The New Normal

June 18, 2010

Out for a walk last night – taking full advantage of the endless summer evenings – I pointed out to the other half the spot where the chap from the council had been industriously digging out the blocked road drains earlier in the day.

Well, semi-industriously, because hearing the noise obviously I had to go out to investigate and he’d been happy to stop for a chat, and we’d passed a pleasant 20 minutes discussing drains, and gullysuckers*, snow ploughing strategies, field drain legislation and other fascinating matters**. ‘Apparently he was born a few miles from Bigtown,’ I started telling the other half, ‘and then moved a few miles further down the road but has only lived in two houses all his life…’

It was only when the other half started laughing that I remembered it’s not entirely normal to end up knowing the entire life story of every passing workman. At least, not in London it isn’t. But then, maybe that’s London’s problem, not mine?

* my new favourite word
** no sarcasm intended. Really.

Vuvuzelas? Pah! I’ll See your Vuvuzelas and Raise you…

June 17, 2010

‘Are those … bagpipes?’

It was late yesterday afternoon and I was quietly working in the veg plot alongside my neighbour, keeping on top of the weed menace. We both stopped and looked towards the peaceful rolling hills behind us, dotted with grazing cattle, where there is nothing for miles but scattered farms and cottages. Only, make that formerly peaceful rolling hills etc. for the sound we could hear was indeed bagpipes.

‘It’ll be coming from somebody’s tractor if it is,’ she said.

And I suppose if you’re going to play music in the cab of your tractor, you’d want to pick something that would be actually improved by being half drowned out by a chugging diesel engine. What other nation has a national instrument that also doubles as a weapon of war?

Scotland’s never hosted the World cup, now I come to think of it. Do you think this could be the reason?

Rocket Fuel

June 16, 2010

‘What are we supposed to be eating tonight?’

‘Pork chops’

‘Did you take them out of the freezer?’

‘Er, no.’

‘Think they’ll thaw in time?’

‘Probably not’

‘Got any other ideas?’

there was more, but we ate it (we ate the rest later)

This is the point where, in London, one of us would have nipped down to the shops. Instead, not fancying a 16-mile round trip, I dug up the first of the potatoes (Rocket, although I had actually lost track of which potato I’d planted where – thank goodness for the internet and specifically the British Potato Variety Database which, among other information, gives you the colour of the flowers so I was able to work it out. Phew. Wouldn’t want to confuse potato varieties, now, would we?) while the other half did a bit of googling and a bit of improvisation and came up with a potato salad that was almost a meal in itself. Part-steamed cabbage, new boiled potatoes*, pancetta fried with the cabbage, all combined with an oil, vinegar and mustard dressing and some chives. You’re supposed to leave it to cool before eating, but sod that, we were hungry. Serve with mackerel fillets on toast and yum. I think we have a new favourite salad.

Unfortunately we’re on the salad-leaves treadmill at the moment because my baby leaf lettuce is now fully on stream. We can just about keep on top of it as long as we have a salad every day. So now we’re having salad and salad at some meals, which, for anyone who knows me well, is just about unprecedented. If this continues we’re in danger of living healthily. If the Scots find out, we’ll probably get evicted…

* I can also report, following up from last year, that Rocket makes for nicely non-exploding potatoes.

I Have a New Hobby…

June 15, 2010

… taking photographs of the shed wall.

Not because it’s a particularly lovely wall, but because some housemartins have started showing a distinct interest in it. I don’t know if they’re planning on building a nest there (if so, they’d better get a move on) but they do seem to spend a lot of time hanging out under the eaves, apparently canoodling and talking to each other in their strangely lovely twittering language, which is how I imagine the Clangers might sound if the Clangers spoke Dutch.

They’re tantalisingly close, within range even of my little camera. But the problem is they’re also bloody quick. By the time the camera’s thought about the shot all I might end up with is a housemartin’s bum, as it samples life in the gutter…

Or what I thought was an empty shot, until I noticed the bird exiting stage right (actually stage left, if you’re being pedantic,  but never mind) …

But occasionally, they hang out just long enough for me to capture them both there, clinging to the wall…

And then bingo, just out of sheer luck, I manage to catch one on the wing.

And that, frankly, is as good as it’s going to get – at least with my camera and with me behind it.

Don’t Leave Home Without It

June 14, 2010

It had to happen sometime. Coming round a gravelly corner, brakes off so I wouldn’t skid, a little too fast to avoid the monster pothole on the other side of the bend: thump, thump, crunch, rumble rumble rumble… the back wheel had a flat.

I thought I’d planned things so well, too. Supper cooked and out of the way as the kick-off started, other half left parked in front of the tv (which seems to be malfunctioning: everytime we turn it on to watch the football it makes this angry droning noise as though there’s a hornet trapped in there), and plenty of daylight left. I was going ’round the block’ which around here is about 8 miles and I was almost exactly at the half way point. Keep going or turn back – either way it was going to be a long walk back…

Fortunately some instinct had prompted me to go in and grap my mobile phone at the last minute – I don’t always bother – and it was charged up and, amazingly, had a signal too. And even better it was half time, the USA had scored their goal, and so the other half actually answered the phone and agreed to come and get me. I think he’d have got me anyway, but I’d probably owe him enough favours to be in hock for a long time. That would have been an awful lot of back rubs.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Mobile phone? Ring a man up to come and rescue me in a car? Surely, if I were a REAL cyclist, not to mention a real feminist, what I ought to have been carrying was my bicycle repair kit, so I could whip that back wheel off, fix the flat, and true up the bent wheel one handed, preferably while not even stopping pedalling. But, even if I’d had the kit with me, the only think I’d have been able to do with it is scratch my head with the tyre levers while wondering what to do next. I do, somewhere in the dim and distant past, have a memory of mending a puncture before but that was when I was about twelve and I was obviously far cleverer as a child than I am now (I also worked out how to solve the rubik’s cube by myself and now I just look at it and wonder where all those brain cells went).

And so yesterday morning was spent with the other half allegedly teaching me how to mend a puncture.  We got there in the end, although about half way through he gave up telling me how to do it and moved to the much quicker method of just doing it while I stood around making helpful remarks. And from now on I won’t be setting out on my bike without my emergency bike repair kit, spare inner tube … and mobile phone. And if that fails, I’ll also be carrying an emergency short skirt so I can flag down any random bloke and get him to help me change my wheel while I practise my helpful remarks. Although maybe not during the next World Cup. There just don’t seem to be that many men on the road…

Living Dangerously

June 12, 2010

I’m grateful, I think, to Mike, for pointing me in the direction of the research showing 97.5% of Scots are living unhealthy lifestyles, which has occasioned much amusing commentary in the press along the lines of deep fried Mars Bars, Irn Bru and the like. Now we were just chatting about this with a friend and we thought it seemed pretty unlikely, for while you do see a fair few overweight people around here, you also see a lot of pretty sprightly ones. Surely the 2.5% of non-unhealthy Scots can’t all be living in this little corner of the country, can they? So I had a deeper dig*, and discovered that 97.5% of media outlets shamelessly regurgitate any old press release without properly reading it.

Fair play, then, to the Daily Mail which not only pointed out that, using slightly laxer criteria, 94% of the English were similarly at risk, but which also gave enough details to allow me to track down the actual study itself.

Now I’m no Ben Goldacre, but I do wonder whether any of the journalists and opinion piece writers banging on about the unhealthy Scots actually went as far as reading the actual research and finding out just what those five risk factors were. And how many of them can place their hands on their hearts and say that they:

  • Don’t smoke,
  • Have a body mass index of less than 25,
  • Drink less than than 14 units (for women) or 21 units (for men) of alcohol a week,
  • Take 30 minutes of exercise at least five times a week,
  • Eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

The fact is we’re pretty much all unhealthy. I know I struggle to get my five a day, so I can’t place myself among the elect, much as I’d like to. Do you tick all those boxes? Really? Please make sure you do before you add your carefully crafted quip about neds and Buckfast Country Wine to the comments box.

Where Every Day is Easter Day

June 11, 2010

The cottage-that-sells-eggs hasn’t sold eggs for a while now, which is a bit of a shame. It was handy and made for a nice excuse for a walk, and the eggs were delicious and cheap too, which always helps. We’ve seen the woman-from-the-cottage-that-sells-eggs driving about in her van and we’ve seen the chickens-from-the-cottage-that-sells-eggs – all over the road, mostly – but we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of the box with the actual eggs. So we were excited when we were returning from our evening inspection of the ford (dry as a bone, thanks for asking) to see her hanging around at the gate at the smallholding where the vicious herd of tiny dogs live. Especially when she told us she was in the process of swapping one of her cockerels for a hen.

‘Oh good,’ I said. ‘Does that mean you’re going to start selling eggs again?’

‘Well I would,’ she said. ‘If I could ever find any eggs. I haven’t seen an egg for three months now.’ Her hens, you see – clearly brighter than the average hen, although yet to master the green cross code – had taken to hiding them in the woods. I suppose if your owners kept taking your unborn children and selling them, you’d do the same thing. Anyway, she told us we were welcome to any eggs we found, although she couldn’t guarantee their freshness. I’m not sure ‘pick your own eggs’ will catch on – although you never know. But it does suggest that there’s such a thing as too free range.


June 10, 2010

It appears to have escaped the Guardian – and no doubt every other so-called national newspaper – that there are huge chunks of the country which are not ‘consumed by World Cup fever’ (TM every lazy journalist who ever threw a world cup special supplement together). Like Scotland for example. Round here, what little discussion I’ve had about the forthcoming football extravaganza has been divided between wondering just what the few cars we’ve seen with England flags think they’re doing (are the drivers brave, stupid or just very, very lost?) and deciding which of the ‘Anyone but England’ candidates to support*. Certainly, if he wanted to, the other half could walk into any pub in Bigtown on Saturday and watch the match alongside a roomful of people cheering his side on, which would be a bit of a novelty.

I’m a bit sad to be missing all the fervour though. Not because I give so much as one hoot about football, but because I love the way the whole place goes quiet during England’s games. If I were in London, I’d be heading out on my bike during the England games to enjoy all the empty roads. I could do the same thing up here, of course, but then the roads are always empty so it isn’t quite the same.

Might do it anyway, though, now I come to think of it

*This is a tiny bit small minded of the Scots, in my opinion. If Scotland were the only team to qualify from the British Isles, you could be sure that the whole of England would be behind them. Until they lost, of course. Supporting the underdog only goes so far.

Honey Wagon

June 9, 2010

The Guardian Bike blog, way back in the mists of time, had a piece on the delights of drafting behind buses. This isn’t really something I’ve had a chance to try, seeing as there are so few buses round here – and the one bus that has ever overtaken me while I’ve been on my bike was the school bus and it was going way too fast for me to catch it. But it did occur to me that I might be able to draft a tractor instead, and today, just as I was coming out of Papershop village, I thought I might have a chance. A tractor had just turned onto the little back road and was waiting to get past a car. If I really cranked it, I could get onto its back wheels and shelter from a blustery headwind.

Fortunately for me, I wasn’t quite fast enough. Because I realised, as I caught a whiff of its load, that no matter how bad the headwind (and this one was bad enough to bring me to a standstill going downhill in places) you’re better off right in the teeth of it than attempting to draft behind a tractor towing a tanker full of slurry.

Riddle me This

June 8, 2010

By what logic, do you suppose, is the result of a beach clean, by volunteers, in order to make Bigtownshire’s coastline more beautiful and to preserve its varied sea life, classified as ‘trade waste’? To be disposed of, mark you, at a cost to the organisers of £1.50 per bag (with larger items charged at £3 each). Especially when said organisers themselves work for the same council which is charging for the uplift*.

Please explain, showing your working, and with diagrams if necessary, just how this makes sense and encourages the ‘Big Society’ of which our new leaders dream.

*And that’s uplift in the Scottish sense of picking something up, rather than in the ordinary sense of the feeling of renewed faith in human nature you get when someone gives up their time to volunteer and do something useful, like, say, clean up a beach…


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