July 30, 2010

Never mind kittens, internet: when it comes to cute, baby weasels is where it’s at. We were cycling back from our latest five-go-mad-on-bikes adventure (one hour cycling, one hour putting the world to rights at the top of the hill, five mins descending) when we saw the unmistakable shape of a weasel … no make that two weasels … on the road in front of us. Normally that’s all the sight you get of a weasel: something like an animated clockwork bookmark scuttling across the road in front of you. But these weasels seemed unusually indecisive – heading across the road and then stopping half way, dithering, comedically colliding with each other and then heading back – and when we got to the spot where we’d seen them we realised why. Sticking up out of the long grass on the verge where they’d finally dived for cover were  two baby weasels, having a good look at us as we had a good look at them (this is the reason why I always make a point of forgetting my camera on these trips. Such things never happen when I’ve got it with me). Then they disappeared, but they weren’t gone because the verge was ringing with the sound of their calls to each other and every so often another head popped up just to check we were still there. The noise they make is lovely and musical and utterly enchanting, somewhere between a chirrup and an purr and we stood there for a good five minutes before we reluctantly got on our bikes and left them to their verge.

It’s yet another reason why cycling beats the heck out of driving in a car. And speaking of cars, I hope they learn their green cross code soon. That sort of dithering in the middle of the road does not bode well for their longevity.

Salad is what Food Eats

July 29, 2010

I find it slightly disturbing that when I go to feed the landlords’ hens with some of my surplus lettuce (I knew there was an answer) I can now more or less tell them apart.

They don’t have names, they’re not those kind of hens, although they are sometimes known collectively as ‘the girls’. But I can still discern some sort of differences between them based on their behaviour. There’s brighter-than-the-average chicken, who’s the only one of five to have figured out that it’s easier to eat bits off a leaf of lettuce if you put your foot on it first. There’s ordinary chicken who is just a chicken and has no distinguising behaviour at all. Then there’s bossy chicken, who only likes to eat what the other chickens are eating and spends all her time chasing after brighter-than-the-average and ordinary trying to dominate the food supply. She’s the one who comes clucking self-importantly up to you when you go to fetch the eggs. There’s also sick chicken who sits around looking sorry for herself in the dust bath, but who has apparently always looked like that without ever actually dying or even declining much. She can usually be tempted to peck listlessly at a juicy bit of lettuce until bossy comes over to pinch it off her. And finally there’s do-I-look-like-a-rabbit chicken who disdains lettuce – and indeed chickweed – and doesn’t like to be seen with the other hens. Instead she stands aloofly in the corner, rising above it all although she will make the effort if there are marinated slugs going.

I did take some pictures to try and illustrate all this, but it turned out to be just a load of photographs of identical-looking chickens. So you’ll just have to believe me when I say they all have distinct personalities of their own. Either that, or I really do have to get out more.

Doing it Wrong

July 28, 2010

Last winter they clear felled a piece of woodland near us. While all the big logs have long gone, the men with the machines left the rest – the stumps, branches, logs and other bits not deemed worth taking away. Eventually, if the last piece of clear-felled land is anything to go by, they’ll bulldoze it into a big pile and (about three years later) take it up to the local wood-burning power station. But meanwhile it sits there looking tempting. Mostly it’s softwood, but there were some birches, hazels and other hardwood trees in there mixed in with the spruce and larch. The problem is, it’s not ours to take. We’ve gone in and scavenged out some sticks for my beanpoles and to hold up the butterfly netting over my cabbages and, I have to admit, that occasionally when we’ve seen a nice handy sized piece of birch just sitting about doing nothing we’ve picked it up and, attemtping nonchalance, carried it the few hundred yards back to our woodshed.

This, we now realise, is WRONG. For what we should be doing is what I spotted one of our nearish neighbours doing this morning as I headed out for a hard day helping underprivileged children*: driving up there with a van and taking away a whole load. Because if you’re going to pilfer, pilfer properly and don’t muck about.

*Helping underprivileged children build dens in the woods, as the other half (who’d spent the morning hoovering instead) was jealous to discover. It’s hard work bringing light to the little kiddies’ eyes, but somebody’s got to do it.


July 26, 2010

Our new neighbour has a new kitten, and I encountered it on my bike coming back from getting the paper today. It is very cute, very bold, very stupid and almost exactly the same colour as the road.

This can’t end well.

Knowing One’s Onions

July 25, 2010

My onions are ready!*

I planted red onions this year, the reasoning being that white onions were cheap and easy to get hold of, whereas red onions look magnificent and are clearly much grander and so would be worth the effort and the space of growing them. This was before we went to Tescos the other day and discovered that the only normal onions on sale were from New Zealand (to my New Zealand readers: I’m sure you Kiwis produce fine onions, but seriously, shipping (and I hope they are shipped – if we’re air freighting them then we’re all doomed) onions half way across the globe is just insanity).

Anyway, I’ve dug them up and laid them out and they do look glorious, but I’ve realised a slight problem. We do use red onions from time to time in cooking, but they’re not quite as versatile as their non-red cousins. And it seems a shame anyway to produce something so glossy and gloriously red and use them as the basis of soup. I’m not even sure, other than looks, what the differences are between red and normal onions. Are they sweeter? Stronger? Milder? Or just prettier? Maybe I should find these things out before I plant things. But where’s the fun in that?

Either way I have 26 of them busy drying in the shed. This will take a couple of weeks, I believe, and then, other than making them into a pretty plait and hanging them up rustically in my kitchen, I’m a little stumped. What, o Internet, do you recommend I do with them?

* Well almost – three have bolted, producing a magnificent flower spike each, of which more anon.

Fetching Supper

July 23, 2010

Beats a trip to Tesco any day

Sometimes I have to remind myself, it is all worth it.

Last night we sat down to Chicken Inna Pot (an adaptation of an ancient Nigel Slater recipe, I’ve no idea if it’s anywhere online) featuring potatoes, peas, garlic and shallots all from the vegetable plot (we could have got the chicken from there too, but I like to keep on my landlord’s good side). Oh, and salad, too, of course. Food yards, rather than food miles. Can you see my smug green glow from where you are?

On the down side, I was doing a bit of weeding and came across a whole new patch of salad that I’d conveniently forgotten about. ‘Oh no,’ cried the other half, who had been hoping that the end was near…

It’s Health’n’Safety Gorn … Actually, that Would have Been Quite Sensible now I come to Think of it

July 22, 2010

My neighbour and I were bemoaning the way considerations of health and safety in modern life have eliminated all risky activities even for those people who were quite willing to undergo them. ‘Whatever happened to putting up a sign saying “enter at your own risk”?’ my neighbour asked, and you have to be fair, she’s got a point. One of the barriers to organising a group bike ride is that the ride leader – even if all he or she has done is advertise the ride and suggested that people might like to come along – should really have liability insurance in case anyone gets hurt. ‘Maybe we should make all people NOT taking part in thse things sign a waiver saying that they understand that by not doing so and leading a sedentary lifestyle, they have opened themselves up to a risk of a heart attack before they’re sixty,’ I suggested, and how we laughed, because frankly we don’t get out much round here in the country.

Well, we laughed then, but all of this came back to haunt me today when I reached the bottom of the big hill (and it’s a big, big hill) on the way to Bigtown this morning, and realised that neither of my two companions were behind me. My friend’s daughter – being 13 and thus, as every teenager knows, immortal – had overtaken her mother at speed, wobbled on seeing an approaching car, and come a spectacular cropper. The car wasn’t involved but the tarmac was and she had to be scooped up by a passing van and driven home. Fortunately my friend is of the ‘get back on the horse’ school of mothering and once she was sure her daughter wasn’t too seriously injured, perfectly relaxed about the whole thing. But I was mortified. Normally I’m a cautious descender, but the hill was one I knew well, the road was wide, and I’ve been watching way too much of the Tour de France. I should have known that shooting off at speed down low over the handlebars wasn’t going to set a good example to a youngster. Sometimes, you can be too much in touch with your inner child…

Anyway, she’s fine, I was relieved to hear and I’m chastened, and hopefully it won’t be the end of our rides together. I can’t really see anyone suing anyone else over anything around here, so I’m not really that worried about waivers or insurance – but I can see that I’m going to have to be a tiny bit more grown up about my riding in the future.

Help!Send Rabbits!

July 21, 2010

Hungry ones.

Why we bothered chasing that rabbit out of the garden, I will never know. A week’s neglect has tipped the veg patch – which was the only part of it of more or less under control before – over the edge. Long days, warmth and plentiful rain means everything – everything – is growing faster than I can keep up. Peas, beans, salad – have I mentioned that we have a lot of salad? – potatoes, onions, and, of course, the weeds. Only the squash are sitting there looking pathetic. I’ve definitely got to think of a better use for the cold frame next year.

And talking of next year, I’ve been offered another plot on top of the ones I already have, as my landlord’s not keeping up with the garden either. It was that or grass it over, which seems a shame. I was thinking of being sensible and saying no, but then I thought hmmm, I could do maincrop potatoes and ordinary onions if I had more room, and I heard myself saying yes instead.

Maybe a goat’s not such a bad idea after all.

My Name is Disgruntled…

July 20, 2010

… and I may be a cycleholic*.

I’ve been off the bike for a week for various reasons, and I was very glad to get back on it this morning even though it meant 10 miles in the not-quite-rain. In fact, it would have had to be raining quite hard for me not to get on it, to be honest, as I needed a ride. I’ve had a tough week what with one thing and another and not being able to get on to the bike didn’t help. It’s not so much that cycling makes me happy, although sometimes it does, it’s just that it’s got to the point that not cycling makes me grumpy.

I don’t know why this should be. I’ve cycled for years and years, since I was a child – I never really ‘grew out’ of it – and there have been plenty of times when my bike has been my primary means of transport, but there have also been times when I could pretty much take it or leave it and the bike spent most of its time in the shed except for the occasional weekend spin. In London, a couple of miles a day down to the train station and back was fine – and cycling in London is a good way to clear your head as you have to be pretty focused – but I was just as happy to walk. But after two years of doing 30+ miles a week it’s getting to the point where I need the sense of freedom and release a bike ride gives me and if I can’t ride I’m not happy.

Of course, most addictive substances work that way – it’s fun at first, but after a while it’s mainly about getting a fix so as to get rid of the withdrawal symptoms. There have got to be some sort of safe cycling guidelines that stop you getting completely hooked. I’m trying to do what I can to keep it under control: keeping at least one day a week of cycling abstinence, making sure I don’t start cycling till after 11 in the morning, trying not to cycle alone, keeping track of how much I cycle in a week so I don’t exceed safe government limits. I also try not to spend too much time reading about cycling – and looking at pictures – on the internet, but I’m not doing so well at that one. So far, I think I’m just on the right side of the line – a heavy cyclist, maybe, but not completely dependent. I could give it up any time I wanted to, really. It’s just that at the moment I don’t…

*note, not a bikeoholic. So far I’ve resisted the temptation to buy more than one bike, although I’m still trying to think of a valid excuse for why I really actually do need a Brompton. Suggestions in the comments, please…

Waste Not

July 19, 2010

My mother returned home last night, and was driven back from the station by a friend. The journey went smoothly, but sadly they did hit a hare on the way back. The hare, fortunately, was killed outright and the friend, having stopped to check that it was dead and to observe a proper moment of sadness at the passing of such a magical and beautiful creature, then popped it in the boot to hang it for the pot.

This is, of course, the right and proper way to handle such a thing. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to start scraping hares off the road – even freshly killed ones – but it does occur to me that we might not be quite so diligent about avoiding pheasants in the future. They do say, after all, that if you eat meat you should be prepared to kill at least some of it yourself. And it doesn’t say anywhere that you can’t do it by hitting it with your car…