I’m Back…

May 14, 2008

Did you miss me?

Gosh, you lose your city legs quickly don’t you? It didn’t help that I was accompanied almost everywhere by my wheely suitcase, that unavoidable sign of the out-of-towner, not to mention a complete pain in the arse. But even allowing for the effects its baleful presence, I still felt I’d lost a good half of my urban smarts after a scant two weeks in the company of sheep. In three days I managed to lose track of and have returned to me my notebook, a tenner and a bottle of wine; got my rube’s paper ticket stuck in the barriers at King’s Cross and then got told off for having the temerity to ask for help; forgot about the Victoria line early closure and managed to take a route to Palmer’s Green so circuitous that I’m not going to even confess to it here and got into conversation with three separate passengers I wasn’t related to (although to be fair one of them was more me being talked AT while I desperately tried to read my paper). At Oxford Circus I ended up helping a woman with the quick ticket machine thinking that at least must mark me out as a street-savvy Londoner until I realised that of course the real thing would have shouldered her aside and bought their ticket first, not patiently taking her through the touch screen process. I did at least, I promise, stand on the right of the escalators with my faithful friend and wheely companion. That much, I do still remember.

But now I am safely back despite the best efforts of Virgin Rail. Actually, to be fair, they managed to be on time both ways, but compensated for this uncharacteristic performance by having the heating on full blast at ankle level and then, in a magnificent display of joined up thinking, blowing freezing cold air out of the ceiling ducts to balance it out. But that sounds like a topic for quite another blog…

I’m Going Down to London, to Buy a Heat Magazine…

May 11, 2008

… OK, not exactly to buy Heat Magazine, and not to flee the rural peace and quiet either (although…) but because I’m off to appear here. I shall be dusting off my oyster card and digging out my A to Z and trying to remember what life is like in the big city…

Back on Wednesday, God and Virgin trains willing

Popping out for a Paper, Country Style

May 10, 2008

Back in the old days, nipping out for a newspaper offered only two choices. Turn left and walk two minutes to the corner shop which risked getting there after they’d sold out, or turn right and walk three minutes to the proper newsagents which never ran out of papers and had a nice smiley newsagent to boot. Up here in the country, we also have two choices: drive seven miles to the nearest Big Town and the Monster Tesco, or cycle six miles to the nearest garage. It would be nice not to have to drive to Tescos every single day, if we can help it so, the weather being fine, we decided this morning to try the latter.

It started off okay – bucking the topographic trend it was noticeably downhill or level for most of the way, although there were enough hills to keep it interesting. It took us thirty minutes (or rather it took me thirty minutes, and the other half filled in the extra time waiting for me to catch up by watching for dipper). Most of the cars* decided to steer round us rather than over us although there was one 4×4 driver who decided that, off-roading capacity or no off-roading capacity, it was the cyclist who should go up on the muddy verge rather than her pristine All-Terrain Global Warmer. We got there with my face now matching my fetching pink shirt and I scraped the worst of the bugs from my teeth and went into the garage.

Where they had run out of papers.

So Tescos it was, then.

* three

Pole Position

May 9, 2008

Brring Brring – another call from BT, somewhat more apologetically this time, to update us on the great telephone line saga. It seems that our innocent request for a phone line was the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back, and not just the cable but all of the poles from here to eternity will have to be replaced, possibly by the end of this month. And sure enough, when we set out this morning, there was a great big BT pole-replacing machine, working its way up our road. All this big machinery for little me…

Coming back much later this afternoon, (having angered the TomTom woman by missing her carefully selected turnoff and being sent down smaller and smaller roads until we were driving down something with not just grass, but a fine crop of dandelions down the middle of it – a blog entry in its own right one of these days), we inspected their handiwork. Alongside the old wooden poles with arms sticking out*, were new wooden poles with no arms sticking out, presumably the upgraded poles although their improvements weren’t really visible to the naked eye. They had done two. There are a lot of poles.

This could be a long month…

*You’ll have to excuse the technical language here. I’d have taken a picture but I don’t have all week to watch it upload to flickr…

On Your Bike…

May 7, 2008

As part of my no doubt doomed bid not to be forced to use the car for absolutely everything while out here in the sticks, the other half and I cycled up to our nearest GPs today to register with the practice. Rural cycling is not at all like London cycling. It’s much more pleasant, on the whole, or at least the hazards are different. There are fewer cars, but the cars that there are are either going fast or are quarry trucks. The road surface displays what I can only describe as a certain rustic charm, that is when you can see it through the cow poo. There are more bugs – and more hills, so any advice to cycle with my mouth shut just isn’t going to happen. And there’s the view, which is lovely, and distracting, and comprises mostly of even more hills up ahead, with your intended road snaking ominously through them. In fact, through a quirk of topography round here, every destination, including going back the way you came, appears to be uphill. And the hills themselves, which look like lovely gently rolling countryside from the front seat of a car, turn into the foothills of the Pyrennees once you’re on the bike. You know that profile they show of the route through the Alps during the mountain stages of the Tour de France? That was our ride to the doctors’ today exactly, only ours was more pointy. It helped when the other half gave my bike the once over and corrected the fact that the back brakes were basically on all the time while I was riding. You can get away with that sort of thing in flat-as-a-pancake Lambeth. Not so easy here in gravity land.

And I think there might be some hazards with the local drivers, once we actually encounter some. We were sitting outside the surgery cooling off from the ride, answering all the impertinent questions on their forms, when a doddery old gent passed us on the way in. Shortly afterwards, he doddered out again and into his car. I thought maybe a great-grandchild might have driven him there, or at least someone who seemed a bit less confused, but no, he was driving himself. And now he had to turn around. ‘It’s a tricky turn that,’ said a passing local dryly, as we watched him do a seventeen-point turn around the local mini-roundabout. ‘Indeed,’ we said and waited until he was well on his way before getting back on our bikes. Still, at least he wasn’t reading his book…

Rural Mysteries

May 6, 2008

So we’re taking our afternoon stroll down to the post box (it’s all go up here in the countryside, I tell you) when we pass a man who is sitting parked in his car, quietly reading his book. We say good afternoon, he says good afternoon, we walk down to the post box, we stand on the bridge for a while to see if there are any dipper (there aren’t), we say hello to the woman who keeps goats, we buy some eggs using the honesty box outside the cottage that sells eggs, we walk back (look, we’ve quit our jobs, our telly doesn’t work, the internet is operated by means of some string and two tin cans – we have to stretch these things out somehow), and he is still there, still reading. We say hello, he says hello and we pass on by.

I’m guessing he hasn’t told his wife yet that he’s lost his job. Anybody got any other suggestions?


May 5, 2008

OK, so here was one rural hazard I wasn’t expecting. Getting out of the shower this morning I noticed a small dark speck on my hip. Closer inspection revealed the speck had legs, and its head buried firmly into my flesh. A tick. Gah. It didn’t seem to be enjoying what it had found, because it wasn’t getting any bigger (what, my carbon-monoxide-laden London blood not good enough for it?) – or perhaps the shower, despite being a standard rural issue dribble, had killed it off. Anyway, the other half and I managed to do all the wrong tick removal things (aparently vaseline isn’t the answer any more, although I did at least persuade him that a lighted cigarette was not a good idea) before getting rid of it with the pair of tweezers from a stray Swiss Army knife*. I’m hoping we’ve got it early enough that I shan’t go down with one of the nastier tick-borne diseases. I went two years in Africa without getting a single tick; I lasted exactly five days in Scotland…

But still, the sun is out, the weather is glorious, and we’ve just spent this bank holiday morning cycling to our local loch, passing just five cars on the way. On the way back, we overtook a horse, which raised an interesting etiquette problem. How best do two cyclists alert a horse rider that they’re coming up behind it? After some consideration, we decided against the air horn

*All we need now is a horse with a stone in its hoof and its life will be complete

Dingle Dangle Dongle

May 3, 2008

We did our first properly rural thing today – cycling up to the local woods to gather the ramsons (wild garlic) which the other half is busy incorporating into pasta sauce. All we have to do now is walk out the other way and purchase our half dozen free range eggs from the honesty box system at the cottage at the bridge, and we shall have pretty much exhausted the really local food options, short of grabbing one of the gambolling lambs and stuffing it in the top oven of the raeburn. The rest of the food can be found in Tescos, like anywhere else. Still, gathering ramsons made us feel like we were out there at the wild food countryside cutting edge although I suspect in truth it’s precisely the sort of activity that marks out the recently arrived Londoner and we will get over it soon. That’s always assuming it is wild garlic and not, say, deadly nightshade. If you don’t hear any more from me here, that will be the reason.

That or whatever particular imp it is that is trying to keep me from the internet and mostly succeeding. Yesterday, at vast expense, we bought a sleek black O2 dongle thingy that connects my laptop via the mobile network. Like all small things that are worth a lot of money, it’s easy to leave behind, so I knew I had to keep it with me and not leave it behind at Huttonian’s. All the way down from Edinburgh I clutched it to my chest, not letting it out of my sight. This morning as we packed up, I made sure the dongle was the first thing in the car. Once home, we tried it out and it worked a treat, faster than dialup although not really quite broadband. And then my laptop announced it was hungry. I had not forgotten my dongle. I had not forgotten my laptop. But I had forgotten its charger. And it was 9% of battery away from becoming a bulky and not very effective placemat. I hit a new low at that point, I have to tell you.

Fortunately, among the many things I meant to get rid of and didn’t during the move (it’s funny how, after a while, it’s easier just to stick something into a box than actually think about how to get rid of it) was an old laptop charger that, miraculously, fit. And so I am on-line once more though for how long, I don’t know. Even now, I have no doubt, playful rabbits are nibbling away at the foot of the nearest O2 mast, about to fell it to the ground. If you’re quiet (and it’s very quiet, here) you can hear their little teeth nibbling…

A Moving Tale

May 2, 2008

Hmm. Top tips for moving – don’t get some sort of long-running stomach bug two days before the move. Also, when BT say that there is a phone line in the house you’re moving to, and everything will be set up in time for you to move in, don’t believe it unless you have it signed in the blood of the entire board, and have a couple of their first born held hostage as security to boot. Now that we’re actually moved in and I have book to launch, BT’s cheery assurance that all will be fine has turned into much ominous teeth sucking and talk of replacement poles. I have a bad feeling about this one. It may well run and run. Actually, both of them might.

BUT. We have moved, all of our stuff is safely in, the lambs are gambolling in the fields around us* and it’s only rained twice – once for two days, and once for one. The surrounding countryside is a wonderful flourescent green from all the rain and the hills, moors, rivers (sorry, burns), trees, flowers and decoratively placed cattle are all doing their scenic stuff. I can’t quite shake off the sense that we’re on holiday in some curiously shambolic holiday cottage. I thought it was down to all the scenery, but on second thoughts, I think it’s due to the faint but all-pervading smell of damp.

*Slight artistic licence – I’m actually currently staying tonight with another blogger in a desperate bid to get broadband.


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