October 31, 2011

It’s definitely the time of year when a blogger’s mind turns to the problem of cold feet and, specifically, knitting socks. I’ve long had it in mind to try and recycle some of my old moth-eaten jumpers (and with the coming of the colder weather I’ve found they’ve had a nibble at my merino base layers as well, the bastards) into knitting projects, if not actually something useful.* I have one particular alpaca jumper which, while lovely and soft and stripey, also turned out to be particularly yummy to the moth palate. As I also wasn’t entirely enamoured with its style, although I love the colours, I’ve decided that it shall be transformed into alpaca socks instead, which should, frankly, keep me busy for the rest of the decade.

So far so good …

… though hopefully at least one pair will be finished before spring

(and yeah, I know you’re supposed to wash and straighten out the unravelled wool before knitting with it but it seems to knit fine as it is so I filed that one under ‘life’s too short’, along with stuffing mushrooms and ironing).
* There was one comedian – was it Jack Dee? – who had a routine about wicker making classes as occupational therapy, with wicker-unravelling classes going on in the room next door…

Battle of the Bands

October 28, 2011

As I may have mentioned before, there’s a fairly large English contingent within the village choir, amounting to about half its members. In order to make a feature of this, the choirmistress had the idea of some sort of sing off between the two groups, with the English half singing an English song and the Scottish half a Scottish one. I think she had the idea of a medley of music from two distinct, yet complementary folk traditions, bouncing off each other in an exciting and engaging way. The only problem was that, on the English side – philistines that we are – we none of us knew any English folk songs while on the Scottish side they knew some lovely ones but Scottish songs do tend towards the gloomy being mostly about exile, loss and longing with a side order of the odd light massacre. As we were all in the mood for something a little more upbeat and a little less wistful, the search for suitable songs got widened somewhat and, musically speaking, possibly went a little bit downhill.

Which is why the highlight of the next village music evening is likely to be the great musical showdown between ‘My old Man’s a Dustman’ and ‘Donald where’s your troosers’.

I for one cannot wait.

Cattle in the Mist

October 27, 2011

There was a moment yesterday morning when the sun struggled through and the whole countryside started to steam gently

Since then we’ve had nothing but rain, interspersed with heavy showers. A break in one of the latter has at least given me a chance to have a go at one of my favourite post-wet-weather activities, de-flooding the road outside the house. It takes a surprisingly small amount of leaves to completely block up the storm drains, turning the road into a minor canal. Fortunately this means that only a small amount of poking about with a stick very quickly clears the blockage with a very satisfactory gurgling sound and within half an hour the road is back to road (albeit wet road) and I can feel like I’ve done my bit.

If only everything was as easy and as satisfying to sort out, Mr Cameron and his big society would be onto something. Sadly, there are very few other problems that can be resolved by poking them with a stick, whatever the more disciplinarian wing of the Tory party might believe.

Escape Velocity

October 25, 2011

So there I was, happily shovelling manure into a wheelbarrow (bet you all wish you had MY life) on a not-actually-raining-at-the-moment afternoon, when a sinking sensation alerted me to the fact that the pool of liquid, um, something around the manure heap was busily ingesting my wellies. My feet were, in fact, vanishing into the mire and exploratory movements indicated that while I might fairly easily get them out, my wellies wouldn’t be coming too and the only thing worse than standing in a quagmire made of festering liquid horsepoo in your wellies was being standing in a quagmire made of festering liquid horsepoo in your socks.

Now fortunately, it was for just this occasion that I had read and memorised the advice on how to escape from quicksand in the Worst Case Scenario Survival handbook which lives handily beside our loo. The thing about quicksand (and, I imagine, quickmud and quickpoo) is that it flows like water, but slowly. Attempting to move your foot creates a vacuum which, as we all know, nature abhorrs. The answer is to move slowly, allowing the quickpoo to reassemble itself in the gap that’s left and releasing your body part – or welly boot – with a satisfying squelching noise.

Flushed with this success, I’m now looking forward to tackling all the other scenarios the book covers, from breaking a door down right through to alligator wrestling, landing a light plane, fending off sharks and jumping out of third floor windows into a skip full of cardboard boxes. And no, I’ve no idea under what circumstances that last one might arise, but I can assure you that when it does, I will be ready for it.

Dereliction of Duty

October 24, 2011

I have a grave confession to make. There we were, making our regular ford depth inspection visit, on a blustery but dry afternoon, when our attention was caught by the sight of something dark and sinuous slipping into the river downstream. The other half had seen it first, then I caught a glimpse later – never more than a sliver of movement and the tiniest splash, followed by a line of ripples on the water’s surface. Even so, it was unmistakeably an otter, the first one we’ve seen so close to home and a cheering sight on a very autumnal day.

It was only as we were half way home that I realised that, in all the excitement, neither of us had stopped to note the level in the ford.

It’s hard to know how the world will cope until we can update you on it tomorrow.

Wardrobe Malfunction

October 21, 2011

With the return of the cold mornings, it’s been time to start warming my clothes on the Rayburn before getting into them. And, as night follows day, remembering too late that anything with metal on it (such as, to pick an example at random, a bra clasp) should not be allowed to get too hot…

Then, as if to emphasise that I shouldn’t really be allowed out on my own, I lost yet another glove in town yesterday. However, I did at least manage to lose the right one, so the number of functioning pairs of gloves I have – at least if you don’t look too closely at them – is still one. Ha! This counts as competent in my book.

You’d never know I used to hold down an actual proper job, would you?


October 20, 2011

I had to be in town last night and cycled back with my borrowed light (which I reluctantly surrendered to its owner today), eight miles on mostly unlit, potholed, puddled roads, a journey I normally only ever tackle when there’s a full moon (or I think there is). By the time I’d left the limits of the town it was a clear and sparkly frosty night, completely dark with the moon not yet risen and all the stars above me. I encountered only one car, and one rabbit, and for the rest I had the road to myself until I passed one track and heard a shuffling of hooves and saw a huddle of (there’s no getting around this) rather sheepish looking sheep wondering if I was the farmer come to round them up. I left them to their adventure and sailed on, the only noise the sound of my bike (must oil that chain) and my breathing because I was going faster than normal to keep warm. At the top of the last hill I stopped and looked upwards just to enjoy the night sky and the incredible spread of stars above me. I stood there till my glasses steamed up and then I pedalled the last half mile home, looking forward to the moment of getting in and getting warm beside the stove.

I know I’ve already written about this light (and read the comments for some extensive and knowledgeable – not from me, I hasten to add – discussion about bike lighting), but this is not a review or anything as practical as that. It’s just an attempt to capture how liberating it is to be able to ride like the wind under the turning stars even as the first frost settles on the road.

Magical, in fact.


October 19, 2011

One of the benefits of growing your own veg is that you know where it comes from and what goes into it. Which is great. It’s just that the muck heap has been rather neglected over a long wet summer and underneath a carpet of almost radioactively green grass, there now lurks a tightly packed mound which consists of straw and horse manure and about 30% worms by volume, surrounded by a boot-sucking boggy pool. Now, I bow to no one in my appreciation of nice well-rotted manure for use in the garden, but as I hacked away at the innards of this pile, attempting to keep my breathing rate to about one breath per half hour (and my boots on my feet) it struck me that sometimes knowing what’s gone in your food isn’t always the great boon it’s made out to be.

It’ll all be lovely come June, of course.

You Know you’ve Lived Here too Long When … (2)

October 18, 2011

(No 2 in an occasional series)

… you find yourself walking along the road with a gun in a nonchalant ‘rifle, what rifle? Oh this old thing, gosh, I’d quite forgotten I’d picked that up…’ manner. Just an air rifle and an unloaded one to boot but even so, I was quite pleased that only one vehicle passed and that was a van with windows so dirty I doubted the driver could see much of anything that was going on on the side of the road.

Yesterday the squirrel man came and showed us how to set the squirrel traps, though he didn’t hold out much hope of us catching any greys in autumn, when there was so much other food about for them to eat. We thought we’d get it set up anyway just in case and this morning the trap contained a rather unhappy grey squirrel whose day was about to get a whole lot worse.

Without going into any more gruesome details, I can report that the neighbours’ borrowed airgun did the trick and we are one grey squirrel down. The squirrel man reckoned that the ones we’ve seen were probably young ones looking to find a territory, so hopefully if we can nobble one or two more that will be the end of it at least for this year, although in the long run I suspect we’re building sandcastles against a rising tide.

Worth a shot though, if you’ll forgive the pun.


Make that two greys – one red was seen having a nose around (and cheekily eating the bait outside the trap) but was clearly bright, or timid, enough to stay well clear. Its American cousin, on the other hand, was not so cautious. I’m really hoping that’s an end to it…

Brace Yourself

October 17, 2011

For surely the end times are a’coming.

I headed out for the paper this morning in what I hoped would prove to be a window in the weather long enough for me to make the 11 mile round trip. In truth, by the time I’d found my keys and my bag and responded to one last email and a couple of tweets, the rain had started, but a look at raintoday suggested it would be no more than a passing shower, and that what was coming in from the north west would be much worse. I did, at least, put on the waterproof trousers, and, of course, the everything-bar-the-apocalypse-proof jacket. Thus protected, I set out into a biting headwind (mourning the loss of my waxed cap which has kept my head dry and warm ever since I moved up here – anyone know where I can get another one?). At first it wasn’t too bad, a bit blowy, but only spitting. That was just the warm up though – the rain got heavier and heavier and the wind picked up and by the time I’d got through Nearest Village and was out of the shelter of any trees, it was just flinging handfuls of water into my face so hard that it stung.

This was not a good time for the tractor driver who came up behind me to to hoot at me to remind me that his important business (turning onto Big A-Road to hold up everyone else, it transpired) was more important than my important business (it probably was but he was in a nice dry cab and I didn’t see why I should stop just because he wasn’t able to pass me). But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was getting home, unzipping my jacket and discovering that the rain had finally soaked through it to the point where it was weighed down with accumulated water. As the jacket is rated for 15,000mm of rain per 24h, or, basically, Noah’s flood, this means either its waterproofing has failed (I hope not, after only just over a year, given the amount I paid for it) or that the end of the world is nigh

Given the weather we’ve had since I got home, I’m guessing the latter.