Fishing Lines: Waiting for the worm to turn

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The Independent Online
What sort of Christmas present do you buy for the woman who has everything? For me, the problem is compounded because my wife's birthday is just three days after Christmas. The idea that I can get away with one gift to cover both events does not even enter the gameplan. It's two decent presents or else, buster.

In the first bright flush of love, this is not a problem. But 15 years down the line, it becomes ever harder. I'm treading on day-old ice here, but let me advise newlyweds that a stuffed tawny owl, fossils and a koi carp for the garden pond will not number among her "Presents I Always Wanted And Never Realised" list. So I would like to offer grateful thanks to Tommy Topsoil for coming up with a gift that I had not even considered.

For those who lead a particularly sheltered life, let me explain that Tommy Topsoil is a worm farm. Last year I ordered a bag of their best wrigglers to start my own wormery (not to improve the garden, I hasten to add, but to ensure that I always had a plentiful supply of worms for bait).

It's very easy. You get a large plastic container, such as a water barrel, chuck in the worms, add compost, garden and kitchen waste. The worms chomp away, breeding merrily, and soon your 1,000 worms have turned into lots more. The resulting compost is good for the garden, but more importantly there is little effort to collecting a day's bait. Turn over the top of the worm goo, and there are hundreds of the little chaps, just waiting to go fishing.

Anyway, it seems that by ordering that initial stock, I qualified to be a member of the Tommy Topsoil Club. This gives me not only a discount on my next order, but also a regular newsletter. That duly arrived this week, telling me that I can get blackheads, lobs, dendrobaenas and reds (and you thought a worm was just a worm) at bargain prices. A bag of 1,000 dendrobaenas, mixed with reds, will cost me a mere pounds 10.

This is probably a very good time to buy, I am assured, because I can get in on the ground floor before Tommy starts "feeding the worms up for winter". The worm breeding season is coming to an end in the outdoor breeding beds, I learn, and soon all orders will be supplied from the indoor beds.

But the real highlight of the newsletter was on the final page. Tommy hasn't frittered away his summer playing with worms. On the contrary: he has been making a video, and very exciting it sounds, too. "This 60- minute practical video shows all you need to know about breeding and growing worms, and comes with a very comprehensive reference manual," the newsletter tells me. Bought separately, the video would cost pounds 15 and the manual pounds 11.50, but as a member I can get them both for pounds 15. That's not all. "With the purchase of our video and manual, you will get unlimited help and advice by telephone on any matter relating to the production and marketing of worms, absolutely free!"

Best of all: "Maybe this could be an ideal Christmas gift for a friend or relative. It could turn out to be the best gift they have ever received." You may wonder how. But the newsletter explains that from a small pit of just 8ft by 4ft, you can earn at least pounds 100 a week when in full production. "With an allotment-sized area and a few barrowloads of horse manure, you could have a small cottage industry earning in excess of pounds 300 a week for a few hours' work."

And so that's my problem solved for another year. A big bag of worms for Christmas, then the manual and video for her birthday would seem to answer all Riva's complaints that a) I never buy her anything to read; b) never take her to the pictures; c) never give her anything useful and d) give her things that cost a fortune to maintain. I'm even setting her on the road to a promising career. What more could a woman want?

For others still searching for that ideal gift, Tommy Topsoil is at Pine Trees Farm, Hubberton, Sowerby Bridge, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX6 1NT. Apologies to those who were expecting this column to reveal skulduggery at Redmire Pool. Certain issues need to be argued with lawyers before the full story can be revealed.