More Testing Times

December 11, 2013

We’re off to the US tomorrow, via an airport hotel this evening (I should probably pack) so stand by for what I hope will be a few weeks of bright winter sunshine, cycling adventures and cookies. Apart from the usual worries of travelling (I would feel more confident, for example, if the online check in would actually let me check in, although on the plus side, if it won’t at the airport then at least I won’t have to fly anywhere), there’s a slight worry about coming back in as they seem to have instituted a quiz to let people back in. Now, my informant on this is a man in a hat at a bus stop in Bigtown* so it may not be 100% reliable, but it was a very nice hat. According to him the process goes like this

Airport official: Are you British?

Man in Hat: Of course not, I’m Scottish.

AO: Well, can you tell me the name of the naval hero of Trafalgar?

MIH: Admiral de Villeneuve

AO: (I suspect quite exasperated by now) Who is the Archbishop of Canterbury then?

MIH: Whit kind of a question is that to ask a Scot? John Knox

AO: And who was the wartime leader who defeated the Nazis?

MIH: Eamon de Valera

He admitted that the last one was a bit cheeky – but he still seemed genuinely outraged about the Archbishop of Canterbury question. I hadn’t realised the Presbyterian battles were still so fresh in the folk memory. Despite all this, they seem to have let him in anyway – you’d have thought just asking for his passport would have been easier. But should Scotland ever get independence, I’m hoping they don’t institute a similar system as I would surely fail…

* I can blame the Brompton for this one as it starts more conversation than a dog. ‘Can you no make it any smaller?’ was his opening gambit


Out of Sorts

October 8, 2013

Mostly, I manage to live my life in a nice generally-right-on vaguely greenish bicycle-shaped bubble. Pretty much everyone I follow or who follows me on Twitter has ‘cyclist’ in their bio, except for the ones who prefer to be known by the more politically correct ‘person on a bike’ (the rest are mostly poets and probably consider most of my more rabid cycling tweets to be some sort of extended metaphor about the cycle of life and anyway aren’t in any position to judge someone else’s eccentric lifestyle choices). And most of the people I know locally are also either writing people or green people or cycling people, with a few ticking multiple boxes. But occasionally I have to step out of my comfort zone and be reminded how the world really is, and that (here in the UK anyway) it’s completely dominated by the car to the point where even questioning whether that’s a good thing is considered a bit odd.

Take our community council meeting, for instance. Now, on the whole it’s a lovely community council: it’s not riven by disputes, it only spends 10% of each meeting discussing dog poo, most planning applications are uncontroversial, and generally we whip through the agenda at a brisk trot. We don’t even get too het up about wind farms. Last night was no different, except that we ended up discussing the issue of the purchase of a piece of land to create a larger car park for the (newly delivered – it looks pretty good too) school. The dropping off area outside the current school is too small for all the cars, so there is a bit of chaos (although not as bad as this – the staff supervise things fairly strictly), which means that the kids who walk (and the three who cycle) are at risk. So a new car park would, technically, make active travel more attractive although it would also of course make completely inactive travel even more so. And I can see their point – the catchment area of the school is pretty large, and while most of the roads are lovely and quiet, there are enough quarry lorries bombing up and down the road beside the school to make parents think twice about having kids cycle however much they may enjoy any one-off biking events (and no, we can’t stop the lorries from roaring through the village because, well because we just can’t, and we can’t even restrict them for an hour around the start and end of the school day, because when they’re mending the roads they need to be delivering tarmac and gravel all the daylight hours because you cannot hold up the mending of the roads and obviously that is more important than anything else). They are considering having parents park up near the village hall and walk down with their kids but that all seems a bit complicated and difficult compared with just buying a bit of field and tarmacking it. And – as the others said – a bigger car park would be an asset to the community. After all, when there are events on in the hall, there’s not enough space for everyone to park.

I didn’t say anything. Well, I did try and press the case for the ‘park and stride’ option and I may have made a small whimpering noise at the ‘asset to the community’ part, but I did manage not to just put my head on the table and give up. After all, I knew that every single member of the community council except for myself and one member who lives in the village, had driven there, mostly less than two miles. The thought of any of them choosing to walk or cycle to the village instead, even on a summer evening, let alone in October when the nights are drawing in, just seems totally improbable even to me. Looked at objectively, it’s not the community that’s wrong about welcoming the prospect of a new car park, it’s me. Not building a car park won’t suddenly make everyone cycle everywhere, or walk, or even arrange to share lifts down to the village. So I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself and so another little piece of the countryside risks getting tarmacked over in service of the great god car.

There is a school of thought even among cycle campaigners that the UK is so car-centric that there’s really no point investing in cycling because most of the population just won’t countenance the idea. I’m not quite sure what lesson we’re supposed to take from that (give up? Start looking for a new planet? Move to the Netherlands?) so mostly I choose to ignore it. After all, in the cities where there has been investment in cycling, rates have increased markedly. Give people the facilities, and they will come. Even in Bigtown, you see more and more people on bikes using them simply to get around. But every so often, I am brought up short by the realisation that here and now, to most of the population of my own country, I am, in fact, a weirdo, and I should remember that fact. A tolerated, indulged, even occasionally admired weirdo, but a weirdo nonetheless.


Raining in my House

January 28, 2013

Well, the thaw came, exactly as predicted, with a night of heavy rain to wash the snow away – accompanied by the usual dire warnings from the BBC Terror Centre of flooding and mayhem to come.

flooded road

Which were entirely justified, as it happens – although you can’t go too far wrong predicting flooding in Bigtown these days; it’s been more or less a monthly occurrence this year. The bits you can see underwater there are a Very Important Road and some Very Important Car Parking spaces the closure of which would cause gridlock, traffic chaos, economic devastation, the opening of the Hellmouth and quite possibly the end of the world, not to mention people having to walk a few hundred yards from their cars.*

The forecast now is for more rain, for more or less the foreseeable future. Which makes it an excellent time for us to discover that there is a hole in our roof…

*I mock, but as it happened I was supposed to be holding a workshop in the building just behind where the photo was taken and six people who had booked and paid in advance didn’t show up. It turns out they really won’t come if they can’t just drive up and park outside…


Cluck Off and Die

January 3, 2013

let us at them

The walled garden where the veg patch lives is rather quiet these days – and not just because the mice have eaten themselves into a stupor. No, it’s because the landlord has, with commendable ruthlessness, sent the hens off to the big stock pot in the sky. They had not really been earning their keep as the two surviving white ones never really got into their stride – and the two remaining brown ones were getting rather long in the tooth, or beak, or whatever it is with hens. Once they started to moult and stopped what little laying they were still doing, they were for the chop as they’d then spend the rest of the winter eating without producing anything other than manure, of which, frankly, we’ve got enough.

I can’t say I’ll miss the white ones as they never really showed much spirit but the brown ones (Black Rocks, if anyone’s interested) were a feisty bunch, with distinct personalities of their own. They’d always come racing over to investigate what delicious treat I was bringing to the fence (drunken slugs? Chickweed? Baby rabbit?) and they were nice and chatty too when they were happy (obviously their conversation didn’t actually make any sense, they’re hens, but the point of most conversation is to make a companionable sort of noise and that’s what they did). They also laid wonderful eggs, of course, which made our occasional stints of chicken sitting something to look forward to. So I’m hoping that the spring will bring some replacements…

Meanwhile, in other news, the cat is considering whether to forgive her staff for their three weeks unauthorised absence. So far, the jury is out.

glaring cat


You’ll have Had your Tea…

November 15, 2012

Here’s where I’m reminded I’m not from round here: an invitation arrives to a Community Council training course in their Secret Bunker (it really is called that*). The training is in the evening from 6:30 to 9 pm. The assumption is that I will arrive already fed and watered because all normal people eat their tea at 6 pm. Whereas we are still enough of effete southerners to consider 7:30 the absolute earliest possible time to even consider eating our supper. Who knows if I’ll be able to concentrate on matters of winter resilience over the sound of my rumbling stomach… I just hope they’ve laid in plenty of biscuits, that’s all.

*Oh all right, maybe it isn’t actually a secret bunker.


Bright Lights, Big City

November 10, 2011

We’re off up to Glasgow for the night tonight to go to a concert and practise our city skills such as blanking strangers and looking both ways before crossing the road. To this end, I am wearing my black jeans which are supposed to be my smart ones being the ones which haven’t yet developed a little rip on the inside right ankle from being worn on the bike. Theoretically they are also the ones which don’t have manure stains on them from being worn while gardening but, to be honest, pretty much every pair of trousers that I own ends up being gardened in eventually and, fortunately, manure washes out.

Thus scrubbed up I will, I hope (if I remember not to wear my fleece) blend effortlessly in with the smart Glasgow crowd. I’ll be the one leaning casually against a wall in a cool and urban sort of way because the other thing about my smart black jeans is that – freshly washed and not much worn as they are – I’m still having difficulty sitting down in them. Cycling may do wonders for the shape of your bum, girls, but it does absolutely nothing for the diameter of your thighs.


Battle of the Bands

October 28, 2011

As I may have mentioned before, there’s a fairly large English contingent within the village choir, amounting to about half its members. In order to make a feature of this, the choirmistress had the idea of some sort of sing off between the two groups, with the English half singing an English song and the Scottish half a Scottish one. I think she had the idea of a medley of music from two distinct, yet complementary folk traditions, bouncing off each other in an exciting and engaging way. The only problem was that, on the English side – philistines that we are – we none of us knew any English folk songs while on the Scottish side they knew some lovely ones but Scottish songs do tend towards the gloomy being mostly about exile, loss and longing with a side order of the odd light massacre. As we were all in the mood for something a little more upbeat and a little less wistful, the search for suitable songs got widened somewhat and, musically speaking, possibly went a little bit downhill.

Which is why the highlight of the next village music evening is likely to be the great musical showdown between ‘My old Man’s a Dustman’ and ‘Donald where’s your troosers’.

I for one cannot wait.


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