Saving my breath to cool my porridge

My Favourite Niece used to keep on her phone a list of all the things that really annoyed her Auntie and I loved how she could at a few seconds’ notice find it and read it out to me, my own scrap of paper having long since been mislaid; it included items that I’d either forgotten about or which had been overtaken in the annoying stakes by something even more deaving. I wonder if she’s still got it. And I hope that, currently helping to prop up the hospitality industry in the north west Highlands, she’s compiling a list of her own.

Any regular reader – and maybe there’s one or two – will know that I have certain campaigns running, all of them unpopular and all losing: the making of real cranachan, uncorrupted with either honey or whisky; not having women called guys, or anyone at all even; stopping engine-idling; the NC500 turning into a monster – this last one is maybe gaining a bit of traction, but not thanks to me though.

Having spent just a short time thinking, I’ve come up with several more things to girn about:

Noisy gardening tools

At this time of year, it’s not just very loud lawnmowers that seem to get switched on as soon as I sit down outside or walk through the neighbourhood, there’s also the racket from hedge trimmers and grass strimmers, leaf blowers and power washers. The noise stops and you relax, thinking it’s all over, but then the machine starts up again as its owner goes over and over the same bit of lawn or hedge or stonework. Why are hedge clippers, edging shears, brushes and scrapers not used any more? (My wee sister demonstrated the use of her breadknife to edge her grass and I discovered that a wallpaper scraper is ideal for getting rid of moss on stone paths etc.) Does power washing do anything apart from waste water and dislodge mortar, allowing even more weeds in to set up home?

Out walking, I see more and more men – and it’s almost always men – slashing and hacking at grass and hedges and shrubs, having set themselves up as garden maintenance services. They just want to get the job done as quickly as possible and without using hand tools, they have no physical connection with nature; they don’t seem to show any love or care for the plants, the edges of the grass, the shape of the shrubs or the best time for their pruning, the border flowers getting choked by unrecognised weeds or the possible presence of nesting birds. I passed some last weekend attacking a hedge on a corner site, with a bored-looking loon using a noisy, smelly leaf blower to shift the cuttings away from the edge of the pavement. I stopped and asked why they didn’t use a brush but the only response above the racket was to ask if I needed any work done! A few weeks ago, I passed a bloke using a leaf blower in a pub carpark to try and dislodge long-established weeds; again I suggested a scraper and a brush would do the job better but that didn’t go down well at all.


My local council are spraying weedkiller like there’s no tomorrow when a bit of pulling and / or scraping would be much more effective at eradicating the weeds for the season. In other places, I’ve seen council workers with containers of the stuff on their backs as they walk along pavements and through cemeteries poisoning the ground. (I saw a letter in The Observer on 1 August about the number of dead bees on Birmingham pavements caused by the spraying of glyphosate to kill the weeds.) Maybe I should set up a squad of retired busybodies to weed and tidy our local public areas. Or maybe I should try to convince the council to change their practice. They’re planting some roundabouts with wild flowers so there must be someone with a care for the environment in post.

Dead plants and flowers for sale

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spoken to shop workers and managers about plants and flowers on sale but dead or dying for want of water. I’ve now given up complaining. Whether it’s Morrisons, Tesco, B & Q or M & S, the stories were similar: the person who normally looks after them is on holiday; that’s the way they come in; they were watered this morning; yes, you’re right – I’ll get someone to see to it …. I’ve seen plants being given a quick spray from a hose but only the surface gets wet and then the water quickly evaporates in the heat. I’ve shown shop managers brown and withered bedding plants as well as the drooping leaves on £20-a-time small trees fancily wrapped up in hessian but it doesn’t make any difference. I don’t just refer to the wicked waste involved and to the environmental damage as plastic pots and cellophane wrappings surely head for landfill but also to the loss of their profits, but to no avail. No doubt prices are hoiked up anyway to cover such wastage.

Photo poses

Where on earth did the trend for making silly finger gestures in photos come from? What is wrong with these people? Do they ever look at themselves and think that they look a bit inane? The answer to that must be no because I see this increasingly – and I’m not even on any form of social media.

And why oh why do newspaper photographers ask their subjects to jump up in the air? Is it meant to be taken by the readers as a natural response to good news? How daft and undignified the folk look! And why on earth do they agree to do it? I see this absurd ‘pose’ more and more often, so it’s hardly one photographer’s way of making their photos stand out from their competitors.

Intrusive music in radio and tv programmes

Since I became aware of this, it’s really been ripping my knitting. Why does every second have to be filled with noise, even on a tv programme? Why are directors – or sound editors or whoever’s responsible for this outrage – so frightened of a few moments of silence that they have to fill any gap with music, however inappropriate? A recent Jamie Oliver cookery series overused the same wee snippet from Soul II Soul’s “Back To Life” to the point where I had to switch off the programme as I could bear it no more. I didn’t need my lugs assailed when Jamie wasn’t talking; I was quite ok with looking at his garden or what he had on his shelves or his worktop. Now I’ve noticed it in The Repair Shop too where there is absolutely no need for it either as there is plenty, plenty to look at and take in.

Recent weather forecasts

During July’s hotter than normal weather, the language and attitude of weather forecasters was fair sending up my blood pressure. I’ve been aware for years that the needs of farmers, gardeners and others who work on or from the land are of no account: rain is bad weather and sunshine is good weather as far as the media are concerned; “unsettled” weather or “longer spells of rain” are announced in gloomy tones and with sad faces, but it won’t be like that when they turn on their taps. However last month, on both radio and tv, presenters were getting over-excited: shouting and laughing about “record temperatures” as if this was a good thing or announcing “sizzling temperatures”, predicting “another heatwave” or referring to Scotland as being “scorched”. I wasn’t aware of any reference to these temperatures of 29 degrees C as being unnatural for here or the result of climate change. And this was happening as we watched wildfires raging in Europe and North America and even within the Arctic Circle – do these people do any joined-up thinking? Who writes their scripts? Have they got no sense of responsibility?

Stewarts of Tayside strawberries from “Perth, UK

The cardboard container for these strawberries, which measures 26 cm by 16 cm, has eight Union Jacks on it and they were grown for Morrisons supermarket in “Perth, UK”. Yes, that’s just how you’d answer if you were asked where Perth was and you’d certainly never mistake the fruits’ origin for Perth, Australia. There is a toatie wee saltire on the green label on top, measuring 12 mm by 8 mm, with “100% SCOTTISH” underneath it in print half the size of the capitals on this keyboard. Morrisons is not the only supermarket recently plastering more and more of its goods with Union Jacks, but it’s a chief offender. Stewarts of Tayside presumably package the strawberries on site so they’re obviously nailing their colours to the mast. Their website only includes an email address for Sales so maybe I will write them a good old fashioned letter to ask what their game is.

Enough of all this girning; it’s starting to get me down so I will set aside my comments on Nairn’s fruit and seed oatcakes containing brown sugar, and give you a couple of more hopeful stories to finish:

Norwegian and German women’s teams outfits

I enjoy watching athletics and can get quite exhausted from the safety of my sofa, but I was never much cope at anything apart from the javelin. When I went to secondary school, I was told by a PE teacher that I had “sprinter’s legs” – there were no further comments as she saw me come second last in every race over the next few years. I’ve watched many women athletes’ outfits get smaller and smaller until some runners were practically going round in bikinis and I often wondered if they could possibly be comfortable. It can’t be a speed thing as other women – and all men – continue to compete in singlets and shorts or body suits.

During the recent delayed Olympics, I was so pleased then to read about the Norwegian women’s beach volleyball team defying protocol and wearing shorts – same as all the men were doing – instead of bikini bottoms. They were fined for doing so, which I believe the singer Pink offered to pay. Good for her and good for them. This was followed up by the German women’s gymnastics team wearing bodysuits instead of the more traditional leotards, though some of the team had also worn them at the European Championships. Sehr gut, meine damengehen sie selbst.

Scotland The Bread

I heard about this on Radio 4’s The Food Programme last Sunday and then got on to their most excellent website at Based in Anstruther and on the go since 2011, they’re a community benefit society who’re owned by their members and are “working towards a sustainable, fair supply of flour that better nourishes people and the planet”. On the Balcaskie estate, they’re growing “traditional grains chosen for their suitability for the Scottish growing conditions and climate, for biodiversity, higher levels of vitamins and minerals than conventional grains, and their exceptional flavour”. These nutrient-dense grains are milled into their organic flour which is sold retail and wholesale; they make and sell bread, also now donating to local foodbanks so that their clients can choose an alternative to standard supermarket loaves.

Last month I believe, BBC Scotland’s Out of Doors had a feature on 19th century wheats and links between St Petersburg and East Lothian but this programme goes out on a Saturday morning between 06.30 and 08.00 in the morning – not exactly prime time, is it? I don’t know the date however and I can’t see the topic listed on their website. BBC’s Countryfile visited Balcaskie in 2019 and the programme was repeated recently but again – sorry – I can’t provide a date for an iPlayer search.

We certainly wouldn’t be hearing this good news story or others like it on Radio Scotland’s weekday schedule of phone-ins, (bad) news programmes and ‘entertainment’ shows. There I go again – it didn’t last long, being a Pollyanna.


2 thoughts on “Saving my breath to cool my porridge

  1. Pingback: Common Sins – Splendid, Bella!

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