Garden Peas: Planting and Sprouting

Two weeks ago* I purchased a packet of vegetable seeds I had not considered growing before: early onwards garden peas.

Pea Packet

Available from the 99p Store.

The advice I sought from my gardening books explained I would need a deep container and some cane. I wanted to utilise what I had so I took an old, unwanted black bin and cut it down to size. Due to the thick, tough plastic I had to use a spade and carpet knife to create the fifteen-inch high home for the peas. I also used a pitchfork to pierce holes in the bottom for drainage.

Bin Bin.

I then filled the container with forty litres of multipurpose compost mixed with a little sand, and planted eight seeds, three to five inches apart. I stuck four pieces of cane into the soil and tied them together near the top with jute string, before watering the peas.

Exposed Peas Exposed Peas.

In a week all eight seeds had sprouted so I choose today to fill the container with four more, the maximum number the surface area could take.

Green Peas

While researching techniques again I discovered a problem I initially overlooked: exposure to pests. Despite owning a cat, my garden regularly attracts many birds. I did not realise the potential pitfalls of an open container of wrinkled first early peas. I was very fortunate not to suffer for my mistake. So to correct it I cut some all-purpose netting. Trial and error dictated it was best I placed the bin on top of the netting and brought the rest up the sides, so it could be tied to the cane. A natural slit, also tied by some string, offers me access to the peas without ruining my design.

Netted Peas

Although peas may be easy and cheap to grow I am learning how to apply important thrifty gardening practices to protect my crop. I am therefore waiting on further developments before I provide any more homes for the remaining two-hundred and thirty-eight stored seeds.

*Saturday 25 April 2015

My First eBook: Couple of Moments (2015)

I am very excited to announce that today is the official launch of my first self-published collection of short stories. The ebook, entitled Couple of Moments, is a selection of nine of my most thought-provoking literary short stories inspired in part by the work of Raymond Carver.

Couple of Moments ebook cover

It has been a long while in coming and I could not have completed the project without Kristina’s assistance and support. That is why I dedicated the ebook to her. After months of editing and designing, it is now available to purchase from Lulu Bookstore for a reasonable price of £1.00. Soon the ebook will also be available at Apple iBookstore, Barnes and Noble Nook, Amazon Kindle, and Kobo for £0.99.

At over 10,000 words in length I hope the ebook encapsulates the qualities I love most about the short story form: accessible, minimalist yet provocative. The stories are ordered by numerous literal and metaphorical connections but all deal with the theme of familial separation.

So, if you enjoy reading short stories and engaging with issues through literary exploration then please read and review my work found at the following websites:

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/churchy44,

http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-a-church/couple-of-moments/ebook/product-22150809.html.

My Detox Vegan Smoothie Juice #1

I generally maintain a healthy lifestyle.

But I do suffer from stomach aches at least once a month. I want them gone.

I want to make better food choices. I want a healthier, more moral diet.

I don’t want to battle food the rest of my life.

This means I have to be conscious of the substances I put in my mouth. Every time. I must be proactive. I must learn to listen to my body and not harm it.

Inspired last night to make more effort developing a diet that makes me feel good I began my journey this morning.

After some quick internet research I discovered a healthy vegan breakfast smoothie would make a refreshing change from my regular stodgy muesli, granola, wheat biscuit or porridge.

Rather than buying the ingredients I choose to use an assortment of what was in my kitchen already. For practical and creative reasons I thought to mix the components using the juicer and blender.

Smoothie_Juice_1_Ingredients[1]

 I first juiced:

115g apple,

120g cucumber,

100g (2 small) satsumas,

27g lime,

70g seasonal baby leaf salad

 

Then I added it to the blender with:

50g pitted dates,

112g banana,

57g kiwi,

15g (a heaped tablespoon) wheatgrass powder,

12g (a heaped tablespoon) raw organic cacao powder

 

This particular recipe made 450ml (without needing to use any soya liquid) and took me twenty minutes to prepare and mess the kitchen counter. Despite the odd colour it was tasty, sweet and even chunky with unbroken date pieces. It took me forty minutes to eat. I also had a pint and a half of water afterwards, which helped detox my body.

Smoothie_Juice_1[1]

My breakfast proves spending time creating and caring can result in a filling and rewarding meal.

I want to take pride in what I eat and share healthy ideas with others. This may only be the first step, but it’s no less fun or effective than any to follow.

My New 2015 Garden Patch

Due to the fine sunny weather starting last week I have invested time in my garden. After I examined the gardening equipment I have accumulated over the last few years I decided to challenge myself: first to grow more of the crops I have been successful producing in the past, and second to establish skills not reliant on just pot gardening.

So my first task was to choose an area of earth that I could turn into a vegetable patch. It took me an hour and a half to measure, dig, weed and add soil to the 45-inch wide, 40-inch long plot. I used a combination of a hoe, spade, fork, some sand, reused compost and a 60 litre bag of new compost to create the right conditions [I used some discarded slabs, glass and metal sheets for the perimeter].

Plot

Following advice from Grow Your Own Crops in Pots (2013) by Kay Maguire and The Vegetable Expert (1985) by Dr. D.G. Hessayon along with my own initiative I planted three rows of Parsnip Tender and True with two rows of Radish Sparkler 3 and a row of Iceberg Lettuce on 6 April.

Plot with Lables

I then grew potatoes, the King Edward main crop variety, on 7 April in two pots.

King Edward 1  King Edward 2

On Sunday 12 April I began four buckets of mixed beetroot [which included Chioggia, Detroit, White Albina Verduna, Golden, Egyptian Flat and Cylindrical Type]. My home-made cloches were large water bottles cut up, flattened and staple gunned to the plastic buckets with holes made in the bottom.

Beetroot Buckets    Beetroot Buckets and Shields
Today, 18 April I planted some more potatoes, the Red Duke of York first early variety, in three other pots.

Red Duke of York 1      Red Duke of York 2      Red Duke of York 3

 

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone (2012)

(2012: Penguin Books) by Stefan Kiesbye

[Read 14-17 April 2015]

Background: I found the book whilst browsing the horror section in Chelmsford City Library. I wanted to find a unique book that explored the genre so the intriguing title, front cover and mixture of setting and themes described in the blurb seemed apt.

Plot: The book centres around the past memories of Martin, Christian, Linde, Anke, a group of young friends who grew up in the village of Hemmersmoor, located in Germany. Anke has passed away and the group recall their childhoods without interruption from the present reunion. There is a constant immorality surrounding the evil superstitions of the adults, including domestic violence, incest, murder and rape. All these horrendous acts span across many years within the many demonic locations such as the grand manor, village pub and abandoned mill and have their roots in the hidden barracks across the boggy moor.

BOOK[1]

Strengths: The first-person narratives are strong, offering eerie atmospheres and ominous voices, yet interweaves through time without repetition or confusion. The details of the main characters’ struggles through their turbulent childhoods are engaging, yet leave room for the imagination. But it is the large supporting cast of characters that offer much of the interest, tragedy and fright. In particular, I found Olaf Frick to be most enduring: a young man who earns his riches travelling, only to find his wife has moved on once he gets home. The first half of the novel causes genuine horror, made most effective by the sudden, unexpected revelations and the severity of the residents’ fates without excessive descriptions. Still, these brutal events are never rushed or too extreme (instead they feel natural, even believable to the dark setting and judgemental village folk). “When God takes away our ability, why doesn’t he also take our desire with it?” (page 197) and the two preliminary external quotes about longing to grow up and the sins of the countryside sum up the novel well.

Weaknesses: Although the book has many strengths I think the second half doesn’t build much from the earlier scares and any suspense fades away. Likewise, by the end I feel less sympathy and intrigue in the main character’s journeys, leading me to forget and become confused about certain past details as they blend into each other without much distinction. The chapters read as if self-contained, merged together to make a larger work, evidenced by the publisher’s note explaining that two sections appeared in different forms under different titles prior to the book’s publication.

Conclusion: Although I chose this book because it appeared different from generic horror fiction I was still surprised at the effectiveness of the detached narration and the characters’ acceptances of their dire environment. The prose is well-written but needed to feel less anecdotal and like a collection of short stories to make it a stand-out, well-paced novel. I would still recommend the book to lovers of horror fiction as there are plenty of thought-provoking and frightening moments (around two hundred pages split into sixteen chapters, including a prologue and epilogue, means there are many tales told).

Word bank: ewers, marionettes, cedes, brusquely, kobold, effeminate, apothecary, caliph, dervish, dullard, provincial, dowry, admonitions, aria, tirade

The Small Hand: A Ghost Story (2010)

(2010: Profile Books) by Susan Hill

[Read 6-7 April 2015]

Background: I found the book whilst browsing the horror section in Witham Library. I wanted to be scared and its relatively narrow spine (it felt and read like a novella) and famous British author (I had seen the 2012 film adaptation of her novel The Woman in Black) appealed to me.

Plot: The book centres around Adam Snow, an antiquarian bookseller, who becomes attracted to a run-down Edwardian house in Suffolk through holding the phantom hand of a boy. Whilst travelling around the world, including to a French monastery and dealing with his clients, Adam learns through the ghostly owner of the house Denisa Parsons and his estranged older brother Hugo the tragic past of the once immaculate gardens where the boy had drowned.

The Small Hand

Strengths: The narrative is straightforward and linear, making it an accessible tale. Adam is a likeable and intriguing character, mostly through his genuine love for old books and honest business dealings. The small but varied supporting characters all have different, useful roles and are never irritating. I also didn’t feel the ghostly elements were overused and blended well with the timeframe with which Adam lived (the book covers quite some time but flows well, unburdened by unwanted interruptions).

Weaknesses: Despite its strengths I felt the repetition of descriptions of the gardens and hints of the climax, however slight, could have been cut (any repetition in such a slender book is naturally magnified). The narration at times felt forced to remind the reader there was a fatal ending, which gave the first person narrative a muddled tone. Also, the only scene I thought had a frightening potential (where Adam meets Denisa Parsons) was somewhat anti-climatic. Although acceptable that the book left some details unexplained I predicted the revelation of the ghost boy’s fate before it occurred and was left disappointed by the ultimate conclusion, mostly again because it felt rushed and without much plausibility leading to it. For an avid collector of stories, Adam’s search and interest in the backgrounds of Denisa Parsons, the ghost boy and Hugo felt underdeveloped.

Conclusion: Although failing to scare me or provide a lasting impression the book offers a modern take on a traditional theme. Not familiar to the genre it’s difficult to recommend it as a unique book even if it did prompt some ideas for short stories of my own. Still, it’s well written and paced so is ideal for those who want a quick read (around two hundred pages split into twenty-two short chapters with numerous letter and newspaper segments interweaved).

Word Bank: (including some French phrases) antiquarian, herbaceous, pleached, soughing, desultory, depredations, postulants, eyrie, equable, skeins, unprepossessing, carafe, thurible, plainchant, laurel, tallow, fetid, balustrade, pearlescent,      topaz

The Castle of Otranto (1764)

(2010 Pocket Penguin Classics) by Horace Walpole

[Read 4-6 April 2015]

Background: I found the book whilst researching horror literature on the Internet. The book is arguably the first gothic novel, which influenced much written thereafter. I was excited to find it a relatively slim book in the classics section of Witham Library and couldn’t resist reading such a landmark text by a British author.

Plot: The book centres around Manfred, the prince of Otranto, who becomes delusional at the untimely, strange death of his only son and obsessed with averting an ancient prophecy that claims he will lose his castle and lordship. Whilst seeking Isabella, the woman his son would’ve married, as his new wife in order to gain an heir to his throne, a peasant called Theodore and the friar of the monastery called Jerome thwart his efforts. Manfred’s wife Hippolita, daughter Matilda and Isabella’s father Frederic also get embroiled in a frantic melee of mistaken identity, unexplainable phenomena, love afflictions, and even wrongful death before the legacy of Otranto comes to bear.

The Castle of Otranto

Strengths: The narrative is simple and easy to follow, using a third-person narrative to account for the many characters. The poetic, Shakespearean language is a joy to read and although there is plenty of repetition, exaggeration and long passages describing the character’s moods and dialogue this suits the fairy-tale style perfectly. The action is also quick paced and intriguing, which means the reader can never get distracted. I also found the structure creative with its long paragraphs and the absence of speech marks or indentations for dialogue, and instead various uses of dashes, colons, semi-colons and exclamation marks. Other charming features include the preface (of the first edition, which includes a sonnet) that gives a fair self-critical analysis using the fictitious background that the book is a translation, written and found hundreds of years earlier as well as the inspiration from the real coastal town in Italy. A particularly memorable quote I discovered was “But alas! my lord, what is blood? what is nobility? We are all reptiles, miserable sinful creatures. It is piety alone that can distinguish us from the dust whence we sprung, and whither we must return.” (page 64).

Weaknesses: Despite the praise I felt the book could’ve benefited from more direct action like a greater number of deaths and fight scenes. Manfred’s inability to act upon his aggressive words and Theodore’s continuous defiance of the prince throughout is a tad contrived, if not vaguely irritating. The ending could be considered a little rushed and on a few details, like the history of the lordship of the castle, greater clarity could’ve helped the reader. The revelations are not so much surprising as predictable, yet these are all minor issues that reflect its self-professed likening to a play.

Conclusion: The book maintains a light-hearted tone despite the severity of the character’s strifes. As indicated by the detailed synopsis I read prior, the complexity of the different relationships and fears was tantalising and impressive in such a short novel (at one hundred and forty pages split into five chapters it felt like a novella). I would recommend the book to anyone who cares for the beauty of simplistic storytelling and poetic prose. My aversion to such archaic phrases has been reversed because of this book and given its publication date and literary significance I am thrilled to have taken so much inspiration from it.

Word Bank:  appellations, necromancy, preternatural, perusal, comport, bombast, vicissitude, anathema, inculcated, casque, portent, obeisance, poignarded, grandsire, ere, gulph, perdition, cloister, disculpate, asperity, dotards, acquiesce, orisons, tinctured, dower, hearken, wiles, betwixt, retinue, cavalcade, choler, viceroy, upbraiding, peremptory, execrable, oriel, halidame, encomiums, phrensy