In a small and muddled garden. Dorset. England. Thoughts about gardening and thoughts while gardening. Housework, politics and book reviews too. Esther Montgomery.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I don't have a thistle
so a teasel will have to do.
It's not long before the referendum on Scottish independence. *

So I need to say it now that whatever the outcome - Alex Salmond is my hero.

I've not heard anyone else say that.

By chance we went to the same university and our times overlapped. He won't have a clue who I am - but everyone knew who he was.

He was slim in those day - with big brown eyes and a Castro style peaked cap. That's how I remember him anyway. And he'd be seen rushing along the streets of St Andrews, bent on getting independence for Scotland.

And everyone laughed. Maybe not everyone - but what I'm writing how I remember things. How you remember something is as much part of history as facts are; and can be as powerful in shaping it too.

There was him (locally) - and Margo Macdonald (nationally) . . . and . . . beyond them not many well known and respected politicians in favour of independence. As far as respect goes, maybe it was only Margo Macdonald. For Alex Salmond was young.

There was rumoured to be a Scottish Independence Army made up of landowners and gillies. Alex Salmond was neither and no-one even vaguely thought he had anything to do with armed revolution. But the (probably mythical) Scottish Independence Army had guns because they hunted deer-and-capercaillies. They might be dangerous. Stupid people can be. They might control a large landmass of Scotland but the world they inhabited was a little world of their own. So they were (perhaps a little uneasily) dismissed. After all, only nutters wanted independence. Nutters and unrealistic dreamers like Alex Salmond. (And Margo Macdonald, of course.)

The SNP symbol didn't help. A money bag into which the riches from North Sea Oil revenue would fall if only it could be rescued from the UK and the North American companies granted licences to drill by the Westminster government. And it wasn't even a very big money bag. There was nothing grand or glorious about the SNP's little twiddle.

(Does anyone know if it really is a money bag? Seems unlikely)

So, there he was, a lone voice; laughed at because he was young and because he had this great enthusiasm for independence; and because the oil which many thought was Scotland's only hope for a strong economy was diminishing fast; and because independence was supported by a mixture of no-one, him, and a load of lunatics.

And now? He's a respected politician. He's admired as an orator. He's leader of a proper party in a proper Scottish Parliament he helped create. What's more, on the 18th of September Scots from the age of 16 up will vote on whether they'd like the independence he believed in all along.

It's not clear what will happen. The 'yeses' and 'noes' are currently running neck-a-neck.

If it's a 'yes' vote he will go down as one of the great men of history. If it's a 'no' the taint of failure will pervade his biography instead of glory. But even if it's a 'no' that won't in any way diminish what he has done.

He did it from scratch.

And, in a way, he did it alone.

So I need to say it now - before the referendum - Alex Salmond is my hero. (For all that I'm English.)

P.S. Ignore the oil.  Oil is irrelevant.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


It's in the news. It's on Twitter. It's on Facebook - that short spikes have been set into the ground outside a block of flats in London to stop people sleeping there. Everyone is cross, horrified, shocked, offended - except, it seems, for me.

I once slept in a doorway.

I'd arrived in Edinburgh in the middle of the night. There wasn't a connecting train till morning. I couldn't sleep on a bench because chairs for waiting passengers were in circles - to stop people sleeping on them. I'd once or twice slept on a bench at Kings Cross station - again between trains. It wasn't restful. Men kept turning up and asking me to come behind the station. Even to go home with them. In Edinburgh I couldn't lie down - and there was a man lurking.

I decided to go for a walk, thinking I'd shake him off. But he followed. What to do?

A friend lived in a basement flat. I marched confidently to his steps and went down them into the little entrance space, hoping the man following would assume I lived there. It worked. I put a note through the letterbox telling my friend I was there in case he was startled when he opened the door next day, got out my sleeping bag, laid it on the concrete and went to sleep in his doorway. By the morning, I'd gone. If he'd had studs there, I wouldn't have been able to lie down. I'd have wandered the streets or hung around in the station, fending off men wanting to cart me away.

So why do I think studs are a good idea?

Because I've also lived in a block of flats where glue-sniffing children hung out in the indoor-bin area; where people piled freebie newspapers on landings between floors and set them on fire; where guests were sometimes pelted with stones while they waited for me to answer the intercom and let them in; where a neighbour turned up naked at my doorway late at night. If we'd had homeless people sleeping there too - well, I'd have been un-nerved.

I've known a lot of homeless people in my time; not people stuck for somewhere to go between trains: people who are homeless because they drink too much to sustain a more conventional, settled life. I used to have a friend who'd been so messed up by war he was too unpredictable, too suddenly violent, to share a flat with others. Much depends on the context. If you get to know people when they are not drunk - or happen to get on well with someone whom no-one else likes . . . you might think it's anti-social, unkind to 'the poor' to put studs in a doorway so they can't lie down to sleep.

But I don't. I wouldn't want somebody so messed up by the violence in his own life to be lying in an alcove by the entrance to my home. I wouldn't want anyone lurking there when they are drunk. I have been grabbed in dark streets, even in city centres. Exposed to in parks. But that is in the past. For many years now I've lived a sheltered, secluded, isolated life. With epilepsy I cannot risk independence in the way I used to. With children, I need more possessions - possessions I wouldn't want anyone to take away. I've not wanted to give my family the company of people of uncertain temperament in our own home. I no longer invite strangers in.

When you are weak, when you can't run, when you don't have the physical or emotional energy to defuse situations - when you are these things - you don't even like children in your street banging on the door and running away. It can be deeply startling.

These studs bring us up with a start. Why are we so cruel as a society that we want to stop people taking shelter in doorways? It is un-nerving to see them. But what I'm not clear about (though I might be if I investigated further so I might be all wrong in this) is how many of those who are shocked by these anti-sleeping spikes really know what they are talking about. How well do they know fear? Do they think they could interview those who want to sleep in alcoves by their doors and choose their outside neighbours?

Well, that's not how it works. It's random who you get. It might be some inoffensive woman waiting between trains. Or it might not.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


I wanted to say 'Avocet' on Monday. But Monday is for maths.

I chose the word 'Avocet' because it came up on Twitter along with Black Tailed Godwit.
A Black Tailed Godwit! If you need to strengthen your mouth say it over and over. Feel it in your muscles.

'Avocet' sounds like a missile. (Not 'avocado' dear spell check.)
It's in the area of 'Advocaat'. (No, not 'advocate' .)

This is fun.
Mesembryanthemum (spell check thinks I mean 'chrysanthemum')
Aquilegia (Aquiline)
Hornbeam (Moonbeam)
Medlar (Armed!)

I wouldn't want to work in a spell check garden!

* * *

I think Spell Check should be Spellcheck but spell check doesn't like that and I suppose it knows its own name.
(I've used capitals because I wouldn't want it to call me 'esther'.)

* * *

The Avocet on Twitter was the kind we see in England - Recurvirostra avosetta (Or Electrostatic rosetta, as Spell Check would have it.)
North Americans might be more familiar with Recurvirostra americana (Otherwise known as Electrostatic Americans. Brilliant!) 

P.S. Don't you think it looks as if this Avocet patting its chick on the head has four legs?

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