Confess, you’re a Gazelle

December 13, 2017

You know, we complain a lot about the horrors of modern air travel but you have to admit that it’s an amazing achievement that you can wake up in a city in one continent and go to bed six time zones and a third of a planet away in another. And it’s even more of an amazing achievement to do it the day after the odd flake of snow has hit Heathrow and the resulting chaos is still working its way through the system. I will spare you the gory details (nobody wants to read about someone else’s air travel nightmare any more than they want to read about someone else’s actual nightmares) but suffice it to say I now understand why sleep deprivation is such an effective interrogation tool. After 24 straight hours of being awake I would have pretty much confessed to anything if I could have managed to string a coherent sentence together. Fortunately our long suffering brother in law was willing to pick us up from the airport at midnight – by that point, even if the car rental desk had still been open, I don’t think we could have found our way out of the parking lot let alone across the city.

Still, we are here, we have had some sleep and we are about to have more, it is snowing (although nobody in Minnesota is excited about snow, it would be like us getting excited about rain), and we’ve already been out to eat twice in less than one day. It is also very, very cold, but I gather we could be getting that at home…

upside down Christmas lights

Oh, and when Americans put up Christmas lights, they don’t muck about. I didn’t get the photo of the house whose front garden was crammed with giant inflatable figures (and I mean giant – some of the Santas were towering over the house in a way) but I suspect it will be haunting me in my dreams.


Dead Cat Bounce

December 9, 2017

So it turns out, the only thing worse than having a dead cat slowly getting deader by the side of the road just at one of the steepest and hence slowest parts of your ride home – is when the dead cat gets moved off the side of the road and right into the middle of it, presumably by an ambitious buzzard, and then everyone proceeds to run over it. The result is even more avert-your-eyes horrific than the half badger of a couple of years ago, although at least the cold (and, having had the gritting lorry pass me with a cheery toot of the horn this afternoon, presumably liberal applications of salt) has at least kept it from getting too whiffy.

One of the joys of cycling is that you’re able to see and experience so much more than you can from inside a car – from night-time encounters with barn owls to being overtaken by sparrowhawks. But it also means you get to experience the grim reality of the animal carnage on our roads, up close and personal.

pigeon feathers

Some roadkill is more pleasant than others – pigeon feathers left by a snacking sparrowhawk

Still, at least I won’t have to witness the poor cat’s further decay. Tomorrow we pack up and head for Glasgow, and on Monday we fly to Minnesota and then Colorado where we hope some winter sunshine awaits. My father-in-law assures us the bikes are still there and in working order. Stand by for more adventures under blue Colorado skies.

Put a Lid on it

December 7, 2017

While nobody would describe me as a dedicated follower of fashion, I do notice the odd trend as it whooshes past, mostly with bafflement (and seriously, what was it with the slits in the shoulders of tops this summer? Any future period drama set in this will leave the poor wardrobe mistress frantically taking the scissors to slash through the sleeves of every top, while people scratch their heads and wonder – not for the first time – just what we were thinking in 2017). But I was heartened to note that otherwise clearly fashionable and soignee young women had suddenly started sporting practical bobble hats everywhere, even indoors (indeed, even paired with tops that left their clavicles out in the cold). Not that I had any need for a bobble hat, having my magical tweed cap to keep my head warm and dry, but it was nice to know that if I did, I’d be able to just go out and purchase one, in an actual fashion outlet, and wear it safe in the knowledge that I was in with the in crowd. And also that young women were at least keeping their heads warm, if not their shoulders

And then, the other half came home from work with just such a bobble hat, knitted by a colleague (he has such lovely workmates) who had brought in her handiwork to share. I tried it on, and it was so cosy and comfy that it was quite hard to take it off, even though wearing a hat indoors seems like a step down a slippery slope that ends with never taking your fleece off ever, even in August. Feeling a little chilly at my desk the next day, I couldn’t resist sticking the hat back on, and was surprised at how effective it was at keeping all of me warm, not just my head (more results from the Centre for the Study of the Bleeding Obvious as they come in). I fear that a line may have been crossed here, and that fingerless gloves, scarves, and the dreaded fleece will not be far behind. It is perhaps fortunate that we will be off to America, a place where they heat their houses properly, before the habit can get out of hand.


No photo of the hat – it might be fashionable but that doesn’t mean I don’t look ridiculous in it – but this was the weather on my ride home

Still, having got caught in an icy rainshower on my way back from fetching the paper, I can not only confirm that the new jacket is (so far) Waterproof in Scotland, but that a woolly bobble hat was a very welcome thing to come home to, especially as there is now snow on the ground. Here’s hoping that the fickle finger of fashion does not move on too fast and spares me my hat, at least until the weather starts to warm up again, in, ooh, about May.

Ready to Launch

December 5, 2017

So, for much of the past year I have, on and off, been helping a group of adults with learning disabilities get cycling. They’ve been learning how to ride a bike, and I’ve been learning a fair bit too. I’ve learned that there are many ways to get a bike into motion and everybody has to find the one that works for them, and I’ve also learned that people with learning difficulties get very quickly put in boxes and the one marked ‘will never be able to ride a bike’ appears to be a particularly common one, often on the flimsiest of evidence.

Some of them – including those who, we were told, ‘simply didn’t have the balance’ to ride a bike – have taken to it like ducks to water, needing little more than a bit of scooting along on a bike with its pedals removed before they were off and away with huge grins on their faces. Others, it’s fair to say have needed a bit more time before they could make the transition from scooting to pedalling, but have got there in the end. We’ve even managed a few group rides along the cycle paths and parks (and pavements – there’s no way they’re ready to tackle even the quietest road) and it’s been great fun.

And then there’s Stephen

I’ve been teaching Stephen to ride a bike now practically all year. We have inched forward. He can balance a bike and scoot it along. He can scoot with one foot on the pedal. He can get the pedal up to the prescribed position and press down to set the bike in motion. He can do this without looking at his feet (fatal for a bike’s balance). He can even find the second pedal with his foot ready for that crucial second pedal stroke. And then, the problem is he’s so tentative, that when he does actually pedal with his second foot, he generally does so backwards. And this is where we have got stuck.

Yesterday, I was beginning to despair. We could not get past that second pedal stroke. There’s no way to break down riding a bike any more than we had already done, practising each individual bit. We had reached the point where either he would get the hang of it, or I would destroy what precious little confidence he had built up. I really didn’t know what to do.

Finally, randomly, I found myself saying ‘pedal like a boss!’ just as he launched the bike forward. I have no idea why I said it, nor why that combination of words did it (indeed it turns out he thought I was saying ‘like a box’), but as long as I said ‘like a boss!’ just at the crucial point, then his foot would find that pedal in time and press it down in the right direction. He even shot forward at one point so fast he almost collided with me (I have to walk backwards in front of him if he’s to look ahead rather down at the ground). OK, so we haven’t quite reached the point where he’s pedalling away independently, but he has definitely ridden a bike, if only for a few yards.

Unfortunately, on Monday we head off to the US, and I won’t be back with Stephen until the new year. By then, perhaps, he may have forgotten everything we’ve learned these past few months. Still, I’m hopeful that now that I know the magic words, we will eventually see him cycle off, if not into the sunset, then at least in a straight line. And then I’ll need to work out how to teach him how to stop…

Chasing Shadows

December 2, 2017

Today was one of those days when I kept getting distracted by the view and dashing out with my phone in a vain attempt to capture some feeble sense of what it was that had captivated me.

mist beneath us

The problem with views is that by their nature they are very far away, and unless you’re in the Alps or something, the interesting bit – the bit where, for the want of a more precise definition, the sky meets the ground – tends to be quite narrow. Add in a phone camera which doesn’t have a great deal of dynamic range, no zoom lens and – let’s be frank – a fairly rubbish photographer, and I end up with a lot of photographs of the fields in front of our house and some clouds and no sense of the wonderful interplay of light and mist and shade over Bigtown that I was actually trying to capture.

dramatic cloudscape

Still, I keep trying.

In the end, I got on the bike and cycled down into it (well, I had to get the paper anyway) to discover that, once you’re in the thick of it, a wonderful interplay of light and mist and shade translates into mizzling rain.

in the cloud

And then I came home and dashed out again to try and capture the sunset, with similarly unsatisfying results.

winter sunset

I could probably take better photos if I had an actual camera and learned how to use it but what these views really make me want to do is learn to paint. Or maybe just learn to be content to look.

Daylight Savings

December 1, 2017

Sunlight is precious at this time of the year, and for the last three days we’ve been blessed with chilly but bright weather – perfect, you’d think, for getting out on the bike. Unfortunately it’s also been accompanied by a window-rattling north wind, the lazy kind (that goes through you, rather than around you) and as I haven’t actually needed to go anywhere, I haven’t.

Digging in the greenhouse

Fortunately the greenhouse has provided an alternative means of getting outdoors and soaking up the sunshine while it lasts without actually having your fillings blown out – but yesterday even that wasn’t too appealing as the wind was howling round every corner and drowning out the radio as I was digging out the second bed. Even the robin that was stalking me in the hope of worms was looking a bit sorry for itself with its feathers blown sideways.

Fortunately we now have an alternative: a trip to my parents netted a small drop-leaf table which was surplus* to requirements. This happened to be exactly the right size of table to fit in our sunny entrance way and provide a sunny space for basking, drinking coffee, writing shopping lists and doing crossword puzzles. I suspect in time that, being a horizontal surface, it will also find a role in holding up the post, keys, change, small gardening tools, phone chargers and random bits of plastic that look as if they might be part of something important and probably shouldn’t be thrown away – maybe even surplus Wisdens – but so far we are being reasonably disciplined about not burying it under a mound of stuff (that’s mainly because all of that stuff is currently on the dining table instead, but never mind).

entrance hall table

I have long wondered whether at some point I would manage to live ‘like a grown up’. I’m not even sure what I meant by that – possibly putting things away occasionally even if there wasn’t someone coming round. But given that my parents have long driven me mad by insisting in sitting in their own porch despite its manifold inconveniences, perhaps sitting in the porch to have my coffee will have to do.

* I say surplus – that at least was Mum’s verdict. Dad wasn’t quite so sure as he was using it to hold up the overspill of his collection of Wisdens…

This is the Future Calling …

November 29, 2017

Of all the aspects of the future that we were promised (hoverboards! teleportation! silvery jumpsuits!) it’s fair to say that ‘video calling’ wasn’t exactly the one I was hoping for. Still, I have to admit that when you need to have a three way conversation with your little sister in London and your big sister in rural France, it’s very handy. Or it would be handy if Skype didn’t have a user interface apparently designed to baffle even the most hardened techie (approximately 30% of all Skype conversations consist of people trying to make Skype work in my experience), and it would be even handier if all of the computers we were trying to connect up had actually turned out to have working microphones.

conference call

So welcome to the 21st century where, after only 15 minutes of fiddling about, we can now communicate seamlessly with two of us connected on Google Hangout, and the third dialled in on WhatsApp via her mobile phone, and propped up on a stand shaped like a strawberry cupcake. This actually worked surprisingly well, but we may need to work on the technology a bit before we have an important conference call with a client next week. Or at least, not giggle so much.

Then again, having gone through this or a similar palaver pretty much every time I need to make a video call, perhaps it’s a good thing that nobody’s actually invented teleportation yet…