We Are Traffic

May 14, 2022

‘When you first move here, you’d never believe that you would complain about the traffic here,’ someone told me soon after we’d just moved up. ‘And then, within a year, you’ll find yourself complaining about it.’

Well, she was off by more than a decade, but with the arrival of the Pepperpots, and needing to be going around the town centre by car much more than I’ve been used to, I might just have reached that point. As a cyclist, I’ve had plenty of occasion to complain about individual drivers, but traffic is not something that particularly affects me (and nor does finding somewhere to park). But in the last few weeks I’ve suddenly found out what everyone else has been moaning about as we’ve crawled along routes I could cycle in a flash, and even on one occasion found ourselves unable to find a parking space in a town where you can basically park wherever the hell you like. My bike may not be quicker than a car at getting me the 8 miles into town (which is inconvenient when your parents’ dining room door suddenly jams itself shut with your mother’s laptop on the wrong side of it), but once in Bigtown it feels like an actual jetpack in comparison. It’s just a shame I can’t use it for transporting a couple of octogenarians.

Still, it’s been a month since my parents moved here, and the various services they need are gradually starting to fall into place. Even better, they’ve now worked out a route that enables them to walk the mile or so into town from their house which may not be quicker at their pace than driving it (although it’s a close run thing when the traffic is properly bad) but is a heck of a lot less frustating. So hopefully I will soon be able to spend less time grinding my teeth in traffic and go back to smugly whizzing past it. It will certainly be a relief. Cycling might mean headwinds, flies in your teeth and the occasional homicidal driver, but these all pale in comparison to the horrors of being stuck in traffic. Drivers, how do you manage? Is this why you’re all so cross?

Road with 'SLOW' written on it several times

Evening All

May 8, 2022

We talk a lot about the lovely long summer days we have up here in Scotland, mostly during the rather less lovely short winter ones, but in my experience once they actually arrive, we (by which I mean ‘I’ of course) aren’t that brilliant at actually making use of them. Yes, it’s now light enough to garden (or insert the outdoor activity of your choice) well after 9pm, but in practice by that time the sofa has called and I have answered and – our post supper stroll to the top of the hill aside – I spend my evenings doing much the same things in May as I did in the dark days of November, just with the curtains open.

However, my plan to do Ride to the Sun at the end of the next month (ulp) may put paid to that. Not only will I be spending one of the very shortest nights of the year joining in this eccentric overnight adventure, but the need to get some more miles in my legs first has meant making the most of the extended daylight. My near daily trips to Bigtown to help the Pepperpots settle in have upped my weekly mileage a bit, but I feel that if I’m going to pull off another century ride, I need to be doing at least 100 miles a week and I’m not quite hitting that yet. Time is at a premium, as it always is, but with the cycle campaigning easing off, my evenings are more my own. And so yesterday, with a fine evening in prospect, I took off by myself for a couple of hours round the hills to top up the weekly mileage.

View from top of hill with overcast sky.

I still struggle with the idea of going out for a bike ride without either a destination in mind or a companion to enjoy it with but the other half was firm in his decision to stay at home and tend the fire and keep an eye on the hares, so I had to make do with my own company. Well me, and the cuckoo calling at the top of the biggest climb as I stopped to take in the view. It wasn’t the sort of evening for spectacular sunsets, just a gradual fading of the light as I turned for home, trying not to curse the yarnbomber who had decorated a post box in a way that felt positively cruel to this doughnutless cyclist with another couple of hills yet to climb (it did at least remind me that I had Chelsea buns ready to bake in the freezer so I got some delayed gratification this morning once they’d defrosted).

Post box decorated with crocheted tea cup and iced doughnuts

In the end, once I’d shaken off the sensation that this was all a bit pointless, I settled into the idea of it and started to enjoy being out on the bike, just for its own sake. Our roads, never busy, are more or less deserted after 7 or 8pm, so I got to enjoy our B road, and the descent down from Nearest Village, without having to worry about thinking for the drivers behind me as well as myself (no, seriously, overtaking even the slow lady cyclist on that bend when there is a tractor coming the other way is a Really Bad Idea and you should maybe not do it). It wasn’t the longest or fastest or hardest of rides, but I got home after two hours and 20 miles feeling refreshed from an evening away from the dreaded phone, and somewhat more prepared for the coming adventure. And I also slept like a log, which is a bit of a bonus. All in all, I think, an evening well spent.

Pedal on Polling Place*

May 5, 2022

So after POP, and our local Candidates’ Ride, and a month and a half of trying to fit Walk, Wheel, Cycle, Vote in around my other commitments, today was the day when the rubber hits the road (or the pencil hits the paper) and I actually got to go and vote (as did the other half, despite being a furriner, because he’s now allowed to do that in Scotland).

I’m going to blame busyness, but in truth it’s nobody’s fault but my own that it was only a couple of days ago that I actually took the time to look up the candidates standing in my ward. The voting system here is the single transferrable vote, or ‘vote till you boak’ and I know from having done the lists of parties standing in each of the 32 local authorities in Scotland, there are some quite nausea-inducing options out there in some of the wilder fringes. We don’t have any of the really fringe parties standing in Bigtownshire, but a bit of last minute googling revealed that among the five candidates standing for three seats we had one ‘independent’ who’d been thrown out of his party for making Islamophobic jokes, one Tory who’d been an SNP councillor but left because he felt it was becoming a hard left party, and another Tory who I swear to God appears to be about 12 years old. Only one responded to my question about support for Walk, Wheel, Cycle, Vote, so for the rest of them it was definitely a question of who do you want to see defeated the most, rather than who would you like to see elected, and working back from there.

In the past few years I’ve come to the conclusion that one really good councillor in a position of power beats a large number of vaguely well-intentioned ones. If you look at the councils that have streaked ahead with active travel (other causes are available) they’ve had a genuine champion driving it forward. When most of your interactions with the council feel closer to gaslighting than anything else, you need someone who will stand up to the more obstructive officers, and actually work out how to get things done. Whether we’ll manage to elect anyone like that in Bigtownshire, I don’t know. Almost definitely not among the lot on my ballot paper, but I live in hope, as always. And besides, if you don’t vote you can’t complain so off we went and did our duty.

Bicycles against a wall at the polling station

And besides, it was a nice excuse for a bike ride.

* For some reason, they’re called polling places and not polling stations in Scotland (don’t ask why) which tends to ruin a good hashtag.

Man Get Out

May 1, 2022

With various work, family and campaigning responsibilities easing somewhat, this weekend finally saw me get some much-needed time in the garden. Sadly too late for some of my mangetout seedlings, which had suffered from a lack of regular watering in a sunny greenhouse.

Mangetout seedlings, some shrivelled

Hopefully, my bottle cloches will keep them safe until more permanent rabbit defences can be erected, which in turn will hopefully be before they have climbed out of their own accord. The problem with gardening as a busy person is that it’s time sensitive, but never sets a hard and fast deadline, and you never quite know when you’re going to tip over the line between ‘just in time’ and ‘too late’ …

Mangetout planted under plastic bottles.

Meanwhile the wee hare – not so wee, these days – remains the most chilled leveret we’ve ever had the privilege of hosting. Although it will startle out of its hiding place if approached too close, it doesn’t generally run too far but tends to stop and look at the interloper before ambling off (quite charming our substitute postwoman one day, who asked if it was a pet). This time, it decided that even though we were both busy in the garden, its hiding place in my forget-me-nots was good enough and stayed put for the morning while we took elaborate detours around it.

I mean, if you looked this cool, would you move?

Hare nestling in forget-me-nots

Hello Headwind My Old Friend

April 27, 2022
Two bikes climbing up a long road

What can I say, when you’re grinding up a climb into a stiff breeze on day two of a ninety mile ride, during which said stiff breeze has been in your face the whole way, there’s a lot of time to think up stupid tweets for when you finally get to the top

So, we made it to POP although it was touch and go for my friend on her e-bike on the first day – 60 miles and lots of climbing, and did I mention there was a headwind?* takes it out of everyone, even a Bosch motor. In the end, we had to drop our usual commitment to riding in sociable formation, and just put our heads down and ride in close formation for as long as everyone could hang on, and then when the elastic snapped, just do individual battle with the hills as best we could, regrouping at the top.

Bike crossing into the Scottish Borders

This was my first long ride on the new-old bike and it definitely passed the test – there are a few minor details with the setup I’d like to tweak before I get it to level of all-day comfort I enjoyed on the old-old bike, but as we rolled into Innerleithen at the end of day one (with my friend’s ebike battery giving up the ghost just as we pulled up at the hotel) it was my legs that were feeling it, not anything else.

Bikes on the road through empty countryside

It was a bit of a shock to the system on Saturday morning as we crossed the bypass into the Edinburgh traffic and swapped potholes and scenery for even worse potholes and buses and vans and cars and if we were ever in doubt of the need for better conditions for cycling when we left Bigtown, there was none in our minds as we finally made it to the start. The Spaces for People protected lane gave us a short period of respite along one stretch of road (don’t ask me which; there were slight navigational issues with the route and we ended up just pointing ourselves in the right direction, putting on our big boy and girl pants, and riding in tight formation until we reached the safety of the Meadows) but that still left a heck of a lot of Edinburgh to ride through unprotected and we felt every mile.

Crowd waiting for the start of POP

But still, we made it. And so it seems did a couple of thousand others, despite a three year gap since we last filled the streets of Edinburgh with bikes of all shapes and sizes. With no formal organisational duties this year, other than riding at the front with the real organisers, I declared myself the Dowager Duchess of PoP, in which ceremonial role I had a marvellous time. I didn’t even have to listen to the speeches.

And then, despite the theoretical attraction of a tailwind home, I very much took the train back.

Bike hanging up on train

* I think I may have overdone the mentioning on Twitter on our way there, as everyone I met at POP asked me how the headwind had been.

Taking a Breather

April 20, 2022

It’s a very strange sensation at this time of the year, when I would normally be flat out with the organisation of Pedal on Parliament (and those of you who cycle in Scotland are coming out on Saturday to join us, yes?) to find myself watching more or less from the sidelines as it comes together without me. Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying all the stress of a major house move without the actual moving house part as my parents settle in to their new place in Bigtown (as well as keeping things going as much as possible over at Walk, Wheel, Cycle, Vote.

However, that doesn’t mean I have completely abandoned POP. Indeed, in a fit of enthusiasm back when it was a long time in the future, I committed to cycling to Edinburgh with a small band of fellow campaigners as we reprise our ride to Glasgow for COP, only hopefully with less Novemberish weather. Unfortunately it has been brought to my attention that this is now happening in two days and I’ve done very little of the training I’d planned to do to get myself up to speed for a 60-mile first day with some significant climbing. Unless you count the fact that I’ve been riding into town and back every day (a nice 14 mile round trip with a good 300+ feet of climbing on the way home) plus whatever exercise is involved in moving boxes, opening boxes, emptying boxes, flattening boxes, and then repeating with the next set of boxes, for several hours a day. Fingers crossed that will be enough, and we’ll just have to hope that the forecast block headwind all the way up to Edinburgh is simply the Weather Gods’ little joke … Either way, after the last few days I’ve had, I still think it will feel like a break.

Mum and aunt with brompton

Fortunately, these past couple of days we have had a little help, first in the form of my aunt and uncle who have come to help out with the move. My aunt has bought herself a new Brompton and nothing would stop her from riding it down with me into town yesterday, or indeed, cycling into Bigtown Police station on a rescue mission after my Dad dropped his phone. 101 uses for a Brompton continues

Meanwhile, the wee hare, noting that nobody has had time to do any gardening, has been getting on with trimming the lawn edges for us, much to the detriment of my ability to concentrate on getting any work done. Although gardening can be tiring work, so it spends a fair bit of time just chilling out as only hares know how.

Young hare sitting looking relaxed in garden

One day soon, I hope to be joining it.

Stretching a Point

April 16, 2022

It seems it was over 8 years ago that I first dipped a toe into yoga. Since then, I’ve gone from irregularly attending a weekly class, to doing regular yoga videos at home, to doing yoga pretty much every morning once the pandemic hit and we were all stuck at home anyway. And then a few weeks ago, being too busy in the morning, I tried an evening session and was struck by how well I slept and how nice and mobile my neck was in the morning. Ever since, I’ve started doing ten or so minutes of yoga in the evening as well, which is great for stress and general bendiness, and unwinding the various kinks of the day.

The problem I now have is that if, for any reason, I skip the evening yoga, then I have a terrible night’s sleep (heaven forfend that I skip the morning routine). So I’m now stuck on two yoga sessions a day just to keep pace with the stresses of modern daily life and my ever-advancing years, and that’s just the start of it. I can’t help but wonder if this ends with about half of my waking hours spent undoing the damage I’m inflicting on myself during the other half. Or I could just not spend hours on my phone doing the damage in the first place, but let’s not go mad here…

In other news, I have now lived in the country long enough that I can get lambs back in their field by just pointing at them as I cycle past and saying ‘oy, you lot, get back in your field’, whereupon they do so, as meek as, well, lambs.

Parents sitting on a bench

In other other news, the Pepperpots have landed and I never want to see another box again in my life.

Pull Yourself Together

April 10, 2022

So as I’ve mentioned before, my parents are moving to Bigtown shortly and as the daughter on the ground I’ve had various tasks to sort out, not least finding a set of stopgap curtains for the big bay window in the sitting room, so that my mum didn’t need to go looking for something more permanent until they’d got settled in.

This initially proved a challenge even to my advanced charity shop hunting skills, as finding a pair of nice looking curtains of the right size is hard enough; finding two matching pairs, or even two pairs that might coordinate with each other, takes more luck and/or time than I had to spare. It says something about my spatial reasoning ability, that I was a couple of weeks into this particular mission before it occurred to me one afternoon on the bike (where I have all my best ideas), that if I couldn’t find two matching pairs of smaller curtains, then I could, with the application of some scissors and rudimentary sewing skills, turn one big pair into two.

Coincidentally, just as I’d had this genius idea, and secured a pair of curtains that were roughly the right length and width, I got an email about a ‘repair cafe’ at New Nearest Village so off I went with my new purchase up the hill to see if anyone could help. As it happened, the lady with the sewing machine was an ex-curtain maker who could talk me through the whole process. These were lined curtains (‘bagged out’ as they are apparently known in the trade, and I do love a technical term) and could be sewn up on the inside to produce a neat edge even without a sewing machine (fortunately I had plenty of Zoom meetings instead). So after much measuring and pinning and checking and measuring again, the curtains were cut and ready to be sewn.

Sewing is a struggle for anyone as spatially challenged as I am, because everything has to be done inside out and backwards, and even though I’d been shown exactly what to do, it all felt so counterintuitive that I must have turned the damn things inside out and right side in half a dozen times before I was convinced it would work. But work it did, and today we hung the curtains and even though they’re not quite the perfect fit, they’ll do the job until they can be replaced. And all for the princely sum of £6.

curtains hung up in a bay window

And then on Wednesday, the big move begins, and with it what will effectively be a new chapter for all of us. For almost my entire adult life, I’ve never actually lived in the same place as any of my family and while I know this is just normality for most people, the prospect of living more or less on each others’ doorsteps feels like uncharted territory. In a good way, I hasten to add…

parents under the Leaderfoot viaduct

So please welcome Mr & Mrs Pepperpot to the blog. And now, back to the hare content …

Lockdown …

April 6, 2022

At the risk of this becoming an ‘all hare content, all the time’ blog, we were just heading out for a walk this evening and on checking the back door was locked, discovered that our resident wee hare was behaving adorably, so obviously we had to stop and watch that.

Just as we were about to head out the front, it scampered round and settled down for the evening by the plant pot just beside the door.

Walks are over-rated, I guess. I expect we’ll manage to leave the house eventually.

Taking the Long Road Home

April 3, 2022

Chatting to a neighbour a few weeks ago about our respective veg plots (and how behind we were with them) he mentioned his grandfather used to say ‘April – you wait all winter for it, and then you miss it.’ This has resonated with me ever since, especially now it is April. Looking at the prospects for the coming few weeks, it’s not just the garden that is going to be behind schedule. We’ve got my parents’ move to Bigtown in a couple of weeks combined with the local authority elections, which means ramping up Walk, Wheel, Cycle, Vote – and, because I wasn’t going to be busy enough, I decided it would be a fine idea to cycle up to Edinburgh with a couple of other intrepid souls from Bigtown Cycle Campaign for Pedal on Parliament on the 23rd – a mere 90 miles, over two days (and some interesting looking hills).

Having spent some time considering the contours of our route, and my general lack of bike mileage in the past few weeks beyond the near-daily trundle down for the paper and back, I decided that I would take the scenic route back from the farmers’ market this afternoon. This turned the normal 8 mile ride home into a 23-mile one with some significant climbing and views to match.

View from top of hill

The route took in what is normally a favourite ride of mine, but I wasn’t quite feeling the love today, I must admit. Partly it was that I’d misread the weather forecast so wasn’t really prepared for what turned out to be an icy headwind for most of it. And partly because it turns out that, while I’m happy to go on a nice pointless round trip in company for the sheer pleasure of it, both legs and brain rebel somewhat at my adding 15 miles and many feet of climbing onto what would otherwise be a straightforward ride home on my own.

This doesn’t bode well for our ride to Edinburgh (let alone my plans for Ride to the Sun), although I did find that my dissatisfaction with the whole idea correlated more or less exactly with the degree of headwind I was suffering at the time. I’ve also remembered from past long rides that the first climb is always the worst, and the one where you definitely decide you’re unfitter than an unfit thing and your companions should just leave you at the side of the road now for the wolves, lest you hold them up any longer. Or maybe I should just get some more miles under my belt before my companions actually do have to leave me for the wolves somewhere on the run in to Innerleithen. Or maybe I simply need to oil my chain …

Anyway, in other news, we have a new wee hare hanging out in the garden and it’s adorable. In contrast to the rabbit, we’re doing our best to ensure it can eat whatever it fancies in the garden in peace (indeed, if it wanted to come in and snack on the tomato and chilli seedlings in our hall, we’d probably let it).

young hare right outside front door

Who needs to use their front door anyway?