Bikes Bearing Gifts

August 21, 2017

Heading out for the paper this lunchtime after a hard morning compiling the Cycling Embassy Bike Blog Roundup, I was startled to discover someone had left a mysterious offering on the doorstep.

plastic bag

A plastic bag! That’s worth 5p you know

A quick glance inside revealed blackcurrant cuttings, but no note. I was puzzled because I didn’t think any of the tiny handful of people who live within walking distance of us would be bringing blackcurrant cuttings unannounced, but I definitely had not heard a car.

blackcurrant cuttings

A message on my phone quickly cleared up the mystery: my friend with the e-bike had taken advantage of its ability to zoom effortlessly up hills to drop them off. Clearly I was too absorbed to hear her knock on the door – and the bike was too silent to alert me to her arrival. As downsides to e-bikes go, it’s pretty minor but I’m sorry to have missed her, if only so I could see for myself what The Hill is like on the bike.

Anyway, the blackcurrants have been potted up and will make a fine addition to our fruit cage when we actually get around to putting one up. They’ll probably be full size by then …

blackcurrant cuttings potted up

Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

August 20, 2017

Stopping in to buy a paper on my way to catch the train to Glasgow yesterday morning, I had the nicest little encounter. A woman in the queue said hello to me as if she knew me and asked me how I was, which isn’t that unusual around here – I’m forever meeting people out of context and racking my brains to work out how I know them – but this time I had no sense that I recognised her at all. So I said hello back and asked how she was, and then she said something about me being always out on my bike. So we chatted about that for a bit, and she told me that she used to ride a bike but she had sold hers because she was now too scared to go out on the roads and I told her that I didn’t blame her one bit, and that there were some roads I only rode on because I was bloody minded, and the traffic frightened me too. And we had a real meeting of minds about needing better conditions on the roads, and terrifying lorries, and not needing to dress up specially to ride a bike and it was all lovely, although sad that one more person has been frightened off the roads.

But I still didn’t know how I knew her – or she knew me – until it emerged that she has been seeing me out on the bike for the last few months while driving and she has been acknowledging me and I have been acknowledging her (because I will always raise a hand in thanks at any driver who doesn’t actively endanger my life which is in fairness most of them). Except of course she is in a car so I have no idea what she looks like whereas I am extremely recognisable to her. So when she saw me in the shop, she felt that we had already become friendly, just through our interactions on the road. I shall have to keep an eye out for her car (fortunately she described it to me) and make sure to give her an extra friendly wave from now on.

It’s easy sometimes, especially when it’s raining and things are all a bit grim, to start to feel a bit beleaguered by the drivers out there, and ascribe all sorts of things to them (impatience, irritation, aggression) that they aren’t actually feeling at all. So it’s good to know that at least one of those metal boxes out there harbours someone who feels warm and friendly towards cyclists, feels a bit guilty about not being one, and looks out for you on the road. It left me with a nice warm feeling of my own, and a renewed determination to keep being polite and friendly to everyone on the road.

Shooting Blanks

August 17, 2017

I managed an hour or two in the garden today, and not a moment too soon as the sole surviving pumpkin plant appears to be mounting a bid for freedom.

pumpkin plant

It doesn’t appear to be mounting much of an effort to grow pumpkins though – the few little fruits it has produced have tended to rot off before they amount to much. This may be sheer loneliness – I planted out four squash and four pumpkin plants this spring, and it is the sole survivor of the rampant slug army that is inhabits the garden. Despite many dozens of them meeting their doom in the beer traps, there seems to be no end to them; perhaps I should stop buying them rounds …


Perhaps I should also stop providing neat little slug starter homes…

Despite the slugs, and some rampant neglect of my own, the plot has proved surprisingly fertile ground for the plants that did survive. None of my French beans made it past the hopeful seedling stage, and the curly kale just evaporated without trace but the red winter kale is looking pretty good, if somewhat slug-chewed, the beetroot has already provided several meals and is wonderfully sweet* and the peas have just gone beserk. They have resisted all attempts to be propped up so picking them involves wading into the patch and pulling out the pods before the tendrils can fasten themselves around your ankles, but for the first time in years we’ve had enough peas to cook and eat, rather than just be scoffed straight from the pod. I think this may be first-plot syndrome – they always seem to do well on new ground, and then are never quite so good again (she says, grandly, having had all of three veg plots in her entire life).


Tonight’s supper, which was, as tradition demands, delicious

My broad beans are a sad disappointment though. They are producing magnificent pods but there’s just nothing in them or almost nothing. Clearly with that and the pumpkin, there’s a lack of pollination going on. We seem to have a fair few bees about, but perhaps they’ve been distracted (or indeed held captive) by the peas. It might have helped if I’d staked them properly, or kept them a bit better weeded, but it’s definitely been a case of the survival of the fittest in the garden this year.

broad bean pods

Broad beans: all hat and no cattle

* adjusted for being beetroot and not, say, chocolate.

Pounce First, Ask Questions Later

August 16, 2017

So, I haven’t knitted anything for a while, due to various reasons mainly revolving around the only so many hours in a day issue (although to be fair, if I combined all the time I spent on Twitter with all the time I spend standing in the bedroom wondering what I’d come upstairs for* I could probably have knitted the Bayeux Tapestry by now).

Anyway, yesterday I was truffling around in Bigtown’s charity shops when I noticed one was stocking knitting yarn – several bags of mohair to be specific.

The problem with mohair is that while it’s lovely and fluffy, it’s lovely and fluffy which means that pretty much all the knitting patterns for mohair wool just look a bit (well, a lot) eighties (as a teenager in the 80s, I remember we used to look at the fashions of the 70s and scoff at how ridiculous everyone looked. Ahem. I speak as the proud owner of a knitted giraffe-hide patterned off-shoulder jumper which I thought was the absolute bees knees in approximately 1985 (although If I’m honest, I still think it was pretty cool. But then I also had a rah-rah skirt (and a pair of purple pedal pushers which really were the pits. Don’t tell anyone))).

mohair patterns

The 80s. Truly the decade that style forgot

So obviously, sensibly, I gave the mohair stash a skip and went home and laughed at all the random mohair patterns out there on the Internet that I just happened to google, and then today when I was in town I just happened to glance into the charity shop in question just out of random curiosity, only to find that all but one of the bags of mohair had gone…

mohair knitting wool

Well, what would you have done, fellow knitting people?

More to the point, what would you do with 8 25-gram balls of mohair cotton mix, that won’t end up with me channelling my inner Lady Di?

mohair cotton nylon

* Usually a jumper, but the design of our house is such that our bedroom is about 10 degrees warmer than the rest of it, so although I was cold when I set off upstairs to put another layer on, by the time I get to where the jumpers are, it seems ridiculous, this being August. I could probably save a lot of time and effort by just storing my jumpers downstairs.

All the Colours of the Rainbow

August 14, 2017

I suppose it was inevitable that when Back on My Bike & I helped form an organisation dedicated (among other things) to countering tired stereotypes of women in cycling, it ended up being run on a multitasking basis by busy women with far too much else on their plates to give it the attention it properly deserves. Which may be how we managed to plan to hold the Women’s Cycle Forum AGM (and if you’re planning on coming please do let us know) this Saturday in Glasgow on the same weekend as two Orange and one Gay Pride march, which could work out interesting, for a certain value of interesting.*

While it’s possible the two sets of marchers will simply cancel each other out and vanish in a puff of rainbow smoke (or more likely retire to their separate pubs and drink themselves into a standstill), the worry is that some people who might otherwise have come along may decide to simply avoid Glasgow altogether, which is a shame as they’re going to miss some great speakers (as well as cake and fizz to celebrate us officially turning one year old). So we have cooked up a cunning plan to meet up first and cycle to the Glasgow Women’s Library together in a group, avoiding the worst of the trouble spots for those who aren’t that familiar with Glasgow’s cycle routes.

Obviously, there’s also no truth in the other tired cliche that women can’t read maps, so I see no problem with this plan.

Exploring Glasgow

Now where??

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a birthday cake to bake while finishing off some editing work, responding to a consultation on air quality in Scotland and planning the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign bike breakfast …

In all seriousness, though – do come along if you can, because it should be a great afternoon.

* the Chinese curse one


August 12, 2017

So, a year or so ago, I was gifted with a car boot full of plants to help me hold territory against the encroaching wilderness.

plant haul

Most of them got planted out in the weeks that followed – but I didn’t quite manage to find space for all the crocosmia by the time winter had come along, and I assumed that I had missed the chance to get them into the ground. Crocosmia are pretty tough (I should know, I spent several years trying to beat them back in the old garden) but no plant wants to spend a Scottish winter in an old recycling bin lined with black plastic.

Well, except crocosmia, which proved it is genuinely indestructible by not only surviving, but flourishing and is now flowering again.

crocosmia flowers

I’m a sucker for anything that survives against the odds – especially something that does such a good job of cheering up August, when a lot of the other flowers are looking a bit tatty. So despite slight nervousness about its invasive tendencies, I have added it to a corner of the garden where it can fight it out with the buddleia, another plant that will still be with us come the apocalypse.

crocosmia planted out

As you can see, the garden is still very much a work in progress…

Which may well be some time next week, if the news is anything to go by.

Knights in White Lorries

August 11, 2017

Ah, the glamour of a cycle campaigner’s life as I spent this afternoon cycling into Bigtown in the invisible drizzle* to see whether the detour signs for a temporary path closure that the council had assured me had been put in place, had been put in place.**

lorry jam

I ended up standing in the dreich smirr (or possibly just the dreich, as it had eased off by then) looking at the interesting logjam of fairground rides that had developed at the park entrance, with the giant lorry at the front neither able to move forward to deliver its load, because someone was being bureaucratic at the barrier entrance, nor able to back out again because another lorry was now queuing behind it. And it was just as I was wondering how I might manage to squeeze past onto the bit of the path that was still, technically, open when the very apologetic driver came running up, saw my dilemma, picked up my bike – pannier and all – and lifted it over the wall for me so I could go on my way.

This follows on from the genuinely helpful white van man I encountered a couple of days ago who, while managing to make it clear that he understood that I was Perfectly Capable Of Doing It Myself, helped me replace a tyre (and by ‘helped’ I mean just put it back on in approximately 35 seconds without resort to tyre levers, swearing or bursting into tears of frustration and rage) under the guise of lending me a track pump.

Obviously, while I was grateful on both occasions, I am always a bit conflicted when this happens. It’s not that I object to offers of help, be it from men or from women, especially if they are genuinely helpful. It’s just that I do like to think that, after all these years of cycling and actually mostly navigating myself safely from A to B, sometimes even without detouring through C, D and E (and even managing to fix my own punctures given enough time and a following wind), I would give off an air of competence and self-sufficiency on the bike.

Clearly, I’m not fooling anyone.

* the kind of very fine rain that is invisible to the forecasters and the rain radar but sadly all too present to the cyclist passing through it. I believe the Scots classify it as somewhere between ‘dreich’ and a ‘smirr’…

** Apparently they *had* been put in place but they had since mysteriously vanished, obviously removed by the same shadowy Bigtown gang who spent all last summer removing cycle detour signs during a bridge closure. These dastardly desperados always strike in the hours between the council swearing blind, cross-their-hearts, this-time-they-mean-it that they have put up sensible detour signs and me going and checking.