The Sticks

Each February since I retired and began to pursue the good life my house begins to fill with seed trays. This year has been no exception, albeit with a greater degree of organisation and a little more technology as I attempt to learn the lessons from previous years. So each morning for the last four weeks I have done the rounds to check on my gradually enlarging collection of seeds and seedlings. Which needed watering? Which should stay in the propagator or on the heat mats and which should be moved to somewhere cooler? Do I go with what I think is right or what the experts say? And which of the conflicting experts is correct? 

Barely more than two weeks now until my Independence Day. All the withdrawal agreements are drawn up and out for the final vote. Like the Brexit vote in parliament it will be Deal or No Deal; either way I'll be leaving my employment.

The dogs were waiting for their walk. We weren't later than normal, only 10:30 but we had been out to the airport and confused their routine. The Student is moving to California today for  a year studying abroad and we had driven her to Manchester for a tearful fairwell and to encourage her through the security barrier and on towards her future. 

"If we go now we should be back by the time she takes off" said the Webmaster.

Dogs on leads and out into the September morning sunshine. "Hold the dogs while I lock the door". The Webmaster extracts his old purse ("gentleman's coin holder" he corrects) from his pocket and coins pour everywhere. Its seams have split and it no longer holds coins. One day he will mend it or buy himself another.

"Come on, let's go before I change my mind."

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

"You entered me in the race so you can help me train. I haven't done any running for over three months."

"My knee will hurt."

"It's all in your mind. No it won't. Take it steady instead of rushing off like an idiot."

2004 was a very sad year for us. It was the year we finally said goodbye to Andy. After a long and courageous battle against his brain tumour the struggle became too much for him and he died in May. No words can describe our loss but we try to remember him as he was before the illness took away his energy and vitality. We also admire the way in which he dealt with his illness. Throughout his slow decline he remained brave and determined to survive and make the most of life. He was generous and patient to the end.

All the members of The Sticks are still angry about Brexit (and we will be whenever you read this). It is likely to be terrible for the UK and current anti-foreigner attitudes are shameful and embarassing. The government ministers responsible don't seem to understand the implications and are still pretending they can make it work, although the warnings (which before the vote were described by them as "project fear") are now starting to come from their own mouths. It is like living through a farce, but unfortunately it is happening. The parody site News Thump is highlighting the ridiculousness of the whole mess, for example this about sovereignty. The older members of the household may not live to see it resolved. Replacing 40 years of trade deals, integration and development can not be replicated in two years and the costs will be enormous.

The kitchen at The Sticks has been busy processing its first batch of windfall apples this season. OK, so we didn't make jam, a proposed staple for our new post Brexit export economy, but our first preserve of the season has hit the jars. Apple chutney. What could be more British?

If we thought living off beans, to keep up with the cropping, was becoming tedious the volume of apples and pears is truely alarming.

"Will you bring me the map? The old tatty one. It's on the top of the book shelves somewhere."

The Webmaster disappears and returns a few minutes later with the map. "Why do you want it?"

"To look for a new route."

"Oh! You want to go down new paths, with the dogs?"

"Why not? It's light. I'd rather explore new routes when we can see where we are going."


I won't lie. I was devastated by the Leave victory. On 24th June 2016 I felt bereaved. Brexiters berated me: I didn't have confidence my country they scoffed. Cheer up! It was a great day of liberation, we could be great again. If I didn't see that I was doing the country down.

If you've read any of my earlier blogs you may remember that I am aiming for the post-Brexit good life, digging for victory and "growing my own" here at the Sticks. You could say I'm putting down many more roots on my little spot in Staffordshire!

For patriotic reasons (haha) I am growing good old traditional British veg: parsnips (originally Eurasian), potatoes (Peru), carrots (Persian) and beans, broad (near East) and runner (Central America) -  but I can't give up that bit of post 1973 "foreign fare" I discovered when I left the Staffordshire backwaters for the urban elite life of university in, well, Birmingham in 1975: aubergine, garlic and chillis.

It's coming up to the 2nd anniversary of my retirement and already I can't imagine going back to work, or at least working for someone else. All those cliches are right. Retired people are so busy they can't understand how they ever had enough time to work.

Who ever said making preserves was an Autumn occupation? This year we started in July with the first batch of Plum jam and continued through to mid November. 

For the last few months our kitchen has been on a seemingly endless cycle of coring, peeling and slicing apples: spicy apple jam; pickled apples; frozen apples; stewed apples; apple and tomato chutney, apple and tomato soup. Apple strudel, apple crumble, apple juice and just plain, fresh apples have added a desert course to our evening meal, unusual at the Sticks as the chef, who also doubles as the Webmaster, refuses to make desert and won't let anyone else into "his kitchen" when he is "creating".

The local common where we walk our dog is known as 'Marshes Hill'. My grandmother used to claim it belonged to our family once upon a time, before it was lost to another family through death and a second marriage. For years I could find no evidence of any such connection despite easily tracing my Marsh family ancestors to the local area. Earlier this year I finally found probate documents showing that in the early nineteenth century one of my Marsh great-grandfathers occupied property - Burnfields Farm - on what is now known as Marshes Hill and also a newspaper report indicating he received an allotment of land under the Enclosures Act 1814.

Maybe there is something in my grandmother's claims after all. When I have time I will make an appointment at the Staffordshire Archives Library and look up the maps relating to the enclosures, but I'm not sure I'll ever know if his name and the name of the hill are connected or a mere coincidence.

My walk over the hill takes me past the farm


Winter has really set in. Cold, wet, ice and snow arrived overnight of 9th-10th December when the student had already arranged to drive from Birmingham to Gatwick to meet her boyfriend arriving from sunny California. After some persuasion she had already taken advice to allow double the journey time estimated by Google, which she seems to hold sacred, but even so it was not enough to allow for the impact of the heavy snow affecting the west midlands and the M40. She didn't find it amusing that he flew all the way from LA in little over 10 hours and her journey from Brum took seven hours. But, after four months apart, they had their reunion and fortunately the ice and snow didn't last long and the cold weather didn't put them off.  In her little car they travelled the length of England, from Stonehenge to Ambleside and they even made a brief visit to Scotland.

"If you are willing to put trousers on we could do the long walk around the lake" said the Webmaster.

After a quick check on the weather I ignore him and dress in shorts and tee shirt. I'll take my chances with the nettles. "Do you think it will have dried out by now? When was the last time it rained?"

The usually muddy paths down to the wood and across the Head of Trent are surprisingly dry and there is little sign of damage from the torential rain and flash floods of last Tuesday. The dogs are pleased to be returning to the long walk, sniff paradise for them. The Old Dog is particularly spritely, forgets she no longer jumps stiles and bounds over several.

Doesn't time fly when you're fighting against Brexit? Well, here we are in the middle of April and two Brexit days have come and gone and the Brexit mess is no nearer a conclusion. Now we have the European Parliamentary elections to look forward to next month. I hope all the psychologists are ready to cope with the country suffering a mass attack of cognative disonance when they turn out to vote to elect the unelected dictators.

But then again, Brexit has already driven most of the country mad. Self help gurus giving advice on how to survive the stress are thriving and last week I was interested to see that one of the most popular activities taken up in response to Brexit is gardening. Vegetable gardening kills two birds with one stone, as it were! Creative activity, fresh air and gentle exercise to make you feel good and the prospect and pleasures of home grown food in case of shortages or price hikes. 

Even if it's only a theory it gives the illusion of being in control of


My retirement in the style of Brexit is falling apart, which I suppose means it isn't, because Brexit is falling apart, so I think that proves I'm still succeeding in following it. Oh, I don't know! This is getting so confusing. When it's fallen apart will I have been successful or not? Who knew this was going to be so difficult? It should have all been so easy.

The recent upsurge in the Black Lives Matter campaign reminded me of the time we met civil rights campaigner Annie Pearl Avery at her Ancient Africa, Enslavement and Civil War museum in Selma, Alabama. It was only three days after a far right white supremacsist had killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville as she demonstrated against a Unite the Right rally and with Trump seemingly emboldening such racists (a view now supported by the data), the importance of Annie Pearl's project couldn't have been more striking. 

Annie Pearl explained that her mission was to inform (or remind) everyone that Africa was the cradle of human life and that African history is something African Americans should be extremely proud of.  Of course the history of enslavement and the fight for civil rights is important she said but she now believed that in the continued struggle for equality it was also important for everyone to know that African Americans have a long, rich and deep history that isn't defined by


In just over a week it will be one year since I retired. As my retirement had approached my already retired friends and relatives warned me I would wonder how I had ever found time to fit in work. Now I half see what they mean. I can't remember an earlier year passing so quickly or in which I undertook so many projects or made so many new friends. But I do know how I fitted in work: I neglected myself (apart from my running) and my home, or more precisely my garden. 

In a nutshell: after one year I feel much better than I have for years and I don't miss work at all. Due to the circumstances in which I came to retire most of my work colleagues had left before I did, so there was no wrench of separation. I haven't been good at keeping in touch. I never have been although with social media it is easy to stay up to date with their news.

I didn't find it hard to move on. My past life is a pool of memories and experiences added to each day; a slowly evolving mould, modified by later


Losing access to a regulal salary will be tough, but worth it. I'll get control over my time and regain my own sovereignty. I'll grow my own food and pick my own fruit. No one else will be able to tell me what to do.  I will be able to throw away all my old deals I was stuck with while I was working and make new, better deals. Thanks Brexit for the idea.