Archive for July, 2007

Wolf Spiders

Walking through cereal crops pulling out Wild Oats, it is amazing how much insect activity you come across.   Lots of insects means lots of birds, and that is why in general I refuse to use  insecticides.

One of the star performers is a spider that binds several heads of cereal crop together and places a large white egg sac in the centre of this.     This is the Wolf Spider – quite a bit larger than the house spider, and much faster.   In fact, they don’t build a web to catch prey, but run after their food.    In the field, if disturbed, they immediately run off, or drop down to the ground.   

They are quite an alarming sight in the house, if they get in – a few clicks too large, hairy and difficult to catch.

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Wild Oats

A pleasant job at this very much pre-harvest time of year is walking through the crop fields pulling out Wild Oats, or ‘Rogueing’ – literally, ‘pulling out the rogues’.

Wild Oats look a bit like normal oats, except they are more a wavy oat than a (cultivated) straight up oat.    The grains also have long hairs attached which will cleverly bury a wild oat seed if it is allowed to fall to the ground.    The seeds can lie dormant for years, and then suddenly spring to life.    The plants grow big, and compete with the cereal crop, so should be removed.    It can be done chemically, but with low numbers of these plants on the farm, it is better to walk through the fields with a sack and pull them out. 

When the sun shines, it is a great job, and can involve family members too – to earn their pocket money.   When it is wet and nasty, it is not so much fun.    Yesterday, it was dry here until about 5pm, but we watched a huge thunderstorm over Perth get nearer, then further away.

We did that thing when you count between the flash and the thunder.     I was always told as a child that every second between the flash and the noise was one mile away, but that could be wrong.   It was fun to do though.

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When Perth flooded last, people whose houses were damaged were out of them for 6 months while their homes were dried out and put back together.     So my thoughts are with the huge number of people who have had to leave their houses in the flooded areas of England – they face long haul to get things back to normal.    It is a truly appalling catastrophe.

The plight of people and their homes, traffic trying to manage and boats sailing down High Streets is always first to hit the TV screens, and rightly so.     But the vast areas of countryside underwater represent acres of spoilt crops and grass.   The crops will be unharvestable, and the grass too waterlogged for grazing, meaning that livestock may have been brought inside into farm buildings and already consuming their ‘winter feed’.   Quite apart from the effect on individual farmers’ livelihoods, the flooding is bound to push up the price of food in the shops.

Like all farmers in the UK, I have to ‘set-aside’ some of my farm to take it out of production.    Set-aside has never been popular with farmers or the public, except possibly the environmentalists.    Farmers hate it because they know that they should be using their land for producing food, not weeds;   the public hate it because they see farmers being paid ‘to do nothing’.   (Actually set-aside does have management costs).   

Happily there is talk of set-aside being fixed at 0% for next year – although there is a tremendous amount of European red tape to get through to ratify this (and we are in the summer recess apparently).    Already the environmentalists are worried.

Actually, we have incredibly cheap food at the moment.   Food as a percentage of the family spend is much much less than it was 25 years ago.    We could be in for quite a shock as the damage to the countryside is added up over the next few crucial weeks as the main cereal harvest approaches.

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Reading to Children

Both our children were read to every night at bedtime.

Being selfish about this, I have to admit really looking forward to this part of the day.    From early books like the Hungry Catepillar, through Dr Seuss, and eventually progressing on to Narnia (all 7 books), Little House books (7, I think), Moonimtroll (several books, which started off brilliantly but became rather too odd eventually – Memoirs of Moominpappa especially).    There were some surprises like Wind in the Willows, which went really well until the chapter called “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” which was simply uncomprehensible for a child.

Funny stories, frightening stories, and some tales which were so heartachingly beautiful, they were a real struggle to get through.

This was all before Harry Potter of course, and both children are now far too old to be read to, but they do both read.

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Harry Potter

What a publishing event! – stores and bookshops open at midnight with crowds of people buying the last Harry Potter book.    Quite unprecedented I think.

 It is easy to be cynical, but you have to hand it to JK Rowling that through these books she has changed the face of children’s literature (and big children’s literature).    Children who have tackled these big volumes on their own will have the confidence to try other books too.

I read the first three, and enjoyed the third book best, but never got round to going any further, although I have seen the first four films.   

We actually have all the books in the house now as boy b/d wandered into ASDA last night after seeing the latest Harry Potter film (takes a while to get going, he says) and bought a copy for £5.   He has read it completely, and girl b/d is now reading it.     It even beats the attractions of MSN and Facebook, which takes some doing, let me tell you.  

The ending has not been discussed yet.

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I like reading, and try to read a bit every night before I go to sleep.    It is quiet and peaceful and you get time to concentrate.

Which brings me to admire people who can seemingly read in all sorts of busy situations.    I saw people in a queue to a museum reading books the other day – if I am in a queue, then I really like to ‘people watch’.    There is actually too much going on round about to get your head down in a book.

I also discovered that I have difficulty reading a book on a plane – which is probably one of the most boring environments ever.    The thing is, I don’t like flying at the best of times, and actually avoided it for years until I got fed up of it being a problem, and just dealt with it.     I still find it an alarming way to travel, and am recovering from having been on three planes on Monday.     So, no to books on a plane – but a newspaper or magazine seems to fit the bill.

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Our lost luggage finally arrived here today – that’s over three days late, but at least it got here in the end.    Everything in the suitcases was damp – except our dirty clothes which were in a poly bag.   We did see what we thought was our luggage sitting outside in torrential rain in Paris CDG and thought it would be getting wet.    Must remember to put everything in a big poly bag next time- camping  style.

But it has been an interesting exercise in trying to get in touch with airport baggage agents and airlines.    Phone lines that have an answering machine;  phone lines that have an answering machine that is so full it can’t take any more;  phone lines that ring and ring and ring and ring, and those expensive phone lines that answer and say (every time) that they are experiencing high volumes of calls, then play music.   Getting hold of a real person is difficult …….. but it is possible.    I think the trick is to go somewhere else and ask to be transferred to where you are trying to get to.

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Living in deepest darkest Perthshire, we like to visit cities on holiday, so we rented an apartment in Paris for a week.   Nice and central with the big attractions within walking distance.  

Actually, the less obvious things to do and see were as enjoyable and much less crowded than the main things.    And although we visited Notre Dame, the Pompidou Centre, Musee d’Orsay, Sacre Coeur, Saint Chapelle and took a boat trip on the Seine – all busy – we really liked the Opera Garnier, Mamottan Monet Museum, and various churches we visited.     The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees etc. will have to wait for another time.

St Eustache, 10 minutes walk north from Pont Neuf, was particularly interesting.   Half an hour before mass on Sundays, the organist gives a mini recital.   He peeps out from behind the huge instrument high above the great doors and explains what he is about to play, and then, watched by his keen organ scholars, plays wonderfully.

Apart from the seriously good food, a couple of things struck us:   Parisians just seem to know how to dress tastefully – no bare midriffs and exposed bellybuttons on show in the street here.    And few fat people – we saw no fat children at all.   Also, the Metro works reliably and is pleasant to use.

So back home after a nightmare journey:   Flybe Paris Edinburgh was cancelled (stuck flaps on the plane just before take-off), so we went to  Southampton, and then another flight to Edinburgh.   Arrived at midnight 7 and a half hours late.    One bag has been delivered home after 24 hours;   the other will hopefully follow.

But great to get away to a city for a week, and to be in Paris on Bastille Day.

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Alan Johnston

Awoke as usual to the Today Program on Radio 4.   

Just occasionally you hear something that makes you want to punch the air in delight.

What a great start to the day.   Listen to the interview.

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Well, we now know exactly why the airport authorities have been getting increasingly jumpy over the past year about traffic having access to the main building.    And why they built those bollards in front of it.   Like the two London bombing attempts, it could have so easily been so much worse.

Whether or not this particular spate of activity has finished remains to be seen, and we will all have to be alert to unusual activity, but the fact remains that air travel is going to get even more difficult for passengers.     The tourist industry is putting a brave face on things today, but there is bound to be an effect.    Also,  this is the first week of the Scottish school holidays, and airports are always busier than usual.

I find Alec Salmond a tad too relaxed about things in his ‘business as usual’ attitude, and my goodness, I did not appreciate that Gordon Brown is so dull.

But this is the first serious terrorist attack in Scotland for a while now.     The Lockerbie bomb was the last big incident, and was not aimed at Scotland in particular.     So it is a significant change to have Scotland targeted, and it will have implications for any of us travelling or attending big public events etc.     We simply can’t be as relaxed about things as we might like to think we have been.

I was impressed by how fast the BBC Scotland radio news team swung into action and got back into the studio when they were probably hoping for a quiet afternoon following the opening of the Parliament by the Queen.

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