Saturday, 17 March 2018

the traveler returns

When I looked out of the bathroom window this morning, braced for the snow to be deep, crisp, even and a damn nuisance, I saw tufts of grass still poking through the sprinkling on the lawn.  It was still snowing, though, in a half-hearted way, so I thought I'd better get to the supermarket before it got more whole-hearted about it.  The traffic going into Colchester was light, and Waitrose was very quiet.  Evidently the new mini-beast from the East had not prompted a wave of panic buying.

In fact, we had enough of everything to have lasted until next week, unless the milk went off, except for cat biscuits.  The trouble with running out of cat biscuits is that Mr Fidget prefers them to tinned food, and you cannot explain to a cat why you have run out.  If the milk's off we can drink black coffee and have porridge instead of cereal, but you cannot use that logic on a cat.

The Systems Administrator reappeared safely just before noon, having left the Forest of Dean before seven.  Hotel prices in Cheltenham rocket during the Festival, and the SA's racing circle went self-catering a long time ago.  One of them spotted a wild boar in the forest this time round, but the SA was driving so had his eyes on the road and didn't see it.  The SA sympathised about my ear, promised to come and help me put the stage up tomorrow morning for the music society's concert as long as we weren't snowed in by then, and was grateful not to have to turn round and go out again to go to the supermarket.

It is a sign of what a quiet day it has been, what with the snow and the earache, that when Waitrose sent me an email asking if I'd fill in a questionnaire about my shopping experience to help them improve their customer experience, I clicked on the link to the survey.  I felt bad when I found I'd got to the end with no opportunity to make comments, because I'd clicked No when asked if any member of staff helped or inspired me.  I hope they don't get into trouble for that, because honestly I was happy not to be Inspired and didn't need any help, since everything I wanted to buy was in the same place it had been the last time I shopped there.  When you have earache and half an eye on the snow falling outside the last thing you want is to be accosted by some desperate John Lewis group partner trying to Inspire you with new recipes.  I wanted cat biscuits, the ingredients for a Flemish lamb stew, a loaf of bread and some long dated milk and to be out of there.  And since my ear was making my head feel like a balloon and half deaf I didn't want to make cheerful small talk with the young lad on the till.  He was a bit slow scanning my basket, but he had lovely curly hair and looked as though he was doing his best, so I rated him Good in the survey.

Friday, 16 March 2018

a mild interlude

There was real warmth in the sun when I went to open the chicken house, and so I took myself and my wretched ear outside, dosed with antibiotic eye drops and stoppered with a piece of cotton wool.  I used to suffer from earaches as a child, and really thought I'd outgrown them, but it seems as though every year I revert closer to my inner five year old.  The advantage of being middle aged rather than five is having an additional fifty years of practicing how to put pain to one side, so that although it's there it doesn't ruin your day.  The disadvantage is that you have read all those newspaper articles about people whose ear infection moved to their inner ear leaving them deaf, or worse.

The cats all appreciated the sun in their own characteristic fashions.  Our Ginger lay on the front doorstep with Mr Fluffy, and later I glanced up from weeding and saw him sitting neatly tucked among the shrubs further along the flower bed.  Mr Fidget occasionally rushed across my field of vision with a mad, joyous expression.  Mr Cool patrolled at a leisurely pace, stopping to say hello to me a couple of times, and sniffing the place where Our Ginger had been sitting very carefully.  As I was putting the pots of hyacinths and poppies back in the greenhouse for the weekend Mr Cool came over and made his feelings known about tea, leading me back to the house with tiny squeaks as he walked just out of my reach to show that he did not want to be fussed, he wanted to be fed.

It seems incredible that it is going to snow in the night, and that tomorrow the thermometer will not rise above freezing.  This is one reason why some north American shrubs can be tricky to grow in the English climate.  They are used to a regime where it is constantly winter until it is permanently spring.  A few days or weeks of balmy weather that encourages their sap to rise and their new leaves to unfurl followed by an icy blast does for them.

The leaves of Gladiolus tristis have slowly turned brown.  I hope the bulbs are still alive, but the snow has not done them any good.  The pink flowered Watsonia isn't looking happy either.  They are both on the side of the turning circle that faced the blast coming across the fields and so got the worst of the weather.

I hope it does not snow too much.  I need to get to the shops because we are about to run out of cat biscuits.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

you are running low on storage capacity

My intermittent cold has manifested itself in a new and unpleasant way, and migrated to my ear.  It was feeling slightly tender on Tuesday, a bit worse yesterday morning, and by yesterday evening I wouldn't have wanted the optician anywhere near it, so this morning I saw the nurse at the GP surgery, who pronounced it full of debris and prescribed antibiotic drops for the infection.  Rather confusingly, as both she and the pharmacist warned me, they are labelled as eye drops.  I wish spring would come, instead of more snow.

Meanwhile I am locked in a war of attrition with my phone, which periodically warns me that it is running low on memory and suggests deleting the apps I haven't used for three days.  No.  I only have about half a dozen apps that I downloaded myself, and I don't need to use them as often as twice a week, but I want them to be there for when I do use them.  I like to be able to read the Guardian online or play Sudoku if I am stuck waiting somewhere without a book.  I have the AA app installed in case I should break down, because it helps the rescue truck find your location.  I have a QR and barcode scanner loaded in case I should be in a museum that uses them, and the Art Fund app in case I should want to find a museum or gallery near me.  I have the National Rail app because I sometimes travel by train, although not every three days, and it might be useful to be able to look train times up.  And I have the Wittr app because it is fun, and the good doctors make a lot of money out of it.  OK, that's seven apps.

The apps that are really eating storage are not even the ones I chose to have, but the ones Samsung and Android foisted upon me and that I can't get rid of.  I don't want to listen to music or watch films or YouTube clips on my phone.  I don't take photographs.  I don't need Excel or Word or Powerpoint.  I don't want to Skype anybody: I'm sure my friends would be happy with a text.  I am certainly not going to risk buying anything on eBay, and have no idea what Hangouts even is.  The BBC weather is useful, although thinking about it perhaps I put that there.  I like being able to check my emails on the go because I am of the middle aged generation that uses email a lot and has not graduated to Snapchat or WhatsApp or whatever has replaced them by now in the affections of the young.  Google maps is jolly useful if I'm lost, and once in a while it's handy to be able to check things on the internet, but the phone is full of things I don't want or use, or at least not on my phone.

The other day it was badgering me to use Memo to keep track of lists and ideas.  For goodness sake, that's what the blank pages at the back of my diary and old shopping lists written on torn off pages of my Zen daily desk calendar are for.  The phone doesn't have enough memory space as it is, without my adding lists and ideas to it.

I suppose in due course I will end up having to buy a new and bigger phone, and I confidently predict that Google and Android will promptly think of new, memory hungry applications that fill it up again.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

new glasses

I finally went for my eye test that's been due since last December.  The good news was that my eyes were pronounced healthy.  As I was discussing with a friend the other day, and the unwelcome reading for my cholesterol demonstrated, one of the drawbacks of being middle aged is that you can no longer waltz into health checks blithely assuming that everything will be fine, because it quite possibly won't be.

The bad news was that my prescription had changed enough for me to need new glasses.  I'd rather thought they might have, since I've had the old glasses over two years, and my eyes have never been stable for longer than that in the past.  It was not just the optician trying to sell me stuff, since when she covered over my right eye I could see her chart of letters go fuzzy before my left one.

I didn't even bother browsing the racks of frames until the salesman had finished serving his previous customer.  I'd already clocked them on the way in, in a general way, and they were all huge, in line with the prevailing fashion.  I don't know why the design of spectacles is quite so heavily fashion led.  True, you wear them on your face and so they are up front and central in terms of your appearance, but they are also functional medical appliances.  If you try to wear huge glasses when you are as short sighted as I am the lenses will be so thick around the edges that you will end up looking as though you had the bottoms of a couple of jam jars stuck into your frames.

Once the assistant was free I told him that we'd better start with the children's frames like I had last time, since the adult ones were all going to be too big given how strong my lenses had to be and how small my face was.  In fact, I would like new glasses as close as possible identical to my existing ones.  Once he'd looked at the prescription and the size of my face he agreed, and we picked out frames for new varifocals and reading glasses in what might be a record time.  We were shadowed by a young work experience person with pink hair, whose previous job had been in Marks and Spencer and who cheerfully admitted that she knew very little about glasses.  The salesman explained to her how lenses were cut out of a bigger piece of glass to fit the frame, and the importance of centreing the lens over the pupil, and I waxed so lyrical on the problems of large frames when you were very short sighted that he asked if I were looking for a job.

One of the advantages of children's frames is that they are relatively cheap.  I suppose you are not paying for any glamour conferred by association with a fashion brand.  Nobody bothers advertising kids' glasses in Vogue.  I did change my mind half way through the consultation, though, and trade up to the top grade of varifocal lens.  Now that I know I get on with them it seemed worthwhile having as small an area of fuzz as possible in my peripheral vision, and I worked out that the extra fifty pounds came to about fifty pence per week if the new glasses followed past form and lasted two years.  The salesman was mildly amazed that I did the arithmetic in my head.  There are fifty two weeks in the year, I pointed out, so fifty quid comes to roughly a pound a week over one year so fifty pence over two.  Fifty pence per month to see better sounded like quite good value.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

an afternoon out

I was out this afternoon, but managed to fit in three hours' weeding first, while keeping an eye on the time so that I did not suddenly realize I'd left five minutes to scrub the earth from under my finger nails and make myself presentable, especially as a friend was giving me a lift.  To be late oneself is bad enough, but to make other people late is worse.  I have nearly finished forking the weeds out from around the wildly suckering stems of the old roses, and the next stretch of bed is less fiddly to get at so with any luck progress will speed up.

I got to my friend's house with several minutes in hand, and then one of my fellow liftees was a quarter of an hour late, so I need not have worried, except that I would still rather not be late myself.  By the time we'd driven up the road to collect the fourth person we found her patiently standing out on the pavement holding a plate of sandwiches.

Our visit was to a Salvation Army citadel.  I have just determinedly ducked an attempt to rope me in as assistant programme secretary, not having the time to take on any extra committees, besides which programme secretary has to be the most nerve racking job on any committee.  I hate ringing people up to ask them to do things, and even when some of them say Yes you still have to worry in case they are ill or have double booked themselves or written the wrong month in their diary or got snowed in.

I don't know who came up with the idea of visiting a Salvation Army citadel, but it was interesting.  I always think of their work with the homeless, or Salvation Army bands, but of course they are a church as well.  The movement was founded as an offshoot of Methodism.  Nowadays their hostels are partly funded by government, meaning the Salvation Army has to tender at intervals for the management contracts, so that theory the Salvation Army could be left owning a hostel but not actually managing it.  I applaud the practical work they do in the community, although I would find the organisation's policy of moving its staff regularly around the country very difficult.  Leeway is now given for children in school approaching critical stages of exams, but essentially they must expect to be on the move every few years.

After the talk we had tea, hence the egg sandwiches, and I passed another milestone of middle age by feeling mildly rebellious and daring at eating a sausage roll and a second piece of flapjack.  I had never bothered with the over 50s health check on the grounds that since I didn't smoke, scarcely drank, took a lot of exercise, was not fat, and knew the rules on fruit and vegetables even if I didn't always quite hit five different ones, there was not a lot of point.  The GP seized his opportunity when I finally went to see him about my endless colds, and so I made the unwelcome discovery that while my chest was apparently as sound as a bell and my blood oxygen level better than his, my cholesterol was too high.  Hey ho.  It's several years since caffeine became something to be carefully rationed from mid afternoon onwards, and now cake is a treat.

Monday, 12 March 2018

rain stopped play

Twice today it has stopped raining and I have gone out into the garden, only to be driven indoors again an hour later, followed shortly afterwards by a damp and irritated Mr Cool.  Looking at the forecast for the week ahead I wondered sadly why every day I was due to be at home and hoping to get on with the garden was set to be wet, when on the days I'd arranged to go out it was forecast to be dry.  Today's rain was not even a proper, groundwater recharging soaking for the most part, just a miserable sift of the sort of drizzle you could try to ignore, before discovering after fifteen minutes that like Mr Cool you were actually quite wet.

I spoke to the postman who had a parcel for me, and he asked how long we had been cut off during the snow.  I said we had been able to get cars out on the Monday morning, after somebody from the farm scraped the drifts off the lane, and it turned out that we were one of only five houses on his round that he'd been unable to reach.  He had taken photographs, though whether purely for amusement or in case we should grumble about not getting deliveries for five days I wouldn't like to say.  Poor postman.  I do get cross when they randomly reassign mail between neighbouring properties, or houses anywhere in the area with the same name, but I don't expect him to clamber through three foot drifts.

In one of the rain breaks I ordered some Pulsatilla vulgaris that were on special offer at Crocus, along with a drought tolerant, partial shade tolerant, suckering, not-too-tall, butterfly friendly shrub that sounded just the thing for ground cover along the side of the wood.  Then I turned to my pile of gardening magazines, and was struck by the charms of a willow with pink catkins, that was apparently happy in soil that was less than permanently damp and a spot that was less than sunny, and thrived on regular hard pruning.  That sounded just the thing for the edge of the wood as well, and I was chagrined to find that Crocus sold it too, since by then I'd used the twenty per cent discount voucher they gave me as a bribe to sign up to the mailing list.  I told myself sternly that the site wasn't yet weeded and ready to go planting willows, and that in any case I might decide I'd rather have an acer.  That's the trouble with being all eager and ready to garden on a wet day.  You end up buying plants instead, before you have anywhere ready to put them.

Sunday, 11 March 2018


The snow and icy winds bought a temporary halt to work in the greenhouse.  I'd almost finished sowing my first batch of seeds before the Beast from the East struck, but ran out of seed compost and wanted some more tomatoes.  I got both at the Clacton garden centre just before the foul weather arrived, following which I would not have wanted to mess around out there, and anyway the floor was entirely covered with pots brought in for temporary shelter so there was no room.

Finally I have got around to sowing the second half of the tomatoes, and it will be interesting to see if they catch up with the first batch, now that the days are longer.  I normally aim to sow tomatoes with heat in February, but March shouldn't be too late to get a crop.  After germinating normally, some of last year's seedlings came to a crashing halt.  Picking the brains of various gardening friends and keeping my eye on any tomato growing advice in the gardening magazines I gathered that young tomato plants are highly sensitive to chilling, so I think that was my fault for removing them from the protection of their covered seed trays too early.  I shall know not to do it again this year, though as there is no room on the greenhouse bench for another tray it's going to be tricky when I prick them out individually.

Two packets of seeds that needed overnight soaking never managed to get sown before the compost ran out, so I did those as well.  One is the drought tolerant, dark red flowered form of a kind of legume I saw and admired at least year's Chelsea, and the other a blue species lupin.

Progress among the previous sowing has been slow, apart from the tomatoes.  I have a pot of nice little seedlings of the snowy woodrush, Luzula nivea, and some sturdy little plants of a species of Macedonian sage, plus some Verbascum phoeniceum in mixed colours that came free with a magazine but are none the worse for that.  There are tentative signs of life from the pot of perennial flax, and to my delight the sea daffodil and Hesperaloe are both germinating.  One Clivia seed is looking good on the kitchen window sill, but the second is struggling and the third succumbed to mould while still in the airing cupboard.  And that's about it, so far.

Mature plants of snowy woodrush sell for about five pounds, and I would like quite a lot to go round the edge of the pond, so in fact if that one pot of seedlings makes it to the stage of being planted out in the garden they will pretty much have paid for this year's seed orders, but I hope some more pots will germinate.  Maybe the cold weather held them back.