Very Wet Sunday Musings

I was woken up at 4:40 am this morning by the sound of torrential rain hitting the patio outside the bedroom window. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so have now been awake for over four hours. It is still raining, dark inside the house, and only 11C. Welcome to a very British Summer.

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At least I managed to cut the grass yesterday afternoon, front and back. It took me almost three hours, and my hands were trembling all evening after that. Ollie helped of course, doing his special task of constantly standing just in front of the powerful hover-mower, oblivious to the fact that it could easily chop off his paws.

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Now the interminable Jubilee celebrations are almost over, I have to call the optician about my eye appointment for the driving licence renewal tomorrow. I might as well get it sorted sooner, rather than later.

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Talking of Jubilee celebrations, I was pleased to note that many people were doing what we do best in this country. Fawning, and sycophancy. We are world leaders in both.
If anyone saved their street parties until today, they are going to need their Union Jack umbrellas, by the look of it.

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Ollie is snoring so loudly, I might have to wake him up in a minute. Perhaps the rain disturbed him early too.

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Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, have a peaceful and pleasant Sunday. It looks like it is going to feel like a very long day for me.

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Season Of The SAD Lamp: Sunday Musings

The clocks went back one hour here last night, so we got an extra hour in bed. The downside of that is that it will be dark by around 4 pm now, and the evenings will feel long and dull. My SAD lamp is already turned on as I write this, and it’s only 9:30 am. The rain is hammering against the window, and the grey skies look to have settled in for the day. Ollie was reluctant to venture out into the garden earlier, and I suspect he just hid in the side alley after I closed the kitchen door.

I don’t blame him.

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Today is Halloween Sunday. At least it is for those who celebrate it. That doesn’t include me of course. There was a party last night that went on until just after midnight. It must have been some distance away, but I could still hear the ‘thump’ of the sound system all evening.

In a quiet village like Beetley, that event was enough to get residents taking to the local Facebook forum by 9pm, (suitably called Beetley Busybodies) to complain about the noise and ask the people hosting the party to turn down the music. I am not on Facebook, my wife told me. But it did occur to me (though obviously not to those complaining) that anyone enjoying a party at their house was unlikely to be checking Facebook to see if anyone was complaining.

If this awful weather continues, I am wondering how many ‘trick or treaters’ will be venturing out later. We don’t put a pumpkin outside on the driveway, which is the signal to knock on doors in Beetley. That means we will hopefully not be bothered by anyone.

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My 35-part serial ‘Outside’ concluded yesterday. I have a new one in notes, and you can have a rest from fiction until I structure it. I will be posting an overview of ‘Outside’ soon.

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Many bloggers have had Christmas Countdowns on their blogs for some time now. A few of them started that in early September, before I had even taken my summer holiday. I don’t want to know how many days it is to Christmas thanks. It will come when it comes, and that always seems to be faster every year I grow older.

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We accepted the quote from the landscape gardener to do the front of the property, and we are just waiting for him to give us a start date. That will hopefully be before the end of December, but will presumably depend on weather conditions. No doubt contractors have to get used to working outside in all conditions. I remember having to do something similar when I was an EMT. Kneeling in pools of rainwater, or tramping through snow in unsuitable uniform, feet freezing, and trousers soaked.

So happy I don’t have to that any longer. Except on the daily dog walks of course. 🙂

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I hope you all have a great Sunday, and better weather where you live. And for those of you living in the in the far east, where it is almost Monday, I hope you have already had a great day.
Best wishes, Pete.

Thinking Aloud On a Saturday

Getting a man in.

This occasional Sunday post is a day early this week, because I woke up thinking about that phrase this morning. I remember in my youth when a widow or elderly man would say “I will have to get a man in”. That referred to having to get a job done, or something fixed. Generally, it was because the elderly person could no longer do it, had no idea how to do it in the first place, or didn’t have a relative nearby who could help.

My Dad took pride in never getting a man in to do anything. If he couldn’t do something himself, it wasn’t done. But a change in his job meant that he wasn’t always around, so when we needed new wallpaper in the house, he got a man in. This was done with a sense of achievement, not regret. He now had the income to pay someone to do jobs that he was capable of doing, but didn’t have the time to do them. He could even be boastful about getting a man in, as it meant he no longer had to do repetitive or manual tasks.

When I was old enough to own my own home, I also had a good income. I got a man in to do things I was capable of doing, but didn’t want to have to do after a hard week at work. I got a man in to paint the outside of the house, and someone else to do electrical wiring. When some fencing fell down, I got a man in to fix that too.

Some time later, living alone, I no longer had the luxury of spare cash to pay people. I did my own painting, and turned to friends to help with two-man jobs. The only thing I didn’t attempt was anything to do with electrics, but if a friend couldn’t help, I had an uncle who was an electrician. When he got older and moved away, I finally had to get a man in to sort out electrics.

Then I retired in 2012, and had more time on my hands, though only one third of my previous income. I tackled most things on my own. I painted rooms, cleared gutters, maintained the garden, and cut all the hedges. Very soon, I started to realise that this hard work was getting beyond me, and if it was going to get done, I was going to have to get a man in to do it. It was no longer something to be proud of, and I certainly didn’t have the funds to pay for everything at once.

But I got someone in to do the painting. Then I got someone in to do the electrics, and someone else to fit new carpet. As I wandered around the house watching them work, I had to face the fact that I had arrived at that time in my life where getting a man in was going to be the first option, not the last resort.

Last Friday, I got a man in to give me a quote to cut all the hedges and shrubs. That used to take me close to sixteen hours, over the whole weekend. Then I had to remove all the cuttings, and take them to the recycling centre in two or three trips. The genial garden man looked at the job, and announced it would take him around four hours. He would dispose of the cuttings and branches, taking them away in his pick-up. We agreed on his very fair price, and he will do the job in January.

I am now sitting here wondering what else I might have to get a man in for.
If it comes down to employing someone to type up my blog posts, then I will know it is close to the end.

Almost dead?

I have written before on here about Ollie’s love of gardening.
With a very hot day here today, it seemed like a good time to get on with cutting the grass, and cleaning the windows.

As always, Ollie was keen to be by my side during the lawn-mowing. I kept making him go to the area where I wasn’t cutting, but as you know, he is obsessed with being as close to me as is possible.

Almost finished, I checked to see where he was. He was sitting about three feet away, tail wagging. As I started mowing again, I dragged the mower back across the grass, only to discover that Ollie had rapidly changed position, and was right behind my knees. As I fell backward, I was conscious of the heavy rotary blade, close to my toes and feet.

Luckily, it has a ‘fail-safe’ feature. As I let go of the control handles, the motor ceased to operate. Unfortunately, the slack handle pinched a section of my palm, near the thumb, removing some skin as I fell over. The still-whirring blade stopped a few inches short of my feet and legs, and I had one of those ‘moments’, as I watched it.

It is serious enough to contemplate that the heavy blade might well have killed me. Ollie was sent away, in no uncertain terms. So, if you ever wonder why I have suddenly stopped posting, and offer no reasons or excuses, I suggest you contact Ollie, and see what he has been up to.

Ollie the gardener

After yesterday’s long walk around Beetley Meadows and Hoe Rough, I arrived home knowing that there was something I could no longer put off doing. Try as I might, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the grass on the lawn had grown considerably during the recent spell of good weather. With the chance of rain over the weekend, I had already decided that Thursday afternoon would be a good time to bite the bullet, and get that grass cut.

Ollie is not too bothered about the garden, unless I am in it of course. He cannot bear to miss out on anything I might be doing, so is always sure to be as close to me as possible, at all times. But to Ollie, boring gardening accessories, like the brown wheelie bin for clippings, the electric hover mower, and the ‘parrot-beak’ secateurs, are just another version of toys. As soon as I started to wheel the bin through from the front, he was off. Dashing around the garden pretending that the bin was chasing him, instead of just being wheeled into position.

Once I started up the mower, he danced around in front of it growling, as if to take it on in a rough game. We all know that a powerful mower, with its huge rotary blade whirring around underneath, is anything but a toy. But to Ollie, it is all a game. Naturally, I make him stand away from the business end of the mower, but I have to always be aware that at any moment, he may decide to rush forward and try his luck. As I move it around, he also likes to examine the areas that have been freshly cut, as if something exciting is awaiting him there, once the long grass is gone.

Mowing over, it was time to sweep up everywhere. The broom and long-handled dustpan I use out there are also objects for Ollie to investigate. He will rush back and forth with each sweep of the broom, waiting for me to create the small piles to pick up and put in the cuttings bin. Once each pile is neatly stacked, he of course has to run through them toward me, just so I have to sweep that pile together once again.

Of course, I could just make life a lot easier, by shutting him in the house when I do any gardening. But then I would be depriving myself of the help from my assistant, Ollie the gardening dog.

The gardener’s friend

I rarely recommend products on this blog. Of course I do suggest films and music that you might enjoy, and I once extolled the benefits of steam generator irons. I have discussed the comfort of cosy dressing gowns, sheepskin bootees, and the necessity of rain-wear. However, I rarely name a product, and tend to talk about these things in as generic a way as possible.

This post is one exception to that rule. There may be others to come. Who knows?

About a year after moving here, I was fast becoming tired of the large weeds and dandelions that sprouted all over our lawn at the back. It is far from a perfect example of a lawn, but it is all we have, and I want it to look presentable, without being too concerned about perfection. Getting deep-rooted weeds out is notoriously difficult. I didn’t want to use chemical weed-killers on the grass, as Ollie is often outside, and most are supposed not to be used around animals. I tried the tips I got from the blog. Water and vinegar in solution, as well as boiling water directly on the offending plant. This worked well in some areas, less so in others. I usually had to resort to uncomfortable digging with a trowel or fork, involving kneeling or bending, and leaving something of a mess behind too.

I then saw an advert on TV. I was attracted by the presence of a cheeky French Bulldog in the film, so stayed to watch the advertised product. It was a Fiskars Weed Puller. This seemed like a perfect solution. Strong claws grasped the root from either side, and a simple lever motion removed the whole thing, roots and all. The weed is retained in the claw, and a sliding motion of the handle, not unlike a pump-action shotgun, expels the debris into any chosen container. The small hole left behind is just trodden on, and it soon disappears. Best of all, this was done from a normal standing position, requiring very little effort. It was made in Finland, and boasted a 25-year guarantee. Research showed that Fiskars was a company well-known for making a range of strong tools, so I checked out the Amazon page for gardening. It was less than ÂŁ30, which is not that cheap, but the build quality and guarantee made me decide to go ahead and buy it.

As soon as it arrived, I got started. It was instinctive to use, and ridiculously easy to operate. However, the main thing that impressed me was the fact that it worked. It did what it claimed to do, exactly as it said it would. Not many things give such satisfaction these days, that’s for sure. As long as you get the claws directly over the centre of the weed, it’s just an easy push, then use the lever bar to withdraw the whole plant. I have stony soil here, so occasionally a stone comes up too, but that is easily shaken off, or removed later. You can shift the most stubborn dandelions from a lawn in seconds, and have the satisfaction of seeing the whole root system in the claws after you have pulled it up. No bending, no backache, and you are almost disappointed when you run out of weeds.

Naturally, it is less suitable for borders, areas close to walls or fences, and weeds in gravel. But on grass or rough ground, it works very well indeed. I am adding a link to a You Tube Fiskars video, if you are interested. I have no connection with the company whatsoever, and it is available to buy all over the world, from numerous retailers, as well as online. The new model has a longer telescopic handle, but I have the basic smaller version, which is fine for my height. This is a bit of a crazy-sounding post, I know. But if you find weeding grass a chore, then this will soon become a firm friend, and a great addition to all that other stuff in your garden shed.

Rain stops play

Yesterday was a near-perfect summer day in Beetley. Warm verging on hot, with a refreshing breeze. Just the day to tackle those previously mentioned gardening tasks postponed from last week, when I wasn’t feeling up to much. I got going at a reasonably early hour, starting with the dreaded ground elder, an invasive weed that had decided to occupy most of the border, around and in between the shrubs. A sharp spade, and some determined effort was required. Once down in the roots, they have to be followed along, and all removed, or it is back within a week. The ground is stony at the best of times, and it is currently hard and dry as well, so I had my work cut out, digging awkwardly between the large bushes.

I did have a sense of satisfaction when it was all gone though, and enough enthusiasm to deal with the patio weeds. They came up easily enough, with the special tool that rakes between the slabs proving easy to use, and not requiring any bending. Once that was done, and all swept up tidily, it was time to rake the leaves and twigs off the lawn, ready for a cut sometime soon. This is a little thankless, to be honest. Once you have cleared an area, as soon as you start on the next section, more leaves and twigs have already descended on the bit you have just cleared. Undaunted by the teasing trees, I carried on, until it looked a lot better than when I had started. The garden wheelie bin was two-thirds full, evidence of just how much I had managed to shift.

After some weeding and trimming in the small front garden, I was ready to have a break, and a hot drink. Then it was time to get ready to take Ollie out. The hot afternoon sun had brought out crowds of small children and their parents. The bend in the river was crowded with excited youngsters, playing in the shallow water there. Beetley Meadows has not been so busy in a long time, and I set off around the riverside path with Ollie, so he could do what he likes best; looking for ducks. Despite many trips into the river at various spots, he didn’t manage to find any. No doubt they had all been scared off by the playful children.

Back home, I headed out to Tesco, for the weekly shop. The huge supermarket was the quietest I had ever seen it, with checkout staff waiting for customers, instead of the other way round. So I was soon back, fully-stocked for the week. I retrieved the batteries for my cordless hedge trimmers, and got them on charge, ready to deal with the long beech hedges at the front today. I scraped the dry grass from the lawn mower, and checked the blade, as the grass would be cut too. Tuesday was going to be a productive and busy day, I was sure of that. A pleasant evening was followed by bedtime at a reasonable hour. But I didn’t sleep well, and woke to the sound of rain, around 5 am. When I finally got up, some hours later, the sky was dark, and the rain annoyingly persistent.

The garden was covered in twigs and leaves once more. It seems that autumn has arrived early, and it is only the 18th of August. And the jobs? Like many sporting and outdoor events in this country during summer, it would appear that rain has stopped play.

Flowers and Weeds

As I have mentioned many times previously, I am neither a talented, nor an enthusiastic gardener. But as we have a gravel driveway at the front of the house, neglecting the tiresome job of clearing the weeds that protrude through the gravel tends to make the house look unkempt, and unloved. The recent heavy rains and warm days have caused a veritable explosion of weed emergence, leaving the wide driveway looking decidedly scruffy. Despite an effort to spray the area last year, most of the weed-killer was caught on the stones, so did not penetrate deeply enough to do any good.

With my car away being repaired today, I decided to tackle the area where it is normally parked. This may not sound like much of a job on a sunny morning, but take it from me, it’s a hard one. Some of the grassy clumps have root-balls the size of my head, and even the spindly, forlorn-looking individual weeds have roots that seem to go down to Australia. Scraping, digging with a fork, bending down to collect the dislodged plant, then raking the earth and stones back into a tidy covering, it is exhausting work. And it isn’t the least bit enjoyable, despite what dedicated garden-lovers might have you believe.

After two and a bit hours, I had only managed to clear half of one side, and it was getting near the time for Ollie’s afternoon walk.I came inside for a bath, and was soon ready to head off over to the Meadows, and Hoe Rough. On the wander around, something struck me. I had spent a long and tiring time getting rid of things that were really just plants, grasses, and flowers. People spend lifetimes cultivating grasses, growing plants, and admiring flowers. Some of those so-called weeds that I had been flinging into the garden bin were actually quite appealing. There were those with attractively-shaped small leaves, others topped by tiny yellow flowers. One that caught my eye had a minute purple flower, although the body of the plant underneath was spindly, and had little substance. There were the ubiquitous Dandelions too, stubbornly holding on to their place, tuberous roots requiring more effort to remove than would seem necessary, given the size of the plant.

I pondered about when it was decided that some things should be called weeds, and deemed to be undesirable, and others be applauded as plants and shrubs, and be considered essential to have in the garden. Who were the people making these decisions, and when did it all start? Why is the bright yellow flower of a Dandelion considered less of a bloom than any other yellow-headed flower? Why is one type of arrow-leafed creeping plant deemed to be a ‘creeping menace’, yet the same thing with dark red leaves is sold as ‘ground-cover’? And why do we spend good money on ornamental grasses, whilst at the same time digging up the not-unattractive large grasses that grow naturally?

Perhaps we should think again, and begin to embrace the humble weed. They require little effort to cultivate, will grow in the poorest soil, and need no fertilizers. And as as a real bonus, they also don’t need to be ‘weeded’.

Let’s start a new trend. Natural gardens, with the plants that really want to be in them.

A Blogging frame of mind

Do you ever feel that you are not in the right frame of mind for blogging? There is no shortage of ideas. I have three posts in draft, and a fair bit going on to write about. There is also a long list of ‘Significant Songs’ waiting to be written up, and plenty of themed ideas to send to external film websites for publication. But it just isn’t happening.

Maybe it’s the changeable weather. Storms one minute, sunny afternoons the next. Perhaps it is because I have finally got busy in the garden, and managed a few jobs out there, all of which have either made me feel worn out, or given me muscle pains. I can’t blame it on lack of time though. After all, I am sitting here now, writing this. Does Blogging require a certain feeling, a positive approach, and some structure? Or is it as it should be, written fast as the ideas come, all from the heart, not the head.

I have experienced a kind of seasonal malaise in the past. That time after summer, anticipating winter, with Christmas in between. It is a strange time, only exceeded in strangeness by the doldrums of January and February. Grey skies and rain, seemingly not conducive to anything productive. I am at the keyboard, the ideas are there, the experiences awaiting description, recollections and tales fill the mind. Yet nothing appears, save a post about not posting anything.

Is it just me, or do we all feel like that sometimes?

Autumn comes to Beetley

Despite the unseasonal weather, (it was 24 C here today) it is more than obvious that Autumn has arrived. I spent a fair amount of time this week collecting the first fall of leaves and twigs from the oaks, as well as attempting to shift some of the many acorns. Another good few hours were spent trimming the leylandii hedges that shelter two sides of the garden. I had neglected them last year, and paid the penalty for this, with hard work. Standing some ten feet high, and almost five feet deep, this is not a job to be tackled lightly, or in bad weather. Most of the difficult bits have to be got at from the top rung of a ladder, with almost all of my body at full stretch, perched precariously on the bulk of the hedge, as I reach across. The thickest branches had to be dealt with by sawing, and each remainder would have made an acceptable Christmas Tree, for an average room. The unexpectedly good weather allowed me to get on with this job, which I could no longer put off. The end result is a satisfyingly neat double row of hedge, and more light allowed into the gardens of the neighbouring houses. I also have the scars to show battle was done, with marks from twigs, the strange redness of an allergic reaction to the pine needles, and muscles aching all over my legs and wrists.

It is getting foggy in the mornings, and dark earlier. By 7.30 in the evening, our lights are on, and by 8, it is completely black outside. The fields nearby are being ploughed, and at times the smell of the manure, and other fertilisers, is all-pervasive between here and Dereham. The leaves are turning; gold before brown, some pale and lifeless. Walking with Ollie today in the afternoon heat, we wandered in the direction of Gingerbread Corner. The vast acres of blackcurrant bushes have now been harvested; the fruit that was rejected by the farmer now fought over by hundreds of starlings. They in turn are mobbed by dozens of crows, swooping down from high nests in the Poplars lining the Holt Road, their cry of ‘caw-caw’ building to an unpleasant cacophony. Squirrels are much in evidence, rapidly gathering nuts to store against the coming winter. So many are scurrying around, Ollie is unsure which one to chase first, and just stands and cries in frustration.

Once at the plum orchards, lack of rainfall, and the cessation of watering by the farmer, shows in the remaining crop. This time of year normally sees many unpicked plums still hanging in plump clusters on the short trees. Today, all that was visible were hundreds of shrivelled and blackened fruits, dehydrated and dead on their stalks. A little further on, there is a pleasant area left fallow this year, home to attractive wildflowers, and recently, scores of sunflowers; not cultivated, just growing randomly. Their huge yellow heads, with the dark centres of seeds, helped to brighten a familiar walk. On inspection this afternoon, they have lost petals, the seeds are dry, and the heads are beginning to droop down, as if the flower is sad, or unwell.

This summer of mixed blessings will soon be just a memory. Clear nights, cold winds from the north, Halloween, Bonfire Night, and other seasonal festivities will replace the joy of light evenings, and wide-open windows. Autumn is here.