Sunday, 28 July 2013

The end is nigh...

A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!
... the end of my forties that is.  Ten days from now, on the 7th of August (at precisely 9.50 a.m.), I shall turn 50. Part of me intended to ignore the forthcoming birthday and let it pass in a blur of self-denial and oblivion. However, the arrival of an NHS-stamped envelope on Friday morning soon put paid to that notion. Inside I read the glad tidings that I would soon be receiving in the post what can only be described as a cardboard human pooper scooper. Undeniable proof (if any were needed, in addition to the steadily widening girth, greying locks - for which Son+Heir bears sole responsibility - and encroaching wrinkles) that I am officially approaching middle age.  And for any of you who are thinking “hmmph, more like old age!”, I have one thing to say to you: now that the experts are forecasting hosts of people living until they’re one hundred, fifty is most definitely the start of middle age!

As anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know, HunterGatherer failed miserably to deal with his cardboard contraption last year (see previous Ignore the Cardboard Boxes at Your Peril post); in fact it is still lying around the house somewhere. Or at least bits of it are... Having nagged him regularly to do the necessary, it would be remiss - nay hypocritical - of me not to do so myself, so I am now patiently awaiting the arrival of my bijou pooper scooper pack.  At any rate, from what I’ve read in the informative leaflet thoughtfully provided by the NHS, catching bowel cancer early is pretty darned important – and that seems like one very good reason for me to continue nagging HG!

Fortunately, all is not doom and gloom on the birthday front, as my wonderful mum (aka Supergran) has invited me for a celebratory lunch on the 7th. We are to be returning to her home village of Muthill, in Perthshire, to visit the imaginatively entitled Barley Bree, recently crowned Scottish Restaurant of the Year. For self-confessed “gourmand” Yours Truly (the more observant of you may have noticed that it’s gone rather quiet on the “get fit and not fat for fifty” campaign recently...), the prospect of a luxury luncheon is simply the best present ever.  You can be sure that I shall be reporting back on the said meal in my next blog post, so watch this space...

And talking of things culinary, the return of the rains (that “s” was intentional, by the way) to this temporarily parched part of Scotland has led to a flurry of foliage at the Sparrowholding – sadly most of it being foliage that we have no wish to see. Our long-suffering rhubarb plant, Ruby, disappeared almost overnight under a mat of couch grass and chickweed, as indeed did much of the outside veggie plot. And with HG and I either flat out in a farm workshop (he’s spending a lot of time underneath a forage harvester at the moment) or glued to the computer screen, we are powerless to fight the triffid-like invasion. Still, on a slightly positive note, the stalwart survivors from our two rows of pea plants - which were mercilessly pecked by thieving pigeons - have rallied slightly. Better still, a whole crop of "rogue" potatoes has sprouted up unbidden in the area which HG had technically left fallow this year, so (blight notwithstanding) we'll have some maincrop potatoes when we've finished the earlies from the polytunnel. 

Poor Ruby the rhubarb plant is almost hidden by weeds
Paltry pea crop thanks to pesky pecking pigeons
Meanwhile the lawn has been under attack, too – by invaders furry rather than phyto.  I struggle to know how to feel towards these handsome (see photo) subterranean interlopers, who are fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. 

Following the mole trail...
But doesn't he have such a lovely black coat?
As for the equine and ovine creatures inhabiting the Sparrowholding, they were rather glad to bid farewell to the relentless sunshine, as they were finding things a tad hot outside. FatHorse, it has to be said, is not enjoying being in her starvation paddock for the summer, but the bitter pill has been sweetened somewhat by the arrival of two companions, as a neighbour’s ponies are visiting for their summer hols.  So while the neighbour's non-native horse gloats smugly on the other side of the electric fence (where the grass grows long and comparatively lush), FatHorse and the miniature Shetland  - both of whom would be quick to go off their legs otherwise – are suffering in dignified silence in their modest, buttercup-filled corner of the field.  Come to think of it, after the forthcoming birthday celebrations, Yours Truly may well have to head to the starvation paddock to join them!

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon...

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Why go away when there's so much to enjoy at home?

The end of June and first half of July has passed in a flash here at the Sparrowholding, with the usual manic running around in ever-decreasing circles. Suddenly it's T in the Park weekend again, yet it seems like just yesterday that I was posting photos of forlorn, abandoned wellies in the local supermarket car park after last year's festival. The organisers of this year's festival must be thanking their lucky stars that they made a better job of their sun dance this time round, as Kinross-shire (like the rest of the country) has been basking in glorious unabated sunshine for days. 

While the sun was welcomed by all with open (and bare, rapidly reddening...) arms, one of our Shetland sheep had resisted being caught and shorn for the past few weeks - a decision which it was now no doubt regretting. Today, very possibly because the Houdini-like ovine was considerably slowed down by heat exhaustion, HunterGatherer eventually managed to lure it towards him with a slice of brown bread, rugby tackle it while it was in mid-mouthful and then wheech* the offending fleece off before it knew what had happened. [*translation for non-Scots: to "wheech" means to remove rapidly!]

Happy shepherd and happy sheep

Dark choc, milk choc and white choc fleeces

A multicoloured woolly mountain
With the wool "harvest" complete, there were other homegrown crops still to harvest - especially in our polytunnel, where the heatwave has encouraged the plant life to grow rapidly and profusely. Unfortunately, this also includes the ubiquitous triffid-like chickweed, which is the utter bane of our lives. Fortunately, despite its worst ravages, we have been able to salvage a selection of edibles this weekend, and we're looking forward to consuming them very soon!

Now that's what I call a strawberry :-)

Little and large!

Nectarines in the polytunnel - but will they ripen? 

Victoria the plum tree bodes to be prolific in 2013 :-)

Hanging out to dry - this year's shallots

Parsnips and potatoes - soup anyone?

Pea crop is a bit miserly this year - perhaps too dry?

Nothing to beat a "love"ly new potato...

Goodbye flower - hello courgette!

Small but perfectly formed - polytunnel caulis

Why does our broccoli always flower so we can't eat it?!

One day we'll be beans...
DD2 always used to call spinach "sewage" - er, yum...
Ah! Memories of my favourite TV show, The Herb Garden...

An inedible polytunnel intruder - but so pretty

Friday, 5 July 2013

Celebs, royalty and a rare sighting of HunterGatherer’s legs

The badge of honour  - for posterity
When an invite to attend DD2’s Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award presentation on 4th July at Holyrood Palace popped through the door a couple of months ago, the recipient wasn’t sure whether we could actually accept. Of course, after the many months of hard graft involved in actually achieving the award (including clambering across mountains carrying a rucksack that weighed as much as a baby elephant), she was keen to have her efforts acknowledged.

However, the delicate problem that stood in our way was that on the 4th of July, DD2 would already be down in Cambridge, back at the languages school where she worked last summer (for a refresher of the challenges of being in charge of a house full of uncooperative 14-17yr-old foreign pupils, read this post about last July's experiences!). Fortunately, her employers proved immensely understanding, so after her shift on Wednesday morning, she was allowed to hop on a train up to Edinburgh, where we were to meet her for the big event on Thursday afternoon.

As HunterGatherer and I don't get out to highfalutin social occasions very often, digging out our finery was a considerable challenge involving rigorous drawer raking and extreme wardrobe excavations. At last HG’s reclusive kilt jacket came to light, buried deep in the recesses of a cupboard, and he looked rather dashing in  his Highland attire. But the panic wasn’t over, as each of us required not just one but two forms of ID for entry to the palace: and for a frantic five minutes, we managed to lose track of all four sets amongst the mess caused by the manic kilt jacket search.

Next we had to deliver DD2’s frock to her friend’s flat in Edinburgh, then wait... and wait ... and wait as she prettified herself. Meanwhile, the Royal cavalcade whisked by, which caused HG (never the most patient of parents) to become increasingly hot under the collar.  Eventually DD2 emerged from flat, looking suitably glam and we zipped back into Edinburgh, Holyrood-bound.

It may surprise you to learn that when you’re already running a little bit late for a royal appointment, there’s nothing like driving into the palace car park and discovering that your daughter has left both her forms of ID back at her friend’s flat... HG was by now not merely hot under the collar – steam was beginning to emerge from his ears. He and DD2 headed off in his wee Suzuki Jeep (not given to bursts of speed) back to the friend’s flat, while Yours Truly stood patiently in the long queue of parents, guardians and award holders snaking its way towards the gateway.
Hey up! Suddenly the scenery's got even better...

Here at last! First sight of Holyrood Palace

New meets old

And the band played... "Jesus Christ Superstar"!
Eventually the three of us were reunited – with a few minutes to spare – in the grounds of the palace and made our way to Group 4’s muster area. Only then did we discover that Group 4’s allocated “celeb” for the day was none other than the far-from-unattractive former Scottish rugby captain Chris Paterson. That was the moment when DD2 knew for certain that her long train journey north had been worthwhile! Of course, Prince Edward was a nice enough chap, too, when he popped along to make polite conversation, but there was no doubt as to which of the two gentlemen concerned caused a bigger stir among all the young folk (not to mention a few of their mums...).

Chris Paterson mingles with Group 4
After all formalities had been completed and myriad photos snapped by the proud parents present, we were free to stroll around the grounds of the palace for a while. The atmospheric ruins were almost as impressive as the newer architecture - and certainly very photogenic. DD2 paused to pose with one of the palace guards for a photo, asked him to smile for the camera despite his frankly feeble protestation (as he fought manfully with his facial features - and lost) that he wasn’t allowed to smile on duty.

Dramatic skies over the old part of the palace

The swirl of the kilt - changing the guard

The old part of the palace

A pleasant place for an afternoon stroll

The stunning backdrop at Holyrood
All in all, it was a jolly enjoyable afternoon, amply surpassing our (to be fair, quite limited!) original expectations.  The one thing that was missing was those dainty little crust-less cucumber sandwiches for which royal occasions are so famed. In fact, I can confirm that there wasn’t a bally thing to eat or drink during the whole afternoon. Fortunately, we were able rectify the balance during the ensuing evening in Edinburgh with a slap-up supper at an eatery on George IV Bridge.  We really must try to get out more often!