Rude Mechanicals

September 4, 2015

I don’t know if it’s just my bike, or if there’s some reason why the back cassette should be set up so that there is a gap almost exactly the width of the chain between the lowest gear and the spokes, so that one minute you’re bowling along without a care in the world singing the only two lines you can remember of a Nancy Griffiths song on infinite repeat,* and the next your chain has irretrievably wedged itself between the cogs and the spokes and won’t come out for love, money, nor inventive swearing. I’m sure there’s someone either here or on twitter who can loftily explain why this is all for the best in the best of all possible worlds, but I must remember next time it’s in for a service to see if there isn’t some way of changing things so that either the chain doesn’t go in there at all, or comes out again when it does. Meanwhile, I spent a frustrating ten minutes hoping forlornly for someone to pass** who might have a bit more hand strength or mechanical nous, while alternately wrestling with my chain and the sense that ringing up the other half was feeble beyond words, before finally managing to wrench the chain out again with only a small cost to my dignity plus blackened hands and a fat lip (don’t ask).

I then cycled on to the shop, where they cheerfully informed me there were no Guardians.

I would say that this was a totally wasted trip, but on a sunny day, no bike ride, however mechanically unsound and ultimately futile, is entirely wasted. I really must go and look up the rest of the words to that song though.

*This part may just be me. Other earworms are available.

** As an aside, what *is* the rural etiquette for stopping to help someone on a back road? Earlier this week I encountered a surprisingly cheery cyclist, given he was busily stuffing his tyre with grass*** having shredded his front tyre on the coonsil’s latest road-chipping extravaganza – and he seemed very grateful that I had stopped at all, even though the only ‘help’ I could actually offer was a bit of moral support. I had thought that, if nothing else, curiosity would mean that all rural cyclists (or indeed drivers) would stop to see what was going on and offer any assistance they could. Then again, someone did drive past just as I had managed to get my chain back on and didn’t so much as slow down, so maybe it really is just me.

*** Amazingly, this got him the 8 miles home according to his later tweet****

**** Truly the intersection of Bigtownshire cyclists and tweeters is exceedingly small as it turned out we already followed each other.

To Those that Have Shall be Given

September 2, 2015

The Other Half took another step into the realm of gardenerdom this week: he has been presented with someone else’s vegetable surplus. It is apparently an iron law of vegetable gardening that you never get anyone’s garden produce* until you have a plot of your own and then you can hardly fend it off with a stick. For no sooner does he boast about his triumphs in the Any Other Vegetable category at work, than he finds three courgettes on his desk (then again, it could just be some sort of an initiation…)

surplus tomatoes

Help, send tomato recipes

He’s now considering whether to escalate with his tomato surplus, but to be honest, that’s the sort of dangerous move that ends up with you standing in the kitchen googling marrow recipes…

* Apart from the gentleman I met in Bigtown who was reminiscing fondly about being sent by his mother down to the local allotments to pick up some leeks for the family tea. Not *their* allotment, you understand. Just *an* allotment …

Gone Batty

September 1, 2015

Cloud and gate

To Bigtown this afternoon for a meeting, followed by a friend’s book launch (and as an aside, can I just say now that if you want to do well as an author, go for local history. It must be the faintest bit galling to have written a well-received novel and collection of true stories set in pre-war Afghanistan, not to mention a slim volume of verse, only to find that it’s your book of ‘then and now‘ photographs plus brief captions that has the organisers scuttling out of the room in search of more chairs, something that I can assure you does not normally happen at book launches. Nor, when you go to the local Waterstones to arrange a book signing do they usually gesture at a large display of the works of a huge fantasy author whose posthumous last novel has had them queueing at midnight, and say ‘Don’t worry, we’ll just move Terry Pratchett out of the way to make room.’ That said, I’ve bought a copy myself and it is fascinating. I’m thinking of scrapping the difficult second novel and just bringing out a series of photographs of the ford through the ages…)


Cycling back, it was late enough to turn my lights on for the first time – hooray for dynamo lights that just work like magic – and find myself accompanied by a swirl of bats working their way through the insect life above my head. No bad thing, given that at times the bugs are so numerous, it’s as if someone’s just flung a bucket of them in your face as you pass. I was just thinking to myself how I was being a bit ridiculous to be nervous of the bats because it is a myth that they get tangled up in your hair, and with their excellent sonar mean they can navigate with ease, when one flew right into me. Perhaps the symphony of squeaks, creaks, rattles and bangs that my bike generates are the sonic equivalent of a dazzling low sun. Safe to say that I was even more paranoid for the rest of the way home. ASBO Buzzard is bad enough without being battered by bats.

And the photos? No reason, except that I was struck by the grandeur of the clouds on my way in. Summer seems finally to have arrived, now that August is over.

Best in Show

August 30, 2015

Are you all bored of the Village Show yet? Well tough, because I have triumphs to report (as those of you who follow me on Twitter may have already guessed).

vegetables in transit

First transport your vegetables (and basket) … nothing a bungee can’t handle

Top Tip for prize-winning vegetables: concentrate your entries in the categories where nobody else has anything to show. This allowed me to sweep the board in both the Heaviest Onion and Oddest-Shaped Vegetable classes. But that is not all – I also placed third in the rather hotly contested Rhubarb (Three Stalks) class, and came first – beating actual other competitors – in the Potato, One Variety (White) class. Meanwhile the other half, having tasted victory in the Any Other Vegetable class with a first prize for his Jalapeno Pepper, will undoubtedly be planning next year’s planting with the show schedule in hand.

But my basket, oh my basket was a thing of beauty

vegetable basket

First out of a field of two might not be much to write home about, but I was congratulated on it by several people, only half of whom were taking the piss.

Nothing, however, could compete with the winner of the overall best entry in the show – not mine, I hasten to add – winner of the ‘Item made of Recycled Materials’ class and, incidentally, most bonkers bike ever.

recycled bike

This isn’t what’s normally meant by a ‘recycled bike’

Which surely won’t prevent it from appearing on Kickstarter as a business idea before the year is out.

That’s Veg with an ‘E’…

August 28, 2015

In preparation for the big day tomorrow I spent an hour or so this afternoon selecting my very best produce and carefully washing it and preparing it for the village show. And then, obviously, tweeted this fact to the world. And got this reply

I really hope that anyone who’s paid even the most cursory attention to my blog or twitter feed would know just exactly how unlikely that would be…

Still, it would make for a *very* different village show

Skin in the Game

August 26, 2015

There was a slightly plaintive reminder at the last community council meeting about entries to the village show, so – reasoning that the competition might not be so intense as usual – I stopped off on my way for the paper to pick up the schedule of entries.

show schedule

Close examination suggests that the intersection of things I can successfully grow and are ready to be harvested and things that can go into the village show is quite small (and competition is likely to be fierce). Some of the categories are quite odd – who has rhubarb or six whole pods of peas* to harvest at the end of August? I don’t think I’ve even had six pods in total this year. In addition my commitment to not using any form of pesticide, combined with the depredation of Peter Bloody Rabbit and his family, mean that I’m going to struggle with anything where there’s serious competition on the quality side.

rabbit-munched broccoli

So no broccoli then this year…

Fortunately the other half’s greenhouse vegetable empire is going great guns – does anyone else remember a children’s book about someone who had so many pot plants they ended up with basically a house-shaped mass of vegetation? it’s basically like that – so he has been informed that he will be entering the show with his tomatoes and possibly his chillies, under the ‘any other vegetable’ category.

Greenhouse in August

Tomatillo plants attempting to burst their way out of the greenhouse

And me? Well, I’ve decided to be ambitious and see if I can put together a basket of veg, as this allows me to use my non-standard crops such as fennel bulbs, tiny pumpkins, terrifying parsnips and any kale the rabbits deign to leave us, bulked out by the other half’s bumper tomatillo harvest. Add in my three almost perfect almost matching potatoes (selected with much consideration from half a bed’s worth of non-perfect ones), a hail mary entry in the ‘heaviest onion’ category (it had a single entry last year; I could have won with a shallot) and – of course – my secret weapon, the oddly shaped vegetable …

oddly shaped potato

I present to you Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in vegetable form

… and I must surely do better than second place in the ‘any other vegetable’ category that was my gardening high-water mark to date.

* Actually, I know the answer to this, as my serious village gardening pal times his pea sowings to ensure a good crop just at this time of year. I do realise I’m a just a rank amateur at this game.

The Smack of Firm Government

August 24, 2015

When we first saw them, we thought that the Center Parks arrival gates were a bit overblown but the truth is, these are not just places where you check in and pick up your magic wristband – they are the portals to an alternative reality.

Center Parcs gates

Abandon your car all ye who enter here

One where the UK decided that the car was all very well for carrying your luggage and getting your family to a fairly remote destination – but has no place at all around where people live and play. A place where the parking right by your front door is for bicycles, as is the parking outside the shopping centre and the playground and the outdoor activity centre, and where almost everyone takes to their bikes, including kids of all sizes and bike-riding abilities.

bike parking by houses

It achieves this not through putting posters up encouraging people to walk or cycle – or even through any very fancy infrastructure, apart from the odd contraflow bike sign. No, it does this by, gently but firmly and somewhat bossily, depriving people – yes, actual British people – of their cars as soon as they have unpacked them. And nobody seems to so much as turn a hair.*

contraflow bike lane

It’s certainly not the quality of their cycling infrastructure that’s doing it…

You notice the difference even as you drive in – the people who have already arrived and settled in are not only on bikes or on foot but they just stand there in the middle of the road looking at your car with the resentment normally reserved for bikes, rather than hurrying to get out of your way. Once the Friday or Monday check in is over, all the cars disappear as if by magic (apart from the service vehicles – they’re missing a trick not using cargo bikes for the staff although given some of the hills, perhaps an electric version), and car engines give way to merrily tinging bike bells and the sound of children screaming with what might be laughter or what might be them learning how to ride no handed the hard way. As the weekend wore on, the children seemed to get more free range (my nieces and one nephew – once Minecraft had been prised out of their cold dead hands, finger by finger – happily took to their bikes and cycled themselves down to the swimming area), the interactions between bikes and people on foot got smoother, and many people were clearly just getting on with using bikes as transport (it’s a shame the hire bikes don’t come with baskets, though – there was one family having an interesting time transporting their instant barbecues back to their chalet under their arms) having discovered that once you take all the fear of traffic away, it’s just a quicker means of getting about than walking. There were even quite a few unhelmeted kids by the end of the weekend, although there were also a few kids who had quite clearly decided just to keep their helmets on for the duration, and were wearing them round the shopping centre too.

shopping centre parking

The Netherlands? Belgium? No, Cumbria on a dampish summer weekend

And then Monday comes, the cars are let back in, and you are spat out onto the A66, 60 mph traffic, and the delights of the ‘real world’…

It is a shibboleth of cycle campaigning that you mustn’t be seen to be ‘anti car’ – that you must provide carrots rather than sticks, if you want to get people to cycle or walk. A weekend at Center Parcs suggests it’s not so simple as that. Clearly what the British people want is not to be enticed, encouraged or trained out of their cars. They want to be ordered out of them. Sternly but kindly. By someone who looks a bit like Nanny, or perhaps Nurse. It’s the only language they understand.

* That said, a friend who can no longer walk very far did describe Center Parcs as ‘hell on earth’ and I can imagine that if you couldn’t get about under your own steam, the whole shopping mall and overpriced chain restaurant vibe of the ‘Village Centre’ would begin to pall a bit.


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