw away from the Ring o Bells at Widcombe Social Club on Widcombe Hill.

Bear with me here, all right? See, I mention Mr. Absalom (who nowadays looks uncannily like Uncle Albert from "Only Fools and Horses", which is dead appropriate when you consider the theme of this post. Synchronicity or what?) because a rather earthy joke he once told between songs still sticks in my mind to this day, probably some 40 years later and it goes like this (excuse the language, but it works best with the original wording that he employed):

"How do you keep the flies out of yer kitchen?"
"Keep a bucket of shite in the hallway." (dunno why, but I picture horse manure in that bucket, hence the tale. Not the "tail" of course, that would be silly)

Aha! There you have the link to what this post is really about. The stuff that comes out the back end of a horse. Don't worry (as if you were anyway, eh?), part 2 of the Spinalonga story is waiting in the wings and will follow shortly, but something that happened just yesterday has to be related because it just goes to prove what a little gem I have in the woman I'm married to.

The soil in our vegetable patch is exhausted. It's dusty, yellow and in summer dries to such a hard consistency that the only way to get into it is with a pickaxe. A garden fork won't touch it, it's that hard. When I first "dug" it over (mainly with said pickaxe) and planted it up some eight or nine years ago it did manage to produce a couple of seasons of half-decent vegetables, notably some French beans, red onions, beetroot, aubergines, peppers, lettuce and a couple of other things as well. This was probably owing to the fact that prior to the house being built the land had lain fallow for a long time. By the time I'd planted it up for a third time though, full of expectation and eagerness to see my veg grow and grow and some day arrive on our table, it was decidedly awful and the crops deteriorated to the point where I gave up planting anything. Well, I have to admit that the occasional lettuce still manages to grow in it, quite why I've no idea. I have to plant them though because my friend and horiatis Mihalis from Kalathos hands me a plastic bag full of red lettuce seedlings annually and gives me that look that suggests that I may come to some harm if I don't put them in.

Of course, I've considered various ways of enhancing the soil. I've left it a season or two and then dug in the weeds and planted it up in the hope that it would have recovered through being allowed to rest. Nah. No good. Well, no good for the veg, the weeds had a great time re-establishing themselves.

I've talked to various Greeks in the area about the best way to boost the soil and been told that the best manure is goat manure. Have you ever SEEN goat manure? It's comprised of little pellets not much bigger than those left by a rabbit. Either most goats are severely constipated, or rabbits have watery eyes every time they do a no. 2.

And how in tarnation is one going to collect enough to make an appreciable difference to the soil? I am told that at certain times during the winter months, if one sits in the kafeneion up at Asklipio one may be fortunate enough to encounter some bloke with a pick-up who drifts in now and again to advertise the fact that he has sackfuls of the stuff on his flatbed and he's prepared to sell it. I can't imagine how much he must charge, but considering the man-hours involved in filling a sack with the stuff it'll probably require drawing out a lot more cash than the "capital controls" here currently will allow.

Probably be cheaper to buy some Moroccan (know what I mean? nudge, nudge) than the goat manure on the back of that pick-up truck.

When I ask a Greek about using horse manure the response is often "Ooh, no. Burns the soil. Goat is much better. If you use horse then you have to leave it to 'season' for quite a while before you can put it on." 

The things is though, our old friend Dimitri "the horse" (see the books in the RFR series for more about him) has had some of the horses he uses for tourists to ride along the beach on during the season tethered in our valley of late and they have, of course, been depositing generous quantities of their poo within walking distance of the garden. I also know from past experience in the UK that, despite the dire warnings to the contrary that I receive from some local Greeks, horse manure is nevertheless well useful as a means of enriching one's soil for growing stuff.

So, anyway, I bought a new laptop last week (wince) and had to nip down to Lardos on Tuesday to see if my friend and computer whizzo Panos could sort out a problem I had with the e-mail settings on it (another story. Believe me, it is. All sorted now though, but not by Panos, despite the fact that he's PDG generally with such things). So, there I was driving back up our kilometre-long lane when who should I come across pushing the wheelbarrow up the hill in the direction of the house but my better half. In the wheelbarrow was a very respectable load of fresh horse poo with a spade resting atop the whole pile.

The sight I encountered represented a deal of spade work and a substantial degree of physical labour on her part, and there's her suffering from a heavy cold too. Drawing up alongside her and lowering the window I expressed my admiration for her enterprise, whereupon she dropped the handles of the wheelbarrow, came around to my side of the car, removing her gardening gloves all the while and opened the car door. 

"You can do the rest, I'm knackered." She said and bade me exit the vehicle henceforth, forthwith, if not sooner. 

Now, I could have argued that I hadn't foreseen such an activity as part of my plan for the day; there are those that would have I'm sure. But I didn't have the heart. After all, prior to my returning she'd wheeled that barrow over half a kilometre down the lane, thrown  a hundredweight of the smelly stuff into it and begun wheeling it back, which represented an uphill push of the same distance. What can the decent chap do? He has to comply doesn't he? Scores a few points too chaps.

So, weeping (well, symbolically anyway) as I watched the car recede before me as she drove it on up to the house, I grabbed the handles of the wheelbarrow and began the trek. Actually, horse poo isn't all that heavy for its volume, unless you're wheeling it uphill all the time, in which case a certain Sisyphus comes to mind.

Reaching the front gates having worked up a very respectable sweat, I can tell you, I comforted myself with the thought that she'd no doubt have the coffee on to welcome me home.

No such luck. She was washing the car.

What a pleasant, bucolic scene eh?


  1. I well remember as a child, the competition to get the manure when the milkman's or the breadman's horses had deposited their jewels in the street. My father was always very quick off the mark--and he had a great garden. So forget the goats--it's horse poo you want! By the way, there is a boke in Papua New Guinea who owns a company called "Mr S**t"!! You should see the logo on his t shirts!

  2. Hate to tell you this but it needs to be well rotted before you use it......and preferably with some organic matter such as straw. Perhaps you should dig it all up again and make a manure heap in a corner somewhere to use at a later date!

    1. Yea I know all that. Thx anyway. I don't intend planting the area up until next year so I figured it could rot down in situ as it were. We'll be mixing in kitchen compost as I dig it in too. Thx Percy for the advice tho.