Subscribe by RSS

Friday, 18 July 2014

Handsome head

Rachel is a big fan of shite. I don't mean metaphorical shite, like Noel Edmonds and the England football team. I'm talking about the genuine article that half our class smelled of when I went to school in Ayrshire, where every pupil was a farmer's son or a miner's daughter.

"It's packed with the nutrients plants need," she tells me, when I've been shovelling the stuff into holes around her vines for several hours in the Hampshire sun, and wishing someone would give me a word of encouragement, like they did with galley slaves in classical times, such as "Don't worry son, the first 99 years are the hardest."

Instead of which I get a dissertation on shite science, which I have to tell you is the last thing I need right now.

"The main nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, of course," she says.

"Why 'of course'?" I say, standing up, stretching my back and rubbing sweat from my brow, which is a mistake because my hands have been delving in the depths of manure, so I must look like Worzel Gummidge now.

"Because everybody knows that," she says, wrinkling her nose and stepping back a pace.

"I didn't," I say.

"You don't have a garden?" she says.

"I think I do," I tell her. "I can see it out the window when I'm writing. It has thick grass, tall trees, swoopy birds, jumpy frogs and a pond."

"If you went out there, you'd know about soil nutrients," she says. "Gardeners and farmers are always talking about them. It's like the four essential food groups for humans."

"My son says the four essential food groups are crunchy, greasy, salty and chocolate," I say.

"Your son talks bollocks," she says.

"It's why I like him," I say, scratching my ear. This is also a mistake, as a lump falls into it and the pristine clarity of Rachel's words gets muffled for a few minutes by manure. 

"Only one alien kicked the flaming pile of biscuits," she says. 

I nod and smile vacantly and she leans over and smacks my head, causing the offending lump to fly out my ear.

"Can you hear me now?" she says. 

"Unfortunately," I say. "Are you still talking shite?"

"Most of a plant's weight is carbon, hydrogen and oxygen," she says. "They get those from air and water. But they need other elements from the soil in smaller quantities.

"There's nitrogen to make proteins, phosphorus for photosynthesis and potassium for releasing energy, making starch and controlling water loss. They're called macronutrients, because plants need a fair amount of them. As they take them out of the soil, they have to be replaced. That's what farmers are doing when they spread fertiliser on their fields."

"So why am I up to my knees in cowshit instead of clean, odour-free, scientific fertiliser?" I say.

"Because plants need smaller quantities of ten other nutrients," she says. "Will I tell you what they are?"

"No," I say.

"Calcium, magnesium, sulphur, boron, copper, iron, chlorine, manganese, molybdenum and zinc," she says and draws a breath. "I thought that secretly you wanted to know, so I told you."

"Thanks, Butch," I say. "So manure has all those?"

"So has compost," she says. "But manure's easier to get your hands on."

"And get on your hands," I say, stretching my shoulders and holding my arms out wide, which causes a crow flying towards us to squawk loudly, do one of those cartoon air brakes and veer off to the next field. Rachel goes quiet and I can see the wheels turning.

"No," I tell her. "Forget it.

"Just till sundown," she says. "I'll get nets up tomorrow but the birds could do a lot of damage today." 

"I'm not standing in a field to frighten birds away," I say. "I'm a physicist not a scarecrow."

"Not from where I'm standing," she says. "I'll pay you in beer."

"How much beer?" I say, weakening.

"As much as you want," she says. "Plus dinner in the pub."

"It's a deal," I say, offering my right hand, which she studies like it's a small boy with a melting ice-cream, wandering around a nudist beach

"Shake on it," I say.

"I don't think so," she says and heads off down the hill. "I'll be back."

"I'll be here," I say, stretching my arms out wide and feeling, for the first time ever, that I've found my niche in life. 

"Come on crows," I taunt them. "Make my day."

More science

No comments:

Post a Comment