Call Me Old Fashioned…

May 31, 2016

… But I would have thought that – were you the owner of a large, boisterous and poorly trained dog which had just jumped up twice at a visitor and then started sniffing their crotch in a way that had gone beyond embarrassing and was verging on sexual harrassment before proceeding to growl, bark, and finally lunge forward and nip at a rather tender spot on their inner thigh while you stood around ineffectually telling it to stop – the correct response is not ‘she’s all right really’, but ‘oh my God, I’m sorry are you all right?’

But in truth, while the British will famously say sorry when someone steps on their foot,* I keep forgetting that the same tendency to over-apologise never seems to apply to the behaviour of their dogs. This throws me every time it happens, even though I’m British myself, so I confined myself to pointing out that their dog had just bitten me (the word ‘actually’ may have forced its way past my gritted teeth with deadly intent) and leaving without a word.

* There was a Spanish woman who came to work in Bigtown a couple of years back. When I asked her how she was liking it (having apologised for the weather) she said, ‘I’d probably like it better it if people didn’t keep apologising for the weather and reminding me.’ For which I apologised. Obviously.

Hanging Jury

May 30, 2016

Jury service finally rolled around this morning – despite it being a sort-of bank holiday (they really don’t do bank holidays properly in Scotland with the exception of the extra hangover recovery day after New Year, which is sacrosanct) AND still being gloriously fine weather, the sort that makes it positively criminal to keep people indoors. Having rung the information line last night hoping that they might have relented on weather grounds if not it being a bank holiday, I was disappointed to learn that we were still expected to show up.

sock knitting in progress

I had been sort of joking about ordering knitting wool but at the last minute I did go online and pick up some sock yarn and I’m glad I did because so far jury service has consisted mostly of hanging around being told nothing and waiting for someone to remember why they had summoned 60 people to spend their bank holiday in a windowless waiting room. This morning I had enough time to ride home* after we were sent away reasonably quickly and told to come back at two, when 15 of us would actually be chosen to form a jury, but then when we did reconvene we were just left hanging around for an hour and a half and then finally sent home again, with instructions to come back tomorrow so we can do it all again. As you can imagine, my fellow potential jurors were unimpressed by this process. I imagine after a week of this sort of thing, we’ll be ready to hang anyone…

What did surprise me was that, even though the leaflet we were sent made it quite clear that we might be expected to hang about a bit and should bring something to read, nobody else had apparently brought anything else to do, and passed the time either chatting to their fellow jurors or staring blankly into space. I can’t imagine risking having to hang around for even five minutes without something to keep me amused – I’d also brought a paper and a book as a backup in case the knitting palled – but then again, it’s probably no bad thing that we all get to know each other a bit before the process begins. And if nothing else, I could do with a new pair of socks.

* I did vaguely think I might actually get something useful done that way, but naturally having been granted two unexpected hours at home, I squandered them by sitting drinking coffee in the sun, chatting to the neighbour and the neighbour’s baby and doing a little light cobble weeding. That plus the 32 miles of cycling back and forth in total meant a complete waste of a glorious day. Oh no wait, hang on…

Fly in the Ointment

May 29, 2016

greenery in the garden

We’ve had some unforecasted nice weather in recent days, and the countryside has reached that perfect late-spring pitch, with the air absolutely heady with blossom (and wild garlic, but let’s not spoil the image too much). Yesterday morning I had to cycle to Notso Bigtown and was struck by the carpets of white and pink flowers taking over from the bluebells under the trees, although I was unfortunately running late and hadn’t time to take a decent photo. Coming home again I was struck by how gorgeous everything is as the trees are just bursting into leaf.

I sometimes feel guilty about time spent in the garden or on the bench or out on my bike when in reality I should be at the computer working (or writing …) but fine days at this time of the year are precious indeed and really shouldn’t be squandered indoors. So today, although I didn’t have all that much time to spare, I made sure that I at least cycled down to the village to stick up a poster and cycled back savouring every minute

Right up until I inhaled a fly and nearly cycled off the road trying to spit it out. Remind me to keep my open-mouthed wonder to when I’m off the bike in future, won’t you?

Snatched from the Burning

May 27, 2016

How best to say goodbye to a small literary magazine which has run its natural course? I have been running the Fankle for five years now and it was more or less washing its face – which is about all you can ask of a small-scale literary pamphlet to be honest – until my printing costs doubled and I decided it was time to pull the plug.

I could have just quietly folded it up (appropriately enough if you know how it is made), but I decided its farewell should be marked in more dramatic fashion so we gathered together as many of our past contributors as could make it, to drink wine, read out some of our greatest hits, and then it seemed to make sense to give it a final, Viking-style sendoff by fashioning one into a boat, setting fire to it, and then sending it off flaming across the nearest loch.

When I dreamt this idea up, I hadn’t quite factored in the fact that it would still be broad daylight at 7 in the evening, which made it less dramatic a sight than I had hoped. Nor had I quite taken into account the onshore breeze – or the fact that when a party of people comes down to the edge of the water in an urban location, all of the local swans make a beeline for what they hope will be some food. It’s quite difficult to shoo a swan, it turns out, let alone a dozen of them. Indeed, even setting fire to a small literary pamphlet and floating it in their general direction doesn’t do much more than bemuse them. It takes a lot to faze an urban swan.

swan audience

Come to think of it, this isn’t a bad turnout for a poetry reading…

But it takes even more to faze a party of poets – who weren’t even all that drunk as they were driving so I had had to do my best with the wine – so we said farewell to it anyway (and then fished the remains out of the loch and disposed of them properly; we’re not litter louts). And perhaps after all, adding a touch of farce and an audience of swans to the proceedings wasn’t the worst way to see something off that has always run on a wing and a prayer.

The Tarmac Fairy is Dead. Long Live the Tarmac Fairy

May 24, 2016

community council agenda

In my role as secretary of the community council (fortunately – or unfortunately* – ours survived the night of the long knives which saw 38 of them axed by the coonsil due to failure to fill in the correct paperwork in the right order, something which I predicted as far back as December when we realised the evilly bureaucratic genius of the process involved in not having your community council dissolved) I have received what I believe to be the ur-specimen of a coonsil email:

1. It has been openly copied to 53 separate email addresses (I think I probably have access to every email address in the county by now due to the coonsil’s inability to master the use of the bcc field), although to be fair, that’s actually quite parsimonious for a coonsil email distribution list.

2. The email itself says nothing much except to direct me to an attachment which I then have to download to read. There was nothing in the email to suggest that this might be quite an important and relevant email, in contrast to most of the other regular emails I get from the council which are almost entirely irrelevant. But then I suppose if the coonsil thinks that all the emails it sends are vitally important even the ones attaching a newsletter which summarises the feedback it’s had on its strategy for the consultation over its strategy for the proposed merging of social and medical care.**

3. On downloading the attachment, because I’m diligent like that, I discover it is written in pure coonsil (‘undernoted’ anyone?), but on careful parsing I realise it’s a road closure notice – for our own road, as it happens – for the period of a month (I might have been tipped off about this by the weekly email I get which tells me about road works across the whole of the county, but which is fairly useless to anyone who doesn’t know their U33Bs from their C25Ns and so I’ve stopped reading it with any real attention).

4. On further inspection, this road closure notice appears to be an arse-covering exercise on the part of the council who have decided they’re going to be mending the road at some point during the next month but aren’t sure when, so they’re just going for a blanket order so they can close the road when they need to, which is wonderfully convenient for them, but slightly less convenient for the people who actually live on the road. When it comes to following the letter rather than the spirit of the law, this coonsil wrote the book…

5. Just to add injury to insult (from a cyclist’s point of view) they’re not actually mending the road, they’re just surface dressing it.

6. And finally, if we have any comments, we have to respond ‘within five working days’. Which would be great, if the road closure wasn’t due to start the day after tomorrow.

I have sent them some full and frank feedback all the same.

* Encouragingly, at least one of the axed bodies has effectively gone feral and has been busy spending the money it had built up in its account on useful things like bus shelters so the coonsil can’t get its hands on it. I bet being secretary of a rogue community council involves a hell of a lot less paperwork and more actual doing stuff. I wonder how many guerrilla bike lanes we could have got installed before anyone stopped us …

** I really wish I was making that up.

For Those in Peril from the Air

May 23, 2016

Bluebell wood
We had a somewhat unexpectedly nice day today (especially after yesterday degenerated into thunder and sudden hailstorms, when the Met Office had confidently predicted ‘light showers’) and the ride down to the papershop was pretty perfect – the bluebells are still going so the air was full of their scent, I bumped into a couple of friends for a chat on the way, and best of all there was no wind, for the first time in ages. By the time I had got to the shop I had peeled off my gloves and jacket, which means it was seriously warm (I have been known to cycle the whole summer in gloves). But I was still doggedly wearing my tweed cap, even though my head was boiling, and no chance to take it off until I was at least half way home.

The reason? We’re getting perilously close to buzzard season. Every shadow that passed over me as I approached Buzzard Alley made me duck ever so slightly, anticipating the rush of talons at my back. A buzzard suddenly appearing in the trees beside the road as I pedalled out of Papershop Village made me jump, but it wasn’t interested. Further up, at the top of the climb where ASBO Buzzard likes to ambush me from the forest, I did hear the peevish calling of a pissed off buzzard, but if it was my nemesis it was too busy being hassled by a crow to take a swipe.

Last year I was caught by surprise and I’m determined it won’t happen again – although I’m now wondering whether it wouldn’t be less stressful not to anticipate its attack, especially as I can’t really do anything about it other than keep wearing my hat and hoping for the best. Ideally I’d get myself a video camera and try and catch it in the act but it would be difficult to point it in the right direction given that it likes to keep me guessing. I may just have to invite Magnatom and his fancy 3D camera down to see if we can’t capture it whichever angle it approaches from

Either way, this is definitely one of the things I’m not going to miss when we move.

Ooof …

May 18, 2016

I’m knackered. Our local cycle campaign is running a ‘Bike Message* Challenge‘ starting next week, encouraging people to cycle to the local shops, bank, hairdresser, library, museum or wherever, instead of defaulting to the car. We were hoping that, with luck and a following wind, we might manage to sign up around 40 places to take – some of the more enlightened shops and cafes, the local libraries, the museums. What we weren’t expecting was that half of all the town centre shops would jump at the chance – it turns out that shopkeepers are keen to be involved in something that encourages customers to beat a path to their door, whatever their mode of travel. Who knew?

The downside (filed under ‘nice problem to have’) is that I’ve just spent the last two days tromping round the centre of Bigtown delivering the packs they need to take part to over a hundred shops. Which is a lot of talking to people – something I do find quite exhausting, especially a lot of strangers, and this being Bigtown the shopkeepers were mostly friendly and wanted a chat – and a lot of walking (the bike is more of a help than a hindrance when you’re going door to door). And as a result I’m absolutely shattered. It turns out that regularly cycling 16 miles a day – and being able to cycle all day if I’m going slow enough – is no training for effectively a day spent standing around chatting. I pedalled home with heavy legs and then spent a good hour collapsed next to the Rayburn until I could summon the energy to move.

It reminds me that I’ll miss the Rayburn when we move. It’s already beginning to make the odd chugging sound which means it will be fading out soon, and then we’ll switch it off for the summer. And by the time September comes around, we’ll be gone, and the new tenants will have the pleasure of its company in the kitchen. There’s absolutely no excuse really for running an oil-fired Rayburn in a well-regulated eco-conscious household, and we certainly won’t be getting one of our own. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be sorry when we turn it off for the last time.

spring greenery

And the picture? No reason, except that you cannot have too much spring greenery in your life.

* this makes more sense if you know that in Scotland your ‘messages’ means your shopping (or general errands)

Never a Truer Word

May 16, 2016

Back when I used to work in IT and had a team who had to pretend to listen to me as I was their boss, I had a little saying I used to trot out on appropriate occasions: “Never underestimate the permanence of a temporary solution that works” (yes, I was that kind of boss but in my defence, I worked in an organisation which had a building called the Temporary Cycad House that dated from 1971, so I rest my case).

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that although when we moved up here renting our cottage was a temporary measure, intended to tide us over until we were sure we wanted to live up here and had found a more permanent house we could buy, just over eight years later, here we still are. Partly this is just because time flies if you’re not careful and eight years could happen to anyone if they’re busy and have other things on their mind, and partly because we accidentally found ourselves in a place – or at least a location – which was hard to improve upon. Not only does the other half’s shed empire occupy almost as much floor space as the house, allowing us to have a shed each and one for the swallows, but we got access to a splendid walled garden, and recently a full size greenhouse. Add in the fact that we are in the middle of some of the best rural cycling roads in the UK – a dense network of lightly trafficked single-track roads with just enough up and down to be interesting but not enough to force me to get off and push – and somehow found ourselves enmeshed in various things in the village and Bigtown that moving too far elsewhere was difficult to contemplate. Given that one of the attractions of the place where we live to us is that there aren’t very many people around, house hunting proved difficult as that meant there also weren’t that many houses to hunt from.

However, all these difficulties notwithstanding, it does look as if we might have bought a house that ticks most of our boxes. It’s still very rural, it’s within cycling distance of Bigtown (but up rather more hill…), it has a garden and enough shedage to be getting on with,* and it’s close enough to where we are now that many of my cycling routes and all of our activities can remain more or less as they are now. It is, in short, not perfect (no greenhouse, no walled garden, a road with a white line down the middle between me and Bigtown) but it is as perfect as we were likely to find – and fingers crossed (although I gather this is very much less fraught a process in Scotland than it is in England), it will soon be ours.

It means farewell to the ford (sniff), Papershop Village and ASBO Buzzard (hooray –  although we’re not moving until July so it will get a few more chances to attack me). It won’t mean farewell to the garlic or any of the other surviving veg as I have arranged to keep access to the veg plot until everything has been harvested. And it should mean lots of exciting new gardening adventures as I finally get a chance to shape a garden of my own.

Stand by for more on this as the story develops…

* it has other things, like bedrooms and a kitchen, but to be honest I think we spent more time looking at the outside bits than the inside ones. Sadly it wasn’t the house where the tour included a detour to look at the next door badger sett …

“But How’s the Garlic?”

May 14, 2016

The other half asked a couple of days ago as I was bemoaning the state of the garden. Regular readers may remember that last year I was asked to review Marshall’s Heritage Garlic Collection and they have since suffered storms Abigail to Frank, snow, heavy frost, the strangest spring weather since the plagues of Egypt and a certain amount of user error.

And the result? Well, put it this way, I was looking at them the other day and thinking ‘that’s odd, I could have sworn I’d dug up all the leeks already’.

garlic plants

Time will yet tell whether all this impressive growth actually translates into a decent garlic crop – and there is the tiny complication that somewhere between Abigail and Frank, all the labels blew away so I’m just going to have to guess which variety is which – but so far so good.

Well, That Was Quick

May 12, 2016

I haven’t even caught up with the garden backlog yet, and the disasters have already begun

Chomped broad beans

I’m really hoping this isn’t the return of the rabbit. The guys who do the landlords’ gardening bring along a couple of jack russells* with them, one of which had apparently dispatched a couple of rabbits over the winter, but they were up in the walled garden yesterday and didn’t encounter any bunnies. And besides, a rabbit would have eaten all of them, so it may be mice.

chilli flakes on broad beans

Whatever it is, I am following the advice of Gardeners’ Question Time and trying chilli flakes as a deterrent. OK, so the advice was for your bulbs, not your already planted (and partially chomped) broad beans, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Or I may just have made my pea and bean plants extra tasty for the more adventurous rodents, but time will tell on that one

chilli flakes on peas

There is exciting house news, but that will have to wait … Have a bluebell instead


*I actually had to ask what breed they were because they looked a bit like jack russells but they weren’t yapping their heads off.