Giles Coren embraces the eternal cycle of death and rebirth in NW5.
Above all, I am a nature person: the ceaseless, reassuring cycle of the seasons, the twitter of birdsong, the decay of the old and the rebirth of the new, the warming of the soil and the bringing forth of Mother Earth’s greenshooted bounty. I love all that shit, which is why I live in London.
In the actual countryside everything is too slow for a serious nature-lover like me. As I write, London is bathed in sunshine and the emerald glow of new growth, but beyond he M25 they are still having frosts, the daffs are barely out, nothing’s rotted on the compost heaps and the birds and smaller mammals are either still asleep or simply dead.
Here, you see, we are warmed by the all-enveloping tarmac poncho of our roads, which soak up every meagre molecule of life-giving sunlight and beam it back into the earth. Our cars and houses, shops and factories raise soil temperatures by as much as five degrees compared with rural areas, to say nothing of the vast quantities of plant-enriching carbon dioxide they breathe into the local ecosystem.
These conditions put us something like six weeks ahead of the rest of the country in the breathless race over earth’s diurnal course (the yokels don’t know it’s a race, which is why they are doomed to remain yokels) and explain why there is already a mist of blue around my urban garden from the forget-me-nots that swarm in the borders, dotted with the violet-pink of lungwort, yellow forsythia, purple buddleia and white flowered clematis armandii. All basically weeds, of course, but who do you think I am, Alan Titchmarsh?
Oh, I never actually plant anything. In London you don’t have to. Nothing dies here because the weather never gets cold enough. Last year’s annuals can thrive happily through the winter. On Christmas Day we looked up from our turkey at lovely red geraniums on the terrace. Properly festive. In Scotland, for example, there’d have been only twigs, turds and Big Issue vendors suspended in the permafrost like mammoths.
Same goes for the birds. Robins, finches, tits, sparrows, a couple of woodpeckers. We’ve got the lot in Kentish Town all year round. And the cats don’t go near them any more because they’re so terrified of the parakeets. You only have to look at my compost heap to understand why the birds are so happy. Even in darkest January you lift the old bit of carpet on it and the air is fogged with a million insects. The warmth it gives off is palpable. Nothing rots this well outside London. Again that’s partly the urban heat boost, but it’s also my famously corrosive urine. I pee on the heap every morning and evening to help break it down, and to keep the foxes away. They can scent a bigger predator, you know. Grrrr.
I read that you’re supposed to use lion piss for that, but when I phoned London Zoo to ask if I could have some they said, ‘Only if you go in and get it yourself.’ So I make do with my own. I love to stand out there in the dark after dinner, at the bottom of the garden, peering in at my neighbours as they eat their dinner, feeling the cool breeze on my knackers.
It is also a wonderful chart of the past year’s culinary fashions. While a rural compost heap will always be the same layers of horseshit, grass cuttings, leaves, squirrel corpses and wood ash, the top of mine shows trimmings of the calcots that were so very February 2015 (did you try them at Lyle’s with the cod and eggs?) above assorted micro-herbs, an inch or two of kimchee, some brioche burger buns from when they dropped out of fashion overnight last June, a rich seam of vegenaise, then chia seeds and what appears to be half a ton of ras el hanout.
Give that lot another month steaming under my morning micturition and you’ve got organic material the like of which hasn’t been seen since the Garden of Eden.
‘Countryfile’, in short, can kiss my London arse.