Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sile Seoige, Billy Joel Bus Drivers and the Big Snow

Apart from a load of complete bankers, nothing stops Ireland Inc in its tracks quite like snow. And I had a forced march through five miles of it yesterday in order to get to Newstalk106's city centre radio studios.

Snow yesterday
I was scheduled to be interviewed live about my book - "Plot 34 - Blood Sweat and Allotmenteers" - and by none other than the lovely Sile Seoige. The famous Sile, who presented the "Seoige" afternoon tv programme with her sister Grainne, now hosts her own radio show on a Saturday and is this week doing a cracking job standing in for a currently vacationing Sean Moncrieff. I was particularly pleased because "Moncrieff" is by far and away my favourite Irish radio programme. Much as I'd have loved to meet the man himself, I couldn't complain when I'd heard it was Sile instead!!

Despite my tendency to suffer occasionally from stage fright, Sile put me at my ease and once I got going, I couldn't shut up. In the end we had a great chat. You can find the interview on section 4 of the podcast of the December 1 Moncrieff show on the newstalk106 website.

I described Plot 34's early mission statement  - how I set out four years ago with an allotment to see how much food I could grow using only a single free day a week. I told them how I aimed to assess how much money I'd save, whether we'd eat more healthily as a family and whether or not it would make an impression on that spare tyre that had been building up around my waist before I took on the plot.

The answers are (a) Four months of complete self sufficiency, four with partial self sufficiency with 55 fresh produce types (b) two grand a year (b) yes and (c) I'm thinner now and far fitter. At the end of the interview as I was leaving, Sile gave me a big kiss (!!!) and couldn't resist pinching my

Sile - the wrong gear for The Big Snow 2010....
copy of the book for her boyfriend, who apparently likes his gardening (yes she does have a boyfriend -  sorry guys!!)

Before I'd going on, I'd overheard some chat among station staff. "First the IMF, then snow, what next?" said one. "The four horsemen of the apocalypse?" suggested another. National bankruptcy equated with snow? Y'see we're just not used to either one in Ireland.

Being off work for two weeks on account of baby Sean's recent arrival, it did mean that I had to walk five miles in the snow to get to the city studio. Initially I took the bus, which passed just four stops before coming to a complete halt in a traffic jam behind a stuck truck.

Fifteen minutes on and we haven't moved anywhere. Then about twenty of us decided we'd be quicker walking and we all lined up to get off. The driver flat refused to let us disembark until we reached the next bus stop - which as it happened, was about ten feet away.

"Regulations. Sorry folks, I don't make the rules and I'm not allowed let yiz out unless we're at a bus stop. I could lose my job ye know - if yiz all fell and hort yourselves getting off." There then ensued a bizarre 35 minutes as the twenty of us all stood in a liine waiting to get off, looked at the twenty waiting to get on; and they're looking back at us for a half hour - all waiting for the bus to "arrive" at the stop.

More than me job's worth bud.
 Being near the front, I pointed out to the driver that his playing Billy Joel's greatest hits at full belt from the cab was not "regulation" either - so if he could be lax about one rule, then surely he can turn a blind eye to another and let us off the bus?

"Listen here bud, I won't have that sort of abuse on my bus." And without thinking he actually added: "I'll have you put off the bus!"  Everyone laughed,  but not for long. We still had to wait another fifteen minutes suffering Billy Joel and grumpy ass before the truck was moved and he finally rolled his regulation bus all ten feet to the bus stop.  That's a speed of foot every five minutes, or 0.008 miles an hour I reckon.

Like I said, Ireland isn't used to snow. So when we get a sprinkle, lots of things seize up - particularly teachers. Somehow teachers can never make it to school when everyone else can. We've had a week of it, and there's eight inches of it with no end in sight and today's Evening Herald headline shouts "Minus 17!"

When in Warsaw a couple of years ago in wintertime I experienced the real deal and mild frost bite when I became separated from the Irish ex pat I had been visiting. During a night on the town I lost him and his friends. A taxi man drove me out to his house in the middle of nowhere in a blizzard on a night that eventually saw temperatures falling to minus 20 degrees.I'd no option but to march up and down outside his gates for seven hours like some private sentry, until the guys finally rolled home at 8am. By then I'd lost the sensation in my fingertips, toe tips and in the end of my nose.

But everywhere in Warsaw, as in any other country that gets snow regularly, they drive, they go to work, the buses and trains run, they get on with their business. We need those Polish guys to show us what to do.

Unbelievably, the chillies in the garden are still hanging in there through the blizzard although some of the foliage died and the rest is looking soggier than ever. My only gardening task this week is the regular trips outside to scrape all the snow off the greenhouse roof. This is made of tubular see through plastic sheets and could cave in due to the weight. Lifting the ventilation window, I could feel that weight which was quite considerable. It's already been blown off by the high winds of a few weeks ago. An angular dust pan on a long handle proved ideal for the job.

Chillies - droopier than last week but still hanging on
I'm told that people with glass greenhouses will also have this problem if there's enough snow -  I measured ten inches of snow on the "flat" ground earlier and its still chucking down. But observing the boiler outlet on the side of my house pumping all those hot air fumes into the air, I had an idea. Instead of going out to scrape the snow off the roof every couple of hours, what if I could get a length of tubing, attach it to the outlet with some masking tape and then feed it into the greenhouse? The hot emissions would warm up the greenhouse interior and thus keep the snow off it? After giving it a few minutes thought, I decided "Naw!" These are the sort of bright ideas that win people Darwin Awards. This year's winner: "Dublin gobshite gasses himself in his own greenhouse!"

The recently roofswept greenhouse - great gas in the snow
And for those wondering how best to get about in the Big Snow 2010 - the answer (if you live within seven miles from town) is walking...well more like trudging. Otherwise, helicopter.  As an allotment holder and keen fisherman, I can also lend some helpful advice on attire as I happen to be better kitted out than most for bad weather. So for snow and your outdoor allotment work, I'd recommend some good waterproof hiking boots or else wellies and underpinned with two pairs of regular socks or one pair of extra thick thermal shooting socks (bring your good shoes in a rucksack). Layers are best for keeping you warm, so two light tee shirts under your shirt.

Hikers and wellies have serrated rubber soles and therefore great for grip on ice. They're also useful for unexpected snow covered slush puddles. If you're going to invest in outdoor gear, buy it in a fishing/shooting shop - you'll get much better quality outer clothes for your money than you would in a fashionable outdoors outlet. Just so long as you don't mind wearing camuouflage colours and olive green. In the picture below,  you see me earlier today ready to do some digging (clearing the driveway) with the right clothes, but the wrong implement (No I don't own a car door on a handle type snow shovel).

Note the multi pocketed thick set, heavy duty three quarters length fishing jacket and waterproof fishing trousers (model's own), bought for E150 three years ago in Dave's Southside Angling at Clanbrassil Street. I have worn this stuff while sat in a boat for eight hours in pelting rain and nothing gets through. It's like wearing a tent. It's also great for allotment work in bad weather because when it gets covered in mud, you just wait until the next rain shower to wash it spanking clean again.

Ready to dig the car out yesterday (I'm standing on it)
It's not in this picture but I'd also recommend a wide brimmed hat for bad weather allotment work. It's the one I'm wearing in the main picture at the start of the blog. Again from a fishing/shooting shop this is a "beater's" hat and costs about E30. It's light, very warm and has a little secret - special hidden pull-down felt flaps for your ears which will also keep it firmly attached to your head in a squall. Mine is lined on the outside with Seetex, a high tech material which deflects rain without ever soaking it up.

In snow and on the allotment, a hat is preferable to a hood for safety purposes. Think Kenny from South Park - if you're wearing a hood and you look right or left, you're staring straight into the lining. Not good in the snow if you're crossing the road and there's a bus coming. Because the driver would only have fifty minutes to slam on the brakes!!

No comments:

Post a Comment