Emerging (or – Exciting Shopping News)

April 28, 2020

one tree in leaf, one not
We’ve reached the point when even the trees can’t agree whether or not to come out of their lockdown and risk bursting into leaf …

As for the humans – well I’m not going to venture an opinion on what we should be doing about it, and I’m very glad I’m not responsible for deciding either, although I was very glad to hear this ministerial announcement which means that when we do start to emerge in greater numbers, there will be space for people to walk and cycle while keeping a nice safe distance from each other and the rest of the traffic.

Lockdown might not have ended yet, but I did manage a little loosening of my own isolation in that I had an unavoidable trip to the post office yesterday so at last I had a chance to do things I haven’t done in five weeks, like cycle into Bigtown and visit an actual shop (the other half has been doing the supermarket run once a week). This was quite exciting to me, adjusted for our new reality of what counts as exciting – especially as I also had a chance to buy a paper, bringing us up to a massive three this week. I mean it’s not the ford, or even a new pipeline, but you’ll just have to take what novelties you can get on this blog these days.

view from the bridge

That said, as far as cycling into town went, I’d have been hard pressed to notice any difference. The post office is just at the edge of town and traffic has never been that heavy there and if I was expecting tumbleweed rolling through the streets then I would have been disappointed. What I did get was all the fun of negotiating the new rules having not had a chance to adapt to them gradually – so yes, I was that person attempting to circumvent the one-way system in the shop (I was deeply apologetic when I was politely but firmly told to follow the rules). To be honest, the strangest thing about it all was the continuing fine weather which meant those standing outside waiting to get in were just enjoying a nice blether in the sun. Regular readers of the blog will know just how strange a phenomenon that is around here.

Anyway, with that excitement over it’s back to my round of work, local walks, and the odd outing on the bike, enjoying the emergence of spring and wondering what the future lies in store.

trees coming into leaf

How is your lockdown going?

Not Running with the Bulls

April 23, 2020

One of less widely acknowledged benefits of using your bike for transport is that however busy you get, you still end up getting in some exercise – indeed, in normal times, the busier you are, the more of a workout you will build into your day just to run errands or go to meetings.

And then along comes a virus and everyone is stuck indoors and while some of my cycling friends are enjoying the government injunction to go out and take exercise, and others are getting inventive with indoor cycling (and even skipping), I’m not spending anything like as much time on the bike as I would normally just fetching the paper.

I’m actually really enjoying our daily walks instead – even if they’ve been temporarily curtailed in one direction by some escaped bulls that took up residence in our local forest (we think they’ve been rounded up but they were quite good at disappearing into the shadows under the trees so it’s hard to be sure and we didn’t quite fancy suddenly encountering animals quite so big and with quite such pointy horns without a stout fence between us and them). But they’re not proving quite as much of a work out as I’m used to. I could go out more on the bike, but I have got very busy in the last few days and when you need to get a lot of exercise in a short period of time there’s really only one option – going for a run.

So that’s why I found myself at some silly hour of the morning, heading down the hill on my bike to a quieter back road where I could get a bit of an aerobic workout. Unfortunately the bike – perhaps sensing a rival form of exercise in my affections – had other ideas. Half way down the road and the flat front tyre had become unignorable.

early start

I briefly considered doing my run from there – but even with the lighter traffic of lockdown, our local B road is not that inviting on foot without even a comfortable verge, let alone a pavement. Just wheeling the bike back up the hill didn’t feel all that comfortable, although it did give me a chance to pick up lots of squashed cans I’ve not managed to stop for in the past – and entertain the neighbours as well.

curious cows

What is she doing?

Once home, all dressed up with nowhere to run (unless I fancied my chances with the wild beasts of the forest) I considered just heading back to bed, but that seemed a little feeble. The only other place to go was up our neighbours’ drive (if you can call a private road half a mile long a drive). Which happens to go straight up hill for the first half. I wonder how many times I can run up the hill and back down again, I asked myself, which only goes to show that this lockdown has gone on far too long.

Anyway the answer – surprisingly to me – was ‘at least four’ – with the downhill parts proving harder on the legs than the uphill. It’s reassuring I suppose that a few weeks of less frantic gadding about haven’t really put much of a dent in my fitness.

So now, on top of everything else, I will have to sort out that puncture and find another morning to head out for my original planned (and rather gentler) run. And hope that by the time the lockdown ends I’m not the sort of person who does hill repeats for fun…

Frying Visit

April 18, 2020

Say what you like about the lockdown, it’s certainly making us appreciate the little things in life. Like the fact that one of our neighbours shops on a Tuesday and has been picking up the Guardian for us, so we now get a paper two days a week instead of just on Saturday.

And the excitement of discovering that the mobile fish and chip van was back in business and coming our way …

Today was the day so, having booked our slot via Facebook Messenger (all you people who loftily tell me they’re not on Facebook … how are you surviving? As far as I can see it’s the only place for almost all local information in these pandemic times), we duly set off on a gorgeous spring evening to pick up our order.

The mobile chippy is one of those things we’ve been meaning to try out pretty much as soon as we moved up here, but have never quite got round to doing until three weeks of lockdown made any sort of meal we hadn’t cooked ourselves into an unimaginable luxury. Ordinarily, the community pub opens early for the van’s arrival and your chips can be consumed in comfort in the bar with a pint, but with pubs consigned to the distant era of, ooh, a month ago, there was nothing for it but to cycle back with our order to eat it at home. This made for a bit of a time trial home: three miles, several unnecessary hills and an unexpected headwind versus the rate of cooling of a couple of chip suppers wrapped in insulating newspaper in a bike pannier bag.

fish and chips

I have just paid for the unexpected exertion with a bout of thigh cramp – clearly all this not-cycling is beginning to get to me – but on balance it was still well worth it. The chips were still hot, the beer in the fridge was cold, and the garden was just about pleasant enough for an al fresco supper. Michelin starred restaurants, eat your heart out.

World Turned Upside Down

April 15, 2020

If mutant dandelions weren’t enough to worry about…

There’s a couple of other signs that the world is surely on its final approach towards the end times. First is that it hasn’t properly rained for weeks – yes, here, in South West Scotland. There’s been rain forecast but apart from a tiny spot of drizzle on Sunday morning it’s never materialised. And days that were forecast to be a bit meh have shaped up to be glorious. It’s wonderful, of course, but the gardener in me is trying very hard not to wish it would rain…

ruined tower and blue sky

The other thing is that I haven’t been out on my bike for a week (and I feel fine). This is probably the least cycling I’ve done (apart from a fortnight’s holiday spent on an island that consists mainly of flights of stairs) for years. It turns out that for me, riding a bike is largely an enjoyable way to get somewhere, not an obsession in itself.

caution bicycles sign

That said, when the sun shines and the wind drops and it’s another gorgeous sunny afternoon it would be churlish not to get the bike out and reassure it I haven’t forgotten it. So today’s state-sanctioned exercise was a tidy 12-mile loop around the local back roads, just because we could.

bikes on a bridge

It was good to know I could still get up and down the hills.

open road

If you’ve had enough photos of empty country roads and glorious sunshine (with the other half as a figure giving scale to the image as he disappears into the middle distance) just let me know.

bike and open road

Rhubarb squared

April 14, 2020

As the news gets steadily more depressing, and the lockdown looks as if it might continue basically for ever, it’s of some comfort to have a garden in the middle of what is shaping up to be a glorious spring.*

harvesting rhubarb

This means, among other things, that we have picked our first rhubarb from the crowns I planted 18 months or so ago. It’s funny – I was thinking this afternoon as I pricked out my sweet peas to a soundtrack of excess mortality statistics and economic gloom on the radio, that if and when they actually come into flower they’ll be a little tainted by the bad news with which this spring’s gardening has been associated. And yet, looking back at the post when I recorded planting the rhubarb, I see that I did so in the midst of some political crisis that must have been very compelling at the time – and now I can’t even bring to mind what it was about… Brexit, possibly. Remember that?

Anyway, gloom or no gloom, I have discovered rhubarb compote which looks extremely unprepossessing and smells a bit funky but tastes wonderful – sweet and tart and rhubarby all at the same time. Especially when you have another half with an ice-cream maker who’s not afraid to use it and to improvise from a basic recipe to make rhubarb crumble ice cream.

rhubarb in the kitchen

No pictures, because we’ve scoffed the lot, but it was truly delicious. Perhaps this is what will ultimately stick in the memory, once the crisis has passed?

We can only hope.

* possibly too glorious as I was tempted by the warm weather to plant out my lettuce seedlings only to be confronted by a ground frost this morning. Fortunately my bottle cloches did their job and they seem to have survived but it is a reminder that there’s a down side to being ahead of things instead of chronically behind in the garden.

Block Party

April 10, 2020

I have friends who are properly good at knitting (including a finalist at last year’s Heavy Metal Knitting World Championship) so it’s embarrassing how slowly I knit myself. I mean, I started knitting a jumper back in February last year and it’s taken a global pandemic, a national lockdown and the cancellation of everything in my diary to actually complete the thing.

But complete it I did, and as it had taken so long I decided to do things properly and actually block it, mainly because it came out a little shorter and wider than I wanted. You can buy actual mats for blocking out your knitting if you’re serious about things but even if we weren’t in lockdown, I wasn’t about to shell out actual money for something if I could help it. Two loft boards, one towel and some bulldog clips later, and I had myself a home-made knitwear torture device where the errant jumper could be gently encouraged to assume the correct proportions.

Jumper being blocked

This seemed suitable enough for a garment made out of wool purchased at a car boot sale and knitted on needles from the charity shop so the whole thing has cost me a grand total of about £5 unless you count the cost of my time…

The wool turned out to be Shetland wool and, as I discovered when I finally tried the jumper on yesterday, is incredibly warm. So, just what I need as we get to mid April and the approach of summer.* Still, this is Scotland, so I’m hoping I’ll get a lot of use out of it for the rest of the year. Indeed, it’s so warm I might not even need to wear a second one, at least during June and July.

With the jumper finally finished, I’ve realised that I’ve run out of excuses to tackling another slow burning project: hemming the bedroom curtains. With the help of my mother I got them almost completed shortly** after we moved in – and with the help of the other half, a rail was put up and they were hung and have done their job in the bedroom ever since. But I did’t have time to sew the hems while we were at my parents, and besides, it’s easier to pin them up once the curtains are in situ. At the time my mother did warn me that if you leave them pinned up for too long and don’t get around to hemming them, then you get rust marks where the pin holes were. It took me a while to click that there was a reason she had discovered this handy tip, and that was from her own experience. Like mother, like daughter – except I’m going to guess that she didn’t wait three and a half years to discover it …

Coming up next on Town Mouse: sorting out the garage. What undone tasks are you going to be forced to get on to if this all continues?

* The last week of May, for those not paying attention at the back

** four months is nothing, right?

Sunshine while Stocks Last

April 8, 2020

A few days after the southern half of the country was basking (illegally) in sunshine, the spring warmth has reached us here, no doubt due in part to the fact that I have just finished knitting an enormously warm jumper (of which more anon) and some last-minute work has arrived which ought to keep me chained to my desk.

But with mutterings about tightening lockdowns and banning outdoor exercise – and with vitamin D in short supply – we thought we’d better get out on the bikes and do a little stockpiling of our own.

sunny skies and reservoir

I’m almost reluctant to post these photos as I know how incredibly lucky we are to be able to get out and enjoy such scenery with barely a handful of cars and just a few other cyclists and walkers scattered along the route.

tree shadows across the road

This used to be one of my favourite rides when we lived down in the old cottage and it was on our doorstep. We don’t do it so often these days but perhaps we should.

climb up to the top of the hill

The route took us past the ford road but I thought you’d probably be bored of ford updates so I didn’t bother going down …

… just kidding, of course I did.

Ford almost dry

Hope you’re all staying safe and are able to get out and enjoy the spring weather.

Sociable Distancing

April 4, 2020

In the past week, the days have fallen into a bit of a pattern – at my desk doing a bit of work in the morning, lunch and state-sanctioned exercise with the other half, an hour or so in the garden in the afternoon, before coming in for coffee and the now-traditional (a fortnight is long enough to form a tradition these days, right?) huddle around the wireless for the latest announcement from the government and whichever chief scientific officer* they’ve dug out of self-isolation for today’s statistics (I’m not entirely sure *why* I’m listening to what is basically the sound of someone giving a powerpoint presentation – next slide please – but I can’t stand television news so there it is).

But today being Saturday we rang the changes a bit. The other half went shopping and (glory be) brought back at least half a Guardian (as well as food and, even more excitingly, bread flour) and I headed out on my bike to combine my allotted exercise with picking up some eggs from one pal, and delivering a baby spider plant to another, who lives down the road near our old cottage. This inevitably meant not just some suitably distanced chat with both pals, but as it turned out, further chats with an old neighbour whose husband has had serious health issues (both fine), our old landlord, and the latest tenant of our old cottage who was returning from his own state-sanctioned cycle ride. All this took a little longer than I’d planned, and so I headed back in a bit of a hurry as I had stock to make and a video chat planned with my family.

Unfortunately for my plans, the traffic was terrible…

sheep on the road

It took a while for the woolly roadblock to clear mainly because the farmers wanted the sheep to go in my direction and I was a cyclist and therefore the most terrifying thing on earth, so the sheep weren’t having any of it, a situation complicated by all the lambs wanting to go in every direction possible but mainly to get stuck in things. After I’d repositioned myself somewhat and made myself as unscary as possible, and various lambs had been disentangled from various bushes, the sheep finally moved into the next field and I was free to race home for my next social engagement.

lambs moving up the road

After a fortnight of pottering and not even much cycling, this all felt like an exhaustingly giddy social whirl and I think I might need a quiet few days to recover. Which is fortunate, really, given that’s exactly what I’m getting, like it or not.

* And who knew we had quite so many scientific and health bodies for there to be chief officers of? There seems to be an endless supply and a new one each day which makes me wonder what’s happening to them all…

Spider Woman

April 3, 2020

With lockdown comes many things, and one of them is the feeling that I really ought not to be putting off all those annoying little tasks I’ve been meaning to get on with when I’ve finally got time to do them. Normally, I just wait for a bit until the feeling goes away but our large main spider plant has been sitting in the downstairs bathroom looking miserable for a while now and, despite the arrival of spring, was showing no signs of perking up.

It also had a large number of spiderlings which were looking a lot more healthy than the parent plant. I did wonder whether it was suffering from having all its growing offspring hanging off it so I decided they could do with a spot of social distancing by each getting their own pot. And besides, it was raining and I fancied an excuse to spend an hour in the greenhouse doing gardening things, after we’d been out on our slightly truncated government-sanctioned walk.

Anyway, once out of the pot it was clear that this was not a well plant. I’ve long been of the opinion that you can’t kill a spider plant but I’d clearly managed to have a good go at it. The bottom half of the roots were dying off and the two resident woodlice were clearly enjoying feasting on the results. If nothing else, I needed to rehome the spiderlings in case the mothership didn’t make it. All six of them …

spider plants and babies

Assuming all survive (and I’ve yet to have a baby spider plant not ‘take’) this will add to the existing four spider plant babies I didn’t manage to turn into something else before the lockdown started – some of which are already busy having babies of their own. So far, we’ve (just) got enough windowsills to house them all but if the lockdown continues for much longer, then when liberation comes, we may have to fight my way out with a machete.*

* There was a picture book I remember as a child about someone who filled their house full of plants to the point where it was just all plants inside and I can’t remember anything about it except that final image of a house-shaped mass of plants. I think it might have been intended as a cautionary tale, but I seem to have adopted it as a life goal…

State-Sanctioned Exercise

April 1, 2020

Well, it’s taken a while but more than a week into the lockdown and we’ve finally started to see a noticeable drop in traffic on our local roads. Partly this is because most of the roads we frequent are so quiet anyway that it’s hard to tell if they’ve got quieter, but Nearest B-road – which is unavoidable in getting to and from our home – really didn’t seem much different for most of last week, complete with a couple of unnecessary close passes the last couple of times we’ve been out on our bikes.

empty B road

This week, however, there’s been a real change. We would never walk along this road normally, which confines us a little in our choice of daily walks, but yesterday, just for the novelty value, we did venture along it. There were probably three passing vehicles the whole time, all clearly audible well before they posed a danger, so I enjoyed the novelty of walking right down the middle, just because I could. Normally even walking along the edge isn’t a very tasty prospect.

broken fence posts

Not everyone judges the bend right if the state of the fence is anything to go by

There are regular litter patrols in the parish organised from Nearest Village but they can’t cover much of this road just because there’s nowhere to walk safely, not even a verge. so today we took the opportunity during our allotted exercise period to do a little spring cleaning – with the satisfying thought that if the drop in traffic persists, the litter might just stay picked, at least for a while.

litter pick bag

And then we took the scenic route home.

burn and woods