Waterproof in Scotland?

October 5, 2015

Some time back in the distant past – or rather August – I was tempted by the Vulpine sale and ordered a nice merino polo top (one can never have too many merino tops) and, more daringly, a their “Epic” cotton rain trousers, reduced from how much!?! to just how much?! in the sales. Close inspection of the fine print suggests that they were merely rain-resistant rather than rain proof, but the cheery person who mans (or possibly womans) their twitter feed seemed convinced they would be ideal for the local conditions

Fast forward a few days and the trousers arrived and, magically, fit, despite the fact that I have – contrary to the trouser design ordinance of 1998 – hips, thighs, and a waist. They also looked very smart, at least adjusted for being a piece of clothing I own, and come in a colour other than grouse-shooting green. More importantly for the first six weeks I owned them they worked in exactly the way you want rain gear to work: it was never actually raining when I had to go out on the bike (there was one close call, but by the time I’d put the trousers on, it had stopped).

Unfortunately, possibly due to an unwary tweet to a Portlander who was also wondering where her rain had gone, the Weather Gods came back from their extended early autumn break and unleased a goodly portion of September’s rain on us today. Which was the day I had to cycle into Bigtown, spend a morning sitting in a meeting with the coonsil (and then going out and looking at various places where they might put some signs up to let cyclists know that – no pressure – but instead of pedalling down a horrible trunk road with HGVs roaring past you at two minute intervals, you could instead turn off onto a nice almost traffic-free route which has up to now been more or less the secret of a few locals, something which it has only taken the powers that be about 5 years to try and organise). The sort of day for which a pair of smart but rain-resistant trousers might have been invented.

So how did they do? Well, on the way in, they proved pretty good. Obviously I had used the intervening weeks of dry weather beforehand to not get round to re-proofing my jacket or re-waxing my boots so my feet and arms were a bit soggy, but the rain beaded up nicely on the trousers and then quickly dried and they were also not at all sweaty. The sitting in meetings part they performed with aplomb, looking at least as smart as anything anyone else was wearing and not being too rattly when I walked. Add in all the nice details (tab to keep the cuff out of the chain, magnetic button on the back pocket, hell, just having pockets which is not a given on women’s trousers) and I was pretty pleased.

On the way home, the rain was not so much heavier but – in the mysterious way that rain does around here – managed to be significantly wetter. Let’s just say that there are days when you get in and take your jacket and shoes off when you get in and put them in the hallway. And there are days when you take your jacket and shoes and gloves off and put them by the Rayburn to dry. And there are days when you get in and have to strip right down to your smalls in the bathroom and hang everything up in the bath to avoid flooding the kitchen floor – while silently blessing the fact that your towel is still hanging up on the Rayburn rail keeping warm – and today was one of those days. I can report that, as advertised, Vulpine Epic rain trousers are *not* waterproof in Scotland under those conditions BUT that my legs were the second dryest part of me after the ride. And the dryest? The top of my head, protected by my magical tweed cap – which has so far proved itself resistant to everything Scotland can throw at it. I’m guessing they know a thing or two about rain in Harris…

Vulpine are currently running a customer survey which is probably worth doing for the giggles if nothing else (no other cycling company that I know of acknowledges that ‘anything as long as there is cake’ is as much a type of cycling as the usual boring categories of road, mountain biking etc.). I’ve already filled it in, which is a shame because otherwise I’d be back on there now suggesting that if they really want to achieve ‘waterproof in Scotland’ status, they need to be looking into tweed.

On the Sunny Side

October 1, 2015

Well, summer left it late, but it finally made it up here – yesterday was the first day I have been Too Hot since the beginning of July. Of course, it has coincided with work deadlines and a bunch of self-inflicted stress, but I still had to cycle into Bigtown today to pick up the paper and my Ivor Cutler t-shirt (long story) and I wasn’t the only one out on the bike either – at one point there must have been four of us all riding along the same road,* which I can assure is not Normal for Bigtown. Every single one of us, as we encountered each other, exchanged the look which goes ‘whatever else may be going on in our lives, you and I, at least we have managed to arrange things so that today, of all days, we are out in this weather on our bikes. We therefore win.’ I think you know the one I mean.

Now all I have to do is hold that thought for when October arrives properly and I am plodding into a blustery headwind, with my feet sloshing around in my shoes.

*The one where the cycle path – a shared use pavement – decides to switch from one side of the road to the other half way along, before disappearing altogether; unsurprisingly none of us were using it. I like my off-road cycling infrastructure as much as the next Cycling Embassy member, but I’d prefer it not to be completely bonkers.

Mixing its Toasties?

September 30, 2015

his year is testing, possibly to destruction, my theory that one cannot really destroy purple sprouting broccoli, which over the years has survived caterpillar attack, frozen winters, and variations on the ‘user error’ theme and still managed to give us some welcome veg come the spring. Rabbit attack might be different though… it had recovered once, albeit starting to flower early, but the demon bunnies came back for another round.

massacred broccoli plants

I’ll say one thing for rabbits, they’re thorough. They don’t lollop around nibbling a tender shoot here and a tasty morsel there – if they did, we might be able to come to an understanding. Instead what they do is zone in on one particular bed and, over the course of a day or two, destroy it utterly

ex green beens

Less than a week ago, this was a flourishing patch of green beans with plenty more young beans coming through…

With the beans and the beetroot they scarfed the lot (well, they left a neat little pile of beetroot tops for me) but they leave enough of the kale and the broccoli to allow for some resprouting and then come back for another meal. Kale and broccoli might be tough but I don’t know how long even they can take that sort of treatment and survive.

chomped kale

Kale starting tentatively to resprout

But maybe they won’t have to, because the other half did discover a dead rabbit inside the fence this afternoon, half hidden under the bushes (I swear it wasn’t me). Cause of death unknown, and hopefully not mourned by its numerous offspring …

Meanwhile in the Shed…

September 27, 2015

… something was lurking:

potatoes in bin

Guess who had forgotten to empty out the last few sprouty potatoes from the black bin where they’re stored over winter?

last year's potatoes

Actually it was quite impressive the lengths that some of them had gone to to seek the light.

baby potatoes

Others had desperately concentrated on making new potatoes. I suppose in the interests of horticultural and/or culinary knowledge I should have tried cooking these to see if being grown in the dark like that creates an especially delicate flavour, but I’ve never been a fan of forced vegetables – white asparagus gives me the heebie-jeebies – so I’m afraid they went straight onto the compost heap. Where they will probably flourish, if the rest of the compost is anything to go by…

Charity Begins at Home

September 25, 2015

It was Nearest Village’s Macmillan coffee morning this morning, and as a community councillor who is up for re-election* I thought we had better show our faces (oh, all right, we went because we knew it would be laden with delicious cakes as, indeed, it was. But we cycled down there, so that’s okay). Chatting with one of my former fellow choir members (now sadly an ex-choir) he was telling us a bit about life when he was a shepherd’s son growing up in the hills behind the village. He has now somewhat risen in the world and mixes with the ‘county ladies’ dancing society but back in the day he remembered the charity of the ‘dog biscuit ladies’ who used to generously send packages of dog biscuits several times a year to ensure the shepherds’ dogs didn’t go hungry. Over time, the dog biscuit element waned, and the gifts for the shepherds’ children got more prominent, but even so, that must surely count as the Most British Charity Ever…

I would say that it’s a sign of how much times have changed, but a recent discussion at an earlier community council about food banks suggests we’re not that far off those days any longer.

* Not that there are ever any actual elections; it’s more of a press-ganging of the least unwilling to serve.


September 23, 2015

Somewhat as a joke, I made a New Year’s Resolution not to start any more cycling organisations this year, having in the past four years got myself tangled up in the founding of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, Cycling Dumfries, Pedal on Parliament and the Women’s Cycle Forum. And then in June, buoyed by the success of a Family Bike Curious event, and possibly having had rather too much coffee and cake,* I was sitting in a room with a lot of cycling people discussing plans for the 2016 Holyrood elections.** We had just achieved the marvellous feat of getting about 20 cycling and active travel organisations to agree on 3 key priorities for politicians and cycling*** and it seemed to me that this was an opportunity too good to be missed. As nobody else was suggesting it, I wondered aloud whether we needed some sort of an umbrella campaign to help us present a united front. Encouraged by Suzanne Forup of the CTC, another person who doesn’t know to duck when an opportunity to do a lot of thankless work presents itself, I found myself mentioning that it would be a fairly simple matter to set up a website to co-ordinate things. And the next thing you know …

We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote

So far, all we have is a name, a logo, a Facebook page, a small budget, and a dawning realisation that things are about to get very, very busy.

If you’re in Scotland and you’d like to see more investment in active travel, infrastructure that anyone can cycle on, and safer roads for the most vulnerable, then please join us.

* If you want to get me to do something for you, inviting me out for coffee and cake is an excellent start. I get overexcited just at having left the house, and then the caffeine and sugar kicks in and the next thing I know I’ve got at least a pop up bookshop or a small origami publication on my hands, if not a full blown cycling campaign…

** I know, I know, but it turns out the time to start talking tactics about election campaigns is about a week after the last one. No wonder politicians are all a bit odd.

*** and if you’re not thinking that’s remarkable, then you don’t know more than one cyclist; in fact, leave a single cyclist in an empty room and when you come back you may find that they are disagreeing with themselves over the correct apparel, pedalling cadence, gear ratio, or indeed the best kind of cake…

Going Dutch

September 22, 2015

‘Is there some sort of EU funding for diggers suddenly?’ the other half was wondering a few days ago and it’s true that there seem to be intensive excavations going on in half the fields around us. The field opposite is certainly getting some extensive drainage work done, which will be good news for the cattle that usually overwinter there and spend the last half of the year trudging around up to their ankles in mud. It also means that poking out the road drains with a stick will likely be more effective, to my great satisfaction, although it will be bad news for any fish that might be swimming about in the road at the time.

field drainage

But the works there pale into insignificance compared to the field down the road, on the way to the ford, which at one point was looking like a re-enactment of Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. We’ve been watching the digging get more and more extensive in recent days and finally, as we returned from blackberry picking on Sunday afternoon, I spotted the owner and found out that they were actually levelling the field altogether (it had started as just a bit of drainage works, but one thing led to another, and they decided what the hell, why not just flatten it?). I was sceptical that this was even possible but lo and behold:

flattened field

That’s actually not bad and it got me wondering: if one man and a digger can flatten one hill in a week…

road looking uphill

… how long to do them all?


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