Monday, April 19, 2010

today : the utter madness of salad

I don't have a garden. Just a little yard in the back of my house. Nevertheless I do my best. Come the height of Summer it's bright with flowers. It's a small pleasure that costs little in terms of time and money, but returns disproportionate joy.

Yesterday I was replanting some sunflower seedlings and planning to rejuvenate my herb pots with fresh compost and plants, ready for the Summer to arrive. I am pretty jealous of my good friend GM who actually has an allotment near his house, where he is planning to grow fresh vegetables for the family. Even though I'd be physically incapable of upkeeping an allotment of my own, I remember fondly from childhood the allotment that my parents had for several years. It always springs to mind when I listen to June Tabor's splendid version of the song 'A Place Called England':

"I rode out on a bright May morning
Like a hero in a song
Looking for a place called England
Trying to find where I belong
Couldn't find the old flood meadow
Or the house that I once knew
No trace of the little river
Or the garden where I grew

I saw town and I saw country
Motorway and sink estate
Rich man in his rolling acres
Poor man still outside the gate
Retail park and burger kingdom
Prairie field and factory farm
Run by men who think that England's
Only a place to park their car

But as the train pulled from the station
Through the wastelands of despair
From the corner of my eye
A brightness filled the filthy air
Someone's grown a patch of sunflowers
Though the soil is sooty black
Marigolds and a few tomatoes
Right beside the railway track

Down behind the terraced houses
In between the concrete towers
Compost heaps and scarlet runners
Secret gardens full of flowers
Meeta grows the scent of roses
Right beneath the big jet's path
Bid a fortune for her garden
Eileen turns away and laughs

The video is really just audio- sorry about that, couldn't find a performance one

The song is about someone who finds the old traditional ways of England, agriculture and folk customs hidden away in amongst the prosaic ugliness of the modern landscape and issues a call to arms for people to reclaim the land.

When it came to tea-time I had some lovely salad with a portion of new potatoes.

Later, I was watching the news on CNN. Of course, everything was all about the Apocalyptic Icelandic Volcano Ash Cloud. In amongst the various reports was one about how the lack of flights to and from Europe was putting people out of work in Nairobi. The reporter - Zane Vergee - interviewed people who packed and prepared fresh vegetables and cut flowers for the British and European supermarkets. Mange tout, chillies, sugar snap peas, avocados. But with no flights to transport the produce, there was no work to do. All the flowers and vegetables were being given away to farmers for cattle feed, or composted back into the soil.

Something made me check what I'd eaten earlier in the day. The potatoes, which were extremely cheap, had come from Israel, the salad from Spain.

Which, if you think about it for a second or less, is clearly insane on almost every level. The mint that garnished my spuds came from 12 inches outside my back door. All it took was to open the door, lean out and snip some fresh leaves. Yet the spuds themselves have been flown and driven thousands of rather pointless, carbon-packed miles to get to my plate.

My niece is currently one of the many English people stranded abroad, in Spain. The flimsy salad for my plate had travelled as far as she did to go on holiday.

Why do I get the feeling that we have become so ridiculous that the volcanic dust cloud is nature's way of reminding us who is really in charge?

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