I’ve been trying to follow the Wildlife Trust’s advice for not mowing in May for a few years. I’m a huge fan of the premise and it’s lovely to see the increase in wild flowers / pretty weeds in our lawn and associated bugs visiting. We usually leave some uncut for general wildlife and as a good place to site our moth boxes anyway. Between the moles, foxes and occasional flood water we were never going to get to bowling green standards anyway. As an ex-groundsman I have had to learn to make my peace with that.
However we are not able to leave it completely uncut for a month as there are some practicalities to consider. Our compost bin is halfway down the garden so cutting a path to it make sense. We use our shed deck a lot for eating outside and diy projects, so a path there without opening up shed Fort Knox to walk through is always useful. The main reason by far though is that our rescue dog is a full on wimp. She is not prepared under any circumstances to walk on damp grass that goes above her ankles. She’s fine with stinky puddles and canal water up to her tummy by the way. She follows the cut paths like our garden is a scalextric track.
I give up. I can only apologise to the bugs and flowers that could have had the run of the whole garden but have to make do with it being dissected by cut paths. Still, it’s definitely better than nothing.
I noticed this abandoned polo mint (other confectionery is available) this morning on my way to get rid of my litter pickings. When I came back over an hour later, after somewhat of a detour, there still wasn’t a single ant on it. Very odd. I know it is somewhat chilly at the moment but I didn’t realise it was cold enough to stop them sneaking out for some free sugar.
I realised as I was stooping in the mud how odd I look and probably am but my audience was polite enough not to stare for too long. Maybe they are just used to me by now.
This was another weird one but it might not be a first. I can’t quite envision a dental care emergency so great I has to floss on the towpath but that might just be me.
I’m coming up yo 10 years here in a week or so. The first major job I did was lock painting. That year we had the added work of making sure we were all painting the same amount of white on the beam ends. In the past things had got a little free-form, with all the lengthsmen having their own preference. My predecessors were of the ‘there’s no such thing as too much white paint’ school of thought. That meant lots and lots of scraping to get back to the newly decided 70cm of gloss at the end of each beam. There were a lot of late nights that year and bribing of my husband and chief volunteer, then only volunteer, with promises of pub dinners if we could just get things to a certain point.
Thankfully my 10th year and 11th time painting has been less taxing. You get into a rhythm. This year, weather permitting, we are getting things ready for the post-lockdown reopening of the Navigation on the 28th, not the usual Easter. The weather gods have been reasonably kind and it looks like I’m on track to make it.
This year I haven’t got to worry about working round the boat traffic so I don’t inadvertently get boaters covered in paint when things don’t dry very quickly. And I won’t get white painty fingerprints in my nice black bitumen beams. Hopefully that will make all of us happy.
Do do, do do, do do do do do do. I wasn’t exactly singing all the way round this morning but I was doing my best to find the joy among the mundane and I’m afraid slightly unpleasant jobs this morning. I went out early to do my litter pick and to deal with the recent pop up of graffiti before it got too busy for me to get things done without getting in everyone’s way.
On the bright side, the anti graffiti wipes smell of oranges. Much nicer than the usual litter picking smells.
And I had a lovely fluffy audience, which is always nice.
I heard my first cuckoo in three years here this week and right on queue the cuckoo flowers are out today.
The horses that usually ignore me came over for a chat.
I only found 2 discarded face masks today, 2 less than last time on the same stretch.
The swans who paired for the first time last year but didn’t successfully raise any cygnets are trying again and building a nest together.
I’m really hoping they have a better year this year, so far things are looking positive.
It was a typical early start to the day, making sure I got some of the pressing jobs done before it got too busy for me to avoid the crowds. We never used to have crowds really, just another thing the pandemic has changed. Some of the tasks I carry out are great fun but the majority are repetitive and distinctly at the non-glamorous end of the spectrum. That’s fine by me. They still need doing and can actually have a more of a positive impact on visitors enjoying their time here than anything else. I may have been multi-tasking today but the bulk of my wander was taken up litter picking.
It might be a sign of an inactive brain but there is something quite restful about mindless tasks. I have to concentrate just enough to make sure I don’t miss any rubbish trying to hide from me which means I can’t worry about the other stuff. Having said that my brain does have a bit of a wander.
Today I decided to count the bags of dog waste I picked up. I told you it wasn’t glamorous! Today I had the dubious honour of beating my record for the stretch with 39 bags. That is pretty depressing but it’s probably more depressing still that a grown up gets a weird sense of accomplishment in the counting and the picking up. That’s 39 more bags removed from the river that visitors don’t have to see or negotiate. My mind also wanders thinking about the distinct groups of litterers. (I’d like to point out that I do appreciate the fact that the waste is bagged at all, particularly when I’m strimming) Some are bag hangers, some are neat discrete placers, some are bag flingers, some are obvious depositors (presumably to help me find them) and some like to find an existing bagged deposit and start a collection. Most of these approaches requires a level of consideration if not effort and I have to say, in all my wanderings and ponderings I have yet to come up with a unified theory that makes any sense to me.
I also collected the obligatory bottles, cans, tissues, baby wipes, orange peel and banana skins. My mind drifted back to an article I remember reading saying that banana peel can take up to 2 months to decompose in the wild. In your compost bins at home with the right microbes and temperature it is of course a lot quicker. That got me thinking that I couldn’t remember how long other rubbish takes to decompose. In my student days I would have had those numbers to hand but in my aged and sleep deprived weir-keeping state, it needed a bit of research.
It turns out the life span of everyday items left to degrade in nature is probably longer than you think, it was certainly longer that I thought.
Banana skin and orange peel – Up to 2 months
Modern plastic bags – 10 to 20 years. If you were kind enough to read my previous posts you will know I found a pre-decimalisation crisp packet from the late 1960s. Some ‘biodegradable’ plastics aren’t much better than ‘normal’ ones unless the specific circumstances it needs are met. Marine studies found ordinary, biodegradable and compostible bags were all still in tact after 3 years at sea, I can’t find figures for those thrown full in a tree!
Paper bags and tissue – 1 month
Juice cartons – 3 months of they are waxed cardboard, up to 300 years if they have plastic or foil membranes
Takeaway coffee cups – 30 years, again they look cardboardy but often have plastic coated insides
Disposable nappies – 30 – 40 years
Plastic bottles – around 450 years. That just means the bottle in it’s bottly form, the chemicals themselves may degrade in time but many don’t
Chewing gum – 1 million years. Ok, I’m calling that non-biodegradable. Some rocks don’t last as long as that.
Put into perspective, if the navvies who dug the navigation dropped a plastic bottle in 1651, I would still have 80 years to find it. Ok, so I know they didn’t have plastic bottles then and I am unlikely to still be litter picking in 80 years time, but you see what I’m getting at. It’s certainly something else for me to ponder while I wander.
Quite often when our Maintenance Team are scheduled to replace lock gates the weather gods cruelly turn the temperatures down below zero. As if the precision physical work in the bottom of a muddy lock chamber wasn’t challenge enough, biting cold and numb fingers can make for an uncomfortable couple of weeks. This time at Pyrford was no different. The poor team even had to contend with snow.
As well as the weather being somewhat traditional, many of the methods, skills and tools employed are too. It’s one of those jobs on the waterway that help you feel it’s age. Lock gates have been changed in a very similar way for centuries, by generations of Maintenance Teams. In the past it was literally generations, with grandfathers, fathers, sons and uncles sometimes all involved. Obviously have been advances that have made things easier and safer but on the whole the process is largely the same
The poor gates at Pyrford we’re ready to be retired. The custom steel strapping had been holding them together for a good few seasons following repeated boat damage. I don’t like to judge, but the gates near pubs can have a particularly hard life. I’m not sure if it’s rushing to get there, leaving after some lubrication or the pressure added by the gongoozlers. You know how difficult it is to reverse park a small car with an audience, let alone a 60 foot steel boat you might not know well that can handle like a pig on roller skates with 50 lubricated ‘experts’ judging and offering helpful suggestions. It’s not surprising the gates get the odd nudge.
Despite all the difficulties Pyrford now has a lovely new set of gates ready and waiting for the Navigation to open again fully when circumstances allow. If you are standing next to a lubricated audience member in the future, watching someone struggle with a manoeuvre can I just ask, for the sake of my lovely new gates, can you maybe find a way to change the subject and keep them from ‘helping’? Thanks.
Yesterday I started my day at first light inspecting my trees for storm damage following our brush with Storm Bella. it was mild and still by then but she still saved 3mm of rain for me while I was out. It was rain hat weather.
Today is definitely woolly hat weather. It might be one of my last outings of the year for my Christmas pudding hat, more’s the pity. Having said that, the fashion police aren’t out on weirs in the middle of Surrey at 2 in the morning, so maybe I shouldn’t worry.
The chilly start today had it’s advantages, apart from the cheerful hat. The views this morning were beautiful.
There are lots of things I do in this job that I wouldn’t have done in my previous life. Today a couple of opportunities of festive examples to share arose.
We all like a bit of recycling and repurposing here. Today a new pair of steel toe capped wellies to replace my split, leaky old ones became an opportunity for a couple of new planters. Obviously, in my mind the timing necessitated a bit of festive ‘zhuzhing’.
Also, it might not be remotely work related but definitely a first, I made my celery and walnut stuffing at about 5a.m. I’ve been making it every year since before I was in double figures but being up all night with weir keeping duties meant today was the first time I’ve done it in the dark. When you have had a good few nights of broken sleep and just been out in the cold to close in the weirs at 04.00, your brain convinces you you might as well do something useful as you’re not going to be getting any more sleep anyway. Today I figured I may as well get started on Christmas dinner. By the looks of it, tonight isn’t going to be much more settled, so with luck I’ll have my orangey duchesse potatoes in the freezer before dawn!