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


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Garden Report 2007 - 10

I have had a steady trickle of deliveries from J Parker which has been keeping me busy. There were two boxes waiting for me when I got back from Allan's last Thursday, but they had been addressed to the previous owner of our house. I phoned to check whether they were actually mine and it was confirmed that they were. One box contained my acers, but one looked decidedly dead. I phoned back up to complain, and a replacement one duly arrived yesterday. I am now only waiting for the hardy fuchsias and petunias, other than the bulbs which are not due till the autumn.

I have been quite organised in sorting out the plants as they arrive. All the 'plugs' have been potted on and are now in my mini greenhouse; the roses have been planted in the gaps in the rose bed; one bag of lilies were planted into the large pot I had ear-marked for them and the nerines likewise into two smaller pots.

On Friday afternoon Jean came round. After a coffee I showed her the garden. I think there was more to see than she had expected. I have a list of plants to pot up for her. Unfortunately a lot of the plants I have in abundance won't grow in her garden or if they would she already has them.

On Sunday Anne invited me over to bag up some of the soil from her wood. Paul had bought me a 'folding' wheelbarrow for my birthday. I went to load up the car with sacks, spade and wheelbarrow when I discovered that it needed to be assembled. I dragged Paul out of the house to put it together, and Poncho and Jen also came to help. Poncho kept lying on the box and instructions whilst Jen kept wandering around the back of the sheds in search of sticky willie to eat. After about half an hour I was ready to go. It didn't take long when I got there to discover this was a 'Margot Leadbetter' wheelbarrow - it was not coping at all well with the rough ground. Luckily Anne had a 'proper' wheelbarrow that was up to the job. We filled four sacks and ended up doing two trips back to the car and carrying mine back...

I finished 'building' the last two of three seed beds at the bottom of LB6 last week - I had dug them out last year but never got around to edging them. They had become overgrown again, but it was much easier to clear the weeds this time. I dug out some large stones from in front of the cowshed/barn to edge them. It was with great satisfaction that I placed the last rock...

My finger nails have seen better days. The latest task has been to de-stone the seed beds I never got around to last year. I am certainly getting good value from my garden sieve. The reward is to actually sow them - so far two beds with nemophila (baby blue eyes and maculata five spot), and the three beds at the bottom of LB6 with the seeds I collected last autumn - Californian poppies, nigella and Shirley poppies.

With the mix of sunshine and showers we have been having everything is shooting up now. Last year the trees didn't really come into leaf until May, but we cannot see Iona and Hedley's house on the other side of the river already.


I have several different varieties of berberis in the garden - although I have no idea what they are. As well as this one there are a couple of very large yellow flowered ones in the high bank that had lovely red berries last autumn.

This bee seemed very enamoured with the deutzia...

The dwarf rhododendrons I planted last year have survived the winter and are now flowering. This is one of the first plants I bought for the garden...

The pieris in the tub has now put on a beautiful display of bright pink foliage...

The viburnums and potentillas are starting to flower but I will wait until they are in their full glory. Also I have spotted buds on the brooms.


I have been dead-heading the daffodils I can easily reach. I still have some later varieties in flower, and the two clumps of pheasant's eye I am naturalising are still only in bud.

The hyacinths are still going strong and giving off a beautiful scent.

There are a few bluebells dotted around starting to flower.

The grape hyacinths are still looking good in LB6 - I am hoping they will spread.

But it is the tulips that are coming into their own now.


I have several different cranesbill geraniums flowering, and many more in bud. This one I bought in a plant sale from one of the gardens we visited last year...

This phlox has increased by an order of magnitude in size from when I bought it.

The lamiums at the top of LB6 have been putting on a magnificent display...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mumbai Motivation

I would like to thank anonymous for their suggestion that maybe I should quit scrabble whilst still at the top. It coincided with the breaking news that the World Scrabble Championship will take place in Mumbai in November. This, along with the weather taking a turn for the worse, has spurred me on to get back to some serious studying.

I have qualified to play as the 'highest rated UK player not automatically selected for one of the home countries' (although this has still to be officially confirmed), as I did not meet the residential requirements for either England or Scotland. I would have qualified for England if we hadn't relocated. I have been told I can choose who I want to represent as the country allocations for 2009 are under review. Maybe I should play under a Berwickshire flag :)

I downloaded the latest version of zyzzyva from just over a week ago, which has been updated with the Collins Scrabble Words lexicon. In the last few days I have been using the cardbox quiz option which appears to be an excellent way of tailoring my study, and I have become quite addicted again.

I have one more tourney planned before the UK switches from Chambers to Collins. Hopefully the new words will still be distinguishable...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Border Raiders

On Thursday Aldi had garden parasols and bases on their 'Special Buys'. I did a little research on the internet and decided they were very good value, especially the bases. It was a lovely day so I got my car roof down for the first time this year on the trip into Berwick.

When we got there they had already sold out of the bases, but we bought a parasol. I then had the bright idea of phoning Maureen to see if the branches near her still had the bases. We didn't have her phone number on us but Paul got it from one of the enquiry numbers. She very kindly said she would try, and managed to get the penultimate one from her branch for us. She will bring it down when she and Colin come to stay for this year's Jim Clark rally, which will be going past our house again this year.

Friday morning I spent removing an agapanthus that I had brought up with me from Sandhurst from its pot and dividing it up into four. I potted them up and gave one to Anne.

Maggie over at Preston had sent me an invite to her spring opening of 'Outside-In' - urns, pots and other garden accessories. I asked Anne if she would like to come along so it was arranged that I would pick her up on Friday afternoon. It was another lovely day so I put my roof down again - Anne said that it was her first time ever in an open top car!

We were a little disappointed when we got there - there were a few garden things but I think our expectations had been a lot higher. I did buy a garden ornament pottery squirrel which I will have to find a place for him to peek out from. We met Penny, who is a good friend of Anne's, and I had met for the first time at the Berwickshire Bridge Congress recently. We all came back to mine for coffee.

I had missed my garden over the weekend, and on Monday morning did my patrol to see what developments had occurred. Jean had invited us to come over some time to see her garden so we arranged to go over in the afternoon, and she had said to bring the dogs. I was somewhat nervous about this as she has two dogs of her own and we weren't sure how ours would behave.

As it was they were fine. It must be a territorial thing and they knew they were the guests. We all went for a walk together up to the top of a hill where we had an excellent view of the countryside for miles all around. Other than Poncho wanting to be in the lead and occasionally being over enthusiastic in his interest in the other two dogs he was very well behaved. Jen, after the initial sniffing, acted as if there were no other dogs around.

When we got back Jean showed us around her garden. It is the complete opposite of mine - dry, flat and alkaline. It was thriving with a great variety of shrubs, trees, perennials and vegetable patch. Many of the shrubs had been raised from cuttings and were now enormous. It gets a lot more sun than mine, and where we had plants in common hers were well ahead of mine in size and flowering.

Jean then got a spade and a large pot, and dug up pieces of a variety of plants for me - euphorbias, viola, Japanese anemones, phlox, polyganum, thyme, echinops (?) and a large clump of something I have forgotten the name of already but I divided into six decent sized plants when I got home. She also insisted on giving me a cutting of an unknown indoor plant - I am not good with house plants, the average lifespan of them normally being measured in weeks...

We stayed for a coffee and chat, and then headed back for home after a very pleasant afternoon. Poncho was even very good in the car on the way home - he lay down, which is almost unheard of, rather than standing staring out of the window. I spent the next hour or two potting up my goodies - it looks as if there are only a couple of casualties that may not pull through.

Jean is invited back to us for a reciprocal garden viewing/raid...

Paul also went raiding over the weekend on the garden budget. Spurred on after chatting to Anne he bought an electric lawn rake from Aldis. It lasted one day before it broke and was duly returned this morning and the garden budget has been re-credited. The only trouble is that he is now enamoured with the idea and is looking at more expensive ones. I am now suggesting the garden budget is split into two - lawn/verges (his responsibility) and borders...

Durham Open

It was the Durham Open scrabble tourney at the weekend. I was not feeling very prepared as I have spent most of the last few weeks gardening and the majority of the study I have been doing is of the new Collins words...

Game 1: Darryl Francis
Started well with three bonuses in this game. Was holding EEINRSU when Darryl very kindly provided me with a floating T. Picked AGINSVW from the bag - was not sure of WAVINGS, but it was fine. Darryl bonused back but I immediately responded with VEINIEST. Also played FALAJ for 62 and the icing on the cake.
W +167

Game 2: Mikki Nicholson
This started slowly, 102 each after 5 moves. I then played SPAWNER as a 4-x for 103 and thought life was good, but my racks deteriorated dramatically. Mikki started pegging me back and a late bonus from him put the nail in the coffin.
L -29

Game 3: Lewis Mackay
Lewis tried a phony tYPTOES on his second move against me which came off the board. With his tiles I decided my best response was to balance. He then played TEaPOYS but I slotted a bonus down the side of it to keep the lead. Another bonus from me three moves later and solid scoring meant I was never under pressure.
W +98

Game 4: Allan Simmons
We exchanged bonuses on move 3 and it was neck and neck. Allan bonused again on move 7 but I was still in touch until he bonused again on move 9. I was frustrated with BITMAPS/BAPTISM not being playable, and on my final rack of PALMIST I tried a phony hook to snatch victory but it was not to be.
L -101

Game 5: Steve Perry
Steve is a blocker so I decided to try to get the board as open as possible early on. This really paid off as the tile gods were good to me in this game. I bonused on move 3 and picked EORSSX? from the bag. I forwent the face value bonuses to play OX for 53, and picked AZ from the bag. I again spurned the bonus to play RAZES for 48, bonusing the following move with SCROTAl opening the bottom 9-x. I was on a roll and with a pick of ADGGRI? tried DARGlInG for 149 - unfortunately DARGLE does not appear to be a verb :(
W +116

Game 6: Ed Martin
Ed had won his first four games but Allan had stopped his run in the previous game. I replied on move 1 with a bonus. Ed bonused on move 3 and with AEHNSTU it looked as if I should have a bonus but could not find one - correctly dismissed UNEATHS and played of UH. On checking later there was none. I bonused again on move 4 to take a 90 point lead, following in with scores of 53, 38 and 21 before bonusing again. Ed took off the triple with sCOLD/DURUMS - I challenged DURUMS as I had been going to try it myself but was not sure of it. It was fine.
After a couple of minutes thought I spotted that my BODEGAS fitted with a 5 word overlap at the bottom of the board...
W +214

So end of day 1, 4-2 with a good spread and second place...

Game 7: Jackie McCleod
Jackie started with bonuses on moves 2 and 3 to my bonus on move 2. I was hanging in there until bonuses from her on moves 6 and 9. I made an opening of NY holding the last two Es and S, emptying the bag. Jackie could block it easily but decided to block with COPA/ANY. She looked stunned when I challenged COPA - it came off and I played out with MERCIES to reduce the spread.
L -31

Game 8: Ross McKenzie
This game was close all the way through. I was especially pleased to play a bonus from AIORRST onto an I, but Ross responded with TUN(N)ELeD to negate my score. I then went into vowelitis - EIIIOSU with four in the bag. I played off IO and picked AZ from the bag. Ross spent a while pondering and then played AHA. It could have been a lot worse if he had just played HA - his last tiles were EGLNT?
L - 21

Game 9: Amy Byrne
I started slowly, Amy bonusing on move 2. I took off on move 4 with a bonus, followed by 34 for ANODE under HUGE, and then FOID under ANODE for 43 followed by another bonus while Amy was clearly struggling and being forced to change on move 5 so when she bonused on move 6 I was still well ahead. I maintained a healthy lead for the rest of the game.
W +111

Game 10: Wayne Kelly
This was the most frustrating game. My opening rack of DDEHRT? looked full of high scoring promise but when Wayne started with KOW all I could play was DEHORTeD for 64. He bonused back immediately. On move 5 I had a choice of places to bonus and decided to keep the board open as it was so early in the game. This looked good when I picked AGENIZE from the bag - but Wayne blocked it. I then went through the rest of the game with Wayne always playing where I was going, and then his bonus fitting and mine not...
L -117

Game 11: Darryl Francis
The computer pairings decided that the last round was King of the Hill so I had Darryl again. Nothing really of note in this game other than I ended as I started.
W +63

6-5, still good spread and fifth place. Tournament rating of 180 and ABSP rating dropped another couple of points to 188.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Garden Report 2007 - 9

I finished clearing the nettles and moss from the high bank yesterday - until I noticed a couple of small patches I had missed. Ho hum...

The dog rose that was up there got the chop. I was fed up with getting scratched and snagged by it, and it was also harboring nettles and docks around its base. I cut it back to the ground, throwing the stems onto the path below, but the stump is still in there - the root was too strong for me to dig/pull out.

When I got back down to cut it up into a rubbish sack I realised I no longer had my secateurs. I must have left them up there, so back up I climbed. Absolutely no sign of them. I poked around with the fork I had left up there but to no avail. Now I understand why I have dug up a couple of old hand trowels up there...

I came back down and decided to end the day weeding the very small patch on the lawn side of the rose bed - there are some bulbs and a few self seeded plants in there amongst the weeds.

I got back out today after lunch. A note had been put through the door that I had missed a delivery - the package was in the shed. My first installment from J Parker had arrived...

The aquilegias, first sets of mixed perennials and lupins, dwarf rhododendrons, free gift azalea number one and free gift 10 white dwarf Asiatic lily bulbs number one were inside.

I set about potting on the aquilegias, perennials and lupins.

One of the lupins is not a lupin - I don't know what it is but it looks very similar to some weeds I have...but I have potted it on just in case it is actually a garden worthy plant...

The perennials consisted of a eucomis bulb, a liatris corm, a delphinium, a hollyhock root and six plug plants. I recognised two of the plugs without resorting to the list... Can you do better???

I planted up the lily bulbs in my large turquoise pot.

I then decided to have another attempt at finding my secateurs, and succeeded. They were buried at the edge of some marguerites that acted as a barrier to the soil rolling down the bank when I had been digging the day before.

After a short break I decided to plant up the willow 'Kilmarnock' I had bought in Morrisons a few weeks ago into another large pot. It needed to be soaked for an hour before replanting so I stood it in a bucket of water. This was a good opportunity to photograph the new entries in the 'what's in flower'...

I have two chaenomeles in flower, one near the pampas grass in the high bank and this one at the trellis near the sheds. Last year it was hidden by nettles...

I bought three pulsatillas last year from Homebase when they had been reduced to half price because they had finished flowering. The red and white ones are now in flower - still waiting for the mauve one...

I brought some Labrador violets up with me from Sandhurst. These self-seed prolifically which is okay by me, I think they are pretty.

The primroses and cowslips around and about have been flowering for a few weeks. My garden is now catching up...

The hyacinths have coloured up in the last couple of days.

The ipheions at the top of LB6 have started to flower.

And finally the kerria is now looking quite good - especially since I cut out the dead stems earlier in the week. I have thrown this photo in to see if Lillian spots/recognises the toad...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter Diary

Easter started well as far as gardening was concerned.

On Good Friday I was out pruning the shrubs in the long bank - mainly cutting out the dead stems and in a couple of cases getting them back into some sort of shape. This is probably not the correct time of year, but they were in dire need.

Saturday was lovely. I decided to have another easyish day, sorting out all my pots. They were still pretty higgledy-piggledy from when we first moved up here. I had asked Paul to help me bring out the remaining large/heavy ones that contained plants from the back of the cowshed a couple of weeks ago and they had just been placed wherever there was a gap in front of the lounge, along with the rest.

It looks as if my acer has survived its neglect - new buds/leaves are now visible.

I had brought a geranium up with me in a large pot (don't know what it is - small dark purple almost black flowers and needs deep shade). The geranium was thriving but the pot did not survive the winter. I completed the demolition job so that I could get the plant out, and then split it into four with a spade. I potted one back up, planted two in the shady raised bed on the far side of the rose bed and planted the last one up the top of the high bank. They all appear to be happy in their new homes.

I planted up two pots with gladioli - I still have 16 bulbs left over... Not bad for 99 pence assuming they grow.

The 'summer' pots have been moved down to the walls of the rose bed. The others have now been rearranged around the front of the lobby and lounge - this actually involved a lot of sitting drinking coffee, move a pot, back to chair/coffee, does it look right, move a pot etc.

On Sunday the wind got up again, and has been gusting at 20+ m.p.h. ever since. It is supposed to die down tomorrow. Other than sorting out my seed trays - throwing out the ones that are split and cleaning up the remainder - I have been forced to have a break. At least I have got some more work done on the new Collins words - re-creating my 6+1 and 7+1 stems spreadsheets which also gives me a revision run through at the same time.

This morning I decided to have an exciting trip into Duns. I had some chores to do - pay a cheque into the bank, go to the bottle bank, get a birthday card and pay my MOT garage bill. I do love the way that the garage hands over the car keys and posts the invoice a week later.

As is becoming quite a common occurrence my car battery was flat again - the best thing we have invested in is a portable power pack from Halfords. As it was a lovely sunny albeit windy morning I gave the car a bit of a run about before heading back to Duns. It really needs a long trip somewhere...

Pearsons had put a flyer through the door for a special offer on multi-purpose compost - I had run out so thought it was worth checking if they still had some. They did, and whilst there I just had to look at the plants. There are occasionally some small cheap plants if you search and today was no exception. I got the compost, three meconopsis (blue poppies) and an anemone blanda...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Tax Doesn't Have to be Taxing

I like this not working lark.

Paul, being Mr. Keen, has already been working on our tax returns for the last financial year. He was in his element, beavering away on his laptop surrounded by all the paperwork.

So the chancellor owes him money. Hurrah!

And then he started on mine. He had forgotten that having not worked at all last year that my personal allowance would not have been taken into account on my savings interest/tax. We still need my next current account bank statement to complete it, for the tuppence monthly interest I generally get from it.

So the chancellor owes me a lot more than him. Woohoo!

I don't know if Paul will need to revise his estimate as to when we will be in the poor house to take this extra 'income' into account :)

It is also time to start sorting out the next ISA investments to ensure we give Mr. Brown (or whoever) even less next year...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Garden Report 2007 - 8

I need to label the different sections of the long bank - it gets complicated saying what is where.
LB1: half way up the drive
LB2: to the end of the drive
LB3: to the end of the rose bed
LB4: to the end of the high bank
LB5: to the lobby
LB6: to the end of the house

I had a day off from the garden on Monday - I was still aching from Saturday. But - joy of joy - the dump at Duns had at last reopened after their refurbishment from one skip takes all to separate skips. I was surprised that it only took Paul two trips to get rid of all my sacks of green waste accumulated since about November last year...

On Tuesday I decided to make a start planting the bulbs I had bought from Aldi's last month. I have decided to make life slightly easier than I did for the spring bulbs and plant them much closer together - this means less digging. I also have a new system - one bag for weeds and one bag for stones. I started with the Dutch iris at LB6 (yellow/white/blue), planting about 30 in four patches between the saxifrages. I also got in one patch of acidanthera (white). The grape hyacynths, which I have planted in a similar fashion, are now beginning to flower.

We had a freak heat-wave yesterday - the temperature must have been well over 20C as the thermometer on the house wall read that at 6.30 p.m. when the sun eventually reached it.

I had remembered to soak my anemone de Caen bulbs overnight and the first task of the day was to plant them. I had decided on LB2 for these - five groups. That completed I commenced weeding and digging over the seed beds at the bottom of LB4/LB5. After a while I had to stop - I was feeling slightly faint headed when I stood back up. I still had my sweatshirt on over my shirt as I had been in shade when I started, and I was overheating. I decided to take it slightly easier and plant up some more of the Dutch irises. After much wandering up and down I identified/planted up three more patches in LB6. The remainder will go in after I have planted up the azaleas and any suitable perennials coming from J Parker around the aucuba stump.

Paul did his part with the first lawn mow of the year.

In the evening Ann and Neil from the lodge came round. Neil brought me a yellow clematis (tangutica) he had potted up. I am still deciding on whether to experiment using it as a scrambler down the bank rather than as a climber or saving it for the new back garden...

Today the weather was almost perfect - not as hot (maybe about 18C) and a cool breeze. The sky was a beautiful clear blue.

I decided to continue clearing the high bank in the morning before it became too hot. I had not been up there long when it looked like smoke coming from Margaret's. I thought I had better check nothing was amiss. When I got round there Margaret was emptying her car of bags of compost and more garden pots. There was no sign of smoke. Paul said he thought he had seen it too, but now we wonder if it was dust.

After a coffee at Margaret's I took my fork back up the high bank and cleared about half of what remained to be done, going back to my rule of stopping when I had filled one sack with rubbish. I tried to pull out a large bramble root, getting a good foot or more of it out of the ground before all my digging/tugging made no more headway. I will need to cut out as far as I got on my next trip up.

I then decided to chemical attack the hogweeds again. They were starting to go a little brown around the edges, but from my experience of last year it takes several sprayings to complete the job. My final task of the day was to plant the rest of the acidanthera at the top of LB5 - three groups.

Work completed I went out with my camera. As I was walking along the bottom Anne and Jenny drove along and stopped for a chat. I took the opportunity to ask if I could get some more of the clay-busting soil from the wood - no problem :)

High Bank
The heathers are looking spectacular at the moment. On the shrub front there is a large flowering currant that looks more like a tree, a forsythia and a mahonia (?) in flower.

There are several clumps of daffodils in flower dotted around.

Long Bank
Aubretias are flowering everywhere now. They are even trying to be climbers in places.

The double narcissi that Janet gave me last year are now in flower. They look as if they have been scrambled...

Several groups of scillas are now flowering. These ones look particularly vibrant next to the cerise aubretia...

One of the pierises that I bought from Morrisons last year is flowering, as is the one I inherited in one of the tubs. The other one I planted is looking rather sad - I may try moving it at some time.

I only noticed the corydalis breaking through the soil a couple of weeks ago, and today a couple of them are in flower.

And the hellebores are still flowering...

The daphne I brought up with me is just starting to flower. It smells divine. I also have a pulmonaria that hitched a ride in a pot of day lilies in flower.

Monday, April 02, 2007

You Can Get Cheaper Than a Kwik-Fit Fitter...

My car went into Aitken-Walker for its MOT on Wednesday. It passed, but it was noted that all four brake discs were pitted. This is probably due to lack of use of the car - I only did about 1750 miles since the last MOT. I used to do more than that in 2 months when I was working down south.

Anyway, Iain at the garage gave a quick guestimate of about £175 for the discs and brake pads. I had had the brake pads changed about 3 years ago at Kwik-Fit and thought they may be covered by the lifetime guarantee. Iain suggested that I check and get back to him, as he would need to order the parts in.

We were going into Berwick anyway on Thursday morning as I needed to pick up my Scottish Open scrabble trophy - I had at last got around to getting it engraved - and do a 'food shop'. So we called in at the Berwick branch. Unfortunately I hadn't taken the guarantee with me so they weren't sure. The man said they could possibly do me a good deal if they weren't covered if I was getting the discs replaced, and a figure of about 120 pounds was mentioned.

In the afternoon I went over to Anne's. We had made an appointment to dig up some foxgloves from her wood as long as it was not raining. The weather was cold and windy, but dry... Anne dug up quite a large patch for me - the soil there was lovely brown crumbly stuff unlike my grey clay - and she filled two sacks with plants and soil.

Allan came over on Friday morning in the continuation of our second best-of-25 match. I won the session 2-1, but am 8-5 down.

After Allan left I drove back to Kwik-Fit with the guarantee. It was a different man at the counter. Yes, they would be covered if I replaced the discs... So I asked for a quote on the discs - front discs 78.80 for 22mm or 45.70 for 20mm, rear discs 47.70. That sounded good - until I was told that was the price each, not per pair! I was completely confused now. Had the first man assumed the price was per pair? Was the second man screwing me over?

I went home and phoned Iain to get a proper quote in case I had misunderstood the guestimate - Iain confirmed that the discs were cheaper than Kwik-Fit - 61/45 front/rear per pair and about 50 for the pads. It goes back in on Thursday for a service and they won the brake discs business...

On Saturday after the morning dog walk I went up the high bank - over 6 hours of hard graft that I am really paying for now. On Sunday morning I was back up there planting up the foxgloves in three large patches. I also dug in the soil from Anne's - it is great at breaking up the clay. I could do with another dozen sacks worth...

In the afternoon it was the Berwickshire Bridge Congress, my one bridge outing of the year. Anne was very kindly coming over to take the dogs out for us. Unfortunately Paul and I failed dismally to retain our pairs trophy from last year, despite actually playing well. We came equal fifth with Reg and Jean in the evening teams event.

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