Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

February 25, 2010

Last week, as you may remember, in a fit of enthusiasm for the coming spring I started chitting my parsnips. Following some random instructions off the internet, I put them on damp kitchen paper and placed them somewhere warm (that was the hard part) and prepared to wait a week

A week’s perfect, I thought to myself. I’ll be going down to London in just under a week so I can deal with them then. Forgetting that, even though things do seem to happen in London twice as fast as they do everywhere else, it didn’t mean I’d be coming back shortly before I went away. So the parsnips would actually be ready for potting on when I was down in the big smoke doing battle with the tubes. Ah. Better check on them to see if any progress had been made:

So yesterday, when I should have been preparing for my trip (you know,  remembering how to elbow people out of the way, picking hayseeds from my hair, exchanging my turnips for gold coins*) I was in fact retrieving squashed loo-roll inners from the recycling box and filling them with potting compost and little chitted parsnip seeds. I’ve a feeling that I’ve left them a little late and they will fork, which means I won’t be winning any prizes at the village show – but I will have a job lot of comedy vegetables to amuse you with in autumn if they all survive.

Watch this space.

*Or, as it turns out, reading the planned engineering works email I still get from TfL every week and regard with fond nostalgia before deleting it unread. Which might have saved me a long walk in the rain…


February 24, 2010

OK, there’s been something I haven’t been mentioning, exactly, these last few weeks. Those of you skilled at reading between the lines may have picked up a couple of hints here and there, but I haven’t wanted to blog about it explicitly, in case they were listening. You know, them. The W****** G***.

Because, for the last three weeks or so, due to some bureacratic error, the weather has been absolutely gorgeous. Cold, yes, breezy, yes, but – apart from one day’s rain and one day’s light dusting of snow – sunny and bright and glorious. This is not February weather. We know the score with February: grey, wet, foggy, occasional sleet showers. February’s a month for battening down the hatches and thanking the deity of your choice that it’s only 28 days long. It’s not a month for getting out on the bike day after day, for marvelling at the views, even (cautiously) flinging the odd window open to air the house. But that’s what we’ve had.

People have begun to talk of it in slightly hushed tones. Even as we delight in our luck at having such a break, there’s been a certain nervousness in the way we mention it. As though, somehow, this couldn’t quite be happening. As though we would be paying for it before the month was out. As though that rain we hadn’t had, all of it, would soon be coming our way, with interest.

Because that’s a lot of rain.

Especially when it falls as snow.

OK, maybe not all the rain – that would be rather a lot. But it’s enough, as I have to be in London tomorrow and Virgin aren’t really of the neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night persuasion when it comes to running trains…

There are days…

February 23, 2010

… when you cycle home 10 miles into the teeth of the east wind, wondering what on earth you’re going to blog about…

…and then somebody sends you this.  (nothing to do with cycling, by the way, or east winds. Just made me giggle)

Thanks, Ross

Funky Chicken

February 22, 2010

There’s a place, halfway to Nearest Village we’ve been calling the Chicken Ranch as that’s basically what it looks like. Apparently – according to local gossip – the owners had applied for planning permission to build a holiday cottage there. When that was turned down, they erected some fencing – the kind you use to keep curious children out of building sites – and turned it over to chickens. At first it was just one enclosure full of hens, then another was added, then some ducks and geese, a caravan for the chicken farmer (any suggestion that this is all some cunning plan to get planning permission for an agricultural worker’s cottage would be entirely cynical) and finally, a peacock.

A what? I hear you cry

Yep, passing down there on the bike this morning, I saw that one of the enclosures was now housing, along with some rather bewildered looking hens, a peacock*. What can it mean? We don’t go much in for banquets in these parts, at least not the kind where anything other than haggis is the pièce de resistance. My hope is that they’re planning on seriously upgrading the sort of game that gets released around here for merchant bankers to shoot. Not only would a bunch of peacocks running wild around here cheer up the countryside considerably, but they’ve got to be less stupid, and less suicidal, than even the brightest pheasant.

* My first thought was that the free-range egg business was going seriously upmarket**

** I know, I know, my second thought was realising why that one wasn’t going to fly

Keeping Death off the Roads, Rural Style

February 21, 2010

Chatting in the pub yesterday with some fellow cyclists about the hypocrisy of politicians who lose their licenses and then get ‘born again’ as cyclists, I heard the following tale. Some farmer a little further to the west of here – presumably a successful one – had lost his license through drink driving, and promptly bought a little helicopter to get himself to the supermarket and back, flying right over the centre of the town and parking in a nearby field (at last, a reason for those out-of-town retail parks). It shows a certain lateral thinking, to be sure, but can that really be true? Surely you’d lose any helicopter license you had as well? Wouldn’t you?

Still, at least if he’s up in the air, he’s not bombing round the bend ahead of me…

Auld Sweetie Wives*

February 19, 2010

‘The problem with cycling round here is you end up stopping to chat,’ I said the other day, excusing myself for turning up a little late, having bumped into someone I vaguely knew and ended up spending ten minutes putting the world to rights. I suppose that might also be one of its benefits, especially for us recovering Londoners. But to be honest, it’s not just the cyclists and walkers who stop for a chat on the roads round here. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve threaded my bike between two tractors, or beaten-up land rovers, or quad bikes, while their farmer occupants barely break off to nod hello before resuming their earnest discussion. Sometimes I’ll be coming back the other way and they’ll still be there.

I’ve always had this impression of farmers as strong, silent types, as at home in the company of their dogs, or their sheep, as with other people. I now know this to be entirely wrong. The strong silent people are all living in cities where they can ignore the entire human race to their hearts’ content, while the ones who live out here are just as excited to find someone else to talk to as I am.

*Used around here for someone who talks too much. AFAICS, almost always applied to a man, for some reason.  Presumably the women are just expected to talk too much…

On Your Marks…

February 18, 2010

If my calculations – oh, all right, some random calculations I got off the internet – are correct then today is the first day of the year here when we get the magic 10 hours of daylight. This means – also according to the internet – that it’s the point when most plants start growing again*. So time to get planting (and get out there weeding before the weeds get too much of a head start on me).

It’s just a shame that the weather gods decided to celebrate the occasion with overnight clear skies and a hard frost. So planting indoors for me, I think. I’ve started by chitting parsnips. Given their 0% germination rate last year, I can hardly do worse. Of course, that’s no guarantee I’m going to actually do better…

* I really wish I’d known this before attempting to plant basil to grow over the winter. The seeds all germinated and then sat there as seedlings for a couple of months before dying off one-by-one, with the last one perishing yesterday. If only it had had access to the internet, it might have hung on.

Too Much Information

February 17, 2010

To Papershop Village, to enquire whether any more sausages have come in from the nearest organic farm. (We only found out about this farm because they had an open day last year, and it was only after we’d spent a happy half hour scratching pigs’ backs and generally making friends with their livestock that we discovered the shop was quietly stocking their sausages and bacon. But then, given that it sells out pretty quickly, I suppose need-to-know marketing makes a certain sense.)

‘There should be some in next week,’ Papershop woman said.

‘Oh good,’ we said.

‘In fact I think they’re going to the abattoir tomorrow.’

‘Oh right,’ we said.

‘Yes, they’re probably still gambolling round their paddock as we speak, completely unaware of their fate.’

I find I’m still enough of a townie to wonder whether anonymously shrink-wrapped meat from Tescos wouldn’t be a bit less disconcerting all round…

Trench Warfare

February 16, 2010

It was a fairly modest ambition, as I thought. Just dig up a patch of the Crocosmia (aka Montbretia – you know when plants go under an alias they’re bound to be trouble) that was taking over the front bed – and get rid of those little nettles springing up while I was at it – so I had somewhere to plant a wider variety of annuals, maybe even discover something that rabbits didn’t like to eat.

About half the corms I dug up in total

You would have thought a decade’s experience in IT projects would have warned me to be very wary of all those little jobs that start with the word ‘just’. Especially if they continue with the word ‘while’. Two weeks, and a barrow-load of corms* later, and I had cleared my first patch, at least provisionally. I’ve a horrible feeling that it was the Crocosmia that was keeping the nettles in some sort of check – for some very small nettle plants, they had an awfully large amount of root. Perhaps, like Iran and Iraq in the eighties, I should have just left them battling it out so they couldn’t get expansionist anywhere else. And there were definite signs of bindweed root in the soil too, just waiting for a bit of space and light to spring. I think I’ve got it all out, but you never know…

Two feet down, many more to go

Two feet down, several more to go...

Still, that’s a couple of feet cleared, which will have to do me for this year. If I manage to hold the territory (and it’s by no means certain that I will) I shall use it as a bridgehead for next year’s campaign and press on.

Actually, this particular battle is no more than gardening karma. Many many moons ago when I had my first garden, I happily planted a pack of Crocosmia corms along the fence I shared with my neighbour. He – despite being both a man, and actually extremely knowledgeable about gardening – was a genuinely nice person who didn’t believe in putting off beginners by patronising them with well-meant advice, so he didn’t say anything to stop me.

I expect he’s still digging them up even now.

*I wonder whether anyone has considered using Crocosmia for carbon sequestration? They certainly manage to bury a huge amount of vegetable matter in the soil.

Every Silver Lining

February 15, 2010

It’s not often I welcome a headwind on the bike, but our usual westerlies have resumed, blowing milder air at us than we’ve had these last few weeks. This means two things. The first is that, while the trip out was a bit of a slog, the trip back was once more the usual tailwind-assisted downhill roller-coaster ride: there are few everyday pleasures to beat cruising home on a bike down rolling hills on an empty road with the wind at your back.

The second is the return of the rain. Ah well, you can’t have everything…