Not So Charming

June 20, 2011

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?’


‘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.


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

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.


June 16, 2011

It’s that time of year again. In fact, looking back through the blog, it’s well past that time of year again: Rayburn-switching-off-time. Normally we’d have done the deed three or four weeks ago but it just hasn’t been that warm, and so we’ve been putting it off. In fact, it still isn’t all that warm or pleasant, indoors or out, but we’ve decided to do the deed anyway – better to burn the oil in the winter when it makes the difference between miserable and bearable, than in the summer when it’s merely the difference between bearable and quite pleasant.

Of course, we couldn’t just turn the Rayburn off like that – we have to plan for it. You see, having the Rayburn on means that some things (long slow-cooked meals, making stock, drying clothes if the gap between showers wasn’t quite long enough, hollandaise sauce, melting chocolate or butter without pratting around with a double boiler) make sense whereas other things (not spending all your money on oil, frying anything) don’t. So first we had to switch our week’s menu to our summer dishes, and then we had to finish off doing all the Rayburn-friendly things we wanted to do while we still could. And as today is its last day, I ended up spending it in full-on Domestic Goddess mode (well, Domestic Goddess-ish), finishing up making stock from the backlog of frozen chicken carcases and making white chocolate ‘blondies‘, courtesy of Hugh ‘use all the bowls in the kitchen’ Fearnley-Whittingstall (I mean, count them, that recipe requires FIVE separate bowls. It’s worth it though).

The kitchen is now lightly coated with flour, the stock is ready for our last batch of risotto (the condemned cooker made a hearty meal), and the Rayburn is awaiting the coup-de-grace. Just as soon as I can will myself to do it.

Maybe in an hour or so, eh?

Seeing the Flowers for the Weeds

June 15, 2011

The garden has reached the whack-a-mole* stage of the year where all thought of working through a schedule of tasks gets abandoned in favour of doing whichever bit of weeding most desperately needs to be tackled next, before a machete is needed to find your bench, car, or the way out of the house… (of course, while the weeds are growing like, well, weeds, my beans are still growing like – well something that doesn’t grow very fast. Or at all)

Yesterday’s candidate for whacking was the thistle which I’d been putting off but it had finally showed its true colours, meaning the ‘very elegant sea holly’ excuse was wearing a little thin (thanks, emma c). So donning two pairs of gloves and deploying a shovel and a pair of secateurs I managed to fell it and get it into the wheelbarrow without poking too many extra holes in myself in the process (although I did find out later that it had scattered countless little needle-sharp thorns all around where it had been so it got the last laugh). Quite satisfying to fill a whole wheelbarrow with a single weed…

The problem with gardening is that while everybody else – if they squint a bit and ignore the state of the cobbles – will probably look at that photo and see a not bad display of early summer flowers, whereas I see weeds, things about to topple over that I haven’t properly supported, things which are all flowering at once and will then sit there looking lumpy for the rest of the year, too much of one kind of purple, oh look is that bindweed, snails, the first of the solomon seal cutfly larvae, some pots which I meant to plant up and didn’t get round to …

You can never just relax and enjoy it, can you? And I’m not the only one: if this picture came with sound you’d hear nothing but the buzzing of the bees, bumbling around the flowers. They can’t relax and enjoy a garden either, although they do seem to appreciate it all the same.

*Not literally. I quite like moles, although that’s probably only because they haven’t laid waste to anything yet.

Creaking Along

June 14, 2011

These last few months I’ve been suffering from aches and stiffness in my back and neck. No mystery as to why: although I probably spend far less time at a keyboard than I used to when I was working full time, these days instead of sitting in my nice adjustable chair with everything set up along ergonomic principles by the Safety Elves, I’ve been working at my (gasp!) laptop on a (shudder!) kitchen chair, in whatever room happens to be warmest at the time and that turns out to be the recipe for pain and suffering. Unfortunately, although I do actually have a desk and could get a chair and a separate screen and keyboard for my laptop and I could occasionally listen to my mother and sit up straight instead of hanging on the small muscles of my back, the fact is, I know I’m not going to do any of those things because the desk is currently in the coldest room of the house. Whatever I might do in the summer (and when the summer comes, could you let me know? I’ll be under the duvet with a hot water bottle and may not notice), come the winter I’ll be working in the kitchen anyway and there’s no room in there for half an office.

So an alternative was needed. I tried standing at my computer, which a lot of people swear by but I found it a bit hard on the feet and also surprisingly difficult to concentrate – my brain is conditioned to only working while I’m sitting down, it seems, which may explain a lot. I’m looking into finding an Alexander Technique teacher, but that’s a long term proposition, and my neck and back were getting worse, to the point where only a night on Babymother’s futon brought any relief, a somewhat impractical proposition given that she lives about 400 miles away.

Fortunately, my physiotherapist, who doubles as my mother, had a more practical suggestion. For the last three weeks or so I’ve been working at my computer sitting cross-legged on the floor, with the laptop at eye level on the coffee table. It’s not perfect – the keyboard is too high – but it’s better than the old arrangement. Sitting on the floor makes me sit up straight and it’s also less tempting to spend hour after hour in front of the keyboard than it is in a chair, which may, thinking about it, be how it works.

There is one tiny flaw in the ointment. My mother assured me that after a while my knees and hips would get used to the position and that I would soon be able to spring up from the floor instead of having to straighten myself s-l-o-w-l-y a-n-d c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y all the time fully expecting some important part, like a leg, to fall off if I move too fast. So far, there’s no sign of this and I’m beginning to think that sitting cross-legged on the floor is one of those new tricks that my 42-year-old knees aren’t going to learn too quickly. So far, the stiffness wears off reasonably quickly although I have had a few comedy moments from trying to walk on legs that have gone to sleep. And on the whole the back thing was more worrying than the leg thing and no bits have actually fallen off to date. So I’m going to persevere with this for a little while. But I would ask you that if you’re in a position to phone me, you give me plenty of time to get to the damn thing to answer it…

Oh, and if you’ve got Safety Elves in your place of work, be nice to them and actually listen to their advice. Because it turns out they do know what they’re talking about after all.

Are you Paying Attention?

June 11, 2011

Because she is

The first batch of swallows has emerged from the shed and, sensibly, taken to perching high on a wire out of reach of the cat’s claws.

The other half was not around today so my little camera’s pics will have to do in all their blurry, dark, taken-through-a-window glory.

That said, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good…