Best in Show

August 30, 2015

Are you all bored of the Village Show yet? Well tough, because I have triumphs to report (as those of you who follow me on Twitter may have already guessed).

vegetables in transit

First transport your vegetables (and basket) … nothing a bungee can’t handle

Top Tip for prize-winning vegetables: concentrate your entries in the categories where nobody else has anything to show. This allowed me to sweep the board in both the Heaviest Onion and Oddest-Shaped Vegetable classes. But that is not all – I also placed third in the rather hotly contested Rhubarb (Three Stalks) class, and came first – beating actual other competitors – in the Potato, One Variety (White) class. Meanwhile the other half, having tasted victory in the Any Other Vegetable class with a first prize for his Jalapeno Pepper, will undoubtedly be planning next year’s planting with the show schedule in hand.

But my basket, oh my basket was a thing of beauty

vegetable basket

First out of a field of two might not be much to write home about, but I was congratulated on it by several people, only half of whom were taking the piss.

Nothing, however, could compete with the winner of the overall best entry in the show – not mine, I hasten to add – winner of the ‘Item made of Recycled Materials’ class and, incidentally, most bonkers bike ever.

recycled bike

This isn’t what’s normally meant by a ‘recycled bike’

Which surely won’t prevent it from appearing on Kickstarter as a business idea before the year is out.

That’s Veg with an ‘E’…

August 28, 2015

In preparation for the big day tomorrow I spent an hour or so this afternoon selecting my very best produce and carefully washing it and preparing it for the village show. And then, obviously, tweeted this fact to the world. And got this reply

I really hope that anyone who’s paid even the most cursory attention to my blog or twitter feed would know just exactly how unlikely that would be…

Still, it would make for a *very* different village show

Skin in the Game

August 26, 2015

There was a slightly plaintive reminder at the last community council meeting about entries to the village show, so – reasoning that the competition might not be so intense as usual – I stopped off on my way for the paper to pick up the schedule of entries.

show schedule

Close examination suggests that the intersection of things I can successfully grow and are ready to be harvested and things that can go into the village show is quite small (and competition is likely to be fierce). Some of the categories are quite odd – who has rhubarb or six whole pods of peas* to harvest at the end of August? I don’t think I’ve even had six pods in total this year. In addition my commitment to not using any form of pesticide, combined with the depredation of Peter Bloody Rabbit and his family, mean that I’m going to struggle with anything where there’s serious competition on the quality side.

rabbit-munched broccoli

So no broccoli then this year…

Fortunately the other half’s greenhouse vegetable empire is going great guns – does anyone else remember a children’s book about someone who had so many pot plants they ended up with basically a house-shaped mass of vegetation? it’s basically like that – so he has been informed that he will be entering the show with his tomatoes and possibly his chillies, under the ‘any other vegetable’ category.

Greenhouse in August

Tomatillo plants attempting to burst their way out of the greenhouse

And me? Well, I’ve decided to be ambitious and see if I can put together a basket of veg, as this allows me to use my non-standard crops such as fennel bulbs, tiny pumpkins, terrifying parsnips and any kale the rabbits deign to leave us, bulked out by the other half’s bumper tomatillo harvest. Add in my three almost perfect almost matching potatoes (selected with much consideration from half a bed’s worth of non-perfect ones), a hail mary entry in the ‘heaviest onion’ category (it had a single entry last year; I could have won with a shallot) and – of course – my secret weapon, the oddly shaped vegetable …

oddly shaped potato

I present to you Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in vegetable form

… and I must surely do better than second place in the ‘any other vegetable’ category that was my gardening high-water mark to date.

* Actually, I know the answer to this, as my serious village gardening pal times his pea sowings to ensure a good crop just at this time of year. I do realise I’m a just a rank amateur at this game.

The Smack of Firm Government

August 24, 2015

When we first saw them, we thought that the Center Parks arrival gates were a bit overblown but the truth is, these are not just places where you check in and pick up your magic wristband – they are the portals to an alternative reality.

Center Parcs gates

Abandon your car all ye who enter here

One where the UK decided that the car was all very well for carrying your luggage and getting your family to a fairly remote destination – but has no place at all around where people live and play. A place where the parking right by your front door is for bicycles, as is the parking outside the shopping centre and the playground and the outdoor activity centre, and where almost everyone takes to their bikes, including kids of all sizes and bike-riding abilities.

bike parking by houses

It achieves this not through putting posters up encouraging people to walk or cycle – or even through any very fancy infrastructure, apart from the odd contraflow bike sign. No, it does this by, gently but firmly and somewhat bossily, depriving people – yes, actual British people – of their cars as soon as they have unpacked them. And nobody seems to so much as turn a hair.*

contraflow bike lane

It’s certainly not the quality of their cycling infrastructure that’s doing it…

You notice the difference even as you drive in – the people who have already arrived and settled in are not only on bikes or on foot but they just stand there in the middle of the road looking at your car with the resentment normally reserved for bikes, rather than hurrying to get out of your way. Once the Friday or Monday check in is over, all the cars disappear as if by magic (apart from the service vehicles – they’re missing a trick not using cargo bikes for the staff although given some of the hills, perhaps an electric version), and car engines give way to merrily tinging bike bells and the sound of children screaming with what might be laughter or what might be them learning how to ride no handed the hard way. As the weekend wore on, the children seemed to get more free range (my nieces and one nephew – once Minecraft had been prised out of their cold dead hands, finger by finger – happily took to their bikes and cycled themselves down to the swimming area), the interactions between bikes and people on foot got smoother, and many people were clearly just getting on with using bikes as transport (it’s a shame the hire bikes don’t come with baskets, though – there was one family having an interesting time transporting their instant barbecues back to their chalet under their arms) having discovered that once you take all the fear of traffic away, it’s just a quicker means of getting about than walking. There were even quite a few unhelmeted kids by the end of the weekend, although there were also a few kids who had quite clearly decided just to keep their helmets on for the duration, and were wearing them round the shopping centre too.

shopping centre parking

The Netherlands? Belgium? No, Cumbria on a dampish summer weekend

And then Monday comes, the cars are let back in, and you are spat out onto the A66, 60 mph traffic, and the delights of the ‘real world’…

It is a shibboleth of cycle campaigning that you mustn’t be seen to be ‘anti car’ – that you must provide carrots rather than sticks, if you want to get people to cycle or walk. A weekend at Center Parcs suggests it’s not so simple as that. Clearly what the British people want is not to be enticed, encouraged or trained out of their cars. They want to be ordered out of them. Sternly but kindly. By someone who looks a bit like Nanny, or perhaps Nurse. It’s the only language they understand.

* That said, a friend who can no longer walk very far did describe Center Parcs as ‘hell on earth’ and I can imagine that if you couldn’t get about under your own steam, the whole shopping mall and overpriced chain restaurant vibe of the ‘Village Centre’ would begin to pall a bit.

Route 66

August 21, 2015

I have much to blog about including thrilling road maintenance news and an exciting new raingear purchase, no wait, come back, it’s really interesting … but we’re off for a long weekend with limited WiFi access so you will just have to hang on.

We’re off to that cycling paradise in the UK, Center Parcs, and no doubt I will have a lot to say about that on my return. We had hoped to go by train and cycle the last few miles but a glance at the available routes – basically down the A66 – suggested that wasn’t going to be much fun. Want to ride your bike in a lovely traffic-free environment? Put it in the car, basically.

Actually, to be strictly honest with you, by the time I’d worked out an alternative using local trains to Langwathby and only a short stretch of really scary stuff, which would only take approximately 2.5 hours longer than driving there by car like normal people, our enthusiasm for the project had waned somewhat – not helped by the weather forecast which was verging on the apocalyptic and the desire to take some actual stuff with us. So yeah, I’d blame the government but in this case I think it’s our own fault.

Take the lane, you’ll be fine…

It will only serve us right if we spend the rest of the afternoon stuck in a traffic jam on the A66, inching slowly towards our destination. Although as the other half has pointed out, if that happens I can just hop out and set off on the Brompton and leave him to enjoy the peace.

Randomised Trial

August 18, 2015

I have to admit, I’ve been quite surprised and impressed by the outcome of my random perennial experiment. Not just that they’ve survived, and now flowered, but that the plants that have come up have been so, well … odd

random perennial

plant … or visitor from the planet Ogg?

If I’m honest, I was expecting to have lavished a lot of love and attention on what would turn out to be some fairly bog standard cottage garden plants that I could have picked up at the village plant sale or any local plant swap. Instead – and this may just be my ignorance – quite a few of them are completely unknown to me, and quite exotic looking.

random perennial

I was pretty confident, based on the leaves, that this was going to be a perennial cornflower, but no

I’m sure if I were a real gardener they’d be obvious, but they’re certainly not things I’ve seen growing around here, anyway. That may mean they won’t survive the winter, of course. But they’ve survived this summer, so they’ve already proved themselves a match for the Scottish weather. Oh, and given I found a rabbit hole in the depths of one rather neglected part of the bet, the Scottish wildlife too.

random perennial

also comes in pink

All in all a vast improvement on what I started with, although that’s not saying much. It’s not exactly a spectacular flower-filled display yet (even when I’d unwound all the bindweed from the taller stuff) – but then they’re still settling in and weren’t helped by my habit of cramming way too much in when I’m planting out of a sense of disbelief that anything will actually take root. By the time they’ve fought it all out between them, and the rabbits, we may just have something worth looking at. Not bad, not bad at all.

random perennial

I probably should have weeded before I took these photos…

I just need to know what they’re called now, so I can pretend to be a real gardener, the next time someone asks.

random perennial

“pink ones”

In the Nile

August 17, 2015

We woke to a bright but chilly morning this morning, and condensation on the windows – a sign that for all the warmth of the sun we’re (finally) getting, the end of summer is looming before it has barely got into its stride.

But never mind all that, she says, sticking her fingers into her ears and singing very loudly. For I had a jacket-hat-and-glove-free ride down to the papershop today and there have been very few of those this summer so far. And as I cycled up past one farmyard, I noticed that the steading roof was almost covered in house martins, and they all of them took off at my approach so that the air was filled with their chittering little calls and the flashes of their white rumps in the sunshine.

The fact that I’m sitting here now wishing I had a jumper on, and with darkness outside the window (and it only 9:30pm) is neither here nor there. Summer isn’t over yet … how can it be when it has hardly begun?

Blowing my own Trumpet…

August 14, 2015

Summer arrived yesterday (it’s gone again, but we enjoyed it while it lasted) and I noticed that, if you pick your angles carefully, ignore the weedy cobbles and the gravel drive, and squint a bit, that our front garden is looking a bit spiffy

front flowerbed in August

And our broad beans are rather attractive to boot

shelled broad beans

The pinky beige ones go a sort of lilac grey before your eyes as you heat them, which is disconcerting, but at least provides a visual clue that they are cooked.

A friend who visited recently texted to say that I don’t make enough of the beauty of my veg patch (I think she means its setting rather than the fine interplay of weeds, rabbit munched vegetables and towering bolted lettuces). I failed to take a shot of the whole scene before the weather closed in again – but this did catch my eye as I left the walled garden the other day, just as the sun was catching it at the perfect angle. Although I can’t really take credit for this apart from just noticing it.

wall around walled garden

No doubt all this just goeth before a fall – but then again, even ASBO buzzard seems to have gone off the boil: it just sat on a telegraph pole and looked at me as I went past this morning. And I didn’t even have my hat on…

Jumping out of their Skins

August 13, 2015

While things have not been going that brilliantly in the veg plot this year, what with the onslaught of the Scottish summer, neglect, and the rabbit menace, the greenhouse has been going great guns and we’ve started harvesting the first of the tomatillos (I say ‘we’; the other half has been doing all the actual work, I just swan in and give him bad advice from time to time and try not to tread on the tomatillo plants which sprawl worse than the outskirts of Los Angeles)


We grew tomatillos because the other half has a Mexican cookbook, and they’re a pretty key ingredient in Mexican cooking. We had chicken enchiladas with a tomatillo salsa last night and we learned that tomatillos make a very tasty tangy sauce, and that Mexican cooking is insanely time consuming and generates more washing up than Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his pomp. Clearly a cuisine that assumes not just Mama but Granmama will be slaving away over the stove all day.

Tonight, in time honoured fashion, they were added to the veg gardener’s kitchen standby, random veg frittata (to bulk out the two pathetic tiny beetroot I’ve managed to produce and some equally pathetic red onions, which made for a slightly interesting combination of flavours – it was tasty, but I’m not expecting a call from Heston Blumenthal any time soon, let’s put it that way) but this has not made the slightest dent in the enormous number of tomatillos that are coming through. I would say ‘help, send Mexicans‘ but I’d just get in trouble again, so I’ll just have to appeal for recipes instead…

Darling Deer

August 12, 2015

Cycling into Bigtown this lunchtime, I was startled out of my usual reverie by the sense that I was being watched by a pair of big brown eyes and spotted a young deer sitting quietly by the side of the road, half hidden by the long grass.

young deer by the road

Can you spot it?

I stopped a little further down the road so as not to startle the deer (oh, okay, I should probably get those brakes tightened), and then inched my bike backwards a little – not too far, I didn’t want the deer getting up and running off on the road – to take a slightly better photo.

young deer

I know that deer do this, and you’re best off just leaving the young one be so its mother can find it again, but I was a little worried that she’d chosen the verge as a brilliant place to leave her baby. Deer have zero roadsense at the best of times, but then again, it’s hardly the busiest of roads.*

Fortunately there was no venison or skid marks when I cycled back, so hopefully mother and child have been reunited safely and mum has found somewhere a little more sensible to leave junior next time.

Oh and would someone remind me not to go to lunch with people any more? I always seem to come back with lots of additional things to do …

* I do actually find it quite a busy road, but then again, my standards are somewhat skewed. By ‘busy’ I mean I must have encountered, ooh, at least half a dozen vehicles in the four miles into town, and some of them I didn’t even recognise.