On not Going to Troon

June 14, 2018

The trouble with prolonged periods of fine weather is that after a while – despite ten years of evidence to the contrary – I start to believe that it will last for ever. And so, back in May when I was stuck indoors editing with the sun shining outside, and a suggestion came up of a meeting in Troon, it seemed an excellent wheeze to arrange to take the train up to Kilmarnock and cycle the ten or so miles to the coast with my co-conspirator. If nothing else, we would have had a nice couple of hours cycling, whether the meeting proved worth it or not, and I’ve never been to that part of the world.

Fast forward to this week, with Storm Hector on the horizon and a forecast 50 mph headwind and this was beginning to seem somewhat foolhardy. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and we relocated the meeting to Kilmarnock – which still meant I had an 8 mile ride to the station, in what turned out to be a lively headwind for at least some of the way and by lively I mean ‘pedalling downhill as hard as I can and barely making any headway’. I think, in fact, it was one of the strongest winds I’ve ever encountered on the bike. The road and cycle paths were carpeted with debris, but there were fortunately no trees down, and having turned the corner and found a tailwind I made it to the station with plenty of time to spare.

storm debris

Where, naturally, the train was cancelled. Although ScotRail were considering putting on a taxi for myself and the very pleasant young mum and her very lively toddler who were also heading to Kilmarnock, in the end the meeting was cancelled, somewhat to my relief. Troon will have to wait for another day.

That meant the small matter of pedalling home into the renewed gale, which seemed to have strengthened enough blow even the rainbows out of the sky.

strange light

The photograph doesn’t show it very well but this really was the strangest light…

As I got home – windblown, somewhat damp and entirely exhilarated I reflected that there’s something to be said for having braved a gale and ridden 16 miles and arrived safely home – and all by 10:30 in the morning…

All of which will hopefully stand me in good stead for our main adventure, which starts tomorrow.


Hauling Home

June 6, 2018

road home

Summer is here, still, the work that’s been keeping me chained to the desk is finally over and I have even started to dig my way through the pile of stuff that’s been waiting for this moment leaving me with a bit of free time (which actually feels a bit weird). Obviously, that means getting out into the garden as much as I possibly can, but I have managed to ring the changes with a spot of retail therapy, which in my case means a good truffle through Bigtown’s charity shops, looking for all the things I have on my list to look out for next time I was in a charity shop, which is my idea of shopping. Indeed, I’ve decided the real reason I like charity shop shopping – notwithstanding the benefits of saving money, avoiding more new stuff and supporting good causes – is that it takes aaaages to actually find the thing you’re looking for in them, which usually means not having to buy anything at all, which doesn’t bother me at all.

My current mission (apart from that most elusive of secondhand quarries, a bookcase that will fit a specific spot in the house, the measurements of which I have committed to heart just in case one shows up) is glass storage jars for our pantry. Indeed, I saw some in a charity shop a couple of months back but I hesitated and they were snapped up before I could go back for them, because the other thing about charity shop shopping is that when something does come up that you’re looking for, you have to act fast.

charity shop jars

Yesterday I hit the jackpot: four ex-sweetie shop jars (actually five, but by the time I’d sorted out how I was going to get them home, one had already been snapped up). The problem was, I was on a bike and four large glass jars, I can report, are effing heavy. They also don’t all fit in my pannier and even if they had done I don’t think the bike would have handled at all well. In the end, I got two in my pannier, bodged a bag onto my bike to take the other two, and wheeled them* to the edge of Bigtown where the car was (the other half having cycled across town to work) and left them there. Sometimes cars have their uses, if only as handy town lockups for the over-ambitious bike shopper.

Then it was just a matter of riding home, unburdened. I thought about taking a different, more scenic, route as I was starting from a different part of town but then decided to just head back to my usual road. ‘It’s boring’, I thought, ‘but it’s less effort.’

road home

But you know, when it’s June, and the sun is out, and the birds are singing, and the hedgerows are blooming like mad, and the roads are quiet, there really is no boring way home…

road home

I think I might be getting a bit spoilt. But I have dreamed all winter of days like these, and I’m glad that I’m finally managing to have the time to enjoy them.

filled jars

And our new jars are bringing a little order to our lives, so it’s all good.

* Bumping into my regular bike shop guy out on a lunchtime walk with his dog on the way. The fleeting look of horror on his face as he thought he might be roped into an impromptu bike repair on his lunchbreak was a picture…

Green Shoots

May 28, 2018

Now that spring is firmly established, I’ve been going round checking just which of our plants really did die over the winter, and which were just playing dead. Frankly, it was no winter to be a Californian lilac, although ours has got over the fact that it’s not in California any more, Toto, and is struggling back into leaf, if not flower. A small hibiscus that suffers from the fact that it’s one of the hares’ favourite plants has also unexpectedly gone from ‘stick’ to ‘green shoots’ in recent weeks’ albeit still looking pretty nibbled around the edges. Half of the the dianthus plants from Aldi that did so well last year succumbed to the snow, but Homebase were selling them even more cheaply last week – not only could you buy six and get change from a fiver, we could have bought six, plus the entire shop and still had change for a fiver …

But there was one thing on my conscience, and that was our huge willow tree which I had rather cavalierly had re-pollarded in September. I was pretty confident you couldn’t kill a willow, at least not without trying a lot harder than we had done, but as winter passed and spring set in, things were beginning to look less than encouraging. Indeed I was starting to feel rather guilty (while enjoying the extra light in our sunny entrance hall). When a woodpecker started to show some interest in it, we comforted ourselves with the thought that standing deadwood is a valuable ecological resource, and my thoughts began to turn towards suitable flowering vines to scramble over the stump and hide the evidence of my crime.

And then, looking out the window this morning I realised, it really does take a lot to kill a willow. And we were going to have to try harder than merely attacking it with a chainsaw.

willow putting out shoots

Sadly, the same can’t be said for olive trees, at least olive trees in Scotland…

dead olive tree

And then there’s this, which never looked all that much, frankly, and now looks deader than a dead thing. But the hares seem to like nibbling on its fronds so we may be stuck with it until they’re done.

dead spiky plant

Any idea what it might be (& if it’s worth replacing)? Until then, I’m calling it the Hares’ Toothbrush

Stopping to Smell the Flowers

May 27, 2018

After a full on few weeks of work – and a Friday deadline that ended up extending well into Saturday evening – I have finally come out (almost) on the other side.

There is work still to be done (as well as a whole backlog of cycling-related stuff to organise), but today I finally felt able to take some time off and try and catch up with the garden. As the other half was keen to try growing some tomatoes in hanging baskets to maximise the greenhouse space, this first meant a trip to the garden centre which is rapidly (sad to relate) becoming one of our go-to options for an exciting outing like the middle-aged people we are.

more flowers and hedgerows

Normally we’d go by car because garden centre trips usually end up with us buying things like giant bags of compost, which even I don’t think can be sensibly transported by bike* – but I persuaded the other half we’d manage to get a few hanging baskets easily enough with a few creatively deployed bungees, so we took the scenic route.

Stopping only for photos

speedwells and bike

(I was so taken by the banks of speedwell along the cycle path coming into Bigtown, that I just googled how to encourage them to naturalise in the lawn. Ah. Apparently most people spend their time desperately battling to prevent speedwell from taking over their lawns. How strange. But then again, I’ve never understood why people try and eliminate daisies from their lawn either).

I then spent the afternoon trying to do a month’s worth of gardening. I didn’t succeed, and the garden doesn’t look noticeably any more gardened, but the chard and beetroot are all planted out, there are slightly fewer weeds – oh and I’ve got sunburn down the back of my arms and legs.

I still have an inbox full of stuff I should be doing that I’ve been putting off while the work has been relentless, and there’s still a pile of work to be done tomorrow and Tuesday. There’s a little voice in my head that says I’ll regret not spending some of today getting on with that (if only because of the sunburn). But actually, a day spent away from the screen and out in the garden was exactly what I needed.

Potatoes in May

* Inevitably, someone’s going to comment here or on Twitter about how it’s perfectly possible to transport compost by bike, and how people move house by bike in the Netherlands etc. etc. Indeed, I have access to a bike trailer that would quite happily fit a 50 litre bag of compost. And I invite anyone who’s keen to point out the evils of our car-driving ways to come and cycle it eight miles uphill from the garden centre to our house.

Clout Casting Commences

May 24, 2018

Signalled by a strange portent yesterday morning

Not only has the fine weather continued, but suddenly it’s gone from ‘nice and sunny and warm if you’re out of the breeze’ to ‘this is not a drill, this is summer, enjoy it while it lasts, because when it’s gone, its gone’

Unfortunately this has coincided with the crunchiest of crunchy work deadlines so I’ve mainly been enjoying it by proxy, but I have been allowing myself a snatched hour or so outside here or there. This has meant choosing between gardening and the bike …

hawthorn (may) blossom

Today the bike won, even though my seedlings are queuing up to be planted and starting to suffer in the sun. I don’t regret it though, because the may is out (and the bluebells and the gorse and everything else) and where the farmers haven’t been slurry spreading the air is positively perfumed and gorgeous, and warm with it.


Apologies for the glare…

There might even have been a bit of clout casting done.

Besides, I have pipeline news: they have finished laying and joining the big gas pipe and started to make good the enormous hole they dug to do so, so the site now looks like this. Given the talent the land round here has for growing grass, I expect it to be indistinguishable from the surrounding fields within weeks.

pipeline covered over

Or almost, because a mysterious pipe remains, sticking out of the ground, purpose only to be guessed at …

pipe sticking up

Amazingly, if the forecast is correct, this weather is set to continue after the deadline crunch has passed and I will be able to do all the binge gardening I’ve been longing to do all week. Watch this space. I might even get around to blogging about compost …

While Stocks Last

May 19, 2018

I genuinely did not have time to get out on my bike today – and I didn’t need to go and fetch the paper because the other half was going into town.

may blue skies

But it is May and the fine weather is still here, and each day brings another fleeting spring moment, and when it’s gone it’s gone. Today it’s the turn of the cow parsley, just beginning to froth in the hedgerow. We have slogged our way through the winter, living for the moment when this weather would arrive, and it would be criminal not to slip out just for an hour or so to enjoy it.

And the roads were empty, for some reason, even emptier than they normally are. Could it be that people round here were all huddled inside, watching the royal wedding? I encountered about three cars and perhaps half a dozen cyclists, one of them out stretching his legs before the cup final.

Tomorrow we have lunch guests (the greenhouse inspection committee) and we’re hoping this weather will continue long enough to wheel out the barbecue. At least we were, until the local farmer – also keen to seize the day – made the most of the fine weather by spending the afternoon spreading slurry. Hopefully the smell will have dissipated somewhat by then

Got to take the rough with the smooth, living the rural life. This is the price we pay for having hot and cold running hares in the garden, and coos for neighbours.

April Showers Bring May … Gales?

May 11, 2018

It’s safe to say that I’ve been pretty disappointed with May’s weather so far. After the various beasts from the east and what have you, I’ve been holding out for a fine, dry May, or ‘summer’ as it’s known in Scotland. We had a couple of nice days over the bank holiday weekend, but not the heatwave everyone was enjoying down south, and since then it’s mainly been rain, wind, the odd hailstorm and fog.

evening ride

Yesterday was nice enough, if chilly, enough to tempt the other half out on the bike for an early evening ride, and today looked promising at least until we checked the forecast: high winds, which would only drop in the afternoon as it set into rain. By lunchtime, with the paper still to be fetched, the wind was battering round the house in an uninviting manner, but as the other half pointed out, at least I’d have a tailwind home, which is better than the usual arrangement.

The trouble with tailwinds is that you can never rely on them to deliver on your way home, however bad the headwind might have been on the way out. But as I came out of the shop with the paper and narrowly dodged the display of plants a sudden gust of wind sent tumbling down, I had a feeling today was going to be different.

And so it proved. My bike is not is still awaiting its winter service* and is all squeak and rattle at the moment, so it’s not the smoothest of rides – but even so, with the south-easterly pushing it along almost dead behind me, it was transformed into a flying machine. The hill home was still a climb, but compared with battering into a headwind, it was positively enjoyable. And as I turned to tackle the final kick upwards to the house I could feel it behind me like a welcome hand on my shoulder, pushing me home.

Even so, I think the weather gods have made their point, and if they could lay off for a bit so I can get my seedlings into the ground without them being blown away, I’d be grateful.

* I think the bike shop is hoping that if they take forever to order the parts needed, I will give up and buy a modern bike like a normal** person.

** adjusted for being someone who rides a bike