Friday, 18 June 2010

All tanked up!

Some of you may recall that for my recent 50th birthday my friends all clubbed together to buy me a Tank Driving Day! I have to admit that this may not be to everyone's taste, but I thought it was a fantastic present ..... so much so that I actually jumped up and down squealing with pure glee when I was presented with it! Perfectly normal behaviour for a 50 year old who's only 8 on the inside!!!
Anyway, me and Himself went to Tank Mania ( ) last Sunday and had the most brilliant day! Our friends had also bought a spectator ticket for Himself ... but he didn't spectate - he came in all the vehicles as a passenger.
The package was to drive 4 vehicles and then, at the end of the day, crush a car! The vehicles I got to drive were - from left to right, an Abbot self-propelled gun tank, a 432 Armoured Personnel Carrier, a 4 tonne Bedford MJ 4x4 truck and a lightweight Land Rover.

I had really fancied driving the BV206 hagglund Amphibious Personnel carrier but some heartless swine had tried to nick it from the farm where all the vehicles are stored but, in their failed attempt to steal it, they had wrecked all the electrics and it was away being repaired.
The drivers were split into small groups of 3 or 4 to one instructor, all of whom are ex-army driver/mechanics. We were lucky enough to get John (aka George Dawes!) who was excellent! We were told to wear 'old clothes and stout boots or shoes'. They supplied the overalls (one size doesn't quite fit all ......I've never worn something with the crotch round my knees and the hems turned up 6 times before!) and what appeared to be 2nd World War German helmets!
Our team for the day:
I was designated as the first driver - were the lads being polite or just scared?!!!
First up was the Armoured Personnel Carrier - a sweet little vehicle, steered by 2 levers which controlled the brakes on the tracks. Push both levers forward and the brakes are off, pull both levers back to put the brakes on. Turn corners by heaving back mightily with both hands on the lever at the side you wish to turn to - dead easy!
I quickly got the hang of the steering, but because the vehicles are all quite old (30+ years) and a bit clunky, it needed a LOT of brute force and shouting of "come ON" to turn corners - or was that just me?!

The course was well thought out, with some tight corners, steep ups and downs and long straight bits to put your foot down .... not that I did any speeding you understand :D !!!

Next up was the ligtweight Landy. These are designed to be put on pallets and parachuted in to the ground troops in hostile areas. This baby was a hoot to drive as it's considerably smaller and nippier than the Land Rover 110 Defender that I normally drive. I've done lots of general off-road driving and competitions, so I just had fun hurtling this round the course.

The whole day was a family affair. Ian organises it - he's the ex-army waller. Les (dad) does the 'meet-and-greet' and takes all the photos and Debbie (mum) cooks all the spendiferous food we had for lunch - and afternoon tea when we'd finished (how jolly British!) and Ian's brother drove us all back to the field where we'd parked the cars out of harm's way.
After lunch things got really interesting as I got to drive the Bedford. It drove just like a big Land Rover and I had no problems in knowing where all the corners of it were and what route to steer. Himself may possibly be a little bit biased, but he reckoned that I was by far and away the best and smoothest driver of the Landy and the Bedford! (bless him!)

I LOVED driving the Bedford ....but Himself is not yet convinced by my need to park one on our drive!!!
Being a passenger was fun, but driving it was much more fun! (control freak - moi?!)
Himself had a very relaxed day :)
They saved the best till last and I finally got my hands on the Abbot!
Only one minor problem with the Abbot. You see that metal sticky-up bit immediately in front of me? Well, being a short-arse, I couldn't see over it! I did a very good impression of a meerkat as I tried to stretch my spine to give me an extra inch or four.
Going uphill gave a very nice view of blue sky ...and NOTHING else, mind you, I couldn't see a great deal more going downhill either!
In the army they train the drivers blindfolded so that they learn to trust the tank commander and follow his instructions ....... I'd have been fine blindfolded!

Err .........Ooops! :D
The instructors, drivers and spectators at the end of a hot, dusty, day!
I thoroughly recommend having a Tank Driving Day. My cheeks ached by the end of it from grinning so much - it was such excellent fun!
Now I want to drive something REALLY big!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Weed of the Week!

Charnock - a right nasty little beggar!

It's actually part of the cabbage family and apparently, in years gone by, its leaves were eaten as a source of protein when people were too poor to buy anything better. Not sure I'd fancy it myself though!

Don't be fooled by those pretty yellow flowers. It is a voracious grower and spreads rapidly. The new growth is spindly and shallow rooted. The older growth (as I found to my cost at the weekend) has long, interconnecting roots and is a PIG to dig up!

Its seeds have been known to germinate even after up to 50 years of laying dormant in the soil - which is why the weed is such a common site in ploughed fields. I don't know if our garden was ever ploughed, but the flippin' seeds have come from somewhere!

I'd never really noticed the charnock before, but it was a bit rampant this year .... until last weekend, that is! I was fairly sure it was a weed and a knowledgeable friend/ weed expert identified it for me. The part of the garden it had sprung up in is the area behind the fruit cage, which I cleared of stones and dug over last year to transplant the rhubarb into it - Aaha! Yikes! It's all my fault!!!
The piggin' seeds were there all the time, lying in wait for some idiot to come along and dig 'em up!!
What it looked like pre-Charnock can be seen here:

In fact, what it looks like post-Charnock can also pretty much be seen there too except that the rhubarb is in there now! Having dug up the Charnock, without disturbing the rhubarb, I've sown Honesty and Poppy seeds across the bed around the base of the variegated maple. I can't wait for them to come up.

The rhubarb is well travelled - and not just from inside the fruit cage to outside it either! It originally came from the famous Yorkshire 'rhubarb triangle' about 20 years ago. . It was brought down the 30 miles from the triangle to Rotherham (where we lived at that time) via a link that is best kept secret(NEVER give away the source of rhubarb triangle rhubarb!), then up to Aberdeen (long way, long story!) and back to Chesterfield 10 years later, where it was split into 4 and is still going strong. When I moved ours out of the fruit cage last Autumn, I split it into 4, gave 2 away and planted the other 2. It does mean we can't have our own rhubarb crop this year as it needs time to re-establish itself, but it's doing well.

Also doing well are the willow shoots I planted about 6 weeks ago at the top end of one side of the vegetable garden to hide our large and motley collection of compost bins. The holes are actually the 200 leeks I planted at the weekend! They are to the left of the onions and garlic and above the globe artichoke, carrots, spring onions, pak choi and chinese cabbage.

These are some of my carrots before I thinned them! This may not seem much to get excited about to you, but I didn't need to thin them last year as you can't really thin one single carrot!
I planted FIVE rows last year and all I got was one measly carrot - it may have been the biggest and most perfect carrot I've ever grown, which isn't saying a lot given my previous lack of success with carrots, but it was only one. Threatening them that this was their last chance obviously did the trick!

Further down the garden, the azalea is looking seriously fabby this year and works so well with the colours of the Laburnum tree and the Wigelia.

........ and the poppies are abundant this year too.

A hard winter obviously means we get a cracking spring show!