Kidding About

August 31, 2010

Cycling past the Chicken Ranch this morning I heard some bleating and thought, ‘ah, they’re branching out into goats now.’ A few yards further down the road it registered that the goat in question might have had its head stuck in a fence and, on cycling back I saw that this was indeed so. I then spent a few minutes discovering that the much vaunted intelligence of goats had been overrated while the goat spent some time investigating the edibility or otherwise of my shirt. With a stalemate reached and the goat still stuck, I went round to see if there was anyone about who would be better at goat extraction or at least on whose lap I might dump the problem, and maybe also to have a bit of a nose about. I almost never actually see anyone around at the Chicken Ranch and the few times I have they’ve had their heads down and not seemed inclined to notice or return greetings. This morning I could see smoke coming out of the chimney of the caravan, but it was guarded by a large and padlocked fence, and beyond that by a large and barky rottweiler which made it difficult to drop in and let them know. But I shouted ‘hello’ a couple of times between volleys from the rottweiler and eventually a young woman emerged and I explained her goat was stuck and she went off to see what she could do.

Normally I would have hung around at this point attempting to be helpful or at least learning how best to get a goat out of a fence for future reference (you never know when these skills are going to come in handy) but I was running late so I left her to it. I slightly regret this. The Chicken Ranch is still the subject of much muttering in the village and time has not improved its appearance, but I’m curious to know if it really is just a cynical exercise in rendering a patch of land so ugly that holiday cottages would be an improvement (as rumour has it) or a genuine attempt at smallholding on a shoestring that looks a bit scruffy. On the whole, I’d have thought the whole padlocked-fence-and-rottweiler vibe wasn’t going to count much in their favour, while a few ‘good afternoons’ to passing cyclists and dog walkers would probably go a long way towards getting people on their side, but what do I know? After all, I probably came across a bit abrupt myself, waking someone up to tell them their goat was stuck and then cycling immediately away. It would amount to neighbourly behaviour in London, but was rather brusque by the standards of behaviour round here.

Anyway, cycling back this afternoon I saw no sign of anybody about, nor, indeed, of the goat so it must have got unstuck, as it were. I’ll be keeping an eye out for goats – and people – in future. And if anyone has any handy hints for extracting goats from fences (don’t the really big Swiss Army Knives have a tool for that?) feel free to post them here.

While Stocks Last

August 30, 2010

There were plenty of important things I could have been doing today, on this not-a-bank-holiday-in-Scotland, but somehow – as the sun came out and the wind dropped and the bikes and then the back garden beckoned – I didn’t do any of them. Oh well. I suppose I can say that I’ve been busy all day stockpiling Vitamin D. Which, apparently, is important, too.

And All Shall Have Prizes

August 29, 2010

Obviously, when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables, taste and then maybe yield are the most important things – they’re there to be eaten after all – and such superficial criteria as size and looks and consistency come far, far behind. The sorts of vegetables that win village shows are likely to be tasteless monsters, grown by joyless obessessives who spray everything to within an inch of its life and the real qualities of them will obviously be far inferior to the knobbly, unsprayed, irregular, non-prize-winning veg that real gardeners are going to grow …

But never mind all that.

My beans came second. In the ‘any other vegetable’ category.

I think we should observe a moment of silence while I recover from the excitement.*

I wasn’t expecting anything. By the time I got to the hall yesterday morning the competition tables were already groaning with fabulous-looking immaculate vegetables – as well as flowers, jams, home baking, crafts and anything else you care to mention. I filled in my competition cards and stapled them shut – all judging is done anonymously and it’s considered extremely bad form to open the non-winning cards afterwards to see who didn’t place – thinking that, after all, it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts. I cycled down again at three to have a look at the results, thinking that at least I’d get a laugh out of my puny efforts, and then have a look at the winners to try and pick up some tips for next time. I’d be chalking this one up to experience, I knew. I would like to apologise now for any passing bats who might have been blasted out of the air by my squeals of excitement when I saw the blue card against my entry.

And the secret of my success? Probably entering the one class that the little old lady who wins everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – hadn’t entered. I stayed on after the tea to watch her pick up her overall winner’s cup and prizes for the outstanding items in the craft, bakery and vegetable categories although she did at least fail to dominate the ‘children under 11’ class. As she was handed her cup and went out to get her picture taken for the paper someone commented that this year was the 25th anniversary of her getting her name on the cup for the first time. We all clapped politely through gritted teeth, if you can imagine such a thing. ‘She’s 91,’ someone muttered behind me. ‘She can’t go on for ever, can she?’

As to that, only time will tell. Meanwhile, I’m going to have to adjust my spreadsheet to include my winnings, to the tune of 30p…

* I don’t think there’s anyone at the village hall tea yesterday who didn’t hear that I’d got second prize for my beans. Including all the people who sat around me and very kindly congratulated me while modestly failing to point out that they had also won prizes, and rather more than I had. Oh well, what can I say? It was my first time.

Beauty Contest

August 27, 2010

Potatoes on parade

It’s the village show tomorrow and this year I’ve decided to take the plunge and actually enter something. I’d feel more confident about this if I had any idea what makes a prize-winning vegetable*. Clearly, they have to be perfect but what constitutes perfection in a vegetable? I started by digging up all my purple potatoes hoping that among them I’d find three (there have to be three) that were more or less the same and unblemished and which fulfilled some sort of platonic ideal of potato-ness. In the end, I settled for just finding three which looked similar and I don’t think I’m going to cover myself in glory there. I’m hoping that if nobody else enters the coloured potato class I might at least make third.

There was no class for french beans, which is the only other thing coming out of the garden just now, so I’m having to enter those under ‘any other vegetable’ which makes things tougher. I decided on six each of the purple and green beans and, as we were picking a whole load anyway to freeze them, sat down to make my selection. There were fewer purple ones so it was just a matter of picking out six that looked the same but I struggled with the green ones. Surely out of a whole basket of freshly picked and not too damaged green beans, I could find six that would do? I eliminated any blemished ones, ones which were twisted, lumpy, curly, had lost their fine little point on the end, weren’t perfectly green or which looked a bit odd. Then I started sorting them into smaller and smaller groups of matching beans like some demented Euro Vegetable controller in a Brussels back office. This one was too straight, this one too bent. This one was too long, this one too short, or too thick, or too thin. Finally I found one which looked to me like the perfect bean, the sort Tescos stock by the thousand, straightish but with a curve at the end. That became my target bean and all I had to do was find five more exactly like it. It took a while – it’s finding the sixth one that I struggled with – and I dithered over a number of competitors before finally I made up my mind. But I have made my selection and they’ve been carefully washed and put in the fridge for tomorrow. Although looking at the pictures again, do you think the one on the end is a little twisted? Maybe I should go up to the vegetable garden and look again…

Anyway, the judging is tomorrow, if I get up in time to deliver them to the hall. I’ll let you know how I get on. I know, I know, the suspense will be killing you all.

*Apart from the heaviest onion competition, of course. I think I can work that one out for myself.

Perfect Day

August 26, 2010

There are days when – more or less by accident – you stumble into the perfect ride. We didn’t set out having planned anything particularly special this morning but somehow everything just came together and we came home having enjoyed the best jaunt yet this year, and that’s actually saying a lot because we’ve had some good adventures.

Everybody’s idea of a perfect bike ride will differ, but this is what seemed to work for us:

Perfect weather – a gentle tail wind for the uphill bits and the head wind reserved for the downhill bits, plenty of scattered cloud and yet the sun always seemed to be shining on the part where we were;

Perfect route – with a road so quiet the only traffic was the indignant sheep who clearly felt that we were trespassing in their domain and stopping them from lying sunbathing on the tarmac;

Perfect destination – a loch tucked away in the hills, with a little spot under some trees which was just right for sitting looking out over the water and sharing a snack while putting the world to rights;

Perfect length – we were going to go on and complete a loop but wiser heads prevailed and in the end we came home feeling that we could have cycled further – but we were very glad we didn’t have to;

and, of course, perfect company.

At one point, as we were almost home, still riding in conversational formation and taking it at chatting speed steadily up a hill, I glanced over my shoulder and discovered that the three of us had become four. I apologise now to the poor chap on his carbon fibre road bike who had no bell (extra weight!) and was too polite to let us know he was stuck behind us until we happened to notice and moved over to let him pass. I’m guessing his idea of a perfect ride would be something a little different from ours, but kudos to him all the same for not simply blasting past us and instead pausing to exchange a few pleasantries before leaving us for dust on the rest of the hill.

We’re not quite sure how to top that but the plan is to do something similar but with added pub and bacon sandwiches.

Hell is Other People

August 25, 2010

All around Notso Bigtown this afternoon I noticed posters advertising mass ukelele sessions for beginners. Unfortunately, the timing and location are terrible: out of cycling range, realistically, and on a day and a time that the other half has the car.

‘It’s a shame,’ I said. ‘It looks like it could have been fun.’

The other half just made a face. ‘I suppose it would mainly be for children,’ I said, but that wasn’t really his objection.

‘Whether it’s children or not, at the end of the day, it’s still going to be a room full of people playing ukeleles.’


August 24, 2010

One nice thing about this time of year – I knew I’d think of something eventually – is that we seem to have reached some sort of bird maximum. With all of this season’s birds fledged and out and about and the summer migrants not yet gone, every farm yard I rode through today had its mass of sparrows and every stretch of telegraph wire its population of chattering swallows and martins. We won’t see this many again until the wintering geese arrive from Svalbard to spend the season on the coast. I went swooping through a thick flock of swallows this morning and they were so numerous and flying so low and so intent on chasing down every bug that I worried I might actually end up inhaling one. Now there’s a reason for keeping your mouth shut on a ride…

On the down side, I looked at the bright sunshine this morning, thought ‘it is August, after all,’ and didn’t bother to pack my gloves. One hour later I arrived at my destination with my hands numb and aching from the cold. Winter is on its way.

Already Slipping into History

August 23, 2010

6-1 Self, Cook
It’s been a rainy and miserable day today, no bike, no garden, no fun. But I did sieze the moment to catch up on one of those tasks that I’ve been not quite getting round to for months. My grandfather lied about his age (so family legend has it) to join up in World War 1 (and even if he didn’t he would have been barely 19 by the end of the war). His father was fighting in the trenches, but he ended up in the Royal Flying Corps. He was fortunate enough to survive, and live to a fairly ripe old age – via Ireland, India, Ghana and finally Malta. And now I have his photo album from that distant war and I am – too late, of course – trying to track down some details beyond the legends my father remembers his father telling him in his childhood.

2-1 Demobbed
I’m in the process of putting these pictures up on Flickr, hoping someone might recognise something or be able to tell me more about a period that I know so little about. I’ve been peering at the fading handwriting, looking at the blurred blobs of faces, trying to recapture something of the past. The details of the planes and the places I can probably track down, but the chances of me being able to put more than the barest name to each face are slipping into the past now. My grandfather did at least label his photographs, but usually with no more than a nickname or a jaunty caption. Three fine young swells with canes celebrate being demobbed. Another three are ‘going off for the day’ but where or when is not recorded. ‘Cooky’, ‘Fox’, ‘Griff’ (even ‘Reg, and his pater’) are likely to remain anonymous forever now, unless I’m very lucky.

2-3 Going off for the day

Anyway, if you’re interested in old planes, or even old people, take a moment to go and have a look – I’ll be adding more pictures over the next few days. You may even recognise something, or someone, or somewhere. If you do, please let me know.

And if you’ve got photographs of your own? Add some captions. Long ones. And preferably typed…

More on Keeping Pat Pedalling

August 22, 2010

So, only seven months after I signed the No 10. petition about persuading Royal Mail not to phase out its bikes – and less than six months after it closed, I got an email! From the guv’mint! telling me that they’d read the petition and they were going to do sod all about it. This is, I suppose, fair enough as the Royal Mail is supposedly run at arms length (although they then undermined that position by going on to extol the delights of the new electric trolleys in the sort of detail that implies a rather closer management). Anyway, nothing daunted for, as Karl at Do the Right Thing points out, there is another campaign, run by the CTC this time, aiming to persuade Royal Mail directly. This time it’s a print-out-and post type campaign, writing to the Chief Executive which I imagine will have exactly the same effect as the last campaign did, except it will at least boost the company’s profits a bit*.

But, what the hell, you should join in anyway. And who knows, it might work. Although even if it does it may not guarantee carbon-free miles for all your posties. Coming back from a ride the other day we passed our postman as he came out of our drive in his little van and suggested jokingly that he might like to complete his route on a bike instead.
‘Oh aye they used to give me a bike back when I delivered in the town,’ he said. ‘Never used it. Too much like hard work. Used to wheel it round the first corner, ditch it, and finish the round in my car.’

You can lead a postman to a bicycle …

*Er, if we write and complain every time the Royal Mail does something we don’t like isn’t that a bit of a perverse incentive to them to keep pissing us off? I mean even more than they already do with the red rubber bands everywhere?

There’s Something Very Satisfying….

August 20, 2010

…about realising that you’ve picked pretty much the one hour of the whole day when it wasn’t raining to cycle down for the paper. Especially as otherwise my only exercise would have consisted of getting up to restart the broadband at twenty-minute intervals as our rural connection doesn’t seem to like the rain.

However, it’s even more satisfying if you pick up sausages while you’re down there and come back and have sausage sandwiches for lunch. That is all.