…The steady light rain that starts whenever we head out for a walk does at least keep off the worst of the flies. We have yet to encounter the dreaded midge – a beast that looms as large as some mythical monster whenever this part of Scotland is discussed – but the flies seem irritating enough, at least to us newbies. They seem attracted to walkers and gather over our heads in columns as we go, so that from a distance we must have the appearance of being trailed by a pillar of smoke, like the Israelites in the desert, only without the sunshine. When it is not raining, I try and cultivate a stoical indifference to the flies – teeth clenching is good for the jaw line after all – while the other half opts for a maddened hand waving, which presumably tones the upper arms. Either way, I’m disappointed that the presence of such an abundance of insect life in our vicinity does not mean that we are also trailed by swallows, swifts, martins and flycatchers who are all surely missing a trick here. If rhinos can have oxpeckers, and even crocodiles their own personal toothcleaning avian companion, why cannot walkers attract a companion bird or two to keep them insect free? I’d even put up with the poo.
…it’s been a busy couple of days in the town mouse household, what with a trip to BigTown’s small cinema and taking the train for a day trip to Edinburgh, not to mention a spot of extreme ironing, rural style – all of which I might write about one of these days. But not right now because we came back home last night to find our connection kit has arrived and we are on broadband once more. Well, broadish band, but let’s not get picky – after two months accessing the internet through two tin cans and a long piece of string it feels pretty broad to us. And so I’ve got the whole wide world of the internet to catch up with – or at least those bits that require a decent connection.
Back tomorrow, after I have had my fill of sneezing pandas.
‘That won’t last,’ the neighbour apparently said to the other half, referring to my regular cycle ride down to Papershop Village. So now of course I have to go on, winter and summer, through rain and shine, sleet, snow or hail. There’s nothing like being told I won’t persist in something to make me never, ever give up.
Of course it was only after I’d wiped the three days’ worth of accumulated swallow poo off my saddle, cycled five miles down, picked up the paper and – as it happens – rolling papers for the other half and cycled five miles back again that I realised that a) the other half knows this about me and b) I have only his word for it what the neighbour said and c) that he’s onto a nice thing here.
Today marked my first failure on my great cycling-to-get-the-paper project. The problem is the weather which is I hope going through a bad patch but I suspect has simply reverted to normal after an uncharacteristically dry and sunny May. We had visitors at the weekend and the rain started at the point where we had committed to go to the beach on the Saturday morning, and continued until we dropped them off at the train station on Sunday afternoon. Since then it has stopped occasionally – usually to lure us out of the house or kid us into putting some washing on – but it is never long before the clouds regather themselves and resume the deluge. This morning dawned misty and continued with the sort of steady rain and gusts of wind that signal a determination to go on all day. I did get as far as choosing a particularly light patch of rain, putting on my shoes and trying to nerve myself up to get out the bike and head off, but the other half took pity on me and gave me a lift down to the shop instead. I sense a slippery slope ahead, and that’s not just the run down into Papershop Village, either. If I can’t get on my bike just because it’s raining then I’m not going to do much cycling at all around here.
Still, this particular cloud did have one silver lining. Coming back from the shop we found a tree down and a dapper but rather frail elderly couple (she in a tweed skirt and pearls, he in a dashing hat) attempting to move it out of the way. With the other half there,the four of us managed to shift it out of the road (it was quite a small tree) and, our good deed done for the day, we headed home hoping it might atone somewhat for our contribution to global warming. And, to anyone sharing the sneaking thought I had – as I watched the ragged grey clouds fail to clear the local hilltops – that Scotland could do with a touch of global warming, shame on you. Global drying, though, that might be an idea…
In our bid to savour the finer things of our new life – and ward off that deep-fried Mars Bar moment as long as possible – we made the trip to Notso Bigtown in search of good food. Notso Bigtown fancies itself as a foodie haven and it has no fewer than four butchers which we’ve been working our way through gradually in a spirit of elimination. It’s complicated, being green in the country. Driving to Notso Bigtown takes more petrol than just heading to the Bigtown Tescos (whose commitment to local produce doesn’t extend beyond slapping the Saltire on anything remotely Scottish) so we have to weigh in the balance all the putative foodmiles of the actual food, versus the known personmiles of ourselves getting there and back. Throw in a detour to the local creamery – which sells delicious cheese and sourdough bread produced on the premises but also organic new potatoes freighted in from Egypt – and it’s all just too complicated to work out, so we said what the hell and went anyway. The last butcher we had tried had sold us 28-day aged ribeye steaks so good they could have airfreighted them from the moon and I wouldn’t have minded. This time we wandered into a different butcher to give him a crack at winning the coveted town mouse household meat supply contract, and I asked if he had any free-range chicken.
‘Not free range, as such,’ he said, prevaricating and pointing to the chicken he had. ‘That’s better than free range, that is. That’s Scottish.’
Chilling out after the paper run this morning, with a cup of coffee and a couple of slices of cinnamon raisin toast with extra butter*, I noticed the swallow family, supplemented by a spotted flycatcher and a pied wagtail, arranged on the telephone wires. Just as I was wondering what tune they would play if they were to be transcribed onto sheet music, they all disappeared in a flash. A sparrowhawk had flown over and was immediately surrounded by twittering maddened birds. A few seconds later and it had been seen off. Swallows one, sparrowhawk nil. Or was it? Because when they first emerged a couple of days ago, there were definitely six little swallows disporting themselves on the wires. And now there are only five…
*You know, I’m doing all this exercise and yet I’m piling on the pounds. Just can’t work out why that should be…
Woo hoo. We finally have our kitchen table and two chairs, which means we have achieved the ultimate metropolitan middle class domestic fantasy: the dine-in kitchen. Throw in the Rayburn and we’re in Country Living heaven, although of course you can’t throw the Rayburn very far because it’s made of cast iron and weighs a ton. Unfortunately this simply opens up new hazards, the chief one being that once you have a kitchen big enough to sit down and eat in, you never use any other room in the house. All we have to do is move the bird feeder so that we can watch babybird tv* out of our front windows as well as our back ones, and we’ll be all set.
And, in continuing proof that blogging really does get results, after the great pine nut fiasco of last week there was a nice lady at Tescos yesterday introducing the masses of BigTown to the delights of low fat Creme Fraiche. I can confidently predict that the supermarket aisles will soon be ringing with the sound of the local kiddies, demanding the right kind of pesto to go on their Turkey Twizzlers.
* The real TV doesn’t get much in the way of reception so we have to make our own springwatch up here. The other half does a good Bill Oddie although I’m not bubbly enough to be Kate Humble…
Look, I know this blog is going soft, and I’m sorry, but I can’t help it. Going out to get my bike for the paper run this morning, I noticed that two of our baby swallows had ventured out of their nest and were sitting on the rafters of our outbuilding, no doubt planning where to plant their next poo. And yesterday we spent a good fifteen minutes watching a young dipper bouncing around the rocks in the stream. In fact the whole countryside around us is full of ever so slightly crap, fluffy young birds who don’t know the meaning of fear. It’s just too hard to keep up urban standards of disgruntlement with this level of cute going on around us…
The other half took piccies, but you’ll have to wait until we get broadband before you can see them. That should be good for a rant or two, at least.
… to ask for pine nuts in a non-metropolitan Tescos and not come across as some poncey twat Londoner up for a weekend among the proles. Lord knows, I tried. But the recipe demanded pine nuts, and I’d already racked the shelves for twenty minutes looking. I got the answer I deserved, too: ‘Pine nuts, wha’re they?’ the callow youth in the produce section asked*. A passing shopper had the answer: ‘they’re nuts,’ she said, ‘from the pine tree.’ ‘Oh, that’ll be whole foods, then.’ And that’s where they were. I stocked up. I don’t want to go through that one again for a while.
Now then, where do you think they keep the organic goose fat?
*In the interests of balance, I should add that in the Lambeth Tescos I regularly had to identify such exotic vegetables as leeks to the checkout girls
Now that we have a washing machine, we can finally start drying our clothes outside on our lovely rural-issue clothesline. We couldn’t do this in London because a) our back garden was about the size of an egg box and b) diesel particulates are not exactly my favourite post-laundry fabric conditioner. But now we can enjoy the sight of our freshly laundered clothes blowing rurally in the breeze without having the bathroom and every single radiator in the house taken up with drying underwear. And we can finally air-dry sheets and duvet covers, without having to lug them down to the laundrette to emit their weight in CO2 as they tumble-dried. I tell you, if you look carefully you can see my smug green glow from London
But there are a few little refinements we’re having to learn in order to perfect our new laundry regime. Like listening to the weather forecast before putting on a load AND paying attention all the way to the part where it gets to Scotland without getting distracted trying to visualise a line drawn from the Severn to the Wash. And like looking out of the window and not thinking ‘oh look it’s raining,’ but learning to launch oneself out of the house like a jet-propelled laundry-rescuing rocket before it ends up wetter than it started. And – as we learned just this afternoon – not hanging the white sheet right up close next to the bird feeder at the end of the clothes line. Laundry flapping brightly in the breeze might be a delight to my senses, but it seems it scares the crap out of the birds…