Is it a Bird?

January 30, 2010

Is it a plane?

Or is it just the charming – and only faintly disturbing – haggis table decorations made by the village primary school kids for the Burns Night Ceilidh last night?

Obviously, we released ours into the wild once the evening was over – they’re getting quite endangered in these parts, due to the local habit of putting haggis in absolutely everything. I just hope the local shoot don’t mistake it for a pheasant…

Legend in my own Lunchtime

January 29, 2010

Did I say this?

Foolish, wasn’t it?

Yesterday, before all that, I cycled down to buy our tickets for the village Burns Night ceilidh.

‘Did you come on your bike?’ asked the woman in the school office as I handed over the cash.

‘Yes,’ I said, a little surprised because I wasn’t wearing anything particularly bikey, and I didn’t even have my trouser leg tucked into my sock for once.

‘It’s just, I see you madly pedalling about everywhere,’ she explained. ‘And jogging too.’

I suppose there are worse things to be than the village eccentric.

Other Worldly

January 28, 2010

I got up in the middle of the night last night convinced we’d left the outside light on somehow. There was an incredible light shining through our hallway windows (and the kichen was bathed in an unearthly blue glow, but that was just my DAB radio). I had to switch the outside light on and off again before I had convinced myself it was the moon. The moon doesn’t give off light in London, it just sits there looking decorative, but this one was only half full and I’m sure you could have read by it. Perhaps I should have stopped to look at the world made strange its blue light but I didn’t have my glasses on and besides I was cold and the bed was warm and I was sleepy. As I snuggled back under the covers, the other half pointed out, sleepily, that we’ve been under a blanket sky for so long, that any sort of light in it is going to startle us.

There was a brief and glorious dawn this morning, and then the dishwater grey descended again, and it has begun to rain.

Stop this Gun Crime Now!

January 27, 2010

Bring-bring. The landlord rings to warn us that a gang of armed men and unruly dogs will be passing through the garden tomorrow. Not an example of ‘Broken Britain’ – well, not in the sense that Cameron means anyway – just that the local shoot are coming to rid the grounds of pheasants* (yes, yes, before you pen your droll comment, there is an ‘h’ in there, this is a rural area, not a feudal one).

This reminds me of the time we looked out of the kitchen window to discover our neighbour zeroing his gun sights on our garage door, but that’s probably a story for another day.

* Actually, now I come to think of it, having someone deliberately breed a load of a pests, release them in someone’s garden, and then charge another load of pests considerable sums to come up from London and shoot them for us is quite broken. But it does display a certain rural cunning all the same.


January 26, 2010

Now that the ice is all gone, every ride these days is accompanied by the gentle thpppt thpppt thpppt of some piece of crap (and I use the word advisedly) working its way out between my mudguard and my wheel. The farmers have spent the last week or so busily spreading the winter’s accumulation of cow muck over every available field so that the whole countryside smells like a giant pooey nappy (ah, fresh country air! you can’t beat it, although sometimes you could almost poke it with a stick). Naturally, they haven’t neglected the roads (how else would we have a healthy crop of grass down the middle of them in the summer) so every ride I seem to end up with some unlovely clump of straw and poo clogging up my mudguards.

Still, I would far rather have clogged mudguards than have what’s currently clogging my mudguards splattered all over my back or – worse – my face. The Guardian bike blog had an article about why you should have mudguards on your bike which attracted the usual contrarian comments including several people objecting to them on aesthetic grounds. I struggle with this one, tbh. I’m as susceptible to a pretty bike as the next bike blogger but even if I did have some sort of a fetish for naked rubber wheels (and if you do and came here via Google, can I just say now, you’re on the wrong blog) the amount of time you spend riding your bike far outweighs the amount of time you spend admiring it and, once on board, the view of your mudguard-less wheels is going to be rapidly obscured by all the flying crud. And it’s not as if London doesn’t have crap on its roads either, as I’ve found out myself to my cost. In fact, that’s probably the wholesomest thing you’d find on a London street most days.  Do you think these people just hang their bikes on the wall and admire tham that way? And what would be the fun in that?

Cruel and Unusual

January 25, 2010

Today and yesterday I’ve been busy digging perennial weeds out of the new plot, ready for it to be rotavated at some unspecified point in the future, probably after the shooting season finishes. It’s been rather cold and damp and grey and as I came back in yesterday, I thought the other half, who’d been in a warm dry car to Tescos, had rather had the better of the bargain. But it turns out I was wrong. There had been charity bag packers at the supermarket, which is bad enough*, but they had decided to entertain themselves as they worked – or perhaps prevent anyone from getting away un-packed – by stationing a pipe band between them and the exit.

* for the record, I’d be happy to pay good money to the charity of their choice in order NOT to have my bags packed by a teenager who is unable to grasp such simple algorithms as ‘put all the cold stuff into the insulated bag’ and ‘try not to put a four pack of tinned tomatoes on top of a bag of grapes’. The sole exception being the charming pair of nine-year-old girls who spend several solemn minutes on each item discussing whether it might or might not be something you would keep in the fridge before packing them all beautifully away. But even then, it took a good 20 minutes to get out…

Plumbing the Depths

January 23, 2010

OK, so it turns out that having to bleed your radiators every day – combined with a very damp house – is a really, really bad sign. The plumber came yesterday and found a leak under the floorboards in the sitting room which goes some way to explain, well, quite a lot actually. There was steam rising up when he opened the floorboards: nice in a sauna, but not one of the recommended forms of underfloor heating. It may have been going on some time, too, from the pool of water under the floorboards. Oops. Still, this should make hitting our 1010 targets for oil consumption somewhat easier.

It was only after he’d fixed our leak and gone on to fix someone else’s that we realised that all was still not well. It seemed that the gunk that’s been building up in our radiators had been stirred up in all the excitement and was now blocking up the system to the point that not only did we have an open lake slowly drying out under our sitting room, we also effectively had no heating. Frantic calls to the plumber did not elicit an actual plumber, and the weekend was looming. I had a go at draining some water off the radiators as advised, to try and unblock the system but to no avail. A long cold evening – and a long cold weekend – loomed ahead of us.

Then this morning, the other half had a go at the radiators as I had, but with more swearing. It seems my tentative girlish efforts were just too ladylike to tackle manly problems like plumbing. I do wish that shouting at inanimate objects didn’t make them work, but it seems it does. Blockage unblocked, radiators warm again, lake rapidly turning into mudflats: all is (relatively) well in the Townmouse house once more. And – while I’m not pinning my hopes on it – the prospect of a warmer, drier house. Could it really be that it was that simple after all?

Let it Bleed

January 22, 2010

So, yesterday evening saw us at a talk entitled ‘how to have a warmer, drier house’ which, curiously enough, was packed out (this seemed to come as something of a surprise to the organisers). It started off with the depressing fact that, even though the housing stock of the UK is gradually getting less draughty and easier to heat, electricity usage is still rising due to everything else. Still, a quick glance at the sensibly layered audience soon convinced our speaker that we probably couldn’t muster a plasma screen between us – and that as far as ‘put on another jumper’ went, he was preaching to the converted – and so he dove straight into the real business of the night. Soon we were deep into the minutiae of U-values, thermal mass, convection currents, radiant heating, sheep’s wool insulation (other than in jumper form), forced-air vents, Olfs, the insulating value of rubbish, the folly of heat pumps, and many other things I have now forgotten.

The combination of a fair-minded speaker who really knew his stuff  and whose answer to every question began ‘it’s complicated…’ and an audience of fairly knowledgable people with a really pressing interest in the subject meant that the advertised ‘half an hour talk with questions at the end’ quickly morphed into a ‘free-ranging discussion and God is that the time?’ For us, as we rent our colder, damper cottage, the talk was largely academic (although it did mean sitting in a warm room for an evening, which was nice). However we came away with a renewed enthusiasm for draught proofing and this morning it looks like we will be graced with a visit from the plumber to see whether we can’t do something about the fact that our radiators need bleeding on a pretty much hourly basis.

He’s actually likely to be our first foot. I’m not sure if this is a good sign for the coming year or a bad one, but it’s definitely a sign that our social life might need some work. Although in fairness to us, we have been seeing people, we’ve just been choosing to do it somewhere warmer than at home….

More Plotting

January 20, 2010

This year, my vegetable-growing empire is expanding again as I have been offered more space by our landlord in the walled garden. Woo hoo. No doubt by July the extra space will have turned out to mean only extra slugs, caterpillars, ground elder, bindweed, seeds that never come up and mysterious plant plagues, but for now all those tragedies are still in the future and I can blithely look forward to the bounteous harvest to come. My mother and I have done our seed order (we’re splitting the packets to save costs),  a new sheet of the spreadsheet has been started and shortly a new planting plan will be drawn up.

I may joke, but this year I’m hoping the whole vegetable growing thing will go much better. I’m building on what I learned last year, and I’ll be starting off as much as I can in pots, rather than putting seeds straight in the ground, never to be seen again. And I’ll be more vigilant about slugs and cabbage whites, start my squash off earlier and everything else later, and generally keep on top of the weeds. Honestly, what could possibly go wrong? Please, don’t tell me in the comments.

So, a drum roll please for this year’s victims of the TownMouse 2010 great vegetable massacre:

  • Broad Beans
  • Peas
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks
  • Red onions
  • Garlic
  • Salad mix
  • Rocket
  • Gem Squash
  • Broccoli

What are you growing?

Burning Issue

January 19, 2010

I was so not up for going out conservation volunteering this morning. What with one thing and another, I haven’t been for more than a month and when I had to drag myself out of bed long before dawn – and brave the shower before the heating had had a chance to get going – I did wonder exactly why I had ever thought this was a good idea. I set off with the sun barely struggling over the hills and the Met Office’s promised (why? Why do I believe them? Why? It’s not as though they haven’t got a 100% track record of utter wrongness to date) partly sunny skies had proved on closer inspection to be lowering mizzle. 10 miles of cycling in a keen east wind did not promise good things.

I’d like to go on to say that the hard work was its own reward and that the satisfaction of a job well done was what changed my mind as I pedalled homewards, weary but happy. But actually, the real reason why I ended up having a fantastic day was that I was put in charge of the bonfire. A whole morning spent setting fire to things and then poking them? There can be no finer way to spend a damp January Tuesday on the beach. I had a pitchfork, too. Go on, admit it, you’re jealous.

Worryingly, though, I discovered today that I was considered something of a bonfire expert, for reasons which escape me. Fortunately my fire-starting weaknesses remained undiscovered (something to do with lighting a bonfire of gorse using kindling made out of old creosoted telegraph poles)  and, hopefully never will be, or at least not until the weather gets a little warmer.