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Slurry spreaders get on my nerves - and I get on Mary's - Giles Wood

Blog | By Giles Wood | Jul 09, 2021

Giles Wood is at loggerheads with Mary over shockumentaries

Mary doesn’t share my appetite for Netflix ‘shockumentaries’ about imminent environmental catastrophe.

However, to her credit, she will honour her marital vows by sitting next to me while I watch; albeit with a pile of ‘mending’ – in case the content goes over her head.

A while back, she sat through Cowspiracy, showing how cows are ruining the planet. But it barely dented her appetite for red meat, cooked to the consistency of leather.

Fast-forward to its marine equivalent, Seaspiracy, which we watched in the face of warnings. While many viewers had been ‘moved to tears’, others had actually been ‘broken’ by the hard-hitting attack on overfishing, fish-farming and the deliberate fishing to extinction of blue-fin dolphin – so as to profit from the specimens already being hoarded in mega freezers, as the hoarders wait for their value to rise as a luxury food with the ultimate rarity value.

Following the viewing, we vowed never to eat fish again, other than the handful of sustainably and ethically sourced examples endorsed by environmentalist Charles Clover; namely, North Sea plaice and haddock, hake and mussels.

Seaspiracy assaulted our senses only a week ago. So when my Ulsterwoman wife went to London for the day for a doctor’s appointment, what did she bring back from a supermarket at Paddington Station but a pack of farmed salmon?

‘But didn’t we agree to never eat farmed salmon again?’ I ventured.

‘OK. So you won’t mind my giving your portion to the dog, then?’

Like many married couples, we have been getting on each other’s nerves.

Undeterred, I made Mary watch another shockumentary, Kiss the Ground. It explains the thinking behind the fashionable regenerative-farming system which promises not only to save the world by reversing global heating but also to feed it in the process. There is even room for cattle in this brave new world. The central message, not unfamiliar to organic gardeners like me, is to feed the soil, not the plant, and never to leave ground bare because nature never does. The polemic made things crystal clear. If we carry on with conventional farming, we will have 60 harvests left.

But there is a price to pay for watching shockumentaries – the toll taken on our nervous systems by the constant triggering of the fight-or-flight mechanism, when there is no outlet for this adrenalised state.

Correction – there is an outlet: my wife. I often find her cringing in anticipation when I merely enter the upstairs room where she works from dawn till dusk, even when I am only kindly delivering a cup of tea.

The other day, while quietly going about my no-dig gardening, I glimpsed on the horizon a satanic machine the size of the Ever Given mega tanker in the Suez Canal. I had to run upstairs to get a better look at it spreading slurry over a distant prairie. The fact that Mary did not find this grounds for hysteria suggests we may be incompatible.

To describe our cottage as a tinderbox would be an understatement. But how much of the tension is attributable to shockumentary-watching and how much to COVID mental-health issues?

Nature doctor H Vogel can always be relied upon to restore perspective. He reminded me that those suffering from ‘nerves’ can benefit enormously from the berries of the wild barberry bush, chewing them slowly before swallowing.

I am one of the few Englishmen to boast a cluster of barberry bushes on their land. Having successfully used the berries to revive my liver following incidents of schnapps and schnitzels overindulgence during a house party in Austria, I planted some specimens as soon as I got back.

How right I am in according myself the honour of being 20 years ahead of my time or, as one wag named me, ‘the David Bowie of horticulture’.

Sadly, barberry bushes, once prevalent in this country, are also endangered. The bush even has its associated rare moth, the barberry carpet moth – so rare that you need a licence to survey for it.

The moth and its host are victims of collateral damage. Common barberry is affected by a species of stem rust that in the past went on to infect cereal crops. Farmers have extirpated it from hedgerows where it had grown merrily since the neolithic age.

Surely the time has come to do a shockumentary on wheat. Most wheat currently grown in this country is fit only for cattle fodder. It no longer even waves in the breeze, because farmers favour short-stemmed varieties developed to reduce the ‘problem’ of crop waste.

Wildflowers no longer co-exist with this type of wheat. Neither do birds or insects resort to it. Indeed, a walk in the wheat fields nowadays might induce Parkinson’s, lymphoma or, worse, a custodial sentence for trespassing.

Meanwhile, my own barberry bushes are now fine, unwieldy specimens – but we won’t be able to take advantage of their berries’ nerve-tonic properties until the autumn.