The empty quarter


Slim pickings in winter

Bitterly cold mornings, empty vegetable patches and days wrapped in a dull gloom; it is easy to find this time of year hard going psychologically.

When I wake in the morning, its pitch black outside and my body screams, trying to convince my brain that it therefore can’t possibly be time to wake up as I prize my weary limbs out of bed; often with a gentle – but very necessary – prod from my wife.

As I stumble around the bedroom – brain numbed by the freezing cold – I somehow get dressed, as muscle memory alone guides me to throw on clothes in an order that results in some form of socially acceptable attire and I am able to make my way downstairs; whereupon I enter the kitchen and cross a void into another, freezing world.

Alas, my kitchen is basically a breeze block lean-to tacked on to the side of my cottage; built in an era when insulation was deemed necessary only for ‘softies’ and an utter waste of time, effort and money.

Therefore as soon as I open the door and step in, I am hit with a blast of icy air; sending an involuntary shudder through my body and allowing me to see the breath steaming from my gaping, curse muttering mouth.

As such, the kitchen is not a place to linger and with as much haste as I can muster in my semi-comatic state, I throw on my coat and bury my head in a dishevelled, twig-riddled woollen hat, heading outdoors and cursing the day that my wife and I decided having a few chickens would be ‘fun’, ‘fulfilling’ and other now nonsensical words.


During sunnier times…..

Once outside it’s so dark that not even the chickens are making any noise and they seem thoroughly miffed when I open up the pop hole of the chicken house and suggest they may like to head out into the garden. I’ll sometimes give them a gentle hand out and in return the birds squawk with scorn as they begrudgingly exit their cosy accommodation.

If I catch their eye I can’t help but get a little worried; it’s as if they’re thinking ‘we’ll remember this mate…..’  and it could help to explain the great joy the birds take in destroying a variety of my gardening efforts and laying eggs in the most inaccessible of locations.

Chickens with a grudge; scary stuff.

Anyway, after thoroughly pissing off the girls I then have the particularly delightful experience of breaking the ice on their water bowls; chilling my already freezing fingers to ice cube level and spurring on my efforts to clean out the chicken house and top up the girls feed as quickly as I can.

In the summer I find this daily chicken care routine an enjoyable experience; slowly pottering about, soaking up the early morning sun and watching the sparrows flit about the garden. It’s a nice, quiet ten minutes all to myself where I can contemplate the coming day.

At this time of year though all I can think about is getting back inside as soon as possible; eager to embrace a warm mug of tea and regain the feeling in my fingers. And anyway, there’s not much to look at around the garden at this time of year.

As someone who takes great pride in their gardens appearance and its productivity, I can’t help but feel melancholy about the current state of my homes outdoor spaces.

Due to work commitments and bad timing on my part, no overwintering crops were planted out in my vegetable patch and any produce leftover from summer has long been consumed, put away in the freezer or helped to fill the crop of several hungry hens.

As a result what was a couple of months ago a bright tapestry of colours, smells, and shapes – buzzing with potential and scores of beautiful insects – is now a barren, solemn looking stretch of earth.

I know it won’t be long till I can set to work righting this wrong, but it still irks me a little, especially as the rest of the garden is looking rather sad as well.

With the chickens having recently been released back into the open green space (see that they so love much, in a show of respect to both myself and the lawn, they immediately set about destroying all the repair work I had carried out to rectify the damage they had wrought on the grass earlier in the year.

Thanks to their hard work there are bare patches all over the lawn, plants have been scratched up, leaves kicked all over the place and the sun starved grass is struggling. All in all, the lawn and its surrounds looks like it could do with a winter getaway; preferably somewhere warm, sunny and – I imagine – fertilizer based cocktails.

No such luck!


Chickens on the rampage

When I head back indoors and kick off my boots, clasping an awaiting mug of tea to my chest (thank you wife), I start to daydream and yearn for the 30th March, when British Summer Time starts once again and we start getting back a bit of light in the evenings here in Blighty.

I miss spending time outdoors; being able to potter around the garden after work and not feeling rushed to squeeze in any garden jobs during the weekend. I can’t help but feel a little gloomy at the moment as I drag myself from bed, to work and back home, all the while wrapped in a blanket of cold and darkness.

Most of my time at the moment is spent indoors; often hunched in front of the computer at work or writing and researching future features when at home. My body is literally craving to be outside, to be active and to soak up some sun.

Hopefully some well earned time off over Christmas will give me the chance to get out a bit more and I shall be sure to head to the hills for some walks, prep the veg patch for the coming spring and tootle around the country lanes on my bike.

I’m sure it will do the world of good and until then, I shall just have to make the most of a rather dull situation; after all, there is something rather nice about decent pint of ale in front of a glowing fire on a cold, dark evening.

I guess there’s always a silver lining!

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