You’ll have made your New Year Resolutions, so now’s the time to try to remember what they were. Around the house, and if there has been snow outside, be sure to have a peek into the attic to check for snow having sneaked through the roof, and for other intruders. The homeless (and worse: illegal immigrants) are everywhere these days and they don’t care where they sleep as long as it’s warm and dry, and a well-lagged roof space is irresistible to them, but well-installed roof felting will keep everything out. If they should intrude, do not throw them out into the cold! The good lady, or whoever plays that part, will be only too happy to rustle them up a good hot stew, and the spare bedroom will sleep anything up to a dozen or so with some imagination as regards timetabling and positioning. January is a good time to check your skirting boards for signs of bug infestation, as somewhat against expectations the cold weather often brings out the worst in the burrowing members of the insect community. A light tap with a mallet at strategic points along the length of the board, and at each corner, while listening out for the tell-tale echo, will be enough to ensure your skirtings are fit for another year of holding up the walls. Should you hear the echo you will need to replace all skirtings and fumigate the house. In the kitchen, January is as good a time as any for the lady of the house, or whoever, to get down on her (or his) hands and knees to clean out and reorganize the cupboard under the sink. It’s a never-ending source of wonder how awful that space can become with even the minimum of neglect. Out in the garden, even though the ground may be rock hard and the air cold enough to freeze your nadgers off, be sure to check your cabbage bushes for signs of Arctic Blight or you’ll regret it when harvest time comes around. If you keep chickens, don’t forget to feed them. (Should you be a city dweller and have a window box instead of a garden you will be glad you planted those tulips last year, for they are now in full bloom and brightening your otherwise gloomy metropolitan vista.) Of an evening, January is ideal for catching up on those periodicals you did not quite keep up with last year. Start with the January issue of the Times Literary Supplement and work your way methodically through them all. This year I discovered The London review of Books, which is dull to read but comes highly recommended for kicking off those open fires or getting the wood-burning stove started up.
February is a romantic month, what with Valentine’s Day cropping up halfway through, so the first two weeks are ideal for handcrafting your annual Valentine’s gift for a loved one, what with the weather being so shitty and you are stuck indoors a lot. You will be glad you hoarded all those bits of scrap metal and rags and spent matches, for it’s a never-ceasing source of wonder what the human brain can conjure up with a bit of imagination and a tube of super-glue. Around the house you may find odd smells lingering on account of windows not having been opened since early October, so it’s recommended you spray extensively with air freshener – set aside one day, allocate a can of freshener to each room, spray until the can is empty, and close each door tightly when you’re done. Once the entire house is sprayed you will need to go and stay at a friend’s or relative’s for a week or so – but you won’t regret the minor inconvenience. (City dwellers can also do this; indeed, given the quality of air in the city it may be advisable to do it three or four times during the year.) On your return home you may find it necessary to replace the goldfish; some breeds are more susceptible than others to whatever chemicals they use to simulate the smell of a hyacinth bouquet, or whichever fragrance you choose to use. In the kitchen, February is traditionally “goose and gander month”, so there’s a whole heap of delights awaiting you there and the little woman or whoever will be in her or his element, and there will be goose sandwiches a-plenty in your daily lunch box, you can be sure. The garden will be looking dreadful, of course, what with the blizzards and such like, but you should brave the elements and water the cacti, and ensure that your egg plants are still well-protected with straw, for winter winds can easily disturb the beds and if the plants are left exposed they will not hatch come Spring. If you keep chickens, don’t forget to feed them.
Come March, Spring is just around the corner so now’s the time to prepare for that busiest of times: Spring. All sporting gear should be dragged out from the cupboard under the stairs and checked for signs of mildew, rot or general deterioration. The timber of the hockey stick can be particularly susceptible to Winter dampness, and the moisture can also play havoc with your basket balls. Cricket pads should be freshly whitened (W. G. Grace’s Classic Pad Restorer is recommended – motto: “Use protection!”) and re-string your tennis bats if necessary. Also dig your sportswear out from the wardrobe: for some bizarre reason jodhpurs are very susceptible to the moth. Elsewhere around the house March is the time to test all electrical equipment and replace any damaged or worn-out cables. At the same time, test the fuses in all your domestic appliances and check they are of the correct amperage. Be careful, because too much electricity has been known to cause death. If unsure, consult the owner’s manual for the relevant information. In the kitchen, the little person (do you see what I did there? I was getting fed up with the gender thing) should check the seals on all pickle jars and bring the oldest jams to the front of the cupboard. During March, oranges come into season, and so s/he (will also be busy with her/his* pies. She will also be looking to marinate anything within reach as a result of having been dragged along to a marinating seminar on International Women’s Day (on the 8th) so be careful where you leave your ping pong balls. The garden will be showing the first signs of waking up after the Winter break, so watch out for hedgehogs and weasels. It’s too soon for the potato trees to be in bud but it’s not too early to scrub their trunks from top to bottom with a gentle disinfectant, for cleanliness is paramount. If you keep chickens, don’t forget to feed them. (If you live in the city and have a window box remove the tulips, for they will be well past it by now, and apply ample quantities of manure in readiness for the planting of your summer vegetables.) Finally, for all you young couples
out there, remember that if you want a baby before the end of the year now is the time to be placing your order. I understand this can now be done easily “online” because there is a lot of sex on the Internet, but no doubt you will know more about this than I.
* Look, I am fed up with all this gender palaver. When I wrote this two years ago I used the female denomination because I am married to a woman of that gender. Since then I have been to a couple of lectures at the library and realize the error of my ways, but I really can’t be bothered to keep changing what I wrote, so for the rest of this please understand that when I refer to “the good lady” or “the little woman” or “she” or “her” or any other reference to the feminine category then it could just as easily be a chap if that’s what suits you. I don’t really care either way. I am having enough problems with my Virginia Creeper refusing to creep as per the instructions.
As the days continue to lengthen and excuses for staying in bed for hours on end begin to lose their edge, it’s time for Spring Cleaning, so haul all the furniture outside on to the lawn (Handy Hint: pick a dry day.) and hire an industrial detoxifier and steam-cleaner and give the old castle a thorough overhaul. Replace any wallpaper that falls off the walls during steaming and apply fresh paint to woodwork as appropriate. Launder all linen and clothing. If you have a dog, shampoo it. Take the opportunity to check all furniture for signs of deterioration or mange, and burn anything that deserves it. Send a drone fitted with a video camera over your property for an aerial view of any damages not visible from the ground.* When the house is thoroughly cleansed treat yourself to a drop of seasonal alcohol: now’s the time to crack open that demijohn of turnip wine you’ve been saving up. It’s a never-ending source of wonder how insane a jug of wine can make you feel. In the newly washed and sparkling kitchen the wife will be sharpening the cutlery and scouring all the pans in readiness for the May harvest. It’s a never-ending source of wonder how resplendent a woman can look when posed next to a freshly-cleaned kitchen range. Which brings us to the garden: according to the poet April is a cruel month, but for the gardener it’s also one of the busiest. The parsnips will have been maturing on the vine during the Winter and will be ready for picking, and the early spring onions will be living up to their name and literally crying out to be cropped. It’s time to plant pumpkin seeds, and sow banana seedlings. For the latter, a shady spot is recommended as the banana does not like full sunlight and will prosper in a sheltered corner. Some people like to have them in a pot on an indoor windowsill, preferably north facing, but when they grow it makes it difficult to close the curtains so this is not recommended unless you have blinds instead of curtains, which also is not recommended unless you are a foreigner and don’t understand curtains. Be sure also to check on those egg plants: some may hatch early, in which case they will need to be taken indoors and kept warm by the fireside. If you keep chickens, don’t forget to feed them. (As for the city dweller’s window box, remove all the manure and plant Brussels sprouts; if planted now the bushes will bloom with their resplendent greens and browns in early Autumn and brighten otherwise glum afternoons.)
* If you live near an airport be careful your drone does not get in the way of any aeroplanes. Or, where possible, ask the airport to suspend their flights until you have finished checking your property for Winter damage. You will find most will be more than happy to wait until you are done.
In early May you will notice that the lawn has begun to encroach on the outer walls of the house and is climbing like your Auntie Ivy towards the eaves, so now is the time to scrape the rust off the mower and sharpen the scythe and fend off the green invader. Grass clippings make a good filling for cushions and pillows, so ensure that the little lady stores them in a cool dry place for future use. Around the house the effects of April’s spring clean have taken full effect and all the fumes of cleansers will have finally abated so it is safe to enter all rooms to admire what you own. If any doors are sticking owing to the air fresheners turning out to have left a chemical deposit of some kind on all your paintwork a good blow with a hefty mallet should fix them. Oil all locks and hinges with lock and hinge oil, and check that all keys are in working order. The kitchen truly comes alive in May and the missus will be calling for all hands on deck and demanding you employ a kitchen maid to help out. Resist, for the days of human bondage are long gone (in our village they are, anyway; the rest of the world could be different if what you see on the News is anything to go by) and it’s high time the good woman learned that it’s her place to do all the cooking on her own. In the garden it is pond-dredging time. It was also pond-dredging time in April but we forgot about it, which is why we recommend planning ahead. If the frogs have not yet had their kittens drain the water and clean out all the muck from the bottom of the pond; if the frogs have had their kittens remove them to a safe place for the duration of the cleaning operation. A bucket of water will do. Refill the pond using tap water, replace any dead plants, such as weed, and return the kittens. (The city dweller should clean out the goldfish bowl and, if necessary, buy a new goldfish.) Among the vegetables, the melons are ripening, as are all other root crops, and tomatoes will be seen to be growing blossom. Early wheat is ready for plucking and it’s a never-ending source of wonder how much bread can be reaped from one tiny patch of the golden flower. If you keep chickens now is the time to count them.
There are so many things to do around the house and garden in June that you will wish the month had more than 28 days. But here’s a Handy Hint: boarding houses at most seaside resorts tend to be slightly cheaper during June than in the “high” summer months of July and August, so it can be a good time for getting away from it all for a fortnight. The south, east, north and west coasts of Great Britain each offer delightful options for a relaxing vacation, and there are regular train and bus services in most directions at very reasonable prices if you book a year or more in advance, and there are discounts available for seriously old people, hence our advice to plan ahead. If going away, be sure to ensure that the house and garden are left in good order. All windows should be closed and shuttered, and all doors should be locked and bolted. Set all burglar alarms. In the garden, dig up all root crops and harvest all other fruit and vegetables and store in the shed until your return, when you can re-plant and re-hang everything. Make sure the shed is securely locked before you leave, and set all alarms. (If the city dweller leaves home for a vacation they should bring the window box indoors for the duration and set all alarms. It’s a never ending source of wonder that thefts have been known to occur, even from outside the highest of high rises, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.) Should you decide to stay at home during June it is a good time to reorganize one’s library, and in the kitchen it is a fine opportunity to pickle herrings and onions and eggs. In the garden the extended hours of sunlight give one a marvellous chance to make one’s entire estate shine for the coming summer months. The leaves of all plants can be cleaned using a propriety leaf cleanser, and a fresh coat of paint on any concrete paving will make it seem as good as new. If you keep chickens, don’t forget to feed them; should you go away for a holiday, be sure to leave them plenty of food, and don’t forget to tell them where the can opener is! During one’s leisure hours, a pleasing game of chess with the neighbours on the patio is an ideal way of passing several quiet days, and a great chance to sample that sawdust wine you’ve been hiding since last summer.
July and August
July and August are the hottest months of the year, so you will need to cover your property with reflective foil to ensure coolness. (A gigantic parasol can also be used, but they are becoming increasingly hard to find.) Erect supporting poles at each corner of the property to a height of at least one meter above the chimney tops and install the foil as soon as possible before it becomes too hot to go outside. Additional supports may be required so be sure to have some handy; if necessary, employ professional help (although this can be expensive). Some people object to the aforementioned procedure on the grounds that it keeps the sun off the garden plants and plunges the house into a summer-long darkness, but the purchase and installation of a battery of horticultural incubation lamps will keep gardeners happy, and the house has lights which can be turned on and off as necessary, just as usual. (If you live in a city apartment you may need to obtain the agreement of neighbours or a landlord before embarking on the above procedures.) Meanwhile, the kitchen is in Summer Heaven already, with pies steaming and cakes baking at all hours now the harvest is coming in. The annual wine-making can also begin, and root crops such as corn and courgettes can be mashed and cured in readiness. Jams can be rolled out and the little lady, up to her neck in a variety of beans, will be almost beside herself with too much to do. In the garden, make sure that the pond has not evaporated and that any aquatic beasts such as fish or frogs are still alive. The surface of the water should be skimmed with an appropriate net to remove anything that appears to be dead. If you keep chickens, don’t forget to feed them. Health Note: it is advisable to stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day, for sun-borne diseases such as dry and frizzy hair and skin sizzle can render even the most handsome or the cutest of us more than a little embarrassing to look upon. Sunvisors should be worn at all times, of course, though they may be removed inside the house. Be sure all pets are kept well-watered, and keep an eye on elderly members of the family in case they begin to shrivel up in the heat. You may have felt inclined to install airconditioners in the house, but this is not recommended because it’s a fad imported from abroad and, as such, beneath contempt.
Traditionally, September is “Carpet Month” – that time of year when one examines the edges of all one’s carpets for signs of foxing, or of their having been nibbled by mice or other domestic rodents, and for a general inspection for wear and tear. It’s a never-ending source of wonder that many people forego this tradition and carry out these ceremonies during Spring Cleaning, but those of us who respect our cultural heritage and see it as the backbone of a nation’s spine will celebrate Carpet Month and never mind the inconvenience of having to shift a lot of the furniture for the second time in six months. In the kitchen the little woman will be taking full advantage of the bounty coming in from the garden: for example, passion fruit will be in plentiful supply, as will baked beans. If the weather is cooling the reflective foil can be taken down, although it may be wise to wait until the end of the month just to be on the safe side. One can never rule out an “Indian Summer”. Green vegetables will be overwhelming, and now is the time to dig up the kale, pluck the sprouts from the bushes, and bring in the breadfruit for winter storage. If you keep chickens, don’t forget to feed them. The garden shed should also be made ready for the approaching Winter, for as much room as possible will be needed to store the Autumnal harvest, so throw out all those spare mower parts, rusting tools, and old copies of Playboy and Readers’ Wives (if you didn’t do it last year or the year before) to clear adequate space. (If you are a city dweller with a window box you will have enjoyed several months of enjoying watching your beans flower, and the Brussels sprouts will be in bud, but September is the month to decide upon your Winter floral show. Lilac trees seem to enjoy traffic fumes, and never let you down. They are also easy to care for.)
There is no doubt that, with the arrival of October, Autumn is also arrived, and one senses the coming of Winter. Around the house, the little lady will be taking a break from the kitchen to ferret out the knitted draught excluders and see to any necessary running repairs and, if necessary, concocting new ones, though they will certainly turn out to be knitted stuffed snakes of a multi-coloured hue. It’s time also to make sure the medicine cabinet is well-stocked with cold remedies and sleeping pills, and to check one’s Winter wardrobe. If the moth has been at your woollens or your thermal underwear there is still time to repair or replace where necessary. Do not overlook footwear: Wellington boots, galoshes and ice skates should all be thoroughly inspected. If the blades of your skates appear at all less than razor sharp take them down to the blacksmith a.s.a.p. (as soon as possible) and he will knock you up some new ones. The kitchen will now be the fiery heart of the house as the stove is always on, and the smell of baking, roasting, steaming, frying and burning lasting all the day round is a never-ending source of wonder and the entire household will be smacking its lips in culinary anticipation. Seasonal delights include, of course, tomato pie and stuffed pea. The garden is approaching the point of shutting down for the Winter but there is still plenty to be done. Cucumber plants should be staked to withstand seasonal gales, as should marrow canes. If any peaches remain in the ground now is the time to be digging them up and sending them to the cannery for canning. If you keep chickens, don’t forget to feed them. (If you are tending a window box in the city there is not much to do this month, so have a break. The Brussel sprouts will be in full bloom, albeit only for a short time., so enjoy them while you can.) Elsewhere, remember that Hallowe’en is spelt like that, and not Halloween. Do not be lazy with punctuation – once laxity intrudes a foot in your door it will be hard to kick the habit and your home will suffer.
For many, November is a depressing month and we will all know someone who has taken the easy way out during this dismal time and taken their own life. But this is not our way of doing things and never shall be. Never shall be! A nip in the early morning air tells us that we need to get busy if Jack Frost is not to catch us napping and unprepared and it’s a never-ending source of wonder that too many people are caught out by the first cold snap of the year and find themselves scraping ice off their armchairs. It’s never too early to be prepared! Bulk buy heavy duty lagging and wrap it around all your extremities, but be sure to ensure that you leave breathing room and/or manoeuvrability as appropriate. You will find that the house might shift on its foundations and make occasional unsettling noises with the onset of the cold weather, but don’t worry. Some seasonal collapsation is quite normal. However, this is a good time to check that your building insurance is up to snuff. Vermin can also pose a threat at this time of year as pests such as rats, squirrels, mongoose and badgers look for somewhere to hunker down for the Winter hibernation, so you should be installing anti-pest netting and traps at all strategic points. In the kitchen, bananas will have been brought in from the orchard so bananas and custard should be on the menu morning, noon and night. The garden will be dismal now, but aubergines and peanuts are ready to be harvested, so there is still some work to do. The fish pond is due one last look before the weather deteriorates, so be sure to stand by it for at least half an hour and have a good look at it, and if you keep chickens don’t forget to feed them. Also, don’t forget that the ground needs to be readied as much as possible for the Spring plantings so hire in that plough and make the most of the daylight hours. Winter apples will need to be wrapped up, or you will surely lose them come the first snow. (The November window box is hardly worth thinking about, but the lilac trees should have taken hold by now and at least be giving you something to look at. They will also be providing welcome shade.) Addendum: if you have a bonfire on November 5th be sure to check in the embers on the 6th for any roasted hedgehogs. Re-heated with a little garlic and ginger and served with a side of fries they are a delicacy one would not want to miss.
December is the twelfth month of the year, and doesn’t time fly? It is a never-ending source of wonder that when this time comes around each year it seems like only yesterday that we were writing last year’s almanac and trying to find something new to say, which is why this year I am sending out more or less the same almanac as last year, except I forgot to do it last year because I had some lumbago and it played havoc with my mind. What with globular warming and the hole in the O-zone layer who knows what kind of weather next year’s December will bring? – but we can be sure that once again the Baby Jesus will be born in a stable to bring joy to all mankind and reminding us by the well-organized stalls and well-filled troughs in the background that good husbandry is the key to a pleasant life and, as vitally, a good harvest. You will not be sorry that you spent goodness knows how many hours of the year in the garden tending your crops and ensuring you don’t die of starvation, and that the good woman slaved away in the kitchen working her magic until the cows came home to fill the pantry to overflowing. It’s now all your good work comes to fruition: may it rain, snow, freeze or tycoon, your dwelling will stand as a castle upon a rock, and its inhabitants rest secure, warm, and well-fed. And Christmas gives you the ultimate opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the field: roasted fowl, figgy pudding, mistletoe sauce and lashings of booze – what more could one ask? Out in the garden the Douglas Fir you have been tending with such care the entire year can be chopped off at the ankles and hauled into the parlour to be festooned with bling and coloured lights, and beneath its boughs seasonal gifts can be piled invitingly, unless of course the good lady is against that kind of thing. And, of course, if you keep chickens, don’t forget to feed them. (Should you be in the city for Christmas, your window box can easily be decorated: just pop along to somewhere selling Christmas trees and pick up a handful or two of broken twig or branch, and take them home and pop them into your window box; add a short string of coloured lights and Hey Presto! it’s Christmas even in the city gloom.) Wherever you are you have earned, with your horticultural industry and careful housekeeping, a few days of leisure and over-indulgence during the holiday period. But don’t forget: it will soon be time to be back at work. January is just around the corner!
NB. The above information applies mainly to residents of the United Kingdom* only. We are led to believe that other countries have different kinds of houses, plants, food, animals, and even ideas. And, of course, if you live in the southern hemisphere half of the world everything will be the other way around.
© Uncle Albert Baxter, 2016 and 2018. All rights and wrongs reserved.
* BREAKING APPENDIX
At the time of writing (just after lunch) the United Kingdom is still a member of the European United Common Association, but apparently we are cancelling our subscription at the end of March, I think because the Newsletter is considered to be no longer worth the money and some people think too many of the articles are by foreigners. How this might affect some of the items in the calendar above we do not know. I have written to Mrs. T. May, the Prime Munster, with a list of questions and she has said we will be retaking control of our borders, laws, sovereignty and immigration but she had nothing to say about the practical implications for the vegetable gardener and general handyman. It struck me that it was “a form letter”; it certainly lacked the personal touch. So, it may be that some seeds – presumably those of an overseas nationality such as the kale tree, tomato root and chess nut – may be stranded on the northern beaches of France (e.g. Dunkirk, Calais, Cannes) for the foreseeable future, so it is advisable to order early and beat any potential log-jam. Rumours that the Brussels sprout will be illegal and classified as a Class C narcotic in the UK after the end of March remain unconfirmed. Difficulties with other imported goods that may affect your yearly plan may include some cleansing materials and spare parts for the mower, and I also understand that going on holiday to the continent might prove to be a problem, so we stand by our recommendation (see June) to stay within our own borders, because the last thing you would want is to either fork out money for a holiday you cannot go on and then spend months trying for a refund from Thomas Cook or Easyjet, or going somewhere and then being forced to live in a foreign country for the rest of your life. So, stick to England, or Scotland, Wales or Northern Island if for some reason that’s how you are inclined. I understand that all National Holidays, birthdays, football fixtures and other festivals will remain unaffected, as will the seasons, but globular warming may continue to affect the weather, so be on your guard for the unexpected. As Mrs. Baxter is always saying, “You can’t be too careful.”
© Uncle Albert Baxter, Today, 2018. All rights and wrongs still reserved.