The pig flew. Oh alright, it didn’t, but when whistled the hefty creature skipped daintily out of the almond grove, before hoofing it across the stable yard to bound up some railway-sleeper steps and join us on the play area terrace. It nudged its owner as much to ask “Yep?”, then turned to watch a girl on a swing.
The pig – Xanxa (Chancha) – stopped chewing and I could swear her head was faintly moving with the pendulum, further proof positive of salient thoughts. I would have given more than a centimos to know what they were.
Xanxa, of the spotted variety, bunks down in a pen the size of a tennis court with two floppy-eared goats, four noisy sheep and a pocket-rocket stallion pony. But for great lumps of time she is free as a wild hog, a good natured and heavily petted favourite at a farm school run by our old friends Carme and Joan.
The farmer who lived at Mother’s Garden from 1924 to 1964 had at least one pet pig. Do you know anyone with one? Tempting. What made me study Xanxa as she studied the swing was the flawless obedience, cognitive charm and contagious happiness, only the last of which can be found with our loopy terriers. Do pigs chase cars? I don’t think so.
Blasts of rain have greened up the pear tree terrace where La Petita is tethered just out of reach of the fruit. Blue-black fledged swallows twitch their tails on the sundial as fearless young, raised in the barn, unreasonably expect their parents to still feed them. At the back of the olive grove on rougher ground a host of gipsy roses or butterfly blues – scabious – are a wild flower feast for the pollinators, including lesser swallowtails. These subtle blooms will bring colour and lure fascinations well into autumn. They are treasures you can easily pass by: The small flowers are deserving of you kneeling to take in the intricacy.
On the meadow of a morning, crowding around our lone cherry tree we have an abundance of the tender blue of chicory, while at the top of the land there are mesmerising globe thistles, throbbing with blue violet light. Blue is not the celestial prerogative. Even as you walk there are flashes from the host of blue-winged grasshoppers leaping out of your path.
Apples, plums and elderberries bubble on the stove. Maggie’s APE jelly is legendary. And still the bushes and trees sag with fruit. August opened with the clatter of thunder and puddles, so as I said the grasses have come again, much to the contentment of our equine barrel, now almost 30 and full of heart. We must be doing something right. The verdant resurgence will make the going tougher, though, for the rare Mediterranean tortoises, another of which, a 20-year-old male, emerged on the farm last week. That makes three.
I swim sedately in circles in the reservoir, like a gentleman of leisure in a Turkish bath nervous about his toupee, my alarmingly wafer frame out of sight to all but the goldfish, frogs and water boatmen. The strict orders are still in force, but trying to be inactive when there is so much to be done is torture. The good news is I seem to have put back on about nine pounds, not that it shows. And my marbles are regrouping.
The Moon Daisy film project is about to do the rounds of casting agents, directors etc in America, so channel all positive vibes in that general direction please. Ideally, we need a great actress of circa 50+ to read the script and want to do it, it offering, after all, the phenomenal role of key protagonist Jess Healey. What? Not read the book? I forgive you. Only about .0001 per cent of the UK population have…. yet. I aim to return to work on another screenplay this month, one that is stirring interest in three countries. And sales of e-book Shaking The Tree, full of nonsense like this, continue to click upwards.
Meanwhile I read almost incessantly, although it is costly. Coleridge beckoned the other day (I had been learning about his habit of climbing mountains and getting into tight spots) so took one of his tome’s off the dangerously shallow shelves (another Kirby cock-up) that scale the wall beside my bed. When I put him back he wobbled; then, to save himself, he nudged the collective works of William Cowper who lost his footing. Coleridge clung on, but hardback Cowper plunged, smashing the face of my mobile phone idling on the bedside table.
Now I’m reading Cowper, of course. God may well move in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform, but I’m after Cowper’s nature writing and telling observations. It is good to be reminded that existence is a strange bargain. Life owes us little; we owe it everything …. and so on.
The book stack beside my bed spirals, falls, builds again. Farmhouse art includes delicious, random piles and vast mesmeric mosaics of spines on shelves, millions of words waiting to be revisited. I devour two or three novels a week, one of the joys of convalescence, a delicious sedative to counter the itch of idiotic guilt that I should be doing more.
Alone in Berlin, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Suite Francaise, Red Sky at Sunrise …..
But I am, doing more that is, little by little. Selfishly I take on the uplifting, meditative dawn and dusk task of watering the pots around the house and the two clover-clogged veg patches. We have the usual glut of courgettes and an assortment of other produce, plus potatoes to lift and pears and plums at the point of ripening. The jam cauldron must be dusted.
Relentless sun has sapped much of the green. July, with its predilection for parchment (ground as lifeless as the base line of centre court), is not without its jewels. Somehow unwatered wild sweet peas radiate from the base of olive trees, rust red shield beetles scurry, bee-eaters bask and fruits blush.
Senses numb during the afternoon bake. Cicadas drum out the heat to the accompaniment of the dry-throat whisper of a breeze in the pines. Truth be known, though, afternoon temperatures have settled in the tolerable low to mid thirties – that’s ninety-plus but still lower than normal. Thankfully humidity has never been heavy here. But there are other seasonal trials.
Almost daily we sternly scan the blue. The regular, mournful drone of the fire-crew flying boats, unnerving as a mosquito passing your ear, draws us out from the closed, cool farmhouse. We try to judge the planes’ direction, checking the angle of the wind and sniffing for the dire scent of smoke. It is a guessing game. The time it takes for the lumbering aircraft to return gives us a rough idea of the distance from us to any emergency. So far this year there has been no great alarm close by, touch tinder-dry wood.
I am woken most days by a golden oriole leading the first light chorus from the bare, dead crown of the oldest fig tree, before a cacophony of spotless starlings swoops in. They proceed to deafen one another amid the broad leaves. Pickpocket sparrows and finches dodge between them – it is as chaotic as a stock market trading floor, a feeding frenzy. Most of the figs on the high boughs, too high for us anyway, have been torn open, their hearts ripped out, and their spent skins litter the earth.
Our terriers, Tilly and Ted, lay flaked on the red dust beneath this canopy of chaos, too hot to be bothered, unless a cat or a fat toad dares enter their soporific eye-level radar. They have finally figured out the difference between the squeak of the perforated irrigation pipes and rodents. When the pump in the reservoir is plugged in fountains rise at random to water circles of lushness in iron land, and if I forget to turn it off an incongruous brook snakes down the dusty track. And still the spring runs at 1000 litres an hour.
I wrote last time of an emperor ruling the mirror of our vast reservoir. His tenure is over, and from nowhere an armada of delicate, fearless mustard dragonfly has sailed in to spice this water world. They are keeled skimmers, I think, darting hither and thither like a swarm of energised little children on the loose, then taking it in turns to settle on the tips of fennel for a short breather.
Armies of ants toil endlessly, carving highways through broken ground littered with felled forests of dead grass. For days a war between two of these dynasties has been grimly engaged at the entrance to the chicken run, the prize being the food debris scattered therein.
And so our little, bio-diverse world turns clockwise, positively, naturally, at an almost manageable rate, counter to the grim, nauseating flip-flop and mad spin of negative news, dominated by the alarmingly primitive obsessions of some within a single species.
So back to the books I go, and to the extraordinary lives of exceptional authors – Hans Fallada, Robert Tressell, Irène Némirovsky, and Laurie Lee being my current deep pools for thought.
We may never learn, but the lessons are there, everywhere, in black and white.
You can now read the sequel to best-selling NO GOING BACK on Kindle in a new updated edition, available worldwide.
See here for the Amazon UK page,
but it is also available on all Amazon sites from America to Australia.
Thank you so much to everyone who has pre-ordered. We sincerely hope the word will spread fast and that a great many more people will enjoy reading about life on the wild side down on our farm in Catalonia, as seen on the two No Going Back television documentaries.
And today, to give you another flavour of this life, we are uploading some photographs from our Mother’s Garden archive.
Please get in touch if you want to learn more about the book, about wonderful olive oil, or if you want to visit the farm.
Help this book to be a best-seller! Please share and spread the word.
With love and thanks from us all at The Garden. x
Every morning I dwell in possibility. It is three weeks since I came out of hospital. I may not brim with energy, but I watch it, sense and draw on it in the enchantment of outdoors. Fifteen slow strides from the back door a wicker chair bides by the spring-fed reservoir and I drink the view, the sanctuary of nature and pulse of life.
The emperor edged closer, iridescent sapphire with gold in his jewelled stare, his four wings a haze. With every circuit of the round mirror of water he hovered to study me, or rather my lily feet and ankles propped high on the curve of the wall.
Other dragonflies and insects scattered before him for fear of being food. He will rule for just two weeks, almost constantly in flight seeking a female or prey – the power, majesty and frailty of life incarnate.
While I wondered at his species I felt he was questioning mine. I hope to see him every day of what life he has; he and our barn swallows and the martins sweeping in to drink. A few days ago a golden oriole failed to notice me and charmed his way through the olive grove, pausing at every tree in one row. I sat like a rock. All that moved was my mouth as I beamed as brightly as his breast. Then, in a blink, a bee-eater came to copy the swallows, pulling out just in front of my toes and blasting its brilliance in a flap of panic inches from my face.
The hospital indoctrination of patience has its dividends. “Recovery will take many months” was the emphatic mantra and I must abide to the need for diligence, to listen to my body and sleep, sleep, sleep. And when I stir I do not go so far, yet.
I sit or stand still more now than I have ever done, and life comes to me; returning to my body in tiny measures every day. The sustenance of home and loving care, my bed and the rich diversity are working.
Fledgling swallows from nests glued to rafters in the barn chatter on the sundial during flying practice. Below them, beyond the leaf canopy and bunches of the muscat vine that shades the front door, seven feet tall hollyhocks sway in the breeze, attended by several species of bees .
Nearer still to the red earth where our chickens bathe in the dust, the hefty carpenter bees, their hum an octave lower than the other pollinators, prefer the sturdy bloom storks of the dramatic, glossy, dark green and broad-leaf (with a spike at the end) acanthus, or bear’s breeches, a remarkable plant rooted in herbal medicine and, bizarrely, classical and Renaissance architecture and art.
Native to the Mediterranean region but now found worldwide, the leaf motif of this plant was carved into the tops of Corinthian columns from the 5th century BC, something copied by later architects and sculptors, also being used in wood carving and in friezes.
The story, according to Vitruvius, writing in 30BC about architecture, is thus.
A native girl of Corthin was struck down by a disease and died. After her burial some of her prized possessions, some goblets, were put in a basket and placed on her grave. A tile covered them to protect them from the weather. But the basket had been placed on the root of an acanthus, which grew, sending shoots up and around the basket, cupping it in foliage. The architect Callimachus saw this and was inspired to use “the style and novelty of the grouping” in his marble carvings.
The name acanthus comes from the Greek Akanthos, aka meaning thorn, thos meaning flower. The tough flowers, spiny, toothed bracts, rise on rigid stalks and, as I sit enchanted I surmise that only the beefy carpenters are tough enough to breech them. (I still haven’t found an explanation for the “bear” name.)
The honeysuckle is a flourish of yellow blossom and scent. There I counted six species of bees, sharing the air and nectar with a solitary humming bird hawk-moth. I leant on the grass bank wondering whether to attempt a photograph. The still morning air is always rich with life – hover flies, a ruby-tailed wasp (or cuckoo wasp) looking in the wall crevices for other insects’ nests, wasps and flying ants to name but a few. The grass too: crickets, ants and shield bugs of various characters.
To the east and south of our weather-beaten, wide front door, shading the dog kennel and hammock are fig boughs that bow to the ground with the weight of teardrop fruit, still deceptively green. They will ripen before the eyes and be falling within days. The dead crown on the biggest tree needs to be lopped, but hasn’t been because it is also the pedestal for fluting orioles, warblers, finches and, more than most, the serins. A pair of hoopoes has materialised to further lift spirits, while the whistle of the bee-eaters billows dawn and dusk.
June has been mild. We have had occasional thunderstorms and deluges, sustaining much of the green where normally the ground is parched. Even the happy clover clogging the vegetable patch is in delicate white flower.
Soon, though, the summer heat will slide in to a harsher rhythm, day and night. Electric fans will purr in every room and we will hide and wait for the relief of late afternoon breeze to reach us from the sea 15 kilometres away. Then we emerge and our shadows grow into giants.
If we cannot sleep in the afternoon, then we will read or talk some more about the world in flux, the portents of a brewing El Niño in the warming Pacific, or maybe the recent prognosis that we could be on the verge of a mini ice age, but one that will not deflect the consequences of certain global warming. We believe it is important to take a deep interest, and we suffer unending unease about these core realities for our planet and our arrogance and persistent failure to read the signs and react as if our lives and those of our grandchildren depended on it.
I’m sure that if the compulsion to clamour is not yet there, disquiet is of pandemic proportions, surely. But who among the economic straight-jacketed world leaders, will have the strength to make an immediate, profound, defining difference, for you, me, everyone and the emperor?
The truth is, though, it will take the masses to clamour and force. The establishment is always inherently incapable or, worse, unwilling.
SHAKING THE TREE, Martin’s sequel to No Going Back – Journey to Mother’s Garden, will be published as an e-book on July 15. To pre-order click here. This is an updated edition of the paperback book published in 2010, now out of print.
Martin’s book SHAKING THE TREE will be available worldwide on Kindle in the coming days.
Just click here to pre-order. It will be published as an e-book on July 15th.
This sequel to the best-selling NO GOING BACK, brings the Mother’s Garden story up to date – another honest and funny serving of Mediterranean home truths from the family home in The Priorat mountains of southern Catalonia.
More than 50,000 copies of NO GOING BACK, available in four languages, have been sold, and millions of people around the globe followed the family’s living the dream story on two No Going Back television documentaries.
We humbly suggest that those of you with a Kindle might like to read it, and we ask everyone to pass the word and the link so this news reaches as many people as possible.
Many dream of a different way of life, and here is a truthful, emotional and comical account of one family who did it. Shaking The Tree, first published as a modest paperback in the UK in 2010, has now been updated and is set to go out into the world, telling the family’s story from 2003 to 2015.
I turn off the chainsaw to rest my arms and free my hot ears from the muffs. The air still rattles with engine noise. Two powered para-gliders, the sharp colour of grapefruit, are edging along the valley, riding the cloudless sky. If I hadn’t looked up I wouldn’t have seen the peregrine.
There is now more room among the pines for the old olive trees to breathe. And there is room on the terrace wall to perch. A chicken idles past the ankles of the pony and out of the corral. Ah-Ah. I wander over and check the hay store. I haven’t looked for days. Five eggs.
La Petita is dozing, resting one hoof. She is rarely alone, especially at night. The plough work of the wild boar is everywhere.
Through the new pools of light in the wood the initial flecks of almond pink. The last of Joe’s giant snowman has gone. No frost for three mornings.
A carpenter bee, the first, gently writes its name in the air. My gaze slides to Maggie clearing around and feeding the olives. Water from the spring is running between the broad beans.
We must press on with pruning. Maggie has begun in the vineyard, but the olives await and we are too late to finish the almond grove.
I must soon nurse Nell the 51 year-old tractor out of hibernation. It is good to harrow when the earth is amenable.
The Mother’s Garden year is ticking on. How we love the promises of these awakening days. Perhaps I love February most of all.
Now back inside, Martin. Leave the beauty of the woodpile with the robin on top, the happy sense of progress, the sun on our shoulders, and write about this feeling. Then get on with the latest screenplay, maybe checking first if, like the eggs, we have some more orders for fresh olive oil. Oh yes.
Want to get away? Fancy doing something different? Half-price working breaks at Mother’s Garden, Catalonia – and see where our wonderful, award-winning olive oil comes from. If you can’t come, but want to taste this life, we have delicious new harvest EV olive oil in the UK now for immediate delivery. Just get in touch, or log on to our shop.
We have our new harvest arbequina olive oil in the UK for immediate delivery – premium, fresh extra virgin olive oil from our village mill, harvested in November, bottled in the mill.
We supply direct to homes, chefs and fine food outlets, so please get in touch.
Mother’s Garden is a member of the Guild of Fine Food and past winner of the top 3 Gold Stars standard in the coveted UK Great Taste Awards.
If you read some of the coverage by the national media of what has been a very difficult year for Mediterranean olive growers, you could think there was no premium quality olive oil available in the UK at sensible cost. NOT TRUE!
See our online shop – quality, provenance, freshness, flavour and goodness for as little as £9.70 a litre delivered to your door – or please get in touch if you have any questions about the extraordinary juice of the timeless, wonderful winter fruit, the olive.
Perfect for tapas snacks, to drizzle on steamed vegetables, steamed fish, poached eggs and, yes, salads.
All best wishes from Mother’s Garden.
Does freshness matter? Absolutely, that is why every container of Mother’s Garden award-winning olive oil carries the pressing and bottling dates (handwritten at our farmhouse kitchen table).
We would love to hear from you.
The UK and world media is full of stories – like this one – about a disastrous olive harvest in some countries. Some people are taking this to mean they cannot source the finest olive oil. THEY CAN. YOU CAN.
Some small, high quality producers and village cooperatives, like us, are managing to supply. You can have your new harvest olive oil by the end of this week, and if you order with us today you can it at 2014 prices.
The crisis has affected prices, but even with our small price increase tomorrow we are still able to supply our premium arbequina olive oil, just bottled, for under £10 a litre delivered to your home if you buy a 5 litre. Buy more and the price drops. Share a delivery with family/friends/colleagues and it will drop some more.
Support the small producers and the fine food outlets. The finest olive oil is still available at a sensible price.
Get in touch – any questions we will do all we can to help.
Have you ever bought premium olive oil on tap?
In five weeks, from December 13, you won’t be able to any more.
Please – everyone in the UK who loves premium extra virgin olive oil and has enjoyed the quality, value, ease and more environmentally-friendly way of buying this remarkable fruit juice on tap from a fine food specialist shop, please add your voice.
PLEASE SHARE THIS so that everyone knows that the Government is banning the sale of “on tap” olive oil from December 13.
Not all oils, you understand not even infused olive oil, just olive oil.
Not only is the ban unjustified and ill-conceived, it is also discriminatory, punitive and unfair.
All on-tap oils are susceptible to the same potential health and fraud issues yet the EU and DeFRA are just singling out and banning the extraordinarily healthy and delicious fruit juice the world knows as olive oil.
Customers go to fine food outlets they know and trust and use olive oil from producers like us who they know and trust. How is that different to any other food if everything is properly labelled and detailed in a way people can clearly understand and trust?
We have to lobby the British Government and the EU to make them see how wrong this discriminatory ban is. With your help we will try and do so. Tiny as we are.
To put this as simply as possible…
We very much welcome new stricter rules regarding labelling as the EU seeks to counter food fraud. There has to be full provenance on all foods and far more clarity. We at Mother’s Garden give more information than is required, including the pressing and bottling dates (vital yet still rare information).
BUT, based upon a 10-year- old ruling by the European Court, the UK Government says it must now comply with a ban on “tap” sales of olive oil. This includes bag in box.
Part of our business is supplying our premium olive oil in bag in box to health food stores and delis and farm shops and, hence, on to thousands of customers nationwide.
We contest that the clean, simple bag in box method is the best way to preserve the olive oil from light and air contamination. A bag in box cannot be refilled and resealed, and it gives both customers and small businesses a wonderful way to source the best olive oil at sensible cost.
Less weight, less transport impact, less waste, better quality, lower cost. Everyone sees the sense and value of this, the goodness and health benefits.
Look at it this way.
Under this ludicrous new rule the following applies…
UNLAWFUL – our olives are picked and pressed in the village cooperative mill, then the bag in box is filled at the mill and sent to fine food outlets via our family’s UK farm, fully labelled. The age of the oil is also clearly defined.
LAWFUL – olive oil from a host of different locations and countries is taken in tankers by major corporations, mostly to Italy, where it is stored and blended, then bottled and shipped to a distributor and on to stores in the UK. The age of the olive oil is not defined.
We do not say other ways of supplying olive oil should be banned, of course not.
But why regulate against the simplest and most efficient way of bringing this essential food at a sensible cost to the British public?
It is NOT a luxury, and premium olive oil should be affordable and at the heart of every meal.
So we ask – what is wrong with the fully labelled, non-refillable bag in box method, also used for soft drinks and wine?
And how can any government or court justify such discrimination against one food product, one oil?
So, please share and help us spread the word.