May 31, 2020
I’m not exactly an avid shopper at the best of times so I wasn’t expecting to be one of those racing down to the nearest garden centre as they reopened in Scotland this weekend. But it turns out that we had an urgent plant need, as I can explain. Well over a year ago we bought a blueberry bush on something of a whim during Potato Day (I know, it’s not a potato, but all sorts of garden related paraphernalia can be picked up if you can get past the fleece-clad hordes). Ultimately, we will be building a fruit cage, in the fullness of time, but for now the blueberry bush has been planted outside the greenhouse alongside a couple of gooseberry bushes that sort of fell into our trolley when we were going round a garden centre.
Last year the blueberry bush didn’t produce any fruit but that was because a hare had thoughtfully and methodically removed each of the flowering branches while we sat and watched it do it; hares eat what they like in our garden as regular blog readers will be aware. This year the hares have left the bush alone – they’re surprisingly fickle about their preferences – but although it has been flowering, it has not set any fruit and I recently read that blueberries either need or prefer some cross pollination from another bush.
So, with garden centres opening – and our blueberry window of opportunity closing it was time to saddle up the Brompton (mainly because of its capacious front basket) and head off to find a partner for our lonely blueberry bush.
It helped that it was a lovely day.
Naturally, I took the scenic route.
Once at the garden centre, having negotiated the new rules (every customer was issued with a basket as well as any trolley ‘because we’ve got 70 baskets and that’s how many people are allowed inside’) I headed (almost) straight for the fruit bush section (a bottle of citrus feed may just have fallen into my basket as even Bob Flowerdew on Gardener’s Question Time said it was worth buying and he’s someone even less likely than me to spend actual money on something that could possibly be brewed from old nettles and repurposed car tyres). Unlike Potato Day, no sharp elbows were required – everyone was on their absolute best behaviour, like children who are being taken on a long-awaited treat but only if they are very very good – indeed, there was so much ‘after youing’ things almost came to a halt in places. A flowering blueberry bush was swiftly located and loaded into the Brompton and I was able to pedal back at moderate speed* to unite the new lovers at last. I can only hope their union proves a fruitful one.
* I can only apologise to the young lad walking his mountain bike up our road, on the way home. Being outclimbed by a middle aged woman must have been bad, being outclimbed by one on a Brompton with half a shrubbery in her front basket can only have burned. I hope he would be comforted to know that I was a woman on a mercy mission. And he’s now prepared for a lifetime cycling in the Bigtownshire area where being out-cycled by people twice your age only stops when you yourself are old enough to be the one doing the outriding. Even the wiry old boys had to start somewhere…
May 29, 2020
I’m still running. I’m not entirely sure why, except out of a vague sense that I ought to be getting more exercise now that I’m not cycling into Bigtown most days. Over the last four weeks I have at least either got fitter or got better at persuading my legs to keep running – I’m never sure entirely whether going running makes you fitter or just makes you better at running. Still, that in itself is possibly a good thing, and – depending on how things work out over the next few months – will either stand me in good stead when parkrun starts up again, or give me a better chance of surviving when the current crisis reaches the zombie apocalypse stage.
Anyway, out on my early morning run yesterday I encountered a deer. Not in itself a particularly noteworthy event – slow as I am, I do occasionally stumble across one crossing in front of me. But this one was running down the same road I was running down, and as it saw me it slowed, stopped, and then turned around and ran back up the road towards me. Naturally, being British, we both then did the slightly socially awkward dance whereby you each try and avoid each other and end up getting into each other’s way* and then the deer solved the problem by bounding over a gate and hightailing it across a field. It had clearly had the sense to remember that there was a handy gate, and the courage to run towards the shambling zombie thing to get to it, both of which put it firmly into the genius camp when it comes to deer escaping from danger (‘or perhaps you’re just not that scary to a deer’, the other half suggested).
Either way, it added to the pleasure of the run** and set me up for the next few days of looming deadlines amid glorious sunshine (if you’re planning ahead, note that my next big deadline ends on the 5th June, so we should be looking at rain from the 6th onwards). Fortunately at this time of year the garden more or less gardens itself – certainly I have had very little to do with the current floral display of self-sown columbines, apart from having the sense not to pull them up.
* I’ve not been in town for so long that I don’t know – but have people managed to solve this problem now that we’re all keeping two metres apart? Is there a hand signal or convention I ought to know?
** The sole other pleasure being that it’s lovely when you stop.
May 27, 2020
If all goes to plan, we should be looking at the first real easing of lockdown in Scotland from tomorrow – I know that some friends of mine are very excited about the prospect of garden centres reopening, while I’ve already set up a socially-distanced walk date with a friend for tomorrow.
Perhaps it’s the imminent easing of the lockdown, perhaps it was the weather, or perhaps it was a bit of social media chat about cycling during this crisis (basically, all the new and leisure cyclists are having a wonderful time getting out on the quiet roads, while the bikes belonging to us gnarly old utility cyclists are sitting gathering dust in sheds and garages, wondering what it was they said …) but as I started down the road for my daily walk I suddenly thought ‘sod it, this is too slow, I’m getting the bike.’
And so I did.
When the sun shines in late May around here, it’s just heartbreakingly lovely. The photos are one thing, but they don’t capture the smell which – assuming the slurry spreading has not been too recent – is a gorgeous mix of gorse and hawthorn blossom.
I had to take a side detour in a little loop round Nearest Village because just as I was heading up towards the village and planning to turn round, I had greeted a lady walking down the hill the other way. It took me perhaps a little longer to get past her than she might have anticipated so, we had to repeat a couple of variations on our ‘lovely day’ remarks in order to fill the time. Obviously, I couldn’t then just turn around and cycle back the way I’d come and past her again, so I made a little detour to avoid any more social awkwardness. This is entirely normal behaviour, no?
Normally I hate riding this road, because it’s fast, bendy, and I get at least one close pass, sometimes on a blind bend every time I ride it (and incidents like this are sadly all too common). If lockdown easing does start to mean increasing traffic, I shall miss the relative calm of the last couple of months (even though I’ve still encountered far too many dangerous drivers for my liking).
Perhaps I should be getting out more, while the going is good.
May 20, 2020
Oh frabjuous day …
Yes, it’s come to this – I’ve actually been hoping it might rain. This is the problem with being both a gardener and a cyclist (at least in normal times).* I think I’ve mentioned that it’s been dry, and now I’ve learned by listening to Gardener’s Question Time that this has likely set back my asparagus bed another year (we have six whole spears poking up at the moment). Apparently I should be watering it all spring, even here, where watering things outside just feels like a category mistake. Of all the things I thought might go wrong with my asparagus bed back when I planted it, ‘not enough rain’ would have been right there below ‘meteorite strike’ and, indeed, ‘global pandemic’.
The other thing I wasn’t expecting was for one of my house plants to look as if it’s attempting to fill in the gap. I don’t think I’ll be steaming it and having it for supper though…
But anyway, it has rained, finally. It has even largely confined itself to raining at night rather than waiting until I need to go somewhere on my bike and arrive looking like something other than a drowned rat (something that may happen again some time in, ooh, October maybe?). And now, proving that the end times are indeed upon us, it has managed to stop raining (and I’m trying very hard not to wish that it had done this after it had finished filling up the water butt, rather than giving up half way through) and we have had a simply glorious day. I still have too much work to do, but I took the afternoon off anyway and spent it pottering around in the garden enjoying the fleeting contentment of a gardener in weather that’s nice enough to garden in but not so nice you’re worried about your water butt drying up.
Or, indeed, your lake.
* and here I have to take issue with Charlie Brown’s assertion that the secret to happiness is owning a convertible and a lake. Sure, if you’re of a positive bent – a lake half full sort of person, if you like – you might be able to look on the bright side whatever the weather but most of us would simply be grumpy either way because either our lake was drying up or it was rubbish weather for riding around in a convertible. Although, now I come to think of it, I suspect that if you have the sort of life where you own a lake (and a convertible) then there are additional compensations that are not available to people who own a bicycle and a water butt …
May 16, 2020
Outside a cottage I frequently pass on my travels, I sometimes see three dogs on the back of a parked quad bike, sitting and watching the world go by with an air of detached interest. Usually when I see them, it is earlyish in the morning, so I can only assume that their owner has been up at sparrowfart doing some agricultural task or other, and has taken a break to have his breakfast, telling the dogs to sit and stay, and so that is what they are doing. Two of them are sheepdogs, which is what you’d expect, and one is a black labrador, but they all sit there and don’t move, even when I cycle past, except to turn their heads to watch me go.
It always pleases me when I pass the house and they are there, waiting. It seems wrong just to pass them without acknowledging their professionalism, as dogs, doing their job of sitting and staying. But then again, it would be worse to pay too much attention to them and risk distracting them from their important task. So I have settled on giving them a brief nod of greeting as I would anybody else who was busy working out in the countryside. So far none of them have nodded back, but I’m not sure I would be surprised if they did.
I was hoping to see them this morning as I returned from my run, for it was about the time of day when I often do, but there was no quad bike parked up outside the cottage, and no waiting dogs. Instead the quad bike (and its owner) was out in the fields with the sheep doing agricultural things. And there on the back, tails wagging furiously with happiness, were my three acquaintances, getting their reward for their patience at last.
If there’s anything happier than a dog on the back of a moving quad bike, I have yet to encounter it. Except maybe three dogs on the back of a moving quad bike.
In other news, the junior branch of Moo-I-Five have discovered the strange creatures living on the other side of the fence. We are apparently fascinating and terrifying in equal measure.
May 12, 2020
It seems we’re allowed unlimited amounts of exercise now in Scotland, which would be more exciting to me if I had even a limited time to exercise this newfound freedom. But no doubt by the time I’ve dug myself out from beneath my current stack of multiplying deadlines we’ll be back down in lockdown again, so despite not technically having the time to do it, I took the opportunity today to load up the basket of the freshly de-punctured Brompton with another batch of chlli babies and take them down to some friends in return for them not insisting on me taking away any of their spare cucumber, courgette or brussels sprout plants.*
Actually, this was probably allowed under the old rules – after all, I was delivering food, albeit in a very slow way – although I suspect we’re not really supposed to exchange quite so much chat (at a safe distance) in the course of such deliveries.
Either way, it gave me an opportunity to check out the state of the ford, which is bone dry; unsurprising given that the Weather Gods seem to have gone into self-isolation themselves. I don’t remember ever seeing the river so low.
In truth, it was good to get out on the bike, whatever the reason. Running twice a week might be keeping me fit and walks in the woods are lovely and all, but they’re not the same as the couple of hours of moderate exercise that I’ve grown used to getting almost every day just in the course of running my regular errands. It might feel like it takes up time I don’t have, but at the end of the day I’m probably more productive (and certainly feel much cheerier) if I’ve been out either on the bike or in the garden.
I’ll still be following the Scottish Government’s advice to stay at home rather than the UK government’s stay alert message (probably fortunately as I slept terribly last night). But, busy or not, I might have to make more time to ride my bike while stocks last. Or at least until the Weather Gods come out to play again …
* They also offered a home brewed bottle of beer, but with the Brompton’s tyres at bike shop pressure, and the roads increasingly potholed, I declined the opportunity to cycle back home with what would effectively be a glass fragmentation grenade in my basket.
May 6, 2020
In a world otherwise turned upside down, I could have hoped that the iron rule that means bouts of fine weather always coincide with me being chained to the laptop might have been broken, but it seems that some things remain unchanged, global pandemic or no. In fact, the ease with which people can now have meetings without needing to leave the house or even put their trousers on is, if anything, making things worse. Which means that while everyone else appears to be manicuring their garden to Chelsea show standards, ours is more at the ‘dandelions are a great early source of nectar for pollinators’ end of the spectrum.
Today was another gorgeous day and after a moderately productive morning it was just too tempting to get out so I granted myself a precious afternoon of garden pottering.
If I pick the right angle (and preferably not one where the greenhouse looks as if it is toppling over), the garden almost looks as if I have things under control, especially the food producing parts of it. The potatoes, lettuce, beetroot, broccoli and kale are all planted out and flourishing (the broad beans and peas are also planted out and seem to be fulfilling their destiny as tasty mouse snacks).
I’ve just given the purple sprouting broccoli a severe lockdown haircut to see if it will produce another flush of shoots before it all bolts but I just let the kale behind it do its thing; the bees love it and now I haven’t the heart to grub it up to make space for my new chard seedlings.
From other angles, it’s more of a work in progress, except without the progress. I tell myself that a garden is for life, not just for lockdown, and that there’s no point rushing into projects that I won’t have time to complete. And you never know; dandelions, empty tubs and random piles of gravel may well feature at Chelsea next year.
Just remember you saw it here first.
May 3, 2020
So today’s excitement was the chance to ride down to my pal with the hens to deliver some of our empty egg boxes and surplus chilli and tomato plants, in exchange for some eggs.
When it comes to transporting tender young plants, the Brompton – or rather its basket – comes into its own. With six pots each wrapped up in a protective sleeve of newspaper and snugly sitting in the basket, all was well until I was half way down the road and heard the all-too-familiar bump-bump-bump of a flattened back tyre.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may be aware I’ve been plagued by punctures recently, compounded by my inability to do even the most basic bike maintenance. Over the last couple of weeks I have spent a total of two and a half hours effectively turning two fast punctures into two slow punctures, one on the front tyre of my big bike and one on the bike trailer. During the course of this effort, I have also run out of patches in my various puncture repair kits and discovered that I am now managing to fail at the one part of the puncture repair process I used to be vaguely competent at – actually patching the hole. This means every trip out on my big bike now starts with pumping the front tyre back up to a reasonably pressure and hoping it holds for long enough to get me home – a recipe for disaster, as I well know, but still preferable to spending any more time swearing at inanimate objects in the hope that that will work where brute force, cunning, and supposedly failsafe methods have all failed (actually, sometimes it does) (and before you dive into the comments, thank you but I am already using the puncture resistant tyres you are about to recommend, and have tried slime, and I’ve watched the video with the zip ties, and the problem is I’m just very bad at fixing bikes and blackthorn will go through anything).
Anyway, the good thing about puncturing the Brompton back wheel is that I have absolutely no intention of fixing it myself or even pretending that I wished I could – much to the disgust of some of the more old-school members of the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign – so I won’t be wasting another hour or more of my time wrestling with another Marathon Plus tyre (on the other hand, I will probably be waiting a week before the bike shop can get to it – one of the downsides of everyone discovering the joys of cycling during lockdown has been that the few bike shops still operating are operating a waiting list). And the other good thing is that Bromptons are easy to just throw into the car so I avoided the walk of shame and sent the other half home to get the car and pick me up – the first time I’ve actually been driven anywhere for six weeks.
And then we took the scenic route home so we could charge up the car’s battery properly after six weeks of nothing but short weekly trips to the supermarket and back. We weren’t sure if it was entirely necessary but decided better safe than sorry, the way the last two weeks have been going … and some flats are easier to deal with than others.
May 1, 2020
So I finally made it into Bigtown proper this afternoon, having dropped off the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign’s trailer for use in the volunteer effort. This was of more than idle interest – Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign have actually been invited by the Coonsil to discuss ideas for where temporary space could be made for safe walking and cycling. I know, I’m surprised too and am still slightly wondering if it’s some sort of a trap …
Having spent five weeks of lockdown on a hill overlooking Bigtown, I thought I had better see things a little closer up and so having delivered the trailer (and admired the street’s socially distanced Zumba class which was going on at the time – instructor on one side of the street, and what appeared to be the entire local nana population spread out across the other pavement) I ventured further into town for a quick tour.
I had already observed on Monday’s exciting visit that traffic wasn’t particularly different around Bigtown’s outskirts, but things really are strange in the town centre – the only time I’ve ever seen the carpark on the river this empty is when the river is actually in it (this hasn’t stopped your average Bigtown driver from just abandoning their vehicle wherever they fancy of course, including on our nominally pedestrianised high street).
It was actually quite depressing and worrying to see the town so quiet. The traffic around the edges suggests that life, and commerce, continue – but it’s moved to the big supermarkets and the online retailers (and in our bid to limit our interaction with other people we’re no exception – if it can’t be bought during our weekly supermarket shop, or online, it doesn’t get bought at all). Bigtown actually had a reasonable town centre before this, with some nice independent small shops as well as the usual high street retailers, loads of cafes, and what must amount to approximately 60% of the pubs that Burns is known to have drunk in. It’s hard to see how much of that will survive the next few months.
So I was rather sobered by what had originally felt like a jaunt when I set out and was only really cheered as I approached home and realised that I had attracted something of a following. The cows in the field next to our B-road were chasing after me on the other side of the hedge. This never fails to amuse me when it happens, and I can only apologise to the cows for not after all having any tasty cow treats on me when they finally caught up with me at the top of the field.
Or maybe they’re as bored with the whole lockdown experience as everyone else?