Good Fences…

March 31, 2011

I have been known, in the winter months, to take advantage of the Rayburn & get dressed in the kitchen. There’s something very comforting about putting on pre-warmed clothes, although you do have to be a bit careful about how you fold your jeans before stacking them if you don’t want to end up with ‘Levis’ (or whatever) permanently branded somewhere sensitive.

Anyway, it happens that I needed to have a word with one of our more distant neighbours – nothing urgent, nothing worth going out of my way for or ringing up about, just an if-I-bump-into-them kind of thing. Yesterday morning I happened to be passing their place on my bike on the way into Bigtown and I looked over to see if anyone was about so I could stop for a chat. There was nobody around outside but I could see movement through the window and I slowed down thinking ‘you know, I could just stop and knock on their door if they’re not too… ah, you know what? I think I probably won’t bother just right this moment.’

Turns out I’m not the only one to get dressed in the kitchen around here.


March 30, 2011

So I discovered this morning that – while I’m happy to share a shower with a single spider, as long as it’s not too scuttly – I draw the line at two. Especially when the second is about twice the size of the first (which has been there since yesterday morning and seemed relatively content to stay at the far end of the bath) and has a distinctly restless look to it.

I can do the whole glass-and-a-piece-of-paper thing if I have to but it tends to end in tears. Or girlish screams as the spider makes a run for it right towards me, if I’m absolutely honest. Fortunately the other half is made of sterner stuff, and the bath is now spider free.

And how was your morning?

Top Tips for Gardeners…

March 28, 2011

When you’re raising seedlings in the shed and you decide to rotate the modules so that they don’t develop a permanent yearning lean towards the light …

… it is customary to rotate them 180° around an axis at right-angles to the floor and not, as I did, drop them butter-side-down fashion so that my neat little block of seedlings was suddenly transformed into 20 sad little piles of compost…

… I’ve repotted them as carefully as I could. Here’s hoping pea seedlings are tougher than they look.

Sit Down and Be Counted

March 27, 2011

We waited until today to fill in our census forms, mainly because it seemed somehow to be tempting fate to be counting the household before they’d hatched, as it were (it’s bad enough, frankly, doing it today but I think we’re likely to both survive until the evening and it’s even more unlikely we’ll get any overnight guests). So over our morning coffee we had a pleasant enough half-hour going through the questions. I’m afraid we didn’t obliterate the bar codes or fill ourselves in as Jedi knights or do anything else to annoy the powers that be – at heart I’m a fairly law abiding person and I think on the whole a census is a good thing, whoever’s actually running it. I missed out last time around because we were living in Swaziland, and the times before that I think I’ve managed to be missed more often than I’ve been counted. It’s lucky I’m not planning on having any ancestors as I’m not leaving much of a paper trail for them to follow…

Because we’re in Scotland, we’re doing the Scottish Census (in fact, if all you follow is the Scottish news you might be hard pressed to discover that the census was also happening in other parts of the UK). It being Scotland, which does not in any way have a chip on its shoulder about anything, many of the choices seemed designed largely to put the English in their place. As someone born into the C of E, my religion, had I chosen to fill it in, would have been a write-in answer – maybe I should have gone for Jedi Knight or even Great Good God of Cycling after all – and under ethnic group the tick boxes included White Scottish, Irish, Gypsy, even Polish, but the English were going to have to lump themselves in with the Welsh as ‘Other British’.  Take that, English oppressors!

It also meant we didn’t get the comedy question 17, ‘this question is intentionally left blank’ because it isn’t blank up here. Instead, we had to answer how well we spoke, read, wrote or understood Scots, English and Gaelic. I haven’t a word of Gaelic – it’s not spoken around here and never really has been – but having lived up hear for a few years and been schooled in Scotland, I’ve come across enough Scots to feel that I probably understood it, at least when it’s being spoken. For anyone similarly puzzled, there’s the Aye Can website offering samples of spoken and written Scots arranged by region so you can see if you can understand them (which unfortunately I only came across after we’d filled in the form. Still it turned out I could). In fact, even if you’re not filling in the Scottish Census, you might want to have a visit anyway – there are some charming clips of voices which are well worth a listen in their own right. Come back and tell me how you did.


The Cat’s on the Roof…

March 25, 2011

Our next door neighbour reports that the cat came up to join him on the roof the other day (he was repairing it, not staging some sort of protest). After discovering that a 45 degree slope wasn’t the most comfortable angle to negotiate, it crossed over to ours, walked across on a wall to the outbuildings, slithered down to where the garage doors had been left open, climbed onto one of those and rode gently back down to ground level as it closed under its weight.

The jury is out as to whether this was a cunning plan on the part of the cat, or just a happy accident. If it was deliberate we’d have some sort of a cat genius on our hands…

… which given its usual choice of hiding places is unlikely

Wood Warms you Twice

March 24, 2011

When we first got our woodburning stove, I did have this romantic notion that we could gather most of the wood we needed ourselves, scavenged from fallen trees in the landlord’s woodland with nothing but a bowsaw and the time to carry it home. The other half has disabused me of this notion, partly by luring me up into the woods on the pretence of photographing badger poo (he knows how to show a girl a good time) and then having me – seeing as I was up there – help him saw up some fallen birch and carry it down from the woods. He’s been doing this on and off all winter and a couple of months of  steady effort has accumulated this pile (actually now a little bigger) of wood which will still need to be sawn, split and stacked, then seasoned for a minimum of a year and even then will probably last us at most a month in the depth of the winter. Each length takes probably half a man-hour’s labour, if you include lugging it down from the woods (but not counting the three days recovery time after ferrying the big one at the front). And while it was undoubtedly a carbon-neutral operation, clearly we were going to have to come up with something a little more scalabe if we were actually going to accumulate wood faster than we could burn it.

1 cubic metre of wood

So much easier – if you’ve the contacts – to ring up and order a couple of these, which arrived yesterday morning. We spent a happy few hours sorting and stacking the wood – an elaborate classification system has evolved with the wood that wasn’t too misshapen but  could do with a bit more seasoning now neatly walling the wood shed, the wood from the top of the bag (which is always a little dryer, funnily enough) handy for the stove now, and other piles in various states of readiness to burn in various caches around the other half’s shed empire. This was more than enough to have us peeling off a few of the winter layers, especially when the sun decided to emerge as well. Truly there’s nothing like shelling out for a mega order of wood to make the weather gods relent and give us a glimpse of spring.

Still, there’s something very satisfying about a well stacked wood pile, although we are just amateurs at it. As long as the winter doesn’t linger too much longer, we’ll have really well-seasoned stuff to burn next year, all the while, of course, hunting round for the wood for the year after that, and beyond. In fact, if we were really serious and had the land we’d be planting the trees for the coppice that would be supplying our stove for decades to come…

Oh and the (possible) badger poo? Very difficult to take a decent photograph of, as it happens. If anyone can identify anything positively from this, I take my hat off to them:

Badger poo?

In fact, I may just take my hat off anyway. It’s almost warm enough, at last…


I Don’t Care what the Weather Man Says…

March 22, 2011

Among my gifts yesterday was something I’ve long wanted: my own mini weather station. Not the old fashioned kind in a white wooden beehive affair, which is a bit of a shame as I’ve always liked those, but a much more practical wireless job with a little sensor that hangs outside and a unit in the house that tells you how F cold* it is without having to go outside, get in the car and drive around for a bit to get a proper temperature reading. Woo hoo! I bet you can’t wait to see the spreadsheets I’m going to do with this.

But first we had to find a place to place the sensor and the base unit out of both direct sunlight (not a huge problem) and rain (ah), where its wireless signal wouldn’t be interrupted by thick stone walls – in a cottage made almost entirely of 18-in thick walls. We’ve finally settled on the sensor dangling off the back of the other half’s shed under an eave (can you have just one eave? Or is it like a trouser?), and the base unit in the North wing, aka our summer quarters. Where, I note, it’s exactly the same temperature indoors as it is outside.

Would you take fashion advice from this man?

Apparently it has to do a 14 day learning mode and then it will be able to accurately forecast our weather for us, or at least as accurately as a single source of data can. There’s even a little man who shows what the suitable clothing for such weather might be – anything from shorts and a t-shirt to hat, scarf, gloves, coat and boots, although I don’t think there’s an icon indicating when it’s okay to take your fleece off indoors. And, this being an American product, there is a little caveat in the instructions. The weatherman might be saying ‘get the shorts out’ but the laywerman has added a footnote: ‘This is a recommendation only, please use your own judgement when choosing your daily wardrobe.’

Please tell me this is just a wry little joke on the part of the manufacturers, and that nobody ever sued because they wore a hoody to a job interview after their electronic weather station told them to…

*And it’s American so it only does F cold. I’m going to have to print out a little conversion chart to Celsius for the winter (for some reason when it’s hot, I like to think of it in Farenheit, but the cold only makes sense in Celsius. I think it was because I was the generation that grew up with metric at school and imperial at home and I’ve ended up with a bastard hybrid measurement system of my own.)