June 16, 2011

It’s that time of year again. In fact, looking back through the blog, it’s well past that time of year again: Rayburn-switching-off-time. Normally we’d have done the deed three or four weeks ago but it just hasn’t been that warm, and so we’ve been putting it off. In fact, it still isn’t all that warm or pleasant, indoors or out, but we’ve decided to do the deed anyway – better to burn the oil in the winter when it makes the difference between miserable and bearable, than in the summer when it’s merely the difference between bearable and quite pleasant.

Of course, we couldn’t just turn the Rayburn off like that – we have to plan for it. You see, having the Rayburn on means that some things (long slow-cooked meals, making stock, drying clothes if the gap between showers wasn’t quite long enough, hollandaise sauce, melting chocolate or butter without pratting around with a double boiler) make sense whereas other things (not spending all your money on oil, frying anything) don’t. So first we had to switch our week’s menu to our summer dishes, and then we had to finish off doing all the Rayburn-friendly things we wanted to do while we still could. And as today is its last day, I ended up spending it in full-on Domestic Goddess mode (well, Domestic Goddess-ish), finishing up making stock from the backlog of frozen chicken carcases and making white chocolate ‘blondies‘, courtesy of Hugh ‘use all the bowls in the kitchen’ Fearnley-Whittingstall (I mean, count them, that recipe requires FIVE separate bowls. It’s worth it though).

The kitchen is now lightly coated with flour, the stock is ready for our last batch of risotto (the condemned cooker made a hearty meal), and the Rayburn is awaiting the coup-de-grace. Just as soon as I can will myself to do it.

Maybe in an hour or so, eh?

Seeing the Flowers for the Weeds

June 15, 2011

The garden has reached the whack-a-mole* stage of the year where all thought of working through a schedule of tasks gets abandoned in favour of doing whichever bit of weeding most desperately needs to be tackled next, before a machete is needed to find your bench, car, or the way out of the house… (of course, while the weeds are growing like, well, weeds, my beans are still growing like – well something that doesn’t grow very fast. Or at all)

Yesterday’s candidate for whacking was the thistle which I’d been putting off but it had finally showed its true colours, meaning the ‘very elegant sea holly’ excuse was wearing a little thin (thanks, emma c). So donning two pairs of gloves and deploying a shovel and a pair of secateurs I managed to fell it and get it into the wheelbarrow without poking too many extra holes in myself in the process (although I did find out later that it had scattered countless little needle-sharp thorns all around where it had been so it got the last laugh). Quite satisfying to fill a whole wheelbarrow with a single weed…

The problem with gardening is that while everybody else – if they squint a bit and ignore the state of the cobbles – will probably look at that photo and see a not bad display of early summer flowers, whereas I see weeds, things about to topple over that I haven’t properly supported, things which are all flowering at once and will then sit there looking lumpy for the rest of the year, too much of one kind of purple, oh look is that bindweed, snails, the first of the solomon seal cutfly larvae, some pots which I meant to plant up and didn’t get round to …

You can never just relax and enjoy it, can you? And I’m not the only one: if this picture came with sound you’d hear nothing but the buzzing of the bees, bumbling around the flowers. They can’t relax and enjoy a garden either, although they do seem to appreciate it all the same.

*Not literally. I quite like moles, although that’s probably only because they haven’t laid waste to anything yet.

Creaking Along

June 14, 2011

These last few months I’ve been suffering from aches and stiffness in my back and neck. No mystery as to why: although I probably spend far less time at a keyboard than I used to when I was working full time, these days instead of sitting in my nice adjustable chair with everything set up along ergonomic principles by the Safety Elves, I’ve been working at my (gasp!) laptop on a (shudder!) kitchen chair, in whatever room happens to be warmest at the time and that turns out to be the recipe for pain and suffering. Unfortunately, although I do actually have a desk and could get a chair and a separate screen and keyboard for my laptop and I could occasionally listen to my mother and sit up straight instead of hanging on the small muscles of my back, the fact is, I know I’m not going to do any of those things because the desk is currently in the coldest room of the house. Whatever I might do in the summer (and when the summer comes, could you let me know? I’ll be under the duvet with a hot water bottle and may not notice), come the winter I’ll be working in the kitchen anyway and there’s no room in there for half an office.

So an alternative was needed. I tried standing at my computer, which a lot of people swear by but I found it a bit hard on the feet and also surprisingly difficult to concentrate – my brain is conditioned to only working while I’m sitting down, it seems, which may explain a lot. I’m looking into finding an Alexander Technique teacher, but that’s a long term proposition, and my neck and back were getting worse, to the point where only a night on Babymother’s futon brought any relief, a somewhat impractical proposition given that she lives about 400 miles away.

Fortunately, my physiotherapist, who doubles as my mother, had a more practical suggestion. For the last three weeks or so I’ve been working at my computer sitting cross-legged on the floor, with the laptop at eye level on the coffee table. It’s not perfect – the keyboard is too high – but it’s better than the old arrangement. Sitting on the floor makes me sit up straight and it’s also less tempting to spend hour after hour in front of the keyboard than it is in a chair, which may, thinking about it, be how it works.

There is one tiny flaw in the ointment. My mother assured me that after a while my knees and hips would get used to the position and that I would soon be able to spring up from the floor instead of having to straighten myself s-l-o-w-l-y a-n-d c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y all the time fully expecting some important part, like a leg, to fall off if I move too fast. So far, there’s no sign of this and I’m beginning to think that sitting cross-legged on the floor is one of those new tricks that my 42-year-old knees aren’t going to learn too quickly. So far, the stiffness wears off reasonably quickly although I have had a few comedy moments from trying to walk on legs that have gone to sleep. And on the whole the back thing was more worrying than the leg thing and no bits have actually fallen off to date. So I’m going to persevere with this for a little while. But I would ask you that if you’re in a position to phone me, you give me plenty of time to get to the damn thing to answer it…

Oh, and if you’ve got Safety Elves in your place of work, be nice to them and actually listen to their advice. Because it turns out they do know what they’re talking about after all.

Are you Paying Attention?

June 11, 2011

Because she is

The first batch of swallows has emerged from the shed and, sensibly, taken to perching high on a wire out of reach of the cat’s claws.

The other half was not around today so my little camera’s pics will have to do in all their blurry, dark, taken-through-a-window glory.

That said, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good…

Adventure Cycling

June 10, 2011

Heading back through Nearest Village this morning on my way back from fetching the paper I came across two cyclists looking at a map and naturally I stopped to ask them if they needed any help. They were looking for our local landmark, a place which is reasonably well-known but entirely unsignposted (most of the summer is spent directing lost drivers to it, often after they have gone spectacularly wrong in their search for it – this is no doubt a cunning ruse on the part of Bigtownshire Tourist Board to make sure the visitors discover just how friendly the natives really are). Once I’d cycled down with them to show them the turnoff, we stopped to chat and I discovered to my amazement that they live in Groningen in the Netherlands which, to those wierd people who don’t spend their entire life reading bike blogs on the internet, is one of the holy cities of bike infrastructure, as written about in the gospel according to St. David on a daily basis.

After I’d finished apologising to them for the state of our own roads, and any near misses, SMIDSYs, honkings and the general hair-raisingness that cycling on UK roads – even rural Scottish ones – must entail after riding on proper civilised bike paths, they laughed and pointed out that they’d cycled all over the world so were used to it. They were then charmingly polite about cycling in Scotland (including the weather, which is how I know they were just being kind) but did say rather sadly that they didn’t see too many people on bikes. I left them heading off for some art (and hill) appreciation, while I cycled home, glad to have been of some assistance.

I did wonder what made them want to take their holidays cycling here when they could be somewhere far more civilised, not to mention flatter (although hills, of course, go down as well as up). And then it struck me that it was probably akin to those more adventurous tours you can take when you’re bored of life and fancy a bit of adrenaline, like walking safaris through lion country, extreme sports or being the first tourists into Kabul. Do you find pedalling sedately along on your nice wide cycle path while chatting to your pals is getting the tiniest bit dull? Come bike the UK where you too can dice with death along our A-roads, dodge left-turning lorries and feel the buzz of accelerating round a monster roundabout while 4×4 drivers text their mates just inches from your wheel! You’ll never feel more alive!

That’s got to be a goer as a campaign, right? And certainly better than the current local tourist board slogan which, as far as anyone can tell, is ‘Shh! Nobody Knows we’re Here!’

How Many Beans Make Five

June 8, 2011

It’s not shaping up to be a good year for legumes, what with one thing and another. Even casting a veil over the whole dropped pea seedling incident, the cold and the wet has meant very poor pollination of my broad beans, although the plants themselves look fairly healthy, if a little knocked about by the wind. And the wind has taken even greater toll of my climbing french beans which had the misfortune to be planted out just before the gale which felled the tree. They hadn’t had a chance to get a decent grip on their beanpoles and as a result they ended up rather broken and battered, with their dwarf cousins not looking much better either. I didn’t see any of the climbers making it through the spring, so pathetic did they appear

Fortunately I still had spare seed and time so I planted some replacements straight into the soil. Days passed, bringing more cool, windy, drying weather and a couple of days ago I cracked and planted some more beans indoors where they would have a chance to germinate without being blown to bits or wind-dried first.

I had forgotten the first law of seed germination:


They only come up after the gardener has given up all hope.

And the ‘dead’ ones they were replacing are showing a few glimmers of life to boot.

Although even I can’t see much of a future for this one.

Great Tits*

June 7, 2011

I was on the point of wimping out of my normal ride this morning because the rain appeared to have set in. And then when I did spot a gap in the weather and set off, I discovered it was merely pausing to regroup and it started raining even harder. I pedalled on with my teeth gritted, mentally composing blog posts about cycling in the rain, finally stopping under a tree to put my hood up (my waterproof cap has disappeared, and I can’t tell you how lost I am without it). And then a chink appeared in the cloud and the next thing I knew I was riding along under my own personal patch of blue sky, all the way down to the shop and all the way back, like the weather gods were making some sort of a point.

But I’m not complaining. And besides, as I zipped along the roads drying out gently in the sun, I was suddenly surrounded by half a dozen fluffy baby great tits all of them cheeping with mad excitement at being out on their maiden flight (well, I like to think that’s what they were cheeping about. If you’d just learned to fly you’d be the same, wouldn’t you?). We’ve been here before, but you know what? Watching little baby birds flying around in a slightly crap yet endearing manner never gets old.

* The birds. What did you think I meant?

Piling it On

June 6, 2011

I still find myself forgetting that the tree has gone and getting a shock when I look out the window and find more view than there was before. But that’s just me. The goldfinches have happily relocated to their new feeder position, the chainsaw man has been and gone, and the other half has chopped the logs. It doesn’t really amount to much

The wood has been divided roughly in half,* one lot going to us and one lot going to the landlords which is fair enough as they paid for the chap with the chainsaw. I reckon that’s about a week’s worth there, although it won’t be burnable till at least the winter after next. And I’d still rather have the tree.

Meanwhile, for those gagging for news on the nettle brewing front (and I use the word advisedly) I can report that it’s begun to turn dark brown, is foaming slightly, with a bit of a scum on top, but doesn’t yet smell revolting – in fact it had a not-unpleasant, faintly nutty aroma with top notes of tannin and citrus. I have definitely lived in the country too long…

* And by roughly, obviously I mean that for each chunk of wood put on one pile a matched pair was found – taking into account width, length, weight, colour and degree of knottiness – for the other pile. Yes, it did take me rather longer than it ought to have done but looking on the bright side, I managed the task without resorting to a spreadsheet

Grasp the Nettle

June 5, 2011

One excellent way to discover you have holes in your gardening gloves, I find, is to spend an afternoon pulling up all the nettles with the intent of making nettle tea for my tomatoes. Supposedly it’s best made with comfrey, but you have to actually grow comfrey whereas I find that nettles just grow themselves – all I had to do was wait a bit until they were big enough, put on a stout pair of gloves, and learn the hard way that it’s a complete myth that if you grasp a nettle firmly enough it won’t sting. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve no idea why it should be nettles that you use and not any other weed, unless this particular idea is the result of a bet between gardening writers as to who could make their readers do the most painful and ridiculous thing and get away with it. No doubt decking came a close second…

But that’s all by the by and the nettles are in a bucket now (I meant to make it ages ago, but had to wait until I got around to replacing last year’s bucket. Plastic may last forever but it turns out plastic buckets don’t, or at least not in the form that holds water. Bah. And then I find this thread recommending using milk containers instead. Doh. Next year), topped up with water and weighed down with a large stone, waiting to miraculously be transformed into plant food. I did this last year, and I even took some photographs meaning to blog about it but I never quite got round to it. Partly because the resulting photographs were pretty uninformative, if a bit revolting, but mainly because photos themselves cannot do anything like justice to the resulting smell. Put it this way, if you read the word ‘tea’ and started thinking of some sort of wholesome brew, think again – nettle effluent would come closer. Put it another way – if you had murdered someone and buried them under the rose bushes, a batch of nettle tea brewing alongside would quickly mask any of the resulting odours (and provide an excuse if the plants put on a growth spurt to boot). Fortunately for you lot the STP (Smell Transfer Protocol) standard has yet to be perfected so I can’t bring it to you in smellovision, but I may have to have a crack at putting it into words as it gets into its stride. You have been warned

I keep meaning to read up more on plant nutrition and become a proper gardener, the kind who can remember the difference between nitrogen, potassium and the other one and keep track of what supplies what and why and when, but every time I start to look into it properly my brain starts to hurt and gardening starts to feel like work – the sort of thing you can get wrong. And that’s no fun, so I go back to randomly googling stuff on the internet and doing the things that sound as if they make sense, or at least might make a vaguely amusing blog post. And all I can say is the nettle tea seems to work, at least for me. Although I’m very glad that, as a tomato-sceptic, I don’t actually have to eat the end result. Me, I’m sticking to the veg I feed on coffee.

The Cat…

June 3, 2011

… has a new hiding place

This can’t end well.


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