Archive for January, 2009

The Tree of Ideas

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

In recent weeks I’ve been tempted to pitch a tent under the tree in Regent’s Park where I’ve had some of my best plot ideas in the past. I don’t mean I’ve sat cross-legged under this tree like a Hindu sadhu, waiting patiently for enlightenment. For one thing, I can’t sit cross-legged; for another, ideas haven’t floated down from the tree while I wait under it, because I haven’t ever had to wait. Ideas have always just miraculously appeared in my head as I pass the tree on one of my usual walking routes, even while I’ve kept an eye on my heart rate and fiddled for the umpteenth time with my iPod ear buds. 


I’ve flirted with theories about this piece of continuing good fortune. Maybe I’m in the zone by the time I get to the tree, and the ideas are a factor of blood pressure. Or the tree represents my own private but previously unacknowledged happy place. Or it’s a ley line crossing point. Or … 


Whatever the explanation might be, I’ve been in need of good plot ideas this month. Last December I finished a rough version of the new book, but I needed help to see what still needed to be done. A very dear friend read the typescript for me and made immensely helpful comments – and Jon, you know who you are and how grateful I am for that – but responding to them hasn’t always been easy.  Hence my hopeful circling of the Regent’s Park tree, and my idea of staying under it in a tent, with my laptop running, ready to tap in whatever ideas float down. But you know what? Apart from anything else, it’s too darn cold out there. As in, very cold indeed. And so – and although I don’t want to be even momentarily ungrateful to the Ideas Tree – I would rather it was this one.



That’s from a new book of photos that Graham Beattie mentioned on his book blog a while ago – a beautiful old pohutukawa that grows somewhere in the Hauraki Gulf in New Zealand. And it’s summer there now, and I can think of nothing nicer than walking past this tree and maybe pausing, and switching off my iPod, and just looking out at the incomparable view. 


But even so, maybe that wouldn’t be nicer than finally getting this book right. Wish me further luck with the Ideas Tree! 


Not so many of them now…

Friday, January 9th, 2009

In June last year I posted entries about the fifty-seven baby leeks we planted in our veggie garden. They did fantastically well – mostly because of the rotten wet summer we had in London – and although generally we lose a few plants as soon as they’re in the ground, all the leeks survived and flourished.  And now we’re happily eating our way through the whole bed! An excellent leek soup from one of the Moro cookbooks; grilled leeks; leeks quickly steamed in a tiny bit of water and a dash of butter: they’ve all been delicious.

When you grow veggies, and especially when you grow them a bit of a walk away from where you live (our veggie plot is part of a community garden that’s about 10 minutes’ walk from our flat) you tend to feel high levels of anxiety about their welfare. Well, I do anyway.  We generally buy baby plants from a catalogue (Marshalls, the kitchen garden specialists, are the best I know) but sometimes we also plant seeds, and this year I’ve ordered a neat little propagator for the living room windowsill, so we can start off beetroot, pumpkin and squash seeds. 

I don’t think I have enough patience to be a real gardener, but I certainly have enough worry-genes to qualify. Will the seeds sprout this time? Will the baby plants be OK when they’re transplanted into the ground, and do we have enough cut-down plastic water bottles to protect them against slugs and snails?  Did we prep the ground well enough? One gardener I know feels as responsible as if they’re his children: all these helpless little things relying on him for survival. “I’ve practically given them names,” he says, “and I’ve done my best to choose the right schools.” So when the slugs and snails pounce (if such slithery things can pounce) he’s bound to take it personally.

Part of the pleasure of veggie gardening lies in the planning. We’ve just decided to give away our currant bushes (too many currants disappear mysteriously just as they’re ripe – and we net them, so it isn’t the birds). We’ve also given up Brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli for a while because the last lot failed spectacularly, and maybe we hadn’t got the necessary rotation right. Our tomatoes never seem to ripen before tomato blight hits, and I’m sick of making green tomato chutney, so we’ve given them up too.

So, enter our new hopes and take a bow! Swift early potatoes, Boltardy beetroot, Hunter butternut squash and Crown Prince pumpkins will join our old favourites, the Prenora leeks and Enorma runner beans and the sweetcorn. We always have rhubarb and spinach and Swiss chard, and salad herbs and the gooseberry bushes (no one steals those fruit, the plants are too spiky).

And in the meantime, waiting for the sun to return and the ground to warm up, we have the rest of the leeks to enjoy. And believe me, we do.  Twenty-nine now, and counting down with pleasure.