March 2011

On Friday I headed into the city after school.  It was a time of solitude and calm wandering.  I headed straight for my favourite coffee shop for a concentrated Americano (or a slightly dilute espresso depending on your half full/half empty perspective).  I slowly browsed my favourite second hand book store, the smell of old books piled as if in some giant game of kerplunk made me feel strangely relaxed.  After the books I went shopping for essential work wear; suits.  My current suits seem to be getting a little tired and threadbare. After a while of enjoying the solitude I began to miss people.  I wanted to head home to see the lovely Sharon and the little man, and on the way home I missed the banter of my car sharing friends.  For me, solitude is a strange thing.  I sometimes feel the need for it, and when I find it I enjoy the loneliness and instantly feel the desire to share it.  This seems contradictory, and it is.  It is similar to the strange relaxed feeling I get in the mountains.  While in the mountains looking after groups it often calls for remote supervision.  On these occasions I find moments between meeting the groups at catch points and I am on my own, and at these times I feel truly relaxed.  However, when I head into the mountains with no other purpose other than my own solitude, I do not feel so relaxed.  I rush to achieve a summit or a goal and am not happy until it is done and I am on my way home.

So, I am not a person that is truly relaxed with solitude.  I am a pretender who wants to run away from people then quickly stop and shout, “come here to see this”.  All these words I have written in this post can be summed up in the Rilke poem ‘Pathways’ that says it all more clearly.  For me it is more of a mantra than poetry;

Understand, I’ll slip quietly

away from the noisy crowd

when I see the pale

stars rising, blooming, over the oaks.

I’ll pursue solitary pathways

through the pale twilit meadows,

with only this one dream:

You come too.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Tonight I picked up a book that is a thing of beauty.  It was a book that I ordered from tworavenspress, the blurb attracted me and my experience of their books was the final thing that sent me ordering it.  When I got the book in the post last week I had a quick flick through it and began to feel disappointed.  Fishing seemed to dominate as a topic; had I made a mistake.  However, the weekend is a little pocket of time to dwell on things and an opportunity to dig a little deeper.  I am glad I gave the book another go tonight, it is wonderfully written book.  It is poetry that is written from a place of honesty.  Fishing for pike has so far been a repeating theme but, contrary to my expectations,  it does not distract from the prose and purpose.

We walked back across the tundra as the light closed down. That night, while I lay still wakeful I heard the church clock strike midnight and then, high up, like a remote echo of a time before anyone had ever thought of naming the kwelder, perhaps even a time before the kwelder was, came the call of geese -ancient, fussy, urgent. From the warmth where I hugged myself I imagined that big V of birds riding the air, the slow, hoarse beat of their wings crossing the moon and the Pleiades, and thought of them descending just two miles to the north – descending, settling, gabbing quietly to each other that after navigating through magnetism, through storm, ice and isobars they had finally reached a habitation in the heart of winter.

I suppose that these days there are many who would never notice, many who would find geese and their winter journeys irrelevant at best. After all, it took me long enough to come round to noticing. I don’t think the call of wild geese in winter would have meant very much to me for most of my adult life. But now, having become aware of the strangeness of the familiar, the noticing is like a rhythm. The days are punctuated by the appearance or the sounds of those natural things that mark time passing. Two nights ago, hearing the geese call over the house at midnight, time passed in wing beats, and I was so profoundly reassured that I don’t remember falling asleep.

Chris McCully – Outside

I have just spent the last few hours in the garage making frames for the beehives.  Nails, beeswax sheets, then nails and repeat; all very therapeutic and calming. I did this while sipping a cool pint to homemade real ale and listening to radio 4.  Life is too short; I’m living my retirement dream now.

The school books were packed away late tonight and I am feeling what can only be described as tired with a hint of weary.  The last job of the evening was the welcome distraction of the chores.  I picked up today’s eggs and squirreled them away in my pocket.  I walked around the cottage and filled the feeders and drinkers then went into the garage to dance a little.  I danced around the lawnmower and I danced around the cars.  When the dancing was finally over I had  captured the needy cat who was due her worming treatment.  I now feel I am beginning to understand the phrase ‘herding cats’.

gemini by tomsowerby

After that I walked slowly down the lane to close the gates.  I paused often to stare at the sky.  The stars were all out and the sky was leaving them unhindered.  As I rolled the fresh eggs in my pockets I pondered the seasons.  Orion the hunter is fading from the night sky in the west.  We have no need for him as he is the opposite of the new life around us.  In the darkness the lambs were still calling their mothers for comfort in this new world.  I looked around at the other stars and Gemini seemed to capture me tonight.  I sympathise with the problem of seeing some of the shapes in the sky, but the more I look at Gemini, the more I see them.  I have always known the two stars that mark their heads but have only a vague idea of the ‘shape’.  Tonight it seemed to leap out at me as I stared.  All I think I needed was the concept of the twins and then I saw them sitting opposite each other.  They looked the same as each other as if in a mirror, and yet they were different in their own subtle ways.  Twins.

Last night I learnt that there are many things that we must battle against if we are to keep bees. The first of these is time, as we still have to wait for another month for even the possibility of getting bees. Even then we might not get them as it is all dependent on the bees themselves. If we are lucky enough (some may not think it lucky) to get them, then we must care for them and look after them and keep my eye out for:

Chill brood
Chalk brood
American Foul Brood – Paenibacillus larvae
European Foul Brood – Melissococcus plutonis
Varroa destructor
Acarapis woodii
Nosema apis
Wax Moth
Sacbrood virus
Chronic bee paralysis virus
Acute bee paralysis virus
Black queen cell virus
Deformed wing virus
Tropilaelaps mites
Small Hive Beetle

*Woodpeckers! In Ireland? Reports of sightings have been made in Strangford.

There is also a teacher in my school who is very resistant to us getting bees. She is aghast at the thought of the little man beeing around (sorry) the bees. This is a worry of ours  and the suggestion, by another colleague, of putting up an electric fence to keep him away from the hives did not sit well with any of us. It was a suggestion in jest  we hope. We do intend to build a fence around the apiary that will have a locked gate. It will not be Fort Knox but it should be enough for a well defined boundary. The apiary will also be on the opposite end of our gardens, well away from the garden that we intend to use for relaxing and enjoying life. We would never have dreamed of keeping bees without the space we now find ourselves in. I have also talked to some friends who grew up around bees with no ill effects. It seems that a near mythical fear of the hives must be encouraged from an early age. They all tell me it was not a terror fear but one of respect. The lovely Sharon and I both took this all on board and we don’t really know the answers.

The landscape is rich with history, it is a palimpsest of old stories if we take the time to try and unpick them.  One very old echo of the past is in the form of standing stones.  Most of them are hidden away from view behind gorse and trees, but sometimes they are in plain view.  One standing stone I sometimes drive past is on a road called the Carncome Road.  As far as I can tell, it means the road of the stone and hollow.  The stone itself does lie very near a natural hollow which looks to me like a nasty frost pocket.  The stone is unfortunately integrated into a garden wall which makes it look a little sad to me.  It takes away from its timelessness and ancient atmosphere.

The Carncome Standing Stone – image from Monu-mental about prehistoric Antrim by Tom Fourwinds

When I have driven past it my mind has usually been sent wondering about its past and purpose.  As with many standing stones it is more than likely a clock that marks the seasons as a sentinel of the summer and winter.  Yesterday I decided to see if I could find anything it might align to.  I sat down when I got home after school and measured obvious high points on the map and took some bearings.  Setting up Stellarium with the exact location of the stone and then winding back the clock a few thousand years revealed …..nothing.  No significant alignments revealed themselves.  I was a little disappointed and thought that if people had gone to the trouble of putting the massive stone their, they would have had a significant purpose for it.

I returned to the map and let my eyes wander a bit until I saw another standing stone five kilometres away.  This stone seemed placed to be visible on the horizon and nestled between two other high points.

The Tardree  Standing Stone on Browndod hill – image from Monu-mental about prehistoric Antrim by Tom Fourwinds

Again I measured the bearings and even measured the elevation angle.  I cranked up Stellarium and sat back to watch the dawn on the winter solstice three thousand years ago.  The sun rose perfectly at the standing stone on the Browndod hill.  If you think this is a little too geeky a thing for me to do, then please remember that the trouble the people went to thousands of years ago when there were a lot less people living here and these stones were ridiculously difficult to move about.

Last week I got a new table for my classroom.  It was delivered in the post, flat-packed in a tiny little box:

When one of my junior chemistry classes was decimated by the ski trip being away they all wanted to watch a video.  I refused, instead I suggested that we play with cards.

I soon had them laying all the element cards all over the classroom and then sorting them out.  Then we named the groups and began to put them all together on the entire back wall of the classroom.

The quality of the pictures adds a certain beauty to many of the elements and brings them to life.


This does bring the number of periodic tables on my walls to three.  One is the classic standard giant table that has seen many years of classrooms and is a little faded and old.  The other is a sheet of fabric one and a half by two and a half meters that hangs with prints of the elements from this website.  Each print was created by an artist and has part of the story of the elements in them.  My favorites include:

This is Tungsten and it has the element symbol W from an old name for the metal; Wolfram.  If tin minors came across any wolframite while trying to extract tin it caused problems for them to get the tin.  This wolf-metal ate their precious tin.


The urban glow of yellow/orange street lights is due to the use of sodium in the lamps.


Ta is Tantalum.  Tantalus was a greek king who really annoyed the Greek gods by sacrificing his own son.  They punished him to spend eternity in a stream under a fruit tree.  If he tried to drink the water the water would recede below him and if he was hungry and tried to eat the fruit the wind would blow the branches out of reach.  Apparently the isolation and discovery of tantalum was a project that seemed to bring the scientists involved close to getting it but for a while it seemed just out of reach to them.

My interest in the stories of the elements has been given new life with the discovery of two recently published books on the stories behind the elements.

Periodic tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements

The Disappearing Spoon

They are both fantastic and quite readable.  However, I find The Periodic Tales the more enjoyable.  They, along with Napoleon’s Buttons, should be compulsory reading for Chemistry Teachers everywhere.

If you live near the holestone and are finding yourself with something interesting to do tomorrow (2oth March), then pop up and sit yourself at the holestone to test a theory.  The Holestone near Doagh, Co Antrim, seems to be aligned for its curve to let the setting equinox sun to roll down its back.

Tomorrow is the equinox and if you position yourself on the east side of the iron age standing stone with highest point of Donegore Hill aimed trough the hole in the stone then you might just see the sun roll down the curve of the stone.  I think you need to be there from about 5pm.

Today had enemies and I shall not hold back; I will name them.  Creeping buttercup, dandelion, cow parsley, ground elder and stinging nettle.  The last on this list was the most bitter of adversaries.  I prefer, insanely, to do most gardening bare handed and even with nettles this is usually fine if you grasp it firmly.  As the day, and my back, wore on the occasional glance of my hands against the nettles ensured that they were slowly getting their revenge.  When weeding around the base of the gooseberries I gave in to wearing thick gloves.  Gooseberries are the fiercest of spiky things.  The frequent yelps from my gloves being pierced made me wonder what was the point of wearing them and it made the lovely Sharon stay clear of the gooseberries all day.

Ground elder is a strange weed.  It is held in high regard amongst weeds as it is the most difficult to deal with.  It is able to spring forth from even the tinniest of bits of broken root.  It spreads amazingly and we found it at either end of the cottage and nearly everywhere in-between.  Richard Maybe writes in Flora Britannica, that the roots of the ground elder have been found as far as thirty feet under ground.  He also wrote, in a different book, that the ground elder seems to stay away from vegetable patches for an unknown reason.  I tested this theory today and found it strangely true.  For a while I did not believe it as I was weeding the vegetable patch and the lovely Sharon was weeding the ‘pretty’ non edible areas that I am uninterested in.  We regrouped after a while to question each other’s wisdom about what we each thought ground elder actually was.  She showed me examples and was incredulous as apparently it was everywhere.  I bowed to her wisdom as she does teach horticulture and I carried on weeding to confirm the truth; that in all the vegetable patched I weeded I could not find a single specimen.  So it seems that even as the most persistent and frustrating of weeds, it still has a gentlemanly sporting attitude.

This evening we pottered under clear skies.  We did not intend to do a few odd jobs but we found ourselves with a little time to kill.  One job was done to keep the girls happy as twice today the chickens knocked over their own water feeder.  I took this as a sign of restlessness and dissent in the ranks.  To appease them I decided to do some repairs on their run and let them stretch and scratch around the cottage as I took a screwdriver and hammer to their prison.  I suspected them to get drunk on the freedom but they remained sober and content.  It is dark at the moment and they still have not returned to the coup.  They are lurking in the moonlit garden looking for grubs and bugs.

As we pottered we saw what can only be described as a super moonrise, as it is actually a supermoon. We were keeping an eye out for it at sunrise as it is only a day away from full.  A full moon is directly (or nearly directly opposite) the sun in the sky.  So as the sun was setting we looked in the opposite direction to see the moon rising.  With the air so still and so clear it is hard not to stop and forget the small jobs and the big things in life.  It is hard not to stand and stare at the sun and moon through the branches and hedges.  If this urge can be resisted then don’t tell me how it can be done, I don’t care to know.

Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows’ wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Last night was beekeeping night.  It was a busy day in school.  I got up just after six and rushed about in my usual morning fashion.  There is a difference in this morning style that is only a recent development; in the blur to get out the door in good time I now do something against the grain.  I stop and have a little chat with the little man. He is usually up before dawn and talks to himself or makes strange noises.  In these little morning chats I lose the sense of time or the time to care for leaving.

The first jobs on the list in school is breakfast and coffee.  Sometimes it is a tall americano and sometimes it is pure double espresso, these are  a measure of the day’s tasks.  Yesterday was a long day and by the time I got home, it still had wonderful things to unfold.

I got home in time to grab a dinner and spend a half hour or so with the lovely Sharon and the little man.  We played in the baby gym and had tickles and cuddles and laughs.  We gave the little man his first book to peruse; ‘fuzzy bee and friends’.  He seemed initially quite interested, but soon his enthusiasm translated into trying to shovel the literature into his mouth.  Thankfully Fuzzy bee seems designed for such things and one of his friends has a crinklyness that has captivated the little man.

When I drove to the beekeeping class the air was strangely clear.  It was as if the air was made of crystal or nothing at all.  In class we learned about how to manage the bees through the year.  We learnt of their needs and monthly desires.  Most importantly we learnt some basic details of inspecting the hive while maintaining a minimum of antagonisation to the bees.  This is, of course, a thing that will have to be played out in practice and is purely a thing of experience.

When I left the course the air could not have been more different.  The air around the college had turned from spring clarity to a think dark fog.  The night had dropped and the temperature had been dragged down with it.  Visibility was reduced to only and handful of meters rendering driving slow.  It was a contrast that I found beauty in.  I loved the contradiction and loved noticing it.

When I arrived home I discovered that the lovely Sharon had been holding her own beekeeping class.  She was a narrator to a class of one and the lesson went as follows…

“Hallo, Piglet,” said Pooh.

“Hallo, Pooh,” said Piglet, giving a jump of surprise.

“I knew it was you.”

“So did I,” said Pooh.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m planting a haycorn, Pooh, so that it can grow up into an oak-tree, and have lots of haycorns just outside the front door instead of having to walk miles and miles, do you see, Pooh?”

“Supposing it doesn’t?” said Pooh.

“It will, because Christopher Robin says it will, so that’s why I’m planting it.”

“Well,” said Pooh, “if I plant a honeycomb outside my house, then it will grow up into a beehive.” Piglet wasn’t quite sure about this. “Or a piece of a honeycomb,” said Pooh, “so as not to waste too much. Only then I might only get a piece of a beehive, and it might be the wrong piece, where the bees were buzzing and not hunnying. Bother.”

The moon is waxing towards full this weekend. It seems a fitting time to plant things.  Some would even do it deliberately in a waxing moon believing that it helps the crops.  This theory of ‘biodynamics’ sounds implausible as the groundwater here in Ireland always seems high whether the moon if full or new.  Maybe it is premature to be planting at the moment as it is not the seed moon or planting moon but it is the moon of winds.  I put more trust in the old names than biodynamics.  The old names are a guide to the changing faces of the months and the jobs that need done through the year.  Then again, Mesolithic man did not have a greenhouse.

This coming full moon is a ‘supermoon’.  Its distance to the earth is close at the same time that it is full.  This makes it appear bigger than normal in the sky.  It also means that predictions come forth about its effect from ‘astrologers’.  The subtle spelling difference that says astrologers and not astronomers makes me dismiss these predictions as nonsense.  After all, these same astrologers predicted that today I would do something about something vague and possibly meet someone important.  Personally I think everyone I met today was important.



Last night the lovely Sharon and I watched a little bit of a Steven Pinker lecture.  He was summarising some of the main points of a book called the Blank Slate.  This was a book I read some time ago and I must admit I found myself struggling through it.  It is a good book but a hard topic to wade through.  Pinker tackles the evidence on some very tough topics including such heavy things as God, religion, racism, violence, gender, war, Marxism, etc.  When Pinker published the book there were two topics that he tackled that received about 90% of the criticisms written.  These two topics were the arts and parenting.  Let me give you a glimpse of why.

steven pinker

Pinker looked at the current scientific evidence and drew the obvious conclusions no matter how difficult they were to accept.  On parenting, the conclusion is the most hard to swallow.  A lot of the evidence Pinker worked on points towards the concept that the parenting shapes the child.  However, this research does not take into account the fact that parents pass on their traits and possibly personality by genetics.  Once these genetic factors are taken into account the conclusions change and are a little frightening.  Twins appear a lot in this research and they have very similar personalities even when brought up in different homes.  In fact, they turn out just as similar when brought up in different homes as they are when brought up in the same home.  You would have assumed that they would be more similar if brought up in the same home, but this is not the case.  So, when summed up, the evidence points towards two conclusions:


  • Everything that happens to you in a given home appears to leave no permanent stamp on your personality or intellect.
  • Children are shaped not by their parents, over the long run, but actually in part by genes, and their culture at large and by the culture of their peers and, to a very large extent, by chance.


The lovely Sharon and I found these conclusions difficult to swallow.  Especially as our own culture bombards us with ideas that we have to do this and that to stimulate the little man’s development.  But, we are scientists and we find it hard not to ignore research.  As Dara O’Briain said, and I paraphrase, “people think they can pick and choose science.  They ignore the bits they don’t like but you never hear them getting onto a plane and saying “I don’t like the look of those wings.  I want curly wings on my plane.””

In the end I wonder if Steven Pinker looked at the effect of cuddles, tickles and hugs.  I would like to hypothesise that even though the little man’s personality is in his genes, culture and chance; I think that cuddles, tickles and hugs will bring out the best in him.

Sometimes things seem to come together beautifully. A couple of weeks ago I was teaching some of my classes about the reactivity of metals and the ultimate in chemistry tedium….. the blast furnace. I personally find the blast furnace quite fascinating. I would not hold it in such high esteem as the Haber-Bosch process but it still remains up there somewhere.

Neil Oliver in An Ancient History of Britain

When I teach this topic, I always try and put it into the context of the history of humanity. From the Stone Age (Mesolithic), farming dragged us into the new stone age (Neolithic). Then the ‘beaker people’ came to Ireland and from there they brought the technology of smelting to Britain, and beakers of course. This launched us into the Bronze Age and then eventually the technology was worked upon and brought us into the Iron Age. Just in the middle of this topic I happened to watch an episode of A History of Ancient Britain which was perfect for showing the smelting of copper in the classroom. After actually smelting the copper as an experiment, watching the first half of the program put it into context perfectly.

The series of four programs has been interesting.  While watching one of the episodes I had a moment where I briefly thought I might be too nerdy.  Neil Oliver sat down to have a chat with an archeologist and before he was introduced I spoke out with unhidden enthusiasm; “That’s Steven Mithen”.  The lovely Sharon looked at me with an expression that I felt was a mixture of confusion and pity.  After a few moment of silent pondering I came to the conclusion that I can’t be too nerdy, no such concept exists.

Steve Mithen – one of my favourite authors

The chance to show examples of chemistry happened again a week later in the form of Guy Martin in ‘The Boat That Guy Built’. It could not be ignored when he built a small blast furnace to make a pot to make a cup of tea. It was a different style of program to that of Ancient Britain but they loved it.

the boat that guy built

The only problem with these programs was the effort involved in getting them in front of the class. iplayer is a brilliant asset but it may surprise many people to know that it is nearly useless in schools. This is all down to our ICT provider C2k. Many of the students I teach have internet connections that are around 20Mb. In school we are provided with a connection not much more than 2Mb. Once this has been divided up into fifty classrooms, two IT suites and another two half-suites, it seems incredible. To be fair it seems to cope well with the usual traffic until iplayer is attempted. Sometimes it works for a while but it can never be relied upon. Instead, we have to bend our heads around ways to get them from home and bring the programs in on memory pens or hard drives. Luckily someone has made this task legal for teachers to do. So, in the end these things work out beautifully but maybe not elegantly.

Guy Martin

These were not the only programs I had shown my classes.  A month ago I had shown them a few short clips from Edwardian Farm.  The clips were on the use of lime kilns to make quicklime for treating the fields.  This slips into the GCSE curriculum perfectly under the heading of the thermal decomposition of metal carbonates.  One of my students remarked to me that his dad still uses lime on the fields every few years.  I am glad that he made the connection in his mind.  I tried to restrict the program to only the clips I wanted to show but I could not resist showing them cleaning a chimney. In this clip they threaten to drop a live chicken down the chimney in the Edwardian tradition.  In the end they settle for the alternative of using a bunch of holly.  At this point I reminded the class that, in Ireland, such a thing is said to annoy the fairies.  Irish households were faced with the dilemma of upsetting the fairies or the chickens.

Edwardian Farm

After the onslaught of Edwardian farm and then The Boat That Guy Built one of my students remarked that it was unusual that the only TV I seem to watch includes an excessive amount of sideburns.

The buds on the apple trees and the uncoiling hawthorn are unavoidable sights at the moment.  Weeks ago the snowdrops were the first sign but now the main players are beginning to stretch and yawn in the spring sunshine.   Very soon the trees will begin to lose their winter silhouettes and will start to soak up the light.

Last week I was sorting out the chickens and generally having a nosey around the garden when I heard a din and a kerfuffle in the fields.  The noise was angry and showy at the same time which made me suspect who was making it.  Later that evening I looked up the culprit in my Collins Field Guide of Bird and Wildlife Sounds (an audiobook).  I was right; the commotion was from cock pheasants trying to establish their dominance over each other.  The noise must make an obvious advertisement for foxes and birds of prey but they were too male to care.  They were drunk with love and it was making them oblivious to all but seeing red in each other.

pheasant cock fight by BenWhittle

The day after this audio treat the lovely Sharon and I passed one of these drunken pheasants on the road.  A tonne of high speed metal usually makes them run for cover, but this one stood its ground, and as we sped past it gave us an eye that said he thought he could take us on.

Tonight I returned home to find a large box delivered in the post.  It was two feeders and two mouse guards for the hives.  The feeders are to help placate the hive occupants when we steal their honey.  The guards are to ensure that the hive does not become a home for local mice.  If they were foolish enough to find themselves in a hive to steal from then I am sure they would be swiftly killed by the residents, and then entombed as the mice are too big to be dragged back out.  I think we are all setup now, we just need to bees!

We have returned and are reunited with our little man tonight.  This morning we left him with granny and grandpa and we headed for the mountains.  We sipped coffee in the early hours while we waited for the groups to form, then we headed for the mountain of the watch; Commedagh.  The lovely Sharon claimed that she was low on mountain fitness but she, and her group, were still able to overtake me and my group.  She took her group to the summit and was on the way down by the time I got to it.

the edge of Slieve Donard through a break in the mist – view from the edge of the pot of pulgarve

It was a clear and cold day until we got near the top and the visibility was reduced to ten meters as the air got colder still.  The wind was enough to take the feeling away from my hands.  It was my own fault for not wearing my gloves while boldly sipping coffee at our lunch near the summit.

The day seems like it was filled with two days.  We fitted so much in that the two days felt like a week; a measure of the best of weekends.

The birds are shining and the sun is singing. Relax and enjoy the day; welcome to caturday.

bubble cat by andreas-photography

I came home this evening and fell into a cliché, we both did.  I spent a little time cuddling and chatting with (not sensible chat) the little man. Then I dressed for rough work and went to the garage and the woodshed.  I had a few wee things to sort out there, mainly the mess. Over the past few weeks we have contributed to society by putting some of the elderly to hard labour (grannies and grandpas).  This has amassed a collection of black bags of garden waste.  I stopped counting after over thirty black backs and a large tonne bag of bits of hedges.  Thankfully the bag can hold a tonne of gravel but the hedge trimmings only amounted to no more than a few tens of kilograms.

After loading up my car and a trailer with as much as I could pack in, I decided to take an old long chain and shorten it.  I wanted to make a short safety chain for the trailer hitch and I wanted to play with power tools.  I dusted off the old angle grinder and went to work. The last time I used the angle grinder must have been over half a year ago.  I remember using it to cut a flag stone down to a size that would fit in the oven.  This needs some explaining.  To make a loaf of bread it is best to have an oven as hot as possible.  I usually turn the oven control until it stops and can go no further.  However, you can cheat a little by using an oven stone.  This is a stone that retains heat in the oven, it takes longer to heat up but radiates more back into the food.  Oven stones can be purchased for about a score of pounds.  To me this is unacceptable when I consider that it is just a bit of stone.  So instead I got a bit of flag stone and cut it down to size.  I did not just lift any bit of flag that had been sitting around the garden for years.  No, I went out and purchased a new flag stone for under a pound.  As it was new it meant that it had been sitting around in someone else’s yard for years.  The lovely Sharon hates the oven stone.  She sees the logic in it but hates the way it gets in the way of her apple pies and roasted vegetables.  Sometimes I come home and find my bespoke oven stone lying forlorn at the back step.

Although I spent the evening in the garage I was not the only one to conform to gender roles.  I was frequently interrupted by the lovely Sharon.  We intend to head for the hills soon and she has not graced the mountains with her boots for nearly a year.  Tonight she dug out her old walking clothes and kit and tried it all on.  At random intervals between hauling black bags, tidying and grinding, she would barge into the garage demanding to know if her she “looked big in these trousers” or “What about these ones?”, “And these, what do I look like in these?”

I am currently planning a trip into the mountains.  My own mother has volunteered herself as a potential babysitter and this means that the lovely Sharon would like to join the mini expedition.  She is a little unsure of how keen she is to wander in the hills.  The hills themselves are calling to her but a whole day away from the little man is a daunting thing for her.  Last night, as we relaxed and had our dinner, she voiced to me her other concern,  “am I fit enough?”  I nearly spat out my dinner at the absurdity of it.  This is from a girl who has only given birth a few months ago and now takes it upon herself to do a few 6 mile runs every week……while pushing a pram.  Before I answered properly I reminded myself that even the most confident of us need comfort and assurance from their closest friends.  We sometimes need to hear the obvious pointed out plainly to us, we are all only human.  Then another thought drifted into my mind.  I wondered if we might be able to put ourselves into the Mourne Mountain Marathon this year and therefore I thought it might be more strategic to encourage her only a little and get her to push herself harder.  I weighed it all up then chewed my mouthful before answering; “you’re getting there.”

1620-Calvin and Hobbes

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