Crowning Glory

November 16, 2018

It’s been a funny old day, and not just the way the government appears to be disintegrating before our eyes. After alternating days of apocalyptic rain and bright sunshine we had a strangely mild, still, murky sort of a day, with rather tasty pearly light breaking through the clouds.

November light

Perfect for riding down for the paper (despite the fact that by the time I had bought it, it was already wildly out of date. A week is no longer a long time in politics, frankly; six hours is) although it was positively sweaty riding back.

I have loads of stuff that should be keeping me chained to the laptop, but this mild spell was also too good an opportunity to miss in the garden so I took a short break to get on with the next phase of the veg plot – the rhubarb bed. I’d already dug out the bed and sourced some rhubarb via the very splendid New Nearest Village freecycle list but I wasn’t entirely sure I’d planted them right. The rhubarb had outstayed its welcome in a garden up the road and had been dug out with a mattock. It didn’t look particularly convincing (are rhubarb crowns supposed to have roots attached?) and I’d shoved it in the new bed in a bit of a hurry. After a bit of googling (always good to check how to plant something AFTER you’ve planted it …) I decided to hoick it out and plant it a little deeper before the hard frosts came. This may or may not be a good idea as Google also suggests rhubarb hates to be disturbed, but then again, it probably hates being dug up and dismembered with a mattock – well don’t we all – and that doesn’t seem to stop it.

Either way, it’s showing signs of life already. Hopefully not to be cruelly cut down by the first frosts.

rhubarb shoots

Next step will be the asparagus bed, which I’m expecting will require a little more care and attention, if only because I’ll probably have to actually pay for asparagus crowns, unlike the rhubarb. Unfortunately, the googling I’ve done so far suggests we may simply end up expensively feeding the hares. I may have to reinstate my hare defences …

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Bike Maintenance Achievement Unlocked

November 13, 2018

Pedalling back from Bigtown during today’s temporary cessation of hostilities on the part of the Weather Gods, I stopped to enquire whether the cyclist who had stopped at the side of the road was okay.

“Not exactly,” she said. “I seem to have a flat tyre”.

Now, I always stop and ask if I can help when I see a cyclist by the side of the road, because it just seems wrong not to, but I have to confess, I’m usually relieved when they wave me on. The odds of a stranded cyclist having something wrong with their bike that is so simple that I can fix it, but not so simple that anybody else can’t fix it, AND it requiring the somewhat patchy content of my toolkit (tyre levers, patches, dumbell spanner, cheering-up sweeties, wrong size of allen key and usually no pump due to the iron law that you’ll always have left your pump in your other bike bag), are pretty long. But it turned out today that she had a pump and a spare inner tube, but no tyre levers, and the theory but no actual experience of changing a flat tyre. Between us, then, we made an awesome team. We extracted not one but two Bastard Big Thorns out of her tyre (one of them was so large I suggested she get it stuffed and mounted) and she was back up and running just in time for a man to cycle past, notice the two extremely competent females dealing with the problem, and pedal on with barely a hitch in his cadence. She was happy that she now felt she could deal with a puncture herself (a good thing, as hedge-cutting season is in full swing and nothing is proof against Bastard Big Thorns) and I was delighted to have cancelled out my woeful performance on Saturday, and also made a slight dent in the giant debt I have accrued from all the times someone else has helped me with my bike.

November afternoon

It has also reminded me that I should probably go and put the pump back in my main bike bag and track down the right size of allen key, because if this post isn’t an irresistible temptation to the Puncture Fairy, I don’t know what is.


On Failing to Keep the Rubber Side Down…

November 10, 2018

I suppose, if I’m honest, the really surprising thing is that – as a notoriously clumsy person with poor bike handling skills who has spent the last 10 years cycling almost daily – it hasn’t actually happened before. And yet, until today, I could honestly say that I hadn’t properly fallen off my bike since I discovered at university that brakes and black ice don’t really go together (this in front of several dozen delighted tourists in Oxford who could tick off ‘watching a student slide gracefully off her bike outside the Radcliffe Camera’ from their must-see list).

Annoyingly, as a cycle campaigner, I didn’t even manage to do it in any useful way: no poorly designed infrastructure, impatient driver or un-gritted cycle path were to blame. Instead, this one was entirely user error: I was not paying enough attention to where I was going, realised I was about to clip the curb and bailed out sideways onto the pavement, leaving me with dented pride and a fashionably ripped knee in the leg of my trousers and a slightly less fashionably ripped knee in the leg of my me (the Brompton, you’ll be relieved to hear, is fine). Just add to the humiliation, I was actually supposed to be the tail-end Charlie on this particular ride, and I had spent the day before on a ride leader training course in which the instructor somehow failed to mention anything about not actually falling off your bike for no very sensible reason, possibly because he felt it went without saying.

View from Stirling Castle

All this put a slight dampener on the end of a sparkling scenic ride around Stirling, after an evening spent stirring up a little light troublemaking. Perhaps, indeed, I was a little hungover and a little dehydrated, having failed to appreciated that ‘scenic’ in Stirling means ‘up a sodding great hill’, and that impaired my concentration. Either way, I am relieved to discover that falling off your bike – at least at the speed I ride – is not really any more hazardous than tripping over while running, something I’ve managed to do multiple times and with more lasting damage. Chalk it up as just one more reason (should reason be needed) to stick to riding at the speed of chat. Although maybe I’ll try and do a bit less chatting and a bit more concentrating from now on…

bridge in stirling


101 Uses for a Brompton: Wool Transport

November 6, 2018

When my cousin announced that he’d found me some potential yarn bombing supplies I thought I’d save him a trip to the post office and pick them up when I was in Edinburgh on my travels this weekend. Wool, after all, is fairly light and squashable so I was sure I could squeeze it into my bag and transport it with me as I ran one workshop and then travelled to Dundee for a little light troublemaking and a conference.

What he hadn’t quite conveyed to me was the scale of his find…

bag of wool

Not quite three bags’ full …

Bromptons don’t really have a huge carrying capacity, at least compared to the big bike, so it took some ingenuity (and a willingness to look a bit like a bag lady, albeit one with impeccable taste in bikes) to work out how to attach the bag of wool to the back of my backpack and cycle along with it hanging behind me. This was made extra exciting by a massive tailwind down Princes Street (it’s always … interesting … when you apply the brakes and put your feet down, only for the bike to continue moving forward of its own volition). It also added a certain something to the ride over the Tay Bridge and definitely something to the climb up to the Tay Bridge, the lift being out for repair.

Dundee has come on a bit since my last visit and now has a shiny new museum you can cycle under, Rijksmuseum-style, meaning the connection between the station and the waterfront is much improved albeit still involving crossing five lanes of traffic. It’s still got a long way to go before it can truly be said to be the livable city its powers-that-be seem to want it to be, but as I found out yesterday evening, it also has a group of campaigners who seem determined to help push those powers-that-be into fulfilling its promise (I also learned last night that Dundee has a great fondness for penguins, something of which I fully approve). Watch, as they say, this space …

V and A sign

Anyway, wool, Brompton and I are now all safely home again along with a bonus potplant from my uncle, because when you’re already transporting large quantities of wool on a small bike, a miniature potplant is neither here nor there. All I have to do now is find some sort of suitable yarnbombing project to make use of my newly acquired loot. Perhaps even penguin-related …

new pot plant


Orange is the Warmest Colour

November 2, 2018

Gosh, it’s been a bit quiet here, hasn’t it? Somehow the week ran away with me without anything too blogworthy happening, although I did witness a sheep-related miracle

Winter has also firmly arrived, forcing us to turn on the heating properly and also finally get around to installing some foil behind the radiators that are sitting on outside walls. This is probably of marginal benefit, but comes under the heading of ‘might as well’ – especially when I realised it gave me the chance to use that fabled substance from my Blue-Peter watching youth, double-sided sticky tape.*

morning sunshine

So far the weather has been erring on the cold and sparkly side, which is how I like my winters. This has led to another revelation. It turns out that cork-lining your study (and possibly also painting it orange – the brain is a funny thing) does seem to have an appreciable affect on how warm it is, or at least feels. There have been mornings when the sun has been pouring in and I have actually had to not only remove my woolly freelancer hat but also my outermost jumper and I was still Too Warm.

This is marvellous.

This afternoon I’m off to Edinburgh and then Dundee, before briefly returning home and then heading out to Stirling again, all in the name of stirring up trouble. This could mean much more frequent updates or it could mean more radio silence – keep tuning in to find out which.

* Sadly, in practice, this comes firmly under the heading of ‘never meet your childhood idols’ as it turns out that it’s fiddly and annoying to use, and not particularly brilliant at sticking things to other things, at least the brands we used.


Who’s Afraid of the Dark?

October 28, 2018

Afternoon sunshine

As I ran through the unusually detailed pre-ride briefing for our Halloween ride this afternoon, it did occur to me to wonder why we (I) decided that the best route for an after-dark ride would be one that involved a mad, twisting, endless descent on frankly pretty crappy surfaces, when something flatter would probably be a whole lot safer. I *think* the original logic was that it was a good spot for bats and it’s away from the lights of Bigtown, so a chance to enjoy the stars. Either way, after three years, it doesn’t matter because it is rapidly becoming the traditional start to our winter ride programme and – the odd safety-related qualm aside, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

cyclists in the dusk

There’s just something about riding in the fading light, with the tail lights of your companions (hey, I’ve been doing a lot of digging and lifting over the last few days, and someone needs to be at the back … besides, I was carrying approximately a kilo of gingerbread as a warming mid-ride treat) twinkling ahead of you like a string of animated fairy lights.

bike lights in the dark

And there’s also something else about navigating that mad, twisting, endless descent with no sense of where you are or how far down you’ve got – just keeping going round each bend, and concentrating on keeping the bike rubber side down.

And then there’s the stars, which were fully out by the time we were on our way home, and just filled the dark sky, a sight which never fails to amaze (best not to look up at them for too long though – the potholes on the road back were something else again, indeed I may need to check my wheels tomorrow to see if they’re still round).

Perhaps best of all is the fact that eight bikes with serious lights on them on a dark country road must look like an alien landing to anyone not expecting them. At least that might explain why the tiny handful of drivers we encountered mostly came to a complete stop to let us pass.

So it was another successful outing, cementing its place in local cycling tradition, and I can only apologise to future ride leaders for foisting the mad venture on them in perpetuity.

wheel shadows in the dark


Snail’s Pace

October 26, 2018

With an unexpectedly quiet couple of days recently, I’ve been getting on with my latest garden project – digging out the bed next to the veg patch so I can plant rhubarb and also a few more ornamental plants (or at least something more ornamental than the tussocky grass, ladies’ mantle and pink Spanish bluebells that it has been harbouring).

bed being dug

Obviously, when the planets align and I finally have gardening to be done, time in which to do it, and reasonable gardening weather, this can mean only one thing: getting distracted by an interesting side project. In this case, it was a call out for stripey snails on the so-much-more-than-a-cycling forum from which I seem to get most of my gardening information these days. As it happened, the bed I was digging out had a fair few of these stripey snails (technically banded snails) and so I offered to photograph the ones I found so that they could be assessed for stripeyness and colour, as apparently they are an interesting example of genetic variability and evolution in action. Normally, any snails I found during the course of gardening get flying lessons into the neighbouring field, but instead I have been gathering them up, photographing them (they are indeed quite variable and rather beautifully so) and then letting them wander off back into the undergrowth (as it seemed a bit off to then hurl them over the fence), a decision I may later come to regret.

gathered snails

Unfortunately for the original poster, it turns out that a good way to reduce the snail population in your garden is to offer to collect them in the interests of science, as I only managed to find 10 in total, half the number needed for a proper sample. However, I have learned something about snail genetics and have a newfound appreciation for Cepaea nemoralis – and I suspect the local thrushes also had a profitable afternoon.

piles of bluebell bulbs

Side trips into snail portraiture aside, I did also manage to make some progress on the main project, if by ‘progress’ you mean ‘digging out a metric tonne of bluebell bulbs’. I don’t kid myself I’ve done anything but thin out (or possibly reinvigorate) the actual population, but we’ll have to wait until spring to find out. The next step will be adding compost and manure, covering the bed over for winter, and then I get the fun of filling it with plants come spring. Ideally, snail resistant ones …