Just to be Clear…

April 17, 2010

… I am not, repeat not, praying for rain

But I am considering issuing my seedlings with pickaxes to help them break out of the ground

(Picture shows one of my pioneer parsnip seedlings, which have finally started to emerge, having been chitted and planted early in March )

Oh and before you suggest watering them, that is after I’d watered … the soil around here just isn’t designed to dry out.

Free the Bikes

April 16, 2010

I knew my friend was going to survive – despite her protestations – when she managed to keep up a steady stream of complaint most of the way up the big hill. I had bullied her into this, this bike was too small, it was rubbish, the saddle was all wrong, she could have been there and back in the car by now, her legs were aching, it would be a mobility scooter for her after this after all.

And she was right about the bike. It was, more or less, this one, although without the ‘rattan effect’ basket (without any rack or basket at all, making it fairly useless as a shopper). She had borrowed the bike from a friend who had apparently bought it and then put it straight in the shed for a year – it still had cardboard packaging wrapped around some of the frame and the tyres were completely unworn. In many ways it was better than I had expected, not some mountain-bike-a-like, but a practical bike with mudguards and a chain guard and a kickstand that was unhelpfully too tall for it so it fell over if you used it, but nobody’s perfect. It also had the ugliest welds I have ever seen on anything. But it was a bike. And after we’d tackled the hill (and it was a long and tough hill) and survived and the adrenaline kicked in, my friend had a ball. We did a five mile round trip and when I rang her after I’d got home to make sure she’d survived she was all ready to go out again on the next jaunt. I don’t think she’ll be popping out for a paper, not on that bike anyway, and not for a while. But I do think she’s another convert. Although I’m not going to ring her to arrange the next ride until I reckon her legs will have recovered…

But seriously, what is it with buying a bike and then not using it? The sheds and garages of Britain must be filled with the things. And at the same time, there are people who’d like to have a crack at cycling but don’t want to rush out and buy a bike until they’re certain. Never mind bike hire schemes, we need a bike liberation scheme – get all those mouldering cycles before it’s too late and put them on the road. You know it makes sense. The bikes want to be free! Hell, even the bike-shaped objects want to be free…

You can See my House from Here

April 15, 2010

We noticed while we were in Killin this weekend that the Google Streetview car was beetling around, capturing the Trossachs for the delight of geeks in windowless rooms everywhere. It won’t be round us, we confidently predicted. You’d be surprised, my aunt said. So today, while I was idly checking my route to somewhere on Google maps I grabbed the little orange man and dropped him onto the road that goes past our house, and lo and behold it worked. My God, it’s all there. The view, our house, the giant topiary bird, the lowering grey sky, the threat of rain. No sheep – I would suppose that the Google camera car is even more terrifying to them than a cyclist is. We were probably in when it went past, unless we’d had gone out with the shed door open. How can we have missed the excitement?

After a little time going on a virtual tour of the area – checking the level on the ford, that sort of thing (it was dry) – I started to feel a little creeped out. It was okay in London, where your every move is captured on seventeen CCTV cameras, or whatever the figure is, but up here I’ve got used to the fact that, sheep aside, we’re not being watched. OK, well we are, but that’s by the village gossips and it only goes as far as the rural internet. It’s not that I’m worried about my privacy or security (although you’ll notice I’m not actually giving you a link to the ford so you can check it out for yourselves), it’s just it seems a bit wrong. I thought we lived in an analogue sort of place still. Turns out we’ve been digitised after all, we just didn’t know it.

I suppose it will have its uses, although I can’t think of any just now. No doubt in five years time we’ll wonder how we ever did without it (and in ten years we’ll look back on its quaintness with nostalgia). But right now I feel a little as though I was some primitive tribesperson, and Google and its cameras have stolen a little slice of my soul.

It’s Like Riding a Bike

April 14, 2010

I’m off tomorrow on an important mission – to encourage and advise my friend who’s decided (and I didn’t put any pressure on her AT ALL. No, really) to take up cycling. She’s borrowed a bike, and all it needs is a little love and attention and she’s planning to be pedalling down for her paper and a pint of milk instead of using the car (she lives a lot closer to her local shop than I do). Her friends all think she’s mad, apart from me of course – but they’d probably think me mad too. ‘How old are you?’ they’re asking her. ‘Is this the sort of thing you should be doing?’

With support like that, and the weather we’ve had, she’s been wavering a bit recently and I thought she was going to back out of it but she rang up recently full of determination to get back on two wheels. ‘If I don’t do it now, I probably never will,’ she said. ‘I was talking to my grandson the other day about it and he said, “Gran – maybe what you need is one of those mobility scooters instead.” So I said right, that’s my mind made up. I’m getting on a bike.’

It’s one way to motivate people to ride, I suppose…


April 13, 2010

‘It’s ten to four,’ my aunt said, with a cheery knock on our door. Normally, at that hour in the morning my response – in so far as it was coherent at all – would have been ‘and your point is?’ But this time we leapt out of bed and into all our clothes, and were out of the door in five minutes. We had in a moment of madness volunteered to help survey some Black Grouse leks.

We may have inadvertantly given the impression we had rather more experience than we had at this sort of thing, having casually mentioned that we’d been at a Prarie Chicken lek, but without adding that this was the sort of lek where there’s a hide, and a helpful sign to tell you when you’re there. This may be why we got sent off on our own with nothing but a recording of what a Black Grouse sounds like, a map with an ‘x’ marking the spot (the wrong spot, as it happens), a camouflage net to hide under and a notebook. It was still dark, and a clear frosty night, and our navigation skills have atrophied under heavy Tom-Tom use, but we did manage to settle on what appeared to be a ridge overlooking a likely site and waited under our camo net for dawn.

Camo nets make useless blankets, by the way.

Before the sky was even light we heard a gentle eerie bubbling noise and a less melodic call that sounded something like a cat being sick. As the dawn broke it became clear that there was a grouse party going on all right, but that we’d misread the invitation and were in danger of missing all the fun. Down we scrambled and found a better spot, scattering grouse (oops) into the trees. After that, there was nothing for it but to lie on our fronts on the (recently defrosted) grass and wait for the birds to come back. It took a little while, but just before we’d lost all sensation in our fingers and toes, they did.

If you’ve never seen a lek, and are a fan of the absurd done with high seriousness, I can recommend it. The males puff themselves up and then do the equivalent of starting a fight in a pub: ‘did you spill my pint?’ ‘are you looking at my bird?’ ‘do you want to come over here and say that?’, doing the bird equivalent of jabbing each other in the chest with a finger. They would belly up to each other, making themselves as big and ridiculous as possible, circling round, never quite actually coming to blows. If the hens were there, we didn’t see them – they don’t seem to wade in crying ‘leave it Darren, ‘e’s not worth it’ – but there were six of the males. Every so often they’d forget what they were doing and smooth down their feathers and peck at some interesting looking beetle, but quickly one of them would get back into bonkers mode ‘Do you want to step outside, posh boy?’ ‘come over here and say that if you think you’re hard enough’ and the show would begin again.

We lay there, gently freezing, trying not to laugh too loudly until the sun was well up and we had to go back to where we were being picked up. And it was a glorious morning, too. Almost worth getting up for at that hour…


First Catch your Hare

April 12, 2010

The hare (I say the hare, it’s possible there’s more than one) was sitting watching me while I was doing the washing up the other day, bold as brass. There was a thoughtful expression on its face, somewhere between wondering which tender shoot to chomp on next and mulling over lodging a complaint about the lack of flowers for it to nibble in the beds, although whose fault is that, I’d like to know. It looked at me for a while and then loped off, in no particular hurry to get away. It knows when it’s in the hands of townies, I think. I may complain about its depredations among the flower beds, but we’d still rather have hares than blooms, if it really came down to it.

It had probably better confine its attentions to our flower beds if it knows what’s good for it. I was explaining how the hares ate all our flowers to our neighbour. ‘I can’t really chase it off though,’ I said. ‘Because the other half likes them.’

‘Does he?’ she said. ‘I’ve always found them rather stringy, myself.’

They’re Baaaaaaack

April 9, 2010

Not the sheep (they’re still in the field looking as though grass wouldn’t melt in their mouths) but the swallows. Or rather, one was back, sitting on the wire yesterday and chattering madly, probably complaining about the fact that it had flown ALL THIS WAY and there was no car for it to poo on. I see, from my meticulous records, that this is four days later than last year, but hopefully they will make up for lost time. Not the pooing, although that seems to come with the territory, but in turning flies and mosquitoes into crap fluffy baby swallows for us to coo at.

Young Swallows

These things are important, when you live in the country

Hiding to Nothing

April 8, 2010

I’ve been a bad bike blogger recently. It’s not that I’ve not been cycling, it’s just that all the cycling I’ve done has been pretty routine – to the papershop and back so often I’m in danger of wearing a groove in the road. I still enjoy the ride but it’s pretty uneventful – in fact, that’s generally why I enjoy it – so it doesn’t exactly make for blog fodder. And even I was getting a bit bored by doing the same route over and over. So with the spring here, or hereish, and the weather forecast not too bad, I decided to venture further afield.

I even had what I hoped was a blogworthy destination in mind. According to a comment on Real Cycling, the second dullest OS square in Britain could be within cycling reach of me. It was a bit of a stretch, but how hard could going from 30-odd miles in a day to 40-odd miles really be? And besides, I needed to renew my library books. Seriously, what could possibly go wrong? I even thought to pack some sandwiches.

I should probably put you out of your misery now, and admit that I never actually reached the square. Empty squares don’t have roads through them – of course – and nor do they generally have roads anywhere near them. What looked like a road on the map turned out to be a bumpy forestry track, and another promising looking footpath ended blocked by a fallen tree and was pretty much a mudbath anyway. By this time, I’d already cycled 20-odd miles and had realised I’d be right into the wind all the way back and was losing interest in the project. I did manage to glimpse, through the trees, an expanse of what looked like nothing much. Although whether it was actually a whole square of nothingness, I couldn’t in all honesty say.

Brow Well

Stick to the whisky, Rabbie

Stick to the whisky, Rabbie

I did manage to stop off at Brow Well, one of the many places Robert Burns has drunk in, but probably the only one that wasn’t a pub. According to the sign, his doctor had sent him there, perhaps in the hope that by taking the waters he might lay off the booze for a bit. Given that the poet walked three miles to find a pub that would sell him a bottle of port, this might have been a forlorn hope. And besides, if the sign at the site was anything to go by, Burns would have better off on the booze.

And then there was nothing for it but to turn around and cycle home. The difference between 30-odd and 40-odd miles is, I’ve discovered, a world of pain for the last 7 miles. My back hurt, my legs hurt, my neck hurt, and my hands only didn’t hurt because they’d gone numb. There’s clearly a lot more to this ‘quirky places to visit on your bike’ blogging lark than meets the eye, and I’m going to leave it to the expert from now on. My only piece of advice that I can give you after all this is that if you’re going to go on a long bike ride, leave the library books at home.

*I was going to call this ‘wild goose chase’ but one of the things I did manage to see was wild geese…

Oh, the Excitement

April 7, 2010

So I was just putting the finishing touches on my latest blog post, when I glanced up and looked out of the kitchen window. That’s funny, I thought. The garden has gone all woolly. And is moving and is…

‘Quick! Get out here! The garden is full of sheep!’

Of course, sprinting out of your front door when the garden is full of sheep basically just sends them in all directions, none of them good. The other half’s chief concern was to get them out onto the road and out of our garden, whereas mine was to find out where they had come from and find a responsible adult who might want to take control of the situation, preferably their owner. But there was nobody farmerish to be seen, and this wasn’t just a couple of stray sheep off on a jolly of their own: this was a whole flock of them, all baaing away madly as though they were auditioning for a part in the Archers.

I joined forces with our neighbours, whose grounds were also being invaded. ‘What should we do?’ I asked. ‘Drive them into the road,’ was the reply. ‘They can go to Nearest Village for all I care, as long as they’re out of the garden.’ Fortunately, among the many features of her garden is a little alleyway that ends in a handy gate onto the road, which might almost have been designed for concentrating panicked sheep and letting them out into the road. They set off, headed up another driveway further up the hill and we could see the householder there busily driving them out again. ‘It’s every one for themselves, in this situation,’ our neighbour said. Off the sheep went, disappearing over the brow of the hill while someone went to ring round the farmers to see who might be having one of those Bo Peep moments.

But then, disaster. Along came a cyclist – and in a scary yellow jacket too – coming down the road and now with the entire flock of sheep galloping along in front of him. Because, as we all know, nothing, but nothing, is as frightening to a sheep as a person on a bike. Back down the road they all came, with the light of garden destruction in their eyes. We sprinted before them to stand by our gates, ready to defend our daffodils to the death.

And then, at last, one sheep – somewhat brighter than the rest, perhaps – decided to jump over the dyke and into an empty field. And where one sheep goes, the rest follow. Once they were safely in and innocently eating grass as though they had never been off marauding, we shut the gate – somewhat redundantly, probably, given the ease with which they’d cleared the wall, but it felt like we were doing something. Hopefully they’ll soon get rounded up and placed somewhere more sheep-proof before they take it into their woolly heads to go for another wander. Or maybe another farmer will wake up tomorrow and find himself richer to the tune of about forty rather adventurous ewes.

Knit Wit

April 6, 2010

For my birthday – that is my birthday a whole year ago – my mother gave me a lovely cardigan.


And you thought flat packs were complicated

Unfortunately, it came in kit form.

It joined the queue of ‘oh help that looks a bit daunting, maybe I’ll make another hat’ knitting projects until the beginning of this year, when I decided I’d better tackle it. Because it was a lot of wool to waste on something that didn’t work (generally, by turning knitting wool into a knitted thing, even successfully, you destroy about 30% of its value) I decided to abandon my usual tactic of making it up as I went along loosely based on a pattern I’d found on the internet and subsequently failed to bookmark, and decided to follow a real proper paid-for pattern. What – apart from being unable to follow the instructions* – could possibly go wrong?

Three months later, I realised that – even if I knitted as fast as I could – I was going to run out of wool before I’d finished the second arm of my cardigan, despite the pattern only supposedly needing eight balls of wool. Closer examination of the pattern revealed that I was supposed to be knitting it in 4-ply wool ‘Is that very different from Double Knitting, then?’ I asked my mother. Ah. Yes, it is, apparently. Who knew? I mean, apart from everyone who knits, of course.

Fortunately, fresh supplies of wool have just been scored. At current rate, I should have it in time for, I don’t know, next Christmas? And then, I’m going to have to tackle the big one: my aunt has given me the wool and the needles needed to knit socks.

Wish me luck.

*Women computer operators were selected in the war on the basis that anyone who could follow a knitting pattern would find operating a computer child’s play. Nothing I’ve learned in the past year has contradicted this assumption…