Heaping it on

December 10, 2016
before topping up

Before topping up

After yesterday’s post, on mature reflection, I decided I hadn’t quite gone far enough with the mulching process so today I decided it was time to do some topping up as there was still a big pile of weeds and grass clippings I could add to the new plots (and also I was still capable of standing upright without groaning so I clearly hadn’t worked hard enough yesterday).

Interestingly (interesting to me, anyway – I assume if you come and read this blog regularly you’ve got a high boredom threshold), the huge pile of vegetation that has been accumulating since we started clearing the garden hasn’t really rotted down that much. In places it was even bone dry – clearly a mat of grass clippings is an effective rain cover, something which perhaps wouldn’t surprise anyone with a thatched roof. The layer at the bottom had started to turn into something resembling compost, however, so hopefully the worms and other things will work their magic under the carpet for the next few months.

heaped up

Several barrowloads later the carpet has been replaced and very thoroughly weighed down with the bricks out of the old storage heaters, mainly so I don’t get any ideas about adding anything more. My back will be having a few strong words with me on the subject too. It’s all very well people waxing lyrical about the ease of no-dig gardening but they don’t seem to mention the part where you end up collapsed on the sofa having shovelled and barrowed and forked umpteen barrowloads of stuff back and forth.

carpet replaced

It shall all be worth it in the end, I hope.

Rolling out the Manky Pink Carpet

December 9, 2016
Carpet laid out in the garden

When the books tell you to design your garden as a series of rooms, I’m not sure they meant actually carpeting them

Back when I had a proper job, I always tried to schedule meetings for the afternoon as I’d long learned I never did anything productive between 2pm and 4 so I might as well go and have a nice chat with other people and eat biscuits until my brain woke up again around tea time. Now that I work my own hours, it means I can justify getting out into the garden on a winter afternoon and tackle one of the many jobs that are piling up out there.

Currently top of the list is preparing the ground for the veg beds. I’ve been swithering over whether to build raised beds, dig in manure, or go for a no-dig approach (it doesn’t help that the last three editions of Gardeners’ Question Time have had three different suggestions) but with our Christmas holiday looming, we’ve reached the stage where (in the words of a wise former colleague of mine) it’s better to take a wrong decision than no decision. In the end, the first two approaches involved too much hard work, so with time running out I’ve decided to attempt the no-dig approach.

So I spent this afternoon scavenging various bits of carpet from the attic and garage where the previous owners had stashed them and laying out where the plot will be.


Take that, 2016

Then it was just a matter of putting down the last few month’s worth of newspapers and my friend’s housewarming gift (and I can’t really think of anything more appropriate to do with what amounts to several hundred photos of Donald Trump than covering them in horse manure), followed by the contents of the compost dalek – which was wonderfully good stuff – and a pile of coarser weeds hacked down in our attempt to clear around the old chicken shed. Meanwhile, the weather gods were doing their bit by steadily drizzling so that everything was nice and damped down. The plan was to add the rest of the pile of stuff that has accumulated from cutting the grass and clearing the weeds, but winter afternoons are short and I ran out of time. As it was, I ended up putting the last bits of carpet on in the dark.

Ideally, I would have done this back in July when we first got the keys to the house, to give everything several months to rot down and to weaken all the perennial weeds, but if nothing else, I will have added several barrowloads of organic matter to the soil, and at least made the grass and buttercups a bit easier to deal with in the spring.

veg plot before

Before shot. Remind me to come back and post some progress pictures …

So now all that remains for me to do is to wait, and let the worms and other creatures do their work, and hope I’ve weighed everything down well enough that the carpet will still be in place come spring.

The Ghosts of Roundabouts Future

December 6, 2016

I think I may have mentioned in the past that Bigtown’s drivers take a somewhat freestyle approach to roundabouts. On the big ones, indicating is optional (and bikes are invisible, but that’s standard issue for most of the UK), and on the little pimplebouts pretty much anything goes: nobody appears to have any idea who might have right of way in any given situation so you might as well just wing it and see what happens.

As I was commiserating with a fellow cyclist on the subject – we had both had more than usually boneheaded interactions with our fellow road users, although in my case, unusually, the problem was that two drivers on a three-arm roundabout had decided to stop for each other and in the end it was me who went as the others appeared to be waiting for nightfall before either of them moved – I remembered a story one of my fellow cycling campaign members had told me. She had overheard two older drivers in Bigtown discussing a new (and by ‘new’ I mean ‘installed some time early last century’) roundabout. ‘Oh, I just take no notice of it,’ one of them said.

Thinking about it, that seemed to explain everything. If half the drivers are behaving as if there is no roundabout, then a lot of their more bizarre decisions make a bit more sense. It might also explain why they’ve effectively cut one larger roundabout in half and flattened the middle circle, presumably so that Mrs Miggins can plough through it in her 20-year-old Ford Fiesta without getting tangled in the sheets people hang on it to announce significant birthdays*

Of course, having thought I’d cracked it, my new theory failed to explain why a driver might be waiting at a side road today, see me coming, and then pull out in front of me anyway, unless she was anticipating a roundabout that had not yet been built. So I shall just continue to cycle as if anything and everything could happen at any minute. It seems the safest way.

* Is this just a Bigtown thing? Would anyone ever be delighted to discover that their impending 40th had been announced through the medium of a crumpled sheet to the assembled masses at the local Macdonalds?


December 2, 2016

cut paper bicycles

Chatting to our local archivist the other day (nothing to do with any archiving: she has a laser paper cutting machine at home and had made some fantastic little paper bicycles for the Bigtown Cycle campaign. Suddenly a whole new world of stationery possibilities opens up …) I was shocked – shocked! – to learn that Bigtown library now has no actual librarians. The staff at the counter who stamp your books are there to do all sorts of other council business as well, which I suppose could bring a wider range of clientele into the library, but you wonder who is doing all the other vital library stuff, from ordering books to setting up reading schemes.


This is why I have a special affection for books which disappear again after 3 weeks

After I had physically picked up my jaw and composed myself, I wondered what could be done about this. As a voracious reader in my childhood (at one point the school library disallowed me from returning books on the same day I had borrowed them) libraries were a lifesaver for me, even with their pettifogging rules about keeping a book for at least 24 hours before you returned it. As an adult with a non-infinite amount of shelf space, they continue to be a useful way of feeding my book habit without filling my house, and as an author (however unprolific), the Public Lending Right payment I get every year is a small but happy reminder that somewhere out there, people are still reading my book. So it’s safe to say, I was keen to support the library from any more cuts.

‘Footfall,’ my archivist contact said. ‘That’s all they look at. So keep using the library if you want to keep it open.’

Well, as activism goes, that’s something I can utterly get behind. It will be a terrible sacrifice but tomorrow I will have to get myself down to the library and borrow some books, take them home, read them, and then swap them for some more. All for free – and anyone and everyone can do it too.

Put that way, it’s amazing such a civilised thing has been allowed to exist for as long as it has. Perhaps you’d better get down there and be counted at your own library while stocks last.

Building Bridges

December 1, 2016

In our bid to meet All The Cycling Women in Scotland, Back on my Bike and I have been visiting Dundee (oh, okay there was also some Walk Cycle Vote business as well)

We were staying in Wormit, which meant negotiating the Tay Bridge, and also subjecting Dundee’s cycle network to its sternest test: can Sally and Suzanne find their way onto it easily without having to dash across multiple lanes of traffic or finding themselves on a Scary Road with no clue where they are going? Glasgow failed this test comprehensively earlier this month, and it’s fair to say that Dundee did no better, although as Dundee seems to be largely under construction, we will give it a pass this time.

lift to fife

Fortunately it’s a bit hard to miss the Tay Bridge, even for us, and once we’d spotted it, and navigated all the lanes of traffic we found the lift up onto the foot and cycle path that has been squeezed in between the carriageways.

On the way back, in daylight, we could see a bit more what was going on. I’d appreciate this view if it was my commute to work although it would be even better without four lanes of heavy traffic roaring past at 50mph (though thankfully on the other side of a stout railing).

view from the Tay Bridge

On the whole, Dundee seems to be doing interesting things – the council have an ambitious cycling strategy, they’re dedicating 5% of their transport budget to cycling, and if you live and work in the right places you can get between the two without tangling with traffic at all.

However, it’s also an object lesson into why massive roads and liveable cities just don’t mix. The waterfront is sadly cut off from the rest of the city – and it doesn’t look as if the Gateway development is going to do anything about that, although it is adding a few green spaces and we were told that the entrance to the bridge walkway is much improved.

Under the Tay Bridge

Top tip for urban designers: even some jolly paint does little to make the space under a raised highway a pleasant place to be.

I can only shudder to imagine what it used to be like. Coming home to the rather less spectacular but much more civilised Bigtown viaduct was a welcome tonic.

Queen of the South Viaduct


As Winter Approaches…

November 28, 2016

… the bones of the garden are beginning to emerge.

shed in summer

This was the old chicken shed in summer

shed before clearing

As the nettles died back, we’ve been able to hack our way through and start to remove the fencing around the old enclosure

shed after
The interior of the shed makes me feel a bit sad for the hens that used to live here, although it’s all good stuff for the fertility of the soil, ultimately.

shed interior

“You can be in charge of getting that spade out and cleaning it up”, says the other half generously

First, though, we have to work out where to put the compost bins and then we have to fill them. Oh, and find out exactly where our septic tank is and make sure it’s still working …

compost bins

I don’t think that little dalek is going to cut it

That may be a subject for a whole other post


Cyclists Should be Seen and not Heard

November 26, 2016

Cycling to Tesco yesterday on my way to Edinburgh* in the just-about-dark, I approached the roundabout in the retail park somewhat warily – Bigtown drivers take a somewhat freestyle approach to roundabouts generally, and this one is particularly random. I was turning right, there was a car approaching slowly from my left, so I continued on round the roundabout somewhat warily, which was fortunate because the car kept on coming and kept on coming even as I shouted ‘hey’ and waved my arms about and then (having stopped to let it go past as that was obviously what it was going to do) did a big ‘what the hell are you doing?’ gesture – all with not a flicker of awareness from the driver.

The car then continued on at approximately 10mph – it was all I could do not to overtake it – and parked right outside Tesco, where I considered knocking on the window but I didn’t fancy a confrontation so I just continued on and locked up the bike. And then, as I was walking to the entrance, I saw the driver still getting out of the car and I realised he must be about 90.

Now I know that the right answer is that if he drives like that, he doesn’t belong on the road and that if he didn’t hit me (and at the speed he was driving, he was never going to hit me) he might hit a child, but I also know that his car is very likely his independence. And in fairness, I was on my Brompton with the not brilliant lights and in ninja mode (black jacket & trousers) so I could have done a bit more to help a driver pick me out in a complex and poorly lit environment – if it had happened when I’d been on my big bike with the dynamo front light I’d have been less forgiving. So I didn’t say anything. In a perfect (Dutch) world, he wouldn’t need to drive, he’d still be cycling (there are plenty of people in the area still riding their bikes well into their 80s and beyond but they’re a breed apart). But this is not a perfect world.

However after this, and a close squeeeeeeze by a taxi on Princess Street yesterday evening, and then almost walking into a Deliveroo rider with no lights as I crossed the street on foot (I don’t like to play on the tram tracks), I have decided to upgrade the Brompton lights and add a bit of reflective material to my winter cycling outfit. I doubt it would have made a blind bit of difference to either incident, but it would have allowed me to deploy a lot more self-righteous indignation afterwards.

* ‘Where is it you’re going again?’ the other half asked me yesterday morning. Edinburgh, as it happens. Then back again and then Dundee in our bid to meet all the cycling women of Scotland.