From my Mouth to God’s Ear

November 17, 2008

‘It’s not so bad so far,’ I said to my sister on the phone the other day. ‘At least on the cold days it’s been sunny, and on the wet days it’s been fairly mild.’

So today, when I had to get up in the dark and cycle five miles to get a lift to a bog where we were to spend the day laying waste to half an acre of rhododendron? Cold and wet. 3°C (or F.cold in Farenheit) – not freezing yet, but it gave a nice icy edge to the rain. And, while laying waste to stuff is always fun and generally warming, the bike ride home – uphill, into the wind – was not.

Hot bath and a gin and tonic, I think.

Well I Never

November 15, 2008

So it turns out that if instead of trying to sleep in the bedroom with three external walls and a north-facing window you sleep in the room with just the one external wall and a west-facing window, life gets a lot warmer and more pleasant.

More findings from the department of the bleeding obvious as and when they seep into my thick skull.


November 13, 2008

Townie that I am, I lack many necessary rural skills – sheep wrangling, chicken sexing, advanced gate-leaning – but the one that looms large at the moment is starting fires. No, not arson – remind me to tell you of the time I almost set fire to Ascot racecourse – but little domestic fires, the kind that keep you warm. My mother, who was a girl guide, made much of the fact that she had learned to start a fire with a single match, but all I can recall from my brief stint in the guides was making up rude words to the songs (they don’t give you a badge for that) and I can’t have been paying attention when they taught us this part, if indeed they did.

I’ve got all the theory. Newspaper to start, then sticks, then bigger sticks, then the logs, then all the poking about that makes having a fire so much fun and such an inefficient way to heat a room. And once I’ve got the newspaper going, the rest of it usually goes more or less as advertised, it’s lighting the newspaper that seems to be the hard part. This seems odd. I apply the lit match to the paper and after some luridly coloured flames (colour printing has a lot to answer for) it seems to lose heart and simply go out.

I’m beginning to think it’s the newspaper itself that’s at fault. It is, after all, the Guardian. Perhaps it’s not just metaphorically, but actually wringing wet –  I’m sure the Telegraph takes a much more robust approach to starting fires. And the Daily Mail? No need for even the one match, I’m guessing. Just show it an illegal immigrant single mother on benefits and it will spontaneously combust then and there…

Any suggestions, folks? Petrol? Or change the newspaper reading habits of a lifetime?

Great Wood Heist

November 12, 2008

This is one of the reasons why I love living in the country. We were out on a walk this afternoon, it being glorious weather*, and we stopped to pass the time of day with a chap chopping up wood in the bit of land near us which had been recently felled. I asked if he was planning to take it all – because there was a mountainous pile of rooted up tree stumps and other brash behind him, and he only had a small trailer – and he replied, ‘why, would you like some?’

Well, of course I said yes, and he very kindly left us a pile of smallish birch logs to come and collect later when he had finished. So once he had gone we set out to go and pick up our stash. Now here’s where the Londoner in me comes out. The other half suggested taking the car, but I was a bit reluctant because while casually going and picking up a few bits of wood felt okay, loading up a car boot full did not. And even though a man with a chainsaw had said it was okay – and who’s going to argue with a man with a chainsaw? – that was going to sound a bit lame if anyone came along and demanded to know what we were doing, seeing as how the man with the chainsaw had gone.

Of course in the end it was fine because nobody saw us because nobody was about. Nobody ever is. But even knowing that, I can’t get past that paranoid London feeling that somebody, somewhere, is watching what you’re doing. In London, of course, they are, although they probably don’t care. But out here, what are they going to use, squirrel-cam?

And besides, seeing as I then go and blog about it, why would they bother?

Keep your guesses coming in the great bucket mystery. I’m off to start a fire and go sit as close as possible to it as I can

*sans pigs

More Rural Mysteries

November 11, 2008

OK, seeing as you lot were so clever the last time, here’s another poser that’s been bugging me for a long time. There’s a turnoff we take, coming back from Bigtown. The ground on the corner is banked up – or perhaps the road is cut through – and sticking out of the bank is a big black pipe. Coming out of the pipe is a fairly steady stream of water. That’s not the mystery – the pipe obviously is some sort of a drainage system for the field above, and the water is the stuff that comes out of the sky on a fairly constant basis. No, the mystery is why someone thought it might be useful to place a bucket under the stream of water coming out of the pipe. It’s a big bucket, but then it’s a big pipe and besides, the bucket is always full. Sometimes – when it’s been raining hard – the stream of water overshoots the bucket, sometimes it merely overflows the bucket. Either way, if they’re planning on keeping that particular corner of the road dry, they’re going to need a bigger bucket.

So come on all you rural types and clever folk and explain it to me, poor befuddled Londoner that I am: what is the possible purpose of the bucket?

All Bluster

November 10, 2008

You know it’s going to be an exciting ride when even the birds are going sideways…

Today was a wild one. I’ve dealt with headwinds before, but this was more than that, a twisting blustery wind that lay in wait behind hedges and dykes and pounced out through the gaps and round corners. One moment I’d be going forwards, the next sideways, the next struggling to make any progress at all. At one point – inching my way up a hill into the teeth of it – I was seriously wondering why I was doing this on a bike and not in a nice enclosed car. But then I turned the corner into a sheltered spot as the gradient eased and the sun came out and it was just me and the bike on an empty road, sailing along through the hills. Bliss. And besides, I was the warmest I had been for days.

Coming back was an exhilarating roller coaster ride, the kind that made me wish I had a speedo on my bike, not to mention better brakes. And then I encountered my first truly thoughtless driver in months. It was a long straight section of road, downhill, the wind at my back and I was cruising, but she was going faster. The first I knew of it was when a bolt of bright blue streaked past an inch from my handlebar and then she was past with no more than a guilty glance in her rear view mirror* to acknowledge that I was there at all. One unruly gust of wind and I could have been under her wheels or, worse, scratching her shiny paintwork.

This is the kind of near-miss, nobody-hurt, nothing-to-see-here-move-along encounter with drivers I used to have all the time in London, but out here things happen at higher speeds and anyway I’m not used to them any more. Still, as the other half unsympathetically said when I got home, it gives you something to blog about.

* here’s hoping she can’t lip read. Or maybe that she can

How to Win Customers and Influence People

November 7, 2008

Sample papershop banter:

Papershop Bloke: Colder today isn’t it?

Me: yes, it is a bit

PB: Still, at least you’re not cold on the bike (I may have been a bit pink and breathless at this point)

Me: no, it’s not that cold when you’re cycling

PB: Yes, you won’t be cold on the bike. You nose may be running, but you’re not cold.

Yes, indeed, and thank you for pointing that one out. Still at least I got off more lightly than the farmer chap who was in the shop the other day, as reported by the other half:

PB: Bit nippy out today, isn’t it? (you may detect a bit of a theme developing here)

Farmer Chap: Yes, it is a bit. Still I’ll be warm this afternoon as I’ll be in all day with the sheep

PB: (to other half as Farmer Chap leaves): hope he gets himself a pretty one…

Rain or Shine

November 6, 2008

Wet or dry, there’s only really two basic types of cycling conditions round here: bloody cold, and insects. Two days of milder weather, while nice on the not-freezing-to-death front and all, have resulted in the return of the flies. I really MUST learn to cycle with my mouth shut.

And in other news, I was in Bigtown this morning attending a training course at a community centre that – among other things – promotes healthy eating. ‘It’s easy to find,’ I was told. ‘Just opposite the McDonalds’. You put the help where it’s needed most, I suppose. Still, it gave me an idea: who’s for my new high-protein eat-and-exercise-simultaneously vertebrate ingestion cycling diet?

Happiness is…

November 4, 2008

… a warm Rayburn

A warm rayburn

A warm rayburn

Especially when you’ve had the foresight to leave your longjohns folded up on the top of it to warm overnight.


Why Did the Pheasant Cross the Road

November 3, 2008

Back on the bike today, with the journey enlivened by antics of one of the local pheasant population, surely the stupidest bird on the planet. Fortunately, this was a girl pheasant, which meant it flew away from the road (the blokes preferring the suicidal approach of tackling the traffic head on) but it’s still a shock to the unwary.

At this time of year – actually at all times of the year – the roads here are full of apparently suicidal gamebirds. But particularly now when the population is bulked out both by this year’s young birds and the ones which have been bred and released purely for the purposes of being shot at. When people wax lyrical about game being wild food, I don’t think they can have meant pheasants which, as far as I can tell are no less intensively reared than the average commercial free-range chicken and have the road sense to match. Unfortunately, as one is not supposed to shoot at the damn things unless they’re airborne, the ones that have survived this long are the ones that fly as little as possible. Eventually a breed of entirely flightless pheasants will evolve, hopefully with an inkling of the green cross code. Until then we get a bird whose best plan for survival is to crouch in a ditch until a car – or bike – is almost upon it and launch itself like a cackling feathery rocket in a random direction and hope for the best. ‘Startling’ doesn’t even beging to describe the effect. Who needs halloween, when you can get the crap scared out of you every day of the week?

It hardly seems sporting to me to line up with a big gun and blast away at birds which have been raised and then released and driven towards you just for that purpose (why not go the whole hog and hunt cows? There’s more meat on them and they’re easier to hit). If you want real sport round here, requiring real skill and the thrill of the chase, just get into your car and take to the back roads and see how many pheasants you can not hit. Bonus points for not hitting a red squirrel as well…


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