Making a go of the garden

After years of having a smallish patch of grass in my smallish urban garden, I’ve made a start of adding some colour, height and texture. My garden is north-facing and a lot of it is in shade for most of the morning, so finding shrubs that might survive was tricky.

The large Dobbies garden centre nearby had a decent range overall but was disorganised and had few plants that suited the garden. It was also expensive. I trundled off to B&Q instead and, while having a much smaller range, found a few small shrubs there for about £15.

Knowing my limitations, I bought some ground cover fabric and pegs and some bark mulch too. This means less weeding in future, or that’s the plan anyway.

The area I’ve started with is between the path and fence – about 1m wide. My garden fork has a severely bent prong which made digging over the poor grass rather tricky and I swapped to a spade instead. The mower’s grass collection bin made a useful receptacle for grass and roots that were removed.

After a couple of hours’ hard digging and some raking, I had a vaguely level strip of ground to lay the fabric on. With a bit of cutting to size for the narrow strip to overlap under the main roll, I managed a decent coverage and pinned it down.

The shrubs were dug in as best I could, in a logical but not-entirely-planned-fashion. A cross cut in the fabric allowed them into the ground. I gave them a good dousing of water too. Two of them might be a little too close to each other if they survive!

I decided not to use the bark and will get some blue slate chips to cover the ground instead. The amount required though probably needs a bulk bag which I’ll have to order online.

My next plan is to plant some more shrubs at the end of the garden where there is some sun and which can give a bit of height and privacy, as the layout of the houses around me is such that there’s a fair bit of traffic past the waist height fence and gate. It will also make mowing the lawn easier.

Reflections on a long life

It is now a few days after my uncle’s funeral in Toronto and after all the travel, emotion and general stress it’s a good time to reflect.

My uncle moved to Canada with his then wife in the 1950s, some years after travelling across the country with the Royal Navy to join his just-built minesweeper in Vancouver towards the end of the Second World War. He later visited (and loved) Australia too, but Canada won the coin-toss when deciding where to emigrate to.

The family grew to five, with the birth of 3 children. Sadly, the youngest was killed in a motorcycle accident in the 1980s. My uncle’s eldest child travelled from Canada on her own to be bridesmaid at my parents’ wedding in Pontefract in 1968 and he was my Godfather.

In 2014, we were able to arrange a memorial event for my father, which coincided with my uncle’s penultimate visit to the UK. We were delighted that he could join us; he and his sister shared some wonderful stories of their childhood. I’m sorry now that I couldn’t join him and his family for his 90th birthday party but feel that I made up for this, in a small way, by attending his funeral.

To Canada, with sadness

On the night of Wednesday 13th March 2019, my Uncle Jim died peacefully in Canada at the age of 92 while holding his granddaughter’s hand. His death wasn’t unexpected as he’d been very frail for a year or so, although even up until 2 years ago he was still sprightly. My cousin went over from the UK for a few days earlier this month to help his daughter Margaret look after him in his final days and the wonderful picture of them together shows he still had a twinkle in his eye. Like my father, he’d suffered from prostate cancer but, unlike Dad, it hadn’t spread and so he died with it rather than as a result of it. After all, 92 isn’t a bad age for anyone. Jim was a wonderfully kind uncle and my godfather. As an engineer himself, he always took interest in my life & my career. He’d moved to Canada several decades ago after serving there in the Royal Navy.

I last saw him when he came over to the UK for a family wedding in 2014, about a year after my father’s death. We held a memorial event for Dad to coincide with Jim and his family’s trip which was the first time that all 13 surviving cousins had been together. For a 90 year old, Jim was remarkably sharp and retained his fantastic humour. He was always the Joker and there are some spectacular family yarns about some of his pranks.

After Dad’s death, I resolved to go to Jim’s funeral whenever that would be. Dad and Jim were close as brothers and, despite the distance, we probably saw him as much as we saw our other aunts and uncles. I was determined that our side of the family would attend the funeral and even if I hadn’t had such a resolve to go myself, realistically I was the one to go.

So, I am writing this post on a British Airways 777 heading to Toronto only 4 days after Jim’s death and having had a stressful few days in the meantime trying to find vaguely affordable flights and getting work done that I should have been doing next week. I’m fortunate to have an understanding manager and an employer that generally understands the importance of their employees’ wellbeing. That said, I didn’t give anyone much choice about the matter.

I am meeting a cousin in Toronto, daughter of Jim and Dad’s last surviving sibling, Ruth. Another memorable family gathering was her wedding on Holy Island in 2002. We have a lovely picture of the three brothers (Dad, Jim & John) walking together on the day after the wedding while waiting for the tide to recede from the island’s causeway. It is comforting to think that the three of them will be back together again, along with their sister Mary.

I’ve never been to Canada until today, and I’ll add the fact that I never visited while Jim was alive to a growing list of life’s regrets. By going to his funeral though, I feel that I am honouring him and my Dad and I know that both of them would be pleased that I am supporting the grieving family who are left behind.


New Car Buying Tips for Numpties (By a Numpty)

Many of these tips are based on the premise that, like me, you have decided to follow the path of buying a brand new car on a PCP deal, with PCP being the type of finance deal that means you essentially only pay for the car’s depreciation over a period of 3-4 years and have a large payment at the end if you choose to keep the car. I bought a MINI, but other car brands are available. If you’re used to buying cars this way, these tips from a newbie may be obvious, but if you’re inexperienced or hate haggling (like me) then these tips will hopefully make you feel more confident of getting a good deal.

Continue reading “New Car Buying Tips for Numpties (By a Numpty)”

Buying a New Car – Why is it so Painful? Part 1

About 3 months ago, I received an email from a salesman at the Lloyds MINI dealership in Newcastle informing me that they had a special offer in place for PCP finance – 2.9% APR interest. This was timely, as I’d been thinking about getting a new car anyway – my 3 door MINI hatchback was too small for my needs and my mother was finding it hard to get in and out of. I therefore had my eyes on a Countryman – the not-so-mini crossover/SUV-sized MINI. After a couple of weekends, I braced myself and went to the dealership, taking my friend Craig with me for moral support. Continue reading “Buying a New Car – Why is it so Painful? Part 1”

4 weeks with the iPhone X

After 4 weeks of using the iPhone X, I can safely say that it is far and away the best phone I have ever used, and I have had most of the iPhones released. It is a pleasure to hold, the screen is fantastic and battery life is much better than previous phones I’ve used. Android users may scoff at this, as they’ve had large OLED screens and wireless charging for a while, but for me the mix of software and hardware is a joy to use. Continue reading “4 weeks with the iPhone X”

Travelling the Cumbria Coast Railway: Part 2

The Cumbria Coast Railway is built right on the coastline in many places, such as between Workington & Whitehaven and between Saint Bees & Seascale. It is a pretty wild coastline and the sea wall supporting the railway has often been damaged during storms. At Parton, between Workington & Whitehaven, the track has been reduced to a single line to move trains away from the sea wall and reduce loading on the sea defences. The line is often closed by storms due to the risk to trains. Continue reading “Travelling the Cumbria Coast Railway: Part 2”

Travelling the Cumbria Coast Railway: Part 1

The Cumbria Coast railway line from Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness via Whitehaven is a bit of a hidden gem. Between Workington & Whitehaven, the railway hugs the coastline (in some places the railway forms the coastal defences and has had to be repaired many times). The railway is a mix of double track and single track and has some semaphore signalling south of Workington. Continue reading “Travelling the Cumbria Coast Railway: Part 1”