The forecast this morning was for a dry start to the day, but rain later. When you are a keen and very behind-hand gardener, your days revolve around the weather prospects, so my day started outside, trimming the last of the honeysuckle under the veranda, and trying to tie in the rose 'Climbing Etoile d'Hollande', which after a shaky start has grown to gargantuan proportions, and was lying prostrate flopped out over the bed. I began tidying and cutting back the climbers under the veranda last autumn, to provide access for scaffolding so that the Systems Administrator could renew the guttering and paint the barge board along the back of the house. The climbing rose, which had been wedged in among the honeysuckle, was dislodged in this process, which is why it spent the winter lying down, but now it really is time to pull it up again.
It rained so constantly last year that we agreed to leave the rest of the exterior decorating until the spring, and then in March it was never warm enough for the paint to have gone off if the SA had applied it. It needs a minimum temperature of around 8 degrees C to dry, and we almost never reached that. It is spoiled if there is any dampness in the air as well, and really it is a mystery to me how exterior decorators ever manage to work at all in the British climate, given that there are about three weeks a year when conditions seem to be suitable for decorating. Painting the barge boards needs to progress quickly once started so that the guttering can be replaced, since it won't be very convenient living without it. I know that people in thatched cottages manage, but that's their choice, and they have all that Olde Worlde charm to console them. We have a 1960s shoebox.
As I was trimming off surplus bits of honeysuckle, trying to start from the ends of shoots and work in, rather than cutting through a stem and finding I'd killed a quarter of the plant without meaning to, I spotted an old bird nest low down, tucked in against the trellis. I delved deeper into the honeysuckle, to extract the dead material from inside to reduce its overall bulk while retaining the living, flowering wood, and suddenly saw there were two speckled deep turquoise eggs in the nest. Oh, right, not an old bird nest, then. I retreated to a tactful distance and pretended not to be interested in the nest. Later on there was a female blackbird sitting in it. I may have removed too much of her cover before spotting her, and she may decide that the nest is now too exposed to magpies and abandon it. If she doesn't then I suppose that pushes the date to start decorating back by at least a month, since we can't ram a leg of the scaffolding platform right in beside her.
At twenty to one it started to rain, not drizzle, but the first few big, heavy drops that tell you that a serious shower is in the offing. That was my cue to pack my tools away, given the forecast. The Systems Administrator was surprised to see my in from the garden so early, and surprised that it was raining, and surprisingly gung ho about the prospect of taking the truck after lunch to collect mushroom compost, an expedition that has been planned and postponed a couple of times due to weather conditions. If the SA was prepared to drive the truck and lift the bags on to the back then I wasn't going to cavil at a bit of rain, and so we went after lunch and bagged up 23 buckets of compost. It would have been 24, which is a nice round number and exactly three times what I can fit in the boot of the Skoda, but I ripped one of the bags trying to fit it around the bottomless bucket that is the garden centre's measure for charging customers. Twenty three bags will last me for a good while, given where I've got to with the weeding.
Then it was time for the cleaning. That's the trouble with cleaning. You can postpone it by dint of finding other, more urgent and nobler tasks like cataloguing the beekeepers' library, but it catches up with you in the end. I wiped kitchen cupboards, and sprayed limescale remover on the sinks, and put stray boxes of screws back in the workshop, and removed a dead vole and some nameless lumps of something nasty from under the table in front of the TV. The Systems Administrator came and volunteered to finish the vacuuming, after watching the last major race of the jump season, which was apparently won by a horse that we saw two years ago at Fakenham, since when it has Come On. The SA has missed one corner of the hearthrug, but it is still a lot cleaner than it was. I scoured the Aga with special Aga scouring cream, and wiped off the cat hairs that seem electrically attracted to it, and wiped the crumbs off the toaster, and wiped up the extra crumbs that emerge all over the work top each time you move a toaster, several times since there kept being more crumbs. I scrubbed the downstairs loo and the downstairs wash basin, and cleaned embarrassing quantities of cat fur off the skirting board in the loo. I lasted until half past six, by which point the house still wasn't clean, but I'd had enough of cleaning for one day.
I've said before that it is a small world. The SA was listening yesterday evening to Radio 2, and heard a request from a family whose car was all packed and ready to go, driving up to Northumberland with their border terrier Perkins. When we stayed in Alnwick we met a border terrier called Perkins in one of Alnwick's nicer pubs (good beer, good decor, good juke box, quite clean, spoiled only by the baffling habit of the locals and bar staff of leaving the door on to the street open. Northern people seem impervious to cold, and to consider it quite normal to sit all evening in the pub still wearing your anorak). We gathered that the family with Perkins were regular visitors rather than permanent local residents. It had to be the same border terrier. Small world.