In for a Splash. Soak. Whatever

May 27, 2014

It may almost be the end of May, but that doesn’t mean all our trees are in leaf yet, oh no…

ash tree

The annual face off between the oak and the ash as to which one is most resistant to the blandishments of spring is on – and it looks as if the oaks have blinked first, by a long way.

spring trees

Normally I’d be rejoicing because as any fule know, ash before oak, in for a soak – oak before ash, in or a splash* but to be honest the ash have been holding out for so long this year I was beginning to worry about it being something more sinister.

If we did lose our ash trees they’d leave such a huge gap in the landscape that it’s hard to imagine. I’ve always thought of ash as being slightly weedy trees, because of their habit of setting seed everywhere and springing up in the most unwelcoming places. But give them a place to spread and a couple of hundred years to do it in and they become magnificent.

ash tree

Fortunately on close examination it looks as if they were just playing dead …

* I can’t help but think there’s a bit of a lack of ambition there on the part of our ancestors when it comes to predicting the summer weather. There’s an obvious gap in the market here for some combination of tree-leaf emergence that heralds a long, hot, glorious barbeque summer – possibly something along the lines of ‘Ash and oak in March their leaves forming, summer spent worrying about global warming…’

Taps Aff

April 19, 2014

I had a day trip to Newcastle today which meant setting off for the station with frost still thick on the grass, for all the bright promise of the morning sunshine. The Toon itself was distinctly nippy with a sharp wind blowing in from the North Sea and the various stag and hen parties making their way along the river front looked as if they regretted going for the matching t-shirts/comically brief dresses, at least until they’d got enough alcohol on board to stop caring. I was feeling fairly smug at having dressed sensibly until I realised that I’d lost one of my favourite gloves, a gift from the other half and rather spiffy with rabbit-fur lined (don’t write in) cuffs, which I’d successfully managed to avoid losing for two years – something of a record for me. One was restored to me, having been found on Bigtown station platform and kept for my return, but the other has vanished, to join my last two hats and at least four right hand gloves (I never lose the left-hand ones for some reason) in the great lost-property office in the sky…

Fortunately, by the time I came to ride home this afternoon the sun had done its work and it was warm enough to ride home bare handed. It’s not *quite* taps aff yet, but from the reddened shoulders I passed on my way home there has been some reckless clout casting going on in Bigtown today, May be out be damned. And as we’re all apparently desperately vitamin-D deprived at this time of year, perhaps it’s no bad thing…

Half Sprung

April 15, 2014

waiting bike

It’s a tough life, but today I had to add a few extra miles to my route back from Bigtown after yoga to deliver some Pedal on Parliament flyers to a local cafe and farm shop. The sun was blazing down* and dazzlingly bright, but I battled on up hill and down dale, stopping only for a cold drink and a a rest once I had arrived there.

hedgerows and trees

The hedgerows are full of green and blossoms and the skies were full of singing larks, but the trees remain resolutely wintry. We’re not there yet, not quite. There’s still springing to be done…

wintry trees

Sometimes it’s hard work bringing about safer cycling in Scotland, but someone’s got to do it…

gate and green field wintry tree two trees

* you may laugh, but I had not really factored in the insulating effect of having my yoga leggings on under my normal trousers and I was genuinely boiling by the time I got there and was able to do a quick change routine in the loo. It was so hot I even considered nipping behind a bush and just continuing in my leggings but they contain lycra and I was concerned someone might think I was a real cyclist.

Facts on the Ground

April 14, 2014

It’s that time of year when you only have to turn your back on a bulb of garlic and it turns into this

garlic bulb sprouting

So it got re-allocated from kitchen duties to joining the overwintering (and by ‘overwintering’ I mean ‘lost track of last summer and only rediscovered it when it sprouted’) garlic up in the veg plot.

overwintering garlic

The garden feels massively behind this year, but things are warming up at last and spring is advancing. Tempting though it is to dive in and go mad on a glorious sunny breezy day like today, the soil is still very damp and claggy and there are frosts forecast so I’m having to hold back from planting anything just yet, apart from the chitted parsnips. Everything else is crammed onto the shed windowsill biding its time with varying degrees of patience – I have to be a bit careful walking past the pea seedlings, lest they start climbing up my leg.

broad beans in flower

Thank goodness for my autumn-planted broad beans. Battered they may be, but they are magnificently in flower. Even though I’ve done practically nothing except take a punt and stick some in the ground last year on the off chance, it almost makes me feel like a real gardener…


April 8, 2014

Less than a week ago, I noticed the blackthorn buds were just about to burst into life

blackthorn buds

Coming home from a brief stay in Glasgow I noticed they had burst.

blackthorn in flower


Spring is the thing that happens when your back is turned, if you’re not careful. See also life.

Spring forward

April 1, 2014

Obviously the whole ‘putting the clocks forward’ thing is just a strange act of mass self-delusion and has absolutely no effect on anything at all except to confuse livestock and children and certainly does not give us an ‘extra hour of daylight’…

evening light

… but it does mean that my ride back from the pub looks like this, and for that we should be grateful

evening light mist and trees

(it was only after I had taken this photo that it occurred to me that shoving my front wheel into a blackthorn hedge in order to get a clear view across the field wasn’t the most sensible idea I’d ever had after yesterday’s shenanigans)



Stinging in the Rain

March 22, 2014

Thursday was one of those days when you look out of the window and think “thank God I don’t have to cycle anywhere today in that” as the rain lashes sideways past the window. The only problem was I did have to cycle somewhere in it; I had to be in Bigtown to catch a bus to go and meet someone. I told myself that it always looks worse from inside than it does when you’re actually out in it, put on the full monty raingear (apocalypse-proof jacket, rain skirt, leggits, tweed cap, gloves), remembered to pack a spare pair of gloves (I have yet to track down a pair of actually waterproof gloves, and there are few things more miserable than putting on wet gloves after you’ve been sitting in the warm and dry, so the only option is to pack as many pairs of gloves as you have journey legs) and set off.

As I’d hoped, it wasn’t too bad at first. The trip into Bigtown is generally done with a tailwind, and rain is a lot less unpleasant when it isn’t being blown into your face. In fact, I was cycling along musing about the fact that I’ve probably ridden through more rain in the past year than I have in my whole life up to then, and that I’ve gradually accumulated the right kit, and a few ideas, to make the whole wet-weather cycling thing if not pleasant, then bearable. I started putting together in my head a blog post of all the things I’ve learned in the last year to provide others with the benefit of my accumulated wisdom, entirely forgetting that I had not only blogged the day before about the imminent arrival of spring – but had also tweeted happily about the joys of cycling with a tail wind…

So I shouldn’t really have been surprised when the tail wind suddenly sprang round to hit me hard right in the face – enough to actually bring me to a standstill – and whipped off my cap and flung it into a puddle before settling into a punitive gusty cross wind for the rest of the ride into town. In the course of the next 30 minute I was to learn several entirely new and exciting facts about cycling in the rain when you have angered the weather gods:

1. Tweed floats. Indeed, an upside-down cap can sail quite a distance along a puddle when the wind takes it

2. Leggits are no protection to your shoes if you have to wade through the water to retrieve your hat.

3. A rain skirt is no protection at all when it is blowing a hooly and the rain is simultaneously coming at you from the side, front, above and possibly below

4. When your apocalypse-proof jacket starts to let in water, the pockets are where the water will accumulate and are therefore a poor choice of place to store your mobile phone, your Guardian voucher, and your dry gloves

5. There is no weather so unpleasant that it cannot be made more unpleasant by a driver choosing to pass you at speed through a puddle.

In fairness, I can’t really blame number five on the Weather Gods (but seriously drivers, what is it with close passing cyclists in the rain? Do you think we are out there getting wet for fun?)

By the time I had reached the bus stop and steeled myself to spend the rest of the day in wet socks, I had decided to hold off on that ‘top tips’ post until I had another decade or so’s experience to draw on. Meanwhile, I will rever to my former position, that the best wet weather gear of all is a roof.

Anyone commenting to the effect that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, will be hunted down and drowned.

Signs of …

March 19, 2014

Cycling back from Bigtown yesterday (category: lunch (& also plotting but that doesn’t seem to have an Errandoneering category), distance: 16 miles, observation: “where did that bastard headwind come from all of a sudden?”) I was struck by the way the trees have reached the point where they are almost-but-not-quite in leaf, giving everything a faint wash of colour, like the promise of something.

trees almost bursting into leaf

And the landlords’ hens have resumed their visits to our garden – here they are inspecting my work on the flowerbeds. I hope they have the same appetite for slugs as their predecessors.

hens in flowerbed
Plus the lambs have gone from unphotographable dots in the distance to just-about photographable fuzzballs on springs, if you excuse my camera phone’s excuse for a ‘zoom’. (Sure they look cute, but that one on the right went on to sexually harass his brother/sister all around the field (well, I’m guessing it’s a ‘he’))

little lambs
Adding it all up, I think that means winter is loosening its grip on us, slowly but surely. And that means I am definitely behind with the gardening. Already

Someone remind me how this horticultural therapy for stress relief is supposed to work again?

Exciting Drainage News

March 14, 2014

You can blame twitter for this one because I asked my followers if I could get away with blogging about drainage roadworks and they enthusiastically agreed. Road engineers, eh? And this on a Friday night too.

newly dug ditch

Newly dug ditch. I told you it was exciting

Anyway, the old chap and the young chap have almost finished their epic work along our road (I did notice that the young chap had got himself a proper big yellow digger last time I passed them, but the old chap was having none of it and sticking to his shovel). Not only do we have some re-dug ditches, but on the worst bit of road they have actually put in some drains and it is now dry for the first time pretty much since we moved up here.

new drains

One casualty is the permapuddle that has stretched across our drive for long enough to gain its own wildlife. They have rerouted the burn back into the pipe it is supposed to flow into, rather than across the tarmac, and today they were busy repairing the drain that the pipe flows into (be thankful that they were hanging around at lunchtime or you’d have had several more exciting pictures of drainage works to admire). It means I now no longer have anywhere to wash my wellies after I’ve been in the garden – but it also means that my bottle dynamo, which doesn’t really like going through puddles, won’t cut out the instant I leave our gate, which is a bonus.

My hope was that the application of Sod’s Law (weather perversity act) would mean that all this expensive drainage work would result in a long drought but sadly after an unprecedented three days of sunshine the Weather Gods resumed normal service this morning. Now all we have to do is see how long the roads remain dry under normal weather conditions. And if you’re really lucky, I’ll update you.

Gardening Leave

March 10, 2014

There was much I could have been doing at my computer this afternoon but the sun was out and, while we haven’t had the glorious weather in the past couple of days that the rest of twitter was banging on about, we have had – well, calling it dry weather would be pushing it but it hasn’t been raining all that much since, ooh, the last yellow warning of heavy rain on Friday morning. As a result, most of the garden has gone from squelchy to squidgy making it possible to contemplate catching up with the winter’s backlog. As an added incentive, I was suffering from a baking-related back injury having tweaked something while bending down to put a cake in the oven and sitting at the computer wasn’t making it any better, so an afternoon’s binge gardening definitely beckoned.

garden before

Four hours later, I’m not entirely sure that weeding and wheelbarrowing was exactly what the doctor would have ordered for a dodgy back although it was still better than crouching over my laptop all day. Nor am I entirely sure that I’ve made any progress – in my experience, the more you garden, the more you discover there is to be done.

garden after

But I did achieve my main objectives: I found some of my spring flowers lurking under all the died back plants and liberated them, I managed not to then promptly tread on any of them, and I’ve added several barrowloads of plant material to the compost heap. In truth ‘adding material to the compost heap’ is pretty much the only achievement I’ve found I can rely on when gardening. Everything else is just in the lap of the slugs. If slugs have laps.

emerging anenome

And the cake? Well truly, revenge is a dish best served cold. Accompanied by a steaming hot fresh cup of coffee.

cake and coffee

raspberry and lemon yoghurt cake – nom nom nom. Please try not to look at the the weeds behind…


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