It was cold. I weeded the gravel anyway, since I want to see my small bulbs in a sea of pristine stone chippings and not a mess of dead leaves, grass tufts and creeping sorrel. I started off thinking that given a whole day I could surely finish it, but that proved over-optimistic. The cold slowed me down, as my fingers were clumsier than usual, and the freezing air made my eyes water so that I couldn't see properly, partly due to blurred vision, and partly because of the tears falling on my glasses. I snapped off the heads of a few emerging dwarf iris, but not too many. There are tulips, Chionodoxa and Scilla to come behind them, so while it would have been nice to have done the job a fortnight ago, before the iris started flowering, it is still worth doing.
There are a large number of Dierama seedlings, and I'm going to have to decide if I want to keep all of them. I already have potfuls in the greenhouse, raised from seed, some of which I bought and some which came free with a seed order. The flower stalks are so graceful and airy, they don't look as if they would interfere with anything, but the basal foliage gradually expands to a substantial clump, and my existing plants are already overshadowing the some of the dwarf iris.
I started reducing a large patch of Artemisia canescens, a prostrate form which after fifteen years (it was planted in March 1998 according to my spreadsheet) has expanded from its original single potful to cover an area approximately two by two metres. That is more artemisia than one honestly needs. In the summer when it's covered in tiny silver leaves it is pretty, though annoyingly not weed-smotheringly thick, but in winter it presents an unappealing, threadbare aspect. Ours had managed to collect an understory of thick moss punctuated by clumps of grass, which made it look worse than threadbare on gravel would have. Anyway, I want some of the space for more dwarf bulbs.
I had to take more than the usual number of tea breaks, and packed up altogether at half past four, because I it was too cold and dark to carry on, so I didn't really put in a full day's gardening, and the gravel is nowhere near finished. Mind you, even if the weather had been a lovely I don't think I'd have finished it in a day.
The Systems Administrator scored a success, however, having managed to get a BT engineer to come and fix our line fault a week after we discovered it. This was a fault so arcane that I'd never heard of it, and neither had the person in the call centre in Mumbai that the SA eventually managed to speak to after spending hours going round in circles on the BT website. The problem was with the fifth line, which it turns out is the part of a land line system that makes your phone ring when there's an incoming call. In the days of old-fashioned, circular-dial telephones that contained an actual bell that rang, the fifth line carried the current that rang the bell. Nowadays in the era of the electrical phone, the signal that makes your phone emit your noise of choice when someone rings you up is still carried on the fifth line, not the same line that carries the phone call. Weird, archaic, seemingly unnecessary, but true.
We realised we had a problem with the phone when we saw we had a lot of missed calls at times when we'd been at home, and definitely hadn't heard it ring once. We rang our home number from a mobile, plugging in every handset we possessed in turn, and none of them rang. Internet researches and a chat with the SA's oldest brother, who is an electrical engineer, led the SA to conclude that it was a problem with the fifth line. Conventional line tests do not cover the fifth line. The SA began to suspect this, and confirmed it via the internet telephone forums occupied by other exasperated people who had problems with their fifth line. If you try to contact BT to report a line fault, you are not initially allowed to speak to a real person. You cannot even obtain a phone number on which to attempt to call a person, until you have carried out line tests yourself via the website. The line tests do not cover the fifth line, so they come up clean, so the website will not let you talk to anybody to explain that you have a problem with your fifth line.
I do not know how the SA finally circumvented this system, but I gather that it took a substantial part of last Monday, while I was at work, and the process had not had a positive effect on the SA's mood and outlook when I got home. The result, however, was that today a real live engineer arrived in a BT Openworld van, tested the line from our end, confirmed what the SA had already worked out, that we had a problem with the fifth line, drove two miles to the telephone exchange, fixed it, came back, and tested it. He was a very nice engineer, who originally learned his trade in the navy. In the old days if a customer reported a fifth line problem and sounded as though they knew what they were talking about, the engineer would have gone straight to the exchange and fixed it, but nowadays the rules say he has to go to their house first, to confirm what they've already told him. Such is progress.