November 17, 2010

Ah. I was just sitting here, listening to the wind howling down the chimney and the rain splattering against the window and wondering just how unpleasant riding down to choir was going to be this evening: quite unpleasant, very unpleasant, or absolutely f***ing miserable. And then, bring bring – our neighbour on the phone ringing to offer me a lift down. I yield to no-one in my fondness for bikes and my commitment to not using the car for unnecessary journeys, such as the mile and a half down into the village, but I am still, I have to admit, quite relieved.

The Downsides of Growing your Own…

November 16, 2010

Meal planning in the townmouse household:

Other half: Ok so that’s Sausage and cabbage on Wednesday, Caldo Verde with cabbage on Thursday and stir fry on Friday. Should we use some of the frozen beans for that?

Me: Or we could have cabbage in the stir fry and save the beans for Saturday

Other half: *senses a cabbage-related theme to the week*

Me: Well we don’t have to have cabbage with everything. we could have parsnips with everything instead.

Delicious new ways with cabbage (and monster parsnips) would be appreciated in the comments…

Da Bomb

November 15, 2010

Heading up to the walled garden yesterday to resume my digging, I noticed something strange about the landlord’s greenhouse.

It wasn’t just condensation; it looked as though they’d taken captive a tiny cloud, possibly a hostage to ensure good behaviour from the weather gods.

It turned out to be a sulphur bomb (or sulphur candle, before the anti-terror people descend) to rid the nectarine tree inside it of red spider mites

I think I prefer my explanation though.

Virtue (sort of) Rewarded

November 13, 2010

Are you bored of puncture stories yet? I know I am. But bear with me, for hopefully we’re almost done.

Having been persuaded yesterday of the virtues of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres, I had seriously considered ordering a replacement one online, but in the end I decided that a slight markup on bike parts (about a fiver, all told) is a small price to pay to ensure that there’s a decent bike shop around when you need one. And besides, it was a glorious day for a jaunt into town on the bike. We’re fortunate that Bigtown is actually quite well served by bike shops. There’s a H**fords, a Raleigh shop, a mainly mountain-bike emporium and the one I go to, a wonderful old tucked-away shop named after (or perhaps founded by) Kirkpatrick Macmillan, inventor of the bicycle and the world’s first scofflaw pavement cyclist. This shop used to have a tiny handwritten sign in the window announcing it was for sale and I always used to worry that one day I would find it closed down for good (it was temporarily shut for much of the week as it was) before I’d had a chance to really get much benefit from it. But it’s been taken over by the same lad who’s been selling secondhand bikes from his parents’ farm and he seems to be making a go of it. And besides, not only did he have a tyre in stock and was able to work out the size needed (not a given, when you’re me), but he fitted it for me too, along with a brand new inner tube. And threw in some spare patches for my puncture repair kit so I wouldn’t have to buy a whole new one.

I was hoping that a new tyre, plus spare inner tube, plus extra patches, would be sufficient to appease the bike gods, but no. No sooner had I paid and thanked him, and wheeled my bike out of the shop, than I got that sinking feeling and looked down at my front tyre, the one I hadn’t had replaced…


…and I realised I should have been more cautious around that hedge-cutting tractor on the way in. Still, there are worse places to get a puncture, and I even got it repaired for free. And surely, surely, surely five punctures is enough for the season now? Or do I have to make some sort of sacrifice to the bicycle gods to ensure a trouble-free ride?


No Wheels on my Wagon…

November 12, 2010

Well, not quite, but I’m currently a thorn away from disaster. I have three inner tubes (two on the bike and one spare). The current spare turned out to have two punctures in it and is now patched and on the back wheel. The back wheel inner tube, itself already patched once, was punctured again by another bastard big thorn and I have run out of patches in my inner tube repair kit. I wasn’t aware that it was even possible to do that…

My back tyre is also looking pretty bald so I think it’s time to go bike tyre shopping, as well as getting some more inner tubes and a new repair kit. The tyres I had were Schwalbe Marathons which are supposedly well nigh puncture proof. But looking at Wiggle, it turns out there’s more than one kind of Schwalbe Marathon so perhaps I haven’t got the right sort. I’ve cerainly had as many punctures in the last six months as I’ve had in my entire life before that so they can’t be that good. But then, these tyres have done 3,500 miles (blimey, can that really be right?) since I got the new bike, so maybe they’re just trying to tell me they need replacing.

A quick google suggests that really puncture-proof tyres, with kevlar linings or similar, are quite hard to get on and off the wheel. Anybody out there of the feeble girl persuasion (or feeble bloke, I’m not fussy, just as long as you’ve got arms like cooked spaghetti and have to get people to help you open jars) got any experience of this? Or do I just admit defeat and go the slime route after all?

Expectations Management

November 11, 2010

If we knew anything at all about today, we knew the weather was going to be vile. It was forecast to be grim on Countryfile (fount of all weather knowledge) on Sunday, and on Monday Papershop Bloke, whose long-range weather forecasts are always uncannily accurate, concurred. On Tuesday, with the clouds marching briskly across the sky, all and sundry agreed that it might be okay now, but Thursday was going to be horrible. On Wednesday, all bright sunshine and glittery frost, old hands squinted to the west and shook their heads and muttered darkly that this was just the calm before the storm. Thursday was going to be bad, there was no denying it. Blue skies and light winds notwithstanding, it was time to batten down the hatches and prepare for whatever it was there was to come.

We woke with some trepidation and peered out at the sky to see if the coming tempest had materialised yet. This was going to be a day for testing out everything-bar-the-apocalypse jackets and wellies, a day for packing a dry change of clothes. Or, on my part at least, this was going to be a day for curling up indoors beside the Rayburn and waiting it out. Sure it might not look too miserable yet, but we knew the awful weather was surely coming.

I think it took me to about mid morning to realise that actually the day wasn’t going to be too bad. Pretty blustery, granted, fairly cloudy, the odd patch of rain here and there but not the sort of terrors of the earth that everyone had predicted. It was, in fact, just a typical November day. And after all that build up, it actually felt pretty mild, almost pleasant. Do you think the Weather Gods have started employing spin doctors to talk them up? Or could it be that now the Bicycle Gods have started persecuting me as well (another puncture yesterday, thanks for asking) they’ve decided to let up their own efforts a little? We can but hope.

(Of course, having said all that, the wind is now back to howling down the chimney. This may be another one of those posts I come to regret…)

10 Rules for Rural Commuting

November 10, 2010

I notice that there’s some controversy over in the US bike blogs about the best approach for urban commuting. Eco Velo has their kinder, gentler take on the subject here, but it got me thinking about what the equivalent rural rules might be for around here:

  1. Warn any horse riders of your approach by telling them there is a bike behind them and then pass them slowly and carefully and giving the horse as big a berth as possible. And a top tip for recumbent riders: lower your little flag before attempting to pass a horse.
  2. Warn any pedestrians of your approach with your bell, especially if they’ve got their back turned or are with a dog. If you’ve no bell, a cheery ‘good morning’ will do (in the morning, obviously, otherwise ‘good afternoon’) but be prepared for them to jump fifteen feet in the air when you pass them any way.
  3. If a car is hanging behind you waiting for a safe place to pass, a glance over your shoulder will generally encourage them to do so – so choose your moment to look carefully. Sometimes it’s fun to tease a 4×4 by never looking at all, but they usually lose patience in the end.
  4. If they can’t pass, it’s probably polite to speed up, if you can, or at least look as though you’re making an effort to get up that hill. I find dropping a gear so my legs go round faster gives the impression I’m trying really hard.
  5. On the whole, it’s probably best to pull over to let tractors past, especially if they’ve got lots of complicated machinery with pointy bits hanging off the back. Or are towing a trailer full of slurry.
  6. If any vehicle passes you, give them a wave. If you know the driver, make it a big one. Or stop for a chat.
  7. If you overtake another cyclist, or they overtake you, always pause to pass the time of day. Tag along for a while if they’re going your way. The ride goes faster if you have someone to talk to.
  8. At night it’s dark. Really dark. Really really dark. Get lots of lights, or only cycle on moonlit nights.
  9. And don’t let the bogles get you
  10. And finally, one from this morning: If there’s a man on a quad bike rounding up a loose bull on the road, the bull (and the quad bike) have right of way…


Feeling Breezy

November 9, 2010

Cycling home into a keen east wind today I realised we’ve reached the point of the year where my leather gloves, thinsulate lined or no, just don’t cut it any more*.  I have poor circulation in my hands so I have lots of gloves – two pairs (fine and heavy) for gardening, fleece ones for walking, my current leather ones for cycling (although they’re not actually a pair as I have mislaid the left one of one pair and the right one of another), mittens for when it snows and fingerless ones for typing when it gets really chilly in the house. This means that I seem to spend half my life either looking for my gloves or changing one pair for another, or taking them off to get my keys out of my pocket, or putting them on again because my hands are cold, or picking up the one I dropped while hunting for my keys, or worrying about where my other glove might be. This leaves very little time for actually cycling, gardening, walking, typing or throwing snowballs, which rather defeats the point of having all those gloves.

I’ve noticed that the farmers who ride quad bikes aroundhere have mitts of some sort fitted onto the handlebars so they have all the warmth they need when out and about, but their fingers free when they need to use their hands. I think the cycling chic-sters of Copenhagen have a similar arrangement for their bikes. It seems to me the perfect solution to at least one of my glove-related needs (the rest can probably be solved by the old string-through-the-sleeves-of-my-coat trick, if I’m prepared to go through life looking like a five-year-old). But what are they called? I think I did know the name of them, but I’ve forgotten it. If I had to name them I’d call them ‘handlebar muffs’ but I’ve a feeling that’s the sort of phrase you really don’t want to google…

What do you wear?

*I was eyeing up the nice gauntlets that came with our stove this evening, but I think I’d get in trouble if those weren’t by the fire when they were needed.

Rural Road Manners

November 8, 2010

I suppose you could say it was my fault. Had I been in London, there’s no way I’d have just stood there by the side of the road right next to such a huge puddle with a car approaching at speed. Of course, had I been in London I probably wouldn’t have been out on the road attempting to unblock a drain to get rid of the puddle in the first place, because I’d have assumed that that was someone else’s problem and that someone from the council would be along to do something about it. But you’d be waiting a long time out here for anyone to come and clear such a minor flood and anyone from the council who did come would be scratching their head to work out why we hadn’t sorted it out ourselves seeing as it only required a poke with a stout stick and maybe a bit of leaf removal. So there I was, in my wellies, watching the approaching car and thinking well, I’m in the country now. Surely they’re going to slow down any moment. Any moment now. There’s no way they’d drench me from head to foot out here, would they? I mean it’s not as if I can get out of the…



Of course, had we been in London, there’s also no way the driver would have stopped, reversed back to where I was standing drenched in puddle water, and apologised profusely. And the annoying thing is that, being English, once she had apologised I found myself compelled to say that it didn’t matter and it was fine and the sort of thing that could happen to anyone. The words ‘you stupid cow, what the hell do you think you’re doing driving like that down a road this narrow in these conditions’ are generally pronounced ‘Sorry, I probably should have got out of the way’ in British English. still, I said it through gritted teeth, so I think she got the message.

The Size and Shape of it…

November 7, 2010

Just in case anyone was hanging desperately on my every post, eager to see exactly what my new vegetable empire looks like, here it is:

my new empire

Now, the wonders of perspective may mean that it doesn’t look as though it’s quite doubled in size, but you’ll just have to trust me when I say that the bit in red is twice as long as the bit in yellow.

And size does matter, as I’m finding out. The new new plot has been left to its own devices for a year which means it’s full of weeds, particularly grass, but with a fair smattering of buttercups, nettles, bindweed, dock and other fun things. It’ll get rotavated in the spring so I don’t have to really dig it but I am tring to turn it over and get the worst of the perennial roots out if I can, prior to mulching with a mixture of compost, manure and leaf mould (the raised-ish beds in the old old plot has either been done or has the overwintering crops in it). We’ve had a couple of fine-ish dry-ish afternoons and I’ve taken the opportunity to get out and get started.

After two sessions of this I’ve got a bit of an idea what I’ve bitten off – here is what I’ve managed to do:

slow progress...

It’s going to be a long winter. In fact, it’s going to have to be, at this rate…


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