Gardening Weather. No, Really

February 27, 2014

A strange thing happened this afternoon – I looked out of the window just before 5pm and realised that not only was it not dark, but that it was actually nice weather. And I was getting tired and cranky from looking at my computer all day and needed a bit of a break. And I hadn’t been out in my garden for weeks other than to empty the compost bucket and raid the kale patch.* So I siezed the day and dashed outside to get something done and had, ooh, a whole half an hour before the skies darkened and it started hailing. It was nice while it lasted though.

hail storm

What’s worse than raining cats and dogs? Hailing taxis…

Worryingly, I noticed that the weedlings have already started sprouting underneath all the vegetation. It’s too much to hope that they’ve just been battered to death by the hail, I suppose?

* And seriously, when did kale suddenly become a thing? We only grow it because it’s one of the three things that reliably grow in the Scottish climate, along with onions and tatties…

Winds Light to Variable

February 26, 2014

I have a slight bone to pick with the Met Office. Oh, all right, several bones, but my current beef is the way their weather app will take a day with heavy rain forecast for half of the day and no rain forecast for the other half of the day and describe that as ‘light rain’. You can’t average out rain. It’s like saying a day with a northerly gale in the morning and a southerly gale in the afternoon has no wind at all.

Not that it actually matters. We had light rain this morning and I looked at it and thought ‘oh well it’s only raining a little bit, no point putting the full rain gear on.’ WRONG. It is an indisputable fact of cycling life that light rain gets you just as wet – indeed sometimes wetter – than heavy rain. Be it a downpour, cats and dogs, steady drizzle, fine sifting rain, or that rain that isn’t really inging so much as just there, in the air, waiting for you to cycle through it – after an hour you will be equally wet and equally annoyed about it…

That said, rain is better than hail. Coming back from yoga yesterday I got caught in a hailstorm that was going sideways and I can tell you that having little tiny stinging particles of hail sandblasting the side of your face is extremely painful, albeit quite invigorating. If there’s anything in this microdermabrasion nonsense, then by rights I ought to be looking like one of those before and after photos with the left hand side of my face blasted clean.

This post reminds me that there’s a very nice Spanish woman working in Bigtown at the moment – she’s been here about a year now. I asked her the other day how she was liking Scotland and particularly the weather. She replied ‘I wouldn’t mind it so much except that everyone I speak to keeps mentioning it. It makes it hard to forget about it.’ The thing is, we keep feeling the need to apologise for it, especially to someone who is in a sense a guest – as if we kept bringing up how untidy our house is or apologising for the food (although there’s that too) and making the whole thing even more awkward.

Perhaps we should just ignore it and it will go away. But then what would we talk about?

Well I’ll be Darned

February 25, 2014

Well, that didn’t take long. I was just about to put my new stripey (pre-warmed on the Rayburn – lovely) socks on when I discovered that the heel of one already had a huge hole in it so I had to spend the next half hour or so darning…

darned sock

(If anyone wonders why I can darn socks, it’s because I went to an old-fashioned Scottish boarding school and if you were caught going around in your socks without your slippers on you had to darn any resulting holes. I can’t say it’s been a particularly useful life skill up till I started knitting my own socks and finally had something it was worth the effort of darning. It does mean I religiously wear my slippers in the house though)

I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that 100% wool is not the best yarn for knitting socks – 20% of (gasp) nylon in the mix seems to make them much more hard wearing. The first ever pair of socks I knitted are still, just, going strong after more than three years, although one of them is apparently channelling Edvard Munch.

holey sock

The other hole might just be due to the fact that I’ve worn nothing but wellies for the last two weeks now, and they are a bit hard on socks. Unfortunately, that looks unlikely to change…

Water, Water Everywhere

February 24, 2014

It seems the weather gods, having enjoyed their little holiday wreaking havoc down South are back with us permanently now, at least if the forecast is anything to go by. Not that we’re getting spectacular send-in-the-army type weather – just rain, followed by more rain, followed by more rain, with intervals of rain. Riding out for the paper in a rare gap this morning, the roads were running with water like rivers and every ditch and hollow was full; every flat piece of land is just a swamp.


What if it never stops raining?

There’s been a lot talked in recent weeks about managing catchment areas upstream to prevent flooding downstream without the need for expensive (and ultimately ineffective) flood defences. It makes a lot of sense, and it sounds attractive, especially if the alternative is enormous high walls cutting towns off from their rivers. But I’m struggling to see how, here at least, we could actually hold any more water than we are already

waterlogged field

And the ford? Well the chain that runs across it to catch any cars that get swept away has been swept away itself by a passing tree. Not that anyone’s likely to tackle it in its present condition. But you never know…

ford almost at 2 feet

Hats Off

February 21, 2014

Well, hat. And not because it’s wonderfully warm and sunny, but involuntarily. My fabulous tweed cap has proved itself equal to most things, including Britain’s wettest winter since Noah, but it’s just a tiny bit poor at staying on my head in a gale. To be fair, I’m not convinced that any hat could have coped with this morning’s headwind, which was extra blustery, and it did stay on for the first three miles, albeit pulled further and further down my brow until I was basically navigating through a letter box. Eventually, though, I felt it levitate gently off my head as the wind found its way under the peak and then it was bowling away in search of a nice patch of manure to land in.* This is not the first time it’s pulled that trick – I’ve taken to removing it before riding over bridges as a precaution – but I particularly missed it this morning because the wind was also icy and the cap is warmer than a warm thing and can’t do much to keep my head warm if it’s stuffed into my pocket.

So now I need a way of keeping it on my head that doesn’t involve my mother’s suggestion of sewing old pairs of tights into it because I’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and wearing my mother’s underwear on my head is where I’ve chosen to draw it. Hat pins (which would have the additional merit of giving me something to fend off buzzards with)? Petersham ribbon (whatever that is)? Moving somewhere less windy?

Suggestions in the comments please. Not you, Mum

* At least this way it will get a nice lived-in look quickly and people will know that I’m not wearing it ironically. I’m pretty sure that even the most dedicated Hackney fashionista rubs muck and bits of straw into their tweed garments to give them that authentic farmyard patina.

The Third Sign of Madness

February 20, 2014

Pedal on Parliament

Stand by (or cover your ears, or unsubscribe if you must) for more cycle campaigny stuff because we have just announced the date of the next, and third, Pedal on Parliament. And for those of you still listening – please mark your diaries and start picking out your best bike so you can turn up and join the throng in Edinburgh on the 26th April.

We’re doing it because – well, any regular reader of this blog probably knows why we’re doing it. But for those who need a reminder, here are two (okay, technically they don’t live in Scotland but they would like to cycle safely here when they visit their aunt):

bike to school 2


It’s been a slow and frustrating build up as it took a long time to persuade the powers that be in Edinburgh that they really did want to close off their roads for thousands of cyclists, for some reason. But as we got the final nod, and started furiously updating everything and spreading the word, someone emailed

‘Let the madness begin…’

And someone emailed back within seconds


You know, I can remember when a walk to the post box constituted a busy day…

Two by Two

February 18, 2014

Sitting in the cafe this weekend on a local ride, the conversation turned to whether we should go back the way we had come, or take the more direct main road. The way we had come meant a long and fairly steep climb into a headwind, and on a Saturday at least the main road wouldn’t be infested with timber lorries, although it still would mean fast and fairly frequent traffic. We were swithering until someone pointed out

‘Of course, the main road would mean going single file’

Well that settled it. As far as I’m concerned, the whole point of riding out in company is riding side by side so you can chat. The ride out had been wet and windy and not in any technical sense of the word pleasant, but with a couple of like-minded companions it had at least passed quickly. I don’t get nearly enough time spent riding with others so I had made the most of it. I can’t even remember everything we had talked about – the joys or not of chopping vegetables, the guilty pleasure of a good battenberg cake (somehow the mind always reverts to food) – but it was enough to take our minds of steadily dampening gloves and frozen toes.

There aren’t many traffic lights or pavements around here, so when people choose to tell me about the sins of my fellow cyclists (because I am their queen, of course, and I am responsible for their every crime) it’s always, but always, about them riding two abreast, despite the fact that it’s perfectly acceptable in the Highway Code. If I can be bothered I try and explain that sometimes it’s safer – and even easier – to pass a compact group of cyclists riding in pairs rather than in a long line that takes longer to pass, and besides if there isn’t room to overtake them safely as if they were a car you shouldn’t just squeeze past them as if they weren’t there, and blah blah blah, but the truth is I know that when you see a pair of cyclists out there riding side by side, they’re not really doing it because it’s safer. No, they’re having a blether, probably about cake, and a jolly nice time of it they’re having too, even if it is raining. And if that just makes you jealous because you’re stuck behind them in your lonely car with nobody to talk to, then maybe you should join us.*

* I should probably say now, before someone explodes with rage, that we always single up when a car approaches, unless we’re riding with younger children

When N+1 meets S-1*

February 16, 2014

Chatting with a fellow cyclist this afternoon about the indestructibility of the older cyclist and other matters, he told me he’d been in his local bike shop the other day and was admiring a very fancy bike (electronic gear shifters, carbon, the works) when an old boy came in and claimed it as his.

It turns out that this chap had bought the bike a few months ago and not yet managed to pluck up the courage to tell his wife. So he was heading out on his old bike for a ride, all innocence, then swapping it for the shiny new steed which he was keeping safely out of sight in the shop…

Suddenly the algebra of cyclo-maths has got just that little bit more complicated

* N+1 is the ideal number of bikes for a cyclist, where N is the number of bikes the cyclist already owns up to S-1, where S is the number of bikes at which point the cyclist’s spouse leaves them…

The Way to a Cyclist’s Heart

February 14, 2014

‘Great bike,’ said the old boy coming out of the shop this morning as I was getting ready to head off. ‘Aye, that’s a wee cracker that is.’

And suddenly a cold, dark, blowy February morning got a little brighter and my bike looked a little shinier and we flew home together aided by more than just a tailwind.

The words ‘nice bike’  – or variations thereof – never ever get old…

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum

February 13, 2014

It’s not often you settle down for a nice coffee and toasted tea cake in a Bigtown cafe with a friend and get passed a little baggie of contraband

mystery beans

We were meeting to do our seed order and my friend had brought along some heritage seeds a friend of hers had sent her. He’s a member of the Heritage Seed Library and had grown them last year – they can’t be sold because they’re not standardised hybrids. Once grown, the seed then gets passed on to other gardeners to keep the heritage varieties alive, although given my gardening success I’m not sure I’m the best person to be given anything precious to curate.

mystery beans close up

Up close they’re rather spiffy looking, but there’s a one tiny problem: my friend has forgotten what exactly they grow into (Twitter thinks they may be borlotti beans or failing that, dinosaur eggs). Clearly, the only thing to do is plant them and see what happens. For after all, nobody ever came to grief from growing beans given them by a mysterious stranger…