This is the Year of the Ox, to be precise, the Year of the Metal Ox. It began on 12 February and replaced the Year of the Rat. At least for the Chinese. For me, 1 March marked the end of Year of the Parsnip. And the beginning of …….. ?
2020 will be remembered for a lot of things that most of us wish to forget. ‘Normal’ life was suspended, still remains suspended. Much time was spent in solitary confinement. Some were angry at the limitations placed on our lives. There was anger at those who behaved as if restrictions imposed in the best interests of all were for the plebs but not those with the inbuilt superiority of a privileged upbringing, those with a villa in Greece to maintain or an eye test to carry out. There was bereavement and grieving without the usual social mechanisms for easing it. Some, whose mental capacity I cannot begin to comprehend, denied there was a pandemic.
It was a year of no escape from the greyness of Grey Britain sinking inexorably towards the mire of Brexit with the encouraging words of those who made their political careers out of telling lies about Our Golden Future ringing increasingly hollow as the economy sank ever lower.
With all the Big Things in life looking gloomy, it helps to try to push the negative out of our brains by focusing on small things. Confined to home and the local area I had a good year in the garden. I repaired and painted the Blue House, a large greenhouse used as a Mediterranean environment. I harvested enough fruit to eat every day for months and have over 200 portions in the freezer for winter. I didn’t have to buy vegetables for 8 months, gave away pounds of courgettes.
But what was outstanding were the parsnips. The previous summer, not a single one germinated despite a repeat sowing. So, late winter 2020, I sowed parsnip seeds in the cardboard inners of loo rolls, several in each, cut off all except the strongest when they germinated, and then planted them out. Result: the biggest crop of the biggest parsnips I’ve had in 40 years of gardening. I started harvesting them at the end of October. Over half of them were more than a foot long and 4 inches at the shoulder, weighing nearly 1½ pounds (700 gms). Each was enough for at least 4 meals (roasted of course!). Two were enough for 8 helpings of parsnip and ginger soup. I harvested the last two on 1 March, a few surface blemishes but enough for three meals from the shoulder of one and 6 helpings of rib-sticking soup.
Small things of not the slightest significance in global terms but for personal well-being it’s good to focus on the pinpricks of light in the darkness that just might lead out to the sunshine.
In gloomy times it’s also good to have something to look forward to, days of trekking around the mountains in the Greek sunshine. In a fit of optimism, I booked a flight for 2 May. It was cancelled. Still hopeful, I booked another for 8 June. It was cancelled on the grounds that the government announcement of conditions for resumption of foreign travel lacks clarity. The conspiracy theorist in me suggests that the UK Government is set on forcing us to holiday at home to boost the economy. Certainly, a requirement for a Covid test before flying, and again when coming back is a disincentive – given that they cost £120 each, more than the flights. Still hoping but waiting on developments.
So, in the meantime, I draw some small comfort from the emerging of Spring: crocuses, daffodils, tulips, primroses, Purple Sprouting Broccoli (probably my favourite vegetable), and garlic and onions thrusting out of the soil. And the fact that solitary confinement has been eased.
I can now meet up with a friend in the garden again, as last Autumn, warming ourselves on cold April evenings in front of a blazing fire in the cheminierre and chewing the fat.