Rayburned Out

June 3, 2016

Well, that’s that then. The Rayburn has been slowly declining for a couple of weeks now – and with the miraculous weather we’ve been having (it was actually Too Hot this afternoon out in the garden, and I even had to refill a couple of passing touring cyclists’ water bottles after they had underestimated how much they would need in the baking subtropical climate of South West Scotland, an easy mistake to make seeing as normally you can rehydrate just by opening your mouth and looking up) there was never going to be a better opportunity to take the plunge and turn it off for the summer.

And yet, I’ve hesitated. Come September, when we would normally be phoning Rayburn Man to come and degunk its innards and relight it, we will no longer have a Rayburn and he will have to drink coffee and share woodburning stove lighting tips with someone else. So these days have been the last opportunity to enjoy its constant presence: the stack of warmed clothes ready to put on after a shower, the whistle of the kettle as it (finally) boils, instant heat at the lift of the hotplate cover, the handiness of a warming oven, even if we never actually remember to warm our plates before we eat.

We won’t miss the oil bills (although with electric heating in the new house we may be in for a shock; hopefully not literally) and we really really can’t justify getting a Rayburn in the new house, even a solid fuel one, on environmental, economic or even geometrical grounds as the kitchen isn’t big enough to fit one in and it would look a bit strange in our bedroom. So, having just bit the bullet and switched it off, that’s it.

Time to move on …

Ooof …

May 18, 2016

I’m knackered. Our local cycle campaign is running a ‘Bike Message* Challenge‘ starting next week, encouraging people to cycle to the local shops, bank, hairdresser, library, museum or wherever, instead of defaulting to the car. We were hoping that, with luck and a following wind, we might manage to sign up around 40 places to take – some of the more enlightened shops and cafes, the local libraries, the museums. What we weren’t expecting was that half of all the town centre shops would jump at the chance – it turns out that shopkeepers are keen to be involved in something that encourages customers to beat a path to their door, whatever their mode of travel. Who knew?

The downside (filed under ‘nice problem to have’) is that I’ve just spent the last two days tromping round the centre of Bigtown delivering the packs they need to take part to over a hundred shops. Which is a lot of talking to people – something I do find quite exhausting, especially a lot of strangers, and this being Bigtown the shopkeepers were mostly friendly and wanted a chat – and a lot of walking (the bike is more of a help than a hindrance when you’re going door to door). And as a result I’m absolutely shattered. It turns out that regularly cycling 16 miles a day – and being able to cycle all day if I’m going slow enough – is no training for effectively a day spent standing around chatting. I pedalled home with heavy legs and then spent a good hour collapsed next to the Rayburn until I could summon the energy to move.

It reminds me that I’ll miss the Rayburn when we move. It’s already beginning to make the odd chugging sound which means it will be fading out soon, and then we’ll switch it off for the summer. And by the time September comes around, we’ll be gone, and the new tenants will have the pleasure of its company in the kitchen. There’s absolutely no excuse really for running an oil-fired Rayburn in a well-regulated eco-conscious household, and we certainly won’t be getting one of our own. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be sorry when we turn it off for the last time.

spring greenery

And the picture? No reason, except that you cannot have too much spring greenery in your life.

* this makes more sense if you know that in Scotland your ‘messages’ means your shopping (or general errands)

Waterproof in Scotland?

April 6, 2016

So, given how busy I am, what productive thing did I get up to this afternoon? Well, among other things – trying to turn the Rayburn into a laminator.

noticeboard tree

It all makes a certain sense, if you think about it. In my new role as secretary of the community council I seem to have the job of organising everything that happens in the parish, and that includes our annual litter pick. Litter picks require volunteers, so they have to be advertised, so as well as putting something in the community newsletter and up on our parish Facebook page, that means putting a poster up on noticeboard tree because nothing is officially happening round here until it’s properly announced on the tree. And as it rains a fair bit around here, putting a poster up generally means getting it laminated so that it remains a poster, instead of turning into litter itself the minute it rains.

We don’t have a laminator, but a little googling suggested that you could improvise with some clingfilm and an iron.* This worked surprisingly well, but then I got ambitious – could I take advantage of the heat the Rayburn generates anyway and use that instead of an iron? This worked less well, although not disastrously so, due to the lack of flat surfaces on the Rayburn hotplate covers. With a bit more experimentation I did reckon I could have perfected the method, using the two scrap sheets of metal we use to speed up defrosting when we’ve forgotten to take stuff out of the freezer in time, but at that point sanity prevailed and I decided I’d sunk enough time in the project and walked up to the waterfall to post the one I’d done earlier.

Pedal on Parliament

POP Poster. You are all coming, aren’t you?

Of course, when I got there, I saw that the POP poster I’d put up three weeks earlier was still going strong, despite all that the weather gods had thrown at us in recent days, so I may have wasted my time after all. Or it may be that POP posters are made of the right stuff and are rather more robust than our cheap printer paper.

Either way, I shall keep you posted on the relative survival times of the home-laminated litter pick poster and the non-laminated POP one. I know, I know – you can hardly wait.

* ‘You used an iron?’ said an amazed other half when he returned from Notso Bigtown and asked what I’d been up to… He may just have been surprised that I knew where it lived.

Sure Signs?

September 14, 2015

leaves turningI’m in danger of becoming one of those annoying people who actively looks forward to autumn (woodsmoke! Crisp piles of leaves! Back to school! Oh do please kindly sod off…) although a walk this afternoon left me somewhat confused as to whether autumn is on its way or not – and before you suggest it, there’s no point consulting the weather; apart from a few warm sunny days we’ve not exactly had a summer yet, although this doesn’t stop it going straight to autumn, do not pass Go, do not collect 200…

There are signs that the leaves are on the turn in some of the more hysterical trees (beech, I’m looking at you) but although we should be knee-deep in blackberries by now, it seems that only a few of them have got the memo:

sole ripe blackberry

After last year’s bonanza I’ve been actively keeping an eye on the hazelnuts to see if we can’t beat the squirrels to at least a handful but so far they’re looking pretty green and sitting tight in their cups.

green hazelnuts

And the rose hips have gone … strangely fluffy. Google tells me this is Rose Moss Gall caused by a parasitic matriarchal wasp which has largely dispensed with the need for males [insert your own jokes based on tired stereotypes, and then feel free to give each other a kicking in the comments] infesting a rose hip. It’s actually kind of cool

rose moss gall

But hazelnuts and weird wildlife aren’t the reason why we’re welcoming the coming of the cooler weather. It’s the fact that tomorrow Rayburn Man is coming and the Rayburn will be lit again, with much ceremony. Warm towels ahoy. I can’t wait…

Put to Work

October 9, 2014
onions, carrots, celery

Stock makings. I’m never sure how much the vegetable matter actually makes a difference to the end result but I can’t think of anything else celery is good for

I had a quiet day at home on my own today and with the weather looking decidedly unpleasant, it was a chance to get the Rayburn earning its keep and justifying its oil bill. The electric cooker we use during the summer means it’s not worth making stock so the chicken carcases build up in the freezer until Rayburn Man comes and then it’s all hands to the deck, and a chance to transform all the odds and ends of celery, the pathetically small onions I managed to grow this year, and parmesan rinds that have been kicking around for a while in the fridge into something scrummy

chicken stock

Chicken stock. Artful camera angle entirely down to the fact that I was charging my phone at the time

And once the stock making had taken the heat out of the Rayburn oven, it was the perfect temperature to attempt making chocolate chip cookies with added SCIENCE, as detailed at even greater length than I would consider reasonable here. I had even stuck with the instructions and rested the dough for 24 hours as apparently this was the SCIENCE bit even though Twitter was urging me to split the batch and experiment for myself.

No rest for me, however (thanks Twitter), for first I had a planning application to consider and then a whole Scottish Budget to comb through for mention of active travel (spending on cycling stagnating while the spending on roads goes up 9% if you’re interested) although fortunately more dedicated people than me did the actual combing and most of the drafting, I just had to do a cut and polish on the final result.

There was a bit of novel writing in there somewhere too.

Oh and the cookies? To be honest, they were actually a bit overpowering. Possibly Twitter was right. As the academics always say, more research is needed…

plate of cookes

This looks like a small plate of normal sized cookies but the recipe was American and so it is actually a dinner plate of giant cookies.

Frabjuous Day

October 7, 2014

Today was a red letter day in the calendar: after a two-week wait, Rayburn Man was coming which meant a pleasant morning setting the world to rights while he got on with the intricate work of degunking the Rayburn. He’s a fellow woodburning stove enthusiast, another two-wheeler (motorbikes rather than bicycles) and generally interested in most things so we always have a good chat, with today’s topics including sure-fire woodburner lighting techniques (always have the cut end of the wood upwards), the perils of Smidsy, bike geometry, the wonders (and prices) of the Fein Multimaster and database design. The kitchen is now once more warm and inviting and while I’ll have cabin fever in a month or two for sure, for now I’m just enjoying the fact that we can have warm towels and warm clothes and somewhere warm to park your bum of a cold afternoon.

seedlings in the greenhouse

Today also being two weeks since my operation – and rather more importantly, a bit of a calm sunny interlude between weather fronts – I then declared myself fit enough to resume light gardening duties and headed up to the garden. I’ve already been doing a little bit of potting on of seedlings in the greenhouse – which is no more strenuous than knitting once you’ve got yourself down to their level – but I also managed to clear out the old mangetouts bed ready for when I can resume shovelling manure. Or almost, because this chap (I think a smooth newt) emerged as I was just finishing up

newt in veg bed

So I switched to weeding the spring onions instead, which seem to have been amazingly prolific this year.

spring onions

The frost has sent a couple of shots across our bows in the last few days but so far not actually killed anything off yet. But I’ve a feeling we’re living on borrowed time. Thankfully, with the Rayburn now lit, we are prepared.

Stocking Up

June 2, 2014

It’s about that time of the year: the Rayburn is slowly sputtering its way into oblivion. We’ve spent the last week nursing it along but despite frequent shoogling of the little magic button, the temperature is gradually dropping and it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that it will shortly have to be switched off for its annual aestivation while we spend the next few months reminding ourselves how to use the electric cooker and having to dry ourselves with unwarmed towels and dress ourselves in unwarmed clothes.

In truth, it’s done well to go as long as it has without the attentions of Rayburn man, and it’s not really cold enough to justify having it on, little luxuries like warmth aside. It’s a shame because there are some things it does extremely well – melting butter or chocolate, making hollandaise sauce and, especially, making stock – which is barely worth the electricity involved if you make it on the electric stove. So today, as we’ve got a bit of a backlog built up of chicken carcasses in the freezer, I cleared the fridge of whiskery carrots, a half onion, some leek tops, parmesan rinds and a couple of celery sticks and made a monster batch of stock.


Tomorrow, I’ll administer the coup de grace, and put it out of its misery and get used to a cold kitchen again. Definitely. Or maybe the day after …

Closing In

November 13, 2013

At some point last week I imperceptibly made the move from working on the other half’s super duper two-screen computer, to squinching everything back onto my suddenly very small laptop screen. The reason being that the super duper computer is in the other half’s study while my laptop can be moved into the kitchen and hence close proximity to the Rayburn. Meanwhile, even when it’s not raining, the attractiveness of going outside – or even into the sitting room before an advance party has been sent to light the stove – is steadily diminishing. In short, the circumference of my daily round is contracting to its winter dimensions and while it’s quite pleasant now to lean my back against the Rayburn and watch the wind blow every leaf in Bigtownshire past our kitchen window, I know that come February it will feel as if I have been sitting in the kitchen for my entire life.

So I’m fortunate that I do still have to pedal off to fetch the paper every morning. Not just yesterday – when the sun had just risen over the hill as I set off, and bathed everything in a gorgeous slanting light – but even on days like today when it was a slog into the wind under a grey sky. Sometimes it’s a bit of a wrench to drag myself out, but I never regret it once I’m gone. Even the wretchedly wet rides, while not pleasant in themselves, are becoming something of a necessity (and almost bearable if I’ve had the foresight to pile a warm dry change of clothes on the Rayburn for my return). If I didn’t get out all day, somewhere, anywhere, I’d soon be climbing the walls.

The other half, wrestling impatiently with the Guardian this morning, muttered something about getting an iPad instead. I reacted with horror. Sure I could go out for a daily hour-long bike ride whether I was getting the paper or not, but really, what are the chances of that happening all winter long? I thought when we moved here that an 11-mile round trip to fetch a paper was a bit of a chore and a daft endeavour. Little did I realise how dependent on it I would become…

No Sh*t Sherlock

September 18, 2013

I suppose, in the ranks of unexpected events, ‘the weather getting colder in September’ doesn’t really cut it, it being the start of autumn and us living in Scotland and everything. And yet, it seems to have caught me somewhat by surprise this year. Blame the fact that we actually had a summer and got a bit too used to walking around in – OK, not shorts and a t-shirt, let’s not go mad here, but just the one jumper and no thermals. And so we’ve not given much thought to such vital matters as getting the Rayburn lit until suddenly autumn arrived with a vengeance (it was 2°C this morning …) and it was well past time to ring up Rayburn man to book its semi-annual fettling and de-gunking so we can light it again. Incredibly, it appears we aren’t the only ones to want our main source of heat and comfort sorted out just as it gets cold and miserable because when I rang up yesterday, the earliest he could fit me in was October…

Fortunately five years of keeping in his good books: serving him our best coffee and chatting with him while he works (last time he visited I ended up giving him a twitter tutorial) has paid off. After he heard the dismay in my voice he managed to slot us in a bit earlier than October – although we will still have to wait until Monday before the kitchen will be restored to cosiness. I can’t wait. Having the Rayburn lit doesn’t quite make up for the end of summer – but at least we can look forward to soups and stews, and something warm to lean against while looking out at the rain…

We’re Back

April 25, 2013

We’re home again, having arrived to find two mild disasters: the Rayburn was spluttering its last, and some toerag has flytipped a bunch of tyres in the river at the ford (just to add insult to injury, they were dumped there the night after the village litter pick). The Rayburn will probably stay off now as it’s not worth getting it serviced given we would have been turning it off at the end of May anyway which means no more warm clothes in the morning, among other things. I keep catching myself leaning against it, hoping for some warmth and comfort. As for the tyres, the council won’t do anything because they’re on private land. Perhaps we should have set up that webcam after all…

But I’m not going to worry about any of those things right now. I promised you holiday snaps, dammit, and holiday snaps you shall have. Whether you want them or not, frankly

river pool water_seaweed beach_sheep beachcombing rock_pool tree_roots