Licensed to Strim

August 15, 2008

So I was chatting with a man about volunteering opportunities and he mentioned in passing that – if someone was to commit long term – he’d even be prepared to send them on a course to get their strimmer licence. Now, I can see the need for a chainsaw licence, and a driving licence and even a tv licence (although hello? BBC? We’re paying up and we’ve not had either of your fine channels for three days now. Are we the only people on the planet who haven’t access to the olympics?) but a strimmer licence? What the hell – short of ‘don’t wear flip-flops’ and ‘don’t try to strim the dog’ – can the training course consist of? I’m almost tempted to sign up to find out – I’m hoping for competitive strimmer racing, strimmer slaloms, artistic strimming interpretation to classical music, maybe even special strimming events for the people who didn’t do so well on lesson 1 and have strimmed off their feet. It would make up for not getting the olympics. But I’m guessing they just say ‘don’t wear flip-flops and don’t try and strim the dog and that will be fifty quid please.’ It’s the last part that makes it official.

So please, please, please, provide me with your anecdotes of terrible gory life-changing strimmer accidents in the comments so I am not forced to go all Daily Mail on you and declare:

it’s health’n’safety gone mad.

Advice to Cyclists

August 14, 2008

When the Met office weather site says ‘partly cloudy with sunny intervals’ and the great big black lowering cloud hanging over the hill says ‘pissing down shortly’?

Go with the cloud.

Also, those little contour lines on the maps? It’s always best to look at them before planning your route, and not, say, after you’ve come home cold, wet, and with shaking legs.

Looking on the bright side, however, I have not yet been savaged by any cats.

Next Stop Africa

August 13, 2008

I opened the door of the shed this morning to an explosion of wings and mad squeaking: the swallows have left the nest. The next thirty seconds was a mass fluttering panic as the birds learned the hard way that you can’t fly out through a closed window, however scary the monster might be who has invaded your haven. I left the door open when I went for the paper and by the time I came back they were swooping around the yard to the manner born.

Not that I got much chance to admire their aerobatics. For I discovered that the only thing on two wings scarier than a buzzing buzzard is an adult swallow defending its young. Buzzards might be bigger, but swallows have the advantage of speed, accuracy, and an enraged chattering noise that’s more alarming than it might sound. So I shall confine myself to admiring them from the doorstep in the my-god-is-that-sunshine and enjoy the show while it lasts. Because pretty soon they’ll be off to bother the flies of West Africa. And I’m not sure that I can blame them at all.

PS Anyone notice the progression of the last three posts? No doubt, this time tomorrow I’ll be menaced by a cat…

Autumn is icumen in…

August 12, 2008

Never mind what the calendar says, it seems like the summer’s over, if it was ever here at all. The geese are flying south already, bailing out on us before we’ve so much as got warm. It’s cold, and it’s getting dark, although that part is relative – we could just about read a newspaper outdoors at 11 o’clock at night in June here, so we’re a bit spoiled. And the clincher? The spiders are here.

OK, spider. But where there’s one, there will be many more. And besides, this one was sitting on top of the loo roll and I only noticed it as I reached out to get the necessary. A girlish scream may have escaped my lips but in fairness to me a) it was huge and b) I was not dressed for spider combat as I was about to get into the shower. I’m not, technically, frightened of spiders but I wasnt up for tackling this one naked. Cunningly I rotated the loo roll round (and this, gentle readers, is why the paper should always come out from underneath and not over the top) until the spider fell off and scuttled behind the loo. I was then able to shower as planned with only a few startled shrieks every time my foot touched the plug unexpectedly. It’s funny how a smooth round metal object can feel exactly like a scuttly hairy spider when you’ve got your eyes closed.

I sense this will be the first of many as the autumnal spider migration begins. They were bad enough in London – I dread to think what it’s going to be like here. I’m going to have to take to going into the bathroom armed. Hmmm. Perhaps this is why blokes feel they have to take a newspaper in with them? It’s not just to do the sudoku in peace after all…

Courtesy Car

August 8, 2008

I never thought I’d say this, but there’s such a thing as a driver being too polite. The car in question – and it was a 4X4 too – stopped at the junction with another road so there would be plenty of room for me to pass. The problem was that he was also at the top of a hill, and I was still at the bottom. Not a huge hill, but big enough and the kind that I would usually want to take in my usual, steady, doggedly plodding style. But he was waiting, so I had to get out of the saddle and accelerate up, smiling gratefully through gritted teeth. It’s not as though the road itself was all that narrow – a tractor had already squeezed past me without too much inconvenience to either party. I wonder if this wasn’t in fact not a courtesy at all, but some sort of a mind game instead – the car driving equivalent of this, perhaps.

Meanwhile, in other news, I have discovered that when it comes to insect ingestation, the one thing worse than swallowing a fly is inhaling it. So, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go cough up a lung.

Glass Half Empty

August 7, 2008


It is, I think, one of the unacknowledged small pleasures of rural life: going down to the river to see where the water level is at the ford (see also: checking out the height of the waves crashing over the sea wall). If you don’t have a ford, any river level will do, particularly if it’s prone to flooding rich people’s houses,* but fords are best.

There’s a touch of the Charlie Browns about it, but the fact is, there’s not much other consolation to having day after day of rain than the prospect of a little light flooding as long as that flooding is happening somewhere else. And when the rain stops – or even if it hasn’t – you can walk down and go and see what the score is. We’ve even had a little sweepstake going – guessing what the level will be as we round the final corner, with the winner being the closest. So far we’ve not done much better than just under a foot, but it is high summer – not so long ago this spot was as dry as a bone.

I thought, to be honest, that this was just us but I bumped into a local guy out on my walk today and we got to talking about the ford, its highs (two feet, and still drivable, since you ask) and its lows. ‘It’s a funny thing,’ he said, completely unprompted, ‘but when it’s tipping down for day after day, you at least get this thought at the back of your mind: I wonder what the level of the ford is. And then when it stops, you can go down and see.’

*when we lived in Maidenhead this was in fact the primary winter entertainment. We had to make our own fun in those days.**


Alarms and Excursions

August 6, 2008

Well, it turns out our fire alarm works okay. At least the waking us up from a deep sleep part of it does. Whoever put the smoke alarms in here did not mess around: there are three of them, mains powered, with one on either side of the kitchen, and one in our bedroom. All of the rented accommodation we have lived in prior to this has gone for the single battery powered type, with – possibly by law – the battery removed by a former tenant who had evidently been driven mad by its beeping, but these are tamper proof. And they are loud. LOUD. I woke up so startled I didn’t even know what I was, let alone where I was or what to do next. Fortunately the other half was more alert and managed to turn the light on, whereupon the alarm stopped. Perhaps it was afraid of the dark?

Because the other part of being a fire alarm, it’s not so good at. The detecting actual fires part – or at least the knowing when the house is not burning down and hence not going off part. It is already quite squeamish about toast, but that’s par for the course for a smoke detector – as part of the government’s anti-obesity drive, they’re set to go off whenever someone goes back for a second round. We can live with that, we just shut the door before recklessly cramming more carbohydrate in the toaster. But there was no fire last night, not even a peckish burglar. We went back to bed puzzled and lay in the dark waiting for our heart rates to return to something approaching normal. I think I finally fell asleep again at 2.

So, in one sense, I’m reassured. We now know that the fire alarm will wake us up even if we were actually already dead. That’s good. We can consider that part tested. But once is enough, unless there’s an actual fire, okay? Otherwise it may end up having some sense talked into it by the other half. With a baseball bat.

Bad Penny

August 5, 2008
Penny with the new tail design

Penny with the new tail design

It’s a sign, perhaps, that I ought to get out more, but I was ridiculously excited to get my hands on one of these. It wasn’t even in my change – it was the other half’s and he only noticed it when the lady in the Notso Bigtown shop rejected it because it looked ‘a bit foreign.’ We gave her a nice old-fashioned penny instead, and I hung on to the shiny new one.

These were announced at the beginning of April but coins last forever, and besides we’re a long way from the Royal Mint up here, so changeover has been slow. Even so, I’ve been hopefully checking all the coins in my change ever since to see if I can see one in the flesh, as it were.* And finally one has made it all the way to the middle of nowhere and into my pocket. Or rather, not my pocket because I don’t want to spend it by accident. No doubt in a year or so’s time – or down in London already – they’ll be commonplace. But for now they’re a bit of a novelty.

I really like them. I like the idea, I like the fact that they look modern but still have a touch of the traditional about them. I think the design is clean, and fresh and very stylish and above all completely unlike our normal British coins, except for the head of Brenda on the other side. In short, the woman in the shop was right – they do look a bit foreign, after all.

*I’m also the sad sort of bastard who examines all her euro coins on the continent to see which country they come from and – come to think of it – I used to get a kick out the fact that every can of coke you bought in London seemed to come from a different country. It gives it that touch of authenticity, I find, when your Greek Cypriot greasy spoon makes the effort to source the Cokes from Greece as well…

Short Back and Sides

August 4, 2008

Ah, high summer, or what passes for it around here, which means it’s time for the council to start on its annual roadside hedgerow massacree. I passed the tractor on my bike as it made its way along the back roads hacking down the vegetation. I don’t have a problem with them cutting the grass verges because on many roads the verges function as informal passing places and it’s nice to be able to see that the road edge you’re trusting your car to is just grass and not, say, ditch before you end up in it. But this time the lawnmower-onna-stick thing that the tractor was wielding was being applied higher up and further back, right back to the drystone dykes. Never mind the effect on the still-nesting birds, or on wildlife in general – and never mind particularly that they do this right before the blackberries start ripening, but before we get a chance to pick them – the countryside must be neat and tidy! Or at least the bits of it that can be reached by a tractor with a flail. Shame they can’t send a machine round to tidy up the rest of it: although I’m not sure a machine big enough to cut off an ugly bungalow at ground level could get up the worst affected roads. Oh well, maybe this means they’ll do the potholes next.

And speaking of which, and many other road related things, it seems there is an explanation for my rides being always uphill – or the double-ramped hill, as I now know to be the correct technical term. All explained by Bistromathic‘s more practical (and American) cousin, Cyclo-math


August 3, 2008


After a temporary cessation in hostilities from the weather gods, we decided to head out for a proper walk. We’ve been doing most of our walking on the roads here which isn’t too bad because the traffic’s light but it’s not real walking, and we’ve been longing to get up into the hills around us. But in Scotland, unlike the rest of the UK, there are no marked rights of way – instead, there’s a generalised right to roam as long as it’s exercised responsibly. Our Ordnance Survey map directed us to a helpful website where, once you’ve got past the annoying flash preview (why, in the name of God, why?) you can download a 136-page PDF written entirely in nu-speak outlining the responsiblities of farmers, sorry Land Managers and walkers, sorry Countryside Users, and Recreation Managers (no idea what those are in real life. Who knew anyone managed things by way of recreation?), but life’s too short so we’ve loosely interpreted it as meaning we can go anywhere that isn’t someone’s actual garden or house as long as we cause no damage, leave gates as we found them, and the Land Manager hasn’t put a lone bull in the field. But really, we’d like a nice path.

Because being able to go anywhere we please is great in theory but in practice there are a few problems, at least around here. The first is that what footpaths and tracks there are aren’t really waymarked and aren’t that well maintained. Most of the time our attempts to go for walks across country end in some head scratching as we compare the perfectly clear dotted line on the map with the total absence of any line, dotted or otherwise, on the ground. And if you exercise your right to roam and set off in roughly the right direction, cautiously eying the nearby cows for any dangling appendages, you soon discover that people walk on paths for a reason. Because the alternative is either ankle-breaking tussocky heather, or bog. Or, if you’re really lucky, both.

lost On this occasion, the map showed a nice dotted line heading up the side of a hill in a particularly scenic spot near the reservoir. On the ground, this turned out to also be the symbol for a broken down wall. After some energetic scrambling, tussock-hopping and swamp-wallowing, we followed it upwards to a local maximum, admired the view, consulted the map, and decided we were lost. Nothing daunted we continued, following a combination of sheep paths and quad bike trails. We reached another local maximum, admired the further view, saw the weather was closing in, and decided to head back to the car. It turned out at this point that sheep tracks, while easy enough to walk on, only really go from one tasty bit of grass to another. And as for quad bike trails, well, it seems that when Land Managers aren’t whinging about subsidies or ploughing, or doing other land-managy type things, what they really like to do is take their quad bikes up into the hills and drive around in circles to confuse the townies*. So it was back to the tussock-hopping and swamp-wallowing all the way down the hill.

Still, the lack of trails and markers and little signposted walks does at least mean we had the hillside entirely to ourselves – not bad on an August weekend. Obviously the real tourists are even worse at mapreading than we are…

*Either that or they were going from one tasty sheep to another, but this wasn’t Wales.


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