Burning Down the House

November 26, 2022

So, Twitter is a skip fire, and has been for a while, it’s undoubtedly getting worse under its current ownership … but all that said, it’s still a fantastic place to have the sort of conversation it’s hard to imagine having anywhere else

Exhibit A

It’s often said that people don’t talk about the menopause enough. In my experience, this isn’t quite true. As a woman in her 50s, in my experience, you seem to talk about little else, as every little new niggle and bizarre symptom turns out to be, yep, ‘just your age’. Dry eyes? Menopause. Suddenly being prone to heartburn? Menopause. Night waking, sudden fatigue, old trout whiskers that grow at lightning speed? Menopause, menopause, menopause. The optician, the physio, the practice nurse – all of them falling over themselves to explain how, yep, declining hormone levels were to blame. Who knew that oestrogen was the magic molecule that kept everything running smoothly until suddenly it didn’t? And how on earth do men manage at all without it?

Anyway, in my experience, the problem isn’t that we don’t talk about it, it’s that we’re talking about it to the wrong people. Women in their fifties get inducted into the menopause club – the secret handshake can be a bit sweaty, sorry about that – as they huddle in corners to swap bizarre symptoms and recommend remedies. Women in their early 40s, on the other hand, are left in blissful ignorance of what might be around the corner. They’ll each have to work out for themselves that suddenly suffering electric shocks, flat feet, hair loss, or whatever else comes up on the random symptom generator isn’t them going mad, it could simply be the menopause. It’s not just the hot flushes of popular imagination. If the experiences other Twitter users have shared with me in response to my tweet, it could be practically anything – and that includes nothing at all, and, indeed, some that might be positively welcome:

(Perhaps that is how men manage?)

Anyway, having joked about what I’d got on my menopause bingo card, @tweetcaroliine said I should make one, and so I decided to do so. And what better way, than to crowdsource it on Twitter? I had an amazing response to my question and some of the replies were eye opening for me even though I’m already inducted into the menopause club.

Menopause bingo card - click on the image to get a pdf with screen-readable text

So here it is. I think I included everything although there were so many it was hard to keep track of all the replies. I should add that I know nothing about the topic other than what I’ve read on Twitter so please don’t ask me for advice* or take any of this as gospel. But I hope it will be eye-opening – and useful – to anyone coming up to this challenging time of life. And to the men who love them.

Anyone got a full house?

* Unless the question is ‘should I take up cycling?’

Counting one’s Carrots

November 22, 2022

With Twitter apparently on the way out (or at least increasingly full of people announcing they’re moving over to Mastodon) I have been making vague plans to fill the gap by going old school – blogging more, at least a bit more than the current once a week, and spending more time commenting directly on other people’s blogs, as we used to do back in the old days of 10 years ago. As you can see from my posting history (and, indeed, my Twitter timeline), this has gone exactly as well as most of my other vague plans – mainly due to a massive and unreasonable work crunch. Still it remains on the agenda, but we’ll see.

The downside of less frequent blogging is that I keep finding I’ve not blogged about something I meant to refer to, merely frittered the material away on Twitter. So I never mentioned on here the fact that I’d had to dig up all my beetroot early in October after the mice discovered had discovered them

We’ve now eaten our way through the resulting beetroot stockpile, but it somehow never occurred to me that the mice, having been robbed of one highly-coloured root vegetable feast, would turn their attention to my carrots instead.

Mouse chewed and muddy carrots

A shame because some of them were beginning to look pretty impressive. Send carrot recipes please, bearing in mind that I don’t actually really like carrots …

I shall try to do better on the blogging front. Work and life are shaping up to be busy but that’s no excuse. Even if it’s just a matter of celebrating the occasional escape and respite in the November weather.

Sunlight catching the water on the river

And how has your week been?

In an Ideal World …

November 16, 2022
Train pulling into Lockerbie station

‘… woman takes train to Edinburgh without any problems’ would not exactly be interesting even by the low bar for ‘interestingness’ set by this blog.

After all the contingency planning and general fretting, Saturday’s trip to Edinburgh was entirely trouble free – the train came in approximately 2 minutes late, and the return train left without a hitch, and I even got a coveted table seat in both directions. It was notable that every person who walked into the station while I was waiting (ahem about an extra half hour as I’d decided to get the early bus just to be sure) felt they had to ask the ticket lady if the Edinburgh train was actually running. But other than that (and the fact that two trains to Glasgow had been cancelled), the only evidence that this could be a difficult journey fraught with complication and delay, was in my own head. Had I done entirely no contingency planning and rolled into Bigtown a good half hour later after a leisurely coffee at home, it would have had absolutely no impact on the outcome. There’s a lesson there, but I’m not sure I’m ready to learn it.

Holding the Pedal on Parliament 'this machine fights climate change' banner

And then we marched, along with thousands of others (and then went to the pub, because marching and shouting is thirsty work).

I know from my own experience that it took a hell of a lot of planning and preparation by what was probably a team of unpaid volunteers to get all those people out on the streets in an orderly fashion. And I also know that lots of people had come quite a long way, and given up their Saturday, to be out there. So it’s kind of galling, but not surprising, that there was effectively zero coverage of it – compare and contrast with a small handful of people closing the M25 or dishing up some soup to an artwork. Whenever someone glues themselves to something inconvenient there’s a massive outcry at the use of such disruptive tactics, and angst that it’s not doing the cause any good. But then again, if asking politely and doing things the proper way doesn’t work, what are people going to do?

Don’t worry, I’m not about to start gluing myself to anything soon (if I were to take any more direct action, this would be much more my style). But I can see why people do.

Meanwhile, I am glad to see that the slogan I thought up (or rather stole from Woody Guthrie) last year for POP has taken on something of a life of its own, and has even popped up on a bike at COP:

Perhaps if it goes far enough it will end up having more impact than anything we’ve directly organised, legally or less officially. Either way, every little helps.

I’m not Superstitious

November 11, 2022
Road strewn with hedgecutting debris

‘With all this on the road it’s a miracle you haven’t had a flat tyre yet,’ the other half remarked before I could stop him on one of our state-sanctioned daily walks this week (yes, we’re still doing them; judge away). Obviously, I don’t believe in the puncture fairy, but why would you risk deliberately invoking her? Either way, whether due to confirmation bias, regression to the mean or, more likely, the fact that our local farmers have spent the past few weeks energetically coating our roads with Bastard Big Thorns, the next day my bike had a flat back tyre.

So far the puncture is only a slow one so I’m nursing it along by pumping the tyre up every morning and hoping for the best (I may not believe in the puncture fairy but I can’t shake the belief that you only get one puncture at a time, so it’s safer not to fix a slow leak that gets you to town and back until you absolutely have to, or you’ll only end up with a worse one). But I believe the time has come to look into upgraded puncture protection (standard disclaimer: I already have Marathon Plus tyres, slime made absolutely no difference, and no I’m not going tubeless, but thank you for your suggestions). Last year I tried out supposedly puncture-proof inner tubes, which shall remain nameless as front and rear wheels both went flat within two weeks of being put on the bike). So now I’m considering inserts, possibly instead of the Marathons or perhaps as well as, considering the density of blackthorn around here. My hesitation – as with all of these solutions – is that they tend to make fixing a flat even harder in the event that they fail. But if it saves me another walk of shame (or cyclist’s full-body workout) then it will be worth the risk.

Even better would be if the local farmers could somehow find a way not to coat the roads with the local equivalent of caltrops. I am reliably informed that the Germans have special hedge cutting machines which blow the debris into the field rather than spreading it along the road, but that’s the Germans for you (they also apparently have special slurry spreaders that just directly dribble it onto the ground rather than spraying it everywhere, which lessens the stink). I had hoped that the past few weeks of rain might have at least rinsed off the worst of the debris, but no such luck. Meanwhile, I might have to resort to sweeping the road again myself. So perhaps I will get that full body workout after all …

Rain, Rain, Go Away

November 7, 2022

Bleurgh. I know it’s not unusual at this time of year, but I am getting heartily sick of days when you wake to the sound of the rain pattering on the skylight, to find that the forecast shows it has set in for the whole day.

Weather forecast showing heavy rain all day

It was extra galling today as I have once again managed to tweak something in my back, leaving me hobbling around and making sitting uncomfortable. I know from long experience that the only way to ease the situation – albeit temporarily – is to get on my bike and ride it, during which time the discomfort magically goes away (getting on and off the bike – and opening and closing the garage door – is very much another matter).

Torn between the misery of uncomfortably sitting down indoors, and comfortably but damply cycling down for the paper, I chose the latter. In an ideal world, I would have done more – a day in the saddle would probably have been just the thing – but even the magic of cycling-as-back-therapy couldn’t induce me to spend more than an hour out there with it hosing down and blowing a hooly to boot. As it was, I had to undress in the bath when I got back, although you could argue I wouldn’t have got any wetter on a longer ride.

I gather some parts of England are still suffering the effects of drought. If you would like to come up and get it, we have plenty of rain here…

The Eye of the Storms

November 4, 2022

Yesterday, a last minute cancellation gifted me with a precious commodity these days – a leisurely ride into town.

Rural road winding between green fields with blue skies above

Not only that but after Wednesday’s weather – which was, to use a technical term, absolutely minging – it was a rare, calm sunny afternoon to enjoy it in.

Another rural road winding away into the distance

Not so much the calm before the storm, as the calm after it. Or maybe, the way things are going this autumn, the calm between them.

wet road shining in the sun between bare winter trees

Either way, in these unsettled and unsettling times, we take our respite where we can.

Bare tree silhouetted against the dusk


November 2, 2022

Previously on Townmouse, your heroine had resolved to tackle her existential despair by heading up to Edinburgh make her puny voice heard at the Climate Day of Action – it’s not much but the mere threat of it seems to have been enough to persuade Rishi Sunak to change his mind and head to COP27 after all.*

So that just leaves the small matter of getting there. The march kicks off at 12 noon and as it turns out there’s a train from Lockerbie that arrives just after 11:30 – perfect. There’s a bus that connects (with a half hour wait, granted) from Bigtown. All about as seamless and convenient as you can expect when you live in a rural forgotten corner of Scotland, and a journey I’ve done a dozen times without a single second thought in the past.

But that was back in the before times. I’ve not taken that train to Edinburgh since Covid changed lots of things, including any sense that a TransPennine Express service might actually get you somewhere as advertised. The last time I had to take the train back from Edinburgh the last one of the evening was abruptly cancelled about 5 minutes after the preceding one had departed and I was left with the replacement bus (actually a taxi) and a long and overly stressful wait at Waverley while the station staff attempted to work out where this might be departing from (the train company has at least put an end to this particular fun by simply removing the – by now largely mythical – later service from its timetable). The mid morning service to Edinburgh is a little more reliable, but when you’ve got two hours to wait for the one after that, it only takes one cancellation to throw your entire day’s plans out of the water.

cyclist crossing into the Scottish Borders

It’s no wonder that the last three times I’ve headed to Edinburgh it has been by bike or, slightly less epically, by bus. Indeed if the bus weren’t scheduled to arrive 20 minutes after the march has departed, I might have opted for it again, as it may be slow and uncomfortable but it does have the reputation of actually turning up and getting people to Edinburgh. The Lockerbie trains, not so much (there is also the option of taking the slow train to Glasgow and heading across from there, but that will require leaving at silly o’clock).

View of the hills from inside the bus

I think the real stress in all this, is that there’s no real plan B. If the train is cancelled, that’s it. The only option might be to have found out in good enough time to take the bus instead and hope the march sets off late enough that I can catch it. Or to aim for a much earlier train in the hope that they aren’t BOTH cancelled. I suppose I’ll just have to go as planned and hope for the best. But is it any wonder people drive?

I suppose that’s why we march …

* Other explanations are available.

Ups and Downs

October 29, 2022

So, I was going to write a long piece about how the current climate crisis was making it hard for me to stay positive when someone came along and saved me the bother with one tweet

I haven’t been bursting into tears (yet) but I did have a wee moan on Twitter, which is more or less the equivalent.

Optimism is more a matter of chemistry than logic, I’ve always thought, but even my cast iron buoyancy is struggling in this particular flood tide of despair. This time last year we were throwing ourselves into planning Pedal on COP and it felt like we were making a difference, in our own small way. With a prime minister who can’t even be bothered to go to COP this year (but apparently can find the time to make it to the World Cup) it’s hard to see how we’re going to turn things around quickly enough.

I will keep on keeping on – and I’ll be marching again at the Global Day of Action (although thankfully not organising it) on November 12th – but I think I’ll need to find some more effective way to resist the slide into disaster we’re facing than spending 10 years trying to persuade the coonsil to put in a few cycle paths.

This Crisis demands Action. March for Climate Justice COP27 Global Day of Action Edinburgh St Andrew Square Nov 12 12:00

What would you do?


October 25, 2022

It’s that time of year – toughing it out through October as long as possible before succumbing to turning the heating on. This month, I’ve upgraded my working wardrobe to supplement my freelancer’s woolly hat with a wristwarmer bodged out of an ex jumper that had been overlooked by me – but not, crucially, the moths – when I put my knitwear* away for the summer. So far that has been just about enough to make sitting at my desk bearable, but it’s getting to the point where not having the heating on tips over from sensibly frugal to self-defeating, as I find myself struggling to concentrate properly on the days when the rain sets in and there’s no sunshine to warm my hands as I type.

It’s not that we can’t afford to turn the heating on, at least so far, but the steeply rising costs are a consideration (we only have electric radiators) and so too is the fact that we are in a climate crisis. But I’ve realised in the last couple of weeks that simply trying to tough it out for as long as possible is not really a sustainable solution to either problem. We’ve done a lot to insulate the house as well as we can, and we’ve got solar panels already, so the logical next step is to look at installing a heat pump, which will be way more efficient. I had thought we’d do this a few years down the line, rather than replace our current, working (and not that old) heaters – but when it comes to heating a whole house, the embedded carbon in our existing radiators will pale in comparison to the emissions savings from switching to a much more efficient set up. And besides, if we go for underfloor heating, we can just leave the heaters in place as a back up for when we need a quick boost of heat rather than the more steady background warmth that a heat pump might provide.

So now comes the tricky bit – working out just how to do it, and finding someone who can install one. After doing a bit of research on the requirements, I think we have enough garden to put in a ground source heat pump, which is more efficient (but initially more expensive) than an air source one, and works better in colder climates – we’re in a relatively mild corner of Scotland, but we are a few hundred feet up a hill. I’d like to explore that as our first option, or at least get someone who can advise on whether it would work, but it turns out ground source heat pump installers are much thinner on the ground than those doing air source only. So now we’re up against the familiar problem of finding a tradesperson who is a) qualified to do the work, and b) answers their phone (or even – the holy grail of builders – their email). If we do find someone it will mean a lot of upheaval and possibly a fair bit of mud – but I think it will be worth the effort. Watch this space…

River with bare and autumnal trees

* Obviously, this being Scotland, I don’t put ALL the knitwear away; usually one jumper ends up as my summer jumper and is then worn pretty much daily for the next three months until I admit defeat and get the rest of the woollies out.

Feel Aliiiiive

October 18, 2022

The message from my parents came too late – they were concerned for my safety as I cycled down to see them and suggested I stay home, but I’d already set off, and besides, it was just a blowy October day – not even a weather warning, let alone a named storm to contend with.

I’m not going to pretend that I don’t prefer cycling in beautiful calm sunny weather (or even better, with a bidirectional tailwind), but October cycling has its moments too. Not yet so cold that it’s painful, not yet dark when it’s barely teatime. The geese have arrived for their winter stay and are filling the air with their calls. And there’s something about a blustery wind – especially if you don’t have to contend with too much traffic at the same time – that leaves you in no doubt that you are alive, here, now, in the moment. And about to go sideways as you pass that gap in the hedge, if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing.

Geese flying overhead in a grey sky

So I survived my ride down to my parents, and I survived the ride back again even though I had to steer into the crosswinds on the final climb just to keep the bike straight on the road. What with one thing and another, it’s been a while since I celebrated the simply joy of cycling at times when it would be easier to stay home or drive like a normal person. But given that Scotland serves up many more days of this sort of weather than the other kind, if I didn’t embrace it, I’d be pretty stuck. And as it’s the cycling that keeps me – for the want of a better word – ‘sane’, then embrace it I shall.

How’s your autumn going?