Growing Pains

November 25, 2015

garlic in pots

It’s proving unexpectedly hard work, being a proper grown up blogger reviewing stuff. For a start, I’m having to actually attempt to grow garlic properly, or at least google it to see how the rest of the internet does it instead of just making it up as I go along. It turns out that growing garlic is more complicated than I thought because it needs prolonged vernalisation* for the bulbs to form properly. So there are roughly three schools of thought about growing garlic in Scotland. The first is that it’s no different from planting it in England and you should do so in October or November ‘when there’s still a bit of warmth in the soil’ so the cloves don’t rot in ground that’s too wet or too cold.** The second is that you can wait until January because prolonged periods of cold weather are easier to come by in Scotland than England, although how that is supposed to help with finding soil that is neither waterlogged nor frozen remains a mystery. The third is hahahahaha, seriously you’re trying to grow garlic in Scotland, are you insane, there’s a reason why traditional Scottish cuisine consists of potatoes and kale …

Now normally when the internet is divided in this way I just pick the way that suits me best and go with that, which would mean planning to plant it in January and then forgetting all about it.*** But I feel I have a responsibility to do a bit better for this garlic in order for my review to consist of something a bit more cogent than ‘if you’re looking for foolproof garlic, this wasn’t it, at least for this value of fool’. So I have decided to hedge my bets and split my garlic three ways. Taking advantage of a mildish day, one lot has been planted outside, on raised ridges to avoid waterlogging. One lot will wait until January, provided I remember where I have stored it. And one lot has been planted in pots in the greenhouse until established and will then be transferred outside for the rest of the winter.

Watch this space for more thrilling updates on the garlic progress – unless the lovely people at Marshalls realise they’ve made a terrible mistake entrusting it to me and stage a rescue mission for it in the dead of night.

* which obviously you all know means being exposed to a prolonged period of cold weather. And obviously I did too, being such an advanced gardener who would never forget all about her garlic and then end up planting it in April. Ahem. Although prolonged periods of cold weather can happen then too…

** erm. Have these people been in Scotland in November?

*** Twitter was busy urging me to just roast the lot and have it for supper

When is a Target not a Target?

February 11, 2013

OK, I apologise in advance to all of you who are here for the vegetable growing and squashed wildlife and weather reports – I do try and keep the cycling politics stuff to a minimum cos I know it’s boring but sometimes it just has to be done…

It seems that when the Scottish Government announced in 2010 that ‘10% of journeys should be by bike by 2020’ it had its fingers crossed behind its back. And also that when the Transport minister told 3000 voters who’d pedalled on Parliament that we were ‘pushing on an open door’ he forgot to add that the door was marked ‘pull’. Because, according to the Transport minister what his real priority at the moment is modernising Scotland’s transport infrastructure and by ‘modern’ he means motorways and other things they used to get really excited about way back in the sixties.


And on closer inspection the much vaunted cycling action plan that’s supposed to magically deliver this vision of 10% of journeys by bike consists of the following steps:

  1. Train some volunteers to train school children to ride bikes, if they want to and the school doesn’t really object.
  2. If your employer has showers at work and a bike shed, it can apply to be a cycle-friendly employer!
  3. Did you know that Dumfries and Galloway has a bike bus? We think. Anyway, here’s a picture of it. We didn’t pay for it but it’s the sort of thing that local authorities could do if they wanted to. No pressure, though. Totally up to them.
  4. We ARE paying Sustrans to find some roads we haven’t made into dual carriageways yet and put some signs up calling them the National Cycle Network. Also there may be some closed down railways and things that the cyclists could use if they wanted to.
  5. Umm
  6. Oh yes, and look, there’s a recession and petrol’s going up so lots of people will cycle anyway because they haven’t any alternative.
  7. Also we have just built this shiny new motorway right into the middle of Glasgow and on the day before it opens, everyone can pay money to go and ride their bikes on it for charity.
  8. And on the other days, they can put their bikes on the back of their cars and drive down the motorway to Ae and go mountain biking because that totally counts as a cycling trip.
  9. Plus if everyone shuts their eyes and wishes REALLY HARD it might happen
  10. Oh and did we mention it wasn’t a target, it was a shared vision?

That sound you can hear in the background is the sound of a politician backpedalling furiously.

That sound you can hear in the foreground is me grinding my teeth.

Oh never mind, here’s a nice wee song and a video instead

Round Scotland with my Godson (and his mum, of course)

August 26, 2012

There are holidays where taking a pre-breakfast dip in the sea just yards from your accommodation to free dive for treasure in sparkling clear waters would signal the sort of luxury break most of us can never ever actually afford but often dream about. Unfortunately, those holidays don’t normally involve a stay at Tobermory youth hostel where the sparkling clear waters are also freezing cold and the treasure in question is my friend’s iPod, chucked over the harbour wall by her fifteen year old son, my godson.

Tobermory Harbour

It’s only as I look at this picture now that I realise we could just have waited for the tide to go out…

My godson is autistic, and if you’re thinking ‘Rain Man’ or that chap at work who’s a bit odd sometimes, then think again – he’s not just on the spectrum, he’s slap bang in the middle of it: a mixture of a ginormous toddler and a teenage boy – which of course he is – who talks constantly but rarely makes any sense (echolalia) and who is obsessive, liable to frustration, distressingly fond of cheesy 80s Christmas pop music* and only really truly happy when he is on a train. Or at a pinch a bus or a ferry or a coach, but only if there’s no train available as we found out to our cost in Oban when we attempted to fob him off with a city link bus taking two hours to Fort William when there was a perfectly good train going to Crianlarich and changing there and taking several more hours to do the same journey. If the paralympics ever introduced the sport of ‘finding the nearest transport hub in any town or city’ he’d be a shoo-in for a gold medal. We had a minor meltdown on the very last day when he discovered the Glasgow underground (I mean, who even knew Glasgow had an underground?) and was disgusted we weren’t willing to use it. So, instead of the normal approach you might take when planning a break in the Western Highlands and Islands – keeping the travel simple and to a minimum, allowing plenty of time to take in the beautiful scenery or have a leisurely lunch on arrival – got turned on its head. Fortunately the trains, ferries and buses in the region all go through spectacular scenery because we spent the trip maximising the amount of travel we did each day. That way, my friend and I could chat, godson was happy, and the lochs and mountains and moors unrolled past outside the windows for our delight.

view from the train

As well as scenery, the trip made a good viewpoint for observing human behaviour. I’m sure there were plenty of people who wished we weren’t sharing their train, bus, youth hostel or ferry but there was very little tutting done on the whole; the British habit of simply ignoring anything that doesn’t fit in to the normal run of things stands you in good stead when travelling everywhere with a teenager who shouts ‘Get OFF me! What are you DOING? Naughty boy. Bye bye elephant …’ more or less on a loop. And the kindness of strangers came out in force too. A low point came early on in the trip in Mull when we missed the bus to take us to the ferry. My friend had gone to retrieve something from the hostel, not realising her watch had stopped and the bus driver wouldn’t wait and left without us. With the next bus two hours away we were looking at an expensive taxi ride if we weren’t to be stranded on the island. And then, miraculously, the bus came back to get us after all, a grumpy knight in chugging diesel armour, but a knight all the same.

I won’t give you a blow by blow account of all six days, you’ll be relieved to hear, but here are some points should you be planning something similar, with our without an autistic teenager of your own:

  • The Highland Rover is incredible value. Just over £78 gives you four days travel over 8 days on all the Highland trains including the ridiculously scenic Fort William to Mallaig line and the only slightly less scenic Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness line, ferries to Mull and Skye, and the city link coach between Inverness and Fort William and Oban. I think we’ve probably squeezed every penny out of it too. I’d recommend not trying to cram the whole thing into four days though…
train window

it wasn’t always raining …

train window 2

… honest

  • Smidge is the business. You see why they recommend testing it by only coating one arm and leaving the other arm bare because it’s so effective at deterring midgies that you start to wonder (at dusk, on the shores of Loch Ness) whether maybe there just weren’t any midgies out. It’s only when you leave a patch uncovered that you realise that yep, the wee biting beasties are still around.
loch Ness dusk

Loch Ness at dusk. That isn’t blur from a cameraphone, that’s midgies…

  • Fort William has the most incredible setting – right at the foot of Ben Nevis, on the shores of a loch, with the highlands looming all around. It’s quite an acheivement, then, that it still manages to muster all the character of Slough, only with a bit less charm. What we saw of Oban and Mull and Kyle of Lochalsh were all pretty lovely but we didn’t see much of them unless they were on the route march from one transport terminal to another. We’ve vowed to go back and see them properly, although we’ll probably give Fort William a miss.
Skye morning

Sky reflected in the Skye coast

  • You can get to some really remote spots by public transport, particularly by bus, but you have to plan ahead (Traveline Scotland’s journey planner is pretty brilliant at this) and you have to be prepared to wait – rural buses are pretty infrequent and apart from on Mull just don’t seem to join up with other forms of transport. The only bus from the Skye ferry terminal at Armadale left an hour and a half after the ferry arrived – and ten minutes before the next ferry got in. It was the last bus too. If I did the trip again, I’d definitely take my bike for the last leg. And I wouldn’t be persuaded off the bus at Drumnadrochit for an emergency cup of tea, however parched my friend was. There’s a two hour wait between buses there and there’s approximately half an hour’s worth of enjoyment to be had in Drumnadrochit, once you’ve exhausted the amusement to be gained from Nessie-related tat. It wasnt just my godson who wanted to shout ‘what are you DOING?’ as she dragged us off the bus.

lighthouse on Mull

  • I believe – but have not tested the theory – that you could probably survive the whole trip cooking only the ‘free food’ left behind by other travellers in youth hostels. Although you’d have to be pretty inventive and fond of pasta and reasonably resistant to scurvy. Still, I offer it up as a challenge to anyone who wishes to try.

So that’s it. I hope my next holiday will involve going nowhere, and doing nothing, in perfect peace and quiet. Fortunately that more or less describes the rest of my life, so I expect I shall recover, given time. And my friend and I – having done some growing up in the last 20-odd years – are still speaking to each other to boot. Although that cup of tea in Drumnadrochit still rankles a little…

mull and beyond

coming into Mull on the ferry

And what did you do in your summer holidays?

*in retrospect, my failure to retrieve the iPod might have been the making of the trip

Scottish Stuff for Scottish People

November 16, 2009

Oh goody, an email from the Scottish Book Trust advertising a one-day seminar that would be right up my street. Packed full of useful and interesting stuff, and a bargain at £15 to boot. I download the booking form, but that is as far as I get for it is not for me: I may live in Scotland, pay my taxes in Scotland, even have been partially educated in Scotland, but this is for graduates of Scottish Universities and Scottish Universities only.

There can be – how shall I put this? – a provincial air to Scotland at times. What I would call a little-Englandish mindset, were it a few miles further south. Last summer there was a nasty spat between the RSPCA and the SSPCA about the RSPCA daring to advertise in Scotland when any money donated would end up rescuing English (or Welsh or Irish) dogs and not their Scottish brethren, while everybody else just scratched their heads and wondered why we needed two charities doing exactly the same thing on different sides of the border and spending good time and money having a turf war over it to boot. But it’s not just them. There’s Scottish versions of pretty much every charity – even the poppies, I noticed, surely a national symbol if ever there was one, announce that they are Scottish poppies, for a Scottish charity. I’m not begrudging the Scots their share of the cake (indeed, I’m happy to partake in the much more generous Scottish system myself, and very grateful that the rest of the country feels obliged to bribe them to stay in the union), but it’s not exactly Culloden we’re remembering on November the 11th. Although actually, up here maybe it is.

But then, I suppose, the Scots have to compensate a little for their centuries of occupation, their total exclusion from mainstream British society, and the BBC’s habit of ending all weather forecasts with the words ‘and finally, Scotland…’. After all, America might have elected a black president at last, but how many more years will this oppressed and noble people wait before you can imagine Britain having a Scottish Prime Minister?

…oh no, hang on, wait…