As it Turns Out, it Was we Who Ate All the Pies

May 31, 2014

Well, I don’t know quite what happened there, but through some existential mix up with the weather gods we had the most glorious weather today, despite the fact that I had invited a bunch of people from all corners of the country to join me on a 45-mile ride. And despite the best efforts of my bike to scupper the outing by getting its chain jammed all but irrevocably behind the cogs, we made it to our lunch stop in reasonable time, where the ordering got a little complicated as we totally cleaned them out of pies.

setting off from the train station

Then it was over the hills and far away, via Papershop Village (naturally) to home, where they all but cleaned me out of cake.

cake remnants

And then, for the die hards, we did the final loop around the reservoir to make up the last miles and enjoy one of my favourite rides of all time, although now sadly bereft of its statues after one of them got nicked last year.

road ahead

All in all a good day’s riding, although by the time I’d ridden up the road and back to see some of my guests off I found I’d overshot a little…

GPS reading - 46 miles

There are worse mistakes to make. And worse ways to mark the passage of the years.

Anyone else make a point of riding their age?

Open Daze

May 30, 2014

The village has been celebrating the new school with an open evening for the whole community (well, newish – it fell off the back of a lorry in October and has been in operation since January but sensibly they decided to wait to have the party in May)

I’m extremely jealous of the library

school library

And the school run isn’t that shabby either…

evening sun

There’s something about riding home with the evening sun still filtering through the trees gone nine o’clock that makes those short winter days worth the misery. Well, almost

Looking a Gift Egg in the Mouth

May 29, 2014

So the good news is that it’s my Anniversaire ride on Saturday and it looks as if I will have a good turnout, so it should be a grand day out. The only fly in the ointment, as I added up the likely participants, is that we could end up sitting 12 of us down for tea, 12 cyclists, 12 cyclists who will have done about 30 miles and with more in prospect: in other words 12 bottomless pits when it comes to cake. It’s lucky the landlord’s hens have been so generous.*

Thus, this week I have mostly been doing All The Baking (coconut macaroons, cherry flapjacks and lemon drizzle cake so far; blueberry yoghurt cake still to come). And given that I’m not one of those neat and tidy bakers who can whip up a cake without getting it everywhere but the cake tin, the end product of me baking – apart from delicious baked goods of course – is a kitchen in which it looks as if the forces of flour have only narrowly defeated the battalions of butter, so tomorrow I shall mostly be doing All The Cleaning.

* I was going to do the floating them in water thing to see if they were off but in the end I just did the cracking them open one by one and sniffing them thing instead. All fine so far.

In for a Splash. Soak. Whatever

May 27, 2014

It may almost be the end of May, but that doesn’t mean all our trees are in leaf yet, oh no…

ash tree

The annual face off between the oak and the ash as to which one is most resistant to the blandishments of spring is on – and it looks as if the oaks have blinked first, by a long way.

spring trees

Normally I’d be rejoicing because as any fule know, ash before oak, in for a soak – oak before ash, in or a splash* but to be honest the ash have been holding out for so long this year I was beginning to worry about it being something more sinister.

If we did lose our ash trees they’d leave such a huge gap in the landscape that it’s hard to imagine. I’ve always thought of ash as being slightly weedy trees, because of their habit of setting seed everywhere and springing up in the most unwelcoming places. But give them a place to spread and a couple of hundred years to do it in and they become magnificent.

ash tree

Fortunately on close examination it looks as if they were just playing dead …

* I can’t help but think there’s a bit of a lack of ambition there on the part of our ancestors when it comes to predicting the summer weather. There’s an obvious gap in the market here for some combination of tree-leaf emergence that heralds a long, hot, glorious barbeque summer – possibly something along the lines of ‘Ash and oak in March their leaves forming, summer spent worrying about global warming…’

Home Delivery

May 26, 2014

Since the demise of the cottage-that-sells-eggs at least as a place that sells eggs, we have been buying our eggs from the landlord when they have a surplus – they’re cheap enough and we know that not only are our food miles minimised, but that the hens are happy and free range, having now got the run of the grounds. Just how free range they were became apparent this afternoon:

hidden eggs

It’s a sign of how little gardening I do (well, you know, we’re very Chelsea here) that it’s taken me at least a week – based on the number of eggs and assuming it’s just one rogue hen – to discover this little treasure trove nestling in the flower bed right by our front door (‘she could at least have rapped on the door with her beak to let us know’ the other half said)

After a brief wrestle with my conscience I phoned up the landlord to admit that the mystery of the declining egg production was solved, although the prospect of a free freshly laid egg appearing on our doorstep every morning was rather tempting (food miles? Food yards? I’ll give you food inches…).

found eggs

Meanwhile we get to keep the seven that we found. I think I shall be cracking them open rather cautiously though.

Take That…

May 24, 2014

So, we have lovely new neighbours as I have already mentioned – but they turn out to have one tiny little flaw. They garden. Worse than that, they’re diligent about it and it’s beginning to show. People in the village are commenting. We’ve gone from being the good tenants, the ones who keep our flower beds more or less under control, to the ones who are beginning to let the side down. I tell people we’re being wildlife friendly, but the excuse is wearing thin

So I was very pleased this afternoon when I was being dropped off after a hard day’s graft at our pop-up bookshop to be told by my fellow writer and, more importantly, someone who was just back from having a fabulous time at the Chelsea Flower Show – that our flower bed was ‘very Chelsea’. ‘Oh yes, all the show gardens have got these grasses woven through them and cow parsley and columbine and informal planting …’


Very Chelsea. Apparently. Note the grasses artfully woven through the gravel at the front

I’m just hoping the landlords have seen the same show


May 22, 2014

I ought to have had a brilliant bike ride today. OK, so the glorious spring sunshine we were enjoying yesterday had disappeared but we seemed to be the only corner of the country where it wasn’t raining, the flowers and trees and birds were all still madly doing their spring thing, and I’d just seen two ravens having some sort of an aerial mock battle up in the skies above me (you’ve got to love a bird that seems as happy flying upside down as right side up). I’d just stopped off at the village hall to vote (I love voting, doesn’t matter what the election is, it just makes me feel important) and was off to fetch the paper, with nothing too pressing to get done and all the time in the world to do it in. All of which doesn’t really count for much when you suddenly find yourself being passed so close by a vehicle towing a big trailer that you seriously fear for your balance, if not your life. Fortunately it was a stretch of road with no potholes and he (I’m assuming here, forgive me) was a good enough driver not to swing the trailer into me, while I am a good enough cyclist not to deviate from my line by the one inch of space he had allowed me, so nothing happened – well, nothing except the complete destruction of my good mood.

What’s really disappointing in all this, even more disappointing than the fact that it happened not 30 yards before a place where road widened and the driver could have passed me in perfect safety, was that I know that vehicle. I see it fairly frequently on my travels to and from the papershop, and the driver is almost certainly a local. I have no doubt he has noticed me enough to know me by sight, even if he doesn’t know me by name. So his impatience felt personal. I wasn’t some anonymous ‘bloody cyclist’ getting in his way, I was ‘the lady who goes everywhere by bike’* getting in his way – for 30 whole lousy seconds, mind you – and he still felt it was okay to endanger life and limb – MY life and limb, that is – to get past me.

Of course, I have no doubt that he had no idea how scary it was or how close he came to just brushing me off into the dyke, and that if he had done he would have been sorry. One of these days I might even encounter him when he’s not in his big tonne of metal and I’m not so cross as to be too incoherent to explain that to him, in which case I will undoubtedly be British about it and completely ignore the whole incident while burning inside with repressed fury. Meanwhile, I’ll be that little bit more wary when cycling around even on my beloved back roads, and not trust all the other drivers to pass me safely – which means I’ll have to cycle more assertively and end up holding people up more than I would normally do. Lose lose. Bah. Grr. Disappointing…

* as I am known in the area, apparently

Toad in the Hole

May 21, 2014

Desperately trying to get the garden ready for month end* I was clearing out my old purple sprouting broccoli bed and found a clod of earth that moved:


There’s no way I’m harming something that lives on slugs, so I left that bit for later and concentrated on destroying something else’s habitat elswhere in the veg plot. Hopefully Mr Toad will find himself a new place to lurk and foray out for a profitable evening’s hunting. He certainly looks as if he hasn’t been stinting himself recently.

veg plot

The veg plot is … barely under control. I’m just about managing to get the minimum needed to get everything planted out, and that only by ignoring the part where I was supposed to have planted my celeriac two months ago.

walled garden view

But the view from the gate of the walled garden is pretty nifty at this time of year.

* You know, all those seed packets that say ‘plant outside April – May’. How the seeds know the difference between May 31st and June 1st I have no idea, but I don’t want to risk it…


May 20, 2014

Oh what a glorious ride I had into town this morning. I’d have taken a photo to share with you, but it wouldn’t have really captured the moment. The air was soft and warm and damp and just laden with scent for the hawthorn is in flower and it is almost too much to bear. The birds were all singing their hearts out, especially the larks, high up in the misty blue sky.

One of those days when I wouldn’t live anywhere else for the world, or travel any other way but by bike.

Blessings most firmly counted.

Creatures of Habit

May 19, 2014

So we spent this afternoon clearing out the shop that will be this weekend’s pop-up bookshop. A group of us started the bookshop last year, primarily to annoy the arts high heidyins who would rather local writers confined themselves quietly to giving readings in pub toilets and then dying genteelly in poverty instead of demanding to be noticed and celebrated by the literary establishment at our local book festival. By some accident of fate it turned out to be something of a success so we are now invited to pop up at other artsy events by the same powers that be (as long as we find ourselves a venue, sort out our own insurance and do all the marketing ourselves, obviously). Anyway, with the local Arts Festival looming, we found ourselves the perfect shop in Notso Bigtown, an old newsagent and stationers that shut down three years ago – and even then was old fashioned enough that the one time I went into it I was rendered unable to speak for about three minutes* because I could not shake the conviction that I had actually stepped back into the past. It has a long wooden counter with the goods displayed in glass cabinets behind it and I had to double check when I came out with my paper that it was actually that day’s edition of the Guardian, and not the Manchester Guardian reporting the Suez war or, indeed, the progress of the Gallipoli campaign.

the shop that time forgot

Since closing down, the owner has been using it to keep all those things you think might come in handy but don’t normally have the space for, plus things which he hasn’t got around to throwing away, on top of leftover stock dating back at least fifty years (dip pen nibs at 2p each, anyone? – apart from anything else, it’s a stationery fetishist’s idea of heaven). We were there last week for a preliminary clear out where we managed to hack the undergrowth back as far as the counters, and today we were cleaning and putting in some finishing touches that will turn it from the opening part of Alice’s Restaurant into a moderately convincing temporary book shop.

shop that time forgot

It was a satisfactory afternoon’s work all told, but what I did find amazing was – as we swept the floors, and cleaned the windows, and emptied out the cabinets, and stuck up posters with such giveaway hints as ‘pop-up bookshop this weekend’ on the door, in a shop that’s been closed for over three years – how many people still walked in and attempted to purchase a paper. Here’s hoping they’ll return for a book or three at the weekend.

*insert your own joke here