Monday, 29 April 2013

Spring Flower


Slightly later to flower than the primrose, its cousin the cowslip perhaps more accurately prefaces the onset of Spring. I have several specimens planted around the beech tree in the lower garden.


It is maybe three or four years ago that I came upon three very young rabbits among these cowslips. Tempted as I was to, "dispose," of these horticultural terrorists I permitted them to remain sentient. They had disappeared by the following day whether by courtesey of their dam or a feline predator.


The Latin name for this flower/herb is, "Primus Veris," a reference to its springtime fluorescence. The derivation of its colloquial name from the Old English word for cowpat, "cuslyppe," is less laudatory. In the guise of a herb the cowslip was used to produce cowslip wine and tea both of which were valued for their calming and sedative qualities. The flowers provide a decorative addition to a salad and frozen in ice cubes add a certain something to a g & t.


Sunday, 28 April 2013

Bean Day

The runner bean which I have selected for planting around my bamboo wigwams this year is a variety called, "St. George," The flowers look to be quite colourful and Marshalls' catalogue promises, "an early, high yield of crisp, juicy pods." I still have quite a few bags of last year's runner bean crop in the freezer so I expect to have fresh pods for picking by the time I am devoid of the frozen supplies.

I am starting off the beans in the greenhouse. I sowed them in individual small pots this afternoon. Not quite 23rd April, but pretty close. It shouldn't be more than seven to ten days before germination occurs and I would expect that the young bean plants will be ready for planting out at the beginning of June.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Go Faster Shoes

My Puma racing shoes are definitely coming to an end of their earthly life. It will soon be time to say my goodbyes, entomb them in the black wheelie bin and watch the waste disposal lorry drive hesitatingly up the road towards the recycling centre. All that will remain of them will be the memory of their wet, cheesy whiff after a damp race day. Happy days.


So what of their replacements? Even before the mute lined walk to the wheelie bin I have been a traitor to the memory of the trusty pumas. I ordered a pair, (I find that this is aways a good idea as I do not , thankfully, suffer any paucity in the lower limb department), of Asics Gel DS 9 Racing Shoes from Alton Sports. These colourful foot coverings arrived this morning, three days after I had placed my order. It is not long before the now traditional week of warm weather training so I think that I will keep these new shoes in pristine condition until they can feel the warm Portuguese sun beating down on them.


Tomatoes Pricked

I potted up some of my tomato seedlings yesterday, twenty three days after sowing the seed. As usual I have placed them in three and a half inch pots. They will grow on in these for the next three to four weeks after which they will be ready to plant out in rings in the greenhouse border.


These,"rings," are essentially bottomless pots. When I first started growing tomatoes, rings were made from a material called, "whale hide," which was a bit like roofing felt. The outside of the rings was a redish purple colour and the inside black. It is probably forty years since I saw them for sale.


I have to decide what to do with my surplus tomato seedlings. Do I just throw them out, or do I pot them on in the hope that I can dispose of them to good homes? I suppose that my surplus runs to about one hundred plants. A few denarii to invest in the garden would be good.


Thursday, 25 April 2013

Finn Valley AC Display Lack of Time Tabling Skills

Finn Valley AC's mission statement declaims that the Club has, "a proven track record of delivering programmes and building facilities." What they didn't display on Wednesday evening was the ability to devise a realistic timetable for an open Track & Field Meet and then run it as near as possible in accordance with that timetable. Yesterday's weather provided no excuses and this is not a new club headed by people with little or no experience of athletics.

Why was it not possible to allocate specific times for specific events? Why did the organisers think that it was sufficient to provide a, "timetable," which listed nine track events with a commencement time of 6.30 pm for the first race and no further event times?

I had the misfortune of running the last event on the list, the 1500m. When was I to warm up? It was a cold evening and difficult to keep warm. It was 9.20pm before my race was called to the line.

Several Seniors and Masters had travelled a considerable distance to support this meeting. Most left  disgruntled. Must do better has to be the mantra for Finn Valley.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

British Milers' Club - 50th Anniversary.

I received my six monthly edition of BMC News this morning. It is now fifty years since the British Milers' Club was founded by the irascible Frank Horwill. To commemorate this milestone and Frank's contribution to middle distance running a selection of his training and educational articles have been drawn together in a two part supplement. The first part accompanied today's magazine. The second part will partner the autumn edition.


Initially founded with the aim of raising the standard of British Miling the Club has extended its coverage of events over the years. It now organises races from 800m to 5000m including the steeplechase. All of these races feature a pacemaker. The unashamed aim is to assist runners achieve a. 'PB."


It was probably about twenty years before his death at the beginning of 2012 that I met Frank. It was at the La Santa sports resort in Lanzarote. He was there along with a group of athletes from Serpentine Athletic Club. I happened to know one of the Serpentine runners, one Tony Chada by name. He was my passport to training with Frank during my two week, "holiday." Frank referred to everyone, male and female alike, as, "comrade." Even Robin Kindersley , from I think a scion of the Guinness family, was met with this form of address. I also seem to remember that Frank had a penchant for red wine which he displayed with some alacrity at the party which was held on the last night of the holiday.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Dereliction Funding in Northern Ireland

Derelict buildings can be an eyesore. Most cities, towns and villages in Northern Ireland have vacant and deteriorating structures, or overgrown building sites. Much of this deterioration of the urban environment is a symptom of the property crash. Developers had purchased properties close to the top of the market and were then caught with them when land values plummeted; demand for housing and commercial units shrank and Banks cut off funding.

For a second year the Environment Minister, (aka Alex Attwood) has been providing local councils with funding for environmental improvements to tackle this problem of dereliction. A good idea I hear you say, but it is only painting over and buttressing the problem. Local Councils do in any event have powers to deal with dangerous buildings and indeed those in a ruinous and dilapidated state and to recoup the expense of the necessary works. Hopefully therefore the funds being provided by Mr Attwood are in reality nothing more than a series of loans which will be refunded to the public purse in the very near future.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Saturday On Track

Good track session yesterday. After a twenty minute run to warm up and various drills, we ran two sets of 8 x 200m, with 90 seconds to cover 200m between efforts and four minutes jog between sets. I managed the efforts in 35/36s, so just a bit quicker than my 1500m pace. We have a 1500m race pencilled in for Wednesday night so the idea was to attune our minds, (and legs), to the appropriate pace.

With the 200 metre runs completed we all thought that the session was ended, save for a warm down. Well not quite all of us. Our coach announced that we would now all run a 400m, one after the other. Some of the group thought he was joking. He wasn't. The fastest 400m was just under sixty seconds. Not tremendously fast, but it was run on tired legs. Unfortunately I wasn't able to head the rankings in this test of speed, but I managed a reasonably respectable 63.1 s, so not too far behind my younger brethren.


Saturday, 20 April 2013

Gravel is not Compost

I sowed several trays with seeds yesterday. In preparation for this I had purchased a bag of seed compost from a local garden centre some days earlier. It had been produced by a company called, Bulrush Horticulture Limited. This was the first time that I had purchased this particular, "brand." It promises to be the last.


One of the features for seed compost is that it needs to be be finely graded. On the reverse of the compost bag it is stated that this product is, "... produced from quality screened and sterilised loam." The screening employed for the production of the particular bag which I purchased appears to have permitted gravel to be a constituent part of its contents. This is unacceptable. I will not be purchasing another bag of Bulrush compost.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Gin Days Ahead?

Originally considered a herbal medicine I doubt whether any GP would now prescribe it. That said a nicely iced gin and tonic can exhibit many restorative qualities on a warm summer evening, sitting in the garden, as you watch the swallows swoop in the gathering dusk. It is more of a summer drink than one of the short dark days of winter.
I have to concede that I do occasionally savour an odd snifter of gin, particularly when the greenhouse is producing a surplus of cucumbers. You have to use the cucumbers somehow! The recent rise in temperature prompted the purchase of a bottle of Hendrick's gin. I wonder if the colour and shape of the bottle is an allusion to the drink's medicinal heritage? I suspect so. Anyhows a couple of fingers of this juniper juice have now been consumed for what I will call medicinal purposes. I have to say that for my taste this particular gin was just a trifle too floral and a bit soapy. I cannot imagine that another bottle will be purchased.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Running can affect your health - in Boston.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have run the Boston Marathon in previous years. For those who are, "in to," marathons it is one of those venues that aficionados like to tick off their list. Thankfully no one that I knew decided to take the trip across the pond this year.


At first glance it seems strange that a running event should be the target for the actions of some terrorist grouping or malcontent. But if you want to cause panic, if you want to cause fear, if you want to have the attention of the media, then selecting a large sporting event which takes place on public roads is probably going to bring the results you desire. Providing security at such a venue is always going to be difficult and involve compromises. This will be very much in the minds of the organisers of the London Marathon as they prepare for Sunday's race.


It is extremely unlikely that the perpetrator or perpetrators of the carnage in Boston have London in their sights. Where the greatest danger may be is in the actions of some individual who decides upon a copycat attack

Monday, 15 April 2013

Plucking Indoor Parsley


When I took the pepper plants out of the greenhouse last autumn I planted a few parsley plants in the border. These had been languishing in a seed tray for some months, having been surplus to my outdoor planting requirements. They have provided supplies of fresh parsley right through the winter and are particularly productive at the moment. That said it will not be too long before they decide to run to seed and I need the space for this year's tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Accordingly I sowed a small tray of moss culed parsley this afternoon. I prefer the tight curly parsley in preference to the flat leaf varieties.


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Kids Meal

Tonight's munchies included a kiddy food. Not alphabet spaghetti, nor indeed the favoured repast of Mr Fields, but rather baby goat roast. This was purchased from Mr Charlie Cole of, "Broughgammon," at a Country Market. Charlie was one of the individuals featured in the, "Farm Fixer," series presented by Nick Hewer.

The meat is being marketed as a substitute for lamb but with less fat. I have to say it did taste very lamb like although the meat was perhaps slightly darker in colour. A very personable chappie is Charlie and I suspect that his produce may be popped into the trusty aga in the future. Bleeting marvellous it was!

The Magic of the Mile

Although it is no longer an Olympic distance the mile race still attracts the participation of the middle distance runner and the interest of the public. The four minute mile looms large in our sporting heritage. Across the pond in our former colony the mile is still the premier event of collegiate athletics and many of the Power of 10 rankings, at least in the u23 and senior categories, emanate from runners who are in America on athletic scholarships.


NIRunning organised an evening of mile races last year. This was repeated in Antrim yesterday evening. Six of my training group, self included, attended the event. There were four races, based on predicted times. The weather conditions were fine save for the temperature, or rather the lack of it. The thermometer was reading five degrees centigrade, (forty one degrees Fahrenheit in real money). Not quite what one imagines to be the temperature for, "track and field."


No tremendous performances, but I did notice a few 5k runners who were having their first taste of track running. The quickest male runner ran 4.45 with the quickest female runner home in 5.42. Clearly the, "world best " was in no danger of being beaten, but it was an enjoyable preface to the forthcoming athletics season. It would be good if an end of season mile race could be organised. Hopefully by then I will be able to improve on my 5.16. Mind you the dear old age tables tell me that in six months time I will have slowed by some 1.25 seconds so the same time will actually be an improvement!



Thursday, 11 April 2013

Free Cucumbers

I know that packets of seeds are not that expensive. Perhaps not much more than £2.50 each. Most vegetable growers do however like to save a few pounds and I have to concede that I am among that number. Accordingly I decided to save some, "Telegraph," cucumber seeds last autumn.


I wasn't sure whether these seeds would be viable or not, but since they were free I decided to sow them in any event. After a week, five or six seeds have decided to germinate and I suspect that I will have a few more germinations. Six plants is all I need so it looks as if I will end up with more than I require. Perhaps I will find a purchaser for my excess. It would be rather unfortunate if the extra plants had to be consigned to the compost heap.


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Four Ages of Funeral Attendance

A friend's father died over the weekend. It wasn't unexpected. He had had a pretty good innings, nearly ninety summers. The funeral was on Tuesday. If there is such a thing it was a nice funeral. A dignified service, a committal in a light dappled graveyard.

As you get older funerals become more and more a part of your life. Progressively you are reminded of your own mortality. Friends and relatives whose presence you take for granted are suddenly, or perhaps not so suddenly there. The sound of soil bouncing off wood echoes from one funeral to the next. Sombre thoughts envelop you as you travel homewards.

For most of us there are I think four generational stages in funeral attendance. Each one becomes progressively more personal.

Stage one. That of grandparents and aged relatives. These tend to be the first funerals which we attend. Whist we clearly regret their passing they are old people. They have had their day. We regret their death. We miss them, but we have the comfort of our own lives and ambitions stretching forward into what seems to be an unending future.

Stage two. Parents and aunts and uncles pass from our lives. Suddenly we are the older generation. Suddenly we don't have the benefit of older and wiser guidance. We are left orphaned with our thoughts and memories.

Stage three. Our contemporaries, friends, spouses and partners are now the cause of our funeral attendances. This is getting very personal, very close, very lonely.

Stage four. It is now your turn. You don't hear the wet clay hitting the coffin this time.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Running Alone.

My Sunday morning training compadre rang on Saturday night to advise that he would not be joining me for the following day's exertions. He had tweaked his right hamstring, not badly, but he was still very definitely on the injured list.


I assumed that this had occurred during his kickboxing training, but it transpired that the damage had been done whilst he had being doing a few strides on Tuesday evening. He was not happy. I knew how he felt. I have been in the same position too many times not to. When you are used to training most days of the week, being unable to get your daily, "fix," due to injury does have its impact. It is not exaggerating to say that it does upset one's equilibrium. It does make you feel rather depressed and a bit angry, or at least annoyed with your physical frailty.


Anyhow with no one to meet up with I just ran from home and competed a circuit of 7.81 miles. I suppose you would describe it as an undulating run, although there are four fairly steep hills. The shortest probably takes 45s to scamper up and the longest maybe two minutes. The first mile took a very comfortable eight minutes although I hadn't completed any warmup, with the second mile taking a further seven and a half minutes. Thereafter I gradually increased the pace. The final time was 53min 59, which according to the old Garmin works out at 6min 55 per mile.


A large lunch followed.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Track Session for the Superannuated Runner

A coolish start to yesterday but at last spring seems to have sprung. Not quite the weather for shorts and singlet, but one doesn't have to be quite so happed up for training.


After a warmup we started off with some hip exercise before completing a series of high knees between canes. We then ran two sets of four x 300m. We had six minutes between sets and two minutes between efforts. The first couple of reps in each set were not too bad, but thereafter the cumulative build up of lactic made it rather difficult to maintain your speed. I managed to average 50s for my efforts. Not what I would have managed, "in the day," but acceptable for a superannuated runner. A senior male runner would have had to have run his reps in 41.8s to have completed a similar session.


A mile warm down to help dissipate the lactic acid completed the days training.



Saturday, 6 April 2013

Heat Prompts Growth

That a bit of heat jump starts growth is very evident with the Tomato seed which I sowed on Tuesday. By yesterday a few seeds had started to poke their cotyledons above the surface and overnight most of their brethren have decided to join them.

The problem with having the heated propagator on a windowsill is that the sunlight is coming from only one direction and therefore the seedlings will grow towards the light. Some people will place a mirror or even white polystyrene on the room side to bounce the light back and facilitate upward growth. That seems a bit of an effort so I will just follow my usual practice of rotating the trays every day until such times as I take the them out to the greenhouse (unheated).

Co. Down Stoves


Dundrum Bay towards The Mournes - 5th April 2013
Dundrum Bay looking towards The Mournes - 5th April 2013


The baffle plate at the back of the woodburner required replacement. I had that it might have lasted more than two years, but I suppose that even metal succumbs to the temperatures engendered in the burner.


It is a Clearview Burner and unfortunately the sole Northern Ireland agent is based some miles distant in Dundrum. They offered to post me the necessary lump of metal, but it was going to cost me more for postage than the price of the part. Accordingly I determined upon visiting the showroom and purchasing not just the necessary part, but also a spare.


It is not the largest of habitations, probably no more than a thousand inhabitants. The views over Dundrum Bay looking towards the Mournes are quite picturesque. Unfortunately a carbuncle of a townhouse and apartment development has been permitted. I think that it is called, "The Quay." A rather different nomenclature comes to mind.


Anyhows the replacement baffle and spare are now purchased and the burnt out baffle has been replaced.


Friday, 5 April 2013

Main Crop Potatoes Purchased

With my early potatoes now safely ensconced in the ground I decided to purchase my main crop potatoes yesterday. Unfortunately the small garden centre which I decided to patronise was selling its seed potatoes in kilos, but at least they were being sold loose and not in those expensive prepacked net bags.


I purchased two varieties, Maris Piper and King Edward. The latter Potato was developed at the beginning of the twentieth century and as this coincided with the coronation of King Edward VII it was named after him by way of commemoration. Not the biggest of croppers it has quite an attractive tuber, creamy coloured with red blushes around the eyes. Maris Piper is apparently the most commonly grown potato in the UK, most probably due to its heavy cropping and resistance to blight and eelworm.


I haven't quite prepared the ground for these potatoes and for the moment I have placed them in boxes in the cellar to allow them to chit up.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Potatoes Planted

Potatoes take up quite a lot of room in the vegetable garden, but not only do you have them fresh from the garden garnished with mint sauce, but with the right variety they store so well. With a modicum of planning it is relatively easy to have your own potatoes for eight or nine months of the year.


I bought my early potatoes some weeks ago, not very many, just sufficient for two short drills, perhaps thirty tops. They were sufficiently, "chitted," by the weekend to allow me to plant them. As tends to be my wont I selected, "British Queens," for my ,"early." Strictly speaking I suppose it is a second early. This variety was developed in Scotland in the 1890's and is now regarded by some as a heritage variety. I have planted the tubers some twelve inches apart with two feet between drills. Weather permitting I would hope to have them in the pot by the middle of July.


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Tomatoes are Red!

Perhaps a week later than I would have liked, but I did get round to sowing my tomato seed yesterday. The garden centres and seed catalogues have a bewildering selection of varieties for sale. You don't even have to be constrained by the colour red. Yellow and dark purple tomatoes can be yours.


Call me old fashioned, ( I am), but in my book tomatoes are red. I don't want yellow tomato soup, or yellow ketchup or purple tomatoes poking out of my salad or sandwich. I want my easily recognisable and traditionally red tomato. With that in mind I chose two stalwarts of the tomato world to grow this year, Moneymaker and Ailsa Craig.


Both packets contained about fifty seeds, so even allowing for a few, "no shows," I will end up with more seedlings than I need. I usually grow on two dozen plants. The seed trays are now safely ensconced in a small heated propagator on the kitchen windowsill. With the bottom heat I would expect germination to occur within a week.


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Happy Birthday VAT.

Value Added Tax is one of the blessings that has been bestowed upon us by virtue of our membership of what is now called the European Union. We have now had this tax on our taxed earnings for forty years. Initially imposed at 10% we are now experiencing a 20% hit. For someone who is lucky enough to be taxed at the current maximum rate (50 %) that effectively means that on what are deemed to be ,"luxury," non essential items their marginal tax rate is 70%, exclusive of their national insurance contributions. To put this another way good old value added tax is being extracted from the residual pounds in their pockets at an effective rate of 40%.


Consumers don't like paying this tax and suppliers don't like acting as unpaid tax collectors, but this is a tax which will inevitably remain even if we manage to extract ourselves from Europe's clutches. It is just too successful. It raises almost one pound in every seven pounds that flows into the Government's coffers.


Who do we have to thank for coming up with inventing the concept of Value Added Tax? Why none other than our continental cousins, the French, ( a nineteenth century German economist may also have had a hand in it). Maybe the Entente Cordiale should not have been signed?

Monday, 1 April 2013

A Yarn from the Raj.- Only If!

Kim. - Rudyard Kipling - Penguin Popular Classics

Kim, what many regard as Kipling's literary masterpiece, was the novel which was most recently dissected at the reading group which I attend. It is one of those books which I have always meant to read, but which I never got round to doing . That is how it should have remained.


I suppose that I was expecting a fast moving yarn of daring do in the Raj, a precursor of Bulldog Drummond and his ilk. Instead I found myself wading through a stultifyingly boring walk in the North West Frontier with Kim O'Hara and his Tibetan lama friend. With the introduction to the plot of what is referred to as, "The Great Game," there was ample opportunity to rack up the pace of the story, but Kipling seems unable to move from him ambulatory style.


Maybe it was a daring selection for an Edwardian spinster aunt to give her nephew at Christmas but the years have not been kind to it.