After a trip to the Borders Book Festival, I find myself musing on more lofty topics than the usual “why do I always manage to kneel in hen poo when I am wearing shorts” (a hazard of Summer chook-keeping).
This week, I am mostly pondering... literature.
Well, magazines actually. Because whilst reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago might be very enlightening on the subject of the Soviet forced labour camp system, it won’t help you grow a bumper tattie crop.
Magazines are an amazing source of information. But choose wisely, young Jedi, or the way to enlightenment can be one fraught with misinformation and crippling self-doubt.
I am talking about gardening magazines, which in my lifetime have evolved from humble trade publications where cap-doffing gardeners could find a job with a damp cottage chucked in, to their current glossy, guilt-tripping glory.
I cannot read a gardening magazine without feeling fairly – to majorly –inadequate.
Green lawns, beautiful borders.... and row after row of plump green stuff all growing in perfectly neat lines with weeds seemingly airbrushed out. Page after page of gorgeous, glossy photos. And, if you’re a lay-dee of a certain age, even the odd one of the gently smiling Monty, linen sleeves rolled up. The corduroy-clad Don of gardening. For me, reading these magazines stuffed full of photos of immaculate (and, allegedly, home-grown) fruit and veg is like being a slightly plump, teenaged girl leafing through Vogue. They are both full of impossible images of perfection.
And that’s why I love smallholding magazines.
1: They do what they say on the tin – there’s the fairly imaginatively-titled Smallholder, and the even more imaginatively-titled Country Smallholding.
2: They cost way less than a high-end gardening or fashion magazine, so I can buy one and then spend the extra money I saved on a bar of choccy and not worry if me (or my carrots) are not thin enough.
3: They cover the most amazing topics that could earn them a place on Have I Got News For You (‘Treat and manage diarrhoea in poultry’ – maybe I should have read that before I took to the chicken run in shorts, eh?).
And, lastly, 4: The pictures are usually taken by actual smallholders rather than professional snappers, so can give you a much-needed good laugh when you’ve been pecked/stung/nettled/stabbed yourself in the foot with a garden fork.
My favourite so far has been a step-by-step, double-page spread on how to insert special sponges into a very special part of a lay-dee sheep so she doesn’t, ahem, shall we say, get interested in any gennulmen sheep. Then it’s left in for up to two weeks, then you’re shown how to remove it. With a picture taken at each step. Imagine, for a moment, that husband-and-wife-and-sheep-and-digital-compact-camera photoshoot.
I picture Monty, sitting in a bespoke Chesterfield armchair in a recently-renovated Victorian potting shed, reading the latest issue of Gardens Illustrated. Monty, you don’t know what you’re missing.