Passing Muster

June 19, 2020

So there I was spending my Friday morning sitting in (virtually, of course) on our local regional transport partnership meeting because that his how we cycle campaigners roll – and never let them tell you that it isn’t an exciting and glamorous life – when there was a knock at the door and I realised that the plot inspection committee had arrived. Or rather, my gardening pal from Old Nearest Village, who likes to drop by from time to time and see how my veg is getting on.

If nothing else, I had thought the pandemic might at least save me from this ritual humiliation, but clearly not. Fortunately, a slight easing of work deadlines in the past week has meant I wasn’t as behind as I could have been – but nothing could disguise the puniness of my leeks (they are in there somewhere, honest).

tiny leeks

I was somewhat relieved to learn that my pal had also had patchy results with his greenhouse tatties – and we agreed that those in the outside bed were looking magnificent, somewhat compensating for my fancy notions planting such things as fennel and Swiss chard.

potato beds

The ingenuity of my pea support arrangements was admired.

pea supports

My beetroot are growing a little patchily (could be pockets of acidity in the soil, apparently) but I was pleased to note that some of them are almost ready …

first beetroot

… and for those wondering, lonely Bertie Blueberry has found lurve with his new companion and it is proving fruitful.

blueberries forming

Joking aside, I was actually very happy to receive my annual inspection visit, and not only because it got me out of the rest of the transport partnership meeting. My pal is getting on in years and it has been at the back of my mind that if and when we do finally come out on the other side of all this, not everyone will be with us. Fortunately, so far, the pandemic has largely passed our little corner of the world by and it seems everyone in Old Nearest Village has come through unscathed – including the Oldest Inhabitant, who had had her 100th birthday party in the village hall just days before the lockdown. That could have panned out badly, but it didn’t and she lives on to sweep the board as usual at the village show, always assuming the village show is held at all this year.

This week, for the first time in months, my conversations have largely been about making plans for the future rather cancelling them, and I’m not sure I’m mentally ready yet. But I suppose whether it’s this month, or next, or some time in the future, we must all eventually emerge, blinking, to face the wider world once more.

And at least I will know that my garden will pass muster.

Marking Time

June 13, 2020

If all had gone to plan this year, today would have been the day for my anniversiare – the way I prefer to celebrate my birthday (observed) these days.

Given that it ended up raining steadily all morning, we may actually have dodged a bullet, but even with the weather I’m a little sad not to be spending the weekend in what has turned into a chilled celebration of tiny back country roads, cafes, cake, chat and generally enjoying cycling in its most civilised form.

anniversaire ride

It’s possible that something could still be managed – maybe in September, by which time the thought of people coming from across Scotland for a bike ride – or even coming into our house – might have stopped feeling completely outlandish. Or I might just head out on my own one of these days if the weather looks inviting to tick off 51 miles before the year is up. I might have to get into training though – I’ve barely ridden more than 25 miles at a time in the last few months.

For today I’ll just have to look back through past events and look forward to a time when we can all gather safely again…

setting off from the train station

2014 – the year we ate all the pies

chat and ride

2016 – the b******* to Brexit edition

Here’s to many more …

Deerie Me

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.

columbine blooms

* 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.

Happy as a Dog with Two Tails

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.

young calf staring through fence

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.

Ghost Town

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).

empty car park

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.

crowd of cows

Or maybe they’re as bored with the whole lockdown experience as everyone else?

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…

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?

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…