One and a Half Feral Hogs

October 26, 2019

Glancing up from my desk this morning, I happened to notice an addition to mammal list for the garden:

Pig in the garden

Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to weaponry – our new neighbours in the farmhouse up the road have a bit of a menagerie (it’s not the first time we’ve had some of their charges in the garden) and this was one of their Tamworth pigs that they’d brought in to do a bit of ground clearing (in this case Japanese knotweed but apparently they love ground elder, although from the sight of their enclosure, it’s a bit of a scorched-earth solution to weed eradication). They’re clearly well treated because its reaction to a couple of strange humans, one armed with a camera in search of blog material, was to come over and try and make friends.

friendly pig

It was easily encouraged back home, happily following the other half up the hill while I followed on behind in case ir decided to make a run for it. Then I kept the pig in place by scratching it behind the ears while the other half hunted around for our neighbours. They were out, but with a little bit more encouragement we did manage to get the pig more or less contained next to its companions, closed it in with a gate that was leaning against a wall (this is a smallholding very much of the Grundy persuasion), and hoped for the best.

pig on verge

And the half a hog part? Well, when I went back up later to let our neighbour know what had happened, he enquired whether we wanted to purchase half a pig for Christmas. This leaves me in something of a dilemma. On the one hand, if you eat meat, which we do, albeit less than we used to, then we’re urged to choose meat from animals that have had a good life and were raised on a small scale, and we know that this one at least is definitely very free range. But on the other hand, and this is nothing but sentimentality, it’s hard to face tucking into an animal whose ears you have recently been scratching.

Maybe if it makes another break for it, we’ll give it asylum instead…

* with thanks to Stroppy Cow on Twitter for the title suggestion

Birthday, Observed

September 29, 2019

Fifty and fabulous

I have occasionally been likened to the Queen in the past, more for my habit of not carrying any money on me than because of any truly regal qualities – but this year I seem to have added another, that of having two birthdays. The problem is that while I actually turned 50 in March this year (and, by spending the last day of my 40s climbing Slieve Donard, ensured that I more than felt my age), I didn’t formally mark the occasion (through my Anniversaire) until this weekend so that others who are more busy than me could join in …

This has proved more complicated than can really be explained in a tweet, leading to an undeserved wave of birthday wishes, but I decided in the end it was easier just to roll with it, especially when most of the day was spent having a glorious time with friends on bikes in what might very well be the last gasp of summer, leaving me no time to reply to any tweets.

As usual, chatting, cycling, navigating and eating took precedence over taking photos, but I was reminded (as I always am when I take visitors around on bikes) just what gorgeous cycling we have in the area.*

View from th top of a climb

Possibly it was a mistake to make the second leg the hilliest and most challenging stretch – but it allowed us to inspect the ford, which is always important.

ford  inspection

We also discovered that Noticeboard Tree has been upgraded to an actual noticeboard, and very smart it looks too. The ‘Teas’ sign underneath it will require further investigation …

new noticeboard

We ended with what we hoped would be a visit to the local community-run pub but, as is now traditional, it wasn’t open. Clearly the community only run the pub as and when they feel like it. Fortunately we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset instead, and besides there was beer at home.


I’m so glad I have hit on this way of celebrating my advancing years, and am determined to keep it up as long as I can – even if I have to switch to kilometres, buy an e-bike, or ultimately do it in stages.

Watch this space for 51 miles next year…

* This was brought home to me by the baffled looks on the Edinburgh contingents’ faces as I explained that I didn’t like cycling on one particular stretch of road because it was a bit busy. I think we’d been passed by about 5 cars in 15 minutes at that point …

Corn Fed

September 11, 2019

It’s fair to say, we’ve not gone short of a calorie or two (thousand) on this visit to the US. Most of them have been entirely delicious* and I don’t (currently) regret any of them for an instant but, having done a fair bit of driving and sitting in the last few days, there haven’t been too many opportunities to compensate for all the eating. Today was our last full day, and the forecast was to be fine, so we took the chance burn off some of the surplus if we could, starting with a bike ride with a view of wild turkeys (I’m stupidly excited about wild turkeys although apparently they’re quite common in these parts)…

wild turkeys

And a last chance to enjoy one of the many thousands of lakes.

Sucker lake

We then headed up to Stillwater for lunch which is historic (= has actual streets with shops on them)

Stillwater street

And has a converted grain elevator, which is actually pretty cool

stillwater elevator

Most importantly, and not to be outdone by Iowa, it has an impressive bridge, and although this one is mostly for cars, they let people use it too.

St Croix Crossing

As you can undoubtedly see, it’s an “extradosed” bridge – a hybrid of a cable-stayed and segmental box bridge structure.**

St Croix Crossing closer

Obviously we had to give it a go, especially when we realised we were effectively walking to Wisconsin (I think this is probably the first time I’ve ever crossed a state line on foot although I have walked across an international border that’s getting more contentious by the minute while the other half has walked across an ex-international border that now no longer exists, back in the days when it was the other side putting walls up, not us).

Wisconsin / Minnesota state line

All told it was about a mile there and a mile back – quite long enough to walk on a hot afternoon, although there will soon be a nice circular bike trail once the historic lift bridge is back in action. Just enough to burn off a healthy lunch, with calories to spare to cycle down to the local farmers’ market in Shoreview and buy some more food and rack them all up again and then some.

historic lift bridge

Back to Blighty tomorrow, if we are spared, with, undoubtedly, enough fat reserves to survive the most disastrous of Brexits.

* And can I just say that of all the delicious calories we’ve had on this trip, the sweetcorn (50c per cob at the farmers’ market) has probably been the chief revelation. If you’ve been buying sad little shorn cobs wrapped in clingfilm in British supermarkets you have no idea what you’re missing.

** according to the helpful information sign along the way


Onna Stick

August 30, 2019

It’s a sad truth, but when you’re on US time and the bulk of your followers are on UK time, your scintillating Minnesota State Fair Twitter thread is going to largely fall on deaf ears. This is especially so when the only members of your entire UK-based Twitter timeline who are awake are lying staring in the dark at the ceiling contemplating the latest grim twist in UK politics* and aren’t interested in carnival princesses being carved in butter, for some reason.

But – should you be looking for light relief, proof that Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler is alive and well and living in the Midwest, and an 11-day extravaganza that can only be described as a cross between an eating competition and an agricultural show, the Minnesota State Fair is the place to be.

big Fat Bacon on a stick

Although I think the US version of Moo-I-5 lacks a little in animation.

inflatable cows

We spent a glorious four hours there yesterday and I think we poked into most of the nooks and crannies and managed to try pretty much all the major food groups that can be served onna stick. We climbed what could be climbed, marvelled at tractors, slid down the Big Slide, said hello to the cows, and emerged somewhat footsore, excessively well fed and more knowledgeable about walleye conservation than we were when we went in.

I also finally found a slice of frozen chocolate-dipped cheesecake onna stick – something I once tasted when I was 19 and travelling round the States on the train, and have never managed to track down again. I may have mentioned it a few times to the other half because he was the one who spotted the stall amidst the competing stands offering alligator (onna stick), Pronto Pups (onna stick) and mini-donut beer (not onna stick, but I suspect not from lack of trying). Readers, it was exactly as delicious as I remember it from 30 years ago. And there’s no photo because I scoffed it instantly and wasn’t going to let anything slow me down.

All in all, the fair was $15 well spent (plus how much?! for the cheesecake) and should Brexit end in the way the worst case scenarios predict, we’ll be able to survive the resulting food shortages for at least a week just on the fat stores we laid down over the course of the day. And you can’t say fairer than that.

cow at the fair

* I know we’re not all ardent remainers here on this blog, but I can’t see how the current political shenanigans do anything but make us look like a banana republic without the bananas. Or a stick.

Wee Jimmy

August 28, 2019

We made it to the US (I highly recommend Icelandair if you do have to fly the Atlantic, by the way, if only for the incredibly civilised transfer arrangements between flights at Keflavik Airport) and with a two-week stay in the offing, obviously the first order of business was to get a sourdough starter on the go (One side-effect of blogging a couple of times about sourdough is that other sourdough-curious people occasionally make the mistake of asking me about it, and getting persuaded into giving it a try (see also: cycling)).

cow nose

“Have you been in close proximity to any livestock?”

Sadly, I couldn’t bring Jimmy-Carter-the-Starter with me to the States (the customs declaration makes it clear you shouldn’t have been recently handling livestock, let alone bringing in millions of live microscopic organisms in your luggage) so a new Jimmy needs to be created. That means unbleached flour and ideally untreated water, to allow all the yeast beasties to multiply. Filtered water would probably have been okay, but when the other half mentioned that the big brewery downtown used to have a tap where locals could fill up bottles with the water from their spring, that seemed like a much better option, if only for the Internet bragging rights.*

schmidts brewery


This being 2019 rather than 1979, the brewery tap has moved on somewhat (as has the brewery which now hosts upmarket housing and the misleadingly named Keg and Case market where you can buy mushrooms grown on the site (complete with logs) but not, as far as we could see, any actual beer). This is not just water, it’s The Drink and now comes out of a high-tech vending machine which accepts ApplePay because of course it does. Still, it’s only $1 for a gallon which seemed reasonable enough. We made the beginner mistake of not bringing our own gallon container, but the next-door cafe was happy to provide us with an old milk jug, and the precious water was secured.

filling the container

And appropriately labelled, in case anyone got confused.

water container labelled

New Jimmy is currently residing on top of the fridge awaiting its next feed and looking fairly hopeful so far. I will keep you posted with any exciting developments, or even – my blog, my rules – any crashingly dull ones, as they unfold.

Next stop, the State Fair.

* There’s something about sourdough that attracts a certain amount of one-upmanship. The next time someone flourshames me for just using flour from the supermarket, I’ll be able to hit back with my 35,000 year-old artesian well water.

Wee Stoater

August 24, 2019

As I mentioned, we’re off on holiday on Monday for a couple of weeks, and so it’s been the usual rush to get everything done before we go. So yesterday morning I was keen to get to my desk and get my head down, with a couple of work deadlines looming.

This would have gone better, had not a stoat decided to appear on our front lawn and – if you’ll forgive me the technical animal behaviour terminology – start wildly mucking about.

Up until now, my encounters with stoats have been pretty fleeting – something dashing across the road in front of my bike, or occasionally stopping to peer at me from the undergrowth. I’d certainly never seen one doing backflips before, let alone right in front of my study window. As a means of distracting me from work, it couldn’t have been bettered.

In fact, according to some sources, this was the point of the acrobatics: stoats apparently hypnotise their prey by acting weird and then pounce as their unsuspecting audience edges closer for a better look. This would be more convincing if there had been anything else around to watch than us – stoats are also known for taking prey much larger than themselves, but even so I think a couple of humans (however fascinated we were) might be overambitious for something that weighs a couple of hundred grams. Another school of thought is that it’s the side effects of a nematode infection (although there’s no reason both couldn’t be true and that the stoats have evolved to profit from their infestation-induced antics; after all, it’s been suggested a similar thing might be happening in humans).

Either way, by the time I’d extracted myself from an Internet-sized rabbit hole of animal behaviour work really was looming, so it took until today before I managed to get the resulting poor quality video up online to prove I wasn’t imagining things

This morning’s distraction was just as cute but rather less acrobatic.

young hare

Given the stoat is still around, if the dancing really is an effective form of hunting behaviour, and the leverets prove as susceptible as we were, we might have a dilemma on our hands …

Choices, Choices

August 17, 2019

Stopping to admire a view during the Bigtown Cycle Campaign ride this afternoon, I mused that we too have a nice view from our house – and that as someone who rides a bike for transport, I take the time to appreciate it because I have earned every metre of elevation. In fact, I added, it was worse than that because the final road to our house drops down before the final hard climb.

‘You’ve chosen the worst possible place to live, as a cyclist,’ someone pointed out, who has visited ‘Wherever you go, its always uphill home.’

All of which is undoubtedly true. And yet, how could I now live anywhere where this wasn’t my road home?

road home

Or this?

road home

It’s sometimes worth reminding myself just how fortunate we are to have stumbled upon this corner of the world and made it our home