All posts by jackthelass

Testing testing, plus Billy Connolly’s Route 66

I know that thanks to the evil spambots the wibsite was down for quite a long time, and the recovery unfortunately meant that the pictures on previous blog posts have disappeared. I haven’t checked back to really old posts, I’m hoping that for me it’s just the recent pictures (which I had uploaded directly into the blog rather than having them hosted on flickr) which have disappeared, in which case it would be mainly pictures of book covers and pictures from the allotment which have gone, but either way I’m grateful to Chris in particular for all his hard work in getting the site back up to speed and hopefully less spammy.

So it’s been nearly 3 months since I wrote something here! My daily(ish) photo blog still continues here. I’m not sure whether to retire this blog (I think 10 years is a good length of time!), as I’m blogging elsewhere too (that photo blog, plus a more work-related blog on wordpress which I’ll not link to here as it’s in my real name). I’m quite nostalgic about this blog though, so I probably will still talk about holidays and books and things here.

The allotment’s going well too 🙂 We have started to harvest our first veg from it – we got some potatoes yesterday, and have also had spinach beet (the surprise hit of the allotment, I hadn’t expected it to do so well) and courgettes, plus some blackcurrants so far.

I’m trying to remember the last book I reviewed here. I’ve read in fits and starts, and have several on the go, but I think the only one I finished recently was Billy Connolly’s book accompanying his travel series when he travelled the entire length of Route 66. I enjoyed it a lot – I love his writing, and his spirit, he’s funny and respectful and observant, and was really good ‘company’ on the trip. I preferred the other book of his I read a few months ago (where he travelled the North-West Passage), but to be honest that was mainly because it had more pictures. This was a great read despite that, so definitely worth a read if you’re stuck for inspiration.

Slow and steady wins the race (I hope)

We did an hour or two at the allotment today – more digging, and I covered the lines I’d planted with potatoes last week with more earth to try and build them up a bit. HD wasn’t convinced that was the best use of time, but I won’t do any more till I see shoots appearing above ground, and in the meantime it’s a bit more obvious where they are. I also had to sieve through some earth where there had been a bonfire previously as it is full of old rusty nails. That was quite satisfying to do though, and means that next time I can get cracking on helping HD with more substantial digging. I’m also hoping to get some garlic down next week – I know it’s a bit late, but with the weather we’re having and the leaves only just starting to appear on the trees I think that still counts as ‘spring’ (I’m sure when I was a little girl spring started in March and by mid-May at the latest it was summer). Hopefully next weekend will also be the weekend when the fencing finally gets done.

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In other news, last week I thought I’d lost several months of photos from my good camera when the memory card corrupted and neither camera nor card reader would display photos. The good news is this weekend I have managed to retrieve all but about 40 of them, which means that my photos from 2 weddings and 3 islands amongst others are almost all back with me, and copied to within an inch of their lives! The ironic thing was that I had only thought a few days previously “I haven’t backed up my photos for ages, I must get round to doing that”. So there’s the moral of the story – back up, back up, back up!

Planting (of sorts)

Last Sunday we went back to the allotment, and despite the lack of fencing I felt that we really needed to plant the potatoes, which have been merrily chitting for several weeks now. So whilst HD carried on digging over the bits that haven’t yet been dug, I planted potatoes (4 varieties: an early, a salad, a main crop and a speciality type, 6 of each) in four rows. The plotholders either side have also planted potatoes and have immaculately straight rows, I have to say that mine were a bit more amateurish and more than once when I got to the end of digging a trench and looked back there were some interesting angles going on! Oh well, I know roughly where they are and hopefully once they start growing it won’t matter that they’re not perfectly aligned! I also planted out the blackcurrant bush that we had been given as a big cutting by one of the other plotholders, it’s been quite happy in its pot by the kitchen door and was showing lots of new leaves and even lots of baby blackcurrants, so I put that in a spot where we’d dug up some old potatoes left over from last year.

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544 This third photo probably shows where we dug the best – the darker bits in the foreground are the trenches where the potatoes are, and you can hopefully see the blackcurrant bush too. The dark bits in the background are the bits HD dug over.

The seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago are showing mixed results. The brussels are doing great, and I have 2 or 3 quinoa seedlings. I planted somewhere between 12 and 15 beans, of three different varieties, and this afternoon I saw the first shoot almost ready to burst through the compost, but not a thing from any of the others which is a bit disappointing. The aubergine, squash, courgettes and marrow are also noticeable by the complete lack of anything growing! Oh well – there’s plenty of other things to try so if they don’t work there’s bound to be something else we can grow a bit later.

Hopefully if we can all get organised the work on the fencing will happen next weekend.

Allotment today

Today we did another hour and a bit digging – I’d say we’ve now done about half the plot. Still no fencing round the ends, but hopefully we’ll organise that in the next few weeks. The people either side of us have started planting anyway, I’m going to leave our spuds one more week and hope for the best.

These first two are of another big old post HD dug up today (similar size to the one he dug up last time). He was also trying to find the end of this big bit of plastic sheeting, but it seems to be like trying to find the source of the Nile, so we never did get to the end of it – hopefully next time!

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These two show our hard work – the first one up close, and then the view from the top to show just how much we still have to go! (I’m trying not to think about that end – it’s so compacted it will be a nightmare to dig!):

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Here’s views from the bottom and top of the plot:

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And finally, I like this picture because it makes the bit we still need to do look not so bad!


Yesterday I planted up some more seeds to start off at home. So now on the go we have courgette, marrow, aubergine, squash, 3 types of dwarf beans, and another lot of brussels and quinoa. Last month’s brussels are still going strong, and I planted them on into individual pots in a propagator thingy, but the quinoa struggled – only two of the seeds had germinated, and then this week I forgot to water them 😮 So I thought I’d better try again. Most of the brussels I’m expecting not to get much beyond this stage, and if they do then I’ll give lots of them away, as there’s only so many we will be able to eat! But I wanted to plant some more, as I think the early planted ones will have gone over by Christmas, so this lot I planted yesterday will hopefully contain part of Christmas dinner. As well as these seeds, HD planted out some salad seeds last week, quite a few of which are already sprouting (tomato, coriander, and a turnip leaf thing with a funny name). I also got given a trio of tomato plants and a courgette from my work colleague so they are all hopefully on the way too.

I can see vegetables in my future 🙂

Allotment: Better late than never

Photos from the allotment a couple of weeks ago. We dug over the two paths we’d created, as one of the allotment regulars had said that it was better for it all to get dug over then paths walked fresh, rather than leaving them as they tended to harbour couch grass which would spread everywhere. So most of the time was spent doing that rather than digging any new bits. The final photo shows a pretty big old plank we dug up – it’s the reason why I’m a bit nervous about the thought of hiring a rotavator, even though it would make it so much quicker! If we dig the old-fashioned way this year, at least we’ll know what is and isn’t in the ground and can take the risk next year!

I did find the digging quite hard this time – you could tell we’ve not had much in the way of rain, as the (clay) soil was rock hard! At least with a bit of moisture it’s easier to dig.

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We didn’t go to the plot last week – I was down south for work/conference/staying with a friend, and HD couldn’t go as the car was in the garage (fixed now thankfully). I’m not sure if we’ll get there this weekend – the weather is supposed to be better, and I really want to go as apparently there are porpoises in the river at the moment (this far inland! But I’ve seen photos and apparently they were still there earlier today), plus we really do need to get on with the digging. But I have a bad cold which I am really struggling to shift, which has reached the snotty sinus-y stage now, so if I’m like this tomorrow I’d be blowing my nose every 5 seconds. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow – there are plenty of indoor seeds needing to be sown, so even if I don’t go to the plot I can still be horticultural! 🙂

Good day’s work

Today I spent another couple of hours at the allotment and managed to dig another bed. I found some more spuds, on the same side of the plot as yesterday’s find, so we know for sure not to plant them out there this year. It’s slightly narrower than the one in the background (which is the one we finished yesterday) as I wanted to make sure that when we come to dig over what was a raised bed we don’t use any of that for a path, as it’s nice soil. The bottom of the bed (closest to the bottom of the picture) and going down the middle of it was quite hard to dig – I think the previous person had paths here (it’s where the old plastic was) and I was only going down an inch and hitting subsoil. So all I could do with it was slice off the top inch and disturb it a bit – we’re going to have to raise that up a bit and add a fair bit of compost there. Here’s the new bed (foreground) when I’d finished.



I also took pictures from the other angle so you can see how much further we have to go! The last photo also shows how much further our neighbours on either side have dug! You can see the old raised bed clearly here, that should be reasonably quick and easy to dig over.

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I am still aching all over, but I think it’s actually from the putting the few plants into the front garden yesterday rather than from the digging at the allotment. I am creaking like an oldie!

In other news, Lidl are currently selling gardening stuff pretty cheaply, and we managed to buy a small greenhouse (with plastic not glass) for the back garden for loads less than the garden centre. We also got some netting (I am optimistic the brussels seeds I sowed this morning will grow fantastically and need netting 🙂 ).

Stuff what I’ve read

As a break from the allotment posts (there might be another one of those tomorrow if the weather’s not too bad!) I realised I haven’t posted about what I’ve read since getting back from holiday (which was nearly 3 months ago, how on earth did that happen?!). At the start of January I decided to treat myself to an eReader, I decided in the end on a Sony Reader (I didn’t want a kindle as amazon don’t pay their tax, and also I don’t like that you can only buy kindle books on amazon). I’ve still got plenty of paper books to read, and also the local library, so I won’t be abandoning ‘proper’ books any time soon, but I must admit that the Reader is really handy for the train and I probably have read quite a bit more than I would have done otherwise. I’m also putting pdf journal articles on it so if I’m in a work-related reading mood there’s things there I can read. Anyway – stuff what I’ve read (all of these are free ebooks – from either Feedreads or Project Gutenberg, or from the University of Chicago Press, as I am on their mailing list and they provide a free ebook each month. Usually I don’t bother but have got a few really good ones that way):

Lavender Scare “The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government” by David K. Johnson is one of the free ebooks I got from the UoC Press. It details US Government paranoia and the systemic and systematic persecution and rooting out of gays and lesbians from government jobs from the 1940s onwards, and the links to the much better known McCarthy-led persecution of alleged Communists (although arguably the ‘Lavender Scare’ was much more pervasive and had a much more devastating effect) starting with the State Department but moving on to every other department also. It features both government sources, media reports and also accounts from many people who lost their jobs but also those who then mobilised to lobby for change and for their rights. It was a great read, although very depressing – I’d highly recommend it.

Pilgrimage The next UoC Press free ebook I read was “Pilgrimage to the End of the World: the Road to Santiago de Compostela” by Conrad Rudolph. This was a strange book – part travelogue, part history, part “what to take if you do the pilgrimage”, part “these are the deep thoughts I had while I did the pilgrimage”, I think I found myself wishing it was one or the other but not all. It was interesting, and not a bad read, but there are better books on the pilgrimage. Mind you, it was a million times better than Paolo Coelho’s book on the pilgrimage, which is just awful! If you have to only choose between those two, definitely get Rudolph’s!

First LoveWhen I got the eReader I thought that I would download lots of free ‘classics’ – Project Gutenberg and Feedreads are both great sites for that, and I have several sitting waiting for me to read them. So far, apart from one Romanian book which I needed for some writing I’ve just done, and a book for bookgroup which was on offer for 20p in the Reader store, everything I’ve downloaded has been free, so that’s definitely a plus! I thought at my advanced age I really ought to try some Russian classics, as despite my fascination with and experience of that part of the world (well not Russia, but near enough) it was a bit embarrassing that I’ve not read any. So I’ve downloaded War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov and several others, but I’m finding it a bit daunting to start with them, so I’ve read a couple of short stories instead. Queen of SpadesFirst up was “Queen of Spades” by Pushkin, 20-something pages so it was ideal for a single train journey to work. It was OK, I suppose, but I didn’t like any of the characters so I can’t say I was particularly taken with it. After that I tried a slightly longer one (took a couple of journeys), “First Love” by Turgenev. Again, it was interesting but I didn’t like any of the characters. Do all Russian classics feature princesses, officers, countesses and assorted aristos down on their luck and looking for ways to enrich themselves at others’ expense? I can’t say they were the greatest introduction to Russian classic writing, but I will give some of the novels a go and see where I end up.

2bro2bAs a bit of light relief I read another short story, this time by Kurt Vonnegut, “2BR02B” (“to be or not to be”). I read “Cat’s Cradle” a year or so ago and really enjoyed it, which surprised me as near-future dystopian novels aren’t really my thing, but I just really liked his writing. This was more of the same really – a short story about a future in which population is controlled through when a child is born someone volunteering to die. So it wasn’t very cheerful, but I did enjoy it much more.

I must admit getting an eReader has helped me read much more than I otherwise would have. I won’t stop getting paper books, but it has been great and is such a nice way to chill out.

Slow progress

486 We managed an hour at the allotment today before getting rained off – this (rubbish!) photo shows that we’ve finished what will be the first bed, and have marked out where the next one starts. We thought it would make life a bit easier to have some narrow paths at intervals throughout so that we can get through to water and (hopefully!) harvest without walking over everything.

We were away last weekend at a wedding down south so haven’t done anything here for a couple of weeks. Everyone else has been digging away so we are playing catch-up! We realised that, even just digging one spade’s length down, we were bringing up subsoil, so now we are probably only digging down half a spade’s length, which will hopefully mean that it gets done a bit quicker!

Tomorrow, if the weather isn’t too wet (forecast isn’t great, morning is a bit better though) we’ll do another couple of hours. I must remember this time to take a tub down so that we can confine the growing broken glass collection, and a bin bag for the random bits and bobs of crap we dig up. We haven’t found any treasure yet – so far it’s mainly broken glass (apparently last year a greenhouse had a bit of a rough time at the hands of the wind) and bits of old china mugs, plus odd nails, random unidentifiable metal objects, and quite a few plastic markers. At least the old carpet is all up now (I hope!).

We also dug up a few potatoes that hadn’t been harvested, so at least we know not to plant spuds in the bottom left hand corner (along with not planting onions on the right hand side a bit further towards the middle of the plot – I dug up a couple of those a few weeks ago!). The spuds we bought a couple of weeks ago are happily chitting away – well 3 out of the 4 varieties are anyway, and the other one (pink fir apple – a salad variety) apparently doesn’t chit that well but still works when in the ground, so I’m not worried about that and will plant it with all the others.

I also want to set a few seeds this weekend to start off indoors. The only ones that I need to do this early are quinoa (which I’m expecting not to work, but fancy having a try) and brussels. I forgot to include in the last update that a few weeks back someone from the allotments donated some rooted blackcurrant bush cuttings, so I nabbed one of those and it is now potted up by the back door till we’re ready to plant it on the plot.

I also managed a bit of planting in the front garden today (whilst getting wet). I bought another spade at the garden centre this morning (finally using the garden centre vouchers I got as a leaving present from my last job, in February last year!) and some seed compost, and had really good intentions about not getting distracted and buying anything else. However, knowing where good intentions lead (!) I also came out with a pyracanthus and a couple of alpines (a sedum and another one I can’t remember the name of). So they’re now all planted up, along with a stray bit of forget-me-not which was growing in the gap between a couple of paving slabs but I’ve now transplanted to next to the rose bush.

Allotment updates

I hadn’t realised I hadn’t updated this for 3 weeks, I wanted to include a week-by-week account of what’s happening at the allotment, so will have to go back a bit further in my photos than I thought. So, the week after the last post, I went back to the plot and did an hour or so of weeding. I’m not getting every last weed out, but there are some that are currently small but I know from them taking over the garden last year that they’re really rampant, so I definitely want them away from the plot! It was a really lovely sunny day, I had thought when I got there I wouldn’t be able to park as the sun definitely brought out a lot of people who’d not been there for a while! Here are my pics from then (17th Feb):

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The following weekend (24th Feb) I did the bulk of the weeding from the other half of the plot, it wasn’t such a sunny day this time! I also got a closer look at the far end, where it was clear that there was a fair bit of plastic which had been put down to suppress weeds, which is all very well but the worms get suppressed too! So that was the next challenge, for another time … Here’s the photos from this week:

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This weekend just gone we started to think properly about planting stuff! We went to the Potato Day held by the Dunblane Allotment Society, and bought half a dozen each of 4 different varieties of spuds (one early, one main crop, one salad crop and one speciality crop), so they are now on the windowsill chitting (I just put them in a tray on the windowsill with the round side up, I keep thinking it should be more complicated than that but that’s what the internet says and we all know if it’s on the internet then it must be true …). We also bought some other seeds and bits and bobs, and on Sunday I dug out (pun unintended) all our seeds (we were sent quite a lot from a lovely friend who sadly had to give up her allotment, and had some leftovers from last year too) and worked out what needs planting when and where and typed up a month-by-month table so I can hopefully make sure that we don’t miss anything. So that’s exciting!

Later on Sunday we both went to the plot and started digging. Before that though we got up the plastic (which wasn’t actually as extensive as I’d feared), but the bulk of the time was digging, which was very satisfying, until HD paced the plot out and said he reckoned we’d done around 1/12 of it! So I suspect that it won’t all be dug over by the time we need to start planting, but if we just do it bit by bit we can plant the early stuff in the bit we dig to start with, and then keep digging the next bit till we reach the other end.

The guy in the neighbouring plot is going great guns with his digging, he looks like he’s doing a real professional job! Ours is nowhere near as well dug as his – it’ll be interesting to see who gets the best yields.

Here’s the pictures from Sunday of our handiwork:

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We’re not at the plot this weekend as we’re having an adventure, but according to my month-by-month table we’re going to need to start sowing some seeds indoors soon. And there’s always digging to be thinking about 🙂 I am SO loving having this allotment, it’s so exciting!

Mud mud glorious mud

Our allotment plots were finally allocated this past weekend – here’s ours! They’ve divided it into 6 rather than 10 so we’ve got almost twice what we originally thought we would have! All the more lovely veg to grow 🙂 Actually I think a lot of this year will be about improving the soil (which is pretty claggy clay), if anything grows that will be a bonus! The first picture is probably the most accurate view of what is ours; the others include other people’s plots because I wanted to get the Wallace Monument in the shot as well!

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