Put Out More Flags

April 29, 2011

Well, today’s the big day – yep, three years since we moved up here, and it was nice to see that Papershop Village had chosen to mark the occasion in a suitably festive manner

Guys, you really shouldn’t have.

Actually, I think there might be some other event going on as well. In fact, I was excited to hear that Papershop Village was actually planning a street party to celebrate it for today. The thing about Papershop Village is that it only really has one street, and that’s Big A Road. Sadly, they didn’t manage to close it for the event. ‘I’d have paid money to see that,’ I remarked when I heard. ‘So would we,’ said the other resident in the shop rather sadly.

This morning, bunting or no bunting, the village was its usual closed-down self, with the usual lorries thundering through it. The ‘street’ party is this evening, in the village hall, safely away from causing any traffic chaos. And Nearest Village (not a scrap of bunting in sight) has decided somewhat pointedly to hold its celebration (the annual soup and sweet lunch) tomorrow rather than today.

How’s royal wedding fever down your way?


April 28, 2011

I don’t know why I bother trying to grow carrots, frankly. For a start pretty much everything you read about growing carrots emphasises how difficult and complicated it is due to the dastardly carrotfly, a creature which seems to know no bounds in its cunning and determination to wipe out your crop. And for another start there’s the fact that I don’t actually like them anyway. But then last year Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall waxed lyrical about them in the Guardian and I decided to give them another chance in the hope that home-grown ones would actually be delicious and not have that horrible carrot taste. I know, what can I say, I’m suggestible like that.

So far I’m none the wiser about the taste. Last year a few carrots germinated and then – surprise, surprise – the villainous carrot fly penetrated my half-hearted defences and all we got was a few really manky looking carrots that were barely worth adding to the stock pot. So naturally this year, instead of cutting my losses and realising I was right all along, I’m raising my carrot-growing game.

Carrots really are a bugger – they germinate patchily, and then you can’t thin them in case you attract the carrot fly so you end up with packed clumps of weedy carrots interspersed with bare patches where nothing came up. But this year I’ve ordered ‘resistafly’ – none of your mimsy heritage varieties will do when there’s a war on – and I chitted them to pre-germinate them so I was only planting out viable (and evenly spaced seed).

Round one has not gone well. The chitted seeds were planted out in a meticulously prepared bed, surrounded by garlic and spring onions to throw the carrot fly off the scent. Precisely one came up – or rather only one came up and survived the slugs long enough to be counted. Nothing daunted, I have just planted out what must be the most pampered carrots in christendom: chitted gently over the heat of the rayburn, grown on in loo-roll modules and hardened off in the shed, planted out with great care and attention in their individual modules and finally protected from the slugs by bottle cloches.

It’s an entirely over-elaborate way to grow something that costs about 20p in the shops and you don’t actually like. But it’s gone beyond economics and indeed horticulture. I’ve become determined not to let the carrots – and the carrot fly – win. I’ll grow carrots if it kills me. Which frankly, given the way they taste, is entirely likely.

A Bicycle Built for Two

April 27, 2011

So apparently – I do wish people would tell me these things, how else am I supposed to know? – it’s more or less compulsory for a bike blog to include a post on some ridiculous amount of stuff the owner has managed to carry on their bike instead of using a car. Up to now I’ve been remiss, mainly because my cargo has been limited to library books, newspapers, the odd pint of milk and emergency bacon purchases.

I’m working freelance at the moment and been working to a deadline so I can only really justify actual useful bike trips rather than joy rides so I haven’t been able to take full advantage of the good weather.* But today I had a whole set of errands to run in Bigtown: going to the library, picking up train tickets, finding out some information from the local volunteer centre and buying a replacement loo seat. Apart from the latter it was a perfect excuse for getting on the bike and as it was far too gorgeous to contemplate taking the car I decided to risk it. After all, people in Holland are always moving sofas or entire kindergarden classes or what have you by bike, how hard can it be?

Well, perhaps surprisingly, not that hard atall. It would have been easier if it hadn’t still been in its box, but I decided that, while the phrase ‘adjusts to fit most standard toilets’ sounded wonderfully reassuring in the shop, on closer examination it contains more weasel words than a Mustelid research institute’s library and if there was a problem, I doubted they’d take it back without the packaging. And I decided against going round the main roundabout because, much as I love jousting with traffic in the middle of the school run, I could just see the box slipping loose as a giant 4×4 bore down upon it. The main problem, if you really want to know, is that I had foolishly chosen to wear my jeans, which are still rather snug, and so it was hard to get my leg over, as it were. And my bungees have lost some of their bung, so my cargo did break free when I hit one completely egregious pothole, but fortunately only once I was out in the country with plenty of time to retrieve the box before the only car I saw on that road ran it over..

So there you go. Need to buy a toilet seat and only got a bike? No problem. And Homebase even have some bike racks outside . Clearly they’ve heard that cyclists spend more money in shops than those that arrive by car. And that, having hauled their purchases home, they’re extremely unlikely to try and take them back…

* Deadline is end of April, if you need to know when it’s going to start raining again.

Standing Room Only

April 26, 2011

It’s all very well the seed packets telling you to ‘plant out when all danger of frost is past’ without anything to tell you – apart from hindsight – when that might be. It means I’m having to plant things on a strict one-in, one-out basis at the moment. The kitchen window sill is crammed with tomato plants, dwarf french beans, lavender, basil and some campanula I’m hoping to raise from seed. The shed has sweetcorn, more beetroot, leeks and spring onions plus squash, pumpkin and climbing beans which are threatening to climb out of their pots of their own accord. The cold frame has the salad seedlings and the perpetual spinach and a few modules of left over broccoli, savoy cabbage and romanesco. Everything I dare plant out is planted out, the beanpoles are ready and the soil has been prepared and I was working in a t-shirt this afternoon, weeding and digging and earthing up my potatoes. But there’s an east wind blowing and frost has been forecast and there’s no point risking everything I’ve planted at this stage in the game.

And so we wait

The last frost last year was in May

Happiness is a Field of Grass

April 23, 2011

It’s been a long hard winter and the recent arrival of warmth and unseasonable sunshine has been greeted with a certain amount of caution in the Town Mouse household. Nobody wants to alert the weather gods to their mistake, but on the other hand, nobody wants to waste what may very well turn out to be our summer. For the last week it’s been absolutely glorious – something I can now reveal, as this morning we woke to fog, followed by drizzle.*

So it’s probably completely the wrong time to be posting this – the now traditional (well, I did it last year – much later in the season I note) annual celebration of the turning out of the cows after the confines of the winter. But you know what? I couldn’t resist.

(you can read the full story here)

Enjoy, and do a little happy cow hop at the end of winter (provisional, pending full analysis when May Be Out). And please do refrain if you can from telling me in the comments how HOT it is elsewhere and how you could do with some RAIN.


*Somebody recklessly washed the car. What was he thinking? Possibly he was worried I might plant something on it if he left it any longer…

We Interrupt your Bank Holiday Weekend…

April 22, 2011

… with news that the rabbit (or possibly a different rabbit) is rumoured to be back in the walled garden. So far it’s only been spotted once, and a thorough check through the vegetation has failed to find either a breach in the defences or any actual rabbit but that doesn’t mean it isn’t in there.

Let the games begin.

Watch the Birdy

April 21, 2011

We found this lovely little nest lying in the road yesterday – no sign of any carnage, but that doesn’t mean anything. But then, we’ve reached the time of year when if you worry too much about all the baby birds there are around, you will go mad.

However, we do feel we have a particular duty of care to the swallows. One of the remoter outposts of the other half’s shed empire has been given over to their nesting activities. For the last couple of years, apart from the small matter of the poo, all has gone well. But this year, the neighbour’s cat has grown from cute kitten to fully fledged killer and it appears to have taken up birdwatching as a hobby.* The swallows swooping around the courtyard drive it into a tail-twitching frenzy and it’s quickly learned that they have to fly in and out of the shed via the top window, so that is where it sits, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. The swallows had noticed too and after we’d seen them making a sudden u-turn at the approach to the window, I decided it was time to act.

You can’t train a cat, and the jet of the hose doesn’t quite reach that window anyway, so more direct measures were called for. It’s kept the cat away from the window, although – as the swallows have also been known to slip through a gap in the door – she’s still hopeful.

It might turn out to be a long and stressful summer.

*If you’re interested in other sinister birdwatching activities, ahem, may I direct you the side bar? Just a thought

I Used to be a Were-Cyclist*

April 20, 2011

It was Jo’s fault, she made it sound so attractive:

I’d been wondering on Twitter whether to cycle back from Bigtown last night after a couple of things I had on, the last of which would finish at 9pm. Normally I’d get a lift back, via the pub, but this time I’d have my bicycle with me and as no kind anonymous benefactor has left a Brompton on my doorstep for some strange reason, my bike remains stubbornly unfoldable and awkward to put into a car, especially when someone is going out of their way to get you home. So I had two choices: cycle home last night in the dark, or leave my bike to the tender mercies of Bigtown’s nightlife and arrange some way of going and getting it today.

I’ve cycled after dark before – I did it in London all the time, although ‘dark’ is a relative concept there, and I’ve cycled to and from the village all through the winter. But while I know every curve and hill and, crucially, pothole between here and the village, the Bigtown road is less familiar and it’s much longer. My problem with cycling in the dark is not so much seeing the patch of road right ahead – my lights are fine for that – it’s seeing where I am in relation to everything else. A car’s headlights light up the whole road whereas on a bike on a really dark night it’s like peering through a letterbox, going by feel and memory as much as anything else. You have to concentrate, and you have to slow down and there’s times when you’ve no idea where you are and what’s around you, apart from that tiny patch of illuminated tarmac just ahead.

But then, last night was the full moon, with clear skies and when I stepped out at nine o’clock it was a beautiful evening, just perfect for cycling, and with plenty of light in the sky and I decided to take the plunge. If I couldn’t cycle home that night, then I’d never be able to do it at all and I’d be stuck scrounging lifts (or worse, driving) forever. So I set off and the scariest thing was taking my usual off-road route through some of Bigtown’s less salubrious parks, hoping that my Marathon Plus tyres would see off the scrunch of broken glass. Out on the open road, the fading sky was enough to show the outlines of the hills and the hedges and dykes lining the road and while I found a few potholes the hard way, I didn’t end up buckling a wheel, I didn’t hit anything and it really was just me and the screech of night creatures, probably meeting sticky ends (the owls, on the other hand, were silent).

They say that the Rurals here used to meet every night on the night of the full moon because that was when people without cars could see to ride or cycle or walk into the village. The Full Moon Society had a similar schedule. It wasn’t just werewolves and vampires that were freed by the light of the moon – it was everyone. As I turned into our driveway safely home it struck me that for at least one or two nights a month I’d be free to cycle to evening engagements without having to worry about getting home becuase the moon made such a difference. Only, thinking about it, I couldn’t actually see the moon. Stars, yes, the glow of Bigtown on the horizon, yes, moon no. The bugger hadn’t even risen yet. I’d cycled home by the light of a placebo moon…

*but I’m all right nooooooow

Health (food) ‘n’ Safety

April 18, 2011

We were down at Notso Bigtown’s Health Food shop the other day, stocking up on various ingredients. It’s a good place to buy herbs and spices as they keep them in big sweetie jars behind the till and sell them loose by weight, which cuts down on the packaging. As well as being cheaper than Tesco, and obviously helping stick it to the man, there’s something a bit ‘eye of newt’ about the whole array of substances on offer and I’m pretty sure that were we to ask in the right way we might very well be able to purchase the ingredients for more than just a curry, like a mild hex, or a love potion. Anyway, we were a bit perturbed to note that the owner – normally a genial and chatty chap – was being a bit morose and silent as he totted up our purchases. Then when he did finally speak his voice was a bit hoarse which I thought explained it.

‘You got a cold?’ I asked sympathetically

‘I’ve just inhaled a lungful of chilli powder,’ he managed to croak.

Now that’s got to hurt…

It’s a Sad Truth…

April 17, 2011

… but cycling back from the garage just now on an emergency milk run after a weekend away, when I saw a sheep out loose on the road I actually recognised it & was able to tell its owner it had strayed.

I’ll be giving them names next. And after that, vegetarianism can’t be too far behind…