Yesterday's thunderstorm was bad. Lightning hit a house in Shotley Gate and set the roof on fire, while the bang was heard five miles away. Today wasn't much better for gardening, as the morning started with a spatter of rain, and got steadily wetter, until by mid afternoon huge raindrops were bouncing off the roof of my car, and the benchmark puddle in the drive had spread from one side to the other.
I went into Colchester. Normally a trip every six or seven weeks suffices, when I need a haircut, but one of the bee committee members wanted to borrow a book from the library (by the gloriously named Beowulf Cooper) and I had a couple of cheques to pay into the bank. As I won't be at the next club meeting to loan out the book, I thought I might as well make a round trip of it. The point at which garden clubs and townswomens' guilds finally embrace electronic fund transfers will mark yet another stage in the demise of Britain's High Streets, as one more reason for ever visiting a town centre disappears.
The expedition was a mixed success in commercial terms. I started by calling at the local farm equipment cum lawnmower supplier as I was going past and needed a post whacker (hollow cylinder with a heavy base and a handle on each side, that you put over a fence post and drop repeatedly to drive the post in. So much safer and more comfortable than wielding a sledge hammer at head height). They were out of stock, but if they had had one in stock would have charged me fifty pounds plus VAT for it, which sounded more than the Systems Administrator had told me post whackers costed.
I found our Technical Secretary's house without getting lost (he is developing a vacuum cleaner for collecting bees out of hard to reach wall cavities, which I will tell you more about if I manage to see it in action). Then I managed to buy two reels of button thread, one black and one white, in the remnant shop at the top of the High Street.I had a look in Colchester's smartest department store to see if they had kitchen string or a seven inch cake tin in their kitchenware department, but they hadn't. I needed a small cosmetics bag to go in my work bag, to keep my nail scissors and supplies of aspirin and elastoplast together, but Marks and Spencer no longer seem to stock toiletries bags at all, and none of the little bags in Accessorize were really suitable. I thought that Boots must sell cosmetics bags, but couldn't find them, and when I asked for help was shown a choice between three of the ugliest bags you could imagine.
The tourist information centre did have my preferred brand of hand cream in stock. The tourist office seems an odd place to buy hand cream, especially when you are also visiting Boots, M&S, and Colchester's smartest department store, but they have a policy of stocking products by local firms, and my brand of choice is Stour Valley Organic Lavender Company. They make extremely good hand cream, and the recommended retail price for 100 grammes of the stuff is six quid. (You might feel you would rather not take any notice of hand cream recommendations from somebody whose finger spontaneously split during the course of normal use, but the length of time this winter lasted was enough to have split anybody's hands, even if they were bathed constantly in asses' milk).
I considered buying some vegetables in the street market, but there was no celery, and I wanted celery, and milk, and didn't have a shopping bag, and the red peppers cost exactly the same as they did in Tesco. Parking for this mini-expedition cost me £2.70.
I had a look on the internet while eating my lunch. The John Lewis website runs to four pages of toiletry and cosmetics bags, and I can have one delivered to Waitrose, where parking is free, and I can buy some upmarket olive oil while I'm at it. Lakeland sell kitchen string, which is apparently very hard to find nowadays, hence the customer comments on their site imploring them never to stop doing the string. They have already dropped the stainless steel holder for which the string is theoretically a refill, though I was planning just to keep my string in a drawer anyway. They sell 7 inch cake tins too (or rather 18 cm, plus 15 cm, 20 cm and 23 cm). Compete with that, High Street.
The Systems Administrator returned by the afternoon train, having had a very nice time in Cheltenham, and within the hour had tracked down a supplier of fence posts, a post whacker for twenty-five pounds instead of the fifty that Ernest Doe wanted, and a poultry forum that suggested strongly that the chickens were short of calcium and that the egg eating issue might be solved by tweaking their diet. We also learned that they can't actually taste chilli powder, but that mustard works if you want to go down the baited egg route, though alternatively you can give them a golf ball to peck, until they get fed up with pecking egg-shaped things. The SA has also promised to clad the hive stand legs with old aluminium cans, if the problem is rats eating them and they don't stop now it's warmer, provided that I move the hives off the stands. A problem shared is a problem halved.