I’m with the Band

June 9, 2018

eden artist's ticket

Oh all right, the choir I have been singing in (in the loosest possible sense) will be performing at the Eden Festival tomorrow, which is somewhat less rock’n’roll but probably more my speed.*

The main issue will be getting there. We’re getting into the festival for free – but car parking costs £15 (there was an audible intake of breath at this news – round here even paying for parking at all is considered a breach of human rights). I could try and scrounge a lift, as I normally do, but at the moment, mainly because the sun is shining, I’m toying with cycling there. I love the idea of getting there by bike and it’s 20 miles, which is perfectly doable. The problem is, while almost all of it can be done on quiet roads, but there’s an unavoidable couple of miles on the A701, which is a nightmarish road even in a car. There’s also the bus, which takes full-size bikes, so I could keep my options open if it all turns out to be a bit too hair raising.

We will also be performing tonight in Kirkcudbright, if anyone happens to be at a loose end and wish to hear some excellent singing (and me). It’s all very different from the village choir  and the odd music evening in the village hall …

* One of my junior colleagues back the day once tried to persuade me I should try going to a festival until I pointed out I don’t do camping, don’t like crowds and am not that interested in going to hear bands. “OK, so maybe Glastonbury isn’t for you”, he conceded. This seems like the perfect opportunity to dip my toe in the festival-going waters without any of the camping part and possibly less in the way of crowds…

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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…


Seven Fat Years

June 1, 2018

wheelbarrow full of compost

OK, so I promised you a post about compost and you were all keen so now I’ve actually got to write one. Naturally, this is the point where I realise that I have nothing really very interesting to say about compost except that it turns out to be much harder than it used to be when I had access to our old landlord’s vast composting infrastructure which consisted of seven huge bays, each of which took a year’s worth of garden waste, were topped off with well-rotted cow manure, covered, and left to mature for seven years until they came round again on the calendar. I can confirm that this method makes lovely compost, but is not much use when you only have a small plastic dalek army and don’t have the luxury of seven years to wait for them to get to work because you have raised beds to fill…

So the fantasy version of compost making with these dalek bins is that you put a nicely judged mixture of weeks, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and additional *ahem* accelerator* in at the top, and then after some time you open the little hatch and scoop lovely crumbly compost out of the bottom:

compost and compost bin

Unfortunately because (a) the little hatch is useless and (b) the contents of the dalek are actually likely to be a mix of lovely crumbly compost, some minging slimy stuff you don’t really want to think about, weeds which are emphatically not dead yet, and clumps of vegetation which has managed to sit in the compost apparently unscathed for months, the reality is more like this:

overturned compost bin

The first picture is of compost that I had previously emptied out of a dalek (and then put back in without all the stuff I should have shredded first) a couple of months ago. The second picture is the dalek that we had been filling undisturbed for almost a year. So it seems that the secret to compost seems to be to periodically dump it out, turn it, and stick it back in the dalek until you need it. Think of it as an excellent upper-body workout. Or just buy another four daleks and wait.

I still have vague plans to set up a proper composting corner, which at least would make turning the compost easier even if we don’t have room for seven bays. But given my slow gardening progress, it’s likely that by the time that happens I will actually be in possession of seven compost daleks. And an enviably well-defined upper body … or a very bad back.

* If you want to see a discussion escalate quickly over something you thought was innocuous, and are bored about asking cyclist about helmets, it turns out that peeing on the compost heap is a gender issue, and not just because of the practicalities. Who knew?


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.

sandals

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.