The trials and tribulations of a life of leisure...


Monday, May 29, 2006

Dog Walks 1

I thought I would show you some of the walks that we take the dogs on. We have 3 main routes from our house which I will cover later. We also take them to the park in Duns, trying to get them used to other dogs. However, we found that frequently there were no other dogs in the park at the times we went, just dog smells. Our friend Anne suggested trying the grounds at Duns castle - a popular dog-walking spot.

So we packed them into the car and set off one cold bright day in early March. She hadn't warned us about the ducks... They came charging at us assuming we were going to feed them. Poncho was doing somersaults in excitement. Luckily they beat a hasty retreat.

The lake was part-frozen. We went back the next day with my camera...

The good thing about this walk is that dogs should be kept on the lead, and most owners obey this rule. I am not sure if it is just jealousy, but seeing other dogs running around drives Poncho crazy - although he is getting a lot better now. Even Jen whines and gets upset, wanting to join in.
We have had a few 'incidents' in here. On one occasion I was waiting with Poncho near the entrance for Paul to return with Jen from the 'poop-bin' when a man came in with two small dogs. Poncho edged up the bank away from them pulling me up with him. The next thing I know Poncho is leaping off the bank at the dogs and I am lying flat on my back on the road, still clinging to his lead. Luckily I was well padded with thick shirt, jumper and ski jacket, and escaped with a few bruises and great embarassment.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Friend Missing...

I, and the whole of the UK scrabble scene, have been numbed by the news that one of our friends has gone missing. He went walking in the Lakes on Sunday and never returned home. His car was found in the car park in Ambleside.
The Langdale/Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team have spent over 250 man hours searching for him, including helicopters and dogs. They appear to have stopped searching now, as they are convinced he is not in the area he said he would be walking.
We are all still praying that he is found, and our thoughts are with his wife and family.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Joys of Plant Shopping

Well, the weather still hasn't really improved for me to do much in the garden. Managed to fit in 6 hours on Wednesday, but even then was finishing off in the rain.

One of the problems of living here is that I rarely want/need to go anywhere else. My car battery was completely dead for the second time since we moved up here and on Tuesday I eventually got around to calling out the RAC. My friendly local RAC man, Neil, came and got me going again, advising me that I should keep the engine running for half an hour and then take it out for a spin.

Where to go? I know - I will find Edrom nursery, that is not at Edrom but at Coldingham...

This is a small garden nursery specialising in alpine and woodland plants. There were some amazingly expensive rare plants there, but also a lot of very reasonably priced and a few bargains to be had. I must have spent over an hour meandering and perusing the delicacies on offer and making my choices: 2 dwarf rhododendrons (pink), 2 azaleas (white+mauve), 1 epimedium (pink) (is the propagation of these known as striking a happy medium?) , 1 corydalis (blue), 1 terella (pink), 1 anemone (white) and 1 viola (white). Total: 26.50

I broke my trowel last week trying to get out a particularly stubborn area of ground elder. The metal actually split. So I needed another one. I also needed some loppers. And a new soil pH meter. I had suspected my old one was lying to me so I decided to test it in some vinegar. Neutral. Kaput. Off I went to the local DIY/garden centre, Pearsons, in Duns. Well, as I was there I might as well look at the plants: 3 gentians (blue) , 2 ajugas (blue) and 1 lithodora (blue): Total 9.70

We are getting into the season of the village plant fairs. These are listed in the local newspaper 'Whats On' section - I have them all ringed. It was Paxton last night. A friend and neighbour, Anne, had phoned earlier in the day to say she was going and I was welcome to go with them if Paul didn't want to go. So at around 7 pm Anne, her daughter Jenny and I set off for Paxton village hall. Luckily we arrived a few minutes early as there was already a queue to get in. The doors opened at 7.30 and we all rushed in. Along one side of the hall were trestle tables covered in home-made cakes and along the other side plants potted up from peoples gardens and trays of bedding plants that presumably had grown specifically for the fair. Within about 20 minutes almost all the plants had been sold. I don't know what Anne and Jenny bought, but I know they had filled the car boot. We repaired to the local pub before setting off for home.
1 tray x 12 lobelia (blue), 1 Japanese anemone (white) , 1 astrantia (white), 1 rosemary (blue), 1 bag variegated grass - possibly spartina: Total 3.00!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gardening Cold Turkey

I decided on Sunday that I needed a day off from the garden to allow my body to recover. I knew I ached when I stood up but it took me some time to discover the source of the discomfort. When I started on the garden it was my thighs and calves. When they stopped aching it was my back. Then it was my toes. These all seemed fine now. Thought it may have been my ankles, but further prodding and rubbing realised it was my heels...

To aid myself in an enforced day off I put on my 'posh' trousers - ones I would not want to get dirty from scrambling up and down the bank. As I sat on my bench in the glorious morning sunshine drinking my first cup of coffee of the day I was just itching to get up and dig out the dandelions I could see at the top of the bank. NO!

After lunch we went out to visit a local garden that was open under the Scottish Garden Scheme - Charterhall. On entry we were asked if we wanted to enter their quiz to identify 20 plants within the garden. This was a great idea as it gave you a map of the grounds and a route was marked out to follow to find the plants in question. I have to admit to only knowing about half of them but it was good fun. There was a pipe band on the main lawn, various side tents with things for kids to do and a small plant sale stall. I bought a geranium with small dark purple flowers - will find a shady spot somewhere on my bank for it.

The weather clouded over in the afternoon and it started to rain around 5 p.m. It kept raining all day yesterday so I had another enforced day off. Today looks dull, cloudy and calm which means the ground will still be too wet to really do much. I just hope it improves - it is frustrating being so close to the finishing line and being unable to get on with it...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Gardening - gloves are for wimps

As we didn't move into the house until 6 months after we bought it the garden had evolved. Although we had managed a weeks holiday and a few weekends up at the house I was barely scratching the surface in clearing the weeds.

The Long Bank
The bank is 75 paces long (about 60 metres) and I guess it averages 4 metres wide, and slopes down steeply to the grass verge and road. It is well stocked with a variety of shrubs and perennials. I remember with joy how beautiful it looked last summer when it was in full bloom.

It was daunting to see how wild it had become with the buttercups, nettles, grass and ground elder taking over in the months it had not been tended. On top of that all the autumn debris needs to be cleared.

Still, they say every journey starts with a single step. I had about 3 weeks when we first moved up when the weather was kind and I set about the task, starting from the bottom of the drive where the slope was more managable.

It was at this point I discovered the stones...and rocks...

I started to accumulate cairns on the verge. I struggled and fought to remove the rocks. I filled sack after sack with buttercups. I began to hate the sight of buttercups - my fingers were numb from groping their roots from the cold mud and tiny stones that they entwined themselves around. My finger nails were ripped off. My hands were filthy, scratched and stung - no matter how much I washed them my fingers still retained that dirt-encrusted look.

I resumed in March, setting myself the end of May as my target date. As the ground had dried out it has become easier to clear the ground. It is strangely satisfying digging out a big clump and shaking the hell out of it to separate the weeds from the soil.


I am measuring my progress by how many paces are still to be cleared. For every few feet cleared I have to spend another day or two re-weeding what has gone before, and if I am very lucky I may actually get to spend another day planting or sowing seeds in one of my new beds.

I am well on track - 9 paces to go... But I may become a wimp - the nettles and brambles have moved in.

Friday, May 12, 2006

My House

In March 2005 we spent a weeks holiday staying in a friends holiday cottage on the Northumberland coast near Alnwick. We wanted to look at properties around the area and the Scottish borders to get an idea of prices and locations for our long-term future. Our requirements were fairly straight forward. Paul wanted good communications links (within an hour of a major airport and reasonable road links) and broadband. I wanted quiet, detached and a reasonable sized garden.

We wandered into Alnwick (pronounced Annick for us Southerners) and got told snootily that we wouldn't get anything around there within our budget - 'Alnwick was voted the best place to live in the UK' (Country Life 2002). So we headed north to Berwick, armed with a property paper our friend had left in the cottage for us, to arrange to see about 4 or 5 maybes.

I fell in love with the third house we looked at ...

- or to be more truthful I fell in love with the location...

We hadn't intended to actually buy a house. We couldn't afford it. We couldn't not afford it. We put an offer in before we set off back down south and the rest is history.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

My Dogs

We have had Poncho and Jen for just over 3 months now, and it is hard to imagine life without them. They add a sort of structure to the day.

07.15 : Short walk
09.00: Dogs breakfast
10.00: Morning walk
12.45: Short walk
13.00: Dogs Lunch
16:00: Short walk
19:00: Evening walk
23.00: Short walk

Food is always greeted with great enthusiasm - Poncho doing twirls and jumps, Jen trotting along behind as the bowls are taken into the porch area. Jen always looks up before diving in - Poncho has no such manners. After finishing Jen always comes to find me to give me the appreciative burp, while Poncho just has to check both bowls at least 3 times just in case some more food has magically appeared.

Poncho's philosophy is: Hills are made to look over, corners are made to look around and the quicker you can do it the better. Anything that is not a greyhound or a person is a potential source of excitement.
Jen's philosophy is: Walking in one direction is for wimps. I may be a sight-hound, but I love to sniff too.

The early days
The first week or so was a sharp learning curve for all of us, and we are still learning. Poncho, and to a lesser extent Jen, suffered separation anxiety. I couldn't go anywhere during the day without being followed. Nights were nightmares. I was beginning to wonder what the hell I had done. On night 8, however, they settled and have not been a problem since.

Poncho, unlike Jen, had never lived in a house before we adopted him. Considering that, we have had very few 'accidents' and almost none since the first couple of weeks. It was important to get a structure to the day, and this has almost certainly been key in them settling down.

Jen was adept at getting up and down stairs, even though we discouraged her from doing so. Poncho, however, had never encountered stairs before in his life. Unfortunately by watching/following Jen he soon learned how to get up. Over the first week (normally in the early hours of the morning) we had to carry/lift/paw-by-paw train him how to get down again. We tried fitting a dog-gate across the stairs, but it was slightly too tall to fight tightly enough, and Poncho found that brute-force could knock it out. We found that just placing a clothes dryer around the bottom of the stairs is much more effective.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Happy Bunny

I won the Scottish Open Scrabble championship at the weekend. That in itself is not enough to ensure being picked for Scotland, but my ABSP (Association of British Scrabble Players) rating went up a couple of points, leaving me a few points clear of the next Scottish player. Just need to avoid any disasters in the second half of the year.

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