Indian Summer (hurry while stocks last…)

September 15, 2011

All summer long – as soon as it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a sunny one – we’ve been pinning our hopes on September. Sure June / July / August was a bit of a washout but the weather usually picks up in September, we told ourselves. We’ll make up for it then, with golden afternoons and slanting evening light and the leaves not yet falling from the trees. And then September arrived with half a hurricane and no let up in the rain and cold and there wasn’t even that lovely moment of lighting the first fire because we’ve had the stove lit on and off since half way through August.

Still, we had today. Today was glorious: sunny and still and almost warm after a cold night. And, after about three solid weeks of gallivanting about and working, I had the day to myself. It wasn’t forecast to last so it was time to attempt to cram a month’s gardening into a single day…

I didn’t quite make it, of course. I have managed to harvest another lot of potatoes (Edgecote Purple) and the red onions (awaiting the Rayburn’s return so I can make red onion marmalade). I’ve finally transplanted the last of my leeks and harvested the last of the purple sprouting broccoli that put in a surprise summer appearance. We’ve almost got some French beans coming through, just in time to be struck down by the first frosts, I imagine. I’ve pulled up several basket loads of weeds and even managed to move some perennial flowering plants as well. I have been nettled and scratched and stung, and the garden still looks like the plot that gets pursed lips and shaken heads down at the local allotment, but at least I have the feeling that I am more or less on track again…

I’m not the only one doing some harvesting for the winter:

Some mouse appears to have developed a taste for beetroot. Which a few weeks ago I might have counted as a relief, but I was just beginning to develop a taste for it myself…

Absolute Return

September 14, 2011

We were delighted to notice the other day that the goldfinches have been busy this summer turning all our nyjer seed into more goldfinches. As we were out walking a flock of at least a dozen passed over, filling the air with their liquid chirrups, and settling in the tree. As we’re in word-eating mode here, I might as well admit that, unappealing personal lives aside, there really is very little that can beat the sight and sound of a charm of goldfinches flitting through the garden and the more of them there are, the better.

Of course on the other hand this does mean we’ll probably be spending a bit more on nyjer seed because they really do eat it as fast as we can put it out. But, given the return we’ve had for the few quid we’ve spent so far – and the measly rate of interest we get on our savings and the uncertainty of everything else, I can’t see that we can do much better than putting our money into goldfinches rather than into gold…

Of course, that may be why I’ve never been offered a lucrative job as an investment banker. Though, to be honest, I can’t see that I’d have done any worse than the real ones did.

Eating My Words

September 13, 2011

I realised this morning – having waxed lyrical about them less than a month ago -that maps do have their downsides: consulting one while in a hurry in the tail end of a hurricane is a bit less than convenient. As is having to dash back across a busy road to retrieve it before it ends up in the next county. But they do function quite effectively as a flag of distress to any other passing cyclist that you are a) lost and b) incompetent (I had at this point managed to navigate myself round in a circle and was heading in exactly the wrong direction). I wonder how many car drivers would not only stop to give a fellow motorist directions, but then patiently escort them part of the way they want to go until they’ve reached a point from which even I couldn’t lose my way?

Anyway, the reason I was wrestling maps and generally getting lost was because I was attending the Understanding Walking and Cycling Conference at Lancaster. The report has already managed to generate a bit of controversy among cycling campaigners (well, no surprises there) but setting that aside, the lessons from the research was pretty clear at least to me: as long as our towns and cities provide second-class infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians, then the people who live in them will believe that pedestrians and cyclists are basically second-class citizens – albeit extremely chivalrous and helpful ones, if my knight in shining lycra this morning was anything to go by.

Pipe Down

September 12, 2011

On a flying visit to Edinburgh today I noticed that Paris’s Post-it wars seem to have spread across the channel. Picked out in bright yellow squares in an office window on Princes Street – right above the corner where the mendicant piper (as Huttonian always used to call him) plys his trade – were the despairing words

Oi! Piper! Shhhh!*

The piper, of course, wasn’t taking a blind bit of notice. When your instrument doubles as a weapon of war, it takes more than stationery to stop you…

* Picture, you say? Well I tried to take a picture on my phone and it didn’t really come out and I assumed it would be on flickr somewhere already but I couldn’t find it. So you’ll just have to believe me…

Soggy Bottom Blues

September 11, 2011

Anyone who watched the Tour of Britain coverage today will have seen that the weather gods excelled themselves in Bigtown today for the finish of the race, and indeed the intermediate sprint. Which was unfortunate because we’d cycled down to see it. It’s true that the rain shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise as the weather was predicted to be dire, but I had been hoping that today’s forecast would prove as wrong as the ones we’ve had all week that have been promising us ‘sunny intervals’ and ‘clearing up later’ in the face of almost comically grim endless sideways rain. But no. I know, how long have I lived here?

As it was we did at least manage to repair to the pub while the poor old racers did a circuit round what looked like some of the puddliest roads in pro cycling in the aforementioned sideways rain before squelching back into Bigtown again. And then the rain sort of stopped a little bit – adjusted for South West Scotland – for the finish and the podium presentations where Mark Cavendish won 2 extra jerseys but failed to celebrate in true rural Scottish style by wearing them all at once.

I think the highlight for the other half was not the racing – although he did manage to get a ringside view of Mark Cavendish powering past everyone else as if they were standing still – but the way men of a certain age just couldn’t help checking out his French lovely as they passed. And then we pedalled home into the headwind and the renewed rain and came home and lit the fire and got changed into something dry. Beautiful French racing bikes neither have nor would suit mudguards, you see, so when it’s wet, you get very very wet, and the person following behind them does too. Or at least I would have if I’d been able to cycle fast enough to stay close.

Two Cultures

September 9, 2011

Speaking on the phone last night to my sister, who has recently done a similar ‘town mouse’ move to mine but in France (and with better weather…), she told me about how the parents were holding a sit in at her daughter’s school because they felt the pupil teacher ratio was too high. Even though an official had been sent to explain that there weren’t enough spare teachers to go round, and other schools had a greater need (which my sister, in her non-confrontational/spineless (delete as appropriate) British way thought was fair enough), the parents were having none of it and went ahead and barricaded themselves into a classroom all the same.

This puts the response of Nearest Village to the imminent withdrawal of our school bus into some perspective. The bus is a thorny issue because the school is tiny and the catchment area large, and only four pupils are actually entitled to free transport to school. The others were only allowed to use the bus as a favour because they either lived too far from the school, or too close – anyone over the age of eight being deemed able to walk or cycle three miles to school, or two miles for the younger kids. The four kids who are entitled will get a taxi (you have to wonder at the savings that will provide), the rest will have to hoof it, or – more likely – get driven to school by their parents. Or – even more likely for some of the more far flung ones – move to a school in Bigtown as that’s where their parents will generally be driving anyway.* Now I, personally, obviously think that the answer is for everyone to cycle to school but I’m aware that I’m in a minority of one on that issue. So I, like everyone else in the area, has done the decent British thing and signed a petition against the idea. You can imagine how effective that was. Sometimes I think we could stand to be a little more French…

*And anyone who thinks that that’s exactly the reason the bus service is being withdrawn from the smaller village schools so they’re forced to close down is clearly some sort of a conspiracy theorist. Personally, when it comes to Bigtownshire council, I’m more inclined towards cockup…

How Much Wood can a Wood Stack Stack?

September 7, 2011

It struck me yesterday afternoon that if only the EU would stop fussing about the size and straightness of our cucumbers (if, indeed, they do) and fussed instead about the size and straightness of a standard piece of firewood, then stacking the stuff would be a hell of a lot easier.

One of these days I’m going to be found at the bottom of an avalanche of poorly stacked wood and you know what? It’ll be the EU’s fault.


September 6, 2011

There was a moment on Saturday when I realised I really had been out of London for too long – and it wasn’t just when I was surprised at the way a silver Golf cut up not just me but a dad and a couple of kids in a bakfiets on a roundabout to shave, ooh, microseconds off the journey to the next traffic jam. No, the realisation came earlier when sitting outside (outside!) in the sunshine (sunshine!) at the cafe on the South Bank with Dave Warnock of 42 Bikes waiting for the others to arrive for the Cycling Embassy Launch. There was a guy shambling around with a can of Skol in his hand addressing remarks to the world in general and then, when he realised that we were failing not to see him as proper Londoners should, to us in particular. It’s very hard, I find, not to answer a direct question put to you in a reasonable manner (Skol or no Skol) and pretty soon he had pulled up a chair and joined us at our table. And as the others arrived and introduced themselves (for most people we knew by twitter handle or blog name rather than actual name) he introduced himself too, with handshakes all around. I think it took some people a little while to realise he wasn’t actually part of the Embassy* – perhaps they thought he was the mysterious Freewheeler, under deep cover – and he seemed happy enough to join in with our chat and properly appreciative of some of the more glorious bikes showing up for the launch. And then, possibly realising nobody was going to buy him a coffee, or perhaps because he had bigger fish to fry – he’s been part of the old Brian Hay Peace Camp outside parliament for the last few months – he wandered off to rejoin his own demonstration leaving us to ours.

In fact, I’m not sure that even when I lived in London I ever entirely mastered the city art of not seeing the people that you’re not supposed to see. Maybe as an invisible person myself (when on my bike, at least) I have too much in common with the other oddballs of this world – certainly they seem to have a tendency to home right in on me. And, besides, half an hour in his company was far more pleasant than just 30 seconds spent in company with the driver of that Golf…

*cycle campaigners aren’t always the best dressed of people although generally they aren’t on their second lager by 11 am.

And Now the Hard Work Begins

September 5, 2011

(photo via @estuarycyclist)

I woke up this morning at silly o’clock with the realisation that launching the Cycling Embassy (and you can read a proper account of it, with many lovely pictures plus one of me in my killer heels, over at I Bike London) was the easy part. Picnics, pretty postcards and balloons are all very well – but now we actually have work out how to reverse decades of transport policy and lack of investment and start a real cycling revolution in a country that mostly couldn’t care less about bikes and their riders. Ulp. All suggestions gratefully received…

But then, looking on the bright side , I did have a lovely time walking round the London Sky ride chatting to families and handing out our promotional postcards. When I talk – online or in person – to actual cycling activists I always find myself sidling around the subject a bit. Somehow it has managed to become contentious to be calling for decent dedicated cycle paths and I find myself being almost apologetic aboutthe fact that that is what we’re campaigning for. Yet, going round St. James’s Park I didn’t meet a single objection. To families who want to cycle safely – who are so keen to do so that they have dragged themselves and their bikes into Central London and are putting up with the relentless corporate jollity and bossiness of a Sky ride in order to do so – separated cycling infrastructure isn’t a contentious idea, it isn’t even a good idea, it’s just downright obvious. Of course that’s what we need. Of course.

So now all we have to do is make the politicians see that. Easy peasy. Right?

Back to civilisation – and gardening, cats and the weather – tomorrow

Killer Heels

September 3, 2011

Phew – there’ll be a proper report later of the launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, but for now I would just like to say that while I found it perfectly possible to cycle in high heels – I was trying to make a cycle chic impression – walking in them is another kettle of fish altogether. No wonder those glamorous Amazons of Copenhage prefer two wheels to two feet…


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