Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

August 31, 2013

Every year (since my first and only triumph in the ‘any other vegetable‘ category) I fail to enter anything in the village show, and then on the day itself regret my timidity – after all, I’m pretty sure we would have cleaned up this year in the ‘novelty salt and pepper set’ class.*

lettuce and cucumber tortoise

And then I see an entry of this calibre (in the Primary 1-3 ‘vegetable animal’ competition) and realise that I am totally and utterly outclassed. Sometimes it’s better just to know your limits.

* you don’t have to make the novelty salt and pepper set – you just have to own it.

One for the Life List

August 29, 2013

Readers may remember the lovely and enigmatic book sculptures that delighted literary Scotland last year by mysteriously appearing in libraries. Well, the artist behind them has now released a whole flock of little book birds into the wild – and one of them has somehow ended up in Bigtown.

book bird sculpture

Never one to miss a good ‘twitch’ I got myself down there to catch a glimpse of the bird (although technically you can’t count it as a tick once it’s been caged as this one appears to have been). Even better, the bird has been released in the Arts Centre cafe which, I discovered this afternoon, serves a rather good peanut crunchy rocky road. So I think that counts as a result all round…

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

August 28, 2013

bottle dynamo
It’s a genuine question…

Regular readers of this blog will have guessed that, as soon as David Hembrow had sent me a replacement bracket for my dynamo, I would promptly put it all on the kitchen table next to some spanners to remind me to fit it and then leave it there until it was too late to fit it to the bike the next time I needed a light. And that’s exactly what happened. I mainly need my lights to get back from choir and so for the last few weeks I’ve ended up having to use a spare battery light as a replacement, and thinking I definitely, definitely will fit the bracket before choir rolls around again the next week, and by ‘fit’ I mean ‘get the other half to fit for me’, obviously. Up until now, a battery light has been fine in the dusk after choir but as the weeks pass and the nights draw in, I knew one of these days I was going to get out and find it properly dark and then I’d really want my dynamo light going again.

And so today, rather than tidy up around the replacement bracket and the reminder spanners again, and knowing that it would be getting pretty dark this evening, and having a spare half hour on a sunny afternoon, I decided to get the bike out and have a go at fitting the damn thing myself. After all, it was a fairly simple thing and I should be capable of it and all that (although, to be honest, whenever I hear someone banging on about how one of the joys of cycling is having a machine that anyone can understand and fix themselves, I know they have not seen me try and fit a bell to take an example at random). After a couple of false starts – do you know how hard it is to find a black washer when you have dropped it on some rather desperately unweeded cobbles? – I managed to work out which way round to attach the dynamo to the bracket by dint of trying all the ways round in which you don’t attach the dynamo to the bracket, attached the bracket to the fork in roughly the place where it was before going by the scratches in the paint, took it out for a test ride, retrieved the dynamo from between my spokes when it fell off having not been tightened enough, tightened it enough and ta daa! One fitted bracket. Simples.

It’s got me down to the village and back without skipping and without feeling as if I’ve got it on too tight and more importantly while actually generating some light. But I still have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve managed to put it on upside down and inside out or backwards. So I leave it to all you geniuses out there to let me know what’s wrong. Before I find out the hard way…

Supermarket Salad: an Apology

August 27, 2013

Hmmm. I have long been slightly suspicious of the strange longevity of those bags of supermarket salad. Whatever their sell-by date, they have a way of sitting in the fridge for a week looking far more chipper than they’ve any right to be given that they’re basically dead leaves in a bag. I have been known to mutter about chlorine and gas and other unpleasant chemicals, and look forward to the summer when we could eat our lovely and entirely unadulterated salad leaves freshly picked from the garden.

And then with the other half having to go to work at some ungodly hour in the morning, and needing salad for his lunch, and me not being willing to go up to the garden in my dressing gown to pick it for him (I know, what kind of a wife am I?) we had to find some way of making the salad keep fresh for a bit longer after picking it. And that’s when we discovered that if you pick it and wash it and spin it and put it in a bag in the fridge with a bit of damp kitchen roll, home grown salad keeps for an unfeasibly long time as well and no chemicals* needed.

So there you go. Supermarket salad is innocent. They’ll be telling us there’s no horsemeat in our burgers next…

*Unless you count H2O.

Plenty more

August 26, 2013

veg plot

I think it’s safe to say that my veg plot is a bit of a disgrace this year. Not just the bolted lettuce – that could happen to anyone – or the fact that my onions, which have never given me a moment’s trouble in the past few growing seasons, decided this year to just fall over, those that didn’t bolt. No, it’s the fact that everywhere is practically knee deep in weeds and I don’t even have the excuse that we’ve been away – just busy. I did have a bit of a blitz yesterday after taking this picture but it didn’t make much of an impression. What the garden needs is a regular hour a day most days and what with one thing an another it hasn’t really been getting it.

Despite that, it’s been the sort of summer where the stuff just keeps coming out of the ground anyway – in fact, one of the things I’m getting behind on is keeping on top of the picking. Normally I get precisely half a meal of French beans but because it’s been warm we’ve had masses; I’ve already had to freeze some of them and I know there’s loads more up there growing enormous. The mangetout doesn’t seem inclined to stop at all, there are at least ten rather large gem squashes coming through, the leeks are looking pretty good, although I really must space them out a bit more, there’s garlic lurking somewhere that I must dig up before it disappears, and we haven’t even got half way through our first early potatoes, let alone the seconds. There’s more kale than even the caterpillars can manage and even the sweetcorn has finally decided to develop some cobs, although it’s cutting things rather fine. Even the mice haven’t (yet) discovered the beetroot.

In short, what my garden is trying to tell me is that what I produce has got very little to do with my skill and diligence as a gardener – and everything to do with the weather. Ah well. At least we get some delicious veg out of it, along with my helping of humble pie…


After the Horse has Gone

August 24, 2013

So, we’re chicken sitting again this weekend as the landlord is off to Embra. Since the hens have been moved from the walled garden they have to be shut in at night (although they generally put themselves to bed) to keep them safe from foxes. So my duties involve shutting them up at night and letting them out in the morning, scattering some grain and trying to push the broody ones off their spot in the corner long enough to extract some eggs.

Last night we had a rare night out – I rode the Brompton into Bigtown, met the other half on his way back from work, and we had a nice meal and went to Bigtown’s lovely tiny cinema to see the World’s End, which is frankly deeply silly but also pretty funny. We strolled out of the cinema along the river front to Bigtown’s ancient bridge and admired the way it was reflected in the still water above the weir,* watched the boy racers tearing up and down the road across the river, briefly debated having a pint in the World’s End but decided against it, and drove home feeling like we’d had a proper Friday night, the first one we’d had in years.

It was only this morning – just before seven am – that I sat bolt upright in bed having remembered the hens. Having broken all land-speed records getting dressed, I hurried over certain I was going to find nothing but scattered feathers and possibly hen parts. Though we’ve never seen one (if you want to see foxes, move to London) we know there are foxes around because you can smell them. What chance that they would have left six nice plump defenceless hens unguarded like that? I’ve never been quite so relieved as when I found all six of them present and correct, and wondering where their breakfast was… phew.

*Bigtown looks rather splendid in the dark


August 22, 2013

I went out to try and get the fennel under control the other day (it has been ambushing the other half on his way out the door) and discovered it absolutely buzzing with hoverflies and bees of all shapes and sizes. They’re not alone, either. The pot marjoram and other plants have been alive with bees and butterflies of all descriptions – with loads of peacocks (the butterfly, not the large fowl). A combination of a warmish summer and – I confess – a backlog of weeding has turned our front courtyard into some sort of invertebrate paradise.

Unfortunately it’s also turned it into something that teeters on the brink between ‘garden’ and ‘no longer garden’. The cobbles are a mass of vegetation and the gravel drive is slowly making the transition to ‘very well drained lawn’ (which happens to be nicer to cycle over than loose gravel but that’s not really the intention). There’s a fine thistle established behind the wood pile and more dandelions than anyone could wish for. And the landlords have noticed and are now planning to sort it out with weedkiller.

I’m a bit gutted, because I have been trying not to use any chemicals at all if I can help it, while keeping things under control. The not using chemicals part has gone fine – but the under control part has not. I can’t blame the landlords, but I do feel I’ve failed on this one. I have negotiated that it won’t happen till the winter, when the butterflies and bees will be safely tucked up for the winter, but it does seem a shame to lose this little patch of space where any visitng insect doesn’t have add to the cocktail of pesticides and herbicides and general cides it will pick up everywhere else. Unfortunately, unless I get my act together soon, that’s what will happen… gardening fail.

I’ve* Got a Brand New Combine Harvester

August 21, 2013

Cycling down to the shop the other day, I decided to give way to the monster piece of farming equipment that was breathing fire and diesel fumes on my tail. I’ve no idea what it is – I call them all combine harvesters – but it was barely able to fit in the road (the outer edges of its tyres were on the verges) although I expect down south it would probably be considered some sort of dinky toy – farmers round here must have to buy special mini tractors for our narrow roads. Anyway, I was going downhill, so I thought I’d pull over and let it pass so I didn’t have it growling after me all the way to the shop. Big mistake. It turns out that while I’m slower than most things – tractors, milk floats, bin lorries, postmen – I’m faster than a combine harvester, especially when I’m drafting it. I had to brake on the downhill stretches and was barely pedalling on the uphill ones. Which would be nice, if it wasn’t for the diesel fumes and the fact that I couldn’t see the potholes until I was almost upon them.

It turned out that the Combine Harvester was also popping down to the shop for a twix and some cigs, so I made sure I got out and back on the road sharpish so I didn’t get stuck behind him again. Not the most restful trip down to the shop I’ve had – but it’s nice to know I’m faster than something on the road… I gather in towns these days, cyclists race each other while pretending not to. I suppose this is the closest I’m ever going to get

*Not me personally, obviously

And I Thought I was the Nutter

August 19, 2013

As I have mentioned before, we have a new neighbour, and it turns out he’s a keen cyclist. I was going to say ‘like me’, but compared to him I’m not a keen cyclist, I’m a Sunday potterer – in fact, I’m practically a motorist. Not only is he a keen cyclist, he’s the Duracell Bunny in human form, if the Duracell Bunny turned out to be an unfeasibly tall scouser. He works as a general landscape gardener and handyman which means he here there and everywhere around the county, and then he comes home from a hard day’s work shifting paving slabs and spends an hour on the rollers because the hills around us aren’t really steep enough and long enough for him to need to shift gears.

He’s always happy to chat bikes as I head off for the paper,* feeling like a bit of an amateur, and it was in the course of one of these conversations that I suggested – jokingly – that he should get himself a little trailer and then he could cycle all his tools to work by way of a work out. Today, he mentioned that he’d ordered one and hopefully it would arrive tomorrow. ‘It’s a shame it’s not here today,’ he said with a cheerful grin. ‘Because then I could have had a lovely 40 mile ride’. Apparently it’s rated to carry 60 kg. I’ve a feeling that if his work equipment doesn’t add up to the full load, then he’ll make up the difference with rocks…

So it’s nice to have a kindred spirit around, even if I don’t think we’ll be going out for any rides together, or at least not unless he goes on the Brompton with the laden trailer by way of a handicap.

*Take note, roadie person who blasted silently past me on a blind bend on Friday, that serious cyclists can acknowledge the existence of unserious ones without entirely losing face or being kicked off Strava or whatever it is you worry will happen if you don’t look through them as if they weren’t there. Just saying.

Out of the Mouths of Babes and Sucklings

August 17, 2013

There are times on the bike when I wonder just what the hell I’m doing. Like when I’m battling through the sheeting rain into Bigtown in order to get to one of our summer rides, knowing that I’ll basically be standing there for 15 minutes at the appointed meeting place with the other ride leader waiting for nobody to turn up so that we can go and dry off in a cafe somewhere before heading back into the rain and home again. Because who on earth would come out for a fun, family-oriented ride on a day when the rain is coming in sideways?

Kids, that’s who. We’ve had a few regular families come and join us on these rides over the summer and two of them showed up this week: not because the parents are sadists who had dragged their kids out into the rain for a bike ride, but because the kids themselves had been adamant that was what they wanted to do. When you’re a child, it turns out, rain means nothing. If anything, it’s a bonus because rain means puddles, and riding through puddles are what bikes are for. I had forgotten this, but I remembered it this afternoon watching the eight-year-old swerving from side to side to make sure he got his wheels through every one.*

Fortunately for the adults the rain cleared up and held off and we had a good ride along the cycle path and through the woods, and stood around eating biscuits and admiring each others’ bikes, which is as much the point of these occasions as the ride itself. And then we parted ways and I hurried home before the threatening clouds could burst again. Because, while I admire the way kids can shrug off the rain and just get on with having fun, at the end of the day I am no longer eight and I still cannot learn to love riding in the wet.

One day, perhaps when I am eighty, I will re-learn…

* sadly, he learned the hard way about the dangers of lurking potholes at the bottom of puddles, but was back on the bike and ready to go after a few tears – and still swerving into every puddle like a good’un.