Windy City

June 14, 2008

You’d think Scotland would have enough wind just naturally, but round here there’s a newly opened wind farm and from certain angles if you look up in the hills you can see the turbines turning steadily away, stirring up the breezes*. Today they were having an open day and, thinking it might be a nice interesting morning’s excursion we popped along. Wind farms, we thought, would be a bit of a minority interest, so we weren’t expecting a huge crowd, maybe a few dads and small boys and an excited group of anoraks up from Sheffield comparing turbine sizes. We were wrong. For this was a bit of a hearts and minds exercise which meant not just a chance to get up close and personal with a huge windmill, but a goody bag, face painting, balloon modelling (balloon modelling has moved on since I was a kid, I tell you. The odd lumpy looking sausage dog and giraffe is not enough for today’s youth: there were children clutching balloon octopi) and – most importantly – a free lunch. Add in a bright sunny morning and a land where there’s not a whole heck of a lot to do once you’ve been to all three of the Burns museums, and people turned up in droves – far more than they were obviously expecting. Scots with a keen eye for a nice freebie … who would have thought it?

But it was, as I said, a lovely sunny day, and we passed the time in the queue for the shuttle bus chatting to the man in front (I know, I know but that’s what people do round here), and the turbines were impressive. We picked up our pen and our badges and our low-energy lightbulb, read all the informative leaflets and tried to work out what all the buttons did in one of the turbines (I had to drag the other half away from reading the owner’s manual he had got his hands on). But there was one oddity we noticed, as we queued up for our free lunch at the burger bar at the foot of one of the turbines: a familiar chugging noise. For there, tucked discreetly away behind the main tent, was a generator.

* That is how it works, right?

Rural Household Gets Phone Line Shock

June 13, 2008

Yes, it’s true. I got back to find that, a scant six weeks after moving in – and no more than two and a half months after ringing up BT and asking for one – we have a telephone line. We can now commence the long and lonely wait for broadband.

On the downside, this has now doubled the number of swallows that can simultaneously crap on our shiny new car, but every silver lining has a cloud…

Das Boot

June 9, 2008

Out exploring yesterday afternoon we happened across a film crew who were just packing up from filming something. From London, we surmised & not just because the women were dressed head to toe in black floaty garments instead of fleeces and sensible shoes, but because as we passed them on the footpath not one made so much as eye contact, let alone said hello. I found this strangely disconcerting. I have clearly been up here too long and am returning for remedial boot-faced-Londoner training (boot camp?) tomorrow.

Back on Friday with a face like a wet weekend in Wales. Or perhaps that should be a wet weekend in Wembley?

What’s in your Toast Rack?

June 8, 2008

The upgraded BT poles – just like the old BT poles, only browner – have been marching slowly up our road these past few weeks. The other day, they reached our gate and, seeing a BT man descending from a ladder by one of them – we accosted him for a progress update. His part of the work was done, he said (I’m translating freely from the Scots here) and we should be hearing from head office soon.

Sure enough, on Friday I got a phone call from one of the nice young men that BT reserve for calling customers who’ve been waiting weeks and weeks for their phone line. The line was almost ready, he told me. All that remained was for us to make a date for an engineer. Finally, I said. We fixed on next Thursday, but I was going to be away. Could I give them the other half’s mobile phone no as he would be the one waiting in? I could. The only problem was that I didn’t know the other half’s phone number, and I was going to have to find out. The nice young man said he’d hold. The other half shouted out that it was on the card in the toast rack*. After a bit of hunting around – it was in my blind spot – I found it, and read out the number to the nice young man, but he had forgotten he was a call centre operative and had reverted to being a human:

‘Did he just say it’s in the toast rack?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Why, where do you keep your mobile phone numbers?’

And we completed the call with the mutual giggles. I hope this means we still get the engineer, and more importantly the phone line. But it’s nice to know that somebody whose job is basically ringing up irate people and being nice to them had a bit of amusement in his day…

*Look, toast in our house has a half-life of thirty seconds and is usually consumed standing over the toaster, waiting for the next round to be ready. It does not survive long enough to go into a toast rack. But we got one as a wedding present and jolly nice it is too, and it seems a shame to waste it, so we use it for holding important things, like mobile phone numbers and unpaid bills.

Country Cookin’

June 6, 2008

Emergency pasta sauce

You will need:
Spaghetti, fortunately
No risotto rice
A head like a sieve

Take a heavy pan and melt the butter on hottish plate of the Rayburn. Chop the leeks and the bacon. Remember too late to turn up the Rayburn. Take the chicken stock out of the fridge and go to measure out the risotto rice. Discover you have no risotto rice. Stand staring at the cupboard singing a little song to see if risotto rice appears. Call other half to see if he can see risotto rice. Remember distinctly writing down risotto rice on shopping list. Remember too late that simply writing things down on shopping list is not in itself sufficient to buy them. Remember nearest shop is fifteen minutes drive away.

Take burning butter off stove.

Stare into fridge. Rack brain. Consult Joy of Cooking. Consult other half. Find cream. Put pan and butter back on stove on the not-so-hot plate and cook leeks and bacon. Grate parmesan. Put pan to one side. Put pan of salted water heated in kettle onto hottish plate to boil for pasta. Heat cream gently on not-so-hot plate and gradually add parmesan. Stir constantly, waiting for pasta water to come to a rolling boil. Stir more while cream thickens. Wait. Wait some more. Remember that while the Rayburn has many good qualities, bringing water to a rolling boil is not one of its strengths. Not without having recieved five working days notice in writing, anyway. Decide feeble simmer will have to do. Add spaghetti to feebly simmering water. Wish one wasn’t quite such a purist about quick-cook spaghetti, for once.

Take thickened sauce off not-so-hot-plate and combine with leeks and bacon. Wait for spaghetti to cook. Try not to take lid off pan too often. Drain spaghetti and combine with sauce. Serve lukewarm.

Still, at least it wasn’t haggis.

Speaka di Language

June 5, 2008

Town Mouse (to Other Half, navigating round BigTown): We could just cross over at the w… at the little suspension bridge there.’

Other Half: Did you just say nearly say ‘wee’?

Look, it’s catching, I tell you. Still, if anyone overhears me saying ‘Och Aye the noo’ or contemplating eating haggis, shoot me please. It would be the kindest thing

Watch Out!

June 3, 2008

As of today there’s a new hazard on the roads: me. I can drive, I have a licence and everything, it’s just that up until the beginning of the year I hadn’t done so since 2003. And even since then, it’s only been a couple of times, when there has been no alternative. The less you drive, I found, the less piloting a hefty chunk of metal around narrow lanes at speed seems like a good idea. Especially with squishy things like squirrels and rabbits and people about.

But now we’re in the country and we really need a car. Epic cycle rides notwithstanding, anything of any consequence is too far away to walk and public transport is practically non-existent. We’ve been borrowing Huttonian’s to tide us over, but today our shiny new super-efficient diesel car arrived at the dealership and we had to go and pick it up. Which meant one car going down … and two cars coming back. So I had to drive. On my own. Ulp.

We had a couple of practice sessions yesterday and today but I wasn’t feeling exactly prepared. I can start and stop and drive along deserted country lanes reasonably easily, sometimes getting up to third gear. I can make the left turn on to the big A road but so far I’ve bottled the multi-lane roundabouts. Old men in brown Ford Fiestas overtake me on the sorts of roads where you can be overtaken, which isn’t too many round here. And my approach to parallel parking is to abandon the car reasonably near the curb and ask a man to sort it out. We managed to devise a route that worked around my various weaknesses, and I made it home with the car and our marriage intact, but the other half has deemed that I need more practice. If you’re planning any travel in Scotland in anything less robustly built than a hummer in the next few weeks, now might be the time to reconsider.  It won’t be me that’s the hazard – I’ll be creeping along at a cautious thirty peering over the wheel. It’s all the maddened nonegenarians gunning their engines to overtake me you’ll need to look out for.

Oh and the car? It’s blue. And it comes with a free eco bag, so that’s the planet sorted out.

Lookin’ Out my Back Door

June 2, 2008

Well, front door actually because we don’t have a back door…

When it’s sunny, or at least not raining, we’re spending a lot of time sitting on our front step, watching the soap opera of rural life unfold. Not the people – we don’t see many people, at least not out of their cars – but all the feathery, furry, creeping, buzzing other things out there. And particularly the birds who have been shagging for Britain and are now dealing with the consequences. We’ve already got a family of coal tits going beserk in the garden wall every time someone goes past, and a family of jackdaws being raised in the outbuilding’s chimney. A spotted flycatcher has moved into a hole in the wall, although it doesn’t appear to be making much inroads into the local fly population. The house martins were looking assessingly at our eaves the other day, as though measuring up for curtains. And the swallows have nested in our bike shed – going in to get my bike the other day, I found four tiny empty eggshells as light and insubstantial as paper. It’s always amazing that something as small and airborne as a swallow could lay four eggs at all, and then that something as relatively large as a baby swallow could emerge out of the result, but there you go.

At least, I hope they have emerged. And not, say, been eaten. For the other thing we’ve been seeing, as I’ve already mentioned, are red squirrels. And red squirrels, I have recently learned, are not quite all the fluffy-eared innocents that their PR makes them out to be and are quite partial to the odd bird egg or two if they can get their cute little paws on them. Never trust a redhead, that’s what I say… Meanwhile I’ll be listening out for any little peeps from the swallow’s nest. And as soon as we’ve got an internet connection that’s usable, pictures will follow.


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