Platform Nine and No-Quarters

August 19, 2009

People of Edinburgh: how hard can it be to number the platforms in your principal railway station in some kind of sensible fashion? I hear that starting at one and going in consecutive order up to, but not beyond, the number of platforms you actually have is fashionable in certain forward-thinking railway stations. As opposed to say, randomly scattering the platform numbers, as you appear to have done, or possibly – I didn’t have time to work it out, being in a hurry what with having a train to catch and all – in some elaborate fibonacci sequence, or Dan-Brownesque code that, when deciphered, reveals the ultimate secret of the universe*. And if you will insist in doing it your way – and you are the Athens of the north after all – how about then arranging your signs so that the weary traveller doesn’t have to walk the entire way widdershins about the station in order to find platform 9? Only to realise that there are in fact two platform 9s, 9E and 9W with – and this is the sort of detail that marks you out from all the other, lesser, train stations – the eastbound train on the ‘W’ end and the westbound train on the ‘E’ end. Add in the fact that at this time of the year every other person in the city is either dressed as a gorilla or in full zombie makeup, and it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the weary passenger has become instead an unwitting audience member in an interactive promenade performance of an absurdist European drama. Six passengers in search of a train, perhaps?

Still, I made it home. Normal posting to resume tomorrow.

*how to buy a standard advance fare to anywhere that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg

And Points North

August 15, 2009

So we’re off for a few days, to Edinburgh via Orkney (I knew we should never have trusted that sat nav). We’re going to Edinburgh, of course, because of this, which I know is in all of your diaries.  Pehaps with the scribbled reminder ‘avoid at all costs…

Posting may be patchy until I return. And who knows, photos may follow.

If there’s Anywhere…

August 14, 2009

… more depressing than Bigtown in the rain, I’ve yet to find it.

That is all.


August 13, 2009

Not long ago, I got an email via OpenStreetMap telling me about a forthcoming mapping party in Bigtown. Obviously they’d noticed that having just me doing the mapping, at my current rate of do-a-few-side-streets-on-my-bike-when-I’m-in-town-if-I-have-time, it was going to be a while before Bigtown’s coverage reached saturation, and they’d decided to come up and give me a hand. Which is cool, but it did make me realise I had better get a move on and with today being the last fine day predicted on the weather forecast I decided to get out and put one of Bigtown’s two big cycleways on the map. This proved a bit of an adventure. The routes themselves aren’t bad – well signposted, beautifully surfaced, lit, reasonably well used and – miracle of miracles – not carpeted in broken glass. But – and how did you know there would be a but? – there are a few minor flaws. There was the ‘cyclists dismount sign’ at the entrance to one section, but then that’s usually how you know you’re on a really serious cycle route in the UK. And then every time it got to a road there would be a chicane, although I’m better at cycling through those than I used to be. And, worst of all, there was the slight sneaking sensation of boredom I got as I bowled along a flat, straight, untrafficked path with nothing to think about but pedalling – but that’s just me, and hardly the path’s fault. On the whole it was pretty good, and if I lived or worked round there I’d certainly use it in preference to the road.

But there are cycle tracks, and there are cycle tracks. On the way back, I noticed a sign pointing me off to the right, indicating a short cut home. I had a quick look at the map and couldn’t see how it crossed the river, but in the spirit of mapping, and exploration, I decided to follow it to see where it went. Lulled into a false sense of security by the wonderful facility I’d been on before, I didn’t smell a rat when I ended up diving through underpasses beneath a big roundabout. Nor did the roar of lorries tip me off as I rounded a corner, until I found myself right on the edge of the major A-road, the wind in my face, on a narrow pavement, heading against the traffic, with what seemed like every lorry in Scotland bearing down at 60mph towards me. True, I was off-road, technically, and therefore ‘safe’, except where the bushes were overgrown and I had the choice between ploughing through branches or going head to head with an articulated lorry. But it was deeply unpleasant and scary and there was no way off, and nothing to do about it but grit my teeth and put my head down and cycle for the longest mile of my life.

It was a relief to get off and onto the roads once more, albeit the quiet back streets. After a quick stop off for much needed fuel at the garage – a Yorkie bar, as it happens – I was happy to thread my way through the cars queueing for their fuel (rather pricier and much less tasty I’ll bet), and head for home.

Crime Wave

August 12, 2009

A friend reports one unexpected side-effect of the recent warm weather. She went up to her allotment near Bigtown on Friday to find that her shed had been broken into – again. More in hope than expectation of any tangible result, she reported it to Bigtownshire’s finest, and got on with her day. Two hours later, the police turned up to investigate this, the crime of the century.

‘You never bothered when the shed was broken into the last time,’ she said. ‘In fact, I’ve been burgled twice and never seen a police officer, so how come you’re out here now?’

‘Ach well,’ said one of them. ‘We thought we’d come out as it was a nice day for a drive.’

Of course it could also be that they’d misinterpreted what she had meant by reporting ‘two missing hoes.’

Wardrobe Malfunction

August 10, 2009

I had barely set off on my bike this afternoon when I felt a tweak at my ankle. Which was odd, because I was wearing my cut-off trousers – the ones that, were I not still haunted by various fashion crimes committed in the 80s, I would call pedal pushers – so I knew it wasn’t that they were caught in the chain. Looking down, still rolling, I discovered that some loose elastic in my sock had caught in the pedal, and wound itself round the shaft with every turn. As clipless pedal solutions go, it was ingenious but there was no quick release other than just yanking myself free. As this was my default putting-down-to-stop leg (there may be some more technical term) I was glad I’d noticed then and not, say, twenty minutes later, when I came whizzing round a corner to see a timber lorry blocking the whole width of the road. Of course, by then I’d probably have had no sock and a neatly wound ball of yarn on my pedal so I might have noticed, although nothing’s guaranteed.

Which would have been all the more embarrassing because it was only yesterday that I was glibly leaving comments on other people’s blogs about how unusual it was for adults to fall off bicycles on a good road, and a familiar bike. Hmm. Perhaps I should have amended that to add, with non-disintegrating socks on. It certainly adds a whole new perspective to the old phrase ‘keeping the rubber side down’.

Sunshine, Daydream

August 7, 2009

The sun has come out at last, and summer is under way again*. You can tell this because 90% of the local population is complaining about the dreadful heat and sitting around fanning themselves in the shade issuing dire warnings about sunstroke. It must be, ooh, 20 degrees out there. They’re missing a trick, frankly. It’s been the most glorious weather for riding a bike and right now there’s nowhere better to do it. This morning I zipped down along open roads to get the paper with squadrons of swallows glittering in the air above me, gangs of sparrows scattering from every hedgerow, and seemingly a buzzard on every telegraph pole. As long as I keep my mouth shut to minimise fly-inhalation, I’m in bike heaven.

There is, of course, a price to pay. Whenever there is sunshine, I hate not being out in it, as long as it lasts. But having finally been able to go about comfortably in a short-sleeved t-shirt after a couple of months of needing longer sleeves I’ve gone from a farmer’s tan – brown neck and forearms (although obviously when I say ‘brown’ I mean a sort of milky beige. This is Scotland after all) – to a neapolitan one: white shoulders, brown forearms, and bright pink sunburn in the middle.

* Clearly, the Met Office have the same problems with the weather gods as I do, and, having angered them with their loose talk of a barbecue summer, paid the price in July. Ever since they humiliated themselves and admitted they were wrong, we’ve had nothing but glorious weather. Of course, now that we’ve actually been invited to a barbecue, this will obviously stop

A Question

August 6, 2009

Can any of you clever people out there explain why my freshly dug (and, of course, delicious) home grown potatoes explode on contact with boiling water? Not literally explode, that would actually be quite cool, but one minute they’re undercooked potatoes, and the next they’re … mush.

Gone Dotty

August 5, 2009

My trusty riggers’ gloves have worn out – a bramble patch too far – and as we were in Notso Bigtown we wandered into the local hardware store to buy some replacements. (This was after the other half had recovered from seeing a sign in the hairdresser’s window saying ‘become what you want to be, instantly, with raccoon hair extensions’ – as long as what you want to be is a raccoon, presumably). There were two displays of gardening gloves, one for the chaps, in gorilla sizes and one for the laydeez in actual usable sizes. You could tell which ones were for the laydeez because the riggers’ gloves were not just twice the price* but came in two fetching colourways: lilac, and black with pink polka-dots.

After a spot of ranting, I was forced to buy the polka-dot ones because feminist or not, I still have very small hands, and can’t wear the gorilla sizes. But I’m still cross. Partly because it represents the onward march of the pinkification of anything remotely practical that women might want to use just to make sure we know that just because we’re changing a wheel or hammering a nail doesn’t mean we’re not really daddy’s little princess at heart and will be rammed back into our Disney Princess Castle the minute we show any signs of uppityness, Harriet Harman take note. And partly because, hey, women have been gardening for years and years and years and don’t need to be patronised with pink equipment to make us feel we can take part. I mean, did Vita Sackville-West opt to wear pink polka-dotted gloves? Did Gertrude Jekyll only take up horticulture because she could do it with a pretty pink trowel and gloves to match? This is gardening we’re talking about, not something properly male-dominated like fishing, or setting fire to your farts.

And besides, if I wanted to dress up like something out of a fairytale to do a spot of weeding, I would do it properly, not mess around with polka dot gloves.

*Logically, because being smaller they use more… oh no wait, hang on…

Well, that Solves the Woodpecker Problem, Anyway

August 4, 2009

‘Come quick and bring your camera,’ I shouted. I’d just been watching a great tit on the feeder when it vanished, closely followed by a flash of barred flight feathers. The great tit was long gone, but its pursuer had come back and landed on the pole that holds the bird feeder.

Snatched shot of a sparrowhawk on our feeder

Snatched shot of a sparrowhawk on our feeder. These birds don't hang around

The other half had the foresight to grab the shots he could, before going to get a better lens. Sparrowhawks don’t hang around waiting for photographers to get their kit together. In fact, I had to look this one up to check it was a sparrowhawk. I don’t think I’d ever seen one sitting still before. Normally you know a sparrowhawk by the scattering of its prey, not through close examination of its handsome plumage

This one hadn’t read the book though, and decided our bird feeder pole would be an excellent place for a spot of preening. Time enough for the long lens, after all.
I think that’s worth the odd few pounds’ expenditure on peanuts, don’t you?


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