Spot the Difference

July 17, 2010



(I’m putting this up primarily for my own benefit, to remind myself that an hour’s weeding does actually make an impact. The rest of you just carry on …)

To those that Have shall be Given

July 16, 2010

Or, beware gardeners bearing gifts.

It’s that time of the year when anyone with a vegetable garden starts to look warily at the approaches of any of their neighbours with that generous glint in their eye. Show the slightest sign of weakness, the merest chink in your armour, and you’ll be fending off surplus fruit and vegetables, possibly with a stick. Because you’ve never really properly wasted food until you’ve started growing your own. Not only are you often groaning under a glut of something you never much liked in the first place (and generally only planted because somebody gave you a load of their surplus seedlings and wouldn’t take no for an answer) but this is stuff you’ve pricked out, nurtured, weeded, watered, staked, protected lovingly from frost and high winds and hot suns and heavy rains. You can’t just chuck it away  – and your family won’t forgive you if you serve it to them again (although what’s wrong with salad for breakfast, that’s what I want to know?). The only alternative is to give it away, and that’s harder than it looks. Already I’ve more or less carpet bombed the surrounding area with my lettuce, and I still haven’t made so much as a dent in the supply.

The strange thing is that for some reason – and please explain this to me in the comments box – home grown veg is only ever given away to other people with a vegetable plot. Nobody ever offered me stuff until I started growing my own, but the first seeds were barely in the ground before I was fending off bagloads of surplus cucumbers. This is madness. Non-gardeners love being given fresh home grown stuff, they actually think you’re being generous rather than desperate. It’s the fellow growers who know that actually it’s they who are doing you the favour by taking it off your hands.

My neighbour – who seems to have half a hundredweight of shallots at the moment  – has suggested she might put out a table with an honesty box on it, to try and get rid of the stuff to any passing tourists. She’s even suggested that my lettuces and I might like to join in. Oh, the excitement. It’s not that I think I’m going to make any money at it – it’s just that you’re never truly part of the rural economy until you’ve got yourself an honesty box. That’s how I’ll know I’ve arrived.

No Flies on Me

July 14, 2010

I don’t know if this is revenge on my earlier post, but we certainly seemed to be more plagued by flies than usual this year. It’s actually not too bad on the bike, as long as you move above a certain speed, but trying to do anything in the garden has become a nightmare. I’ve tried to cultivate a zen-like patience around them but then they just start crawling over your face. And it’s their persistence that really gets me. I’m beginning to suspect that I have my own personal cloud of flies which lies in wait for me just outside the door, ready to resume their favourite activity: driving me clean out of my mind.

This morning, for example, all I had to do was pick some (or rather as much as I could reasonably fob off on them) salad to take to my parents. I started off – bloody fly – carefully selecting a variety of – aargh, bloody fly – different types of – gerroff fly – lettuce leaves, trying to balance – I said, gerroff bloody fly – not harvesting too much from any one – sodding bloody fly – plant while not picking leaves that were too – AAARGH gerroff – big and therefore bitter and avoiding – I SAID GERROFF fly – ones that had been too munched by the slugs – bastarding sodding flies – or too small and assessing – AAARGH GERROFF YOU BASTARDING SODDING FLIES – which were in danger of bolting and picking out the – RIGHT THAT’S IT I GIVE IN FLIES YOU WIN I’M GOING IN YOU BLASTED SODDING BASTARDING FLIES.

Which is why my parents were presented with a whole cos lettuce this afternoon, torn up by the roots.

Midgies? Pah, I’ll take midgies any day of the week over flies*.

* Just one more in a long line of statements I know I’ll come to regret.

Going my Way?

July 13, 2010

I see more and more bikes in Bigtown these days – including a lovely looking bike locked up outside Greggs which I spent rather too much time drooling over on Sunday afternoon. This has thrown up an interesting question of country cycling etiqette. Now obviously if I meet a cyclist going the other way, I say hello and they say hello back or give a cheery wave. And if a horde of lycra-clad speedy cyclists whizz past me, they say hello too, because we’re like that up here in the country, and I say hello back. But today I was cycling out of Bigtown when I encountered another cyclist going my way. Not only that but she was nattily dressed in jeans and slip-on shoes – the very embodiment of cycle chic, making here something of a rarity round here. I overtook her on my sneaky shortcut through the industrial estate, and she then overtook me (hey, I was enjoying the scenery, all right?) on the road out of town. Now this road doesn’t really go anywhere except our village, and after a while the headwind started to get to her and I caught up and I found myself debating what to do. I could do what I’d do in London which is sit silently in her slipstream, but that would be a little rude not to mention a little unfriendly and there are few enough cyclists around that I’m going to irritate the ones I do meet. Or I could overtake her silently and start some sort of an unspoken cyclist pissing competition but last time I looked I wasn’t male and nor was she so I didn’t think that was going to work either.

Or I could cycle up beside her, exchange pleasantries, and end up riding the rest of the way home deep in conversation, which is what I did. And it was very nice too.

I really am going to have to go back for re-education before I next visit London, aren’t I?

Spin Cycle

July 12, 2010


In the last couple of weeks – normal weather service having resumed* – we’ve adopted the local approach to drying our laundry. Rather than waiting for a sunny day or spending half the morning sprinting in and out to rescue our clothes from the rain, we’ve taken to hanging them up whenever the weather is halfway decent – or even if it’s actually raining as long as it looks as though it will pass – even if we’re going out for the day, in the hope that the combination of the brisk wind and the intermittent sun will cancel out the rain. Generally by the time we get home the clothes are bone dry, if a little more rinsed than usual. (And I’m sure there are fancy laundries in London where you pay extra to get ‘rainwater rinsed’ clothes. Or even ‘Scottish rainwater rinsed’. And if there aren’t, there probably should be).

Coincidentally (or maybe not) I’ve adopted a similar approach to deciding whether or not to go out on my bike. With exactly the same results.

*despite all the recent excitement the papers about Britain baking in a heatwave – it turns out that by ‘Britain’ the papers actually mean ‘Southern England’ if not actually ‘London’. See also: world cup fever, locking your bike, etc. etc.

If any of you Gardeners Down South…

July 10, 2010

… are praying for rain, can you adjust your aim a bit? You’re missing. It’s all up here, you see, and we don’t need it any more.

That is all.


July 9, 2010

The bird-feeder distractions continue apace, to the point where I may have to find somewhere else to work in the mornings. Not only do we have the red squirrel doing its stretches, the woodpeckers, the baby tits and the ever present hope of the return of the sparrowhawk (although maybe not with an actual baby bluetit in its claws), but it’s all go underneath the feeder as well. First there was the rabbit desperately trying to make friends with the young hare, although the hare was of course way too cool to hang out with a bunny rabbit. And then a moorhen showed up with her chick – sort of a teenage chick by now – to check out what was being dropped from the feeder.

‘I’d pay good money to see a moorhen actually on the feeder,’ I said to the other half and attempted to return to my work. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black shape flying up, the woodpecker flying off in alarm and the moorhen was perched – okay, not on the feeder itself, but on the pole it hangs from. It stood there looking faintly ridiculous for a while and then flew off, with its chick following hurriedly after wildly flapping its stubby little wings.

Naturally, all of this happened far too fast for me to get my camera so you’ll have to make do with this charm of goldfinches instead. Meanwhile, it looks like it’s time to refill the feeder again…

I’ve a Feeling we’re Not in London any More…

July 8, 2010

Seriously, what is the point of taking the front wheel off your fancy – very fancy – road bike in order to lock it to the frame if the lock in question is the sort a twelve-year-old could open with a pair of nail scissors? I suppose it would slow the twelve-year-old in question down a little as they reassembled the bike, unless they were really good at wheelies. Then again, the bike in question was parked next to a nice if rather elderly three-speed shopper which wasn’t locked at all. I suppose its owner decided the thieves would concentrate on the fancy road bike*.

The Guardian Bike blog had a piece about bike theft that included the line

These days it is impossible to imagine ever leaving home without two bike locks. The correct locking technique, involving two different style locks around both wheels, is as drilled into cyclists as looking before crossing the road.

It got the usual pasting in the comments for its London-centric bias. But it is true that when you live in London you can’t imagine leaving home without an armoury of locks. It’s only when you escape that you realise there are places where you can imagine – indeed you often do – leaving home without even one lock

*Although, personally, if I was going to nick any bike, it would have been the three speed I’d have taken. But I’m a little strange that way.

Honey, Honey

July 7, 2010

Calling in at the shop this morning, hoping to pick up some honey as well as a paper, I was horrified to find that only the premium heather* honey was in stock. ‘Have you not got any of the other honey?’ I asked, meaning of course the cheaper honey, although I wasn’t about to say so in so many words. ‘That’s all the honey that’s left,’ I was told. ‘We can’t get any more, there’s no honey at all. The bees can’t cope, apparently,’ although what the bees can’t cope with I don’t know.

Is this a thing? I did a quick search for honey shortages and – apart from discovering that, by law, it’s not possible to write an article about honey farmers without using the phrase ‘hive of activity’ – I was none the wiser. There seem to be reports of dreadful honey shortages every year, which makes me wonder whether honey farmers reporting honey shortages might not be a bit like every other farmer reporting how there will be shortages due to too much rain, not enough rain, just the right amount of rain but too much wind, too little wind, EU legislation, and people moving to the country from cities to write sarcastic blogs about country life instead of getting on with their real writing. So I’m none the wiser. There were plenty of bees around in our garden last month but not so many now – which may be due to a week of high winds, lack of flowers, or the bees buggering off to the higher ground to take up making heather honey as there’s so much more money in it.

Either way, I forked out the extra 95p to panic buy the heather honey, which had better be worth it. And it was only as I pedalled home that I wondered whether an entirely spurious temporary honey shortage might not be a good way of shifting some premium honey stock that the canny people of Papershop Village wouldn’t fork out for otherwise.

* how do they know? Do they follow the bees to make sure they’re only visiting a better class of flower?

Spit or Swallow

July 6, 2010

The first summer we had up here, I went to great lengths to cycle with my mouth shut to avoid inhaling any flies, which is harder than it sounds when a) there are hills and b) you talk as much as I do.

The second summer we had up here I found myself spending a lot of time hacking and choking in a desperate attempt to get rid of the flies I had inhaled before they went down one way or the other.

This summer? I’m just swallowing them and hoping they’re not wasps. Saves a lot of time and effort and makes you sound less like a cat with a hair ball.

And next year? Next year I’ll probably be heading out for a quick pedal round the block in the evenings to ensure I get my quota of delicious flying protein in. Either that, or I’ll have turned into a lizard.

What do you do?


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