Equal Opportunity Buzzard

July 3, 2015

‘I should probably just wait for you here,’ said the other half as we approached the entrance to Buzzard Alley

‘Oh don’t worry about that,’ I said. ‘It’s stopped attacking me now.’

And in fairness, it didn’t attack me, it attacked him, although it only swooped on him once, and that not a very close attempt – in fact if I hadn’t shouted as it passed about eight feet over his head he wouldn’t actually have noticed. But it was quite something to see it happen to somebody else. And at least I know it isn’t personal to me …

I’ve really got to get that headcam though

That Heatwave in Full

July 2, 2015


Awake to drizzle, and the news that the UK is in the grip of a heatwave, something that apparently knocks the Greek crisis, refugees, striking French ferry workers and even British players not quite losing at tennis out of the headlines. My Twitter timeline fills up with people telling me how hot it is already. Head out into the scorching 15 degree temperatures and intermittent rain for the village school bike picnic…

By the time we have escorted all the kids up to the caravan park and round and back down again, and ushered them back to school, the rain has stopped and the sun is edging out. Cycle into Bigtown for a paper and get a bit warm. Cool off the minute I get into the house, which is several degrees cooler than, apparently, the rest of the entire planet, according to  my Twitter feed.

As evening comes we realise we’re better off outside, where it is finally warm enough to eat outside. Sit out into the long evening, accompanied by Chilled Hare, who has decided to join us, and enjoying the fragrance of the night-scented stock for the first time since I planted it. Feel that this is the life.


Awake to clouds, but as we open the door and go outside we realise the heat has finally arrived, except in the house, of course. Rashly change into shorts. Head up to the walled garden until even I have to admit that it is too hot to do anything sensible. Tweet, to let everyone know how hot it is, in case there’s anyone left who may not have realised it (perhaps they, too, live in a damp Scottish stone cottage).

We take the bikes to Bigtown to recce a route and stop for lunch at the Greek cafe which has managed to survive two years still serving actual Greek food, rather than succumbing to dishing up haggis panini, the signature dish of all other Bigtown eateries.* For about half an hour, as we sit at the outside tables watching the world go by and listening to the assembled Greek population of Bigtown set the world to rights(I assume they were talking about the crisis, but who knows – Greek, like Italian, seems to make any discussion sound like an impassioned political argument; they may just have been reading tweets out to each other about how hot it was) it feels as if we are on holiday. Cycle home to find my timeline full of people’s cancelled trains and sweaty tube journeys and general meltdowns and feel a bit smug. Admittedly, by now it is raining, but it is warm rain.


Awake to fog, and the news that yesterday was the hottest July day in the history of ever. Up here, normal service has resumed, the shorts go back into the drawer, and the neighbour takes delivery of a lorry load of firewood.

Still, it was nice while it lasted.

* I swear I am not making this up.

School Daze

June 30, 2015
skull and crossbones valve cap

I’m pleased to say this was on one of the little girls’ bikes…

I was helping out at the village school bike picnic again today, which means I’ve spent the rest of the day in a state of nervous exhaustion on the sofa after helping lead three separate three-mile rides with eight kids apiece, not to mention trying to get 24 kids on bikes safely round three blind bends on the road to the recreation ground when one of them had his handlebars on crooked and rode into a bush (just as the headmistress was taking his photo, which probably made for a great shot, although not the one that will be appearing on the school website) and one of them proved quite capable of steering himself into a bush unaided. Oh and it turns out that when a driver is warned to pass slowly because there are a lot of kids on bikes around the bend, they will assume that the big bunch of kids is all the kids there are, and then accelerate round the last bend only to meet the stragglers bringing up the rear which, inevitably, includes the one who can’t steer his bike and so he’s halfway across the road… fortunately no children were harmed in the making of this blog post, although one parent helper is pretty angry and I imagine one driver is even now getting cold sweats over what might have happened, or at least I hope they are.

Fortunately, this being the village school, all the other vehicles we encountered, tractors included, were driven by someone related to one or other of the kids in some way so we saw some extremely patient driving, and the rest of the day passed off more or less like the last one, although we have a new iBike officer who has banned bell ringing except in an emergency; I expect she gets quite enough of bike bells in her line of work. We took them up a stiffish hill and then let them have their heads on the descent and that was, apparently, the most brilliant thing ever, to the point where they were quite prepared to tackle the hill again to have another go.

I also got a bit of an insight into the life of the average farm child. We were admiring some pedigree Suffolk rams, which turned out to belong to one of the older boys (his personally, that is, not his family’s). In fact half of them seemed to have their own animals – sheep or cattle – which they breed and show. That puts my childhood ambition to have a pony firmly in its place…

You Know you’ve been Neglecting your Garden When…

June 29, 2015

… you head up to your veg plot and discover that the rabbits are busy moving in under the purple-sprouting broccoli

rabbit hole

This is not good news, as getting rabbits out of a walled garden is harder than you might think. The sad truth is, though, that this is no more than I deserve as I’ve let myself become just too busy to put any real time into my veg. Fortunately, the other half, meanwhile, has been doing sterling work in the greenhouse, complete with our first tomatillos (hopefully – who knows what lurks inside all that packaging?)

tomatillo fruit

Still, today I finished one mega job that has been taking up most of my waking hours. And with the Cycling Embassy AGM out of the way, I now have no more places I have to be – except home – for a while. I have regretfully turned down the opportunity to go to Birmingham for a meeting, there are no deadlines looming, and life will, I hope, return to something like normality for a while.

dry ford

although what’s normal about a completely dry ford?!

Starting with routine ford inspections, naturallement


June 28, 2015

I am back from the Cycling Embassy AGM in Leicester, a weekend of deep cycling deliberations and, of course, the traditional infrastructure safari of the good, the bad and the ugly bits of our host city’s cycling facilities.

Unusually for a UK city, Leicester has a fair few places where the cycling provision is, if not entirely Dutch in its execution, is at least something we could show our cousins across the North Sea without them laughing openly at it. The city centre, for instance, is almost entirely car free, they’ve taken a whole lane out of the inner ring road to create a cycle track instead, they’ve taken out a whole flyover and replaced it with a walking and cycling path instead, and there’s a nice greenway that ties up the city centre with the suburbs to the north and south, meaning that (if you pick your host carefully – staying with cycle campaigners helps) you can cycle from your accommodation to your meeting place and barely have to tangle with any traffic at all. The details are pretty nice too – like road crossings that allow you to cross the road all in one go, rather than spend what feels like the rest of your life penned up on a traffic island, and forgiving kerbs on the edge of the cycle paths which slope gently upwards so that you aren’t likely to catch your pedal on them as you ride along side by side earnestly discussing the finer points of cycling policy. It is attention to such details as kerb angles that gets us dubbed “kerb nerds” by the rougher elements of the cycle campaigning world, a label we wear with pride, for we are largely at peace with our inner infrastructure geekery

That said, my favourite bit of the trip wasn’t really intended to be cycling infrastructure at all, dated from a few decades back, and was definitely not good practice in many ways.

Yes, the bollards here are too close together, and not reflective (they may need some colourful knitwear), and later on we came across some kerbs which were sadly vertical, but how wonderful to see such mature trees taking up space where cars had once roamed free. An entire neighbourhood had been turned into a series of cul de sacs and we saw plenty of kids playing out on scooters, which is in many ways even better (and rarer) than loads of cycling.

It wasn’t until I’d tweeted it that I heard the story behind why such a scheme had been put in in the first place – nothing to do with cycling at all, but to stop kerb crawling.

At least until we came along …

Grand Designs

June 25, 2015

As well as Chilled Hare, we have another new addition to the biodiversity of our front courtyard: the second home House Martins. At least, we hope it’s their second home they are building on our shed wall, as if it’s their first nest then they’re a) quite late in getting going if they want to raise a brood before the end of the summer and b) a bit useless at nest building. Every time they get about half way with their mud construction, most of it falls off and they’re almost back to square one. There also appear to be three of them, rather than the more conventional pair – I’ve decided that the third one is the house martin equivalent of Kevin McCloud and is busy wrinkling his house-martin brow in concern as the imported Cumbrian mud turns out to be not the perfect shade as envisaged by Mrs House Martin, while Mr House Martin, having changed his mind three times about the design of the frontage and sacked his architect, decides to quit his job and project manage the whole process himself in order to get it done. Or perhaps they are just slightly rubbish at nest building and I should get out more.

It will be a shame if they don’t finish it because house martins are brilliant little birds and would be an adornment to the courtyard, and besides, it appears the swallows are falling behind on their hoovering up of midges duties, if the amount I’ve been getting bitten is anything to go by…

The RSPB have some rather complicated instructions on what to do if a nest falls with the young inside, which  suggests that structural integrity is not your average house martin nest’s strong point, but no suggestions on how to help them build it in the first place, apart from providing them with ample supplies of mud, which is really not a problem around here. So I’ll have to be content with watching their progress out of the window and reporting back. If they build anything worth photographing, I will let you know.

Hare Today

June 24, 2015

One benefit of our extremely relaxed approach to weeding the courtyard:

hare behind woodpile

Can you see the young hare? We’ve nicknamed it ‘chilled hare’ because it seems equally relaxed about our presence – that photograph was taken with my (now resurrected – hurrah!) phone camera without any zoom at all, and while the hare was keeping a close eye on me while I took it, it was also continuing eating the weeds we’d left for its delectation. Mostly we only notice it when it gets bored of eating weeds and stands up for a stretch – occasionally, if we pay it too much attention it will lope off behind the woodshed but not for long.

We haven’t had hares around since the cat arrived, but now they’re back, I think that’s all the excuse we need to leave that section of the cobbles unweeded, don’t you? We might need to do something about that wood though…


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