I Don’t Know Which is Scarier…

September 30, 2010

… the fact that we’ve eaten over 3 kilos of salad out of the garden this year, or the fact that I know this. In fact we’ve had over 43 kilos of veg in total (43.27 kg to be precise) and there’s more to come too…

I’m actually feeling a tiny bit pleased with my veg growing efforts at the moment. Certainly compared with around this time last year the plot is looking much more like a productive garden and less like a disaster zone. And although the peas have been grubbed up and the bed put under manure for the winter, there’s still very little bare earth showing elsewhere and that’s not just because the rest of it is covered in weeds either. I’ve come up with a cunning rotation plan which seems to let me fit four rotations into three years, at least in theory. It only works because I’ve got use of a seed bed for growing on some of the slower veg like leeks and brassicas, but then even the seed bed gets a year-round use because I’m using it to raise some biennials and hardy annuals for next spring. No doubt this will all end in tears but until it does I’m reserving the right to feel smug.

Especially when fetching the ingredients for supper looks like this instead of a benighted trudge around the supermarket, wondering whether the end of the world can possibly come soon enough.

Now There’s a Novel Idea…

September 29, 2010

The other half was wrestling with the horror that is trying to book half-way non-bankrupting flights to the US over Christmas yesterday* when he had a sudden and brilliant thought. Wouldn’t it be amazing if – instead of struggling on with seven different tabs open looking for flights, each page taking a good minute to load through our rural broadband, and all suddenly changing their mind half way through as to whether the amazingly cheap price was actually available after all, and some of them adding taxes and some not, and some having extra costs for checked luggage and some sending you to the middle of the States via the West Coast and, I don’t know, Bratislava and Ulan Bator, and some giving you 14 hours to change plane and others about 40 minutes and some giving you a range of flights but no way of booking and others trying to add on insurance and hotels and car hire and dancing girls as default options, and the broadband going down at the crucial moment just as you thought you were getting there – instead of all that, there was someone you could ring up who would just do it all for you? An agent, as it were, acting on your behalf, to organise your travel. Or if you want something more snappy, how about ‘travel agent’? To our amazement we discovered there is such a thing and the other half rang one up and within half an hour or so she had rung back having tracked down flights almost as cheap as the cheapest ones advertised online. Even after having to drive into Bigtown in the sort of rain you only get when you have been energetically taunting the Weather Gods** with half the town flooded and every car park taken up by the preparations for the annual fair, it was still far, far nicer than actually booking the things on line would have been and we got to have lunch in Subway as well, which counts as a treat these days.

In fact I think the idea’s got a lot of potential in general. For instance, there could be secure places in town where you could do your internet banking and prove your identity by signing something instead of having to jump through seventeen hoops remembering what you claimed was your favourite book, or the name of your best friend in primary school’s dog. Or if you wanted to find something out there could be buildings with actual books full of information in them that you could read at your leisure without having to peer at a tiny squinty screen. Or there could be places with clothes you could try on before paying for them and waiting for them to be delivered and only then discovering that they didn’t fit. Or you could even bump into people you know and say hello to them instead of poking them or writing on their wall in Facebook. Well, obviously the last one’s ridiculous, but you know what I mean. The technology would be a challenge, of course, but I think it could be done…

*I know, I know, this basically wipes out all of our efforts saving electricity and putting in the woodburning stove and driving less and then some. But that’s where the other half’s parents live and I’d be in deep serious trouble with his Mom otherwise

** Yeah, sorry about that by the way.  I didn’t think their response would be that immediate and dramatic.

Sittin’ Here on the Bench

September 28, 2010

I think we are now finally prepared for winter.

We have our wood burning stove, in case it gets cold (if anyone had told me last winter that we’d be actually looking forward to a cold snap this year I’d have looked at them as though they were mad). I’ve got my everything-bar-the-apocalypse-proof jacket in case of rain, plagues of frogs and similar. And now we’ve got a bench. Or more accurately – and I can’t really emphasise this enough – the other half has MADE a bench. Out of some bits of shed that out next door neighbour had planned to use for firewood but couldn’t because it was burning too quickly in his open fireplace. He swapped them for some coal we had which we can’t burn in our stove and the other half spent an afternoon or seven removing nails and prising planks apart and salvaging enough solid material to make a bench and a hell of a lot of kindling. And then, for the price of the bolts and a tin of wood preservative he made a bench. This is far more impressive than knitting socks, because, hell, I can knit socks, whereas I know it would be a very long time indeed before I could knock up a bench even if supplied with a deluxe pre-sawn and drilled junior bench-making kit and a team of tame carpenters to assist.

So, we have a bench. And in case you’re wondering how that prepares us for winter – well, obviously we don’t want to be putting out a bench in the summer because that would have ushered in three months of downpours and frankly we’ve done that. No the bench is there in case the weather Gods decide to taunt us and our jackets and our woodburning stove with a mild and sunny pleasant winter. Obviously, that would be truly terrible, and I hope it doesn’t happen but if it does but we will at least have the bench so we can sit on it in the sunshine and dream about the day when we can light our stove.

Yet More Rural Mysteries

September 27, 2010

Cycling back from Bigtown with my newly serviced bike (aah, order is returned to the world…) I noticed what looked like a sack of something lying in an empty field. Coming closer I noticed that the sack had a leg and was in fact a sheep and as I passed it I noticed the leg twitch and the sheep move and look up looking as startled as only a sheep can, as though it had just woken up suddenly from a heavy sleep.

Now I know that, realistically, this story is unlikely to be one that ends well for the sheep. But I would like to continue to believe that what in FACT happened was that the sheep had a hard night out with its drinking buddies and all the other sheep had decided to play a trick on it and had sneaked off into the next field while it was out cold to give it a shock when it finally came round and found itself all alone. And I’m going to continue to believe that, so please indulge me in the comments, mmmkay?

Wigging Out

September 26, 2010

I’ve been in Wigtown all day today, for the book festival (oh and *ahem* I’ll be there tomorrow giving a free talk if anyone’s interested). Today I was mostly flogging stuff, or at least trying to interest people in various arty and literary things we had going on, which meant standing in the sunshine using a whisky barrel as a stall and attempting to catch people’s eye as they passed. I know. The writer’s lot is not a happy one. Although it would have been better had the whiskey barrel still been full.

It gave me some insight in how far I’d come as a city exile living in a country place though. I’ve lived here long enough, you see, that I can greet perfect strangers with a cheery smile and a hello. The locals mostly greeted me back and passed on unperturbed (unless I mentioned the free part, in which case they might come over to have a look). The Londoners – and I’m generalising madly here, you understand, some of them could have been from Edinburgh – were a different kettle of fish. First they’d rear backwards like startled horses. Then they’d look wildly over their shoulders to see if I was greeting someone else. Then they’d start to wonder if they knew me from somewhere – were they really that drunk in the bar last night? – that I was addressing them so cheerily. Sometimes, in the ensuing confusion, I even managed to flog them a book. I’m not sure I’m up to doing that again though. Being friendly to more than one passing stranger an hour is exhausting.

Over-friendly local writers aside, I can recommend Wigtown if you’ve not been. Especially on a day like today when the sun shone and the skies were blue and everyone was strolling around as though the summer would go on for ever (oh and London people, what is it with the stripey tops? Was there a law passed making breton stripes the national uniform?). Even when there’s no festival on there are bookshops and birds and some stunning scenery. We drove over the Galloway hills to get there this morning and the weather and the scenery had gone beyond glorious and was all the way over onto unreal. And on the way back we got ourselves out of the festival and its environs and stopped for tea and coffee and two enormous slices of cake for under four quid. Which just about ate up my profit for the day, but who’s counting?

Half Speed

September 24, 2010

I had to take my bike in for a service today*. This meant rather an elaborate journey via Papershop village (which is more or less in the complete opposite direction from Bigtown) and the Old Military Road and then back via the bus and a mile-and-a-half walk from Nearest village (this was at least slightly less painful and a lot less expensive than the other half’s experience getting the car serviced where he discovered that round here it’s generally the wives who take cars in to be serviced and thus that he’d be spending the morning perusing women’s magazines while he waited). Sometimes I resent the sheer amount of time it takes to do things without resorting to the car, particularly when it means ten miles into a nippy headwind along my least favourite cycle route, but there were some compensations, for while I was on the  way there I came round a bend and started up a hare along the road in front of me.

I’ll never get over just how big hares are, especially when they hoist themselves up on their long, long legs and set off with their ears up. Nor how effortlessly fast. And this was my chance to find out just how fast, because I had my GPS with me and I decided to give chase and see how quickly it could go. The hare seemed to be in no hurry to get off the road – indeed, the hare didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry full stop – so I got a good run at it. I topped out (hey, it was uphill and into the wind) at 18.7 mph at which point the hare was pulling away without really breaking sweat. And then it kicked it up a little and lost me on the next bend. By the time I’d rounded the corner and sat up it was gone. The internet tells me their top speed is 45 mph, making them Britain’s fastest land animal. Mine, downhill and more or less out of control, is nearer 30. Hares one, cyclists nil.

* actually I had to take my bike in for a service about three months ago, it’s just that I only got round to doing it today. ‘You’ve broken a tooth on one of your rear cogs,’ the bike shop guy said as he looked at it. ‘That actually takes some doing.’ I probably shouldn’t feel like that was some sort of an achievement…

Crawling Along

September 23, 2010

I hadn’t planned a ride today until I looked at the date and realised my library books were due back and it seemed a good opportunity to try out the new jacket actually on the bike. Nothing too taxing – an easy sixteen miles round trip with enough errand-running at the other end to make it nice to be a little presentable once off the bike. Perfect. Except that it’s that time of year when every ride is accompanied by the pitter-patter of tiny insects, especially days like today – a greyish, mildish, stillish, dampish sort of a day. The road to Bigtown runs alongside the river and is lined in places with trees and underneath each stretch of them the air was thick with bugs, battering themselves against my jacket, my hands, my glasses and my face. Mostly they’re pretty harmless (although I’ve headbutted the odd bumblebee) but it isn’t pleasant when they’re everywhere. Call me picky, but I prefer my air unadulterated by invertebrates. I’m not about to start wearing a mask – the thought makes me claustrophobic – and it’s all very well attempting to cycle with your mouth shut until you encounter a hill. So in the end I found myself cycling along with my head down and turning it to the side to take a breath as though I’m doing the crawl. You just don’t seem to suck in quite so much fauna that way.

And the jacket? So far it has proved itself very comfortable, and if nothing else, entirely bug proof. I’m not sure how many grams of bugs per square metre per 24hr period it can actually withstand, but I’m guessing that if there’s a rating for jackets designed to withstand a plague of locusts – or even a hailstorm of frogs – it would be up there among the leaders. Time will tell.

It Seems to be an Iron Law…

September 22, 2010

… that it will be raining when I step off the train at Lockerbie, and that it will rain harder as I make the dash for the bus stop, and harder still as I realised that due to the special nature of rural bus timetabling the next bus for Bigtown will not be for 40 minutes and after that there will be three in fifteen minutes. And that the rain will kick it up a notch as the bus stop shelter fills up and again when the bus arrives and everyone has to stand in the rain waiting to get on while each passenger who does get on pauses while they tell the driver that it is a filthy day and while he agrees.

All of which made it an excellent time to be testing out my new and not-at-all rattly expensively breathable* stylish (well I thought so) lightweight bike friendly jacket that I finally got around to buying this morning. It wasn’t the jacket that I thought I was setting out to buy, but the man in the shop was very persuasive and, having looked in about 3 shops I was bored of shopping (I have a very low shopping boredom threshhold) and anyway he gave me a discount so it didn’t cost nearly as much as the price quoted on the web site although it did cost ‘how much?!’ when I told the other half. Ahem. Given that I’ve been wearing a five quid pac-a-mac since some time last century, I think it was more than time I upgraded. So far it hasn’t leaked, although it hasn’t been out on the bike yet, and that will be the real test…

* with a waterproof / breathability rating of 15,ooo mm / 15,000 g / m-squared/ 24h, whatever that means.

A Right Pair

September 20, 2010


That didn’t take very long, did it? Although now the other half wants a pair too, and that’s going to take a LOT longer.

I’m off to Manchester tomorrow to be cross-examined by some of the city’s finest legal minds about my book (in their book group, I hasten to add, not in court). As I’m pinned against the wall by their forensic questioning I shall stiffen my sinews by thinking to myself ‘ha, you might have got me there with your discovery of all those gaping holes in my plot but how many socks have YOU knitted?’

(although, come to think of it, there’s a couple of little holes in the socks too, if you look closely. Practice makes perfect…)


September 19, 2010

For those of you awaiting with bated breath the outcome of the saga of our stove – and who are not hanging on my every tweet (and if not, why not?) – I bring you news. Previously on Town Mouse, we were waiting for our stove to arrive as promised definitely definitely on Monday and at 4pm it duly did and was unwrapped with a tinkle of glass and the sound of a builder saying ‘that doesn’t sound good.’ It turns out wrapping a pane of glass in a sheet of brown paper and putting it with some heavy metal things in a box that was definitely not marked ‘fragile’ isn’t that great an idea. But hey, the stove was fitted, the flue lined, the sitting room repainted and the stove worked fine as an open fireplace anyway so we went ahead with its official launch, Bigtown Council style, ignoring the fact that it wasn’t actually properly ready. And yesterday, the other half finally managed to pick up the glass and fit it and we had our stove.

After all that build up, the mere fact that it wasn’t all that cold yesterday wasn’t going to stop us from lighting the damn thing, so light it we did. Or rather I let the other half light it and get to grip with the annoyingly vague instructions while I made contradictory suggestions based on blind prejudice and ignorance. We then spent the rest of the evening adjusting the vents to find the perfect combination of flames and warm glow. So far the signs are that the woodburner fans are right and it’s the best thing since sliced bread. I can’t tell yet whether it’s truly going to keep the room warm, although you can certainly feel the heat coming off it from the sofa, which is more than you could ever say with the open fire. It’s economical with wood, getting through less than half what we’d normally burn in an evening. But mainly it’s just that it’s completely hypnotic to watch. I went to check something on it for a moment and found myself ten minutes later still staring at the dancing flames, unable quite to tear myself away.

Or at least, I hope it’s hypnotic. It may be time to get a carbon-monoxide monitor just to be sure we are feeling the effects of enchantment and not just the fumes.