Meadow, Revisited

September 30, 2020

You may recall (and even care …) that last year we started the process of transforming a corner of the garden into a meadow area.

future meadow

‘Meadow’ last year

So far, it’s fair to say that this is something of a work in progress. In theory, according to the experts, making a wildflower meadow is simple enough: cut it once a year at around the same time, rake off as much of the vegetation as you can to reduce the fertility of the soil, repeat until you have a beautiful thriving flower-filled corner of your garden…

cut meadow

One year on …

What they forget to mention is that raking is extremely hard work, especially if you live in a part of Scotland that is extremely enthusiastic about growing grass. You’re also going to draw a puzzled crowd who are baffled at the notion that anyone would want to get rid of some perfectly good grass.

crowd of cows

Sadly, the yellow rattle I sowed last year didn’t emerge, and nor did many of the wildflower seeds I planted, although some speedwell, lady’s smock, buttercup and ribwort plantain did make an appearance of their own accord. Here’s how it was in June – still a bit heavy on the grass, but looking well enough for the first year

meadow in June

Buoyed by my success at transplanting wood anemones under the beech tree, my goal for next year is to get harebells flowering, which seem like a suitable accompaniment to our actual hares. They do grow around these parts but there are none actually in the garden so I’m cheating slightly by growing some from seed in modules to plant out (although given the first batch lasted precisely 24 hours before being munched by the slugs I’m not sure that will give me much of a head start).

harebells

One thing I have learned about gardening is that these little background projects always seem to take for ever and be going nowhere and then you look back over time and realise how far it’s come. So bear with me on this one, and watch this space.

 


Deflating

September 29, 2020

I suppose I should have guessed when I got my back wheel off, tyre off, whipped on a new inner tube, and got it all back together again in record time on Saturday that I was riding for a fall…

Rewind to Friday afternoon, when I had decided to tackle the slow puncture in the back wheel which had been evident for a week. Being a grown up cyclist who doesn’t ignore problems in the hopes that they will go away *ahem*, I felt that showing up for our first group ride in six months with a tyre that needed to be pumped up every morning was a bad example, so I gritted my teeth, took off the back wheel and brought it inside and surprised myself by taking less than an hour to fix the puncture, even though it did take me two patches and much cursing of the declining quality of puncture repair kits in this modern throwaway age (or possibly it was user error – you all knew you weren’t supposed to peel the plastic film off the top of the patch, right?) and/or my increasing impatience with the glue drying process. I wasn’t entirely happy with the resulting repair but thought I’d got the tube air tight, got the tyre back on with a minimum of fuss and … woke up on Saturday to a flat tyre again.

By this time I was out of patches and out of spare inner tubes for that wheel (because for reasons which have got lost in the mists of time I have a front wheel which takes Schraeder valves and a back wheel that takes presta valves and even though I’ve since replaced the back wheel and specifically asked the bike shop to sort this out I still do) so I pumped up the tyre again in the hopes it would hold and cycled down to the bike shop to buy a new inner tube and a sheet of patching material, only having to top up the air once, cycled back, and efficiently swapped inner tubes before my afternoon coffee had got cold.

Of course what I hadn’t done was my normal test ride (essential whenever I’ve been anywhere near the bike with any sort of maintenance attempt) so when I set off on Sunday for the ride, my bike was doing the sort of ‘badum badum badum’ thing that suggests a wheel that is not perfectly round (there’s a pedestrian and cycle bridge in Bigtown that has been surfaced in such a way that it does the same thing, and you can tell if someone doesn’t regularly cycle over it by the slightly worried expression on their faces as they try and work out what expensive thing has gone wrong …). A quick inspection revealed that I had not properly seated the tyre at the valve so I sorted that out, happily escorted some families around the back roads and byways of Bigtown, cycled home, and was greeted the next day by a completely flat tyre…

No problem – by this time I’m a dab hand at getting wheels off and tyres off (if not on) so off comes the back wheel, tube inspected and it’s a mess (really, don’t ride on a poorly seated tyre, it’s very bad for expensive new inner tubes) and after two patches have failed to sort it out I revert to the old inner tube which I had been meaning to repatch and keep as a spare. Which is now, mysteriously, holding air again … (does the Puncture Fairy have a helpful cousin the Patch Fairy, who recognises when a cyclist is at the end of her tether, and slips into bike sheds to fix things?).

So that is now on the bike (with the other half’s help to get the tyre reseated) and was fine this morning and fingers crossed that it will stay that way at least until the next Bastard Big Thorn comes along. In which case, I might just revert to my previous tactic of keeping the thorn in place and pumping the tyre up every morning because honestly, it seems more effective than my efforts to sort things out properly have been to date.

Only another five months of hedge-cutting season to go …


We Interrupt this Pandemic …

September 25, 2020

… with some good news (for me at least):

After *cough* years of variously avoiding, evading and simply refusing to answer the question I can finally now reply to all those people who ask ‘how’s the second book coming along?’ with some good news.

(It’s also kind of terrifying when you update your official author photo as the original is 15 years old and you have to contemplate what a decade and a half of fending off well-meant enquiries about your next novel does to your once youthful appearance).

For those of you here for the cycle campaigning, there is a bike in it but very little in the way of infrastructure design.

For those of you here for the hares, I hope you won’t be disappointed.

hare and flowers

 


Fancy Free

September 22, 2020

I feel that 2020 being what it is, social media sites could at least have the decency to turn off the feature that taunts you with posts from a more innocent past. This time a year ago, for instance, we had just held a record breaking bike breakfast, I was looking forward to a wonderful weekend of riding with friends and I was preparing to head to Edinburgh on a bus with the Brompton to join a flock of glamorous cycling women and take the city by storm.

group photo

Fancy women in 2019 …

What a difference a year, and a pandemic, makes (although even a year ago I was noting that the world was getting doomier and gloomier by the minute – little did I know…). This Sunday we had a very different edition of the Fancy Women Bike Ride, sadly. There was no way for even the indefatigable organisers to manage events in cities across the world at a time when restrictions are changing from day to day, so all they asked was for us to find a friend or two, local regulations permitting, get dressed up, and head out into the streets of our town or city by bike.

Sadly, I couldn’t even manage that much, being in Duns visiting my parents for what looks like will be the last opportunity for a while. I hadn’t brought any fancy clothes and my one local cycling pal had had to cancel our Brompton play date due to an injured foot. All I could do was dig out my mother’s Paperbike, repair its punctured front wheel and take it out for a solitary spin through downtown Duns – where we didn’t exactly take it by storm but at least Wojtek the bear had brought flowers.

Paperbike by Wojtek statue in Duns

I maintain that the Paperbike is a dress-up bike all on its own so hopefully this will do, adjusted for it being 2020. I was pleased that I had managed to sort out the puncture at all – given that the bike has both a dynamo and hub brakes, taking the wheel off wasn’t an option so I had to do it by ear* something I have long meant to master.

2020 or not, some things haven’t changed however – a year ago I was busy ignoring a slow puncture and we came back on Sunday to find my own bike has a slow puncture in its back tyre that I’m doing my best to ignore now. Was it too much to hope for that in a world turned upside down, the P******* Fairy and her attendants the Bastard Big Thorns would give it a rest for now? Yeah, I know, what was I thinking? This is 2020 after all.

* listening for the hiss of the escaping air, levering off that part of the tyre and pulling out the inner tube, patching the hole, and popping it back on again – or in my case listening for the hiss of escaping air, levering off the tyre, failing to find the hole, levering off more tyre, pumping it up again, hearing the hiss but being unable to locate it, levering off the entire tyre, pulling out the inner tube, going and getting a bucket of water and finding the hole the old fashioned way, patching the hole, and popping the whole thing back on again. At least they weren’t Marathon Plus tyres – it turns out other kinds of tyres just go on and off really easily … who knew?


Organised Grousing

September 18, 2020

My phone alerted me the other morning to the fact that there were a couple of apps I hadn’t used for a while and could delete to save space. These turned out to be the National Rail enquiry app and the Traveline Scotland app, both of which would have been heavily used in my gadding about days and untouched since the end of February when (looking back at the blog) the various inconveniences of the rail service had left me thinking that I’d had quite enough travelling for a while. Never has the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ seemed quite as apt.

Brompton at the station

Brompton at a train station, in happier days

For now, I can’t even imagine when I’ll be getting on a bus or a train again but – lockdowns permitting – one aspect of the old days is tentatively restarting next week: the Bigtown Cycle Campaign’s social group rides. We’d normally run them in the summer, but at the time everyone in Bigtown was out riding bikes without our assistance, and the restrictions were anyway too tight to make a group ride possible. However with traffic returning and lockdown restrictions easing, it seemed like a good time to run some nice beginner-friendly rides to give all our wobbly new cyclists a chance to discover Bigtown’s secret cycle routes (signs to alert cyclists to the existence of an off-road cycle path built at some expense but not immediately obvious to those used to getting about by car are just street clutter, apparently) in good company and at a gentle pace.

I knew that we might have a few willing volunteers to help run the rides when I put out a short notice call by email for anyone interested in a recce and five people showed up (fortunately two from one household so we didn’t violate the social gathering restrictions in force at the time). While almost everyone I know is wary of visiting pubs or restaurants or heading into an office, almost everyone is gagging for some sort of social interaction and a socially distanced informal ride around the less well signposted corners of Bigtown in the company of others clearly scratched an itch. It was, unfortunately, the day the ‘rule of six’ had been announced and we thought our planned rides had been scuppered as a result, but we headed out anyway, even if just as a last hurrah before the lockdown closed down around us again.

Fortunately, it turned out the next day that – as well as organised grouse shoots – organised bike rides (organised anythings, indeed) are still allowed as long as you follow the relevant guidance. So the week has mostly been about taking our usually quite disorganised group rides and working out how to turn them into something organised – booking in advance, names and contact details, two-metre distancing, hand sanitiser a gogo, and most painful of all – no home baking.

It’s been a slightly stressful process but I think we’re finally there – and we’ve already had 11 people book onto our first ride next weekend so it seems we’re not the only ones keen to get out and cycle in socially distanced company. Meanwhile, we’re taking the opportunity to visit my parents while we still can and they’ve had to do the heavy lifting of eating up the baking* I can’t distribute to our ride participants.

* carrot cake, of course.


Carrotted, Redux

September 13, 2020

So we came back from a lovely bike ride to get lunch in town yesterday, to discover we had been subjected to a drive-by carrotting by our neighbour

This was fair enough, as we had ourselves just potato bombed another neighbour’s doorstep – it is the time of year when gardeners with surpluses stop bothering to ask permission before distributing their largesse. It’s just fortunate that we got to them before the wee hare that has been keeping busy weeding our drive.

The neighbours concerned had taken to vegetable growing in a big way this year, so I guess it wasn’t too surprising that they had carrots to spare, although given the enormous faff of growing the damn things, I take my hat off to them for actually succeeding. It’s possible we’re just in a good carrot growing area (according to the Oldest Inhabitant of the neighbourhood, who grew up in the farm down the road, they grew carrots commercially back when she was a girl). Even so, remind me not to attempt them again myself, if only because still I don’t really like carrots…

Fortunately, we have a recipe for carrot soup which I actually like, some of which we had for lunch, and some of which has been stashed in the freezer against a hard Brexit.

carrot soup in progress

finished carrot soup

That’s used up two-thirds of the bounty, leaving enough for a carrot cake and some stock, unless anyone has any better suggestions.


Ready or Not, 2020 edition

September 8, 2020

In this week’s how can it be September already news, time to put the summer veg to bed and see how we are set for autumn.

veg lot in September

It’s not been a great season in the veg patch if I’m honest – when everyone else was spending the first part of lockdown getting their gardens to Chelsea standards I was working away indoors, and although I just about passed inspection in June, I haven’t really devoted the time needed to things to manage a decent succession of the things like peas, spring onions and beetroots that reward a bit of forward planning.

leeks and chard

 

That said, I tend to concentrate more these days on the veg that will keep us going into the autumn and winter for as long as possible. The signs are good for the potato crop, and the chard and broccoli are already providing the odd meal (the broccoli is supposed to wait for spring but this is 2020 and why should it follow the rules when apparently nobody else is?), while the kale and the leeks are coming on nicely. Given the way the news is going, we could well be grateful to have any fresh veg at all come the end of the Brexit transition; a diet of kale, leeks and stored potatoes isn’t quite the land of milk and honey we were invited to believe in, but at least we won’t starve.

broccoli and kale

Anyway I spent an hour or two clearing out the beds that are finished and emptying and refilling the compost bins to make room for the resulting plant material, but then I turned to what I really felt like doing which was laying waste to stuff:

pile of vegetation

For yes, the sitooterie project continues. To be honest, the way things are going, what with the climate and the virus, having some outdoor but vaguely weatherproof space to socialise in is beginning to feel less lie a luxury and more like an urgent requirement.

future sitooterie site

Looks like we’ve got a ways to go …

Maybe we’d better get going with the fruit cage too …


101 Uses for a Brompton: Media Stardom

September 5, 2020

Top tip for cycle campaigners – don’t send out a news release that will unexpectedly capture the attention of the local media on the morning the carpet fitter is due to arrive and spend all morning making banging noises upstairs just as you’re supposed to be recording a vaguely coherent WhatsApp voice message to the local radio station (my new least favourite way of interacting with the local media, worse even than posing for a sadface in the local paper, arms crossed in true Angry People in Local Papers style).

It turns out that spending a couple of hours counting bikes on Bigtown High Street and then pointing out that there might be more people shopping by bike (and fewer illegally abandoning their cars in the pedestrianised town centre) if it wasn’t actually impossible to cycle from the main cycle path to the High Street due to the one-way system has media legs on a quiet news day (frustratingly Bigtownshire Council actually decided to exempt bikes from the restrictions about two years ago and got as far as doing the traffic order, when someone raised the issue of street clutter (because giant 4x4s littering your pedestrianised street aren’t street clutter but a small blue sign with a bike on it is) and the whole thing got put on hold until after the outcome of the last High Street rejuvenation project but one, and then apparently filed under ‘too difficult’).

one way sign

Also apparently not ‘clutter’

Anyway, the upshot was that the local TV news decided they wanted to do a piece about it. Unfortunately this meant Friday’s plan to ride down to some local friends for a leisurely lunch and inspection of their village’s new allotment project turned into a bit of a logistical headache that ended with the Brompton in the boot of the car so that we could fit it all in and I would still be able to show up for the interview on a bike (I did cycle it home, so it wasn’t entirely cheating). Cue an hour spent not just being interviewed but the Brompton and I and a fellow campaigner being filmed riding up (but not down, that being illegal) the High Street and, most importantly, observing social distancing (‘we have to include at least one shot that shows how far away I stood from you during the interview, otherwise we get emails’ the reporter explained – I told him it didn’t matter because their inbox would be so full of people complaining that neither of us was wearing a helmet). They even got in the shot of the bike wheel spinning and coming to a stop, without which no local TV segment on cycling is complete.

Whether any of this will make it onto the actual tellybox depends on there being anything more interesting happening over the weekend (national paint-drying championships, anyone?) but at least the Brompton got its moment in the spotlight, something it has missed with POP being cancelled this year.

New allotments

I can remember when all this was fields …

There was no time to take any photos of the TV shenanigans, so have some of the new allotments instead. Not bad for something that was a ploughed field this spring. Perfectly timed for lockdown …

sunflowers