Ashes To Ashes?


I well remember the devastation caused to the English countryside caused by Dutch Elm disease. I was particularly distressed when a wonderful avenue of elms from the rear of my alma mater to the Backs had to be cut down.

Dutch elm disease was a fungal based disease and first appeared in north-west Europe in 1910. It came to Britain with a vengeance with a more virulent strain in the 60s and within a decade 20 million elms out of the estimated UK elm population of 30 million were dead. By the 1990s the number was well over 25 million.

It now appears that the ash is under threat from a fungus called Chalara fraxinea. Chalara dieback causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees and can lead to the death of the tree. The disease has been found widely across Europe and it first made its appearance in the UK in February of this year when a consignment of infected trees was sent from the Netherlands to a nursery in Buckinghamshire. In June ash trees planted in a car park in Leicestershire which were supplied by a nursery in Lincolnshire were found to be infected.

To date, the disease has not been found outside nurseries and recent plantings in the UK. However, the authorities are very worried and asking everyone to be vigilant and report any trees they suspect to be affected.

Let’s hope the noble ash will not be a rarity like the elm now is today.


Gardening Corner


Proponents of the legalisation of pot have long stressed its medicinal benefits. I came across a strange twist on this claim today in a report of the trial of Michael Foster, aged 62, and Susan Cooper, 63. The couple were convicted and jailed for three years each for growing cannabis on their farm in Lincolnshire. Police discovered £20,000 worth of cannabis in a carrier bag and 159 plants. Their annual electricity bill had increased by £2,000 due, they claimed, to their pottery business which involved the use of a kiln.

Part of their defence was that a large part of the profits from their illicit activities was spent on philanthropic acts such as paying for life-saving surgery for a villager near Mombasa in Kenya, for computer equipment for a Kenyan eye hospital and for the education of children. The couple frequently travelled down to East Africa. However, the beak wouldn’t have anything of it and sent them down.

The discovery was made when an officer of the law was chasing a burglar and recognised the distinctive smell, presumably not of the foot odour coming off the miscreant’s footwear. It was not reported whether the burglar was ever apprehended.  

Gardening has long been described as the new rock and roll and perhaps some of the baby boomer generation are taking this analogy too literally. I know for sure that when TOWT next drags me to the local gardening centre, I will pay particular attention to the pot plants section.  


Pot Luck

TOWT is a great fan of car boot sales. You never know quite what you will find. Her latest triumph on Sunday was to buy a pair of curtains for £1 and a Mothercare baby changing unit for £2, a saving of around £97 on the “as new” price. Her thriftiness in these times of economic austerity is one of her many endearing qualities.

However, if nowhere else the maxim “caveat emptor” applies in the world of car boot sales. You need to be sure of what you have got or else you could be in for a nasty surprise. An elderly couple in Bedfordshire bought a shrub at a car boot sale which they planted in their garden and tended carefully. No doubt they were pleased with the way it took. However, the bush came to the attention of the local police who, according to their tweet, described it as the biggest cannabis plant they had seen. The bush has been disposed of. The couple will not face any action from the police.

Offal News

I read the other day that the company which makes the world’s best-selling brand of haggis – Hall’s of Broxbourn – will be closing its meat processing plant near Edinburgh with a loss of up to 1,700 jobs unless a buyer can be found.

I have always been a fan of haggis and offal in general. I used to attend functions up in Scotland and invariably haggis, neeps and tatties was on the menu – and very tasty it was too! I used to have American guests with me and I would try and convince them that a haggis was a wee creature which inhabited the Highlands. Sometimes they even believed me. Spinning this fiction was sometimes better than telling them outright what was in it.

As a child I grew up on liver, heart, tongue, tripe, marrow bone and trotters and still retain a fond affection for offal. I particularly remember having honeycomb tripe salad with oodles of vinegar – a favourite of mine. Can you still buy tripe? I remember at the butchers great big slabs of tripe and tongue for sale. There are now specialist restaurants catering for lovers of offal, usually at racy prices which would have astonished my grandparents for what is after all the offcuts of a cow or pig.

Poor old Hall’s – clearly best-selling in a haggis context is not best-selling enough in an overall financial context.

Gardening Blues

Not good news for TOWT. The awful summer has meant that peat suppliers have not been able to harvest Britain’s waterlogged bogs. A leading peat supplier has reported it has been able to harvest only about a fifth of its normal annual harvest.

Peat is a key ingredient in compost and the shortage is likely to have a knock-on effect on the availability (and thus the price) of plants in garden centres. The prospects of TOWT being able to fill her garden with cut-price plants next year are bleak indeed.

Jesus and Mary Chain

Interesting to read that on Tuesday a Harvard professor unveiled a fragment of papyrus written in Coptic script, found in Egypt, which contains the first reference to Jesus’ wife. Assuming its provenance can be established it is tempting, albeit as at the risk of being accused of indulging in a flight of fancy, to imagine it as being a scrap of a gospel which Athanasius, following his triumph over Arianism and other deviations from the doctrine newly accepted after the First Council of Nicea – known as heiresis from which our heresy was derived –  had pulped by his adherents.

If it is genuine – do I run the risk of being the subject of a Christian version of a fatwa here?– death by coffee mornings? – it does pose some deep and potentially troubling theosophical questions. We do know that history is written by the victors who are not necessarily the custodians of the Platonic truth and that Athanasius did establish the canon of twenty seven gospels which became consolidated into the New Testament. The Apocrypha are an uncomfortable appendage from that process. Perhaps, we now have an indication that there was a much wider body of competing literature from which Athanasius made his pick.