Potemkin Garden

May 30, 2021

We had actual visitors to our house on Saturday, the first since (checks calendar – jeeze, can that be right?) August, which meant not only an epic amount of scurryfunging* in the house but some hasty gardening in order to at least find our bench so our guests would have somewhere to sit…

Tidy bench and seating area

I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo but this shot of an epic hailstorm earlier in the month may give you an idea of how much needed to be done.

weedy bench area in the middle of a hailstorm

Respectable as it looks from the right camera angle (thanks largely to the other half’s regular strimming and mowing), an hour an a half’s hasty Friday night gardening can’t do much to salvage your reputation as a gardener when your back garden looks like this.

Very weedy back patio and garden

In my defence, a patio which is ankle deep in dandelions is also often ankle deep in goldfinches, which like the seedheads and regularly shoot up out of the undergrowth when I head out the back door (indeed, as I was standing in the front door admiring my handiwork around the bench, a goldfinch turned up and perched in the little tree by the pot and had some strong things to say in goldfinchish about the devastation I had just wrought to his happy hunting ground). Perhaps we should turn the entire garden over to the hares and the goldfinches and just have a machete to hand to cut a path to the gate as needed.

Anyway, a fine afternoon and the sight of some actual fruit on the fruit bushes in the fruit not-yet-cage was the prompt today to finally finish the job before the wildlife got those too.

fruit cage with netting

Although, if my experience with the landlord’s fruit cage is anything to go by, we’ll probably be spending the summer ushering birds off the premises that have worked out how to get in, but are completely clueless as to how to get out.

* A possibly made up word for the act of hastily cleaning the house when you have visitors coming.

Call Me Mystic Meg

March 17, 2021

A year ago, I was watching my diary empty out, and looking forward to what I thought might be a few weeks of lockdown before things got back to normal and slightly dreading how busy things were going to be by, ooh, September.

Today, my big excitement of the week was needing to go to the surgery to pick up a prescription and taking the opportunity to go the long way round …

Empty rural road

(well, on roads like this, you would, wouldn’t you?)

Another empty quiet road

I no longer even pretend to think I know what lies ahead and yet, in contrast to last year, my diary is filling up rather than emptying out as we all just go ahead and make plans anyway (I’ve even tentatively started planning an event in September). Tomorrow, I’ve got the excitement of meeting a pal for a (takeaway) coffee and a socially distanced natter (there might be some PoP planning in there too). Gosh, I might even get some cake – I’ve been carrying around the same pocket full of change since the beginning of March; it will be beyond exciting to actually spend it.

Communications Channel

February 18, 2021

Yesterday’s essential excuse for a bike ride involved dropping off some plants* with a friend who had admired them back in the giddy days of summer. I’d promised to give her some when I divided up the clump and a two day intermission in the Weather Gods’ February hostilities gave me enough time to both do so and arrange to cycle them down to her.

Bike parked by river.

This meant not just cycling somewhere new – oh frabjuous day – but also a trip through the heart of Bigtown, which is (as it has been the last few times I’ve been down) absolutely hopping. The shops might almost all be shut, but a family of otters have been making their presence felt in the river and in the absence of any other thing to do, le tout Bigtown appears to be spending the days of lockdown looking out for them. This gladdens my heart (even though I’ve not managed to spot them myself) but makes navigating the shared-use river path somewhat slow going.

Fortunately I had left myself plenty of time because as well as having to weave my way politely through the otter spotters, I also ended up having three separate conversations – one with the chap who was busy surveying the toucan crossing we’ve been campaigning for the last five years over, one to admire the nifty e-bike and trailer setup of a mum visiting the playground, and finally a catch up with a friend who is locked into a gaslighting battle with the coonsil and now the polis over the fact that if 3,000 drivers speed down her road in a week, and she puts up some scarecrows to remind them that people live there and they might want to slow down, it turns out it’s she who gets in trouble with the law (she is made of sterner stuff than me and appears to be making progress on this one, amazingly). Combine that with a good socially distanced outdoor natter with my pal (exercising your jaw muscles is still exercise, right?) and then another good long chat about local issues with another acquaintance, and that was five face-to-face conversations in one day, possibly doubling my total for the year (not counting the other half). It’s no wonder I was knackered by the time I got home, and not just because it’s been a while since I cycled 30 miles in a day.

We’ve recently started using Slack with the Bigtown Cycle Campaign, mainly in a vain attempt to cut down on the numer of 8-page emails I get from certain people with impeccable attention to detail but no inner editor whatsoever. I have used it in various campaigns and found it useful for communicating the sort of day-to-day matters and discussion that need raising but don’t necessarily warrant a full email. But good as it is, it still doesn’t replace the main communication channel for cycle campaigning round here – bumping into someone when you’re both out on your bikes.

And as a means of communication I can confirm that it knocks the painful Zoom meeting into a cocked hat.

* Some nice dark red Astrantia which were given me when we moved in, so I felt it was appropriate to pay it forward.

Give Us This Day our Daily Cycle

February 9, 2021

More than a month into this latest lockdown, I’ve made the decision that I’ve got to get back to regularly cycling again. On Sunday I went for a walk with a friend which meant a five mile bike ride, an hour’s walking, and then the five miles home and couldn’t work out why my legs were so tired later in the day.

sunshine and open road

Unfortunately, it’s become abundantly clear I’m not going to just go out for a cycle for the heck of it, however much I might preach the joys, health benefits and all-round excellence of riding a bike. So, now that our case numbers locally have declined back down from the scary peaks of January (I’ve been checking the excellent Travelling Tabby site for the latest data almost obsessively since the new year), I’ve decided to bribe myself with the prospect of getting an actual paper as long as the numbers remain heading in the right direction. So far, this has been enough to get me out cycling further in three days than I’ve done in the past few weeks, despite the Baltic east wind (perhaps it would have been better not to make this decision during the arrival of the Minibeast from the East although so far we haven’t had any proper snow, unlike apparently everyone else in Scotland) and the Weather Gods experimenting with their latest innovation: snow flakes that seem to materialise randomly out of clear skies just when you’ve set off on your bike.

Anyway, today I had a proper excuse for an outing – inspecting an underpass and photographing all of the broken lights (basically 4/5 of them) so I can report them to the appropriate authorities. Never let it be said that the life of a cycle campaigner is not a glamorous one.

Underpass with broken lights

And I was cheered on the way back to encounter one of the older litter-picking locals who I often stopped to chat with back in the day. I haven’t seen him since the first lockdown in March (and if my can collecting efforts are anything to go by – I hit a high score of 15 today – he hasn’t been out that much in recent months) so I was pleased to find him fit and well and rejoicing in having received his jab* three weeks ago so he should now be protected. As the weeks pass, and the rollout continues, I’m hoping to find that many more of Bigtownshire’s indomitable senior citizens have made it through and are – at least for now – in the clear.

* I know, I’m supposed to say ‘jag’ up here but it just looks wrong.

Is your Journey Really Necessary?

January 7, 2021

Since I last posted we’ve gone back into full lockdown meaning we’re only allowed out for essential purposes, which includes exercise and shopping for food but not, as far as I can tell, going to buy a paper* (and you never quite know who’s watching, either …)

cows watching from a barn

The ice and cold have also given way to snow – not more than a dusting really, but enough to make things very pretty and keeping it local today was not a hardship.

Snowy trees and burn

When all this started back in March, and thought it would all soon be over, I started a little timelapse of the arrival of the spring leaves during our daily walks. I don’t think I had any inkling I’d be doing the same thing by the time the snow arrived.

Tonight and tomorrow we’ve got hard overnight frosts forecast, which was excuse enough for me to pursue my new favourite hobby: gritting the road, much to the eager anticipation and ultimate disappointment of the neighbouring sheep:

It turns out sheep really really like road salt and have been known to knock open grit bins to get at the contents. This may explain why they’ve been keeping such a close eye on the bin that’s by our gate (so far, still unraided) although the absence of little sheep hoofprints and the presence of large bootprints beside the emptied grit bin at the road end suggests that if they are behind the Great Grit Bin Heist of 2021, then they’re cleverer than we thought.

* If I understand the regulations right, I can quite legally cycle down to the shop, as that’s exercise, but I can’t then go in and buy just a paper, as that would be inessential shopping. However, if I also bought a bar of chocolate that would be food shopping, which would be fine. Or perhaps a scotch egg, just to be on the safe side.


June 23, 2020

It seems we are coming out of lockdown – even here in Scotland where things are proceeding at a more cautious pace than south of the border. Not only can we make the 100-mile round trip drive to see my parents (as soon as the weather relents enough to make sitting in their garden while we socially distance a realistic prospect) but I got a text from my dentist confirming that my checkup will be going ahead on Friday (of all the things I was looking forward to being able to get back to doing, I can’t say this was top of my list)

I’ve also had a bit of a break in the work schedule – as a glance out of the window at the weather would confirm – and a chance to actually get to grips with a couple of those lockdown projects I started back when I thought everything being cancelled for the foreseeable future might actually give me some more free time.

One of these was an attempt at a couple of timelapses from photos taken during our daily state-sanctioned exercise. I’m still wrestling with the technology to make a proper timelapse (including something that can compensate for the difficulty of taking a photo from exactly the same spot at exactly the same angle every day) but for now the WordPress gallery gives a good enough first draft of the arrival of spring at the wood at the end of our road.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sifting through the photos and trying to line them up is something of a thankless task, but I’m glad I made the effort – it seems an appropriate enough response to these timebending days. Weeks, even months can pass in the blink of an eye, while also being measured out in endless days: the same walk, the same spot, and time sneaking up on you all the while without your leave.


June 6, 2020

Back when lockdown started, and we all thought we would have loads of time on our hands, I idly wondered on Twitter what the last thing people would resort to doing

At the time, I had no thought of organising my own books having lived quite happily for most of my life with my books randomly crammed into all the available shelf space and overflowing into a number of piles in various parts of the house. This is fine when mostly what your bookcase is for is storing books you have read (the ones I haven’t read wait enticingly beside my bed) and occasionally ransacking them for something to re-read. It works less when when you wish to track down a particular book that your lockdown bookclub has decided to read and end up in this situation:

Two copies of Transcription

I’m sure there’s some sort of metafictional joke I could make here about having two copies of a book about making a copy of something

(I had thought the original would show up as soon as I ordered a second copy, but in fact it bided its time until the new copy had arrived, and been re-read, and then appeared in a pile I could have sworn I had searched already the morning after our bookclub session)

So as the bookcase needed moving today, I took advantage of the fact to impose a little order on the bookcase in my study, if only in the hopes that one day I will be in a position to attract the gimlet eye of Bookcase Credibility, and pass muster

In the end, I didn’t alphabetise them – that would have involved getting all the other books in the house out of where they’ve been breeding and rearranging everything, which might have been quite satisfying but would probably have taken a week and involved all sorts of complicated decisions about what books to keep and what to pass on, and frankly, lockdown or no lockdown, I just don’t have that sort of time. But I did impose some sort of order that made sense to me and had a lovely afternoon reminding myself about books I had forgotten I owned, and recalling happy times spent with others I remembered very well.

(This book suffered from my habit at the time of stuffing it in the waistband of my trousers to leave both hands free for holding my binoculars. I did see a German birder who had made a handy little carrier for his field guide – a cloth cover that came with two integral handles so he could dangle it from his wrist leaving his hands free. Unfortunately by that time our field guide was well on the way to disintegration but it has our list in it from two years spent in Swaziland and I could never throw it away).

Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys the odd judgemental truffle through someone else’s bookcases, so here is the end result (bear in mind that you’re only seeing the front layer of books – most of the shelves are stacked two deep).

restacked bookcase

Next step: tackling the recipe folder. Or maybe I’ll save that one for when the second wave hits.

* Title courtesy of @MatthewSndeker on Twitter.


May 27, 2020

If all goes to plan, we should be looking at the first real easing of lockdown in Scotland from tomorrow – I know that some friends of mine are very excited about the prospect of garden centres reopening, while I’ve already set up a socially-distanced walk date with a friend for tomorrow.

Cows on top of hill

Perhaps it’s the imminent easing of the lockdown, perhaps it was the weather, or perhaps it was a bit of social media chat about cycling during this crisis (basically, all the new and leisure cyclists are having a wonderful time getting out on the quiet roads, while the bikes belonging to us gnarly old utility cyclists are sitting gathering dust in sheds and garages, wondering what it was they said …) but as I started down the road for my daily walk I suddenly thought ‘sod it, this is too slow, I’m getting the bike.’

And so I did.

bike under trees

When the sun shines in late May around here, it’s just heartbreakingly lovely. The photos are one thing, but they don’t capture the smell which – assuming the slurry spreading has not been too recent – is a gorgeous mix of gorse and hawthorn blossom.

back road

I had to take a side detour in a little loop round Nearest Village because just as I was heading up towards the village and planning to turn round, I had greeted a lady walking down the hill the other way. It took me perhaps a little longer to get past her than she might have anticipated so, we had to repeat a couple of variations on our ‘lovely day’ remarks in order to fill the time. Obviously, I couldn’t then just turn around and cycle back the way I’d come and past her again, so I made a little detour to avoid any more social awkwardness. This is entirely normal behaviour, no?

sunny view

Normally I hate riding this road, because it’s fast, bendy, and I get at least one close pass, sometimes on a blind bend every time I ride it (and incidents like this are sadly all too common). If lockdown easing does start to mean increasing traffic, I shall miss the relative calm of the last couple of months (even though I’ve still encountered far too many dangerous drivers for my liking).

empty b-Road

Perhaps I should be getting out more, while the going is good.

Here I Come, Busy or Not

May 12, 2020

It seems we’re allowed unlimited amounts of exercise now in Scotland, which would be more exciting to me if I had even a limited time to exercise this newfound freedom. But no doubt by the time I’ve dug myself out from beneath my current stack of multiplying deadlines we’ll be back down in lockdown again, so despite not technically having the time to do it, I took the opportunity today to load up the basket of the freshly de-punctured Brompton with another batch of chlli babies and take them down to some friends in return for them not insisting on me taking away any of their spare cucumber, courgette or brussels sprout plants.*

chilli plants

Actually, this was probably allowed under the old rules – after all, I was delivering food, albeit in a very slow way – although I suspect we’re not really supposed to exchange quite so much chat (at a safe distance) in the course of such deliveries.

Either way, it gave me an opportunity to check out the state of the ford, which is bone dry; unsurprising given that the Weather Gods seem to have gone into self-isolation themselves. I don’t remember ever seeing the river so low.

dry ford

In truth, it was good to get out on the bike, whatever the reason. Running twice a week might be keeping me fit and walks in the woods are lovely and all, but they’re not the same as the couple of hours of moderate exercise that I’ve grown used to getting almost every day just in the course of running my regular errands. It might feel like it takes up time I don’t have, but at the end of the day I’m probably more productive (and certainly feel much cheerier) if I’ve been out either on the bike or in the garden.

dry waterfall

I’ll still be following the Scottish Government’s advice to stay at home rather than the UK government’s stay alert message (probably fortunately as I slept terribly last night). But, busy or not, I might have to make more time to ride my bike while stocks last. Or at least until the Weather Gods come out to play again …

bluebell wood

* They also offered a home brewed bottle of beer, but with the Brompton’s tyres at bike shop pressure, and the roads increasingly potholed, I declined the opportunity to cycle back home with what would effectively be a glass fragmentation grenade in my basket.

Ghost Town

May 1, 2020

So I finally made it into Bigtown proper this afternoon, having dropped off the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign’s trailer for use in the volunteer effort. This was of more than idle interest – Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign have actually been invited by the Coonsil to discuss ideas for where temporary space could be made for safe walking and cycling. I know, I’m surprised too and am still slightly wondering if it’s some sort of a trap …

Having spent five weeks of lockdown on a hill overlooking Bigtown, I thought I had better see things a little closer up and so having delivered the trailer (and admired the street’s socially distanced Zumba class which was going on at the time – instructor on one side of the street, and what appeared to be the entire local nana population spread out across the other pavement) I ventured further into town for a quick tour.

I had already observed on Monday’s exciting visit that traffic wasn’t particularly different around Bigtown’s outskirts, but things really are strange in the town centre – the only time I’ve ever seen the carpark on the river this empty is when the river is actually in it (this hasn’t stopped your average Bigtown driver from just abandoning their vehicle wherever they fancy of course, including on our nominally pedestrianised high street).

empty car park

It was actually quite depressing and worrying to see the town so quiet. The traffic around the edges suggests that life, and commerce, continue – but it’s moved to the big supermarkets and the online retailers (and in our bid to limit our interaction with other people we’re no exception – if it can’t be bought during our weekly supermarket shop, or online, it doesn’t get bought at all). Bigtown actually had a reasonable town centre before this, with some nice independent small shops as well as the usual high street retailers, loads of cafes, and what must amount to approximately 60% of the pubs that Burns is known to have drunk in. It’s hard to see how much of that will survive the next few months.

So I was rather sobered by what had originally felt like a jaunt when I set out and was only really cheered as I approached home and realised that I had attracted something of a following. The cows in the field next to our B-road were chasing after me on the other side of the hedge. This never fails to amuse me when it happens, and I can only apologise to the cows for not after all having any tasty cow treats on me when they finally caught up with me at the top of the field.

crowd of cows

Or maybe they’re as bored with the whole lockdown experience as everyone else?