Exciting Tree Survival News

August 31, 2017

So, I thought that the cow vs tree saga might have come to a premature end when the local farmer moved a bunch of beasts* down the road, and I assumed that included our neighbours. But no sooner had I gone out to dig up some potatoes for our supper this evening, when I realised I had drawn an audience.

drawing a crowd

They soon resumed their assault on the tree, and although they looked as if they were more interested in the tree tube than the tree inside it, they were managing to bend it over to the point that I worried for the top of the tree. I clearly hadn’t attached it solidly enough to the fence. Nothing a zip tie couldn’t fix…

cow vs tree

Except that is easier said than done

cow closeup

When you are being licked to death.

cow nose

In the end I had to call the other half out so one of us could secure the tree and the other fended off our new best friends. Then, with a feeling of a job well done, we settled down to enjoy a drink in the last of the evening sunshine.

cow audience

Just have to shake off that sensation that we were being watched, that’s all …

* That’s what they call livestock around here. It makes farming sound a hell of a lot more exciting than I expect it really is.


Selfie-Respeck

August 30, 2017

So, as those who follow me on Twitter will know, I have got some new glasses.

To be strictly accurate, these are my spare glasses – I need two pairs because I can’t function without my specs and so I need some to wear while my other ones are being reglazed with the new prescription. However, it did occur to me that I’ve been wearing the same (increasingly hard-to-obtain) style of glasses for about 20 years now and it might be time to experiment with a different look.

I’m still not 100% convinced, although the reaction has largely been positive (at least nobody has openly laughed at them, but then again they could just be being polite). They’re quite heavy compared to my old frames, and even though they are apparently what all the cool kids are wearing these days, to someone my age they still look irrevocably like NHS specs… Plus I have the sneaking suspicion that they would not handle being run over by a tractor.

But we must move with the times, even if it does mean learning to do a selfie without adopting an expression that is a cross between ‘how does this phone thing work?’ and ‘who is that middle-aged woman on my phone screen and why is she wearing my hat?’

More on the latter this weekend. And possibly also the former.


The Return of Moo-I-5

August 28, 2017

Just after we moved in, now over a year ago, we were pleased to wake one morning to discover we had some new neighbours – the cows, soon dubbed Moo-I-5 for their habit of watching our every move.

cow next to ash sapling

Our first sight of the cows next door …

The downside of cows-for-neighbours, we were soon to discover was that everything withing cow-reach promptly became cow-lunch. This included a little ash sapling that had established itself right on the fence.

ash and cow annotated

That first picture wasn’t very clear, so I have annotated it

And was shortly reduced to a stick.

ash stick

And if you’re thinking, well at least its got a few leaves left, they went the next day

That, we thought, was the end of that, which is a shame because we like trees and ash are great for firewood and it might have provided a bit of shelter from the prevailing westerly winds. Anyway, time passed and the cows went off to pastures new, and we noticed that the ash sapling was not actually dead (why this should come as a surprise I’m not quite sure as all the other ash saplings which weren’t in quite such a suitable location and had been cut down were also resprouting, but the cows had done a pretty thorough job of chewing it down)

ash resprouting

I’m afraid, I’m a sucker for anything that survives against the odds, even an ash tree that is technically a weed, so I stuck a tree tube on it and awaited the return of the cows …

ash in tree tube

They were a bit later this year than last but pretty soon we had a black and white audience watching over the fence when we ventured outside …

cow attacking tree tube

… and having a good go at the tree when they figured we weren’t looking

So far, the tree tube has held out against a fairly determined onslaught (they appear to be attempting to lick it to death) but watch this space.

OK, so it’s not exactly the ford, but it will have to do.

 


There Once Was a Bike from Devizes

August 27, 2017

I think I may have mentioned in the past that I have mixed feelings about bike maintenance. I understand the attraction  in today’s modern throwaway society of something that not only can be fixed, but which positively demands to be – and indeed maintained, cleaned, oiled, improved and generally tinkered with. How many other objects do you have in daily use that you can say that about?

I can also, in theory, see how satisfying it would be to be able to competently tinker with my own bike (especially if it means confounding the expectations of those who might assume by my gender and general unhandiness that I can’t). And over the years I have gradually picked up a few things, like how to use a pump to get air into a tyre rather than removing all the remaining air out of it (look, I started from a low base), how to get the wheels on and off, how to clean and re-oil a chain, how to replace the brake pads, and how to sort out a wheel that has suddenly gone skewiff because when I say I know how to get the wheels on and off I mean I still never manage to tighten them sufficiently the first time around. And I would estimate that, given enough time and a warm day and no helpful competent person around to do it for me, I can repair a puncture at least 50% of the time without wanting to burst into tears.

However, that’s just the start of it. And if I’ve learned anything about bike maintenance, especially if your bike is more than a few years old, it’s that, whatever the thing is that you’re trying to do, the answer is always going to be that it’s a bit more complicated by that. Because bikes might look like simple and easily understood machines but they have evolved over time and nothing seems to be compatible with anything else, and all bike mechanics will tell you (with a sorrowful shake of the head) that whoever did something to your bike last was a dreadful bodger and it’s amazing you’ve got away with it without coming a nasty cropper.

So when the other half mentioned in passing yesterday evening that my back tyre had gone flat, I knew I was in for a bit of a nightmare. And I wasn’t wrong. What should have been a simple fix of a tiny hole turned into a two-patch job that promptly didn’t take (patches go off, who knew?), the discovery that the thing that makes my back brake spring away from the wheel when I release the brakes had gone sproing and needed to be bent back, the related discovery that my brake pads had worn themselves crooked, the further revelation that my spare inner tube doesn’t fit my back wheel because my back wheel is narrower than my front wheel because a long time ago when I didn’t realise that you change anything on your bike at your peril that had seemed like a good idea, and the subsequent knock-on revelation that my back tyre is the wrong size for the rim. Oh, and my tyre irons are worse than useless but that the cheap hippo-shaped bottle opener I got in a Christmas cracker in 2009 makes a reasonable substitute.

Anyway. I have now purchased a slime-filled inner tube of the right, but also wrong, size which will likely solve none of these problems but just might get me through hedgecutting season if the P****** Fairy isn’t listening, and I have just had a lot of practice at getting my back wheel and tyre on and off, which will stand me in good stead if she is.

Remind me tomorrow to tighten up the back wheel one extra turn before it goes skewiff on me when I set off.

Always assuming there’s actually still any air in the tyre …


Peak Swallow

August 25, 2017

If there’s one thing we’ve missed since we moved to the new house, it’s been having a whole shed just for the swallows which meant a ringside seat when the various broods fledged and – having mastered the whole swooping-out-of-the-window trick – started practising their flying around the yard. Indeed, having resident swallows is a great way of marking the passage of the seasons: from the cheery moment when the first one arrives back from Africa, chattering busily about its journey, to the sudden silence when you realise that they have gone, and they didn’t even say goodbye.

trainee swallows

Trainee swallows on the roof below our bedroom window. Paving beyond demonstrates our relaxed gardening approach …

So we were pleased when we looked out of the window the other morning and discovered not one but dozens of swallows, some still clearly novice flyers, swooping round our garden and perching all over the roof of the house. At one point there were well over 30 all lined up on the wires, and it’s been very distracting trying to work with a bird zooming past my study window at warp speed approximately every 30 seconds.

Not having hosted their nests in our own garden means we can’t feel quite such a sense of proprietorial pride in these birds but, as the other half pointed out, at least our somewhat relaxed attitude to gardening means there’s plenty of insect life around for them to hoover up. Plus there’s the fact that I ride so slowly up the hill that I’ve usually gathered my own personal cloud of flies by the time I get to the house (and if the swallows were to learn that and start greeting my approach by swooping round my head for a free snack, how cool would that be?).

swallow food

We have various plans for the garden, from a greenhouse to a sitooterie* but so far they have not quite extended to building a swallow shed, especially as both the neighbouring farms feature steadings with plenty of swallow habitat. Still, if a corner of the garden somewhere proves hospitable to hirundines (house martins are also welcome, and possibly easier to accommodate), then that will be a massive plus. Meanwhile, we shall continue to enjoy any birds who grace us with their presence, however fleeting.

* The place in the garden where you can sit oot, obviously


In the Midst of Life

August 24, 2017

gravestones

It has been a week for contemplating mortality – a graveyard tour of Bigtown last Friday (genuinely more fun than it sounds), and then I had to travel to York on Tuesday for the funeral of a good friend’s father.

I took the Brompton – something I ummed and ahed about, because I didn’t want to make a spectacle of myself on a solemn occasion but, after looking at Google maps and checking with the locals, I decided that I could get to both York crematorium and the hotel where the event-that-happens-after-funerals-that-doesn’t-seem-to-have-a-name was to be held looking reasonably respectable and without needing the services of the crematorium myself. It saved me messing about ordering taxis or working out buses, and as it happened I arrived at the hotel almost before anyone else, despite taking a massive detour to stick to the cycle paths as much as possible. York’s on-again-off-again cycling infrastructure (now it’s a shared path! Now it’s a pavement! Now it’s on the other side of the road! Now it’s paint on the road! Now it’s under a skip!) did enough to remind me of my own mortality without leaving me seriously fearing for my life, there was even cycle parking at both venues, and the main problem turned out to be that I had dressed for August in Scotland (bordering on autumn) and was cycling in August in England (Gas Mark 5), so had to do a hasty spot of delamination in the loos before the service. I had the bonus of a native guide to get me on the right road through York’s somewhat confusing city centre, and a reasonable map to get me back to the station, and in the end it all went extremely smoothly even if I did feel like I was indeed being That Person, the one who insists on turning up everywhere on a bike to make a point.

And in truth, although I might frame it as being entirely a practical decision about a mode of transport, there was another reason for taking the Brompton with me, which probably weighed the strongest. On a day that was inevitably about sadness and loss, about death and the past, simply being able to get on a bike and just move was exactly what I needed to do.

engraved stone

For in the midst of life, we are indeed in death. And in the midst of death, we are also still alive.


Bikes Bearing Gifts

August 21, 2017

Heading out for the paper this lunchtime after a hard morning compiling the Cycling Embassy Bike Blog Roundup, I was startled to discover someone had left a mysterious offering on the doorstep.

plastic bag

A plastic bag! That’s worth 5p you know

A quick glance inside revealed blackcurrant cuttings, but no note. I was puzzled because I didn’t think any of the tiny handful of people who live within walking distance of us would be bringing blackcurrant cuttings unannounced, but I definitely had not heard a car.

blackcurrant cuttings

A message on my phone quickly cleared up the mystery: my friend with the e-bike had taken advantage of its ability to zoom effortlessly up hills to drop them off. Clearly I was too absorbed to hear her knock on the door – and the bike was too silent to alert me to her arrival. As downsides to e-bikes go, it’s pretty minor but I’m sorry to have missed her, if only so I could see for myself what The Hill is like on the bike.

Anyway, the blackcurrants have been potted up and will make a fine addition to our fruit cage when we actually get around to putting one up. They’ll probably be full size by then …

blackcurrant cuttings potted up


Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

August 20, 2017

Stopping in to buy a paper on my way to catch the train to Glasgow yesterday morning, I had the nicest little encounter. A woman in the queue said hello to me as if she knew me and asked me how I was, which isn’t that unusual around here – I’m forever meeting people out of context and racking my brains to work out how I know them – but this time I had no sense that I recognised her at all. So I said hello back and asked how she was, and then she said something about me being always out on my bike. So we chatted about that for a bit, and she told me that she used to ride a bike but she had sold hers because she was now too scared to go out on the roads and I told her that I didn’t blame her one bit, and that there were some roads I only rode on because I was bloody minded, and the traffic frightened me too. And we had a real meeting of minds about needing better conditions on the roads, and terrifying lorries, and not needing to dress up specially to ride a bike and it was all lovely, although sad that one more person has been frightened off the roads.

But I still didn’t know how I knew her – or she knew me – until it emerged that she has been seeing me out on the bike for the last few months while driving and she has been acknowledging me and I have been acknowledging her (because I will always raise a hand in thanks at any driver who doesn’t actively endanger my life which is in fairness most of them). Except of course she is in a car so I have no idea what she looks like whereas I am extremely recognisable to her. So when she saw me in the shop, she felt that we had already become friendly, just through our interactions on the road. I shall have to keep an eye out for her car (fortunately she described it to me) and make sure to give her an extra friendly wave from now on.

It’s easy sometimes, especially when it’s raining and things are all a bit grim, to start to feel a bit beleaguered by the drivers out there, and ascribe all sorts of things to them (impatience, irritation, aggression) that they aren’t actually feeling at all. So it’s good to know that at least one of those metal boxes out there harbours someone who feels warm and friendly towards cyclists, feels a bit guilty about not being one, and looks out for you on the road. It left me with a nice warm feeling of my own, and a renewed determination to keep being polite and friendly to everyone on the road.


Shooting Blanks

August 17, 2017

I managed an hour or two in the garden today, and not a moment too soon as the sole surviving pumpkin plant appears to be mounting a bid for freedom.

pumpkin plant

It doesn’t appear to be mounting much of an effort to grow pumpkins though – the few little fruits it has produced have tended to rot off before they amount to much. This may be sheer loneliness – I planted out four squash and four pumpkin plants this spring, and it is the sole survivor of the rampant slug army that is inhabits the garden. Despite many dozens of them meeting their doom in the beer traps, there seems to be no end to them; perhaps I should stop buying them rounds …

slugs

Perhaps I should also stop providing neat little slug starter homes…

Despite the slugs, and some rampant neglect of my own, the plot has proved surprisingly fertile ground for the plants that did survive. None of my French beans made it past the hopeful seedling stage, and the curly kale just evaporated without trace but the red winter kale is looking pretty good, if somewhat slug-chewed, the beetroot has already provided several meals and is wonderfully sweet* and the peas have just gone beserk. They have resisted all attempts to be propped up so picking them involves wading into the patch and pulling out the pods before the tendrils can fasten themselves around your ankles, but for the first time in years we’ve had enough peas to cook and eat, rather than just be scoffed straight from the pod. I think this may be first-plot syndrome – they always seem to do well on new ground, and then are never quite so good again (she says, grandly, having had all of three veg plots in her entire life).

peas

Tonight’s supper, which was, as tradition demands, delicious

My broad beans are a sad disappointment though. They are producing magnificent pods but there’s just nothing in them or almost nothing. Clearly with that and the pumpkin, there’s a lack of pollination going on. We seem to have a fair few bees about, but perhaps they’ve been distracted (or indeed held captive) by the peas. It might have helped if I’d staked them properly, or kept them a bit better weeded, but it’s definitely been a case of the survival of the fittest in the garden this year.

broad bean pods

Broad beans: all hat and no cattle

* adjusted for being beetroot and not, say, chocolate.


Pounce First, Ask Questions Later

August 16, 2017

So, I haven’t knitted anything for a while, due to various reasons mainly revolving around the only so many hours in a day issue (although to be fair, if I combined all the time I spent on Twitter with all the time I spend standing in the bedroom wondering what I’d come upstairs for* I could probably have knitted the Bayeux Tapestry by now).

Anyway, yesterday I was truffling around in Bigtown’s charity shops when I noticed one was stocking knitting yarn – several bags of mohair to be specific.

The problem with mohair is that while it’s lovely and fluffy, it’s lovely and fluffy which means that pretty much all the knitting patterns for mohair wool just look a bit (well, a lot) eighties (as a teenager in the 80s, I remember we used to look at the fashions of the 70s and scoff at how ridiculous everyone looked. Ahem. I speak as the proud owner of a knitted giraffe-hide patterned off-shoulder jumper which I thought was the absolute bees knees in approximately 1985 (although If I’m honest, I still think it was pretty cool. But then I also had a rah-rah skirt (and a pair of purple pedal pushers which really were the pits. Don’t tell anyone))).

mohair patterns

The 80s. Truly the decade that style forgot

So obviously, sensibly, I gave the mohair stash a skip and went home and laughed at all the random mohair patterns out there on the Internet that I just happened to google, and then today when I was in town I just happened to glance into the charity shop in question just out of random curiosity, only to find that all but one of the bags of mohair had gone…

mohair knitting wool

Well, what would you have done, fellow knitting people?

More to the point, what would you do with 8 25-gram balls of mohair cotton mix, that won’t end up with me channelling my inner Lady Di?

mohair cotton nylon

* Usually a jumper, but the design of our house is such that our bedroom is about 10 degrees warmer than the rest of it, so although I was cold when I set off upstairs to put another layer on, by the time I get to where the jumpers are, it seems ridiculous, this being August. I could probably save a lot of time and effort by just storing my jumpers downstairs.