Friday, May 30, 2008

Slugs. Why did it have to be slugs?

In order to gain gardening tips and maybe some advice on what to do about the hordes of savage slugs and snails (and probably puppy dog tails) that are currently ravaging my radishes, we watched River Cottage Spring -- Hugh Fearnly Posh-Bloke's guide to smallholding and vegetable gardening. Apparently, the best way of growing your own veggies is to give up your job in London, develop a thriving career as a food writer, and employ a farm manager and plenty of staff to do the actual farming. Not desperately helpful, it must be said.

Waitrose's Cooked Sausage and Wholegrain Mustard crisps

These little beauties are currently on a 2-for-2-quid offer and are vegetarian. Perfect! All that meaty flavour with none of the, y'know, dead pigginess. Only problem was that buying them nearly bought the Waitrose payment system to its knees. The first cashier failed to swipe both packs through the machine, but I didn't notice that -- I only noticed that the discount hadn't rung up when I checked the receipt before leaving the store. So we went to complain, and then realized that I actually owed them money -- honesty isn't always the best policy. At this point, we needed the senior cashier to refund the money for the one pack of crisps, swipe the two packs through, and let me pay the difference between the one pack and the two pounds (61 pence, in case you're interested). This was apparently too much for both senior cashier and the machine to cope with. She refunded us money for BOTH packs and gave me 78 pence change. By now, I was determined to pay the right amount of money, rather than doing what any SANE person would have done -- which is pocket the money and walk away. So, after some wrangling, another, more senior cashier came over, fiddled about with keys, the machine, etc, and we finally settled up.

I don't think PJ is going to let me point out mistakes like this in the future. It's too ... time-consuming.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Summer 2007 redux

It's a hard life being a farmer. Why are there slugs on my herbs? When will it rain? Will it stop raining? Will the nonstop rain wash away my seedlings? Will the birds eat my seedlings? How do I know when my seedlings are actual radishes? These are questions that the instructions on the packet just don't answer.

It's also a hard life being a stone mason. PJ finally removed the last pieces of plasterboard in the conservatory, so we've spent several days chipping off the big blobs of plaster that had been holding it on. I now have lots of tiny cuts across my knuckles, chiseling not being part of my vast and varied skill set. Luckily, we discovered that the plasterboard wasn't key to the structural integrity of the conservatory, and it still appears to be standing. And leaking. We had various panes of glass replaced today and much of the moss and dirt cleared, and it turned out that the plant life that had accumulated on the roof had been keeping quite a bit of water out. However, the nice men said they'll come back tomorrow (if it's dry) and seal everything up. Given the weather forecast for the next week, I'm not hopeful.

Sport -- the great uniter

As the pictures from Hull showed, sport brings people together. It unites a long-suffering city and brings joy to faithful followers and casual observers alike.

It can also divide a household.

Next season, Norwich City and Doncaster Rovers will be in the same league. Dumpling Mansions is now a two-Championship-team household. Expect things to get a bit tense around here come August.

Friday, May 23, 2008

All the little birds go cheep cheep cheep

My biggest concern on buying our new home -- other than the imminent collapse of the global economy that it signalled -- was road noise. Specifically, noise from the M3, which is less than a mile away. And on wet days and when the wind is coming from the south-west, you can hear it. However, it is largely a distant drone, drowned out by the sounds of suburbia: lawn mowers mowing, dogs barking, children swearing creatively as they walk to school. Most of all, it is drowned out by the noise of the birds -- hundreds of birds. They hang about in the allotments behind, eating the new plants and the bits of old carpet that provides weed cover. There are blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, blue tits, fat pigeons, and huge crows. The crows particularly delight in landing on the dormer roof of our bedroom and then stomping up and down it. The dawn chorus and the related stomping start up at (approximately) 4.45 a.m. -- and delightful though it is, I wish they'd just leave it until 7.45 instead. Noisy little blighters.

Digging for victory

My frustration at being unable to produce a half-decent essay has resulted in various attempts to do the garden instead. I spent a good couple of hours digging over one planting bed, throwing out stones and old coins and trying to work in what I think is compost from the bottom of the garden. The result of all that effort? The neighbourhood cat -- a large, tortoiseshell bruiser -- promptly used it as a litter tray. I now understand why our neighbours were so resentful of Plato and Aristotle. However, I have persevered and planted out some herbs and sowed some radish seeds. The packet instructions for the latter were incomprehensible to the novice gardener, what with their instructions to rake the soil to a fine tilth and sow seeds thinly in broad drills. I just dug some shallow trenches, chucked the seeds in, covered them up with a bit of soil. Bingo! Just a week later, I have seedlings! I am a vegetable gardener, a foot soldier in the fight against food miles and climate change! (As long as I can still eat my Waitrose-imported French butter with sea salt crystals with my radishes.)

And despite my best efforts to kill it off, the clematis on the tree at the bottom of the garden -- and just about every other plant that I hacked away at -- continues to flourish. It's really rather pretty. I do need a book of plants though; I have no clue what any of the trees or plants in the garden actually are. If anyone can identify these weird blue buds, let me know.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

In which I attempt to go into Winchester but am thwarted by Blue Star's outrageous pricing policy

What is the purpose of a bus service? Is it to a) provide an alternative means of transport for those that don't wish to use their cars or b) generate huge profits by extorting overinflated fares from those that don't have or don't wish to use a car? I ask because Blue Star -- our local bus "service" -- would appear to fall into the latter group. After the misery of grinding out 2000 asinine words on representations of innocence in The Innocents, I decided to reward myself by heading into Winchester to get a haircut: perhaps if I could see the screen, writing wouldn't be so incredibly hard.* Rather than polluting the environment, I decided to hop on a bus, thinking that there was a 3 quid ticket that gave me access to the buses all day. Apparently not. I could either have a single fare for 3.10 or a return for 5.10 -- for a 10-minute journey! These fares are ludicrous. I can park at the leisure centre car park for 60p for 2 hours. What incentive do I have to pay an additional 4.50 for the inconvenience of travelling on a tatty bus stuffed with loutish schoolchildren?4.50 is a couple of pasties from the Cornish Pasty Shoppe, or a coffee and a bun in Starbucks, or a couple of paperbacks from the Oxfam Book Shop! If PJ had been with me, we would have been down 10 quid on driving in! If Hampshire County Council want people to leave their cars at home and take the bus to work/town, they have to make it considerably cheaper than parking.

I got off the bus and walked home in a sulk, kicking stones as I went. Bah!

* I've never had writer's block before; it sucks.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Break your arm, mate for life

Yesterday, we petted Harry the hedgehogs and some goats at Brambridge garden centre; today, I got to see a swan, some goslings, and some sleeping ducks at Sheffield Park. Lovely! (I also saw two dead foxes on the roads home, but I'm trying not to think about them.)

"I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords"

My second vacation of the year! Instead of driving across the Californian/Nevada deserts, I'm slogging my way through another university essay -- what fun! PJ has again wisely opted to head for the Disneyfied hell that is Orlando for yet another analyst "conference" instead of mopping my fevered brow at home. I don't particularly enjoy writing these essays. Thinking about them, fine. Watching the films, also fine. Coming up with devestating critiques, not a problem. Getting those fabulous ideas down on paper? Not so easy.

To get the creative juices flowing and to celebrate my final arrival into the world of adulthood, courtesy of my new National Trust card, I decided to visit an NT property after dropping PJ off at Gatwick. I would then meander home along the country lanes that make up the A272, avoiding all that nasty motorway driving. The NT handbook revealed Sheffield Park Gardens, a mere 30 minutes from Gatwick and just a couple of miles from said A272 -- and, wonderfully, the setting for some of the exterior shots for The Innocents, the subject of my essay! Perfect -- I love it when a plan comes together.

It all started off well. PJ got to Gatwick in time for his flight; I headed into the rather pretty town of East Grinstead -- home to multiple cults and lots of charity shops -- for a quick mosey round before heading down to Sheffield Park for opening time. A brisk walk around the lakes, some lovely shots of the house and gardens, a sandwich and some apple juice in the cafe, and then I hit the road to head home. I then made the mistake of following satnav. Denied its initial suggestion of M23/M25/M3, it sulked and then pretended to show me a route via Petersfield. I followed it dutifully, registering some concern when it took me south -- much further south than I'd intended to go. In fact, it took me down to Lewes and then along the hellish A27, all the way to the M27/M3. Gah! We've driven this route before and it's all Brighton suburbs, 40 mph, multiple roundabouts, and then roadworks round Portsmouth. By the time I got home, I had a screaming headache from the heat and frustration, and didn't feel like doing any work on my essay. Time to make some biscuits instead.

I have yet to experience the delights of Midhurst and Petersfield, but I will -- satnav be damned!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"But it LOOKED dead!"

A typical British Bank Holiday Monday: grey skies and pouring rain to start, followed by lovely, lovely sunshine. As a result, we were finally able to make it out into the jungle masquerading as our back garden. PJ instead opted to spend 10 hours on a plane to San Francisco rather than join my family in slashing away at the undergrowth. Probably wise: it turns out that my sister and I are somewhat "secateur-happy" and generated many bags of garden waste, including most of a clematis that was wound round the big tree in our back garden and that looked to me like dead ivy. No matter. It will either grow back or it won't; there's not much I can do to rectify the situation now. We also discovered that we have fennel, a huge bay tree, and a "legless lizard" that likes sunning itself on one of the many heaps of decaying wood that litter our garden. Nature in the raw!

And, of course, it's not a proper Bank Holiday without at least one trip to the dump -- sorry, household waste recycling centre; my father managed three in 12 hours, a new record for our family. The garden now looks fantastic -- and will look even better when we hire someone to remove all the dead wood. I'm off to bask alongside our lizard right now. Pip pip!