Monday, July 28, 2008

What lies beneath

Geraniums. They look quite pretty. The leaves are supposed to be good for scenting blackberry crumbles. They appear harmless ... on the surface. But underneath lurks a fearsome root structure, a series of tenacious tentacles that are resistant to even my death touch. But not, after some considerable effort, to PJ's fork and spade:

Doesn't it look like something that should be guarding Davy Jones' Locker?

We have also uncovered a paving slab and a log, six inches below the surface of the bed. The former occupants really didn't believe in getting rid of anything!

Friday, July 25, 2008

"It's funny because it's TRUE!"

Basking in the sun

If you don't like the kitty photos, Simon, you can always find somewhere else to stay next month. My blog, my cats, my photos! Happy birthday, btw!

"So, how long will it take you to kill these herbs?"

This gardening thing is addictive. I've spent three evenings this week and all of last Sunday in the garden, hacking away at plant life and bagging up rubbish. We've made two trips to the dump, and have more planned. I've even managed to plant some more herbs -- and five days later, they're still alive, which is about three days longer than the last lot lasted. I'm attributing this to the primo organic compost that went into the top of our eco safe -- no more chalky, stone-strewn rubbish for me. A colleague recently told me that he'd been getting keener on gardening as he got older, and wondered whether it was some kind of primal urge to farm taking hold. I think for me it's more about being able to indulge my primal urge to destroy. It's all about the secateurs and the shears and the ripping up of the stranglers -- the ivy, the bindweed, and the inch-thick brambles -- that have taken hold of our garden. It's the satisfaction you get from housework but the results are far more visible and you're pretty sure you won't have to do it all again next week and the week after and so on. Well, I won't if I'm able to get some "hard landscaping" down in certain areas.

Like the Cylons, I think that I've evolved (as a gardener) and I even have a plan. Well, a small one, for the bit of land at the front. We're going to dig it over, take the weeds out, put down a mulching sheet, cover that with plum slate chippings, and then put out big pots of plants. It should look much neater than the geranium-infested, log-covered mess that it was ... and it should be easier to maintain. When my plants (inevitably) die off, I can just put out some new ones. I keep looking through my gardening books, trying to figure out what I want in the pots ... fascinating stuff.

Longer term, I want to move the useless rolltop bath in our bathroom down to that spot, fill it with soil and plants, and then put the head and arms of a shop dummy in it, making it look as if there's a person taking a bath in a sea of plants. Very Dali-esque (if you've ever been to the Dali museum in Figueres, you'll know what I mean). But that will have to wait until we've redone the bathroom, which in turn will (probably) have to wait until we've built an extension out back with a wet room in it. So, most likely, at least a year. But it's a plan.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Got wood?

We haven't! Well, not any more. First thing this morning, we had piles of the stuff. The former owners of our house had clearly had various trees chopped down and decided to hold onto the bits of trunk, just in case they came in useful. Of course, they didn't, and instead were clogging up various bits of garden. For example:

In addition, we had trees. Big trees. Notably, a bay, a Scots pine, a greeny-grey tree (don't know the name), and a long hedge. All of these were in need of some serious TLC. So, we got in a tree surgeon and he turned up today with three strapping young men, and they chopped and hacked and sawed, and fed stuff through a wood chipper -- and confirmed that it takes about 15 seconds to put a human body through -- and ate lots of my chocolate triple-chocolate-chip cookies, and our garden now looks considerably bigger and neater and generally better. Unfortunately, it has also exposed our rampant geranium problem, so it's time for me to start chopping and hacking and (probably not) sawing away. Oh well, beats going to the gym, I guess.

From this ...

to this ...

and from this ...

to this ...

A really nice job by Foster's Tree Surgeons of Southampton. Highly recommended.

Got milk?

We have! Two pints of organic semi-skimmed, delivered to our doorstep in lovely glass bottles every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Hurrah -- it feels like a return to the 1950s (except for, y'know, the Internet, gay rights, and needing two incomes to support a two-person/two-cat household)!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sick kitty

After a month of smooth sailing, we hit our first hiccup with the kittens today. I came downstairs in the afternoon to discover that someone had been sick. It looks as if someone had gobbled down their food too quickly* ... which pointed to our resident greedy-guts, Shinobi. (When we took her to the vet last week, we discovered she weighed almost 20% more than Nin!) Anyhow, she's spent the rest of the afternoon curled up in a corner, on my lap, or on a chair, feeling very sorry for herself. Poor petal.

* Well, she either ate too quickly or has taken our comments about her being a bit porky to heart, and has become bulimic. Eek!

Monday, July 14, 2008

This is not the cake I was hoping for

When you decide to make a chocolate beetroot cake because you have guests coming round, it's always a good idea to check that your frozen, pureed beetroot doesn't contain any spices. If not, you could end up making a chocolate and cumin cake. Like I did. It's not bad -- the texture of the cake is beautifully fluffy and it slices perfectly, but it's got an unusual aftertaste. Again, not unpleasant -- in fact, I could probably claim that it's a Heston Blumenthal recipe, a la snail porridge, and it would win great acclaim. It's just ... different. Must go and try another piece.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Of course it's closed down!

At the weekend, I waxed lyrical about IBM's open day and the fond memories it evoked of my time at Norwich Union's Pinebanks. It's since been drawn to my attention that Pinebanks has now closed. I could rant about the no-doubt inevitable "re-development" of this beautiful piece of land into a dreadful "executive home" housing estate. Or I could damn the Thatcherite legacy of a relentless focus on the bottom line and the "individual" at the expense of the community, but I won't because it just makes me depressed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"It's beer o' clock!"

The cats discover the hours of fun to be had from an (empty) box of beer. It's almost as much fun as PJ had with it when it was a full box of beer. Kittens, boyfriends: it's good that they're so easily entertained.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

This post is not about kittens

Yesterday was "open day" day. First up was a trip out to Upper Norton Farm, just north of the A303, for a Riverford open day. This is where many of the veggies in our veggie box are grown, organically. It's not as pretty as the original Riverford farm down in Devon that we visited last year, but it was still interesting to see where our food comes from. We met our scheme organizers, finally putting a face to the email address; we bought free-range eggs and organic apple and ginger juice; and we snacked on baby cucumbers from the polytunnels. It was all very ... middle class. The place was packed with Guardian-reading, Birkenstock-wearing, baby-buggy-pushing 30-somethings, which points to the inherent limitations of this kind of scheme, admirable though it is. It's preaching to the converted, not to the vast swathes of society who could really benefit from it. Plus, it's dreadful realizing (yet again) just how much of an archetype one really is. Makes you want to take up fox-hunting, just to be contrary.

A field of raw porridge:

However, we pressed on with our middle-class pursuits and gatecrashed an open day at Hursley Park, IBM's R&D lab just outside Winchester. It wasn't wholly intentional gatecrashing; we knew something was going on and swung by on the offchance that it was open to the public. Nobody was stopping people at the gates or taking names, so we parked up, went for a stroll around the gorgeous house, and admired the grounds -- and the thousands of current and former IBMers and their families that were there. There was a minature farm and kite-flying and a fly-past by a Spitfire, which was developed at Hursley Park before IBM took it over. It was a salutory reminder of how good some of these established, gigantic global companies can be in terms of looking after their staff; the sports grounds were beautifully maintained and the clubhouse rather impressive. It rather reminded me of Norwich Union's facilities at Pinebanks and the sporting events and children's Christmas parties that I attended back in the 1970s. Given our individualist, telecommuting, distributed work environment, I felt rather nostalgic for the corporate collectivism that these firms promote(d). Getting a subsidized gym membership just isn't the same as having company-organized interdepartmental netball and football tournaments, is it?

Neither is this

Instead, it's a recipe for the best salad in the world. Seriously. It's the sort of salad where you just want to keep eating it, on its own, forever. It's that good. And it contains fennel. I know, I know. You don't like fennel. You never finished that bottle of ouzo you bought back from Greece. And aniseed is best served in the form of balls or rock, not as a vegetable. But trust me. This is fantastic.

Take 1 head of fennel. Clean it, take off the grody outer leaves, and then slice it as thinly as possible. Use a mandolin. In fact, buy a mandolin just for this salad (I did). Place your fennel shavings into a bowl, slosh on some decent extra virgin olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, and a sprinkling of sea salt (Maldon, for preference). Toss together gently. Then take a block of parmesan and use the mandolin to shave cheesy slivers over the fennel. Grab a fork and start eating. Prepare to repel invaders who also want some.

No pictures. We finished it too quickly.