More Magic

June 30, 2011

I was, I have to admit, in a bit of a grump this afternoon with my vegetable patch. The miserable weather and constant rain has taken its toll with my French beans looking particularly pathetic, and the slugs have simply picked off my squash plants one by one; the last survivor bit the dust last night. The weeds are flourishing and I’m beginning to fret about the fact that we’re going away for two weeks in July – I mean, what was I thinking? I’ll need a machete on my return. And the stuff that’s going well is not much comfort – we’re back on the salad treadmill in a big way.

But the rain has brought one comfort – no cabbage white butterflies so far and no sign of their offspring either. And as I peered through the net to check that none had snuck through my defences I saw this:


They’re still tiny, and they’ve not quite achieved all their fractal glory, but my romanescos are sprouting. I was, I have to admit, a bit surprised even though it was me that planted them – they always look like such splendid things it’s hard to imagine them appearing in my vegetable plot at all let alone looking as promising as this. Although, having said that, I note that strange purple smudge on one of the florets. There’s still time for it to develop some grim disease after all.


Purple Potato Eater

June 29, 2011

We woke this morning to bright sunshine and a cheery weather forecaster announcing the arrival of high pressure to most of the UK, using the special BBC meaning of the word ‘UK’, ie. England and parts of Wales.* Naturally, no sooner had we put the laundry on than the sun went in, the heavens opened, and we soon found ourselves joined by a small wet cat for a day spent indoors.

I did, however, manage to stagger out to the potato patch to dig up these (I appear to have got my seed potatoes muddled up while planting):

Edgecote Purple really is extremely purple. Enough to brighten anyone’s day, however miserable the weather…

* As a Glasgow-based letter writer to the Guardian yesterday pointed out, the nearest thing we’ve had to a heat wave this summer has been slightly warmer rain


It is an Enduring Mystery to Me…

June 28, 2011

… why I can spend so much time and effort digging organic matter into the soil in my veg plot, fretting about nutrient balance and nitrogen deficiency and other things and end up with the same clay-clodden stone-ridden compacted soil as I started with, whereas two and a half years of not very effective weeding of my cobbles seems to have resulted in about an inch of wonderfully crumbly loam generated apparently out of thin air, albeit with the addition of much moss, rain, fallen leaves, weeds and undoubtedly swallow poo.

This summer’s project could roughly be summed up as ‘find the cobbles’ with a side order of ‘where’s the gravel drive gone?’ while we’re at it. While, logically, it would undoubtedly have been less work to have kept on top of the weeding before it got to this stage, I find that psychologically it’s actually easier to let something like this get completely out of hand and then turn restoring it back to the bare stone into a project. It’s just more satisfying to see a completely finished bit emerge from the weeds around it than to see a fairly weed free but not perfect expanse of cobbles every day. I know. It was the same when I worked in IT – who ever wanted to do maintenance? So much more fun to chuck it all out and write something shiny and new from scratch.

Ideally, I should now be carefully interplanting the gaps between the stones with a mixture of creeping thyme and chamomile that would keep the worst of the weeds at bay while producing a wonderfully fragrant carpet underfoot rather than letting it all go back to weeds again

I’ll leave it to you to guess which of these alternatives actually happens.

By the way, the little hole in the cobbles above is another mystery to me. I can’t tell if it was a natural formation in the stone or whether something might have caused it to wear a dent in just such a place. Any ideas?


Coffee, Cakes and Cycling

June 24, 2011

A bit of filler here (quite literally), but I have to flag it up. The world of cycling can be quite tribal, with the roadies not talking to the mountain bikers and the cycle-chicstas not talking to the lycra-clad ones – and that’s before we’ve even started on the H word. But there’s one thing that I think all cyclists can agree on and that’s the importance of cake. Whether you eat cake in order to cycle, or whether you cycle in order to make room for more cake, whether you’re a member or not of the CTC*, there’s no doubt that cake and bicycles are made for each other.

Which is why Patisserie Cyclisme fills such an important niche in the cycling blogosphere. Cafe reviews by cyclists and for cyclists – what’s not to like? With so much out there that divides us, it’s time to celebrate what it is that unites us. What better excuse can there be this ‘summer’ than to get out on your bike and find a cafe to review? And remember, (for those of us who care): cake (or bacon) fetched by bike has zero calories, as every schoolgirl knows.

*Cafe-to-Cafe


It’s a Kind of Magic

June 23, 2011

pedal_before

Mouldy old Moulton part + scrunched up tinfoil + a little oil + plenty of time + lots of patience

pedal_after

= very satisfying.


Flaming June Continues

June 22, 2011

‘It can’t keep it up when it rains like this,’ I told the other half. ‘It won’t rain long.’*

‘Don’t issue it that sort of challenge,’ he warned.

Fortunately, it did ease off before the wood piles floated away completely.


You’re probably wondering what the level is in the ford right now, aren’t you? So are we …


… but that would involve leaving the sofa.

Note: for those of you yearning for pictures of mouldy old Moulton parts, they’re coming, they’re coming.

*But then I’m generally a glass-half-full sort of person or, in this case a glass-brimming-over-and-then-some …


Flaming June

June 21, 2011

I stepped out of the shed this afternoon, where I had been quietly pursuing my new hobby of rubbing rust off things, and startled a young man who was standing on our bench squinting off to the the south through some sort of instrument. Turns out our landlords are investigating putting solar PV panels on the shed empire, which has the south-facingest roof in the grounds. Good news for us, as we’d get money off our electricity bill, good news for them, as they’d get the feed-in tariff, and good news for the planet…

… although the whole plan would seem a hell of a lot more plausible if we weren’t having one of those kinds of summers.



I think you know the kind I mean.


Not So Charming

June 20, 2011
goldfinch

There's a goldfinch in there somewhere

Personally, I think goldfinches get rather better PR than they deserve. They’ve got that whole ‘charm’ collective noun thing going on for a start, which gives them an advantage over the other birds. And I have to admit that, before I knew them that well, I too found that the sound of their little melodic chirps as they flew through the hedgerows was indeed charming, and the sight of their bright feathers catching the sunlight, back when we had sunlight, was enough to gladden the heart.

But then we had to find a new spot for the nyjer seed feeder (see? they even get their own special kind of feeder and their own special kind of seed) after the birch tree blew over and it ended up hanging from the cherry tree in full view of the bench. Once the birds got used to us sitting there we had a grandstand seat from which to observe the full gamut of goldfinch society. And suddenly it’s not all melodic chirps and flashes of bright feathers, it’s to-the-death quarrels and constant squawking squabbles over who gets to sit at the prime perches at the bottom. It turns out that the boss goldfinches spend roughly 90% of the time hogging the bottom perches, not even eating that much, moving only to chase off any of the other goldfinches who have the temerity to try and perch on the upper perches (even if there’s enough seed for all of them to feed they still don’t want to share) or, heaven forbid, sneak a go on the prime bottom perches. The rest of the goldfinches spend their time hanging around on the branches around the feeder complaining about this and staging daring raids on the prime position while the boss goldfinches’ backs are turned chasing off another rival. I find myself watching this, fascinated, cheering for the underfinch and devising complicated schemes to level up the playing field although I suspect that however many feeders we buy, there will always be more goldfinches than perches and the biggest, bossiest goldfinches will always get the best spot. And besides, they’ve already got through 5 kilos of seed as it is…

Of course, this is the way nature is, and I shouldn’t really be surprised. My mother reckons the only birds that truly seem to get along are the sparrows but I suspect that’s only because she hasn’t watched them closely enough. But goldfinches definitely need a new collective noun that would reflect their true natures a little better. A squabble of goldfinches? A greed of goldfinches? A merchant bank of goldfinches?

Your suggestions in the comments…


Ceci n’est pas un Brompton

June 18, 2011

One of the unexpected side effects of starting up a cycling group is that you have conversations with people that go something like this

Fellow Choir Member: ‘Well I can no longer ride a bike, but I’ve got one in my coal shed that I tried to give to the bike museum, only they didn’t want it.’

Me: ‘I’ll have it.’ (and then, slightly more cautiously) ‘What is it?’

original_condition

‘It’ is a Moulton Stowaway from 1964 and this is how it looked after we’d extracted it from the coal shed where it had been put away in 1970 having done six years sterling service commuting my fellow choir member to and from work every day. That means it’s spend almost as long in a coal shed as I have on the planet, so it’s not surprising it looks a little shabby. Basically, it’s a little piece of British bicycle history, albeit one that was originally purchased at Halfords

Now regular readers will know that I’ve been hankering for a little folding bike for a while, particularly a Brompton. However, this is most definitely NOT a Brompton, and it doesn’t even fold although it does come in two. As it’s only got one gear, it’s not going to be much good to me around here even once restored. And clearly it’s seen better days and may never ride again. Plus there’s the fact that I know precisely nothing about restoring bicycles and can’t even reliably get my own front wheel on and off without it wobbling loose again several miles down the road.

So all in all this is precisely the wrong bike for me and I’d be mad to contemplate attempting to fix it up. Obviously, I should do the sensible thing and put it straight on eBay where some real enthusiast will be able to fettle it back to its former glory. But what the hell. After all, finding out how to do stuff is what the internet is for and I’m sure one of you out there will be able to give me some advice.

chainring_after_cleaning

And besides, after a lot of googling and a little cautious cleaning it’s already looking better. Who could turn down a little bike as quirky as this one? And whatever I do is unlikely to be worse than its original owner’s plan, which was to take it down the dump

after_cleaning
It’s got to deserve better than that…


Half a Sheep, Half a Sheep, Half a Sheep Onward

June 17, 2011

I feel as if we have passed some important milestone in our journey towards full rurification: we now have half an animal in our freezer, bought straight from the farmer himself. I was a little hesitant when the other half suggested buying half a lamb because we don’t have a huge freezer and I couldn’t quite picture just how much meat we were letting ourselves in for. Even knowing that it was coming in bits, not simply sawn in half Damian Hirst style, it seemed quite improbably that you could get it into an upright freezer with little drawers, rather than the sort of monster chest freezer that we used to have in our cellar when I was a child, the kind with mysterious frost-covered packets lurking in the bottom and that, if you reached in to find out what they were, you could quite easily fall in and the lid slam shut and you’d never be seen again.

Anyway, twitter reassured me we were only talking about roughly a drawer-full, and twitter, as it so often is, was right. The lamb arrived yesterday and, by way of a public service announcement – vegetarians should look away now – this is what half a lamb* looks like:

half a sheep

There’s not much to them, under all that wool, is there?

whole sheep

(picture posed by a model, actual sheep not shown, your mileage may vary. Do not buy half a sheep based on the advice contained within this blog without consulting a professional.)

*Although you should bear in mind that this comes from a Hebridean sheep so a bit smaller than the average sheep.