March 17, 2011

An exciting parcel was waiting for me on the kitchen table as I got back from a mercy dash to Tescos on the bike (well, okay, ‘dash’ is perhaps not the word…especially in that headwind) It was from Cameratiks in Edinburgh and it contained my camera, almost as good as new. Among the many helpful pieces of advice I got from you lot when I first lamented the loss of my camera, was one from Ross of Magicroundabout suggesting I try an independent camera shop. There was nothing of that sort locally but a happy accident when I was looking for something else pulled up Cameratiks’ website (I found another one in Glasgow but rightly or wrongly, just couldn’t entrust my beloved camera to an outfit who had no idea how to use an apostrophe) and I gave them a ring and then last Wednesday sent my camera in for an estimate. It feels a bit wierd just posting things off on spec but the camera wasn’t really doing anything sitting looking pathetic on the counter in the kitchen so I decided I might as well. With commendable speed they rang back with a quote and then let me know they’d fixed it so I paid – a lot less than a new camera would have cost – and back it came to me. Hurrah. It even has the dent dinged out of it, and, according to the docket that came with it, the sand removed from its innards (which might explain the jamming. Sorry camera, I will take better care of you from now on). What can I say? I am beyond pleased.

There are so many things I need to document now that I can again – potholes and fingers and above all badger poo – but for now here are a few garden shots for you to look at. It’s so nearly spring!


March 16, 2011

This is just to say that we have a stripey red squirrel in our garden

And you don’t

Never Mind the Width

March 15, 2011

Larry the Leek, RIP

I don’t seem to have much luck growing leeks. Last season I harvested precisely one (albeit a magnificent one). This time around, I planted the leeks indoors in an attempt to prevent them from forming a slug’s lunch and then transplanted them to a seed bed with the intention of moving them on when they were the size of a pencil (as instructed by my mother’s tame leek-growing expert). I was successful in so far as all my leeks survived their infancy but something – possibly an over-crowded seed bed – meant they didn’t do too well at the whole ‘size of a pencil’ thing. My potatoes were harvested, the soil readied for the leeks and still they sat there looking – at a stretch – the size of one of those tiny elegant little pencils that you used to get in the spine of your pocket diary. Time passed, and in the end I decided that, if you squinted a bit, they might have reached the size of one of those stubby little pencils you get in bookmakers for filling in your betting slips, and that would have to do.*

The biggest leeks I could find

Time passed, winter came and, well, stayed, and my leeks didn’t really get any bigger. I’d earthed them up, and watched them anxiously, and was pleased to see that they survived the snow but still they really didn’t resemble anything so much as rather beefy spring onions (while my spring onions had to be carefully examined to make sure we weren’t about to stir-fry chives. Or grass). And now it’s March and the leeks need to make way for the peas and so the time has come to put them to the chop.

Real Leek, for Scale

Picking the very biggest, they don’t look all that bad … at least until you place them side-by-side with an actual full size, shop bought leek (apologies for the quality of the photograph, the phone has been pressed into service as a camera). And those were the biggest. The rest, well if you can imagine a bed full of slender HB pencils with green leaves sprouting out of them, you’re about there.

I’ve got another couple of weeks’ grace before I’ll have to make space for the peas, but I wonder now whether waiting will make any difference. I don’t know whether they’ll put on a growth spurt when (if) the warmth comes in the spring or if they’ll just flower and become inedible. Maybe I should just rebrand them as baby leeks – or giant spring onions – and have done with it.

Clearly I’m not going to be winning any leek growing competitions any time soon

*No doubt proper grown-up gardeners have in their shed a standard metric pencil for the purpose of leek size comparison, or, if they’re really old school, a standard imperial pencil, not holding with any such new-fangled nonsense as the EU.

Nice Problem to Have

March 14, 2011

The weather for the last few days has been wintry, and the forecast for the week ahead is to be miserable but today, for one day only, we had a little glimpse of spring.* Both my cycling buddies made it on the papershop run, for the first time since last September (AND we even saw another cyclist), and, getting out into the garden to do some long-delayed clearing up I was cheered to find that my crocuses and anenomes, which I had given up for dead, were actually just lurking under a hard winter’s worth of leaves and debris. So it was all good, and at lunch time I lured the other half out of his cave and onto the bench with stories of warmth and sunshine and birds singing and everything. After all, now that he has his new baby netbook computer, he can be on the computer and outside at the same time. It’s almost as good as being in the cave, only sunnier.

Which turned out to be a problem. As soon as the bright March sunshine hit the screen, half of it went black and stayed black until it was rebooted. He tried again and it happened again except this time the entire screen went black. There didn’t seem to be anything obvious about it online but an email to Samsung was promptly answered with the suggestion that he boot it in BIOS mode and see if it happened then. Well, I say promptly, but obviously not so promptly that the sun was still shining when they replied. So now we have to wait until the next sunny day to try again. By which time, if the Met Office’s forecast is anything to go by, it will be out of warranty. Of course having said that, a computer which only stops working when it’s very sunny isn’t too much of a liability to have around here, and it gives him a nice excuse to remain in his cave…

*I notice after going back through the archives that we had snow right up to the end of March last year. Gah.

Live and…

March 11, 2011

… well, ‘learn’ is a strong word. In almost three years of living with the Rayburn we have finally come to recognise that when it starts to make the dreaded sputtering noise, the end is approaching and at some point it will sicken and die, and nothing but getting the Rayburn man in to service it will do any good. Not only that, but we now have an arrangement with the landlords that we can ring up Rayburn Man directly rather than going through them, to speed up the whole process. So when we first heard the sputtering noise, about three weeks ago, naturally we sprang into action and set about procrastinating like mad. After all, it’s only our principal source of heat, cooking and the only ironing* that is done in our household…

Anyway, the good news is that for the first time since moving up here I have finally managed to ring the Rayburn man BEFORE it has actually gone out. The bad news is that it took me until a few days ago so he’s not coming till Monday and today we returned from a Duns to find it sinking fast, or rather as fast as a Rayburn does anything. It’s still able to boil a kettle but I fear it won’t be for long. There’s a nasty chill in the half of the house the Rayburn heats can only get worse over the weekend. And, with wonderful timing, the Weather Gods have decided tonight would be an excellent time for a snowstorm.

I note that a year ago, I was learning pretty much exactly the same lesson with more or less the same results. Maybe next year we’ll actually spring into action when we hear the first death rattle, instead of just hoping it will go away…

*you fold the clothes up while they’re still a bit damp and stack them on top of it to steam. Brilliant. Even I can manage that.

Three Bags Full

March 10, 2011

No camera – so you will just have to imagine me and my mum sitting in her car in a back lane in the borders on the way back from a fantastic little wool shop (this is what constitutes a ‘girls’ day out’ in the country at my age) completely surrounded by sheep. The sun was behind them and slanting under the clouds so it shone through their woolly heads and their ears as they flocked around us, one or two of them leaping up over the backs of their fellows to have a good look as they went. They seemed a little wary of us even inside our tin box (imagine if I’d been on my bike) so perhaps they knew we’d had the clothes off the back of one of their kin. Or perhaps it was because they could see me giggling through the window … there’s something very amusing about a flock of sheep.

Naked Aggression

March 9, 2011

I am grateful – I think – to those on Twitter who have helpfully pointed me towards the story Bigtown’s very own naked driver who has been making a nuisance of himself – and risking a really nasty case of frostbite in the current weather – by driving around in nothing but a pair of socks and then getting out of his car a strategic intervals, including at the appropriately named ‘Maidenbower Path’, so people can see him (this raises the question as to whether he’d actually be committing an offence if he stayed in his car. I think as the law stands, even in Scotland, if you have to actually make an effort to see the nakedness in question in order to be offended by it, then it’s not indecent exposure). Presumably the whole thing – along the lines of the World Naked Bike Ride – is some sort of a protest intended to raise awareness of the vulnerability of the poor beleaguered motorist as the War against him gets into full swing. Or perhaps, having filled his tank recently, he can no longer afford clothes.

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – I’m in Duns at the moment so can’t go and seek out this brave protester to find out for myself. He’s described as being middle-aged and having ‘a small pot-belly’, or in other words, looking like approximately half of all men in Bigtown.* This would make him a prime candidate for ditching the car, getting a bike and adopting that slightly more acceptable form of indecent exposure, skin-tight lycra. If he chooses one of the paler team kits and a damp day, it would be hard to see the difference and it wouldn’t even be illegal…

*Presumably if he had a large pot belly that would cover his credentials, as it were, making it okay

Do Badgers Shit in the Woods?

March 8, 2011

Or rather, do they shit in OUR woods? The other half came back from a recent hunter-gathering operation (well, mostly gathering) has reported finding shallow holes dug in the ground with, quotes ‘interesting looking poo in them’. As they were near some freshly dug large holes in the side of a bank, we’re quite hopeful it might be badger poo. A quick google threw up this authoritative sounding discussion which is why I have just been spending some quality time poking a pile of poo with a stick and then sniffing it. (This is why I need my camera repaired. I’m sure that posting a picture of the damn stuff would quickly elict an authoritative answer as to whether it’s badger or fox poo. Oh for smell-o-vision, or its internet equivalent). I can report that it didn’t smell of all that much although I didn’t get my nose particularly close for obvious reasons. The other half declined to try it. So it looks like we may have to find a secluded spot to hide in and spend the next fine evening keeping watch…

We really know how to party out here in the country, I tell you.

Hindsight is 20:20

March 7, 2011

So, just under two months ago we thought we’d be really clever and only buy half a tank of heating oil instead of a full one. After all, we were in the middle of a cold snap, prices had spiked, the oil would last until March when things would be very different and we could fill up the tank then when it would be much cheaper. And indeed, how likely was it really that a series of nasty despots would be toppled in North Africa just because some brave people went and stood in a square and asked nicely? Or that a country that had been under the yoke of Mad Dog Ghaddafi for 40 years would choose the very moment when we were going to need to refill our oil tank to descend into what is shaping up to be a nasty civil war?

Hmm. Very likely indeed, it turns out…

The irony is that if we hadn’t had our wood burning stove and thus been using slightly less oil than normal at this time of year, we would have had to refill it a fortnight ago, when prices were at their lowest for a while.

Ah well. These things happen. And of course freedom takes priority over oil prices and I wish the Libyan people the very best in their quest to free themselves from their current bondage. But I would respectfully point out that the way things are going, we’re going to need the tank filled again quite soon so if they could possibly see their way to hurrying up about it, that would be wonderful.


Spuds on a Sunday*

March 6, 2011

As I mentioned on Friday, today was Potato Day in Bigtown – or at least the local garden centre near Bigtown. It wasn’t quite as big a deal as the BOG one in Kelso last year, and you couldn’t buy single seed potatoes but only big or small bags, but there were still more than enough varieties to boggle the mind and – an improvement on the Kelso event in my opinion – a helpful young man to advise on the best varieties to try.

It being a mile or so this side of Bigtown, and a dry day, naturally I cycled down and was even pleasantly surprised to find a bicycle rack right by the entrance (Unlike last week, going to the hospital. Admittedly, the intersection between patients at the orthopaedic unit and people able to cycle there is probably quite small but the doctors and other staff might, no? Still, it did mean I got to lock my bike to a sign for the helicopter pad, which is a bit more glamourous than its usual makeshift parking spots). Having extensively discussed the merits of the various kinds I made my selection of potatoes and onion sets, packed my pannier bag, resisted the temptation to attend the talk by Medwyn Williams, vegetable grower extraordinaire, and headed home again feeling moderately virtuous.

Now there are two roads to Bigtown from our house. One runs along a river valley and is about as flat as it gets in these parts. The other climbs up over a ridge from where it is downhill all the way into Intervening Village and beyond, a descent of about three miles. This is great fun on the way in, and usually best avoided on the way back but the garden centre was near enough to Intervening Village that it seemed silly to go the long way back just to avoid a piddly hill. I’d forgotten that piddly hills get less piddly when they’re uphill and the bike is laden with seed potatoes… put it this way, when I realised around half way up that, thinking about it that I’d miscalculated and actually needed about a kilo more of first and second earlies, there was no way I was going back down for them.

So here is what I have got, all now chitting on the windowsill:

  • Rocket (1st early)
  • Edgecote Purple (2nd early)
  • Harlequin (early maincrop)
  • Pentland Squire (maincrop)
  • Peachbloom (maincrop)

I’m still in the market for a handful each of a first and second early variety, only maybe not fetched by bike from the bottom of a huge hill…

*Title shamefully stolen from Mrs Uphilldowndale’s weekly treat


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