Stand By to Repel Boarders

February 28, 2011

So it turns out there was a fourth possibility: after six weeks splinted in an extended position, the top joint of my damaged finger would be so stiff that it wouldn’t bend at all. In retrospect, this now seems quite obvious, given I get stiff just from sitting still for a couple of hours, let alone six weeks. My instructions now are to try bending the finger as much as I can to try and mobilise the joint, although I have been given the splint to use in the event of my wanting to do any ‘high risk housework.’*

Oddly enough, while the initial diagnosis and treatment was done by a nurse and a trainee paramedic, it took an actual consultant to watch me take the splint off my finger, resist the temptation to test it to destruction and declare it probably mended. Half a day and lots of imaginary piano playing later, it does look as though it’s bending a teensy bit and then straightening up again as required. So I think we can tentatively call that a result.

I’d have reported sooner, but it’s been just too glorious to sit indoors. And besides, I didn’t want to risk spotting any dangerous spring cleaning that needed to be done now that there’s actual light around to see it by…


*No, I don’t really know either. The only example I was given was changing the bed sheets but as a precaution I’ve decided to avoid as much housework as I can get away with. So no change there, then.

Fingers Crossed

February 27, 2011

In less than 24 hours I shall be heading down to my appointment at Bigtown Infirmary’s A&E (I know, it seems a bit of a contradiction in terms to have an appointment at the Accident and Emergency, but that’s what they told me) for the grand finger unveiling to see whether my torn tendon has repaired itself or not. For six weeks I have been diligently wearing my splint night and day, except for when I have to take it off to clean my finger – taking great care not to bend it, as instructed – and then have the other half re-tape it up again. Fortunately for you lot, the broken camera means you haven’t been exposed to the  ever-so-slightly corpse-like aspect the finger has taken on after being under a plaster for six weeks but at least it’s shown no signs of dropping off yet.

So far, I’ve been very good about not having a tiny little go at bending it when the splint is off to see if it’s working or not, although the temptation grows with every day that passes. Tomorrow I’ll find out if all that self-denial has paid off. Either it won’t have worked at all, and I’ll be stuck with a bent finger for the rest of my life, or it will have worked brilliantly, or – most likely knowing my luck – it will have half repaired itself and the minute the doctor has a poke at it (given the medical fondness for jabbing at some injury saying ‘does it hurt when I do this?’), it will tear again and I’ll be stuck with the damn splint and another six weeks of dropping things.

Keep your fingers crossed it’s not the last option. I’d cross them myself, but I’m worried I might break something.



February 25, 2011

There was much excitement in the Town Mouse household when a council lorry appeared on the road outside.

‘I think they might be coming to mend the potholes’ the other half said.

‘They can’t do that! I haven’t taken any pictures of them yet!’

This is the problem with not having a working camera. I’ve been meaning for ages to post about how the melting of the snow and ice has revealed that there are places on our road which are now more pothole than anything else. There’s one outside our front gate that you could lose a bus in (if it wasn’t so shallow), and another one on the back road to Bigtown that’s so nasty someone has stuck a traffic cone into it. There are junctions which are just basically rubble and even where there are no actual potholes, parts of the road have cracked right along the centre of the tarmac which does not bode well for the rest of the year. But I’ve been putting it off until I could illustrate it because otherwise you’d probably never believe me, especially about the bus part.*

As it happens, our excitement was a little premature. Yes they’d come to mend the potholes but it would appear they hadn’t brought enough tarmac to fill the bus-sized one so they half filled it and disappeared. My bike ride down for the paper revealed that they’d been doing a similar job all the way to the village – a rough splodge of tarmac into each of the worst offenders, looking as though the repair had been done by those people who come and offer to tarmac your drive for you (or else some enthusiastic but largely unskilled members of the Big Society). In many places, the ‘repair’ has been done over and over again (including the – actually surprisingly long-lasting – efforts of the Big Yellow Road Mending Machine). I know nothing about road mending, or councils, so I have to assume that this isn’t the enormous waste of money that it appears to be. Presumably it either slows down the deterioration in the road surface long enough for them to get round to fixing it properly, or it at least keeps the claims for damages to tyres and wheels down to a reasonable level.

So anyway, the good news is that I can cycle a little bit more securely in the dark, at least until the next time it rains, and what’s more, the chances are that by the time I get my camera sorted out, the potholes will still be with us so you can see them in all their glory. And then you’ll have to believe me about the bus.

*all right, a very small bus. But then our buses are quite small.

Big Society

February 24, 2011

A letter arrives from the charity where I’ve been volunteering on and off since we arrived here, announcing the end of its volunteer service due to lack of funding. To be honest, they weren’t the best organised outfit I’ve ever volunteered for (though neither were they the worst) but what they managed to do they did well, and it seems to be part of a worrying trend – the local conservation volunteering coordinator doesn’t look as though he’s having his contract renewed either. He was Mr Health’n’Safety gorn mad, and rather over fond of his paperwork (in fact I more or less stopped volunteering for him over a slight difference of opinion about whether asking volunteers to fill in time sheets was a justifiable use of dead trees or not) but you couldn’t fault his energy or his commitment to his job.

I’ve been a regular volunteer all of my adult life, since I first spent a summer peeling potatoes at a homeless shelter in Washington DC in the middle of the crack epidemic. Drug-crazed knife-wielding vagrants notwithstanding, this process has only got harder every time I’ve moved somewhere new and trotted down to the local volunteer service to see what use they could make of my time. I’m pretty certain that my nineteen-year-old self would not have persisted with filling in a three-page application form and providing two references, which is about the minimum required for a wannabe volunteer these days (and I’m fairly certain she would also have told anyone who asked where they could stuff their timesheets so some things don’t change). I can sort of see why charities have professionalised their volunteering operations, or tried to, but I can’t say it’s led to much of an improvement in my experience. The best volunteering I’ve done has always been with groups that were entirely volunteer-run themselves. And they’re not dependent on time-limited project funding to provide an officer who ends up justifying their job description by thinking up new and exciting kinds of paperwork for people to fill in.

So when it comes to the Big Society, I’m actually pretty conflicted. Obviously I would never want my volunteering to come at the expense at someone’s real job – much as I’d love to pretend to be a librarian (all those books! And rubber stamps!) I’m buggered if I’m going to give up my time doing someone else’s job badly for free so some cheese-paring councillor can claim the front line has not been affected – but I can see the attraction of groups of like-minded citizens getting together and just doing something that needs to be done without there needing to be a whole lot of paperwork first. But while that works well for litter picking and tree planting and things like that, you can’t just march into vulnerable people’s lives and start doing good at them without some sort of structure in place. And I really can’t see how we’re all going to fill in the holes being left by the cuts through our own uncoordinated efforts. Somewhere between anarchy and bureaucracy there must be a happy medium. It’s just I don’t know where it lies, and I suspect David Cameron et al have no idea either.

But never mind all that, on a happier note I saw some blue skies and a flying chicken today. I was beginning to believe that the first was as implausible as the second…

I Wouldn’t Put a Cyclist Out on a Night Like This

February 23, 2011

My aunt & uncle used to have a cat which functioned as a sort of ‘cat thermometer’ – the distance between the cat and the wood burning stove was a reliable indicator of the temperature in the living room. In the neighbour’s cat we seem to have an equivalent ‘cat barometer’ – the miserableness of the day being in direct proportion to the determination of the cat to get into the house.* When the weather is merely grim, it contents itself with glaring at me through the kitchen window but when the weather gods are working their way through the entire Scottish wet weather vocabulary it lays a more determined siege on the door and it’s impossible to get in or out of the house without letting it in, although to be fair I don’t try that hard. The other half is generally made of sterner stuff but even he relented today and I was joined by a very soggy and bedraggled looking moggy for my morning coffee.

So it wasn’t looking all that hopeful for a run on the bike but, by the time I’d finished my coffee the cat had dried off and the weather had reverted to merely misty so, Einstein’s definition of insanity notwithstanding (and clearly the man had never tried to use a computer running any of Microsoft’s software), I decided to give the weather another go and head down for the paper. Normally any mist is pretty localised so I was hoping it might clear as I got down the road but it turned out we had the best of it – the rest of the ride was in thick fog which persisted all the way out to Papershop Village.

There’s probably some of you thinking I was mad to ride in that, but I don’t actually mind cycling in fog. If I’d driven (or the other half had) we’d have gone on Big A-Road and that would have been pretty nasty under the circumstances. But on a back road, with almost nothing moving but me, there’s something a bit magical about a foggy day. The world looks different – I actually lost track of where I was in places, despite having ridden that route hundreds of times before – and it’s rendered silent and still by the fog. The few other people who are out give you an extra cheery wave but mostly you’re on your own and it’s as if you’re the only person out there in the whole world.
* The neighbour thinks he’s got a rufty tufty outdoorsy self-reliant country cat that likes nothing better than roaming the neighbourhood night and day, killing small rodents, so he turfs it out in all weathers. Little does he know what it gets up to behind his back …

The Downside…

February 22, 2011

…of buying an everything-bar-the-apocalypse-proof jacket (that cost how much?!) is that you feel somewhat obliged to put it to good use occasionally. My informal new year’s resolution this year has been to try and cycle more, however miserable the weather, rather than wimping out just because it happens to be raining a bit. So this morning, despite a foggy start and a threatening sky, and after putting it off a bit in the hopes that it might cheer up, I set off for the paper as usual.

At first, it looked as though I’d struck reasonably lucky as it wasn’t actually raining and it stayed not actually raining most of the way down. Or at least, not raining in so active a fashion as to deserve an ‘ing’. Instead the rain just sort of hung there in the air and I got wet by cycling through it.* Then it got bored of that and started to rain properly, continuing all the way until I got home. At one point my glasses were so rain soaked I couldn’t see and had to stop and untuck layers until I got down to a shirt I could clean my glasses on (apparently some motorbike gloves have a little squeegee attachment for cleaning visors with on the thumb. Any cycling glove manufacturers care to add something like this to their range?). After that I gave up and just pedalled on blearily – I’d say that the sight of Nearest Village has never looked so welcoming but to be honest I couldn’t make much of it out what with the rain and the mist and the state of my glasses. Luckily most of our traffic around here consists of big unmissable tractors, although as most of our roads now consist of large unmissable potholes it does help if you can see enough to steer.

The jacket, I’m happy to report, performed brilliantly and I was neither sweaty nor rain-damped on my top half, despite pushing it a bit in a bid to get home. But that was all rather cancelled out by sodden trousers and feet. The feet I can sort out with wellies, so that’s not a problem. But if the wet weather cycling is going to continue, it does look like I’m also going to have to spend how much?! on some waterproof trousers as well.

* I believe – real Scots may wish to correct me on this – that this is what is known as smirr


What’s that Got to do with the Price of Fish?

February 21, 2011

‘Oh look it’s full of lovely Scottish notes,’ I heard a ringing English voice cry as I walked past the bank in Notso Bigtown this afternoon. I don’t know quite what she expected to come out of a Scottish cashpoint – haggis? whisky? English money? – but at least she was happy about it. Usually I end up stuck behind some English visitor in the Notso Bigtown Tesco asking a suddenly sullen checkout girl if their change could be in English notes instead.

Anyway, it’s one more sign, if signs were needed, that spring, summer and prime tourist baiting season is on its way.

In other news, can anyone explain why it’s not possible to buy fish on a Monday? Is this a local thing or the sort of thing that everybody except me knows? I went into the combined greengrocers and fishmongers expecting the woman there to be able to mong me some fish and she just looked at me as if I was the sort of wet-behind-the-ears tourist who could be found exclaiming excitedly at the quaint and charming Scottish money. I keep thinking I’ve got the hang of it here, and then I’m reminded I haven’t.

Winter Gardening

February 19, 2011

Talking to my neighbour the other day: ‘I’m so behind with the garden that when I saw it was raining I decided to just grit my teeth and get out anyway. And then I felt how cold the wind was and promptly ungritted them and went back in.’

Today I’m trying to decide whether to follow her former example or the latter…

The Great Broccoli Shortage of 2011

February 18, 2011

Broccoli in happier times

It’s not exactly the Great Dwarf Shortage of 1993, but I was somewhat comforted to catch this on the radio yesterday* as I thought it was only me having a broccoli-related disaster. Last year, the crop was slow to get going but once it started it did us proud. This year, well, I thought they had probably survived the frost but it turns out that all but two had been salvaged from an icy death only to be so battered by the wind that they were  reduced to a vaguely cabbage-scented mush. I’ve left the stems just in case they feel like resprouting but I’m not hopeful.

Brassicas aside, it’s been a good season overall (and at this point I would have been able to tell you exactly how good it’s been, down to the last gram or penny, had I not dropped my laptop) but it’s now almost over. Pending any miraculous resurrections, we’re down to one remaining giant parsnip and my crop of midget leeks. And then it’s out with the old, in with the new and roll on the spring planting.

That’s the joy of gardening: there’s always next year…

*and be sure to listen to the end where the farmer gives a masterclass in how to handle an awkward question by answering the one you wish you’d been asked instead while preventing the presenter from getting a word in edgeways or shutting you up. Magnificent.

Blinkety Blink

February 17, 2011

There’s something rather comforting, when you’re cycling along a long and lonely country road at dusk, to look up and see ahead of you the blinking light another bike approaching. And even when you get close enough to see that, bikes aside, you couldn’t be more different – he crouched over his handlebars, pedalling fast and smoothly, be-helmeted and be-lycrad; you pootling along between potholes with your scary yellow jacket the only concession to bike wear, and that only because it’s getting dark – you still exchange cheery greetings and are warmed for a mile or two afterwards with the knowledge that there’s at least one person out there as mad as you are.