With the year drawing to a close, alert readers may have noticed that, despite our exciting new smart meters being fitted, I haven’t been posting any details of the results. You may have thought that was because even I drew the line at such a dull post, but that’s only because you haven’t been paying close attention to the blog. After all, I never drew the line at sharing the glories of my vegetable growing spreadsheet.
But in fact, the reason is much simpler than that. Despite my poor gadget track record, I haven’t yet managed to break the smart meters – but I do appear to have broken the entire smart metering project as the website we’re supposed to log into to get the results has suffered unexpected technical difficulties (possibly I should have warned them…). So we’re still waiting to get our hands on the figures for the last few months’ oil consumption. Well, apart from the figures we’ve worked out for ourselves through the use of our mark one smart meter, the graduated stick. Proof yet again – if proof were needed – that there’s very little in life that can’t be managed somehow by poking it with a stick.
… but a brilliant way to run a museum. The local railway museum was dressed up for Christmas (even the portaloos) and were running train rides this afternoon and evening, fairy lights and all. Three quid a ride, with hot chocolate and a cookie thrown in and a visit to Santa at the end. It’s all entirely run by volunteers, including the ones who get to drive the trains.
Quite apart from anything else it was a joy to see people so happy in their work*
Oh and the best bit? For an extra seven bucks we got to ride in the cab. Bargain.
* with the exception of the chap who got to play Santa. He’d rather have been driving trains too. Well, wouldn’t you?
Regular readers of this blog may be surprised to learn that as well as my regular cycling, gardening, ford-monitoring and general trouble-making activities, I am technically supposed to be a writer. Friends, family AND regular readers of the blog may be even more surprised to learn that I have actually finally written something AND found someone to publish it. No, not the long awaited Difficult Second Novel – honestly, who do you think I am, Thomas Pynchon? – but a short story which will be appearing in the forthcoming issue of the Edinburgh Review. Not only that, but I have decided to dig myself out of my rural isolation, pick the straw out of my hair and scrub the chain grease off my knuckles – I might even change out of my gardening trousers, if I remember – and go to the launch. Well, what can I say, there was a promise of free wine. Anyhoo, if you’re interested, I shall be here, and if you’re even more interested, you can buy a copy of it. I’m sure it’s packed with brilliance.
Oh, and if you’re reading this and going ‘I didn’t know she was a writer! Where can I buy her fabulous and acclaimed and likened-to-Barbara-Vine-no-less first novel?’ then can I direct your attention to the links on my sidebar.
Here endeth the plugging. As you were. Carry on. Nothing to see here, folks, move along…
I’m mildly concerned to note that the last ten posts I’ve put up here have garnered (excluding my own and trackbacks) 0,0,1,2,1,1,1,1,3 and 0 comments (although one did get 12 ‘likes’ – tagging a post with ‘photography’ never fails) – even news of the ford couldn’t stir much interest amongst you. Blogging is feeling increasingly like talking to myself these days, especially when you’ve got the constant conversation of twitter going on elsewhere (including a few people tweeting responses to my blog posts). By comparison, looking back a year, the last ten posts in October 2011 got 8,7,3,2,7,5,11,5,11 and 16 comments (some of which was you lot talking to each other as much as commenting) and the year before that the still respectable 5,6,2,8,7,4,3,11,3,5 and 9. It’s not that I’m not getting the same numbers of visitors, as my stats are mainly up, but whoever they are, they’re not saying much. I can’t help feeling (as I sadly check my email for news of any activity on the blog) that once more I’ve written something worthy of nothing more than ‘meh’.
But then again I’m also noticing I’m commenting less myself – partly because Blogger has made commenting on someone else’s blog a right royal pain in the arse, if not downright impossible – but also maybe because I, too, occasionally just respond via twitter or retweet rather than adding something of my own. Which is a shame. Looking back at the older posts just now, I was reminded that half the value lies in the comments, particularly on some of the more abstruse topics. In the past you’ve told me how to fit a dynamo light, re-proof my apocalypse proof jacket (which, indeed, was also named by a commenter), and given more potato recipes than I could shake a stick at. All there, neatly archived. Twitter’s great for having a natter – even for answering questions – but it’s like an ever-rolling stream. Once a week, day, even an hour has passed that informative tweet or question has passed into history, never to be found again. On the blog, information on such obscure topics as mallet finger, the use of coffee grounds in horticulture or even cartoons about cats is still all there, long after the commenters who left it have moved on.
And yes, I realised that writing a blog post about how few comments you’re getting sounds a somewhat desperate, but then again, maybe I am. I liked having a bunch of friendly and informative strangers popping by and topping my jokes with even better ones – in fact some no longer feel like strangers any more. Now I’ve got much less idea who’s reading, let alone what they think. It’s like going from sitting in the local pub to sitting on a crowded tube. Just as many people, but somehow not the same.
Anyway, if you’re there – hello?! – drop a line in the comments and let me know. Tell me what you think. Tell me if commenting’s dropped off around your way as well. Tell me I’ve gotten awfully dull and repetitive these last few months if you like – I can take it.* Just don’t do it in a tweet …
*actually I can’t, I’ll lie awake obsessing about it all night, but I know you won’t let that stop you.
Hmmm. The slight problem with my exhilarating ride last night? I failed to notice my shiny new phone falling out of my pocket. Or rather I did notice it – I heard the unmistakable (and to me quite familiar) sound of a piece of technology encased in plastic hitting the tarmac – but for some reason I thought ‘oh, my lights must have come off the bike’ and then when I had checked and found both lights still there, I just shrugged, reasoning I’d hit a plastic bottle or something and pedalled on. It was only this morning that I realised I’d no idea where my phone was that I put two and two together.
Regular readers of this blog will know phones and I have a difficult relationship. I bought my first ever mobile phone in 2003 and I kept it for 5 years by which time its casing was a bit cracked from being repeatedly dropped but it was otherwise still working. A friend then gave me an old one of hers, which I dropped in a puddle and had returned, although it was never quite the same since. Another phone got dropped in a car park, picked up by a gang of scrotes and used to make prank calls to people in my address book which was annoying, and then threatening calls to someone else which ended up with me in the police station explaining why I’d never bothered reporting it at the time. The only bright side of that little episode was that there wasn’t much credit on the phone (I always get pay as you go for obvious reasons) and they were having so much fun with it they actually topped it up so when I got the number cut off I ended up about five pounds better off. Shortly after that my sister lent me a supposedly indestructable Nokia in a little rubber suit which I managed to destroy in short order, and then I got a new phone which got either nicked or dropped in London in January.
For those of you wondering why after all that I’d buy a smart phone, however basic, my reasoning was that if it was something I was using regularly I’d be better about not losing it. And for five months that actually seemed to work. Once I’d got over the whole new interface thing, I was quite pleased with my phone and I was regularly using it to check emails, tweet on the go, take pictures and generally become one of those annoying people who spends all the time poking their phones. Which meant I tended to keep track of it and better still look after it. It was only when I came on holiday and – needing to unwind – decided to spend a bit less time tweeting and emailing and generally staring at a screen that I started forgetting where my phone was. Ah, the relief of not always having to keep in touch with the world 24 hours a day! Who cared if a few tweets escaped me? What did it matter if that email went unanswered for an hour or two? I could simply admire the view without photographing it and then sharing it on instagram. My phone? Oh, well it’s around somewhere.
Where it was, was in my pocket which was not zipped… and then not in my pocket but lying in a puddle overnight. This morning I did the familiar pedal back retracing my steps the night before to where I’d heard it fall, where I found it lying in three bits in the road. The phone bit seems reasonably okay. The back is a bit battered but can be forced back onto the phone with a bit of work. The battery, though, flew out and seems to have been run over several times from the look of it. I’ve no idea if it will work again. I’ve seen plenty of iPhones with cracked screens that seem to work fine but I’m not sure Samsung build their phones to the same spec. It might be back to the broken Nokia for me…
Meanwhile, handy hints for becomming less of a scatterbrain when it comes to my nice things gratefully welcomed. And suggestions for new phones, preferably with some sort of a homing feature built in…
It’s been a hectic few
days weeks – make that months. Even my holidays have been a bit hectic, to be honest. I have had too many places to be, things to do, emails to read, and documents to write. Not an unusual problem, I admit, although if any of you are thinking about quitting your jobs and moving to the country in order to have time to smell the roses and watch the grass grow, I would caution you to only get involved in, say, two cycling campaigns at once if you want to have time to actually cut the grass and prune the roses.
As it is my poor old garden will have to remain neglected a bit longer as we have finally dug ourselves out from under a pile of work to get away for a week in Northern Ireland (the South West of Scotland is probably the only place in the world whose inhabitants go to Ireland to enjoy the drier weather). I still have a few things to do, but the busyness appears to be returning to background levels at last. Hopefully it means a chance to unwind, relax, and sit on the sea front watching the rain head its way across the Irish sea to fall on Dumfries and Galloway. Even better, we have brought the Brompton and the other half’s bike, so there will be cycling done. And, no doubt, the odd tale or two to tell for the blog…
There are holidays where taking a pre-breakfast dip in the sea just yards from your accommodation to free dive for treasure in sparkling clear waters would signal the sort of luxury break most of us can never ever actually afford but often dream about. Unfortunately, those holidays don’t normally involve a stay at Tobermory youth hostel where the sparkling clear waters are also freezing cold and the treasure in question is my friend’s iPod, chucked over the harbour wall by her fifteen year old son, my godson.
My godson is autistic, and if you’re thinking ‘Rain Man’ or that chap at work who’s a bit odd sometimes, then think again – he’s not just on the spectrum, he’s slap bang in the middle of it: a mixture of a ginormous toddler and a teenage boy – which of course he is – who talks constantly but rarely makes any sense (echolalia) and who is obsessive, liable to frustration, distressingly fond of cheesy 80s Christmas pop music* and only really truly happy when he is on a train. Or at a pinch a bus or a ferry or a coach, but only if there’s no train available as we found out to our cost in Oban when we attempted to fob him off with a city link bus taking two hours to Fort William when there was a perfectly good train going to Crianlarich and changing there and taking several more hours to do the same journey. If the paralympics ever introduced the sport of ‘finding the nearest transport hub in any town or city’ he’d be a shoo-in for a gold medal. We had a minor meltdown on the very last day when he discovered the Glasgow underground (I mean, who even knew Glasgow had an underground?) and was disgusted we weren’t willing to use it. So, instead of the normal approach you might take when planning a break in the Western Highlands and Islands – keeping the travel simple and to a minimum, allowing plenty of time to take in the beautiful scenery or have a leisurely lunch on arrival – got turned on its head. Fortunately the trains, ferries and buses in the region all go through spectacular scenery because we spent the trip maximising the amount of travel we did each day. That way, my friend and I could chat, godson was happy, and the lochs and mountains and moors unrolled past outside the windows for our delight.
As well as scenery, the trip made a good viewpoint for observing human behaviour. I’m sure there were plenty of people who wished we weren’t sharing their train, bus, youth hostel or ferry but there was very little tutting done on the whole; the British habit of simply ignoring anything that doesn’t fit in to the normal run of things stands you in good stead when travelling everywhere with a teenager who shouts ‘Get OFF me! What are you DOING? Naughty boy. Bye bye elephant …’ more or less on a loop. And the kindness of strangers came out in force too. A low point came early on in the trip in Mull when we missed the bus to take us to the ferry. My friend had gone to retrieve something from the hostel, not realising her watch had stopped and the bus driver wouldn’t wait and left without us. With the next bus two hours away we were looking at an expensive taxi ride if we weren’t to be stranded on the island. And then, miraculously, the bus came back to get us after all, a grumpy knight in chugging diesel armour, but a knight all the same.
I won’t give you a blow by blow account of all six days, you’ll be relieved to hear, but here are some points should you be planning something similar, with our without an autistic teenager of your own:
- The Highland Rover is incredible value. Just over £78 gives you four days travel over 8 days on all the Highland trains including the ridiculously scenic Fort William to Mallaig line and the only slightly less scenic Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness line, ferries to Mull and Skye, and the city link coach between Inverness and Fort William and Oban. I think we’ve probably squeezed every penny out of it too. I’d recommend not trying to cram the whole thing into four days though…
- Smidge is the business. You see why they recommend testing it by only coating one arm and leaving the other arm bare because it’s so effective at deterring midgies that you start to wonder (at dusk, on the shores of Loch Ness) whether maybe there just weren’t any midgies out. It’s only when you leave a patch uncovered that you realise that yep, the wee biting beasties are still around.
- Fort William has the most incredible setting – right at the foot of Ben Nevis, on the shores of a loch, with the highlands looming all around. It’s quite an acheivement, then, that it still manages to muster all the character of Slough, only with a bit less charm. What we saw of Oban and Mull and Kyle of Lochalsh were all pretty lovely but we didn’t see much of them unless they were on the route march from one transport terminal to another. We’ve vowed to go back and see them properly, although we’ll probably give Fort William a miss.
- You can get to some really remote spots by public transport, particularly by bus, but you have to plan ahead (Traveline Scotland’s journey planner is pretty brilliant at this) and you have to be prepared to wait – rural buses are pretty infrequent and apart from on Mull just don’t seem to join up with other forms of transport. The only bus from the Skye ferry terminal at Armadale left an hour and a half after the ferry arrived – and ten minutes before the next ferry got in. It was the last bus too. If I did the trip again, I’d definitely take my bike for the last leg. And I wouldn’t be persuaded off the bus at Drumnadrochit for an emergency cup of tea, however parched my friend was. There’s a two hour wait between buses there and there’s approximately half an hour’s worth of enjoyment to be had in Drumnadrochit, once you’ve exhausted the amusement to be gained from Nessie-related tat. It wasnt just my godson who wanted to shout ‘what are you DOING?’ as she dragged us off the bus.
- I believe – but have not tested the theory – that you could probably survive the whole trip cooking only the ‘free food’ left behind by other travellers in youth hostels. Although you’d have to be pretty inventive and fond of pasta and reasonably resistant to scurvy. Still, I offer it up as a challenge to anyone who wishes to try.
So that’s it. I hope my next holiday will involve going nowhere, and doing nothing, in perfect peace and quiet. Fortunately that more or less describes the rest of my life, so I expect I shall recover, given time. And my friend and I – having done some growing up in the last 20-odd years – are still speaking to each other to boot. Although that cup of tea in Drumnadrochit still rankles a little…
And what did you do in your summer holidays?
*in retrospect, my failure to retrieve the iPod might have been the making of the trip