British Summer Time

March 31, 2010

Heavy showers, becoming wintry, turning to snow on the higher ground…

My Soap Hell

March 30, 2010

We’ve always bought Pears Soap. No particular reason, except that it seems to suit us and it’s not expensive, it kept us clean, it smelled quite nice and  it came in a cardboard box we could recycle. We’d stock up with two or three bars when we were running low, and then we wouldn’t give it a further thought until it was time to buy more. If I had any complaint, I might have though that putting soap in a box was a bit excessive, after all it’s just soap. But I suppose you need to have some packaging so there’s somewhere to put the barcode and the picture of the soap you can’t see because it’s in a box and to print the customer careline number for people who have difficulty getting the hang of using soap and are wondering whether it might taste a bit nicer if they fried it up with some garlic and shallots and maybe a little white wine. So I felt I could live with the box.

And then we opened one of a new batch and discovered – horrors – that it was now in a box and a plastic wrapper. Whywhywhywhywhy? When companies around the world are reducing their packaging Pears – oh no wait, hang on, it’s Unilever – are doubling theirs. And it suddenly smelled different, much stronger, less like, you know, soap. There’s something very disconcerting about your soap changing after nigh on 20 years of using it, rather like your mother changing her perfume. Suddenly a smell you’d barely noticed had gone, replaced by some brasher, wronger, imposter. My god, my world was turning upside down.

And then, because this is the age of google, I got on line and discovered that this was but the tip of the iceberg and the whole story was much, much worse than that.

For now the truth can be revealed in all its horror. I was in full agreement with a Daily Mail article. And even some of its commenters…


How could I have missed this?

Thinking Aloud

March 29, 2010

Things I think I ought to think about when gardening:

hello trees – hello flowers – ah how lovely it is to be out here at one with nature in the fresh air – tra la la etc…

Things I actually think about when gardening:

hello couch grass – hello weeds – oops, sorry worm – what plant is this again? – do I like it? – what is the point, exactly of weeding? I mean, they’re only going to grow again – yeah well, worm, if you will crawl straight back into the hole I’m digging in that will happen – I wonder if it’s true about cutting worms in half? This one doesn’t look all that happy – then again, if you don’t weed the plants won’t grow either – but bare soil is just asking for weeds to grow back again – nope, that worm is definitely dead – and besides, the rabbits just eat everything anyway – except weeds – I wonder what would happen if I just grew weeds? – but then what would the rabbits eat? – that’s a great big pile of dead stuff I’ve made, why doesn’t the flower bed look any tidier? – would it be more environmentally sound just to leave it where it was? – I wonder if soil that consists entirely of rocks counts as ‘free draining’ – is that a tree root or just couch grass with ambitions? – do dead worms make good compost? – do you think the tree minds if I pull its roots up? – is it raining yet? Can I stop now? – does that look any better? No, not really…

The problem is that apart from growing veg (plant stuff you like to eat and then eat it) I’m not sure I entirely see the point of gardening. I like the idea of having a mass of colourful flowers outside my window to enjoy but so far all my efforts towards this end have resulted in a load of plants that come up (or not, depending on the rabbits), flower briefly for about a day – whereupon the flowers are promptly eaten by the hare, which seems to have somewhat specialised and aesthetic tastes – sit there looking lumpy until autumn and then sit there looking dead until spring. This is partly because it’s not my garden and seems to have been planted more or less at random with things that don’t mind being nibbled by rabbits. But there must be more to it than the vague but undeniable satisfaction you get from pulling out one piece of couch grass and getting three more clumps attached to the same long root.

There was a thing on the radio about the wonders of horticultural therapy. Does it work along the lines of ‘banging your head against a brick wall because it’s lovely when it stops’ do you suppose? Or am I just doing it wrong?

More Signs of Spring

March 26, 2010

Summer’s vegetation has died down completely, the snow has passed, and the spring rains are washing away the winter debris beside the roads.

And suddenly the greys and browns and greens of the verges show other, brighter, splashes of colour:

Yes, the Litter Bugs have survived the winter, you’ll be pleased to hear.

Some have clearly overwintered, lurking under the shelter of leaves and grasses

Some have adopted a duller protective winter camouflage

But some are clearly freshly arrived, evidence that the ‘driving with your car window open’ season is already under way.

How fortunate that Sunday is the parish litter pick. We have two bags for our half-mile stretch of road. I’m wondering if they will be enough…


March 25, 2010

I got a salutary reminder the other day just why it was I always vowed I’d never wear a fleece. There I was, innocently browsing curtains when a woman came up to me with a technical question about fittings. ‘Oh sorry, I thought you worked here, because of your fleece’ she said. ‘You were browsing those curtains in a very efficient manner.’ There are worse places to be mistaken for an employee than Dunelm Mill, I suppose – Carphone Warehouse springs to mind – but it did make think I might want to update my wardrobe a little now that winter has released its grip.

The sad thing is, though, that once you’ve started wearing a fleece, it’s quite hard to stop. It’s hard to find something else that is as warm, indestructible, comfy and – because it’s so utterly unstylish whatever you pair it with – can be worn with anything. We went out to a fancy (well, fancy for Bigtown) restaurant for my birthday and even went as far as getting changed for the occasion. I remembered to put on my smart boots instead of trainers, or wellies, and I fully intended to put on my nice cashmere coat as well. It was only as I got out of the car I realised I was actually wearing my fleece (and I went to a book group event in it as well, now I think about it, leaving my special ‘I’m an author’ jacket hanging on the back of a chair). It’s ingrained now. Going outside? Reach for the fleece. The restaurant was just lucky I didn’t also show up in my flat cap and with one trouser leg tucked into my sock.

In the end, it didn’t really matter, as pretty much everyone else was wearing a fleece too. But you could tell it was a high-end restaurant, because nobody was wearing their hi-vis jackets, which is what everyone who doesn’t wear a fleece to work wears around here. I’ve a feeling Alistair Darling may have missed a trick in his budget, if he’s going for the rural vote. Never mind white collar and blue collar and green collar jobs – what the countryside clearly needs is more of those yellow-collar and fleecy-collar ones.

Confessions of a Failed Climate Change Sceptic

March 24, 2010

Caution: it’s raining and I haven’t been out of the house all day, so this is a bit of a long ranty post that’s been rattling round my head for some time. I also have a feeling I’m going to regret this…

There was a time, back in January, when I started to wonder just what I was doing bothering with initiatives like 1010. Copenhagen had collapsed into acrimony, and it seemed that we weren’t even going to get a bad deal, let alone one that was going to save the planet from a 2°C rise in temperature. We’d been told in the run up that this was it, our last chance to save the planet but when the politicians duly didn’t save it, the response from everyone seemed to be one giant shrug. Where were the demonstrations on the streets, the rising sense of panic, the mass buying of sandbags against the coming floods, the stockpiling of bottled water? We were all too busy worrying about the big freeze and stockpiling salt instead.

So I began to reappraise. I wasn’t, personally, going to save the planet, even if I just lay down in a darkened room to die, breathing as shallowly as possible. The politicians weren’t going to save the planet – in fact, Copenhagen had shown that, with unusual honesty, they weren’t even going to pretend to save the planet. There was one tactic left: denial. After all, we were going through the coldest winter since the history of time, probably. And suddenly the news was full of dodgy climate scientists and dodgy climate dossiers. Maybe I had been brainwashed by reading the Guardian and listening to those damn green-pinkos (beigeos?) on the BBC. Assuming that they were both part of some vast conspiracy to make everyone give up driving and take up yoghurt whittling (and you know that makes sense), on what other evidence was I, personally, basing my belief in the need to cut CO2 emissions?
Read the rest of this entry »

The Rural Mysteries Continue

March 23, 2010

I’ve read my Uphilldowndale – I know that the mole catcher puts his kills up on the fence, to show how good he is at his job, and possibly to act as a deterrent to others. It’s just one of those not-so-pleasant aspects of country life, like slurry and black plastic and Range Rovers.

So I wasn’t that surprised to see a pathetic little furry body impaled by its ears on a barbed-wire fence as we went down to check the level on the ford (about 3 inches, as you ask).

Only …

…That’s not a mole. It’s a – well, I’m not entirely sure what it is. It looks malignant though.

As it happens, I still have my stuffed-toy kermit from when I was a child. Do you think if I nailed it to the front door it would keep the frogs at bay?

Stand By to Repel Boarders*

March 22, 2010

Despite the warmer weather, we’ve been having a fire more often than usual. Partly this is because we’re rashly experimenting with turning off the heating, but mainly it’s because I noticed recently that the chicken wire netting that’s supposed to keep jackdaws out of the chimney has been torn off. Allegedly, the man who’s coming to look at our roof, walls, and leaking downpipe will also refix it, but meanwhile, given that this is prime nest-building season, we’re hoping to discourage the jackdaws by lighting a fire often enough that the birds choose someone else’s chimney to raise a family. Time will tell whether the fear of being kippered alive is enough to discourage them from their fascination with chimneys but our neighbour’s chimney had two dead ones in it when she got it swept last year, and the chimney sweep reported with glee that he’d just pulled seventeen of them out of a chimney in a nearby town. Jackdaws, being corvids, ought to be pretty bright, for birds at least, but obviously when there’s a chimney to be explored, all common sense goes out of the window.

hmm, really must clean that kitchen floor

Still, as hardships go, having to have an open fire in the chilly spring evenings probably doesn’t rank quite up there in the top-ten unpleasant things about rural life, like digging out your septic tank, so I’m not really complaining. Other wildlife invasions are worse. Like this chap who came hopping determinedly along the corridor the other evening just as we were thinking about going to bed. We’ve been here before, and I don’t think then that anyone came up with a really convincing explanation for a fully grown frog’s appearance in the house. We don’t really leave the door open, certainly not for long enough for a frog to get in unobserved (they’re not actually all that light on their feet), and I don’t think it’s come down the chimney – can they really come up through the loo?

Actually, having thought about it, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that one.

*stop changing the bedsheets

For Breakfast, it’s Usually Muesli…

March 21, 2010

Except today when a slight catering crisis, coinciding with my birthday, meant we very nearly had devil’s food cake for breakfast in bed this morning. In the end, sanity prevailed and we had cinnamon raisin toast followed by devil’s food cake. Mmm. And then played my new ukelele*. I can now just about do the chords for Sweet Home Alabama (where the skies are so blue) but my ambition is to learn the ukulele version of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. Not because I’m a massive Smith’s fan, just because the thought amuses me. It’s easily done

I’ve a feeling that learning to play the ukelele at my age is the downshifter’s version of buying a Harley Davidson. Still, it’s less likely to kill me, is better for the environment, and means I get to watch loads of YouTube videos of very large men playing comically small guitars.

Admit it, secretly, in your heart of hearts, you want a ukulele too. Or have you already got one?

* Or ukulele – even Google, which knows everything, doesn’t seem to know the correct spelling so I’ve decided to standardise on alternating between the two.

O Frabjous Day

March 19, 2010

Calloo callay – my purple sprouting broccoli are sprouting. Actually, make that my purple sprouting broccoli is sprouting, because only one is, the rest are just, apparently, purple broccoli. It seems a rather meagre recompense for all the time spent planting, replanting, caterpillar picking and anxiously brushing snow off them all winter, but maybe the rest will catch up. We’ll see.

Apart from that, it’s all go in the vegetable patch as I’m desperately trying to keep up with the accelerated spring. The onion sets are in, I’ve chitted and planted more parsnips, my potatoes are chitting, my peas have germinated and the first eight broad bean seedlings are even now settling in under my proper grown up cloche. I’m starting off pretty much everything in pots which means some careful scheduling of the kitchen windowsill, the only spot in the house both warm and light enough to guarantee germination. I think I can get everything started in time, but it’s going to be a close run thing. Remind me, when I’m luxuriating in my freshly picked, delicious home grown vegetables, just how much work goes into them before there’s any reward.

It’s fashionable these days to want to be in the moment, savouring the here and now and not worrying about the future. But whoever it was who said ‘live your life as though each day was your last’ probably didn’t get much gardening done. But then, they probably also never spent a whole year anxiously nurturing a bed of broccoli plants in exchange for a single sprouting spear.