Parsnips and the bank manager
Richard Plowright - 26 February 2010
I rang Triodos, my bank, the other day to transfer some money and in the course of the transaction the woman asked me "what was the sort code there (i.e. the sort code for the receiving bank)". I found myself saying "Don’t you mean what is the sort code, not was". Surely, I explained to Remke it is the current sort code that is of interest not what it might have been in the past. Apparently this is a modern usage of the word ‘was’ and it confirms that I am officially a grumpy old man. I thought about ringing to apologise to the woman (Kate), but Remke convinced me that I just need to learn to accept myself.
Nevertheless such was my feeling of guilt that I found myself relating the story to Simon from the bank when he visited on Friday. Visits from the bank are always slightly scary events for me. Simon does a very good job of putting me at ease but I find it hard to escape the unequal nature of the relationship and I think I tend to talk too much. In fact the accounts looked OK to me and Simon also thought so although his keen eye spotted a few things which I had over-looked and which are only border-line OK. To be fair, I don’t study my accounts in great detail: if they look good from a distance that’s fine by me. I know that I have to grow my market and grow my own vegetables and in this quest my mind slips forward to July and I wonder what the weather will hold. Anyway, Kate, if you are reading this, I am sorry if I offended you. I love banking with Triodos!
One of the delights of retailing vegetables is the daily interaction with customers. Of course this relationship is not without its stresses. It’s not often that they correct my grammar but there can be something of a 'call centre’ mentality. This is usually demonstrated by new customers (yes, we still have a few) who, for example, want to be put through to ‘customer service’:
"That’s me" I’ll say.
"Oh, right. Well, can you tell your delivery man to knock and wait next time? He had gone before I get to the door".
"I’ll have a word with him" I say, rather than acknowledging that I am also the delivery man and the account manager and the vegetable grower.
A lot has happened since my last blog. Mostly it has been very cold and snowy and I reckon the first week of January was our toughest harvesting week ever. The snow made even finding the vegetables difficult but we were lucky that the fall was only 5 inches or so. Any deeper and we would have been truly lost. Harvesting leeks was particularly difficult. The tractor was unable to pull our under-cutter through the frozen ground and so, not for the first time, we resorted to the faithful pick-axe to release leeks one at a time from the ground. That week we delivered frozen vegetables in our vegboxes for the first time in 9 years.
In the end, it was not the freezing temperatures which cost us dear because all of our roots, including celeriac, survived and our potatoes and squash survived in store. It was the snow which cost us. As the local pigeon population soared high in the sky surveying the fields for breakfast that morning, only our kale, purple sprouting and cauliflowers jutted from the white landscape. They descended silently, that grey feathered plague, to satisfy their hunger. They left not a single leaf of kale or purple and not one cauliflower of 5000 untouched. The inflateable ‘scary man’ had himself become buried in snow and ice, unwittingly deserting his post. I found him lying down on the job.
The parsnip situation is becoming critical. Thus far we have sold only a ton of the ten or fifteen tons in the field. It turns out that 2009 was a good parsnip year and many have a surplus. So I picked a bad year to grow them successfully. It feels worse than previous years when the crop failed earlier for a variety of reasons. Now I have something to sell and it could go to waste. It’s hard to fall at the final fence.
Oh well! It’s just a variation on the pigeon losses and, if you want to be a commercial vegetable grower, you have to learn to deal with adversity. You might be thinking "Stop feeling sorry for yourself, it’s the same in any job" but I would have to say "No, listen, you don’t understand". It’s like you go to work and someone has burned your desk and destroyed that beautiful thing which was so close to completion. On top of that, you get told that you are not being paid.
It appears that more and more people are growing their own vegetables. Encouraged by celebrity chefs and gardeners and enticed by the dual rewards of health and cheaper, fresher vegetables, loads of folk are having a go at it. Whilst we can see the benefits of 'growing your own’, we can also see some major drawbacks of this trend in relation to our livelihoods. So, starting here, I want to launch the Stop Growing Your Own campaign. Look, don’t do it. It’s much harder than it looks from the comfort of your settee. You’ll only hurt your back. Rabbits and slugs will eat most of it and pigeons will eat what's left. It’s a waste of time! Take up jogging and support your local producer instead.
It was a beautiful day today. I shed a layer of thermals and my hat. Remke and I went to the wood to look at the first snowdrops and the daffodils poking through. The sun had some warmth in it and the ground looked dry enough to till. The new season has started. It’s going to be a strange one, with a baby arriving in March. I must admit I feel some trepidation and then I thought to myself: OK Plowright, let's do it.