Email 22nd March 2010

Fish 2010 - Creating busy patterns in empty spaces

Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,

My time is slowly being filled with a myriad of activities and my life is ever changing on all manner of levels, mostly for the good.

With a warm Scottish sun lighting up the mornings and hanging around in the afternoon for a few hours longer, the inspiration to get out into the garden and create has been overwhelmingly positive.

The spring cabbages, Russian red Kale and the Calabrese are showing healthy growth again after being shrouded in snow and suffering through the worst winter up here since 1963.

The Mizuna, Purslane and frilly mustard salad leaves also made it through and are first on the plate this year but the broad beans are pitiful with broken stems leaving them crushed beneath the cane wigwams unable to reach for the skies.
I stuck a handful more into the soil at the foot of the towering canes and planted extras in pots in the greenhouse as standbys.
The replacement beans will still hopefully give me a decent crop in the summer and I can follow up on those recipes I picked up last year in Croatia as the garlic is rampant in the front beds and basking in the sun.

My two salad beds are in that fine stage of having a smooth, even, weed free carpet of dark soil with only the white plastic markers like grave stones marking the buried rows of seeds and naming the plants that will be rising in the next few weeks.

Cos lettuce, various spinach, Nantes carrots, Italian mixed leaf, Pak Choi, Japanese Spring onions, basil, various parsley and of course the Romaine Lettuce for Buddha the bearded lizard, fill the beds and in a little while the small green shoots will be appearing and the dark soil will start to disappear under the small forest of leaves.

I took out the insurance of a 7m plastic sheet over hoops I created from plastic electrical conduit piping to create a cloche, warming the soil a bit more and protecting against the frost and the cold South Westerly that rips the temperature down.

The greenhouse is pretty full as well. My parents were up last week making small seed pots from old newspaper using a small wooden press my sister Laura gave me for my birthday last year. You cut the paper into rectangles and using two circular stages of different diameters you roll the paper round the upper cylinder and press it into the base thus compressing and sealing the base. Remove the upper cylinder from the paper and lo and behold a bio degradable pot that keeps the root system intact when you plant it out in the raised beds or pot it on.

For anyone interested you can find these "Eco Pot makers" at

My sister is also a keen gardener and she gave me a worm works for our wedding present last year.
Basically it's a series of stacked trays that has one as a "working" tray containing a hundred worms or so that feed off the kitchen compost and in return provide a really rich soil and a liquid feed that falls into the draining tray at the bottom of the stack which resemble a small plastic bee hive. The liquid feed is extremely potent and has to be heavily diluted.

As the trays develop and fill, the worms move up and down between them and new "working" trays come into play. I have to keep my eye on it especially when the weather heats up as it has been in the greenhouse over winter sitting with the Jacaranda trees in 15 degrees. I will have to get it out in the next few months as I don't want to discover a box of cooked and dried worms. What else can I amuse visitors and their children with?

"Look what's over here kids" >:-}

Tara and Connor, her boyfriend, cleaned and disinfected the greenhouse although Taz took a back seat when it came to cleaning out the obelisk of old seed trays and pots as the profusion and the size of the emerging spiders was reminiscent of a 1970's sci-fi movie!
I did chuckle as I heard the screams in my office. >:-}

The only real casualties were the orchids as the recent heating and weather problems combined with either over or under watering while I was in CR has decimated the small collection we had.
They were KT's favourite plants and she was the only one who went anywhere near them as they are a wee bit specialist and need a different approach from the plants I am used to. KT knew how to deal with them and had them flourishing. I was really upset to find they had died.

The mass of Eco pots are full of compost and seeds as, together with my parents, who are perfectly happy being involved in the less arduous side of the family vegetable production line while drinking Costa Rican coffee in the greenhouse and sitting comfortably, as befits their age, we set up the plants destined for the outside beds, the grow bags and for the shelves of the greenhouse.

All sorts of peppers, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, cabbages, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, broccolis and there is still more to go in as the season develops. I cannot remember a year when we have been on the button with the set up and fully prepared and ready for the growing season.

I have an added reason for making sure the garden is impressive this year as I was informed last week that I have been selected to be one of the "problem corners" to be solved by the Beechgrove Garden in June.
I have to admit it's my favourite gardening programme and in Scotland it is renowned.
The presenters are mentioned with high reverence and to have them visit your garden a distinct honour. 8-)

With my Dad struggling a bit with grass cutting tractor duties and the prospect of hives going into the orchard I thought I could eliminate one problem and create a positive influence on another by turning the bottom part of the garden into a wild flower meadow.
I applied for the Beechgrove team to help me sort it out as I am unsure and have had conflicting advice from various people.
One of the presenters and a production team member visited me a few weeks ago and last week I received the official nod that they would help me out. I am well chuffed and really looking forward to the visit where I can hopefully get some more advice on the other elements that I need help with over some Costa Rican coffee! ;-)

So the garden is coming into it's own with the primroses, crocuses and snowdrops gleaming and the promise of the next cascade of colour from Katie's bulbs held in the green stems that are pointing at the blue skies over the farm.

The energies are all good.

I think that has been inspiring me as well as my own daily growth has accelerated.
I am still smoke-free despite all the trials and stresses in my personal life recently and I have not had one single urge to light up.

I have talked a few times to Michael Carroll from the Neuro Linguistic Programming Academy ( and he has told me what I already have discovered in that if I have got through these last few weeks with no desire to smoke then there is no need to ever consider smoking as a crutch to relieve my stress again. It's a great feeling and strange that even yesterday when I was in the Tyneside I tasted a drink from a smoking friend and was repelled by the smell just from his glass.
It is like being reborn in a way! O:-) :-D

The best thing is the feeling of health and I have found that has driven me into areas I never considered before.

As well as the three times a week visits to Bannatynes Fitness Centre where I have an hour work out in the gym before swimming and then the steam room, I also have an hour and a half of Tai Chi on a Friday.

I started last week and although I found it very daunting and a bit confusing I was amazed at what it offered in both health and mind benefits and as a martial art.
It's going to be tough but I plan to give it all I can and as my teacher told me if I can get through the first 8 weeks then everything will start to fall into place and get a lot easier.
It's something I have wanted to do for a long time and I can see that it would have an extremely positive effect on my life in the long term on both physical and mental levels.

Tonight I go for my first night of circuit training in a local hall.
I am a bit nervous as most of the other guys are training martial arts fighters and a lot younger and fitter.
I am signing on to put myself under a bit more pressure and at the same time learn some Ju Jitsu.
I know it's going to be tough and perhaps just a step too far but I can at least give it a try.

I wouldn't have thought of this 6 months ago and I don't think I could even have realistically entertained it on a physical level even two months ago.

I feel a lot more confident and my general fitness has greatly improved.

Yesterday afternoon I just decided to set out on my bike and cycled to East Linton to see my friend Phil.
It took me about an hour to get there and some of the climbs to Upper Hailes farm where he lives were excruciating.

But I got there, had a few pints of water and then cycled back by Hailes Castle, crossing the footbridge over the Tyne and heading up a rocky path to the road which took me back to Haddington on the other side of the river.

It was a great wee trip and cycling along the back roads of East Lothian on your own with no traffic and only the company of the occasional deer darting across your path, to then stop and stare at your passing from the middle of a stance of trees or a cloud of swans grazing in a field of over wintered greens capturing your eye and breathing the magic over you made it all the more special.

I decided then that Sunday was going to be my "Magical Mystery Tour" cycling day and that every weekend I would go out wandering on my bike to see what I can discover and photograph.

I stopped in at the Tyneside on the way back after crossing the Nungate bridge and hurtling through St Mary's graveyard to The Tyneside for a few pints before heading home to cook a full roast dinner for Tara and her boyfriend.

I had a great sense of achievement as it was the longest distance I could ever remember cycling and in total over 2 hours of climbing and pushing along roads of various topography.

A lot more enjoyable than the static bikes in the gym and another prompt for an activity that could become daily as I try to build my cardiovascular activities up for my other weekly activity that takes up three hours of my Thursday night.

I joined the East Lothian Sub Aqua club last week and did my first ever dive in the Haddington Swimming Pool :-D

Swimming up and down the pool wearing full scuba gear with twenty or so other people was perhaps the most bizarre dive I have ever done and with occasional lost Kirby grips being the only real items of interest to be seen on the tiled floor at the bottom of the pool it wasn't the most exciting either.

In saying that the purpose is to train up for the sea diving at the end of April and into the Summer.
I have never dived in a dry suit before and have a hell of a lot to learn and remember from my NAUI training from '88 in Bequia.

Last week I was struggling to remember how to assess and construct dive plans and to decipher the dive tables so important to divers. It took me a while but I was getting there in the end.

The Scottish Sub Aqua course is demanding and very intensive and the pool work with rescue manoeuvres and recoveries an important part of the education process before anyone goes into the ocean.
The guys are a great bunch of people from all sorts of backgrounds and I think the Summer will hold quite a few underwater adventures and apres dive entertainment in the pubs.

I know that once I have my Scottish certificate and a number of dives under my belt here that I will feel confident and relaxed enough to dive anywhere in the world and I won't have to go through the massive and stressful relearning curve that I had to in Costa Rica.

With my smoke-free lungs and my stamina continually being built upon I can see this particular fish spending a lot more time underwater in the coming months and years! :-D

But I am constantly reminded of spaces and all the activities I have been mentioning have been put in place to make me forget about them.

Saturday is always a tough day for me as if I am going to Easter Road to see the Hibs then I am always finding someone to take the spare season ticket I have that I bought for Katie last year at the same time we also bought the double membership for the health club.

If it's an away match I am in the garden or trying to find something to fill my time before I head to the gym for a long session when the place is practically empty and someone always throws on an 80's rock CD to work out to.

Swim a few lengths, into the steam room to relax the voice that is being built with the vocal exercise CD I am using every other day. A wallow in the Jacuzzi and then out into the night in Edinburgh on my own.

The last few weeks it's been a meal in an Asian fusion restaurant in the Omni centre before a movie and expensive nachos with extra cheese and a large coke while enthroned on a VIP seat with extra leg room and decent back support. My weekly treat to myself. :-D

So far I have seen "Avatar 3D" (lot better than I thought it would be and enjoyed it, story predictable but SFX obviously save it 4/5), "Green Zone" (Great movie, wonderful CGI, Damon I really like as an actor, the original book it was rooted on "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" one of my favourites, the politics thought provoking, script great 4.5/5) and "Alice in Wonderland" 3D (Didn't know if I would get into this but did, wonderful characters and some great acting especially from Johnny Depp who is one of my all time favourites. Script brilliant, Burton, a terrific piece of work, fantastic film and would see it again tomorrow 4.4/5)

And then it's the long drive home alone.

It's the worst part of the week when I am reminded that my wife is 400 miles away and that I will not be seeing her in the immediate future.

Kate's commitment to work and her living arrangements mean that if I want to see her it means I have to travel down on a Thursday to have that night and Friday together, her only day off, to fly back next day after two nights in a hotel, or three if I hang around on Saturday on my own in the city.

It is prohibitively time consuming and far too expensive for me to even consider on a regular basis and as KT doesn't want to commute to London I am resigned to living up here on my own as even if I did want to move down South, which I don't, I am not in a position to do so for a number of reasons which include my own work commitments as well as financial constraints and family obligations.

The Easter weekend approaches and I am just hoping my wife can come up to Scotland for a couple of days so we can just be together and she can get a chance to see our home and our garden for the first time this year and remind her what it is she left behind.

It's still not too late to make arrangements but the clock, as always, is ticking and appears to be moving sideways.

Meanwhile I just have to get on with it all and deal with my own situation the best way I can.

I have my voice clinic appointment next Wednesday and that is forefront in my mind just now with all the Summers activities revolving around that examination and pronouncement.

I am feeling pretty good about it all and the homeopathic remedies KT sent up seem to have worked a bit of magic next to the Ibuprofen I am taking on a daily basis. The vocal CD is doing its trick too and I do hate when someone comes to the door when I am in the middle if "trills" and "cadences" :-D

The German SAS gigs fell through, as Roger Daltrey was unavailable, but the Danish and Finnish dates are still in discussion together with other possibilities and I have been offered two shows singing with Leo Sayer and Chris Thompson in July and two shows with the Classic Rock orchestra in Belgium and Holland are still in negotiation for August.

Once I get the diagnosis from my voice doctor I will know what lies ahead and how to start putting together the acoustic shows with Foss and Frank. That is going to be an interesting little combo on the road! ;-)

"everything keeps changing, nothing ever stays the same"

I was reminded of that when on my bike on Sunday cycling by Traprain Law, scattering crows.

There's a rainbow outside my window and I wish sometimes, of a moment, I could only find the pot of gold at the end of it to solve so many existing problems and provide some sort of security for others I know.

But do I really need to as it is such a beautiful rainbow to appreciate, over such a beautiful array of hills, on such a beautiful night from such a beautiful home that I can only feel humbled by my surroundings and grateful to have a healthy and relatively peaceful life with friends and family close by. The wealth, the pot of gold, is in the ability to perceive the value of that and what is before you in all the majesty of the moment.

The crock doesn't and has never existed and that is why only fools chase it so.

I smile. :-)

Onkel Fish

PS I held of sending this till I came back from the circuit training. I survived and will be back next week for the most gruelling and challenging exercises and learning curve I have been on for a while. I spent the first hour and a bit being thrown around and politely and slowly put through a grinder on a mat by a serious and extremely intelligent and knowledgeable practician of the art of Brazilian Ju Jitsu before the most demanding circuit training I have ever done in my life. I am going to hurt tomorrow. A lot! It's fun! :-)

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