Out of the Frying Pan

January 12, 2014

I was all ready for a lovely bike ride yesterday – the day was forecast to be sunny, and a fellow cyclist had invited me to join him for his new ‘lunch your way to weight-loss’ diet plan (you can eat anything you like for lunch, as long as you do so at a cafe a 40-mile round trip by bike from your door). As we woke to a bit of a frost, I was a little late for the rendezvous having decided to put on the ice tyres and then struggled with the back wheel – I ended up riding out with just the front tyre spiked and my normal back tyre. It didn’t matter, though, because when I got to the meeting spot, the ride had been cancelled – the roads were hideous with black ice, and even the spiked ones were struggling. I could feel my own back wheel slipping as I climbed the hills – and had a bit of a slidey moment as I turned into our drive and the back wheel declined to follow – so I felt the decision was probably a sensible one all round, especially as I came back to find my twitter timeline full of broken bones and slips and falls.

But that left me with a yen to do something active outside on a glorious day that wouldn’t land me in A&E, and naturally the garden beckoned. What could be safer than settling down to a little clearing and muck-shifting on a sunny winter’s day? Well, it would have helped if I had remembered the landlord telling me about the shoot that was coming through the grounds to deal with the pheasant menace (it’s quite a good protection racket the shoots have got going here: they breed a load of what are basically garden pests, release them, and then landowners come and beg them to get rid of them from their land, while other people pay them to be allowed to go and shoot them…). I was in the walled garden, but I realised that they were working their way up along the non-walled side which is fenced and mostly obscured by shrubs. I was fairly sure that they wouldn’t actually shoot into a bit of garden where they couldn’t see if anyone was there – but, as a refugee pheasant came in to land nearby, not 100% certain that in the excitement, somebody wouldn’t let off a stray shot or two in my direction. I was listening to them getting nearer and nearer, pondering what to do. Call out? Take shelter? (except there was only the greenhouse). Take cover behind the cold frames? In the end, I did nothing and while a bird did fly up right in front of them, nobody loosed off a shot, there was some impenetrable banter, and the group moved on.

When we were tiny and living in New York, my mother once got told off by a group of hunters for walking with us in the woods in deer hunting season without wearing bright coloured clothing – basically you don’t want to look anything like a deer… Now that I no longer wear my scary yellow jacket much on the bike, I may have to repurpose it as a safety gardening jacket, so I can be spotted from afar. And maybe a bullet-proof vest wouldn’t go amiss either…


Any Colour you Like, as Long as it’s Green

January 18, 2012

Long time readers of this, and my other, blog, not to mention anyone who’s ever suffered going shopping with me, will be aware that I have a problem with buying trousers. This goes back to at least 2006 (it’s one of the perils of the blogged life that you know when you’re repeating yourself), if not actually 1998. Jeans, I can do, if only Levi’s would stop shrinking the damn things, because I’ve been wearing 501s since they were actually cool (I’m still waiting for them to come round again – it’s got to happen eventually, right?) and they’ve not changed design in all those years. Ahem. Decades. I have changed design a little bit, in that I’m no longer the stick insect* I was at school but I can more or less fit into the same size jeans I wore in my twenties so I haven’t turned into some particularly odd shape, as far as I can tell. And glancing round me I can see that there are other women around who are roughly the same shape and size as me so the market for trousers that don’t make you want to kill yourself when you try them on in the shop must be there. So far, in the last 6 years since I first wrote about this I have spent increasingly long hours wandering round shopping centres, trying on trousers to no avail. Either they’re skinny cut and impossible to do up, or they hang round your hips and give you the arse of an elephant, or they have NO POCKETS or zips on the sides or come with a nasty plastic ‘free’ belt AND don’t fit or they’re made of polyester and something with the texture of brillo pads. And they don’t fit. In all this time, pretty much the only sort of non-jeans trousers I’ve actually managed to bring myself to buy are the multi-pocketed outdoorsy kind, which do fit although they simultaneously make you look as if you are about to invade a small country and have come prepared.

However, as some people will be relieved to learn, my search is at an end. Well sort of. I have just bought two pairs of moleskin** trousers from Hoggs of Fife, which fit (well sort of – the size 12 jeans were gratifyingly large) – and are decently cut as well as being nicely put together (they even feature grippy bits on the waistband so your shirt stays tucked in, always assuming you remembered to tuck it in in the first place). They will do me for a while, if the last pair I had were anything to go by – I had bought the originals in, I think, 2005 – and I may even go back and stock up now I know they fit.

There’s just one tiny problem which is that they only come in two different shades of drab green. As a glance at the website should show, these trousers are aimed at people whose connection to the outdoors is owning most of it, and – if you look at the other stuff they sell – mostly venture out into it to shoot things. This may actually explain why the trousers are so practical and nicely cut. Women who spend time on grouse moors shooting things are going to want nice warm trousers that don’t leave a cold gaping hole around the middle (and they wouldn’t want to look like the back end of an elephant either, in case their menfolk think they’re on a hunt in Kenya). And clearly, women who come armed with a gun get the sort of trousers that they want.

* Not an actual stick insect

** Not made of actual moles

Stop this Gun Crime Now!

January 27, 2010

Bring-bring. The landlord rings to warn us that a gang of armed men and unruly dogs will be passing through the garden tomorrow. Not an example of ‘Broken Britain’ – well, not in the sense that Cameron means anyway – just that the local shoot are coming to rid the grounds of pheasants* (yes, yes, before you pen your droll comment, there is an ‘h’ in there, this is a rural area, not a feudal one).

This reminds me of the time we looked out of the kitchen window to discover our neighbour zeroing his gun sights on our garage door, but that’s probably a story for another day.

* Actually, now I come to think of it, having someone deliberately breed a load of a pests, release them in someone’s garden, and then charge another load of pests considerable sums to come up from London and shoot them for us is quite broken. But it does display a certain rural cunning all the same.

Stone the Crows

January 2, 2010

However long I live here, I’m not sure I’ll get used to going out for a walk in the grounds and coming across a man with a shotgun in one hand, and his small son in the other.

He was out after crows, apparently. I don’t know what crows have done to deserve to be shot, but anyway there were none about. I suppose, given that we have very few magpies up here, there always has to be one avian villain, and the crow was next in line. And I imagine that, being pretty bright, they’d make better quarry than the dim-witted pheasants. There can’t really be any sport in shooting something that hasn’t even got the nous to fly away…

Why Did the Pheasant Cross the Road

November 3, 2008

Back on the bike today, with the journey enlivened by antics of one of the local pheasant population, surely the stupidest bird on the planet. Fortunately, this was a girl pheasant, which meant it flew away from the road (the blokes preferring the suicidal approach of tackling the traffic head on) but it’s still a shock to the unwary.

At this time of year – actually at all times of the year – the roads here are full of apparently suicidal gamebirds. But particularly now when the population is bulked out both by this year’s young birds and the ones which have been bred and released purely for the purposes of being shot at. When people wax lyrical about game being wild food, I don’t think they can have meant pheasants which, as far as I can tell are no less intensively reared than the average commercial free-range chicken and have the road sense to match. Unfortunately, as one is not supposed to shoot at the damn things unless they’re airborne, the ones that have survived this long are the ones that fly as little as possible. Eventually a breed of entirely flightless pheasants will evolve, hopefully with an inkling of the green cross code. Until then we get a bird whose best plan for survival is to crouch in a ditch until a car – or bike – is almost upon it and launch itself like a cackling feathery rocket in a random direction and hope for the best. ‘Startling’ doesn’t even beging to describe the effect. Who needs halloween, when you can get the crap scared out of you every day of the week?

It hardly seems sporting to me to line up with a big gun and blast away at birds which have been raised and then released and driven towards you just for that purpose (why not go the whole hog and hunt cows? There’s more meat on them and they’re easier to hit). If you want real sport round here, requiring real skill and the thrill of the chase, just get into your car and take to the back roads and see how many pheasants you can not hit. Bonus points for not hitting a red squirrel as well…