March 3, 2011
… and it’s not just because the rain has gone (or ‘Lorraine’ depending on which version of the lyrics you prefer). Well, I can’t quite see more clearly yet, but I shall soon because I’ve been down to the opticians where I was pleasantly surprised to discover that everyone is entitled to a free eye test on the NHS in Scotland (of course this was somewhat outweighed by the cost of having the lenses in my glasses replaced – did you know it was possible to spend almost 500 quid if you go for the super thin ones? I turned that one down and went for the next price point down but even so, it cost How Much!? and then some). Every time I go to the opticians, which isn’t as often as I ought, they’ve added a new elaboration to the eye test – this time it was the world’s dullest computer game, pressing a button in response to little flashes of light, and they never even told me my score – but mainly I spend the entire appointment trying to fight my growing paranoia that the entire eye test is an elaborate send up to see whether people will pretend to notice a difference between two identical pieces of glass if someone in a white coat asks them to. I really must stop reading about psychology experiments on line.
And having taken a deep breath and spent the how much?! on my replacement lenses, I then nipped over to the nearest mobile phone emporium and spent ‘it can’t really be that cheap can it?’ on a not-quite-as-dumb phone to replace my current phone which works perfectly except for most of its numberpad which means I can only use it to ring people I already have in my phone book or who ring me. I quite liked this feature as it saved a lot of time and money but the other half was getting tired of having to text me numbers when I did need to make an unexpected call and more or less insisted. The new phone works perfectly and comes with little earphones and, in a stroke of genius on the bus yesterday, I realised I could tune it to pick up Radio 4.* What bliss! Not only can I sodcast ‘Call You and Yours’ to any annoying teenagers (I wouldn’t really. Well I probably wouldn’t unless they were really annoying) but I can now have Radio 4 playing in my ear more or less constantly including on the bike.
I have to admit to having a slightly unhealthy obsession with Radio 4 and already organise my life to avoid being stuck washing up or driving somewhere during the bits of its schedule I actively dislike. As the phone can also handle podcasts I can now arrange to only listen to those bits of it I like for more or less my entire waking life. I shall go mad, of course, it goes without saying, but I’ll also be awesomely well-informed. And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve got several years worth of back episodes of ‘In Our Time’ to get through before I die.
*I know, I know, you’ve been able to do this for aaages and the phone you have now also launches space shuttles, but I like to let technology bed down a bit before I adopt it. Five years seems about right.
February 21, 2011
‘Oh look it’s full of lovely Scottish notes,’ I heard a ringing English voice cry as I walked past the bank in Notso Bigtown this afternoon. I don’t know quite what she expected to come out of a Scottish cashpoint – haggis? whisky? English money? – but at least she was happy about it. Usually I end up stuck behind some English visitor in the Notso Bigtown Tesco asking a suddenly sullen checkout girl if their change could be in English notes instead.
Anyway, it’s one more sign, if signs were needed, that spring, summer and prime tourist baiting season is on its way.
In other news, can anyone explain why it’s not possible to buy fish on a Monday? Is this a local thing or the sort of thing that everybody except me knows? I went into the combined greengrocers and fishmongers expecting the woman there to be able to mong me some fish and she just looked at me as if I was the sort of wet-behind-the-ears tourist who could be found exclaiming excitedly at the quaint and charming Scottish money. I keep thinking I’ve got the hang of it here, and then I’m reminded I haven’t.
February 10, 2011
Questions expecting the answer ‘yes’:
‘Would you like a pheasant?’
It’s payback time for all the times we’ve been startled out of our skins by a pheasant launching itself cackling out of the undergrowth right from under our feet – not to mention the emergency stops as one determinedly tries to kill itself under our wheels (bike or car – they’re not fussy). The landlords get pheasants as a reward for allowing the shoot access to their land, and as they had been given three brace of them this time, we were offered one of the spares.
Now a fully-feathered pheasant is a splendid thing, and though I’d like to think that – were I actually starving and had managed to kill one – I could hang, pluck and draw it myself, but realistically that’s not going to happen now, when I am manifestly NOT starving, as evidenced by my incredible shrinking jeans. So we were grateful that the bird in question turned up truly oven-ready: headless and gutless and featherless and looking reassuringly like a small chicken. The only question now is in what form to put it in the oven. The downside of getting them in this state is not knowing how old the bird is (you age a pheasant by looking at its beak – but you knew that, didn’t you?) which means roasting it probably isn’t an option. The landlord recommends casseroling, so at the moment I’m going for this, but if any of you know better, I’m open to persuasion
February 7, 2011
You know you’re at a very grand hotel indeed* when it not only has a magnificent brass-and-mahogany revolving door, but a magnificent set of uniformed flunkies to revolve it for you. Fortunately I had remembered that going up to town requires not just discarding the fleece, but the wellies too, and so they didn’t take one look at me and decide to just keep on revolving it until I was safely deposited back in the street again.
Although to be honest, having sampled Embra’s idea of a February day (east wind, sleet, snow, rain, sometimes all at once), the fleece and the wellies were otherwise sadly missed. And I did rather wonder how they would have reacted had I come on my bike…
*just for coffee, unfortunately, not to stay
January 6, 2011
Bah. I’m on my own today, supposedly getting on with some work and making stock and doing other such domestic pottering. But the sun has come out and while it’s still a bit cold it was perfect weather for a walk or a bike ride. Or it would have been if I could have found my keys* – three weeks of being on holiday plus a week of bank-holiday-style pottering around with the other half means I haven’t really needed them. And somehow that rural way of life hasn’t quite sunk in far enough that I’m comfortable actually leaving the front door unlocked, or at least not deliberately. Looks like my countrification is not yet entirely complete.
*Google was no help. And if autocomplete is anything go by, what people mostly are looking for are their kidneys. Now that really would have been a holiday too far…
November 10, 2010
I notice that there’s some controversy over in the US bike blogs about the best approach for urban commuting. Eco Velo has their kinder, gentler take on the subject here, but it got me thinking about what the equivalent rural rules might be for around here:
- Warn any horse riders of your approach by telling them there is a bike behind them and then pass them slowly and carefully and giving the horse as big a berth as possible. And a top tip for recumbent riders: lower your little flag before attempting to pass a horse.
- Warn any pedestrians of your approach with your bell, especially if they’ve got their back turned or are with a dog. If you’ve no bell, a cheery ‘good morning’ will do (in the morning, obviously, otherwise ‘good afternoon’) but be prepared for them to jump fifteen feet in the air when you pass them any way.
- If a car is hanging behind you waiting for a safe place to pass, a glance over your shoulder will generally encourage them to do so – so choose your moment to look carefully. Sometimes it’s fun to tease a 4×4 by never looking at all, but they usually lose patience in the end.
- If they can’t pass, it’s probably polite to speed up, if you can, or at least look as though you’re making an effort to get up that hill. I find dropping a gear so my legs go round faster gives the impression I’m trying really hard.
- On the whole, it’s probably best to pull over to let tractors past, especially if they’ve got lots of complicated machinery with pointy bits hanging off the back. Or are towing a trailer full of slurry.
- If any vehicle passes you, give them a wave. If you know the driver, make it a big one. Or stop for a chat.
- If you overtake another cyclist, or they overtake you, always pause to pass the time of day. Tag along for a while if they’re going your way. The ride goes faster if you have someone to talk to.
- At night it’s dark. Really dark. Really really dark. Get lots of lights, or only cycle on moonlit nights.
- And don’t let the bogles get you
- And finally, one from this morning: If there’s a man on a quad bike rounding up a loose bull on the road, the bull (and the quad bike) have right of way…
September 26, 2010
I’ve been in Wigtown all day today, for the book festival (oh and *ahem* I’ll be there tomorrow giving a free talk if anyone’s interested). Today I was mostly flogging stuff, or at least trying to interest people in various arty and literary things we had going on, which meant standing in the sunshine using a whisky barrel as a stall and attempting to catch people’s eye as they passed. I know. The writer’s lot is not a happy one. Although it would have been better had the whiskey barrel still been full.
It gave me some insight in how far I’d come as a city exile living in a country place though. I’ve lived here long enough, you see, that I can greet perfect strangers with a cheery smile and a hello. The locals mostly greeted me back and passed on unperturbed (unless I mentioned the free part, in which case they might come over to have a look). The Londoners – and I’m generalising madly here, you understand, some of them could have been from Edinburgh – were a different kettle of fish. First they’d rear backwards like startled horses. Then they’d look wildly over their shoulders to see if I was greeting someone else. Then they’d start to wonder if they knew me from somewhere – were they really that drunk in the bar last night? – that I was addressing them so cheerily. Sometimes, in the ensuing confusion, I even managed to flog them a book. I’m not sure I’m up to doing that again though. Being friendly to more than one passing stranger an hour is exhausting.
Over-friendly local writers aside, I can recommend Wigtown if you’ve not been. Especially on a day like today when the sun shone and the skies were blue and everyone was strolling around as though the summer would go on for ever (oh and London people, what is it with the stripey tops? Was there a law passed making breton stripes the national uniform?). Even when there’s no festival on there are bookshops and birds and some stunning scenery. We drove over the Galloway hills to get there this morning and the weather and the scenery had gone beyond glorious and was all the way over onto unreal. And on the way back we got ourselves out of the festival and its environs and stopped for tea and coffee and two enormous slices of cake for under four quid. Which just about ate up my profit for the day, but who’s counting?
August 2, 2010
Stocking up on supplies for our visitors this weekend*, the other half came home with these eggs which amused me for reasons which I can’t quite put my finger on.
What can it possibly mean?
Not as amused as one of our visitors was by the sight of a Doner Kebab flavoured Pot Noodle in the shop in Papershop Village. Do they really not have those in London, do you suppose? Or just not in the more salubrious parts of West London? Anyway, he couldn’t resist buying one and it now sits in state on our kitchen counter until one or other of us plucks up the courage to eat it. I have to confess I’ve never actually eaten a Pot Noodle of any description – I’ve led a sheltered life. And this one is suitable for vegetarians, which doesn’t bode particularly well.
*If there is an end to the apparently bottomless pit that is the 10 or 12-year-old boy, we failed to plumb it. Still, we’ve more or less caught up with our potato backlog as a result of their visit so it’s all good.
July 28, 2010
Last winter they clear felled a piece of woodland near us. While all the big logs have long gone, the men with the machines left the rest – the stumps, branches, logs and other bits not deemed worth taking away. Eventually, if the last piece of clear-felled land is anything to go by, they’ll bulldoze it into a big pile and (about three years later) take it up to the local wood-burning power station. But meanwhile it sits there looking tempting. Mostly it’s softwood, but there were some birches, hazels and other hardwood trees in there mixed in with the spruce and larch. The problem is, it’s not ours to take. We’ve gone in and scavenged out some sticks for my beanpoles and to hold up the butterfly netting over my cabbages and, I have to admit, that occasionally when we’ve seen a nice handy sized piece of birch just sitting about doing nothing we’ve picked it up and, attemtping nonchalance, carried it the few hundred yards back to our woodshed.
This, we now realise, is WRONG. For what we should be doing is what I spotted one of our nearish neighbours doing this morning as I headed out for a hard day helping underprivileged children*: driving up there with a van and taking away a whole load. Because if you’re going to pilfer, pilfer properly and don’t muck about.
*Helping underprivileged children build dens in the woods, as the other half (who’d spent the morning hoovering instead) was jealous to discover. It’s hard work bringing light to the little kiddies’ eyes, but somebody’s got to do it.
July 19, 2010
My mother returned home last night, and was driven back from the station by a friend. The journey went smoothly, but sadly they did hit a hare on the way back. The hare, fortunately, was killed outright and the friend, having stopped to check that it was dead and to observe a proper moment of sadness at the passing of such a magical and beautiful creature, then popped it in the boot to hang it for the pot.
This is, of course, the right and proper way to handle such a thing. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to start scraping hares off the road – even freshly killed ones – but it does occur to me that we might not be quite so diligent about avoiding pheasants in the future. They do say, after all, that if you eat meat you should be prepared to kill at least some of it yourself. And it doesn’t say anywhere that you can’t do it by hitting it with your car…