Bonus Ride

May 24, 2019

I had for some reason thought that things might get a bit calmer after PoP – a chance to chill out, catch up with some gardening, possibly even tidy the house (but let’s not go mad, eh?). Naturally that didn’t happen and this last week has been particularly bonkers as I’ve tried to combine a rash of tight deadlines, commitments I’d taken on in the intoxicating day and a half when I thought I might be about to have some spare time, and coordinating a non-Pop demo (of which more anon) which suddenly kicked up into high gear just as the sun came out and the countryside hit peak May in all its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it loveliness.

fresh green trees

So today was a bonus: one of the commitments I’d taken on was to lead a chilled ride out to lunch for a local cycling event and although the forecast was for it to be at best cloudy, the weather outdid itself.

I was leading a select bunch of nice people who were happy to ride at the speed of chat, and I was suddenly reminded just what an amazing place we happen to live in (especially at this time of year).

We stopped to climb a half-ruined tower and watch the house martins from above as they hoovered up insects and came into their nests

Drumcoltran tower

And we barely saw a car.

trees just coming into leaf

I still have a million things to do and I have no doubt that the few hours it took out of my day could have been more productively spent but I don’t regret it for an instant.

And now, back to the grindstone…

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Politics by Other Means

May 22, 2019

Enjoying a post-lunch ice cream with the other half in Bigtown yesterday we were startled to encounter what sounded like a Brexit Party rally on the High Street, complete with cheering at Nigel Farage’s name and pantomime-style booing at Nicola Sturgeon’s. Closer inspection (but not too close) revealed that this was in fact a recording, and the actual Brexit Party stall was three balding men handing out flyers while the entire town resolutely ignored them and got on with their lunchtime shopping.* I know not everyone who reads this is a remainer, but the whole setup was strange and actually pretty obnoxious – it’s the first time ever that I’d wished the guy who busks with his bagpipes further up the high street was a) louder and b) closer.

A short time later, I found myself heading into Bigtown again for a very different kind of political gathering which started, for reasons which made perfect sense at the time, with the police being invited to take their kit off if they wanted to remain (they made their excuses and left). I decided by the end that, while I wish them well, I’m probably not cut out to be an eco-warrior – the warrior part I could manage, but the meetings part may need some work, at least as far as the Bigtown chapter goes. On the other hand, it was a lovely day and an even lovelier evening and so two trips to Bigtown in one day was no hardship.

ash tree

Fortunately tomorrow we also all have an opportunity to do politics by traditional means – I hope everyone who can, whatever their opinions, will be getting themselves down to the polling station to vote.

vote by bike

Bonus points for getting there by bike

* I gather that later on there were some full and frank exchanges of views.


Club 50-80

May 19, 2019

Anyone following along on Twitter will know that I managed to crack the code and get my £17 ticket to Inverness – meaning my £15 Club 50 membership has already paid for itself about 4 times over. I even managed to navigate the various hazards of late-running trains, tight connections and the late train home from Glasgow which can be lively* on a Saturday night.

Inverness itself was eye-opening. One of our latest projects for We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote is to try and understand how our streets can be redesigned to accommodate not just cycling but visually impaired and disabled people as well. We felt that the best way to do that was to go on an exploration together with a motley crew of blind people with guide dogs and white sticks, a young man in a wheelchair, and a handful of campaigners.

Inverness street sculpture

Public art or confusing obstacle? If all you have to go on is your white cane, this appears to be a flight of steps

At one point, with a pair of specs on that effectively rendered me completely blind, I had to put my own safety in the hands of one of our blind companions. I know that these sorts of simulations aren’t always considered all that illuminating (all I really learned was that I was completely incapable of moving anywhere without my vision, which I could probably have guessed) but it is a humbling experience to allow yourself to be led through the streets by someone who can’t see either but can navigate confidently and calmly and transmit that confidence to you. And, in a way I can’t quite put into words, it changed the whole dynamic of the discussion afterwards into something much more open and mutually illuminating. Maybe there’s something in those annoying trust exercises after all.

Looking at a dropped kerb

Kerb nerdery with a purpose

This is a work in progress, and we’ll be repeating the exercise in Glasgow and Edinburgh in a few weeks with different participant. Excitingly, this means that not only will I get a chance to deepen my understanding of what ‘streets for all’ really means in practice, but I’ll get to use my Club 50 card again. I knew my 50s were going to be fun. Just don’t expect to find me in the party carriage any time soon.

* Fortunately this time the party was going on in the other carriage; I was facing the other way so couldn’t see what was going on but, from the running commentary provided by a group of teenage boys who could see – indeed were craning their necks to make sure they didn’t miss any of it (‘she’s got her top off and she’s wearing a black bra’) – the group of women making most of the noise had lunched very well indeed.


Old Person’s Railcard

May 14, 2019

Idly scrolling through Twitter as I took the train back from Glasgow this afternoon, I saw a promoted tweet pushing ScotRail’s 50 Club, which is currently offering a flat rate £17 ticket to anywhere in Scotland for anyone aged 50 or over. Bloody old people, I thought, they get all the good travel deals, that would be brilliant seeing as it’s going to cost me £78 return to get up to Inverness on Friday.*

And then I realised that I am now, as far as ScotRail is concerned, an Old Person (seasonally adjusted) and for the first time since my Young Person’s Railcard expired when I reached the grand age of 23, I would be eligible for discounted tickets, albeit only in Scotland – not just the limited time £17 offer, but 20% off all rail fares booked online or 10% off tickets bought at the station. Having spent the rest of the journey calculating that, since I had turned 50 in March, I had taken enough rail trips to pay for the card already, I stopped in at the ticket office to find out more.

Obviously, there are hurdles to clear – the first of which is you can only apply online, potentially eliminating some Old Persons from the off, and the second of which is that once you get online to apply, you will spend several baffled minutes going round in circles on the ScotRail website until you realise that first you need a Smart Card before you can add your Old Person’s card to it – I imagine that my browsing history alone would be enough to prove that I was sufficiently Old and befuddled to qualify. Having worked that one out I fell at the third hurdle which was to provide a selfie of sufficient quality to act as a photo id (actually, being far to old to take a decent selfie, where I really failed here was in working out whereabouts I’d stashed the memory stick with the photo I had had taken when I renewed my passport which ticks all the requisite boxes of having plain white background, being in focus, and making you look like an axe murderer). Clearly ScotRail have thought this one through with some care. I may need to find a young person (or at least a photographer) to get past that one.

Once I have defeated the technology and got hold of my card, my battles will not be over, however. Because my planned route to Inverness goes via England (I know, I know) so will not be eligible, and all other routes are flagged up as not being off-peak when you look online, even though they are and hence also not eligible. Fortunately, in Bigtown Station we have a secret weapon, in that some of the ticket office staff consider it a point of pride to sell you the cheapest possible ticket on any given route. The most innocent-sounding request for a ticket can lead to a thoughtful pause, much tapping on the keyboard and jotting down of notes, a few searching questions, and finally a set of multiple tickets that, by routing you through Dundee or making your final destination Paisley Canal rather than Glasgow Central, save you the sum of £5.73. I feel confident that, however hard ScotRail try, the arcana of the Old Person’s Rail Card will prove no match for these ticketing ninjas and I will place myself in their capable hands, even if it means a queue building up of epic proportions while they work it all out. It is for such triumphs that we Old Persons live and breathe.

*Where, among other things, I will be hopefully hanging out with some of the cool cycling women of Inverness (or at least those not quite cool enough to have something better to do on a Friday night)


Garden Visiting

May 12, 2019

Bike parked by garden

Sometimes everything just comes together and this afternoon was one of those times: glorious May weather, a gap (of sorts; there’s always something I could usefully be doing) in the schedule and not one but two open gardens to visit, both of them, crucially, offering teas.

Sunny view

Of course, this being May, you don’t have to go far to be struck by the beauty of late spring – this is the wood along our road at the moment.

spring woods alongside road

And you don’t have to go far to find bluebells either – even on the short ride down to the first garden, famous for its bluebell wood, I was assailed on all sides by the heady smell of them and shimmers of blue beneath the fresh spring green, but it was worth the visit, and not just because of the chance to catch up with Old Nearest Village gossip (the oldest inhabitant, who sweeps the board at the village show each year, lost her greenhouse over the winter so it’s all to play for in the tomato classes) and the ample tea.

bluebell wood

(We’ll draw a veil over one chap who managed to go from ‘why don’t you wear a helmet?’ to ‘I just drive them off the road anyway, they get in my way and slow me down’ in just three moves, a record, I believe).

Then it was off down more quiet rural roads to the next garden.

road with overhanging trees

(Potholes not shown; some of them were truly spectacular. I particularly liked the stretch where just one of them had been outlined in red, presumably for mending, while the dozen other equally hazardous ones around it had been ignored).

The second garden was also spectacular but more of the ‘just shows what you can do if you’ve got staff’ variety (as observed by the only other cyclist there). Also you had to pay separately for your tea, so I was glad I’d made good at the first. I am gradually learning that the posher the garden, the less generous the tea arrangements.

formal garden

All in all a very splendid day. Although our morning coffee on the bench, enjoying the view, (and my homemade chelsea buns) was possibly just as enjoyable …

coffee and chelsea buns

… Especially as it didn’t come with a side order of cyclist-baiting remarks.


Piling it on

May 10, 2019

Among our many garden plans to be pursued in the fullness of time, one that’s been brewing for a while now has been establishing a fruit cage next to the greenhouse. This has moved up the agenda a bit, partly due to the hares discovering how tasty blueberry bushes are, and partly due to the fact that some friends of ours inexplicably wanted rid of a compost heap full of well-rotted compost and this seemed like the perfect place to put it to work.

So far, fruit cage progress hadn’t got much further than covering the site with old carpet (checks notes) more than two years ago in an attempt to get the nettles and brambles growing there under control.

old carpet covering fruit cage site

Encouragingly, this turns out to have been reasonably effective, in that the soil underneath the carpet was pretty clear of weeds (or at least visible ones – I have no doubt that there will be nettle roots still in there waiting for a chance to emerge).

soil under the carpet

I can’t say the same of the carpet itself, which demonstrates yet again that what this garden really wants to do is grow grass and it doesn’t mind where it does it. If anyone was looking for a half-way house between astroturf and laying a lawn in the traditional fashion, this could be the answer…

carpet with grass growing on it

We have run out of time this season to get the fruit cage itself up and the beds properly prepared, so we decided to buy some time by lifting the carpet, piling on the donated compost and and re-laying the carpet until we are ready to do the rest. This took a startlingly short amount of time – less than half a day. Given I can easily spend that long trying to weed the dandelions out of a tiny section of the back patio, I’m beginning to contemplate carpeting that too.

piled up compost

Anyway if nothing else, this gave us an opportunity to make use of our pile of pallets in true allotmenteering style.

pallets on the carpet

I’m not 100% convinced by our new decking, to be honest

Now we just have to hope that the blueberry bush survives the hares’ attentions until its new home is ready. All in the fullness of time …


Pheasant’s Revolt

May 8, 2019

While I’ve been busy, spring has been springing and things have been sprouting. As the leaves have unfurled on most of the trees I was reassured to see some green shoots emerging on my new fedge – although not as vigorously as on the bigger stakes we knocked in to support it …

leaves sprouting on willow stakes

Indeed, there are similar sprouts showing on the hazel sticks I used to provide some temporary hare defences for my new asparagus bed, suggesting that they may prove more permanent than I was intending, if I don’t watch out. Unfortunately, it turns out that it’s not the hares that are proving the problem (they seem keener on eating our new blueberry bush) but the pheasants, which of course can mount an aerial attack, and have been merrily nipping off the new shoots as they appear.

nipped off asparagus shoot

Irritatingly, they aren’t even eating them all, although that did at least give us a chance to taste two of the shoots – if the crowns don’t survive their first shoots being cruelly cut short, these may prove to have been the most expensive asparagus ever eaten (naturally, it was delicious).

protected asparagus bed

So I’ve reinforced my sticks with a bit of netting and added bottle cloches for now, although that is still likely to prove a temporary measure as some of the survivors are already taller than my biggest bottles. I’ve had reasonable success keeping pheasants at bay with string and strategically deployed spoke reflectors in the past, although that was defending brassicas rather than asparagus, which might prove a bit more tempting to the discerning pheasant. It’s a slightly more ethical approach than our old landlord, who just used to call in the shoot when the pheasants got too rambunctious. I may have lived in the country for over a decade, but my townie sensibilities still draw the line at that.

asparagus shoot in bottle clocheBut then again, just think how delicious an asparagus-fed pheasant might be…