Expectations Management

April 30, 2016

Well, miracle of miracles, I got out and did some gardening today. I still have too much work to do, although the end may be in sight, but with Pedal on Parliament finished – meaning that it’s now possible to actually finish dealing with my emails before the next tranche arrive – and the garden backlog getting steadily more urgent, I decided that if I didn’t get out now then I might as well give up on the veg this year. All I needed was some decent weather and I could get my seed potatoes in, or at least the first and second earlies, before it was too late.

wrinkled seed potatoes

Top tip for gardeners: don’t wait until your seed potatoes look like this. Although apparently they will still grow

Now if you’d told me even a week ago that a day when there was only one sudden violent hailstorm, plus intermittent icy showers, no actual ground frost and a forecast of it not to snow again at least for a while would count as decent gardening weather, I’d have looked at you as if you were mad – but after the weather we’ve had in recent days, we’ll take what we can get, frankly…

Not Tempered to the Shorn Lamb

April 29, 2016

Cycling down for the paper today in a viciously cold wind, I was trying to work out exactly what direction it was coming from – and whether I’d be cycling back right into the teeth of it on my way home. The wind tends to swirl around a bit through the village and sometimes hides behind hedges before pouncing unexpectedly. Plus if it’s a cross wind it can feel like a head wind in both directions – and if it’s a tail wind, you never notice until it’s too late

Coming back in what turned out to be a biting north-easterly cross wind – but of course – I realised that what I should have done was looked at the fields – because all the ewes were lying down and all the lambs were huddled on their mothers’ leeward sides. They’re still little enough not to have much fat to insulate them, or much wool either, and need what shelter they can get – although it has at least stopped snowing…

Spring. Did I blink and miss it?

Your Poor Hands Look Frozen…

April 28, 2016

… exclaimed the checkout woman as I handed over my cash this morning, and looking down at them I could see her point. Five miles into an icy headwind in sleety drizzle really doesn’t do anything for your skin, and while I know that spring in Scotland can mean anything, and we can get snow in June and all that, it’s one thing knowing it in theory, and it’s another thing to be digging out the lobster gloves when it’s almost May.

If yesterday’s weather was freakish, with its alternation of hot sunshine and snow, today was just Novemberish, and we had enough of that in November frankly.

The only bright side is I’m so behind with the garden I almost look prescient. To think I used to start planting things in February…


April 27, 2016

We woke this morning to clear skies and glorious sunshine – and no frost on the grass, for once, which was an improvement on the last couple of weeks. What better day, I thought, to take the peas and beans out of the greenhouse where I started them in a panic at the end of March and try and harden them off to plant them out before it’s actually May? And maybe get some washing out to boot?

hailstorm on laundry

And yes, I did stop to take a photo for the blog before rescuing the washing …

In retrospect, a day when it didn’t keep suddenly hailing, alternating with snowing, might have been better.

The weird thing was, in between hail/snow showers it was rather nice and even warm. In fact, I was sitting on the bench with my lunch when the first lot fell and it confused me because there I was enjoying the warmth of the sun, and here was this white stuff falling out of the sky – I confess, I looked up to see if there was a jackdaw or something dropping things because that made more sense than snow.

Anyway, according to all the gardening columns, hardening off your glasshouse-grown plants is a gradual process of putting them out on sunny days and progressively getting them used to the great outdoors with longer spells in the cold and eventually keeping them out overnight – not subjecting them to a day of violent freak weather conditions and hoping for the best.

broadbean seedlings

Fortunately, my peas and broad beans seem a pretty hardy bunch. With any luck they’ll survive tomorrows plague of frogs, or whatever it is the Weather Gods have in store, and I can plant them out at the weekend, ready for it to hail taxis.

Pea seedlings

Twelve* Angry Men**

April 26, 2016

An important-looking letter arrives

I know that jury service is supposed to be a bit of an imposition – but I’m actually looking forward to it in a way. I’m trying to put my finger exactly on why this should be. Partly it’s because I’m nosy – part and parcel of being a writer – and it seems like it would be really interesting. Partly it’s because I’ll be able to claim a massive 9.8p a mile for cycling to Bigtown’s Sheriff Courts for a week (what’s the betting they won’t let me sit on any dangerous driving cases?). But mainly, after the last few weeks I’ve had it’s because the thought of spending a week largely hanging around with nothing to do seems rather appealing …

* Except it would appear it’s 15 in Scotland

** and not all men either. Or, necessarily, angry.

We Came, We PoPped, I’m Pooped

April 23, 2016

What you want words? How about some tweets instead (the ultimate in lazy blogging, I know)

The problem is, I never get a chance to look around and actually take it in on the day, I’m just too busy and too worried and then when the speeches start I’m crouched under a banner so I can see the screen of the laptop trying to extract actual sentences out of a politicians’ speech for the press release.

The Pedal on Parliament media centre at work

But here is the assembled crowd cheering as the last riders arrived at the Parliament building – 50 minutes after the first ones set off.

POP CheerAnd for those of you who don’t give a stuff about cycling or campaigning – the end is in sight. We’ll be back to gardening and swallows and imprecations towards the weather gods soon …



April 21, 2016

radio mast

It’s funny – we’ve spent 8 years here, more or less to the day, and we’ve never thought to drive up to the top of the hill to get a closer look at the radio mast* we can see from almost everywhere around here.

This evening, though, there was a beacon planned for the Queen’s 90th birthday and where else would you site it but right on the top of the hill where the mast is, and presumably for similar reasons. I’m fairly neutral on the whole monarchy thing, but I’m all for a big bonfire and it being a village event that, crucially, someone else had organised, I thought we had better go and support it.

full moon

It was only when we’d driven all the way up the hill that it struck us that the views would be fantastic – and not just because it was the only spot in the parish you couldn’t see the radio mast from.


Despite it being a gloriously warm day the wind had picked up and we didn’t wait to spot any other beacons before starting our own. The youngest inhabitant of the parish had the honour of setting the match to the bonfire and then it was the usual bonfire activity of finding the sweet spot between freezing your arse off and burning your eyebrows off.

hot bonfire

And getting close enough to toast a marshmallow or two. I wonder if you could make Tunnocks Caramel Wafers Smores?

tunnocks, marshmallows and flag
* Obviously, while a distant windfarm is considered a dreadful eyesore, a ginormous radio mast slap bang in the middle of the parish is just part of the scenery. No, I don’t really know either

Springing up

April 18, 2016

Working away at the kitchen table this morning I was interrupted by a familiar and very cheering noise

Yup, the swallows – or rather swallow – was back, sitting on the wire, chattering away, wondering where everybody else was. I’d seen one briefly yesterday on my way back from the litter pick (which went fine, by the way; someone came to my rescue and helped out with the teas) but nothing in our yard until just now. It’s always a little sobering how many we send off at the end of the year, and how few come back in the spring but hopefully this is just the harbinger and won’t be quite so lonely by the end of the week*

Other signs of spring are somewhat less welcome. Like the crunching noise underfoot that indicated I’d just unwarily stepped on a snail (I’m no fan of snails, but I prefer to give them flying lessons than completely flattening them).

Oh, and time to start weeding the cobbles again. Long since, in fact


*Indeed, cycling down for the paper, I happened across a chap I often stop and talk to – he’s a birdwatcher too and we normally exchange sightings of there’s anything to report. Naturally I told him about my swallow and as I encountered him on the way back he started waving madly and pointing up at the sky where there were four swallows. It’s moments like this that really make my day …

Not So Fast

April 15, 2016

Alert readers may remember I de-nosed my Brompton saddle back in March which is hardly any time at all in bike-maintenance weeks, especially when I don’t normally ride the Brompton much when I’m at home, and besides the de-nosed Brompton saddle has been proving surprisingly rideable, at least when the alternative is figuring out how to fit a new saddle.

But I had been fortunate enough to receive a lovely new Brooks B17 from my mum for my birthday. All I had to do was order a Pentaclip to attach the saddle to the seatpost, which took me longer than I’d thought because they turn out to cost *how much* and by *how much* I mean far more than you’d expect to pay for something that is called a clip that doesn’t come qualified with the word ‘diamond’.* But I need the Brompton for POP next weekend and I wanted to look its best so last week I finally brought myself to shell out, the Pentaclip duly arrived and – with dire warnings about what happens if you allow the Pentaclip to disassemble itself spontaneously ringing in my ears – I persuaded the other half to affix it to the saddle, while I Proofided the leather and generally admired it as a thing of beauty and hopefully a joy forever.

New Brooks saddle

Yesterday I was up against a bit of a work deadline but I did have to go and get the paper and the sun had briefly emerged so I thought it might be an opportunity to try out my new saddle. I know that Brooks saddles have a bit of a reputation for being hard work to break in but my other one had been comfy from day one, so I wasn’t too worried, although it is a different model. I got the Pentaclip onto the Brompton seatpost with no trouble at all – which in itself was slightly concerning – and set off to ride the five miles or so to …


Oh no, that isn’t right at all.


I *think* it’s just the rake – and come to think of it, it took a few goes to sort out the rake on my old one – but I didn’t have time to do the painstaking adjustments required to sort it out so the Brompton went back in the shed and I settled myself comfortably into the embracing leather hammock that is the saddle on my other bike. Ah, like coming home …

Old saddle

Hopefully I will have time to get this sorted before Saturday or I’ll have to do the whole of POP – cobbles and all – standing up …

* the word ‘Brompton’ appears to work in the same way

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility

April 13, 2016

I’ve got a fair bit on my plate at the moment: two colliding work-related deadlines, a pop-up bookshop on Saturday, the small matter of a mass cycle protest and related election campaign to help organise and – last but not least – the small matter of the village litter pick on Sunday.

Well, I say small, but it’s the litter pick that appears to be occupying most of my mental stress cycles. Not the litter pick itself – I think I have got that more or less under control although many a slip and all that – but the fact that after the litter pick there is traditionally a tea, and serving the village a tea is no light matter. In the past, in my innocence, teas just appeared magically in the village hall whenever there was a village event, complete with a small army of sensibly shod older ladies who could always be heard having way more fun in the kitchen than those sitting down with their tea and enormous array of cakes. It was only as the weekend approached that it began to dawn on me that the tea wasn’t actually going to magically appear, complete with army of helpers, unless I personally did something about it in my new role as secretary-of-the-community-council-oh-and-apparently-organiser-of-everything*.

A few frantic emails to people who looked as if they might know how to summon a tea or a little-old-lady army has elicited some advice and an offer of baking and I think I now have the matter under control, although time will tell. Who knows, with any luck the army of ladies may even appear and take over – although even if they don’t, I think nobody will die of thirst and they won’t be talking about the litter pick with no tea for the next decade.  But do please remind me why it is I thought that quitting our jobs and leaving the rat race and London behind would make life less stressed?

It may be time to downshift again. And stay downshifted this time…

* I am about 99% certain that when the secretary was a man, he did not organise the teas but I haven’t quite got to the bottom of how that worked.