It’s on Days Like These ….

October 28, 2021

… days when it rained all of the day before and it rained all night and it was still raining in the morning and it has kept on raining as if it would never stop…

… days when the road has gone past wet and is no longer really a road, more of a babbling brook …

Water running down the road

… days when the fields have become lochs and the only animals visible are seagulls bobbing in the water …

field flooded up to the gate

… days when the river has burst its banks and filled the road and is pouring mightily into the adjacent field …

water pouring from road down into field below

… that I really really miss the ford.

(someone has sent me some video of it on Facebook, but it’s not the same)

In a sign …

October 23, 2021

… that I have been in Scotland for too long – and particularly the western side of it – I have started celebrating the idea of ‘slightly warmer rain’.

Exhibit A:

Group of damp cyclists looking over the river

We had a ride down to the local wetland centre on Tuesday on a day that I can only describe (indeed, I frequently did, to nobody’s amusement) as ‘nice weather for ducks’.* As we made our way damply along the river’s banks, stopping frequently to admire the complete and utter lack of views, with our socks squelching gently in our shoes, I was surprised to note that we were all actually having a really nice time. It was wet, we agreed, and that wasn’t great, but at least it was quite warm rain. I don’t know if the weather equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome is officially known as ‘Glasgow Syndrome’ but I think it should be from now on.

Anyway, we went back on Thursday on a sunny day, and I can confirm that it was much nicer when your feet are dry.

Sunny view

Anyone saying ‘no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing‘ can get in the sea.

* I asked the wildlife people and they confirmed that ducks do like the rain, but geese are indifferent to it.

There and Back Again

August 8, 2021

It seems to be an ironclad law* that the one thing you worry about most, is the thing that doesn’t happen, while you’re then blindsided by the thing (or things) you never even thought about. So when I set off yesterday on my epic(ish) journey south, my main concern, apart from actually catching Covid, was the fear of other people’s behaviour – as if the last 18 months had somehow managed to turn the UK into a live version of Twitter where people would feel the need to harangue other people in public about their life choices, instead of simply pretending they weren’t there or – in extremis – perhaps tutting, even possibly audibly.

If you weren’t following along on Twitter at the time, here’s the blow-by-blow version, or at least the edited highlights.

Or if Twitter’s not your thing, suffice it to say, that the least of my worries was being accosted by strangers in any way, even on the evening train heading to Blackpool North. Instead what happened was I got completely drenched on the bike ride down to the station and spent the rest of the day squelching round in wet socks, and I ended up booked onto a train that didn’t exist, that would anyway have connected to a cancelled train and hence very nearly ended up spending the night on a bench in Preston. Fortunately, I was rescued from this fate by the man in the ticket office who managed to find me a route that got me on the very last train home, and very grateful I am too.

It’s clear that over the last 18 months, I’ve completely lost my train travelling skills, because despite facing a complicated 3-train journey home, with very little wiggle room, I never even thought to check on line that the trains I was booked onto were running, or whether there was an alternative route should things go wrong. After 18 months of barely having to cycle anywhere except at a time of my choosing (not to mention three weeks of unprecedented sunshine) I would have said that I’ve lost my ability to deal with the Scottish weather but the truth is, I never did master the ability to cycle in the rain and not arrive at the other end looking like a drowned rat, however much wet-weather gear I accumulate. And nor do I ever manage to spend the few dry days of summer resourcefully re-proofing the kit I have.

As to my Covid fears, I can report that, once over the border into England, the number of people wearing any form of face covering was pretty low – about 30% at best, despite many signs and announcements encouraging people to do so (in Scotland it was more like 70%). I even overheard a mother telling her kids ‘you can take your mask off now, we’re in England’ as I boarded the train in Carlisle (although I was slightly cheered to note that at least two of the children in question were still wearing them as they got off the train a few stops later). I suppose I could have guessed that leaving things up to people’s common sense was never going to work in a country where a goodly proportion of the population pick up their dogs’ poo and then leave it dangling in a plastic bag from the nearest tree. Hopefully, I won’t have caught anything but having taken all manner of risks in one day that I’ve been avoiding for the last year and a half, my plan is to limit my interactions with other people as much as possible for the next few days (and take a couple of lateral flow tests just in case).

On the positive side, yesterday’s adventure has jolted me out of my cosy little retreat, and that’s probably a good thing. If I’d stayed home much longer, there’s a risk I’d never leave southern Scotland again. As it is, after my seven trains epic, not to mention my brush with trench foot, my next couple of outings should be a complete doddle.

I’m a great believer in diving into something scary headfirst to get it over with. Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn out that the pool had been drained…

* At least I hope so, because in that way I’ll manage to solve global warming through the power of fretting alone.

It’s Hard to Overstate …

July 20, 2021

… Just how amazing the weather is we’re having at the moment. I’m even feeling somewhat guilty about it, with all the extreme weather events going on apparently everywhere else on the planet, but with amber heat warnings creeping across the south of the country the only concession I’m having to make to this summer weather up here is heading out a little earlier on my bike to avoid the afternoon heat.

Indeed, this morning’s outing was just about the perfect summer bike ride, considering all I was really doing was going down into town to fetch the paper. Setting off before ten, there was still a cool pocket of air waiting where the road dips down through the trees to the burn on the way out, and the sun was not yet too hot on the ride back, although I did find myself actually welcoming the slight headwind as a cooling breeze across my skin, not something I could have ever imagined saying a couple of months earlier.


And as the weather has got into its stride, the harebells – already one of my favourite flowers – have excelled themselves. I’ve finally, after two years of careful nurturing, managed to grow a handful of these from seed for my little patch of meadow, but I’ve got a long way to go before they will ever reach the casual exuberance of the ones in the verges right now which lift my heart whenever I see them.

It’s the beauty of a bike that I can stop to admire such things, and also forage for gooseberries, having finally remembered to bring along a tub to put them in. This makes up for the failure of my own goosberry bushes – I’d say due to neglect, but I doubt the ones in the hedgerow get any more care and attention and they’re absolutely laden with fruit this year.

Gooseberries growing wild

As I’ve said many times before, I chiefly ride a bike for short journeys like those into town because it’s one simple way of helping get us out of the mess we’re busy getting ourselves into with the climate, or at least not making it worse. There are days in winter when that feels like a penance, the hair shirt option. And then there are days like today when you honestly couldn’t pay me to do the trip by car.

I suppose you could say I’ve earned them.

A Rose between Two Thorns

July 17, 2021

As I may have mentioned, after double booking myself with work in the first half of the year, I’ve taken July as gardening-and-cycle-campaigning leave (and I can only marvel at the breakdown of the Weather Gods’ system for detecting when I’ve got time off and coming at me with all the rain and hope that they don’t notice for at least another fortnight).

So far the gardening side has been all about tackling some neglected corner of the garden, realising guiltily how overrun with weeds the plants I’d actually planted were, spending all afternoon clearing out the weeds around the survivors and then moving on to the next victim. So far I’ve managed to bring some sort of order to the gooseberry bushes (unsurprisingly gooseberry-less), one flowerbed where I discovered that a tiny plant bought at a plant sale years back and then somewhat given up on had grown into a bit of a monster (I suppose the name ‘tree peony’ might have given me a clue there), and excavated one rose I only have the vaguest memory of planting but which has been valiantly flowering away among the brambles.

Rose bush that had been submerged by brambles

I’ve also filled one compost dalek completely from a standing start, and have been reduced to leaving piles of weeds dotted around the garden to be wait until the magic of composting makes some room for them. Hopefully this will happen before the piles have grown a new crop of weeds of their own, as appears to have happened on the patio where the chunkiest bits of root and tangled stem from clearing around the sitooterie have taken on a bit of life of their own.

Weeds growing through piles of roots and sticks

Despite all this neglect, there are some corners of the garden that occasionally look – well, almost garden like. Occasionally my tactic of throwing plants at random in wherever there’s a space in the hope that they’ll outcompete the weeds does sort of work.

mallow and lychnis flowering together

And the little rose rescued from the sitooterie site is flowering away in its new spot; it was obviously quite used to being overwhelmed by way more vigorous neighbours and wasn’t going to let a little sticky Willie get in its way.

rose flowering

I’ve been inspired by this to plant some more roses, as I do love them, and the more highly scented the better. This might be a fool’s errand; when Gardeners’ Question Time last came this way and the panel were asked for their suggestions on growing roses in this climate; their advice (after much sucking of teeth) amounted to ‘why not embrace the inevitable and grow Himalayan poppies instead’. But, nothing daunted, I asked Twitter instead and got something much better than a list of possible varieties:

… A whole rose garden that needed rehoming. You don’t get that on GQT

Meanwhile, with the Weather Gods’ backs turned, we actually had to put up our garden umbrella to shade us from the sun for the first time ever this afternoon (it’s rescued a couple of barbecues in the past from passing rain showers).

garden umbrella and bench

I’ve been calling this corner of the garden the Mediterranean garden largely as a joke, but if this weather continues, it might stop sounding quite so ridiculous an idea.

When Summer Calls …

July 2, 2021

.. You answer

Road in summer sunshine

Having somewhat prematurely celebrated the end of a big job of work, which promptly returned, with bells on, in the manner of the monster in the final act of a schlocky movie rising up from the apparent dead, I finally completed it on Wednesday lunchtime and this time nailed the coffin down properly AND put a stake through its heart.

Amazingly, despite this gap in the workload, the Weather Gods have not yet caught up with me and with an unexpectedly free afternoon, the sun shining, and some vouchers of the other half’s to spend, we plotted a magnificent afternoon escape.

coffee and cakes on outside cafe table

I have a massive backlog of things to do, and no doubt there would have been more productive ways to spend an afternoon than pootling along back roads on our bikes, refuelling with coffee and cake, buying All The Cheese at the attached organic dairy farm shop, and then topping it off with a paddle in the river on our way home, but I’m struggling to work out how (apart from remembering to buy cheese biscuits to go with the cheese).*

Bike on river bank

For the next month I’m going to be a different kind of busy as I take a month off from work work to catch up with all the work-shaped stuff I do when I’m not working. It’s not exactly what I envisaged when we ‘downshifted’ all those years ago, but I suppose it will have to do.

And at least if summer does call again, I should be able to answer…

* I did do penance when I got home by spending an hour or so going through planning applications, because that’s the banging way we cycle campaigners like to unwind.

It was Cutting it Fine …

May 31, 2021

… but May finally came good.

sunny day with blue skies and cow parsley flowering

The may is even out, at last. Let the clout casting commence.

Hawthorn (may) blossom

We can depend on very little when it comes to the weather around here, but having one precious week of fine warm weather towards the end of May had started to feel like something we could count on. It’s a few days late but it does appear to be here, squeezing into May by the skin of its teeth.

Naturally, I shall be spending it mostly chained to the laptop, but at least I’ve got the daily paper run to enjoy it in.

The Way We Leave Now

May 26, 2021

How do you give a proper sendoff in the time of Corona to two people who have been stalwarts of your local cycle campaign since its inception?

Group riding bikes

With a bike ride, of course (sorry, what was the question?)

Normally we’d have headed to the pub but even though they are open, numbers are limited, sitting indoors still feels too risky, and besides an evening bike ride in the long days of May just felt like it might be a nicer idea.

Group arriving at the nature reserve

We headed to one of my favourite places, a peat bog that almost ended up buried under a pine plantation. It’s been neglected in the past but I was pleased to learn that it is being restored (‘rewetted’ in the trendy new phrase) and it was looking rather fine in the evening sunlight. As we went for a quick walk (after coffee and home baking had been consumed, naturally) and heard – and then saw – a cuckoo. There are nightjars there as well, and plenty of insect life (almost certainly 99.9% of which by number was in the form of midgies, but you know, biodiversity is biodiversity and it doesn’t always have to be pleasant to be around). The weather more or less played ball – at least, it didn’t hail, which is the new low bar for May – and as we finally headed for home, the almost full moon rose over the clouds beside us and much as we like to scoff at the modern fad for declaring everything a supermoon, it was an impressive sight.

I don’t believe that in the end any of us would have swapped the evening for a more traditional leaving do down at the Dog and Duck. Indeed, as someone who has long substituted a bike ride for any form of birthday party, I am fully on board with the idea of swapping pretty much all celebrations for a cycling excursion, even when the pandemic (hopefully) fades. Friends and family, you have been warned …

Behold, there has been Gardening Done

May 15, 2021
Garden veg beds before planting

Not much, admittedly, but some.

veg beds with some seedlings planted out

Mangetouts, beans and half the chard has been planted out, with the salad, peas and beetroot still to come. That will leave me filling a few gaps to replace the things that have totally failed so far this year. It does seem to have been a tricky spring for lots of gardeners, not just me (although I can’t really blame the weather, having simply failed to do any meaningful gardening for the past couple of months).

Now that the weather and the soil is warming up a bit I’m actually trying something I haven’t attempted for ages: planting stuff direct into the soil, rather than raising everything in modules first. Back in the days when I first started gardening up here, I quickly gave that up as a waste of time as very little ever came up and what did was promptly eaten by the slugs. But that was when I was young and keen and trying to get everything going in March. Now that I’ve reached the ‘help, how is it May already?’ stage of my gardening career I might just have left it late enough that the seeds will germinate on their own, although that still leaves those bastards the slugs

Of course, leaving it to May to get started does give things less time to grow, so there’s a danger I’ll end up with puny undersized vegetables like, say, leeks the size of spring onions.

Not that I’m a stranger to that at all.

That’s just the veg side of things, which is actually the easy bit (raised beds are amazing at keeping the weeding effort down). I draw a veil over the rest of the garden which is going hard down the ‘dandelions are an excellent food source for pollinators’ route.

Meanwhile, in other news there has also been recycling done:

recycling bag at road end

Be still, my beating heart, be still.

Full of the Joys

February 23, 2021

The traditional response around here to any incomer who is unwary enough to remark on the weather being fine is either ‘Aye but it’ll no last, mind’ or – in the unlikely event that sunshine is forecast to continue for more than one day – ‘Well, but we’ll pay for it.’

sunshine through bare trees

I was reminded of this today as I woke to the sound of the rain battering the skylights and saw that we were facing an amber warning of rain from noon today. February can be unremitting in its grimness, but it does throw up the occasional day or two when the wind drops, the sun edges out, and we all dare to hope that spring might be on it way (clearly the Weather Gods know all too well that it’s these brief glimpses of respite that are the real killer by this point in the year). Sunday and yesterday were just such days and I had duly made the most of them. And now the bill was due.

I don’t know whether it’s lockdown, or a slow dawning of common sense, but in the past year I’ve found myself much less willing to go out in properly grim weather unless I really have to. The Met Office can be a bit free with its weather warnings at times, but it tends not to muck about with the amber ones (I’ve never actually experience a red one, and I don’t think I want to) so the sensible approach would probably have been to batten down the hatches, forgo the paper and enjoy our nice warm waterproof house. But today was also Binday, and Binday cannot be so easily denied.

Given that the weather was forecast to go from merely windy and raining to blowing a hooly at lunchtime, I reasoned that it was better to just get wet the once and get it over with. So I donned the full wet-weather gear, complete with wellies, and wheeled the rubbish down to the road end before cycling the rest of the way down for the paper.

And, a bit like eating liver, it was … fine. I mean, it wasn’t exactly pleasant but I wasn’t blown across the road, no driver overtook me while speeding through a puddle, and at least I had a roaring tailwind at my back for much of the ride home. That said, I did discover that rain doesn’t need to be frozen to pepper your face like so many tiny needles, and I did need a complete change of clothes once I had got home, if only because my waterproofs lack a certain amount of breathability.

And then – changed, warm, and enjoying a well-deserved cup of coffee at my desk, I got to enjoy the best bit of all: watching the weather get worse and worse, and having absolutely no need to go out in it again.