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


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Clicking Needles

I have rediscovered the joy of knitting.

And my wool mountain.

Having finished the jumper I started on a new project - leg warmers. I was quite pleased with my first effort. They have stretched more than I would like but are still fine over jeans and they do achieve their purpose. I will certainly have some more attempts until I get my perfect pattern.

Spurred on by the prolonged snow, ice and well below freezing temperatures here I decided the next must have accessory was a hat with ear flaps. I had first thought of Scandinavian-type ski hats. There are a surprising number of free knitting patterns on the web but you really need to know what you are looking for. In the end I found this site for South American chullos.

I used UK chunky wool and 5mm needles, which gave the correct 16 stitches/4 inches but only 20 rows/4 inches. However, this has still worked for the pattern and meant that it was very quick to knit!

The jumper wasn't bad either - my own design. Well, I made it up as I went along...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Life In The Snow Lane

I start with an apology to Naween. There were annotation errors in our game so my assumptions of his missed bonuses were based on misinformation.

Now back to life at Todheugh.

Like the rest of the UK it involves snow.

We took the opportunity to go shopping on Saturday. A raid on M&S with some of the vouchers Paul won at Peebles the weekend I finally got home, to get some of the sugar and spice and all things nice. Then on to Tesco's and Aldi to get some of the necessities, including a duck and a three bird roast in case we didn't get another opportunity before Christmas.

This looks prudent now. Six inches of snow descended on Sunday. We had already cleared the path twice during the day, but when the next three inches came down in the afternoon we had had enough.

I will say it is nice dry fluffy snow, not the wet yucky stuff we often get. Even with the temperature dropping into minus double figures it has not developed the crunchy icy topping. It was very weird last night on the late night dog walk - a fullish moon and a white landscape gave so much light that torches were only needed for definition and self-preservation - although there has been virtually no traffic along here lately other than the postman.

The bridge club Christmas party that was scheduled for tonight has been cancelled. Paul is running an online individual tournament for us instead.

We are on constant bird feeding duty, having to refill the feeders regularly. I have also been shaking some out onto the patio walls as I have been feeling very sorry for the blackbird's miserable attempts to get at the feeders.

I have resumed my knitting - a good winter pastime when confined to quarters. I had completed the back of the new jumper and made a start on the front about 3 years ago. It was time to finish it. It should be completed today, as I only have about half the neck to go and then sew it up. I made a decision to do non-matching sleeves - same pattern, different colours. This may or may not work :)

And I am still studying albeit slowly, continuing on with eights.

A start has been made on getting the sitting room in a state fit to receive visitors, although MIL and FIL are not coming until nearer the New Year, assuming they can get here at all.

The Christmas tree was removed from storage yesterday and is now located in the sunroom, but is still undecorated.

However, we will never get it to rival the beautiful snow-covered real ones across the road.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Causeway 2010 Report Number Four

I sat down to game 1 feeling fairly confident. My preparations had been better than ever before. I had revised well, not over-studying. I had got over any jetlag I may have had. I was feeling healthy - no sniffs or snuffles that I frequently pick up from the travel and air-con. And I had not spent the night before socialising in the bar.

So why did it go so horribly wrong???

I came out of day 1 shell-shocked. Only 2 wins. I have looked at the two annotated games. I didn't play that badly - indeed, I played a lot better than Naween. And I was unlucky to lose by 1 point to Howard in the last game of the day - a strategical decision to score that would have given me a narrow victory in the vast majority of cases rather than block one of the two bingo lanes...

Day two started a lot better but collapsed again in the afternoon but at least I had won more than I lost, 6-4 for the day. I was very pleased with PAR(V)OLIN(S) against Mohammed Sulaiman, a game where I got 5 bonuses.

Day three and I had all the top seeds to play. Target was to win half my games but I failed by one, only taking the scalps of Pakorn, Moses Peter and David Boys. I played a near perfect game against Nigel but to no avail.

Day four and I managed to scrape a majority for the day including a cracking game against Komol. This game was annotated but has not yet been posted on the website.

I needed to win all 6 on day five to maintain my rating. Well, I failed that at the first hurdle. And the second.

I should also have fallen flat on my face in game 3 of the day as well against Nsikak Etim. He started humming on my opening move so I asked him to refrain. On move 2 he played GIRNIES with the only playable bonuses through a D which I duly blocked. He then started to play SIGNIE(U)R until he realised it didn't fit and spent the next 5 minutes squirming. He was no longer humming. However, five moves later he had picked the first blank and pulled back some of his deficit. He got the second blank and mEATLOA(F) saw him take a 42 point lead leaving three in the bag. I held EFIRSTV and gave myself a chance with two Es and 2 Us unseen made an opening dumping the F, leaving a spot for a 7 with S in sixth. Nsikak played parallel to his bingo and I played out with REVUIST to win.

Game 4 against Chris May. This game was also annotated but has not been published yet, but I don't need to see it to know how poorly I played. As I sat down to play game 5 against Nathan Benedict I realised I had missed ODOMETr(Y). I probably missed a lot more too. Nathan did not take pity on me.

So on to the icing on the cake. David Boys said after this game that he guessed I was being slaughtered as he could hear me laughing, and it would have been very bad manners to do so if I had been winning. I had said to Adam as we sat down that this had been a tournament from hell for me and he said he hoped to continue the run, but I think even he was embarrassed by his 5 bonuses in the first 7 moves interspersed with two 40+ plays :)

My perception of the tournament was of how many games I was playing catch up from the very start, with my opponent bingoing on move 1 or 2 of the game (Chinedu, Marut, Joel, Naween, Edet, Dennis, Mohammed, David E, Brett, Pakorn, Moses, Brian, David W, Nigel, Theresa, Patrick, Bob, Ron, Jakkrit, Komol, Jason, Joanne, Chris, Nathan and Adam - 25 games out of 45). Naween and Brian both opened with a double, Komol with a hat-trick, Joel and Nathan with three out of four, Nigel two out of three and Adam - see above! I had four other games where my opponent played three-in-a-row bonuses against me (Marut, Panupol, Mikki and Robert Linn).

My blank count was 35/90.

So an extremely disappointing 19/45 and 38th place. Would I do it all again - of course, but maybe next time I will spend more time in the bar in the evenings!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Causeway 2010 Report Number Three

I will come back to the actual scrabble when I eventually get home...

So Michael sent us to the airport early to ensure that we weren't late if the Causeway was jammed. I shared a car with Evan, Anand and Trevor Halsall and we arrived about five hours before my flight was due to depart. Evan and I had a beer and then Evan departed to find his gate. I located the smoking area and then organised a free wifi login.

I hadn't appreciated that my flight to Dubai was via Colombo and that is why it was scheduled to take a couple of hours longer than that leg had taken coming. The plane was packed and with each leg now taking under 4 hours there was no way I was going to get any sleep. They also didn't let us off at Colombo to stretch our legs which was a little annoying. The plane was about half an hour late getting in to Dubai which meant I had no time to spare getting to my connecting onward flight to Glasgow.

I thought I had lucked out on the next flight, having a window seat and two free seats next to me. But at the last moment a man came to claim the aisle seat. Still, I was able to curl up on the two seats and get some sleep.

An announcement came over the PA system as we were nearing Glasgow that the airport was shut and may re-open at 12.30 so we would circle for an hour in hope. But at 12.30 we were informed that the airport was remaining shut so we would be landing at Prestwick.

So we duly touched down at Prestwick at 13.00 and started to prepare to disembark but were told to stay where we were. The pilot was contacting head office to get instructions. In the meantime the plane was to be refueled in the hope of flying us back to Glasgow as and when.

At 14.30 we were informed that Glasgow had reopened, the safety video was replayed and then nothing happened. While we had been waiting the snow had got worse at Prestwick so we could not take off. The runway was duly cleared and Glasgow re-shut...

So three hours sat on the ground at Prestwick and the air crew were out of hours!

Right, we were all now to disembark and they would try to bus us to Glasgow.

An hour+ waiting for all the baggage to appear and my bag was one of the last on the carousel. I was beginning to worry that it hadn't made the connection at Dubai. So I clear immigration and customs and find that no buses had arrived yet. I was given a £10 voucher to get something to eat when the buses started to arrive.

So we were told to put our luggage in a lorry and get on a bus. And then we sat on the bus for another hour before it eventually left. Another hour and we arrived at Glasgow airport but then had another 10-15 minute wait for the luggage to arrive.

I had phoned Colin and Maureen when the bus had got to the M8. I set off for the terminal and managed to slip over on the ice. Luckily not too much damage but my right ankle is a little swollen. I didn't see Maureen so headed back to the pick up point, head down trying to pick my way through the ice, snow and slush trying to avoid getting too wet in my sandals but failing dismally with my left foot. I almost walked straight past Colin until he called out. Maureen had seen me heading towards the car so was also making her way back there.

We arrived back in Dumbarton at about 20.45, only about 9 hours late. It had taken as long to get from Prestwick to Glasgow as it had taken from Dubai to Prestwick!

So I am still in Dumbarton but will hopefully get home tomorrow if the temperatures rise above freezing as promised...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Causeway 2010 Report Number Two

The Original Singapore Walks "Secrets of the Red Lantern" around Chinatown was very interesting. We were given quite a lot of useful information re which hotels to avoid (or not for some). Indeed we could even tell the locals a few things they didn't know the next day!

Talking of the next day I did not excel in the mini tournament, with Albert taking the honours and me in the middle (or maybe bottom of) the pack. The few racks that I noted that looked hopeful were actually useless so maybe I didn't actually play too badly and am saving up the blanks for next week. I can hope :) Even the move when I opened up a 9x and immediately got walloped still looks the right play to me. However, despite my dismal showing the day was enjoyable meeting up with old and making new friends. Cheah treated us all to dinner in the evening but I was not as adventurous as Diane and Albert.

I did not sleep well last night. Well, actually I slept well until 2.30 but got woken up by music outside. My earplugs were hurting and trying to reinsert them still could not stop the noise. At just before 4 am I decided to don my wrap-around skirt over my jimjams and go outside for a ciggie. I am almost on first name terms now with the Chinese cabbies that wait outside the hotel in the early hours! When I got back inside bliss - no more music. However, I still tossed and turned quite a lot and think I finally fell asleep after the call to prayers...

Today Albert and I planned on doing a harbour cruise. The hotel receptionist said we should prebook so we decided to do the afternoon one instead as we weren't sure if we would make it there in time in the morning. So we set off for Clarke Quay at 11 a.m. and had a wander around that area before going for lunch. I wasn't actually hungry but really just wanted a drink, an ice cream, a ciggie and a rest so told Albert to pick anywhere he wanted as long as I could get an ice cream. So eating place picked, menus given, drinks ordered but no - ice cream finished for the day! I suggested rescinding our drink order and going elsewhere but was told I could buy an ice cream at the 7-11 and eat it there. Probably saved a fortune.

We weren't entirely sure where the South Marina pier was that we were supposed to get the boat. The people at the restaurant didn't know either. The map on the brochure wasn't very helpful other than giving us a vague idea. So we set off. And it looked as if it was about to bucket down any moment so we decided to head for the Marina Bay MRT bus stop were there was a pickup point. We got there with 10 minutes to spare and waited a further 15 after the supposed pick up time. Then as we could see a road sign for the south marina we decided to walk. And walk. And walk. Through the construction site that is happening there. Eventually a sign for the pier and we arrived just as the boat was pulling away. Luckily we hadn't paid up front and if they phone to try to get the 'cancellation' fee they may have a long wait.

So I now have a big blister under my left heel and a small one on my right heel. Albert wandered about the harbour while I investigated the buses (or actually bus) back out of the middle of nowhere. I then got the MRT back to Little India while Albert, whose earlier blister has healed, decided to keep walking.

I am feeling a little better now after a nice long shower and am going to have a quiet rest of the day and prepare for the next adventure of the number 170 bus to JB tomorrow.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Causeway 2010 Report Number One

For a change I made it to Colin and Maureen's on Tuesday with no mishaps - no overheating car and not a flash flood in sight.

It turned out that Robert (son of the above) was also going to the airport the following day. And then it turned out he was on the same flights as me, but he was continuing on to Brisbane. I had already checked in on line before I left home so we were not sitting together - which turned out well for us both on the first leg of the journey to Dubai as we both had two empty seats next to us so could stretch out for the journey. I think I must have relaxed too much as I discovered on the second leg that I had left my headphones somewhere. I was, however, more concerned that my power cable for this laptop did not seem to be working - neither on the plane nor in the airport. The flight on to Singapore was as bad as the first leg was good for us both. I had a snorer in the aisle seat and a deaf man next to me - at least he could sleep through having his head phones on loud but unfortunately I couldn't.

I had investigated on-line getting to my hotel on the MRT and once I found out that I needed to get the skytrain to terminal 2 all went smoothly. EZLink card purchased and off I went. For once my errant sense of direction behaved itself on exiting Little India station and I was heading in the right direction towards the hotel. Which was just as well as the first spots of rain were starting to fall. By the time I turned into Perak Road the thunderstorm was in full flow but the walk had been mainly under cover.

I am very happy with the hotel - all of my research appears to have paid off. Room smallish, but big enough for me. It is clean and has a very effective aircon unit. And when I plugged my power cable in the blue light came on - I almost kissed the man showing me the room :)

I cannot get wifi in my room but the connection is fine in the lobby area and there is free coffee on tap. And the connection seems to work outside in the smoking area too. And I have been lent a network cable for using in my room.

So I pottered about for a few hours last night - bought some water, read my email, skyped Paul, read my book and then went to bed at 9 p.m. as I could hardly keep my eyes open.

And slept really well.

And when I woke feeling quite alive again I made myself a coffee and switched the laptop on. Hmm, something not quite right here. I had been squinting at my watch trying to determine if it was 7.50 or 8.50. And then the penny dropped - it was upside down and it was 2.20!

Well, as I was up I decided to wander out for a ciggie before going back to bed. I awoke the night watchman as I walked past. There were 3 Chinese men outside chatting and eating as I sat at another table. Luckily for me as I found I couldn't get back in - they told me to knock on the window to wake him back up to let me in :)

I slept fitfully after that but managed to avoid getting up until jut after 9.

I was just about to head out for breakfast when my phone rang - Albert Hahn did indeed manage to also get a room here and had got in last night. We chatted over breakfast and are planning to meet up this evening to do the guided walk around Chinatown.

I have spent a few hours today exploring Little India. I realised that I had forgotten to pack my fish oil capsules but there were no lack of health stores in the Mustafa centre!

After returning to the hotel for a quick shower I ventured out again to restock my water supply and eventually found a supermarket as I wanted to buy some fruit for the room. So now I have bananas, mangos, dragon fruit and a few things to try along with a packet of digestive biscuits to tide me over...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Countdown to Singapore Continued

The onions have been pickled.

The fruit tree bed to be has now been completely covered in cow muck.

The veggie patch is going to have to wait until next year.

The word revision is ongoing. 16000 down, 4000 and one week to go. Seem to be getting through between 1000 and 1500 a day along with the cardbox, but some days are easier than others. A good choice to do the 8s - am quite rusty on the 10-20k range, down at around the 90% mark. But look on the bright side, if I got them all it would have been a waste of my time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Countdown to Singapore

With under two weeks before I leave I am on track with my revision. As long as I don't get distracted with too many other things. The garden is winding up - all potatoes out and just need one more session of muck spreading to get the bed ready for next year's apple trees...

After the mammoth spreadsheet of base words 2-6 I then did the same with the top 10000 sevens. Reduced the list by approximately 50%.

And now I am back to 8s. Hoping to get through the top 20000 before I depart for Singapore. I am over half way there. After whizzing through the top 5000 I am now doing batches of 500 from the starting points of 5001, 10001 and 15001 in rotation just to even the load.

The cardbox is coming back in to play with those I miss.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Mikki Magic

Mikki made a promise last year at Causeway.

"If I get to the NSC final I will go dressed as Barbie".

This I think was to make the point on how much money is invested in the doll over scrabble.

Oh what joy that he lived up to his promise. And even better that he won as I don't think there would have been the same impact had he lost.

Despite the media frenzy (at least in the context of scrabble) none that I have seen have made the link...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Have Spreadsheet Will Study

I have been deep in my latest study whim. Aided lately by two things. Firstly, I have picked up a cold (I am blaming Penny for dropping by last week to pass on her bugs). Secondly, my old mouse started to go senile on me and rather than sending off for an identical replacement I decided to save some money and try a different make/model. My old Logitech model was a thumb operated rollerball, and the new Kensington one has the rollerball in the middle. It is absolutely fine for normal use but I am still not mastering it for Bejewelled Blitz - left clicking with thumb does not come naturally after years of doing it differently and I have noticed I have an occasional thumb twitch...

But back to my studying...

I started creating a spreadsheet on the 19th September which was originally just the high scorers (J,Q,X,Z) listing all the base words, up to and including 6 letters, with each of those letters grouped by their position within the words. Another column alongside each column of words to indicate what kind of word it was. Then red text the blockers. And then pink text the non-blockers, no S back hook. And then blue cell fill the verbs that have agent nouns. Then reviewed the word designation columns and standardised on one or two character abbreviations:

n noun
v verb
a comparable adjective
a- non-comparable adjective
av adverb
pl plural
va verb and comparable adjective
na noun and comparable adjective
pp past tense/participle
v* verb that does not behave
n* noun that does not behave
pr pronoun
i interjective
c conjunction
anything else...

and then standardise the column width and cell colour it to make the words clearer...

And then I decided to do K, but only words starting with K and excluding the high scorers...

And then I continued on to the 4 pointers...

And I just kept going, finally finishing with S yesterday afternoon.

73 pages, although quite a lot of white space as I started a new sheet for each letter and quite a few just went a column or two onto a new page. Just need to print it out now.

I have now started on the 7 letter words in decreasing probability order. It will be interesting to see what the list reduces to...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Five Years

It is our fifth anniversary of moving up here.
I can hardly believe it.
They say time goes faster the older you get and it must be true.

Thanks to David Bowie:

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Autumn Harvests

So a week has gone by since I took Paul to the airport.

I would like to say we (the dogs and I) have settled into a routine. But between my bridge exploits and Paul's it hasn't quite worked out yet. Unfortunately for Paul his team has now been knocked out of the Rosenblum Cup in Philadelphia but it was exciting while it lasted, and I may get to bed at a reasonable time from now on.

I have managed a sort of morning routine. Let the dogs out the back (luckily it hasn't been raining), coffee, dog walk and then caterpillar control. I think I have got them almost under control now - only 30ish the last couple of days.

With autumn in full swing I am now sorting out the back garden.

Two more rows of potatoes dug up and a sack filled.

Herb patch weeded. A few self-seeded extras found - a lot of baby thymes, chives and even a cabbage has found its way in there!

Major runner bean picking sessions - 3 pounds given to Margaret and slightly more to Penny. Potentially still quite a lot to come but may be a race against time for them before the weather gets worse.

The purple beans are finally coming to an end - another couple of bags in the freezer. Soon be time to pull them out.

The later sown peas although producing a few pods are not producing peas so their time has also come and gone.

The lettuces that had gone to seed have been pulled out.

Pickling onions dug up this morning and laid out on the chicken wire covering the f-t-b-t-b in an optimistic hope of them drying/ripening. I think I probably should have done this last week...

I have at last had to admit defeat on the tomatoes.

Not only are they not ripening but I noticed a few were rotting and maybe the first signs of blight. So I have now picked all that looked okay - five and three quarter pounds of green tomatoes. I need to get the plants out, hopefully tomorrow in one of the promised sunny spells.

I have put a lot of them on a tray on one of the window sills in the sunroom in the hope that they may ripen indoors. The rest were earmarked for green tomato chutney.

Recipe selected.

Ingredients gathered and weighed.

Onions chopped and set simmering in vinegar.

Tomatoes chopped.

Apples chopped.

Spice bag made - chilies, mustard seeds, cardamom seeds and black peppercorns.

All thrown in with a crushed clove of garlic.

Stirred until sugar dissolved and then brought to a simmer.

And simmered. And stirred. And simmered. And stirred.

About an hour and a half.

I find it very hard to know when chutney is ready - no simple test unlike jam.

Anyway I decided that was long enough and the jars were filled.

And I can always try again with the rest of the tomatoes if they stubbornly stay green...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The A Team

Not that A Team but Berwick Bridge club A Team pulled off a shock victory against Linlithgow last night.

I cannot envisage Brian and George as all-action heroes but last night they did a stalwart job at the bridge table. Steady performances by the rest of the team gave us the full 3-0 result.

I was playing with Reg at table 4. This was only our second time of playing together other than a couple of practice sessions and a few bidding practice sessions on BBO. This was very brave of Reg, having to learn my system. Not only that but Paul had also amended it over the summer to include transfers, Michael's cue bids and Unusual No Trump so I think we were both a little wary of getting things wrong. As it was little new came up, only one Michael's cue bid from Reg which I remembered to alert.

The next match is in just over a month's time when Jean will be replacing me as Reg's regular partner.

A good start to the season but still a long way to go.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Who's Been Eating My ???

Another year older. And a few days off from dieting.

A box of chocolates from Paul...

Penny brought round a large lemon sponge cake filled with redcurrants and cream to supplement the chocolate brownies from the day before...

And I had made a large bramble and apple crumble...

When Penny told us that the cake should be eaten by the following day we took the uneaten half with us when we called in on her after running some errands in Duns. It was very nice and although I could have I didn't think I should eat the rest of it on my own :)

I have at last sorted out stuff that needed to be done.

After many wasted days on the internet I finally decided on and booked a hotel in Singapore for a few nights before I up sticks to JB for the Causeway challenge. This was a quite difficult task as hotels seem to be either ridiculously expensive or very cheap and basic. Finding something in the middle that meets requirements (free wifi, larger than a shoe box, decent location) proved a challenge. I hope I have succeeded...

And I sorted out this year's ISA. I have given up hoping for the interest rates to improve but the Halifax/BoS one is an okay rate and I have set in motion transferring all my other crap ones into it.

So back on to the internet to sort out my other finances. I had noticed last week that one of my old fixed rate bonds had expired and without alerting me to the fact was now giving a measly 0.25%. I closed it immediately and now was trying to transfer the money from the bank to another savings account. But, for my security and provided for me as a free service I was repeatedly informed, the extra layer of security basically never even got as far as asking me for my password! After several attempts I resorted to the phone help number provided. I was told the problem was their end - a block was in place. After answering a load of security questions I was able to complete the transaction...

Paul is now in the States for a couple of weeks to play bridge. Actually just over two weeks... Actually nearer two and a half weeks when I looked on the calendar... I am feeling less guilty about my extra day in Singapore now as I will only be away for 12 days...

He was catching a flight at 9.30 on Saturday so alarm was set for 5.30 on Friday night. And as a result I don't think either of us slept a wink. I actually got up at 4 a.m. and tried to nap on the sofa but this was also a complete failure.

When I got back from the airport at about 8.30 I let the dogs out the back and did my veggie patch inspection. Disaster...

Half of my curly kale was reduced to lace. Caterpillars all over it. This couldn't wait - I fetched the plastic cup and started picking them off. A good quarter of an inch in the bottom of it by the time I had finished.

The most common by far was a plain green caterpillar which was extremely well camouflaged, almost exactly the same colour as the plants. Investigation shows there are two varieties of cabbage white butterflies, and this is probably the Small Cabbage White. I also had a smaller number of Large Cabbage White, but these were easier to spot - yellow and black. And a few others - possibly same species at different stages???

Back out at lunch time - I couldn't believe how many I had missed. Another quarter of an inch. And again in the afternoon. By this time I had sussed it out - I uncurled the remaining curly leaves and found caterpillar nurseries. I counted as I picked them off or squashed the smaller ones. Another 200 removed - maybe less than the first couple of sessions as the cup did not look as full.

I checked this morning after the dog walk as I was still in my chic wet weather dog walking outfit - Barbour and woolly hat. I think I may have succeeded in my mission and at least rescued the remaining healthy plants from a similar fate.

It is not just caterpillars that have had a free meal from my veggie patch.

I have had about a pound and a quarter of ripe tomatoes from my two plants but was hopeful of another few. Unfortunately something beat me to them.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A-brambling I Will Go

I have been keeping an eye on the brambles in the locality. They have been very late ripening this year. Last week it looked as if it would be worth going picking but the weather and other things had got in the way.

One of those other things was digging up all my second early potatoes. The foliage had started to die back all of a sudden, and when I got back from Leeds was looking decidedly brown and withered.

The potatoes did not seem to be affected. I kept filling the carrier bags while Paul was on rubbish bag emptying duty and was in charge of weighing (he brought the bathroom scales downstairs!) and transferring potatoes into the hessian sacks I had bought earlier this year. Seventy three pound dug up (at least as I think they under weigh), making a total of over eighty six pounds...

The King Edward main crop potatoes foliage has also died right back. I may dig up a plant just to check that the potatoes themselves are okay. If any signs of problems I guess I will have to clear them all out too. I should have ordered more sacks...

I also had another afternoon of runner bean processing. Seven pounds picked resulting in another four pounds blanched and in the freezer - those that were too big for the slicing gadget were put aside. Also another pound and a quarter of dwarf purple beans processed. At this rate I think we will be completely self-sufficient in vegetables. The cabbages are now coming in to play...

But this morning I took a window of opportunity when the sun briefly broke through to at last go brambling on the hill the other side of the bridge. I think I have missed the optimum harvest time - like a lot of things this year they are not hanging about and many just squidged in my fingers. However, I did pick just over a pound including wild life and hopefully will get some more later this afternoon from the verge up the hill from Margaret's.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Izzy Wizzy

It has been a very busy week. And that without any gardening being done...

Last weekend was the NSC semis. The Scottish gang (Allan, Simon, Stu and myself) travelled down to Leeds together. Philips never turned up - nobody knew that he wasn't going...

I started well, winning the first four games and then crashed and burned for the rest of day 1. However, I thought 11 wins should still be enough to get to the final. I was right, but unfortunately it wasn't me but Mark Nyman who swept the board on day 2. We actually played each other in game 9, but the tile gods were definitely smiling on Mark in that game. I ended up 8-6, some damage to my rating but not too much. That is it for the domestic scene for me this year. Next stop JB at the start of December for the Causeway Challenge where I will be playing for the UK team.

The dogs had been put into kennels as Paul was also away that weekend playing bridge in Solihull. I retrieved them on Monday morning much to their delight. I am not sure how much Jen ate whilst away as I had never see her eat her dinner so fast. I then had to retrieve Paul from Berwick station in the afternoon.

On Tuesday evening it was the East District team secretaries meeting to arrange the fixtures for the coming bridge season. I met up with Reg and he drove us on an hour early as there was another meeting he was attending prior to mine. All I can say is that I was not prepared for the chaos. However, all the matches are now in the diary subject to cancellations/rearrangements with only one minor disaster which has now been resolved.

Wednesday and I started working on which of my team members I want to play for which matches. I just needed a couple of confirmations of availability/willingness to play (which I got last night). I now have provisional team line-ups for all the matches, hopefully keeping everyone as happy as possible with the number of 'caps' they will get - both where they want to play almost every match and where they only want to play a couple. Time will tell :)

Wednesday was also the first of the major veggie picking sessions. Given almost a week left to its own purposes with rain and sunshine the veggie patch had gone mad. Luckily I had thought ahead and stocked up on freezer bags and sent away for a blanching basket when Youngman's did not stock such an item.

So, three and a quarter pounds of dwarf purple beans picked. Some donated to Penny and the rest were washed, topped, tailed, chopped, blanched, bagged and put in the freezer.

Reg had given me a bag full of plums, apples and cooking apples on Tuesday evening. So yesterday was baking day. A quick search on the web and I decided on an apple pie (I had a couple of blocks of pastry in the freezer) and a plum cobbler. I had just over two and a half pounds of plums and that seemed perfect for Delia's recipe. I got Paul to help with removing the stones. With the left over pastry from the apple pie I made marmite rolls, which I ate hot from the oven.

In the evening I played bridge with Reg at the club . Our first ever partnership but I will be playing with him in a couple of the league fixtures so we need to get some practice in. No disasters, but none of the system changes that Paul has made for me over the summer (transfers, Michaels, unusual NT) came up. I was pleased to remember that Reg's overcall of 2C over a 1NT opener was for the majors and respond correctly. It must have exhausted me as I slept in this morning until 11.40!!!

This afternoon was the first session of runner bean processing. I had also sent away for a runner bean slicer on the recommendation of both Jean and Penny. I picked four pounds from just one of my wigwams - must have at least as many again ready on wigwam number 2 and still loads more coming. Paul was in charge of the bean slicing and me on the blanching/bagging. Two (prepared) pounds now in the freezer, some put aside for us/Margaret - those that were too fat for the gadget.

Bridge again tonight in the Borders v Edinburgh match. I am playing with Paul...

Monday, September 06, 2010

Blowing In The Wind

Today was the last day for the foreseeable future when it was not going to rain. Instead we had 30 mph winds. Luckily from the south east so I was somewhat protected from them working on the long bank extension. I was determined to finish the next section up to the top, having come in at around 7 p.m. last night with not much left to go.

After half an hour I was ready to get the last rock in place. I thought I may be able to shift it myself but soon realised I wasn't. I had excavated its hole and went and got Paul to help. Once in place I had a foothold to finish digging out the area above it. An hour later and time to have a celebratory cup of coffee and ciggie. 33.75 hours from start to finish, and I am guessing that was about a third of what I have left to do.

I treated myself for the rest of the afternoon...

The new section now has been christened with three heathers - another nine being planted in other sections of the LBE, six hostas and two gentians. This was not a simple task as the wind kept blowing the pots over while I was digging the planting holes, and then I was having to try to hang on to the pots when I had removed the plants. One pot did escape and was last seen racing towards the bridge.

Another gentian and sedum planted in the bed in front of the wall. Then I tackled splitting the liriope that has been living in a pot since we moved up from Sandhurst. Once I managed to get it out of its pot (having to firstly remove the snail population attached to the rim) a lot of effort was spent jumping up and down on a spade to split it in half. I then split one half into four, three planted and one put aside for Reg. The other half was replanted back into the pot. Then down to the bed at the top of the drive where, again with a lot of effort, I managed to dig out the day lily. This again was split into four, one replanted in its original site and the other three in the new section. Finally I managed to dig out a piece of the euphorbia Jean had given me - a decent bit of root and three good buds on it. On a roll I decided to also split a good clump of alliums into three smaller clumps. My last job was to prune my Kilmarnock willow - although much admired in May by our visitors due to its vigour this was now getting out of hand...

Whilst moving plants from one end of the garden to the other I noticed this Red Admiral butterfly posing on the high bank wall.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Rise of the Mutant Carrots

I think I will rethink any future investment in carrot seeds. They are so cheap to buy in the shops I will not make a profit with them. On the other hand it is nice to just go in to the garden and pull a few up - been good for my diet as an alternative to a biscuit when I have felt peckish.

Today's pick gave me these three beauties.

Number one looks more like a molar extraction than a carrot extraction...
Number two is some sort of weird bacterium...
And I leave it up to your imagination for number three...

All the 8s

Well I did it...

I deleted the whole damned caboodle from the cardbox.

It was a chore, having too much in it and not necessarily words I wanted to revise, and as such I had stopped using it.

And I have started a new one.

You may have thought I had given up studying what with all the gardening. It is true that I am doing nowhere near as much at the moment, but I am still trying to do some every day. I am currently, and have been for a while now, concentrating on 8s. These are definitely my weak area...

I am attacking them from more than one direction.

I should have finished revising the top 10000 by the BMSC this coming weekend, and now I am just adding those I miss into the cardbox. I will keep working my way through over time.

Alongside that I am slowly going through the higher probability 8s. I started at 23k, as that was as far as I had got when I was card boxing. With these I do a quick test, breaking them up into chunks of 250 words. Those I miss or get but wouldn't bet my life on in a game get saved to a file in groups of 1000, e.g. 8missed-23k-24k. I then retest myself on those files several times. After several passes then those missed also get added to the cardbox.

It is actually quite fun doing this - learning some new words as opposed to constant revision. I am currently going through 28001-29000.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

LB8 - The Start

Wanting to plant my new saxifrage Silver Velvet in the LBE bed under the wall meant that I had the motivation I needed to finish that bed off. As it was it only took a couple of hours yesterday as Penny had done most of the leg work for me earlier in the year, removing the stones and forking it over. I really only needed to weed it, dig it over with my hand trowel and then define the edge and line it with some of my many stones. It still needed more topsoil added to it to really finish it off, but not as much as the rest did - for a start we did not find any piles of bricks buried there unlike the part along LB9. It was duly christened with the planting of the saxifrage and the erodium to keep it company.

So on to LB8 proper.

I decided to start at the bottom. First task, as always, was to remove the surface stones. A bucket load and I was ready to start digging out the clay that is solid a couple of inches below the surface at the bottom. I was progressing well but two hours in and the weather changed so I called it a day. Back out this afternoon, with Penny helping for a while. A couple of metres completed and I have now started working my way up, joining up with LB9. A few bucket loads of soil have been relocated to the top, another couple should be enough to finish that off. Paul came out to get the two large rocks in place, the one under the bucket being the monolith we had dug out of the f-t-b-t-b last year and the dark grey one was amongst our freecycle top soil. I am almost ready for another where the trowel is, but I decided to stop when I noticed the midges coming - not sure if I have escaped unharmed but I already have so many bites I don't want to risk more...

It is hard to judge how much I have still to go, but I guess I have done somewhere between 10 and 15%. I have already exceeded my original target for the LBE this year so my new target is to complete up to the top from what I have done today, and maybe the clay removal and cobble stone edging all the way along. I will need to apply more weed killer as I have spotted some more ground elder coming through on the remaining weed patch.

On other gardening matters I reached profit on the veggie patch last week, mainly thanks to the free potatoes and rhubarb. I harvested my first cabbage today - four veggies (cabbage, runner beans, purple dwarf beans and peas) with Sunday lunch today not to mention the first dug King Edward potatoes.

I have now ordered an apple tree collection from Adam's Apples. Ten apple trees to grow as vertical cordons with a mix of cookers, eaters and dual purpose that are suitable for growing here. I specified a couple of varieties that I wanted but am leaving the rest up to the expert. The man was very helpful when I phoned and they are extremely competitively priced. He asked why I was wanting to grow them as vertical cordons and I explained that the bed I am planting has a low wall with a metre of railing on top and I am planning to use the railings as their stakes. He has suggested starting them as vertical cordons and then train them horizontally along the top of the railings. I suppose I could even try planting them as oblique cordons, still using the railings to train them. They start delivering in January, but will wait for me to say when I am ready for them which has taken a worry from me - if we have another winter like this year I could not plant before March. I now have to decide on what other fruit trees I want...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More Plant Retail Therapy

I had said to Allan that I may go over to watch some of his BEST match against Ed Rossiter today, so Allan had said to come for lunch.

So I made plans to visit Edrom nursery in the afternoon, having spent the evening before going through their website and making a wish list. I had specific requirements. Plants must either provide ground cover (although not be invasive) to fill in gaps in LB 11 and 10, or be capable of filling the little nooks and crannies. Pluses awarded for plants that will be easily propagated, either by division or will layer root. And they had to be in my colour range of white/pink/purple/blue...

As it was I arrived at Allan's about 11.15 a.m. just in time to see the last four moves of the match, Allan winning 8-2. While Allan took Ed to the railway station I spent a pleasant half an hour wandering around his garden, and then we had lunch when Allan got back.

Then off to the real business of the day. I got several of the plants on my list, and a couple of impulse buys, but there were three plants that I had earmarked as really wanting that I could not see. The lady in the payment hut took my list with the three ringed plants over the road to see whether they had them in stock. She came back five minutes later with three pots newly labelled up for me.

So my latest Edrom nursery plants:

Phlox Nettleton variation
Rhodohypoxis baurii Confecta (impulse buy, but looks as if I can get several plants from the pot)
Saxifraga Silver Velvet (impulse buy - a large variety with the most amazing purple and silver foliage)
Saxifraga farreri
Saxifraga paniculata Lutea
Sempervivum Rosie

I had also wanted some gentians that I couldn't find but decided I would drop in at Lamberton on my way home as they are one of their specialities. Not only did I succeed with the gentians but also managed to find a few others that met my criteria:

Campanula cochlearifolia 'Alba'
Erodium 'Cezembre'
Gentian Bernardii
Gentian septemfida lagodechiana
Sedum spathifolium 'Cape Blanco'

Monday, August 16, 2010

LBE Marches On

A couple of good afternoon's work have been done in the LBE.

Saturday saw the violas and hibiscuses make it into LB9.

I followed that up with weeding (yet again) the bottom foot or so of LB10, 11 and 12. LB10 has now also been planted up with alternating patches of the black and then pink ajugas, sourced from LB12 where they are now 2 years+old. These themselves were sourced from two plants that I actually bought and planted in LB1 the first summer we moved up here and are still going strong. They are garden thugs but are doing a fine job of edging the LBE, with very few other than the fiercely determined weeds now getting through in LB12. Not bad for an initial outlay of three quid!

I found this growing amongst the weeds in LB10. Not sure what it is but it doesn't look like a weed so I have transplanted and will await its development with interest.

The primroses that I transplanted in the spring seem to like their new environs and are now large enough that I am contemplating dividing them again. One is even flowering! I did divide one of the primulas that I bought from Edrom nursery earlier this year into three healthy looking plants.

I have also been experimenting with the sedum/saxifrage/antennaria that I bought in the spring. When I first got them I pulled of a rosette from each and just popped then into the ground. Similarly with an old house leek that I had brought up in a pot from Sandhurst. They all seem to have taken - indeed the house leek rosette is now a good two inches across.

The sedum now has three rosettes. So spurred on I have pulled off a few more and popped them into the dirt path, hoping they will spread and keep the weeds down. I just have to be careful to avoid stomping on them.

All the parents are doing well and if I am successful will hopefully provide me with a lot more plants - if not they should be big enough for me to divide next spring anyway.

Yesterday I got out there again after lunch - the sun came out after an unpromising morning.

More weeding of the middle section of LB9 and 10, and I then planted the salvia and the penstemons.

One of the penstemons had a stem snapped off as I got it out of the packaging, so I decided to take some cuttings from it. Now I have never done this before so I was not too hopeful. But I could see four reasonable shoots so I cut them off below a leaf joint at a length of somewhere between two and three inches, removed the lower leaves and popped them into a pot filled with a mix of compost and grit. Then I gave them a good watering and they flopped over looking very sad. I placed the pot in my little propagator on the utility room windowsill. This morning when I checked on them they were all looking quite perky. Having looked in one of my gardening books it appears I have done almost text book stem tip cuttings without knowing it - the example they showed was even a penstemon. Hopefully they should root in two to three weeks time, and then I need to pot them on and plant out next spring. This could open a whole new source of plants to me if it works :)

I then moved on to the trellis bed to divide the iris that Anne gave me a couple of years back. Armed with a fork and spade I eventually managed to remove a good sized clump of it which has yielded ten new plants. Back to the LB9 and they are now in. Penny arrived whilst I was replanting them. It still looks pretty bare in places but give it a year or two to see where I do need more planting. The narrow bed along the bottom of the wall, however, is filling in very nicely.

I had been planning on making a start on the bottom of LB8 but it was actually too hot to do anything too strenuous. So after taking the dogs out and having a coffee we relocated to LB1 to finish weeding there - discovery of a wasp nest had scuppered us the last time but a copious dusting of ant/wasp powder at the dead of night a while back seemed to do the trick.

And finally the joys of gardening

coming across this self-sown cyclamen flowering away - parent in pot long since disappeared. It obviously likes it more there than where I have unsuccessfully tried to grow them.

and to think I almost pulled this out in the spring thinking it was dead and it was getting in the way of my weeding

and the discovery of a new shoot on one of the ceanothuses that never made it in to the garden last year, and has looked to all intents and purposes dead since the winter.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Gardening Blues But Red Tomatoes

It has not been a good gardening summer.

On the whole it has either been too hot and the ground too dry or too cold/windy and/or threatened/half-hearted rain. On the days I have got out there I have been bitten to hell by midges. I am guessing midges as I can't think what else could 'reach the parts other insects cannot reach'...

Given that I spent almost as much time out there in April alone than I have in total since, the garden does appear to be coping extremely well. I am almost keeping on top of the weeds, although it does appear that the long bank extension is my own personal 'painting the Forth rail bridge'. Hopefully, I too will have it under control when fully planted by 2012! I do have a backlog of new plants waiting to be re-homed in there although still a drop in the ocean.

I dropped Paul off at the railway station this morning and then went shopping. I remembered to nip in to Aldi as Paul had mentioned they had hibiscus plants advertised for yesterday's special buys. So I now have a blue/purple one and a white one. Then on to Morrisons where I bought three penstemons and a salvia - I did forget the HP sauce but luckily for Jen and Poncho not the bonios. The violas that I potted on are also ready for planting now, as are the remaining half a dozen hostas. Looking at the forecast for the next few days it doesn't look hopeful although there may be a sunny interval tomorrow lunchtime!

So given the lack of sunshine it is a bit of a surprise that I am getting sun-ripened on-the-vine tomatoes on both my plants that are in the veggie patch. The man I bought them off of at the Paxton plant sale was sceptical when I asked about growing them outside.

New on to the veggie harvesting list are my Red Rum runner beans. Having seen how many are coming I am now doubting the wisdom of having grown so many plants.

On the plus (?) side the Sunbright variety are looking very decorative, having been flowering prolifically for some time now, but so far I have not spotted any actual beans coming.

I had kept up with the purple dwarf beans having found another outlet for some in the form of Reg and Diana, but saw that a load more are now ready...

And I Thank Goodness yet again that we bought another freezer last year.

So far a couple of pounds of goosberries, three pounds of rhubarb (still got plenty more growing away) and a pound of wild raspberries frozen, along with some de-pipped puree. I have actually picked over five pounds so far this year but have made one batch of jam (definitely the best variety) and have been eating the rest with Scotch pancakes and ice cream :)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Happiness is a New Back Lawn

We got three people to quote for the lawn.

Quote 1) Man was very nice but it did seem very finger-in-the-air estimating the amount of soil we would need, working on the principle that as little as possible was good. We did sort of agree on the area of grass needed, but he didn't measure anything so that was more that he took our estimate as his.
Quote 2) Border Aggregates. Much more impressed. Man measured the area with one of those wheel-on-a-stick measuring things - area about what we had estimated. Agreed that it would be advisable to break the ground up a bit first, and even went as far as discussing levels to determine the amount of topsoil needed and the best approach to laying the turf itself.
Quote 3) Man measured the area with a tape. Came up with a much lower area than us. Didn't seem to think the ground needed any preparation - would be a good hard base. Wrote me a quote on the back of an envelope as he had forgotten his pad. I wasn't sure if this included labour and on trying to get clarification was none the wiser.

Quote from Border Aggregates arrived in the post a few days later. I was pleasantly surprised. Quote from man 1 arrived a few days later. It was less but was also for a much lower quantity of topsoil. If we upped that to match Border Aggregates the quotes were about the same. So, Border Aggregates won the business hands down.

So on Tuesday we got a phone call to say they would be coming in the afternoon. This was really to drop off the mini digger and just ascertain exactly what was to be done (different two men from the one who had originally come to do the estimate). They would be back first thing the following day to start work. We ascertained that allowing for the drive in from Kelso this would be 7.30 a.m.

Now it needs to be watered every day for the next 3 to 4 weeks, and given a feed after a couple of weeks. Minimal walking on for a month so the dogs are going to have to wait before testing it out as a race track...

Friday, July 30, 2010

The War of the Cabbages

There are battles being fought in the veggie garden...

I had never noticed that many cabbage white butterflies in the past...

But now that I am growing cabbages they seem to have made a beeline to my back garden.

I have started an egg and caterpillar removal patrol every couple of days. I am learning the tricks of the caterpillars. They curl up and drop to the ground when I try to squidge them. So now I have a cup waiting to catch them. This is today's crop. Whilst I am doing this the butterflies are continuing to flutter around on the other side of the cabbage patch.

However, I have had some unintentional revenge. The cabbages in RP2 have a double layer of netting as I had originally cut a length to cover the whole of the planter but now the onions are getting quite tall I have just folded it back over the cabbages. Several butterflies have been tempted by the large healthy plants and have made their way under the first layer only to find themselves trapped.

I transplanted my leeks yesterday. I have got three good rows and two wimpy rows but I decided that I wasn't going to faff about - it was all or none. Inspection this morning showed evidence of dog (my money is on Jen) stomping over some of them. I pulled up and replanted about half a dozen.

I also got around to a better attempt at staking up my two tomato plants. I spotted in my fruit and veggie bible that they were vine tomatoes which are normally grown up a single tall support and sideshoots removed. Too late for that, but I could tidy them up from their sprawling on the ground. They are still fruiting well and there are loads more flowers on them.

I picked my first good-sized carrot (Amsterdam Forcing) on Tuesday, followed the next day by one of the other variety, Supreme Chantenay.

The peas are now also being cropped and I can hardly keep up with the dwarf beans now. And don't even mention lettuces although I have found an outlet for some of them in the shapes of Penny and Margaret.

I have found a use for some bright raspberry pink wool. I have been tagging runner beans, dwarf beans and pea pods to keep for next year's seeds. Adds a bit of colour.

I haven't completely neglected the rest of the garden. Penny came over last week and helped me to weed the LBE. I then sprayed several outbreaks of bindweed. I have since planted over a dozen hostas, a rhododenron and nine surviving carnations from J parkers, and two platycodons and rhodohypoxises that I thought were reasonably priced in Morrisons. It still looks very empty in places. I have my eye on several plants in other parts of the garden that can be divided in the autumn...

I am also back to planning the fruit tree bed to be. I think I have found a very good site to source my apple trees. And will probably get my pear and plum trees from J Parkers. Still undecided on cherry trees...

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