November 29, 2015

Well, the weather continues grim. We haven’t had the snow that Scotland was getting further north, but the rain has been coming down stairrods and then coming sideways stairrods, if that’s possible, which now I come to think of it makes more sense for stairrods. It did ease off a bit this afternoon and the sun even came out but only for long enough to lure us out for a walk, before resuming in earnest before we could even contemplate checking the level of the ford.

road flooding

But who needs a ford, when your whole road network consists of running water? The other half was slightly disconcerted to notice that, when I cleared the leaves out of one of the drains, the water started to bubble up directly through the tarmac. Further up the road, a culvert must have got blocked somewhere and a burn has redirected itself into a field, through a wall and across the road into the field that the farmer spent all of the summer extensively and probably expensively draining.

water everywhere

It was also flooding somewhat outside our gate so I duly went out with the stick* to see what I could do. A bit of leaf clearing aside, the answer was ‘not much’: the field drain was draining water as fast as it possibly could, just not as fast as it was falling out of the sky.

field drain draining

None of this bodes well for the outside garlic, although I did manage to dash up this morning before the worst of it started and give it some protection with some bottle cloches before the soil got even more waterlogged (I know there are holes in the top of some of them; they still seem to provide a bit of protection from the worst of the weather). Whether they will make a blind bit of difference when the whole county is effectively sloshing about, remains to be seen.

garlic under cloches

*Oh and drivers? Please don’t try and rush me when I am out in the middle of the road with my stick. I am out there for your benefit and no, I’m not going to move over so you can roar past at top speed through the flood. And yes, the more reluctant you are to slow down when you see me, the longer it will take me to get out of the way.

When the Going Gets Tough…

November 27, 2015

… so my plan for today was to celebrate not partaking in Black Friday by taking part in Bike Friday instead and getting on my bike to, er, buy a paper* and then telling the world all about it, complete with glorious photographs illustrating how wonderful it is to be out in the fresh air instead of in some horrible shopping centre trampling people underfoot in a frantic rush for the biggest bargains, because surely if this doesn’t bring down the whole sorry edifice of consumer capitalism, then nothing will.

And then I looked out the window and saw the rain and the other half very nobly drove down for the paper instead. So you’ll just have to enjoy this picture I took a few days ago instead, and smash the consumerist capitalist society yourselves.

autumn trees

Just to make it all worse, I’ll be spending the next couple of days contributing to the frenzy of consumerism as our pop-up bookshop will be popping up for the Bigtown Christmas Lights switch on, which means I can’t go to the Edinburgh Climate March either. Truly, I am a failure, although I would maintain that a pop-up bookshop run on anarchist collective lines (we think; nobody can actually agree what they are) with all proceeds going to direct to local authors is the least worst form of consumerism there is, albeit still unlikely to do much to prevent global warming…

Remind me what it was the road to Hell was supposed to be paved with again? I hope the rest of you aren’t being as feeble.

* Which is apparently okay as I wouldn’t be doing it at some massive outlet sale

Growing Pains

November 25, 2015

garlic in pots

It’s proving unexpectedly hard work, being a proper grown up blogger reviewing stuff. For a start, I’m having to actually attempt to grow garlic properly, or at least google it to see how the rest of the internet does it instead of just making it up as I go along. It turns out that growing garlic is more complicated than I thought because it needs prolonged vernalisation* for the bulbs to form properly. So there are roughly three schools of thought about growing garlic in Scotland. The first is that it’s no different from planting it in England and you should do so in October or November ‘when there’s still a bit of warmth in the soil’ so the cloves don’t rot in ground that’s too wet or too cold.** The second is that you can wait until January because prolonged periods of cold weather are easier to come by in Scotland than England, although how that is supposed to help with finding soil that is neither waterlogged nor frozen remains a mystery. The third is hahahahaha, seriously you’re trying to grow garlic in Scotland, are you insane, there’s a reason why traditional Scottish cuisine consists of potatoes and kale …

Now normally when the internet is divided in this way I just pick the way that suits me best and go with that, which would mean planning to plant it in January and then forgetting all about it.*** But I feel I have a responsibility to do a bit better for this garlic in order for my review to consist of something a bit more cogent than ‘if you’re looking for foolproof garlic, this wasn’t it, at least for this value of fool’. So I have decided to hedge my bets and split my garlic three ways. Taking advantage of a mildish day, one lot has been planted outside, on raised ridges to avoid waterlogging. One lot will wait until January, provided I remember where I have stored it. And one lot has been planted in pots in the greenhouse until established and will then be transferred outside for the rest of the winter.

Watch this space for more thrilling updates on the garlic progress – unless the lovely people at Marshalls realise they’ve made a terrible mistake entrusting it to me and stage a rescue mission for it in the dead of night.

* which obviously you all know means being exposed to a prolonged period of cold weather. And obviously I did too, being such an advanced gardener who would never forget all about her garlic and then end up planting it in April. Ahem. Although prolonged periods of cold weather can happen then too…

** erm. Have these people been in Scotland in November?

*** Twitter was busy urging me to just roast the lot and have it for supper

Digging for Dirt

November 23, 2015

Operation catch-up-with-the-garden continued over the weekend with the first order of business being finding the manure heap

The usual procedure with manure for the garden is that a nice farmer comes and drops off a large steaming heap of it at the top of the garden, and then everyone forgets about it until it’s needed. I’m not entirely certain when the current lot got delivered, but it has been in disguise as a nettle patch for most of the summer


manure mining …

Nettles don’t mess around when it comes to putting down roots, so that what was supposed to be a simple shovelling operation turned into something more complicated: with a certain amount of swearing and hacking away at it with a fork, I managed to open up a seam that wasn’t too nettle-infested and effectively burrowed my way into the heap.* It was worth it though. Lovely dark crumbly stuff. And only approximately another 57 barrowloads to hack out and ferry down to the walled garden until the whole veg patch is put to bed for the winter.

Muckheap closeup

In other news the garlic has arrived. The instructions say ‘plant as soon as possible in soil that is neither waterlogged nor frozen’. Looking at the forecast for the next week, I’m thinking two out of three isn’t bad…

garlic delivery

* it did occur to me that if the whole thing collapsed, nothing would be found of me but a pair of wellies sticking out of the bottom. But what a way for a gardener to go and think of the savings on the funeral costs.**

** plus imagine the roses you could grow …

Hitting the Big Time

November 20, 2015

Well, finally. After more than ten years of steady, even prolific blogging, someone has actually contacted me to offer me something to review that I would actually want. OK so it’s not the ‘waterproof in Scotland’ reviewing gig I’ve long been touting for (I note, with only a slight twinge of professional jealousy, that Lovely Bike is currently helping check whether things are ‘waterproof in Ireland‘ for Georgia in Dublin, but then again she manages to look entirely chic and soignée in their rainskirt whereas I look like a cross-dressing farmer so I can’t say I blame them) – but someone has actually read what I’ve written about my gardening and is still prepared to risk their heritage garlic bulbs to the tender mercy of the Weather Gods, Peter Rabbit and my own absent-mindedness so that I can review them. Thank you Marshalls Seeds … and watch this space.

With the garlic in the post, and my new found reputation as a pro-gardener at stake, I thought I’d better actually get up to the plot and try and retrieve the situation after what has been a season marked mainly by neglect. The good news is that the rabbits have either been eliminated or are on a diet because the purple sprouting broccoli is recovering from their attentions

purple-sprouting broccoli

I told you it was indestructible

and I even found two tiny surviving perpetual spinach plants; they won’t be much use on their own, but I didn’t have the heart to grub them up.

two surviving perpetual spinach plants

I suspect that for the rest of 2015 we’ll mainly be eating leeks and Red Winter kale though.

kale and leeks flourishing

Just occasionally, my somewhat slapdash approach to gardening pays off in unexpected ways – I was slow getting my second batch of salad in over the summer and had pretty much written it off in September, but the weather has been so mild, we’ve started picking it again. Not for much longer, I suspect, as the forecast for tonight is to reach freezing, but I have moved a few plants which I hadn’t got around to planting out and were still in modules (you may detect a theme here) into the greenhouse.

lettuce in November

Lettuce. In November. In Scotland. What is the world coming to?

Even so, I shall be sharpening up my act for this garlic and giving it my best shot so I can review it thoroughly. I’m sure you would expect nothing less…

Between Weather Warnings

November 18, 2015

a break in the clouds

I have to confess that there’s something quite grimly satisfying about being greeted with the words ‘you’re mental, what are you doing cycling in this weather?’ by your neighbour as you peel yourself off the bike after a soggy ride home. But even more satisfying is spotting a window of opportunity between the dire warnings of heavy rain in the mornging and the direr warnings of high winds in the afternoon,* and grabbing the chance to nip out for the paper…

There was a headwind, but that’s okay – I got it back on the way home and with interest. There were parts of the road where I barely needed to turn a pedal.

But never mind all that, you cry, what of the ford?

Ford in November

I call that a bit disappointing.

* Or ‘November’ as it used to be known

Fight or Flight

November 17, 2015

I was at our writers’ group the other week, and we were doing a workshop with the lovely (and talented) Margaret Elphinstone in which – to cut a long story short – we had to semi-improvise/semi-script an argument that we’d had recently with someone else. We’ve done this before – it’s a great way to tease out the ways in which dialogue can be used to move a story along, reveal characters or relationships, or dramatise a conflict – and I always start out quite reluctantly. The truth is, I tend to avoid conflict these days, if I can – you only have to be on Twitter for about 5 minutes to see that arguing with most people is largely pointless. In fact, I couldn’t even think of an argument I’d had in recent times so we ended up improvising the argument that I would have had with the driver of the timber lorry who decided to pass me with inches to spare, if I’d had the courage to actually confront him when I saw him getting out of his cab having parked up literally 200 yards from the spot where he’d decided risking my life to overtake me on a single-track road was more important than being delayed for all of 30 seconds before he could get out and have a fag.

Anyway, as happened last time we did this, once I’d got into the swing of things I remembered that actually I love a good argument. Not only that, once I decide to let rip I’m also pretty good at it. Having abandoned my usual restraint, and instead let my mouth run away with me, the resulting passionate torrent of words is incredibly cathartic to deliver and also largely unanswerable, if only because answering would mean being able to get a word in edgeways. It helps that I’m pretty articulate even when riled, and in fact the angrier I get, usually the more articulate I become.

We talk a lot as campaigners about being reasoned, and using evidence, and not coming across as too negative and all that. And mostly it’s sensible and warranted and the best tactic in the long run. But we’ve a long running issue going on locally where a couple of highway dinosaurs are throwing up every obstacle they can to providing a safe crossing of a 60 mph road on what is supposed to be a flagship project. We had an incredibly frustrating meeting in which they ended up blocking me at every turn with arguments that I knew to be nonsense but they were slippery as eels. All the other men present just stared at their feet as they effectively ganged up on me, leaving me to carry the argument. I was conscious that I was in danger of becoming the hysterical woman (I could hear my voice getting shriller and shriller as I got more tense) so I held back and tried to be reasonable. I wonder now what might have happened if I’d had the courage to unleash my rage on them and just let them have it. It might not have been edifying, and it almost certainly wouldn’t have worked (but then again, neither has being reasonable and going through the proper channels) but my God it would have been fun.

Stack Trace

November 15, 2015

I was pondering, as I helped stack my parents’ wood for the winter, that there’s more skill than you might think in the job. Their wood store is wedged in between the house and the garden wall, and if the wood is going to season properly, you have to leave gaps between the rows for the air to circulate, so that you’re not building one big heap of wood, but a series of free-standing walls which have to be stable enough that a catastrophic de-stacking won’t occur on top of my parents as they fetch the wood for their woodburner. Not to mention the irregular shape of the logs – which mean that the individual rows have a tendency to slope forwards or backwards if you’re not careful, especially when you’re me and not exactly spatially skilled. My finely honed technique, developed over the years, involves working on three rows at a time – one which is almost completed and can handle the really gnarly bits of irregular wood as you’re not going to be putting anything much more on top of them (and also the shorter bits as you want a nice bottom-heavy cross section to each ‘wall’), one which is part-way built where you’re adding in the more wedge-shaped bits to counteract any developing lean, and one which is just getting started where the nice long flat bits go to create a stable base layer. Working this way, it means any one piece of wood only gets picked up once – for maximum efficiency – and there’s always an appropriate place for it to go.

wood stack

Or then again, it may just be that stacking wood is a repetitive unskilled task, and I have a tendency to overthink things left to my own devices.

Dad skimming stones

In other news, you never grow out of stone skipping, once you have mastered the technique


November 10, 2015

Bad news, regular blog readers: it seems that even after being freshly re-proofed, my everything-but-the-apocalypse-proof jacket is letting in a bit of damp at the shoulders and the sleeves. Perhaps it is finally wearing out – it is beginning to look a little faded and frayed around the seams (but then again, that’s generally when my clothes are just getting comfortable). Either that, or this actually is the apocalypse (‘which would explain a lot’ the other half said).*

Either way, I’m going to need a new jacket because if the end times are coming you wouldn’t want to face them in anything but a breathable but otherwise completely impermeable outer garment, and neither would you want to live in South West Scotland, frankly. Any suggestions? The local horse riders (who fear for my safety in my current ninja getup) would prefer it if it wasn’t black…

*’Apocalypse Abigail‘ according to the Met Office** – although really, I do think they should stop messing around and just let the people of Glasgow decide what the storms are called

** although it seems the Met Office folk in Aberdeen are made of sterner stuff and have pointed out that wet and windy weather in November is normal for Scotland.

A Stick in Time…

November 8, 2015

In a worrying sign that I might actually be becoming a grown up, this morning I went out ahead of the forecast rain and cleared out the ditch as well as all the leaves from the drain covers and the vegetation out in front of the field culvert so that the road wouldn’t actually flood with the coming apocalyptic forecast

field culvert

In due course the rain arrived and – at least as long as the daylight lasted – my handiwork seemed to be holding up

leaf-free drain

Which is satisfying. But not, if I’m honest, as satisfying as sorting out a situation like this

flooded road

by poking it with a stick.

Still, if the forecast is anything to go by, there’s still time for plenty of flooding to materialise. I would report on the ford, but the rain was so heavy that I got soaked just going out to photograph the drains, and I’ve had quite enough drenchings this week. With more to come tomorrow, I suspect