February 13, 2012

Much excitement on Saturday in the Townmouse household with the arrival of a *very* firmly wrapped parcel from the Netherlands containing not contraband but a Nordlicht Dynamo from Dutch Bike Bits. I’d already got the headlight for Christmas from my Mum and chosen the one I wanted; all I had had to do was order the dynamo so, naturally, this took me a month and a half of procrastination to get round to.

Despite all the putting off (it’s just what I do), dynamo lights seem a bit of a no-brainer to me, as long as you’re not massively worried about weight or efficiency.* And besides, bottle dynamo can be flipped on and off the wheel so it only affects the bike when you need to run the lights. However, fitting a dynamo setup to a British bike that wasn’t designed for it in mind feels a bit like shoeing a giraffe: technically possible but pretty bloody awkward. For a start, once all the parts had arrived I had a few anxious moments as the instructions for connecting the headlamp to the dynamo seemed to bear no relation at all to the connections that were available in either the headlamp box or the dynamo box. This, it turned out, was because the instructions were for someone attaching a headlamp to a hub dynamo, which all sensible bikes, of course, are expected to have. A bit of anxious googling clarified how to wire it up to the dynamo but then a second problem reared its head. UK bike lights usually come with a handlebar bracket that allows you to bodge them onto any bike with a bit of ingenuity and swearing. German lights have no such compromises: they are designed to be mounted to a bolt on the headtube which will, of course, be there, because that’s where your bike headlight goes. But the only suitable bolt, the one holding my front brakes on wasn’t long enough to also accommodate the light and the other half (and chief bike engineer) didn’t feel messing with the integrity of my front brakes was a very good idea. It looked as if a trip down to the bike shop might be in order until the other half managed to make a nut with a bolt on it that magically meant it did fit after all (you’ll have to excuse all these technical details).

Then all I had to do was wait for dark and have a go. I’d post pictures of how bright it is but it switches to standlight mode when I stop and I’m not going to attempt to cycle along at night one-handed taking photos. So far, my impression is that it’s pretty darn bright although it does flicker a bit after riding through the deeper puddles so that may be something to watch out for. And if this photo is anything to go by, I shouldn’t be getting any Smidsys, at least not after dark…

It’ll probably need a bit of tweaking – and definitely a longer ride – before I know if it really works for me but so far I’m pretty happy with the results.

* as I clearly am not: this morning when I rode down to the papershop I had to keep checking to see if the dynamo had somehow flipped itself into position because the bike felt like it was dragging an anchor. Turns out that a twig jammed into the cogs at the front is way more of a drag on the bike than any dynamo. Really must clean my chain more often


February 10, 2012

In the pub the other day, the conversation turns (as it often does when you hang out with people of a certain age) to medical horror stories, and in particular the story of one woman’s 84-year-old mother-in-law who came round half way through her gall-bladder operation to the sensation of someone rummaging round in her innards apparently with a corkscrew.

‘How’s she doing now?’ I asked.

‘Oh, not bad, she’s back on her bike.’

It’s entirely unscientific, but I’ve noticed the phenomenon up here of the indestructible octegenarian, usually cyclists, though occasionally walkers (someone else was complaining that she was getting little breathless but that her doctor didn’t take her complaint seriously as it was only happening after the first five miles or so). Obviously I should be above taking unrepresentative anecdotes into account, but somehow a story like that is far more of a spur to action than any number of large-scale longitudinal studies. At least, that is what I told myself today as I dragged myself out on the bike not once but twice on a day untroubled by sunshine, warmth or indeed much in the way of visibility.

Don’t Just Sit There…

February 9, 2012

Blogging material is a bit light at the moment due to a combination of actual paid work keeping me stuck in the house and utterly miserable weather today making cycling problematic. (Freezing rain – I ask you, what is the point? I was supposed to cycle up to the doctor’s this morning but wimped out after the radio was full of the usual dire warnings of icy roads. The other half scoffed as we drove there along reasonably non-dicey roads but I felt somewhat vindicated when I got out of the car just outside our gate and nearly went flying. A broken bone would have been nasty, of course, but at least I would have been proved right…)

So by way of a public service – and this time for anyone who doesn’t have a mallet finger, but does have an office job – I give you this*, via Doctor Mama. And I would add as my own top tip that you should immediately move to Scotland and start heating your work space solely with a wood burning stove burning not-particularly well-seasoned wood. Not only will you soon be too cold to sit still for long periods of time except under a blanket, but you will need to get up at least every hour to refill it…
* I was pleased to note that the comment thread beneath it was immediately diverted into an unrelated discussion on cycling to work. I have been noticing for a while that the internet is increasingly made out of bicycles. I had thought that that was mostly thanks to Google’s uncanny ability to serve you up what you want and Twitter’s echo chamber effect but maybe it really is. What’s your internet made out of?

Better by Bike?

February 8, 2012

Ice yesterday morning prevented me from enjoying my usual ride down to the papershop (what can I say, I’m a wimp and my front teeth were very expensively straightened by my parents so I like to keep them intact) but we made up for it in the afternoon by both cycling down to one of Bigtown’s big box electronics shops to do a little light laptop shopping. I’d meant to go down on Monday but it was just too bloody nice and I spent the afternoon gardening instead but yesterday the ground was frozen and I decided that if there was at least a bike ride thrown in I could handle the strain.*

Now, I would love this to be one of those posts where I prove that cyclists contribute just as much to the economy as car drivers but sad to say we were mainly going down to the big box shop to try out the laptop we’d chosen prior to actually ordering the thing on Amazon. There’s a lot of things you can find out about a laptop online but you can’t find out if it’s got an annoyingly clicky keyboard or an over-sensitive pad that mistakes you reaching for the shift key for you wanting it to highlight acres of carefully crafted prose and then overwriting it in an instant. It’s also hard to tell whether that nice shiny thing in the picture actually translates into something sleek and strokeable or whether you’re going to end up with something that looks like it was designed by a barrel full of drunk monkeys who’d spent too long watching Strictly Come Dancing. I’d never do such a thing to a small independent retailer and I don’t exactly feel that good about doing it to a big one, even if it is one who employs all the monkeys that were rejected from the inebriated laptop design squad on the grounds of taste and decency. I do feel sorry for them though. It must be soul destroying working for a retailer whose business model is fundamentally broken, like realising you’ve signed up for a carriage-building apprenticeship in around 1907, but I simply can’t bring myself to spend £300 more on an identical model laptop just because they’ve employed someone to ‘help’ me do so, especially when by ‘help’ I mean ‘get all the facts wrong and try and sell me an extended warranty’ so we go on with our keyboard testing and stroking while fending off the sales staff and then we pedalled home.

It struck me on the ride back (I have plenty of time to think while the other half disappears over the horizon ahead of me) that we’ll be sorry when the big box is gone and we’ll have to put up with whatever the drunk monkey design teams throw at us. There’s got to be a role somewhere for a showroom for expensive items like laptops where the physical object still counts as much as the specification (see also, trousers). Maybe staffed with actual helpful knowledgeable people who aren’t hampered by the need to flog a useless insurance policy to make up for the fact that the internet has stolen their employer’s business. And maybe (C*met take note) with actual bike racks outside it rather than acres of car parking space.

Oh all right, I’m fantasising now.

*Am I the only female on the planet who considers ‘retail therapy’ to be ‘therapy needed to recover from an afternoon spent shopping’?

High Visibility

February 6, 2012

The world beyond the wall was simply missing when we got up this morning. And even though the sun had put in an appearance by the time I set off for the paper the fog was, if anything, thicker and the scary yellow jacket got a rare daytime outing because I thought I’d better set a good example to those drivers of silver cars who like to drive around with no lights on misty roads being invisible. I didn’t think it would last, to be honest, but it was foggy all the way down to Papershop Village. It made for the wierdest ride: the sky was mostly china blue overhead, the sun was even vaguely warm, the birds were singing, the insects were out – but our hills were just … gone

If I were a really dedicated blogger – or photographer – I’d have nipped up the 1 in 5 hill (assuming it was still there) to take photos of the nice temperature inversion and maybe even a Brocken Spectre or two but I’m afraid I’m not. I’m not sure if the pictures I did take really captured it either, partly because all I could see in the screen of my camera was reflection of the damn hi-vis jacket, glowing away. There’s such a thing as too visible, it turns out.

And then the fog lifted, the sun burned through and it was almost springlike. Don’t tell the weather Gods, eh?


February 4, 2012

Slightly over a year ago, I tore a tendon in my finger, and naturally I wrote about it at the time. Since then, I’ve been aware that I never updated you all about how effective the treatment had been. When I got the splint taken off, the finger was too stiff to bend much at all and it was hard to tell how straight it was going to end up. I know that most of you lot couldn’t care less but I get quite a few hits on that post even now, probably from people who’ve also got a mallet finger, so I thought I’d do a quick update, by way of a public service.

One of the nice things about having the blog is that you’re reminded of all sorts of things you’d forgotten. When the splint came off and the stiffness had subsided, I didn’t really think the results were all that impressive. The finger was still pretty bent and although I could straighten it with a bit of effort, it never really matched the rest of the hand. For a while I found I was still pretty clumsy with it (even more clumsy than normal, that is). I felt that by stupidly leaving it for so long before I got it treated that I’d really left it too late. All the discomfort of wearing the splint was in vain and I would be left with a permanently disfigured hand. The fact that it was my dominant hand was just the cherry on the cake.

Then, a few weeks ago, I happened across the original posting and realised why some of my readers had found the picture so disturbing. Eek! That looked awful! Looking at my damaged hand, I realised that actually it wasn’t quite so damaged after all. In fact it’s pretty good, considering. I don’t know if it gradually got better, or if I just had too high expectations. Sure it’s never going to win any prizes in any ‘straightest finger’ competition. But on the other hand (no, wait, on the original … oh, you know what I mean) I was demonstrating it to my brother in law last weekend while we were having one of those competitive ‘who’s got the most pointless sporting injuries’ conversations and he couldn’t even work out which finger had been hurt. It turns out that time really does heal all wounds, eventually.*

But I’ll let you be the judge. Ye of squeamish dispositions, perhaps you shouldn’t look below the jump. The rest of you, compare and contrast away. And if you’ve come here because you tore your finger and you’re wondering if it’s worth getting it fixed a month after the event – be reassured Read the rest of this entry »

Got a Shiny 4×4?

February 3, 2012

…and want to make it a bit less shiny? After all, nobody wants to look as if they only use their Chelsea Tractor in Chelsea, do they? But then again, actual off-roading might not be safe: just because your All-Terrain Global Warmer looks like a block of flats on wheels and handles like the Costa Concordia doesn’t mean that it can deal with proper soft going and boggy fields. You wouldn’t want to end up having to be towed out of a ditch by an amused yokel with a tractor would you?

Fortunately our enterprising local farmers have come up with a solution:

We call it ‘on-roading’. There’s tarmac under that lot somewhere, honest.

This actually represents an improvement – last night as we were driving home we could barely get our little Peugot over the worst bits as the accumulated mud and associated ruts had got so deep. Someone appears to have come along with something and scraped a few inches off the top before I could get my camera and get a picture. Such is the power of the blog…

Wood You?

February 2, 2012

Hmm. I’m pretty sure that it was barely yesterday that we took delivery of three cubic metres of wood which we hoped would – along with the wood we’d gathered ourselves – not just last us out the winter but also give us some spare. How naive we were. It turns out that once you’ve got the woodburner going most of the time and have got used to such luxuries as not being miserably cold most of the time, the wood just sort of melts away. We’ve still got one stack of wood – which is outside under a tarp to try and get it a bit dryer as, when it comes to buying firewood there’s ‘seasoned’ hardwood, and then there’s actual seasoned hardwood, which – like the fabled towers of Shangri-la – is often talked about but very rarely available for purchase. At the present rate of progress, it’s not going to last us that long so we’ve just bought and stacked another trailer-load which ideally we’d be burning in October but I suspect we’ll dip into before spring fully arrives.

Part of the problem, paradoxically, is that the winter has so far been mild enough that what with the Rayburn going as well, we still haven’t really used the central heating this winter so the stove has been our primary source of heating. This should mean that the total cost of heating this year is much lower than before we got the stove (and for a much warmer house, or at least sitting room) but it does raise the question of when do we turn the heating on at all. Last year we didn’t run it at all in the evening, but we did in the mornings because it’s just no fun showering in a bathroom cold enough to generate its own bank of freezing fog. This year we’ve had to make a decision on a case by case basis. At first I thought that if it dropped below freezing outside we’d probably want the heating on but actually we’ve survived a few frosty nights without suffering too much. This morning, though, it was -5°C when we got up and we decided it was time to burn some oil. The conditions in the bathroom suggested a fairly simple ‘should we turn the heating on’ algorithm we can use: if there’s ice on the inside of the windows when we wake up? The heating goes on.


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