Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Spring Clean

Oh, frabjous day! The first absolutely beautiful Spring day this year and I have made the most of every moment of it. I know the seasons have really turned when I walk down the garden, past the Magnolia Stellata and see this:

There are still some straggly bits of hedge that a more conscientious gardener would attend to. I am not that gardener. Birds are clearly picking where they want to raise babies: I am sure a pair of thrush are making a nest in the laurel next to the fruit cage (which they did last year) and sadly I am having to move little piles of twig and dead grass as a blackbird, once again, thinks about making a nest in the log store. Every year they do this and the damn cats which our neighbour refuses to put collars on get either the chicks or the adult, and whilst in normal circumstances I would not dream of even going near a nest, let alone disturbing it, we have decided with much regret and sadness that if I move the beginnings of a nest before it gets started perhaps I can persuade these lovely birds to try and raise a family somewhere else. Of course there is no guarantee that anywhere else would be cat proof, but there IS a guarantee that a nest in the log store will get predated.

So in the absence of any hedge cutting, attention turned to the poor greenhouse, completely abandoned since about October. It did not look nice when I started:

Whilst I spent all day clearing up it really wasn't very hard work, although it did get a tad warm and I had to go and change into a much thinner top - at one point the temperature was recording at 93.2F. I tried to photograph the thermometer but there was too much glare.

By 4.30 "Phase One" was completed. Yes there is a bucket and spade in the orange bay. My Cunning Plan is to completely remove that bay (and only involves shifting the soil, half of which is done, and taking out the two orange boards at the front) and putting a bench in its place. I am not growing as much as I used to and I think the space will be better utilised with a nice seat.

But that will be Phase Three, tomorrow is Phase Two which involves cleaning a LOT of glass - I may be sometime! On the upside, the weather forecast for the rest of the week is similarly glorious, which is kind, and very, very welcome.

Mine was not the only cleaning activity - Brian came back as promised and has worked absolute magic on my van, and then on Management's car. I keep going out and looking at all the vehicles, I don't think they have ever been this clean, it's such a treat!

Monday, 29 March 2021

Osprey cam

If you were here this time last year you might recall a mahooosive amount of time was spent watching Ospreys. It's that time again!

My preferred nesting site last year was the stunning Loch Arkaig and their camera is already live streaming with sound as well as colour. I find it absolutely magical to be sitting in a bungalow in Cumbria listening to the natural sounds of a wild landscape on the west coast of Scotland. It does not appear is if their birds are back yet, but if you go and have a quick look now (before the osprey start redecorating) it is very interesting to see how the nest has been prepared for their return (they use nearly as many cable ties as I do in the garden!)

LINK to Loch Arkaig camera feed

Nearer to home, the Osprey Cam at Foulshaw Moss in south Cumbria has undergone a complete upgrade and re-vamp with colour, night-vision, sound and two cameras, all thanks to grants and donations from people like us. Both of the birds who bred successfully in 2020 have returned, which is always wonderful because it's never certain. Enjoy:

LINK to Foulshaw Moss camera feed

I have put links to both sites at the top of the sidebar ➡️

Friday, 26 March 2021

On covid and campervans

Thank you for the lovely comments on my last post, it is so nice to have these little "chats". Seems Management and I are not alone in our vaccine side effects which thankfully were short lived. I do wonder where all this is going to end up though - depending upon which media source you believe it is possible that we will never 'beat' Coronavirus in the same way as mankind has never 'beaten' influenza, and that vaccination will be required/recommended every year.

I am not thrilled about that prospect: it appears that the vaccines do not prevent you from becoming ill with Covid, but should prevent you being VERY ill. Whilst that is clearly a Good Thing because no-one wants weeks in hospital with breathing support, if we can still catch Coronavirus then no-one is talking about the big Elephant in the room - post viral fatigure.

PVF has been known about for years, and disputed by many (usually those medics who discount anything they cannot instantly identify or fix). I know I have suffered from months of PVF in the past after a bout of winter flu, and it's not nice.

Both Management and I caught Covid last February courtesy of a waiting room in Carlisle Hospital and whilst he made a quick recovery, I spent the rest 2020 with post-Covid symptoms, thankfully very mild by comparison to some, but they were there. A rag-tag collection of "odd things" which would come and go with no rhyme or reason, most of which I ignored or pretended were not happening for months until I stumbled across a couple of articles from well respected research institutes which listed my odd symptoms in entirety and with startling clarity. Definitely one of those "oh, sh*t" moments when you come across someone else's words which could be your own autobiography had you had the knowledge to write them.

So do I think these vaccines are our saviour? No, but along with State Sanctioned Freedom of Movement potential Covid Passports they are all that is on offer right now. But I do understand why it is the lifebelt that people are clinging to, particularly as I have a couple of older friends for whom Covid could be a death sentence and I am pleased they have this reassurance/insurance that vaccination gives to their lives.

I will be honest that I am feeling rather glum about all this at present. All I hear is how the country/world will "get back to normal". What if that which was previously considered normal is no longer workable? This could be such a wonderful opportunity to look at living differently, but political decisions are governed by the length of an election cycle, and Big Change is so difficult.

Many workers who are happy at home do not want to return to their commute and an office cubicle, whilst those crushed by loneliness are desperate to get back to something which offers interaction and socialisation. Business models have to change, town centres are going to look very different: personally I think closed shops should be reclassed so they can be turned into accommodation. Proximity to those businesses which do remain and the need to not have a car is an attractive model for many. But what about billions of pounds worth of high-rise office accommodation in which pension firms are heavily invested? What are they going to be worth when leases expire and big companies have moved to home-working for many?

We just had a small experience which brought this close to home. On Wednesday when I was shifting bark chip a chap walked up the drive, obviously leafleting. We had a chat, long story short he spent a couple of hours here yesterday and I now have a car which is cleaner than when I bought it and looks fantastic. Brian is an outdoor/climbing instructor whose livelihood was devastated by lockdowns. We actually met him last summer when he temporarily worked for one of the delivery companies and he remembers that I used to leave out a bag with a bottle of water and some snacks for the delivery staff to take. He is not a sterotypical "drop-out crag rat" but a highly skilled ex-serviceman with years of training, qualifications, and an occasional safety consultant on BIG movies, many of which you will have heard of.

But now he and his partner are trying to set up this new car valet business to give them some flexibility, another income stream; turns out I was only his 2nd customer. I have arranged for him to do Himself’s little car, and also my campervan but he is not free until next week for that. Not something which I budgeted, but I set aside a maintenance amount every month in an savings/accrual account for unplanned things like this. Felt nice to know I am helping a very pleasant hard-working chap and having such a sparkling clean vehicle is a treat indeed. In truth he doesn't want to valet cars, but he does not see their previous employment coming back to pre-2020 levels anytime soon, and there are bills to be paid.

Sorry, you might have turned up here looking for frogs and pretty garden pictures. I did not mean this to turn into a pandemic rant, but clearly I had some stuff that I needed to get out of my system. Here's is the garden stuff I thought I was going to write about when I first sat down:

Two very productive days of moving bark chip has really cheered me up (although you might not think so from the aforementioned whinging.) Yesterday I moved another 10 or 11 barrows - honestly, don’t know what is wrong with my brain but I have never been able to keep track of counting this sort of thing. Then I filled a large quantity of small pots, and next time out I will get the tractor and trailer running to move them all.

By the time I had filled 58 pots (yes I could have gone hunting for two more to make it a round number, but that would have been silly, wouldn't it?) I admit to being tired, and last night was thoroughly pleased to hear wind and rain all night. That normally means a "day off" from the garden and I can get on with the latest "make" for the campervan which is a couple of large mats to cover the glass tops of the hob and sink. I am now asking myself why on earth I did not do this sooner? Despite being careful and often having a cloth or mat on the glass there are some small scratches and I'd like it if I did not make any more.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Missing - In Action

Missing, as in not getting round to writing anything for the blog.

In Action - Missing because there was lots of action going on resulting in generally being too (happily) tired at the end of the day to even think about the computer, let alone muster the energy to sort words and photos. But it is always a disappointment when I go back to the blog months/years later and find there is a gap in the narrative, so a quick catch up and then I will try to maintain some sort of writing regularilty (she says, hopefully 😋).

During a patch of not-nice-enough-to-be-in-the-garden weather I hid in the sewing room for days on end and made numerous fabric pouches until had I modified other people's methods for inserting zips to a degree that I was reasonably satisfied with.  There is still room for improvement however by the time I had made 15 lined bags I was heartily sick of zips!

And then, remarkably we had a spell of decent weather which resulted in six back-to-back days in the garden. A week referred to as Hedge-Magedon there were hours and hours of hard work getting most of the laurel under control before Spring Equinox arrived. The turning of the seasons is my absolute last cutoff date for working on hedges so that the birds can get on with nest building. We made it - just, although the massive hedges at the back of the garden remain untamed. "Never mind"  I tell myself  "we can get at them in August/September when the birds have done their thing". I just need someone to remind me and the weather to co-operate.

This week progress has been made on the  long-term pile of mulch.   It's now been sitting on the drive for the best part of a year . . .

In pond news the frogs have continued to croak and float around protected from the heron. Sadly whilst they don't seem remotely bothered by all the netting there are definitely far fewer than in previous years, and much less frogspawn in all of the ponds. I wonder if they suffered from the long, cold spell earlier in the year?

Most years I start sowing seeds far too early and then spend far too long trying to protect them from cold weather. This year I've gone completely in the opposite direction and have not done a thing yet, so my next job is to give the greenhouse a damn good clean and make a start on raising new plants. With the exception of dahlias (which I loved last year, even though I had them in pots which were too small, so they did not reach their potential) the only flowering plants I am going to grow are perennials, and it is unlikely I will bother with anything edible other than runner beans. Whilst I don't know what effect Covid and pandemic precautions are going to have on our lives in the next six months I know that I desperately want, no make that NEED, to spend time in the campervan and that means not creating a watering regime that will restrict any plans I might be able to make.

Oh, and I had my first vaccination which resulted in losing nearly three days to being totally wiped out, feeling like I had been dropped from a great height onto solid concrete, and having pains in my joints that I don't ever want to repeat.

Monday, 8 March 2021

So, what goes on in a frog's brain?

Has anyone ever thought what a frog thinks about? Someone, somewhere must have done a PhD on it 😜. Like most creatures I suspect they have far, far more intelligence than us bipeds give them credit for.

I think they know that their new netting 'roof' is for protection and that they're not going to come to any harm whilst in the shallow pools. Yeseterday afternoon I was able to lie on my tummy, right at the edge of the water with my head almost under the netting screens and take loads of photos and video. I was no more than 12" - 18" from the frogs, and I have never been able to get that close to them before.

Earlier a neighbour had come in with her children so that they could watch the frogs. Whilst beautifully behaved both kids were excited and slightly noisy because they had never seen something like this before, we are joking that the boy is another David Attenborough in the making, but who knows? Wouldn't it be amazing if the pleasure this young lad obviously gets when visiting the garden grew into something bigger?

I was many metres away in a flower bed and had left them to get on with it, and despite the excitement and their Mum constantly telling the children "shuush" the frogs did not budge.

She also took photos and video from the same place (although I didn't realise that until she emailed me later) so clearly the frogs were not afraid. That is so unusual as to be unbelievable so I will continue to convince myself that somehow they know this is a safe place and they can do what they want/need to do without fear of predation.

Warning - much more video and pictures on the hard drive, waiting to be rolled out when I have nothing else to share!

Friday, 5 March 2021

Words I wish I had written

Most people have too many words arrive in their Inbox each day, and many of those words are trying to sell us something we neither want or need (and have probably survived extremely well without up to now!)

I think I am pretty good at unsubscribing from the junk, and nearly all of the mailing lists I choose to remain with go straight to my Junk folder to be looked at once or twice a week to make sure I have not missed anything. I do make exceptions and one is for subscriptions from Substack. They come straight to my Inbox and the writers I follow are always worth every moment of my screen time.

Today's piece from Anne Helen Petersen is a fine example and I only wish I could articulate half so well. The introduction to her fourth paragraph stopped me dead:

Here’s where I remind you that we have endured nearly a year — a year! —
of sustained, slow-motion collective trauma.

Some days might not have felt recognizable as such,
but our brains are very adept at flattening trauma,
day-by-day, hour-by-hour, into something survivable.

followed by

Depending on your situation, you have endured unspeakable loneliness,
deep anger at those who couldn’t be bothered to care about others,
enduring financial precarity, . . . . .

If you would appreciate something a little more substantial than fluffy kittens or a TikTok loop, then I recommend the whole read.


{No affiliation, Ms Petersen does not know I exist, I just liked this enough to want to share}

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Whoosh . . . or "where did another week go"

In the strange way that is Lockdown Life time often feels as if it is moving quite slowly, but then I look at the date and realise another week has whooshed by, and I wonder where and when it went?

The weather, as always, plays a massive part and until yesterday we were enjoying bright, sunny days with no wind. As a result, all the work on the Big Pond is completed, including hauling out more overgrown oxygenator and fitting the anti-heron netting. Also installed are a couple of lines of "crime scene tape" because one morning I drew back to the curtains to see the other Spring nemesis floating around without a care in the world. Once again we had a pair of ducks come to visit and I do not want them setting up home in the pond or the garden. They would cause even more damage than the heron by eating newts, frogspawn, tadpoles, pooping everywhere and generally stirring up the water into a right mess.

As it looks right now the pond is not pretty, but it's practical. Given the frogs, newts and small pond life have made their home here because of me I feel some responsibility for their welfare, and an obstructed view is a small price to pay for the frogs spending the other 11 months of the year lurking under hedges eating slugs. I have taken some fairly decent photographs in previous years, and keeping the heron and ducks away is more important than a few new JPGs.

The Top Pond has also had a clear up, and I'm hopeful that being so close to the house it will not get a visit from the heron. Reminder to self - must put up the wildlife camera to make sure I'm not fooling myself. Seeing how much the gunnera has spread, I've dug up two (relatively) small bits and moved them to the Big Pond margin, fingers crossed.

Happily I have made a good start in clearing up the Coppice, but it needs another day to be ready for the new growth, much of which is already peeking through the mulch.

There has been some casual messing around with fabric. I tried a new block/technique that I found on YouTube which started very promisingly, and I soon realised the method was a disaster resulting in bias edges all around the block and dreadful distortion. Sadly, that's a yard of fabric which is going in the "abandoned" box.

The red and blue log cabin blocks, which I adore, refused to tell me how they wished to be arranged, so for the time being they are off the design boards and back in their box. There is nothing to be gained and everything to be ruined by trying to force a layout, so I will let this project sit and relax for a while. However, given that nearly 80 blocks made no appreciable dent in the fabric stash, I think I might make a few more just for kicks and grins.

Ever since Bill went for her habitation service the house has had piles of "van stuff" in many rooms, but on Tuesday we had the annual MOT done which was passed with a clean sheet and no advisories. Yesterday there was thick almost freezing fog which did not lift all day and today looks like more of the same, so not nice weather for gardening. My intention for today is to give the van inside a thorough clean out and then "re-build" her. I have given myself the mental cut-off of the end of this month to stop focussing on the garden and start using the van for little trips out and short walks. We'll still maintain total social distancing even though Management has his first vaccine shot tomorrow and I am lined up for later in the month.

I fear places I might previously have visited will be horribly busy and I intend to go to less 'obvious' locations where I can both park and have some peace and space. Both Eunice and Jo (@ThroughTheKeyhole) have recently experienced parking hell and gridlock when they tried to take their dogs out and I am sure that Boris's announcement of when we will (hopefully) be leaving lockdown has triggered a lot of numpties to decide "I'm going now".

I am not sure whether people are just darn fed up, or do not understand. I spoke to someone local recently who is regularly going out on fell walks with other people. Just one person on each walk, but multiple people overall. He told me in total seriousness that this is OK: {{insert rolling eyes emoji}} clearly he has Super Powers and neither Mountain Rescue advice/request to "stay low and stay local" or lockdown rules apply to him. Half an hour later I saw the ‘advice thing’ which comes up on Sky News between programmes which says you can meet one other person from 8th March – which implies you CANNOT do that now? I tried to tell this person that no, I do not want to go for a walk with them, but do so without causing offence. They did not want to hear me.

It is therefore timely that my knee ligaments damaged in August 2018 and again in Autumn 2019 have flared up again as a result of too much gardening and on Monday I could barely hobble from one end of the house to the other, I'm still limping but not as badly so I could not go hiking across the fells right now even if it was OK to do so.

These are all first world problems. When the sun shines I garden, when it does not I play with the multitude of alternative toys I have at my disposable, and before I do anything else I will have Second Breakfast.