Bottling It

May 7, 2018

Planting out my peas the other day, I realised that my collection of old plastic bottles that I use as mini cloches has become somewhat diminished over the years. A combination of the house move, my disorganisation, and last year’s less-than-convincing gardening efforts means a fair few have gone missing, and others may have simply become too tatty to be used, although some of them must be almost a decade old and pretty much unchanged, which I suppose illustrates the problem with plastic in the first place

We don’t buy that many drinks in plastic bottles any more but that’s not a problem because empty ones apparently grow on trees – or at least in verges, ditches and parks. Anyone who’s cycled with me in recent days has had to put up with me slamming on the brakes and suddenly swerving to the side of the road or doubling back as I spot a particularly fine specimen to add to the pile on the back of my rack. Even being picky and sticking to the freshest-looking new arrivals, I usually run out of room before I run out of bottles.

bottles on bike rack

I feel a little bad only picking up some of the litter but I suppose each one salvaged and put to work for the next ten years in my garden is one more not clogging up the gullet of an albatross chick, so it’s better than nothing. Especially now that summer has arrived even in Bigtown (I actually heard someone say ‘taps aff’ this afternoon) and people are apparently feeling the need to keep themselves well hydrated and then helpfully leaving their bottles out for me to pick up, in some cases just yards from a bin …

summer in Bigtown

“Aye, it’ll no last, mind”

That is, if I’m allowed anywhere near the garden for the next few weeks, as the other half reported he couldn’t complete the strimming round the back because there was a tiny leveret hanging out in the long grass. Fortunately not so tiny that it didn’t have the sense to get out of the way – finding one baby hare in the garden is wonderful, finding half of one, not so much.


Pottering On

May 4, 2018

Obeying the iron law that seeds only germinate *after* the gardener has given up on them, my Himalayan poppies have finally popped up having been planted in March and largely given up for dead in April.

himalayan poppy seedlings

There’s no end to the disasters that may befall these tiny little scraps of green before they get a chance to turn into any sort of display of flowers but it feels like an achievement anyway. And besides, tending seedlings is really my favourite part of gardening – as I said in my last post, my gardening tends to be of the kill or cure variety but there’s something about these hopeful little green shoots emerging from the soil that makes me spend far too much time watering them, turning them, blowing gently on them to encourage stronger growth, and just generally hanging over them hoping they’ll be okay out there in the big bad world.

pea plants going out

But all good things must come to an end, and my pea plants were beginning to tangle their tendrils with each other so out they went today in the first real test of our new raised beds (the potatoes got there first, but potatoes will effectively grow in anything so they don’t really count).

pea plants under cloches

For now they’re still getting a little cossetting with bottle cloches and a precautionary slug trap, but soon they’ll have to fend for themselves.

Meanwhile, if anyone’s got any tips for germinating lemon seeds, I’d be grateful. Assuming that the iron law doesn’t apply in this case, and the batch I planted weeks ago doesn’t surprise me tomorrow …

What are the Chances of That?

May 3, 2018

Since we’ve moved to the new house, I’ve often wondered just where our bus service goes. There’s definitely a bus that serves New Nearest Village, because I’ve seen it and it’s got a timetable that’s available in various formats including online. The problem is, I’ve seen it in a number of places which seem to make no sense as far as any route to New Nearest Village goes. Occasionally I’ve seen it running sensibly down the B road to and from the village (indeed, once I came across it on the B road twice in one day and both times the driver got my very best wave* for their extremely patient overtake), but other times I’ve seen it wandering far and wide on back country roads, often heading in precisely the wrong direction.

A look at the online timetable left us none the wiser – as far as we can tell (and it doesn’t help that there are no actual physical bus stops on the road and the bus timetable itself refers to places that even Google hasn’t heard of) it has a number of different and wildly circuitous routes and it would seem that it only goes past our own road end once a day on the way into Bigtown, and never on the way back, which makes it even less useful as a regular bus service than your average rural bus.

So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s less a bus service and more a magical mystery – a bus that appears when you least expect it, going in a random direction, possibly with a handful of enchanted passengers who have been travelling the rural back roads of Bigtownshire for decades now. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised this afternoon when – pulling out around an apparently parked-up lorry whose driver suddenly decided to pull away from the kerb without either looking (I could see him not looking in his wing mirrors which is why I’d assumed he wasn’t going to pull out) or indicating, just as I was committed to my manoeuvre – the bus appeared out of nowhere coming the other way.

Fortunately, bus driver and I were both sufficiently on the ball that I didn’t end up as the filling in a lorry-bus sandwich, and I was free to cycle home in one piece, arguing furiously with the lorry driver in my head. Even so, it was just the sort of incident that might encourage a more nervous cyclist to resort to taking the bus instead.

If only she could work out where it went …

* I have a carefully calibrated set of acknowledgements to drivers who pass or overtake me ranging from a cheery salute for extra-considerate driving all the way down to the ‘what the actual F was that?’ theatrical shrug (or occasionally the ‘you have a very small endowment’ pinky waggle when needs must).

And Now for Everything Else

May 2, 2018

After an exciting weekend …

… back to the real world.

Gardens, and spring (and work) wait for no cycle campaigners. I was pleased to get home and spot the first potato leaves peeking through in the raised beds – especially as it meant I could get them earthed up before the overnight frosts (hello May) had a chance to give them a nip.

potatoes peeking through

The trays of seedlings are waiting impatiently to go out. I’ve put the peas, kale and broccoli on a bench out of the reach of slugs and hares to harden off – the forecast was for milder weather but I hadn’t factored in that this meant rain, wind and, indeed, hail. My approach to gardening has always been along the lines of ‘what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger’, although I can’t strictly speaking recommend this as mostly it does just kill them.

seedlings waiting to go out

The raised-bed raising continues (I was going to write ‘apace’ but that would be a lie). So far I’m just about keeping ahead of the need to plant stuff out, but it’s going to be a close run thing.

raised bed progress

How does your garden grow?

There’s a Moment During Every Pedal on Parliament…

April 29, 2018

… When you think, OK so maybe this will be the year that really nobody will come.

So you’re standing in the Meadows, and there’s nobody there but the organisers, a BBC film crew, and the Gruffalo …


And it’s pissing down with rain and has been on and off all morning and all the hard work and the flyering and the planning and the tweeting and getting the University of Edinburgh to fill back in the big trench it had dug right across Middle Meadow Walk three days before you were due to lead a mass cycle ride up it, is beginning to look like a bit of a waste of time …

Feeder ride arriving

And then the first feeder ride arrives, undiminished by the rain, with the sort of grins cyclists only have when they’ve ridden through Edinburgh with police outriders on their tail instead of irate taxi drivers …

Mark Beaumont and the assembled crowd

… and you think that, just maybe, you might get away with it again for another year…


Communications Breakdown

April 26, 2018

When we first started Pedal On Parliament, our communication method could loosely be described as ‘death by email’ – everyone emailed everyone else all the time about everything. This worked when there were only half a dozen of us, more or less, but it didn’t exactly scale. Last year, with many more people coming on board, we’ve moved to Slack which is brilliant at cutting down the email volumes and allowing people to only see the messages they need to. But not everyone I need to communicate with uses Slack, or keeps up to date with it, meaning I end up having to email them, if only to remind them to look on Slack, which slightly defeats the purpose. Nor do people necessarily use their email that much either, I’ve found.* In recent months I’ve ended up communicating or being communicated with by pretty much every channel possible, including FB messenger, Twitter DMs (on my own account and on the POP one), text messages, WhatsApp, an old email address I mostly use for Internet shopping, and an email group that doesn’t actually accept emails from non-members but which sends me a notification of the email it’s not allowed to deliver to me, including its contents, and then continues to do so every morning until I remember the password to go and clear out the blocked messages, which must be the most self-defeating form of spam protection ever invented.


Hello clouds, hello sky. No reason for posting this photo except that I liked it

As our channels get ever more fractal, my role at this stage in the game mostly appears to be receiving communications, whether by sky writing, interpretive dance or hand-engraved invitations delivered by carrier pigeon, and passing them on to the people who need to do something about it by whatever means of communication they most prefer. On Tuesday, as I was racing out of the door to get to choir, I got an email from someone telling me to listen to my voicemail about a request I hadn’t made that had come up in a discussion in a meeting that I hadn’t been to and to ring back if I could help (sadly I was out of credit). Today I found myself direct messaging someone in a cycling forum to get their email address so someone on the Slack channel could include them in a discussion about rickshaw rides and retrieving someone else’s email address out of a private message in Open Streetmap which I think I last logged into in 2010. It’s fortunate I never signed up to MySpace or SecondLife because otherwise, undoubtedly, someone would have tried to contact me through there by now.

Tomorrow, though, the Brompton and I will get on the train to Edinburgh and I will hopefully be spending the evening doing any last-minute PoP planning via the novel means of actually talking to people, face to face, possibly over beer. I hope I’ll see some or all of you at PoP on Saturday, unless you’ve got a very good excuse.

wood anemones

In other news, hello spring. Come Sunday, I shall hopefully have a little more time to enjoy it.

* I was chatting to a young man of my acquaintance who was, I could have sworn, a grumpy toddler in a spiderman costume only a couple of years ago but is now inexplicably 17, and he tells me that his generation view email as an incredibly fusty and formal means of communication, roughly equivalent to an engraved invitation or a visiting card to my own generation. Old, who, me?

Fill your Boots

April 22, 2018

Yesterday was the New Nearest Village church plant sale and – it being a rather glorious sunny one – I actually managed to lure the other half to join me on a cycle ride up there for my annual ‘how many plants can you fit in a Brompton basket‘ adventure.

After a very pleasant interlude sitting in the sun in the church hall car park eating barbecued sausage sandwiches and as many tray bakes as we could decently pile onto a plate, and talking cycling in Rwanda (as hilly as it looks, apparently), we pootled (me; it’s difficult to get up much speed when you’re conscious of your new plants’ leaves all blowing in the wind) and raced (the other half) back down again. The plants (random lupins of unknown provenance and a named primula species which I’ve managed to forget everything about apart from the fact that it apparently likes boggy conditions) are now awaiting such time as I can clear a space to plant them and set up slug defences, as the last lot of lupins I planted didn’t last a week. I should probably have thought of that before I bought them but hey ho, if I keep throwing lupins at the problem surely some of them will get through…

plant sale haul

In other plant cruelty news, I was wondering why our windowsill basil had started looking peaky even (especially) after I’d fed it. It was only when I took it out of its lovely white pot cover – which I’d bought earlier this year as part of a set and left on the windowsill of our entrance hall awaiting a plant pot to put in it – that I realised why. Handy pots left on windowsills in our household get random things put in them, it turns out. Like spent button batteries, for example. And it also turns out basil doesn’t thrive when sitting in a weak solution of battery acid. Who knew?

On the other hand, it might also do for the slugs …