Mixing its Toasties?

September 30, 2015

his year is testing, possibly to destruction, my theory that one cannot really destroy purple sprouting broccoli, which over the years has survived caterpillar attack, frozen winters, and variations on the ‘user error’ theme and still managed to give us some welcome veg come the spring. Rabbit attack might be different though… it had recovered once, albeit starting to flower early, but the demon bunnies came back for another round.

massacred broccoli plants

I’ll say one thing for rabbits, they’re thorough. They don’t lollop around nibbling a tender shoot here and a tasty morsel there – if they did, we might be able to come to an understanding. Instead what they do is zone in on one particular bed and, over the course of a day or two, destroy it utterly

ex green beens

Less than a week ago, this was a flourishing patch of green beans with plenty more young beans coming through…

With the beans and the beetroot they scarfed the lot (well, they left a neat little pile of beetroot tops for me) but they leave enough of the kale and the broccoli to allow for some resprouting and then come back for another meal. Kale and broccoli might be tough but I don’t know how long even they can take that sort of treatment and survive.

chomped kale

Kale starting tentatively to resprout

But maybe they won’t have to, because the other half did discover a dead rabbit inside the fence this afternoon, half hidden under the bushes (I swear it wasn’t me). Cause of death unknown, and hopefully not mourned by its numerous offspring …

Meanwhile in the Shed…

September 27, 2015

… something was lurking:

potatoes in bin

Guess who had forgotten to empty out the last few sprouty potatoes from the black bin where they’re stored over winter?

last year's potatoes

Actually it was quite impressive the lengths that some of them had gone to to seek the light.

baby potatoes

Others had desperately concentrated on making new potatoes. I suppose in the interests of horticultural and/or culinary knowledge I should have tried cooking these to see if being grown in the dark like that creates an especially delicate flavour, but I’ve never been a fan of forced vegetables – white asparagus gives me the heebie-jeebies – so I’m afraid they went straight onto the compost heap. Where they will probably flourish, if the rest of the compost is anything to go by…

Charity Begins at Home

September 25, 2015

It was Nearest Village’s Macmillan coffee morning this morning, and as a community councillor who is up for re-election* I thought we had better show our faces (oh, all right, we went because we knew it would be laden with delicious cakes as, indeed, it was. But we cycled down there, so that’s okay). Chatting with one of my former fellow choir members (now sadly an ex-choir) he was telling us a bit about life when he was a shepherd’s son growing up in the hills behind the village. He has now somewhat risen in the world and mixes with the ‘county ladies’ dancing society but back in the day he remembered the charity of the ‘dog biscuit ladies’ who used to generously send packages of dog biscuits several times a year to ensure the shepherds’ dogs didn’t go hungry. Over time, the dog biscuit element waned, and the gifts for the shepherds’ children got more prominent, but even so, that must surely count as the Most British Charity Ever…

I would say that it’s a sign of how much times have changed, but a recent discussion at an earlier community council about food banks suggests we’re not that far off those days any longer.

* Not that there are ever any actual elections; it’s more of a press-ganging of the least unwilling to serve.


September 23, 2015

Somewhat as a joke, I made a New Year’s Resolution not to start any more cycling organisations this year, having in the past four years got myself tangled up in the founding of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, Cycling Dumfries, Pedal on Parliament and the Women’s Cycle Forum. And then in June, buoyed by the success of a Family Bike Curious event, and possibly having had rather too much coffee and cake,* I was sitting in a room with a lot of cycling people discussing plans for the 2016 Holyrood elections.** We had just achieved the marvellous feat of getting about 20 cycling and active travel organisations to agree on 3 key priorities for politicians and cycling*** and it seemed to me that this was an opportunity too good to be missed. As nobody else was suggesting it, I wondered aloud whether we needed some sort of an umbrella campaign to help us present a united front. Encouraged by Suzanne Forup of the CTC, another person who doesn’t know to duck when an opportunity to do a lot of thankless work presents itself, I found myself mentioning that it would be a fairly simple matter to set up a website to co-ordinate things. And the next thing you know …

We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote

So far, all we have is a name, a logo, a Facebook page, a small budget, and a dawning realisation that things are about to get very, very busy.

If you’re in Scotland and you’d like to see more investment in active travel, infrastructure that anyone can cycle on, and safer roads for the most vulnerable, then please join us.

* If you want to get me to do something for you, inviting me out for coffee and cake is an excellent start. I get overexcited just at having left the house, and then the caffeine and sugar kicks in and the next thing I know I’ve got at least a pop up bookshop or a small origami publication on my hands, if not a full blown cycling campaign…

** I know, I know, but it turns out the time to start talking tactics about election campaigns is about a week after the last one. No wonder politicians are all a bit odd.

*** and if you’re not thinking that’s remarkable, then you don’t know more than one cyclist; in fact, leave a single cyclist in an empty room and when you come back you may find that they are disagreeing with themselves over the correct apparel, pedalling cadence, gear ratio, or indeed the best kind of cake…

Going Dutch

September 22, 2015

‘Is there some sort of EU funding for diggers suddenly?’ the other half was wondering a few days ago and it’s true that there seem to be intensive excavations going on in half the fields around us. The field opposite is certainly getting some extensive drainage work done, which will be good news for the cattle that usually overwinter there and spend the last half of the year trudging around up to their ankles in mud. It also means that poking out the road drains with a stick will likely be more effective, to my great satisfaction, although it will be bad news for any fish that might be swimming about in the road at the time.

field drainage

But the works there pale into insignificance compared to the field down the road, on the way to the ford, which at one point was looking like a re-enactment of Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. We’ve been watching the digging get more and more extensive in recent days and finally, as we returned from blackberry picking on Sunday afternoon, I spotted the owner and found out that they were actually levelling the field altogether (it had started as just a bit of drainage works, but one thing led to another, and they decided what the hell, why not just flatten it?). I was sceptical that this was even possible but lo and behold:

flattened field

That’s actually not bad and it got me wondering: if one man and a digger can flatten one hill in a week…

road looking uphill

… how long to do them all?

What Was the Question?

September 18, 2015

One year on, just in case you were wondering, Nearest Village – or at least the tree outside it – still says No (or ‘nothanksImallright’ as people say when you try and hand them a flyer inviting them to a free bike breakfast. Honestly, some people don’t know what they’re missing in their eagerness to show that they’re too shrewd to be taken in by anything)

no thanks sign

Still, say what you like about the No campaign, they made those signs to last…

Apologies for the quality of the photo, by the way. The sun was setting and the light was dying. At 7:30 in the evening. What is the world coming to?



September 16, 2015

It all started innocently enough – six months ago, I made a dentist’s appointment in Notso Bigtown for 2pm this afternoon, because Wednesdays are the day that the other half goes to Notso Bigtown to shop and can give me a lift in.

And then, a few days ago, the other half announced that he had to work today so he wouldn’t be going into Notso Bigtown, but that was okay, because although it’s about 13 miles away, I’ve cycled there before and it’s a nice enough ride if I take my time and the weather is kind.

And then, a couple of days ago, I had a phone call I needed to make and lunchtime today was the only time that suited, so it was going to be a bit tight to make the call and get to the dentist but it was still okay, because as long as I put the hammer down a bit and kept going then it would still be doable.

And then yesterday I got a call from the Bigtown local radio station about our bike breakfast and kidical Massive event and could I pop into the studio for an interview at 4:30, which meant I would now have to ride 17 miles from Notso Bigtown to Bigtown, on top of the 13 miles to Notso Bigtown, and the 8 miles home.* Oh and that 17 miles would be along the Old Military Road, my least favourite cycle route, because of its habit of going straight over every hill except for when it takes a little detour just to go to the top of a hill which it might otherwise miss.

View of hills

View from the top of a totally unnecessary hill

But it was still okay.

bend in the road

Because it was an absolutely gorgeous day.

dappled shade

And it would have been positively painful to spend it indoors…

* As someone did point out on twitter, there *are* buses, but that would have entailed a fair bit of hanging around, and also the complication of either getting my bike onto the bus or leaving it somewhere, and actually buses are quite expensive and also I needed to stop by the paper shop and … oh who am I kidding, I just hate rural buses and I’d rather cycle 38 miles than have to take one, let alone three

Sure Signs?

September 14, 2015

leaves turningI’m in danger of becoming one of those annoying people who actively looks forward to autumn (woodsmoke! Crisp piles of leaves! Back to school! Oh do please kindly sod off…) although a walk this afternoon left me somewhat confused as to whether autumn is on its way or not – and before you suggest it, there’s no point consulting the weather; apart from a few warm sunny days we’ve not exactly had a summer yet, although this doesn’t stop it going straight to autumn, do not pass Go, do not collect 200…

There are signs that the leaves are on the turn in some of the more hysterical trees (beech, I’m looking at you) but although we should be knee-deep in blackberries by now, it seems that only a few of them have got the memo:

sole ripe blackberry

After last year’s bonanza I’ve been actively keeping an eye on the hazelnuts to see if we can’t beat the squirrels to at least a handful but so far they’re looking pretty green and sitting tight in their cups.

green hazelnuts

And the rose hips have gone … strangely fluffy. Google tells me this is Rose Moss Gall caused by a parasitic matriarchal wasp which has largely dispensed with the need for males [insert your own jokes based on tired stereotypes, and then feel free to give each other a kicking in the comments] infesting a rose hip. It’s actually kind of cool

rose moss gall

But hazelnuts and weird wildlife aren’t the reason why we’re welcoming the coming of the cooler weather. It’s the fact that tomorrow Rayburn Man is coming and the Rayburn will be lit again, with much ceremony. Warm towels ahoy. I can’t wait…

Let the Sun Shine in…

September 12, 2015

I woke this morning to a day of no pressing deadlines for the first time in ages, nothing urgent I needed to do and nowhere I needed to be (I was supposed to be on a cycling and camping weekend in Perthshire but had cried off due to feeling ill). It was supposed to rain for most of the day but – after I had knuckled down and completed my long-put-off tax return (as ever, it takes about half an hour when you actually put your mind to it, or two and a half hours if you count the weapons-strength procrastinating beforehand) – I was rewarded by the rain actually stopping, and I took the opportunity to wander up to my veg plot to try and undo some of my recent neglect with a couple of hours of concentrated pottering.

Two hours can’t do much to clear a neglected garden, but it does do a lot to untangle the mind. I note that Jeremy Corbyn, newly elected leader of the Labour Party, has an allotment (for some reason, along with ‘cycling’ and ‘wearing beige’ this is considered to be a point against him, no doubt because it appears to be a throwback to the politics of the last century – but then again, so did having a beard once, and now every male under 30 seems to have one. Could it be that it’s not just facial hair but supposedly retro policies that come back into fashion after a time?).

There was a time when I would have followed every twist and turn of the leadership competition with avid interest, and thrown myself into the fray with the best of them, but I’ve felt a bit detached from all the arguments over the leadership contest this summer. Perhaps it’s being in Scotland – the list of his supposedly extreme and unelectable policies bear a curious resemblance to the list of policies that the SNP just swept the board with at the last election – or because I’d no longer consider myself a Labour voter except in those elections where the Greens haven’t a hope in hell of winning. So I can’t really comment on whether Corbyn’s election will prove to be the reawakening his supporters suggest, or the electoral disaster most commentators seem to believe. But I can’t help but warm to a man whose hobby and whose mode of transport is so close to my own. Sure we’ve had cycling politicians in the past, and look how well *that* turned out (I’d bet my last pumpkin that Corbyn isn’t followed by a car carrying his papers though). But when did we last have a proper veg-growing one? Surely anyone who can go and mull things over among the fruit canes or while rooting out a stubborn patch of bindweed, will make the right decisions in the end?

That said, I can’t imagine the state his poor allotment is in after a summer of campaigning – and no chance now of getting it sorted out before the autumn. Can one restore the fortunes of a struggling party AND maintain an allotment? #Jezwecan…

Now I Remember…

September 10, 2015

… why I don’t go to London so much any more: my immune system isn’t up to it. Indeed, as someone who leads a fairly isolated life these days, I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking going down to London to stay in a houseful of children just as the new term was starting and everyone was busy passing on the exciting new cold germs they’d picked up over the summer. Throw in the fact that time pressures meant I had to resort to germ-ridden public transport occasionally (yes, a bike may well be the quickest way to get around London, but that’s on the assumption you always head in the right direction, and I couldn’t rely on getting advice from helpful strangers all the time so I have to factor in stopping at every junction to check the map) and I don’t even know why I was surprised to get back home feeling a bit rubbish and then wake up this morning with a cold.

Obviously, there was nothing for it but to try and pedal it off today even though it was a lovely day (the best weather for cycling off a cold is a bit more dreich in my experience). As I had a Bike Breakfast AND a Kidical Massive to advertise, I set off for Bigtown with a pocket full of flyers to hunt down cyclists and their bikes. All was going well – I’d even caught my first cyclist – when I felt something fly down my front and then YOW! That something was a wasp and it was still somewhere down inside my top and it was now quite cross about it. All I can say is, I’m glad that road is quiet as I careened around trying to de-wasp myself and then stopped and just yanked the zip down and hoicked the little bugger out before it got me again. I’m beginning to feel a tad got at by the local wildlife, frankly.

Anyway, three hours of almost constant pedalling later I can’t say I felt a great deal better, but I had at least managed to distribute most of my flyers including one to the elusive dad with the Only Cargo Bike in Bigtown  (I suggested that it would make an excellent pirate galleon for our Kidical Massive ride). Time will tell whether the awesome power of cycling and my immune system is a match for London Germs plus added wasp venom. I think it may be a close run thing …