A Pattern Emerges

August 31, 2008

Our friends finally made it up here for the weekend, despite the best efforts of Virgin Rail to prevent them. This morning we were debating what to do during their last few hours as the rain went from ‘it looks like it might be getting brighter out there’ to ‘nope it’s really pissing down now’ and back.

One of our guests got onto the internet and checked out the forecast:

Friend: Sunday – rain

Me: Oh dear, probably not a walk then.

Friend: Monday – rain

Me: Oh, shame. Oh well.

Friend: Tuesday – rain

Me: I’m beginning to get the picture, thanks

Friend: Wednesday – rain

Me: yes, you can stop now, thanks

Friend: Thursday – rain

Thank God they’re only five day forecasts, eh?

A Numbers Game

August 28, 2008

I spend far too much time reading cycling blogs so I’ve only got myself to blame for a growing obsession with the numbers. Or rather, one particular number and in this perhaps GOM1 of Tlatet shares some of the blame because he was the one who introduced me to it: the Eddington Number.

The Eddington Number is defined as E, the number of days a cyclist has cycled more than E miles – Eddington himself had an E number of 87, i.e. he had ridden at least 87 miles on 87 separate days in his lifetime. Now according to Map My Ride, another obsession of mine, the trip down to papershop village and back is just over 11 miles, and I’ve easily done 11 or more of them so my E number (discounting all rides taken before I moved up here because I’ve no idea how long they were) is a pathetic 11, and (and this is the killer with Eddington numbers) no matter how many more times I cycle down there and back it’s not going to get any higher either. So I’m forced to find longer rides, and keep lengthening them if I want to see the number improve. Which, curiously enough, I do. I don’t care how fast I go, how many calories I allegedly burn (MMR has a fairly random approach to calories burnt, in my experience) or anything like that but I’d like to have a better value for E

So today, I worked out a different route to Papershop Village, one I’m dubbing the masochist’s papershop run. Not only is it 3 miles longer than the shortest route, it goes over several highly unnecessary hills. This time I did at least remember to check out the contour lines before I set off, although I was using an old map and airily assumed that the elevations were in feet, not metres*.  The end result was 14.5 miles in 1 hour and *cough* quite a lot of minutes, and I only had to get off the bike and push once, when I had slowed down to look at a topiary bird placed out way in the middle of nowhere, and failed to get enough momentum for the vertical climb that was round the bend. I saw buzzards and wheatears (bringing my birds I have positively identified from the bike list up to 7) and a squashed weasel (bringing my squashed animals on the road list up to 5), and precisely no cars until I got almost into the village itself and encountered a prat in a jag holding his racing line round a bend despite the fact that this meant going over into my side of the road (bringing my arseholes behind the wheel list up to 394).

Numbers, numbers, numbers – I love them. I’m thinking of starting a spreadsheet now, just to keep track. What do you measure? And what is your highest value for E?

*I was wrong.

No Particular Place to Go

August 27, 2008

So I was down at Papershop Village having been beaten to the shop counter by a little girl. She was about six or seven, the age when, if you believe what you read in the papers, kids spend their entire lives strapped into 4x4s being ferried from one social engagement to another, so it was kind of nice to see her out on her own, excited to be going to the shop and spending her own money*. And so I didn’t really fret as she rushed about choosing her selection of goodies and counting her change, nor when she hovered in a delicious agony of indecision over which flavour of Fruitellas to buy, nor even when she darted off at the last minute to rummage around for the last of the 20p bag of sweeties. Nor, indeed did I fret, much – although perhaps the indulgent smile was wearing thin a little at the edges – when she realised she didn’t have enough money for her purchases and had to select which ones to put back, with much humming and hawing at the thought.

‘You’re very patient,’ the shopkeeper said when she had skipped out and I finally plunked down my 80p for my paper. In London, of course, I’d just have gone over her head, in the unlikely event that a six-year-old could have beaten me to the counter in the first place. But you know what? I didn’t have a train to catch, and haven’t had one for a very long time. ‘No rush,’ I said, and it was true. I only need to know the time these days when I’ve got something in the oven. And even then, with a Rayburn, a few minutes extra here or there don’t hurt. No rush, no rush.

I think I may have to go to London soon, just to re-stress a bit. Becuase if I get any more relaxed here, you’ll have to scrape me off the floor with a spoon.

*At least I hope it was her own.

The One that Got Away

August 26, 2008

In a break in the weather yesterday the other half & I took the chance to go and see whether there were dipper at the waterfall, our principal pastime when checking the level of water in the ford has got old (see also: looking to see if the cottage that sells eggs has any eggs). The evening before we’d had a treat: a dipper had shown up and spent a good ten or fifteen minutes diving into the water off rocks and bringing up larvae to eat. This time, however, the other half had brought his big bird-scaring camera so the dipper wasn’t there, and we just stood and watched the water crashing down the waterfall instead.

And then suddenly we saw a fish: there and gone before I could even register it, right in the middle of the waterfall’s flow. I thought I’d imagined it until we saw another, and, after we had waited for a while, another and another and another. Salmon leaping up waterfalls is something I’ve read about, but until you see it, it’s hard to describe just how surreal and fundamentally unlikely the whole thing is. The waterfall in question isn’t all that high, probably about 20 feet in total. But compared to even the biggest salmon, it’s enormous, and there’s a boiling maelstrom of water at the bottom and more rapids to negotiate at the top. As we could see was the fish appearing, still pumping frantically with its tail, to glint in the light before it disappeared into the churning white water again. I don’t even know if any of them made it to the top.

I’d post a photograph, but all you’d get would be a picture of a waterfall where a few seconds before there had been a fish but there wasn’t one anymore. Maybe I’ll go down there again with a tripod and set up a timelapse and see if we don’t get lucky. Meanwhile, you’ll just have to believe me. I tell you, it was this big …

Batten Down the Hatches…

August 25, 2008




And how was your Bank Holiday Weekend?

This is not Just a Trolley…

August 22, 2008

When shopping at Big Town’s monster Tescos, the other half & I have a favourite trolley that we seek out on every trip. Now, wait – before you mock, there is some logic in this. The trolley in question is an M&S trolley & quite what it’s doing so far from its nearest home, I have no idea. But we like it because it is possible to wheel it in a straight line. This may partly be due to some superior M&S build quality (not just steel but hand mined Andean steel, rolled on the thighs of Peruvian virgins…) but is primarily because Tescos have crippled all of their trolleys with a gadget that is intended to stop you wheeling it out of the carpark and chucking it into the nearest canal, but tends to activate itself somewhere between the fresh fruit and veg and the frozen foods. If we don’t get the M&S trolley the whole trip is spent dragging a recalcitrant trolley out of side aisles and preventing it from swerving into little old ladies’ legs so that if you didn’t want to chuck it into the canal when you started, you do by the end. So we prowl the carpark until we find our favourite trolley, usually tucked at the back of the trolley shelter, full of litter, and if we find it, it’s just one of those small pleasures in life that keep the days ticking over. OK, now you may mock.

But anyway, some days ago we were spotted by the trolley man as we wheeled our contraband trolley towards the shop. ‘Hang on,’ he said, ‘you’ve got the wrong trolley! That’s a Marks & Spencer trolley! Let me get you a proper one. We just use that one for putting the litter in.’ ‘Nooo!’ we cried, clutching our trolley to ourselves before he could grab it. ‘We like this one! Your trolleys are rubbish, this one works.’ ‘Fair enough,’ he said, and we thought no more about it.

Fools that we were. Because we should have noticed the jobsworth gleam in the trolley man’s eyes. People were using the Wrong Trolley! They actively preferred the Wrong Trolley. Use of the Wrong Trolley Must Be Stopped.

And lo and behold, when the other half went back last night to pick up some bits, our favourite trolley had gone. It’s back to dragging the limping Tescos trolleys around again, and the little old ladies be damned. Unless … unless we can do a dawn raid on the town centre’s M&S and liberate our trolley once more.

Loooong weekend

August 21, 2008

There was much triumphant reportage in the paper the other day about how the highways agency is stopping any roadworks over the bank holiday because it has noticed that there tends to be heavier than normal traffic at those times, and coning off half the road network is not helpful. Sadly the news does not seem to have trickled down to Network Rail. We have – at least I hope we still have – friends planning to visit for the bank holiday weekend. Being organised, they booked their tickets well in advance. At the time, the sole interruption to their journey was the need to change at Watford Junction, adding no more than half an hour to their journey home. Not bad, in these rail replacement times.

Fast forward to now, and the situation has changed. Minor works around Watford Junction have turned into a mighty engineering extravaganza. Their four hour journey home has become eight hours, via Newcastle and across the Pennines. Can they at least book seats on the train from Newcastle? They cannot, because the East Coast train is chocka with the entire luvvie population of London returning from the Edinburgh festival. Can they book seats on the train going up? They cannot, at least not on the internet and not by phone and when my friend makes the trek to Charing Cross station to do it in person the only response is ‘computer says no’. What are her options? Well, she can drive on the newly re-opened Highways Agency roads. Or she can fly. Or she can resign herself to eight plus hours of travelling, crammed in next to the toilet on a National Express train on a clockwise tour of Britain. ‘Or,’ says the helpful man on the phone, ‘you could wait until the engineering works are over and travel then!’ When might that be? ‘September the 6th.’

They said back in July that we’ve got 100 months to save the planet. If August is anything to go by, we haven’t exactly got off to a great start.

Cost Benefit Analysis

August 20, 2008

Giving up the day job: £30k+ pa.

Renting a cottage in the country: £5k+ pa.

Going birdwatching when I used to be doing my evening commute: priceless.

Move Over, Stonehead*

August 19, 2008

One major design flaw in our move to the country has been the fact that we have moved to a place with no garden of its own. So any thought of growing our own vegetables – let alone keeping our own hens – have had to be postponed. But, nothing daunted, I did at least buy a couple of tomato plants when we moved in to put in a couple of pots by our front door.

That was May. June passed, and July, with the plants growing like weeds in the rain, and flowering away like mad, but producing no actual tomatoes. Having consulted t’internet, I then spent the first part of August gently brushing the flowers in an effort to get some fruit to set. And then I saw this:

My first tomato. Giant fingers for scale...

My first tomato. Giant fingers for scale...

One fruit. Given the cost of the plants, plus the compost, and time, this was shaping up to be the most expensive tomato of all time. But that was not all. One day later I found this:

Second tomato

Second tomato

and this:

Third tomato - a plum tomato this tim

Third tomato - a plum tomato this time

in fact, a grand total of 5 tomatoes in all…which have an approximately zero chance of ripening before the frost comes. Somehow I don’t think the world food crisis will be solved by my efforts alone.
Meanwhile, in other news, the other half has fixed our signal booster and we once more have access to BBC and the olympics. If our usual effect on British sporting efforts holds, expect Team GB to go crashing down the medal totals – we’ve already screwed up the Madison**. Sorry about that.

*To see how it’s really done, go here

**Surely the Mornington Crescent of the sporting world

More Walkies

August 17, 2008

muddy_shoes Having failed thus far in our attempts to find decent circular walks ourselves, yesterday we broke down and bought ourselves a book of local walks. Now, when choosing a walking book obviously what you want is good, clear descriptions of the walks written out in ways that make it impossible to get lost, but that’s kind of hard to callibrate in the shop. They always sound plausible enough, and then the next thing you know you’re in the middle of a muddy field surrounded by possibly hostile cattle, trying to parse out ‘Where a green track crosses, turn left then back right onto the descending path; there are some waymarks here, although not particularly helpful ones’ without actually wrecking your marriage. So, in the absence of anything else, I’ve taken to choosing my books of walks on the basis of whether they make me laugh, intentionally or otherwise (my favourite being the book of walks we had in the Canaries which couldn’t emphasise enough the importance of bringing a cardigan along with you. We never did fathom out why, although on the one walk we actually tried, it did get a little nippy in the higher bits). That way at least when you’re hopelessly lost and you’ve given up all hope of finding the car, you can while away your last hypothermic hours reading out the more amusing snippets to each other.

Anyway we ended up with one of these fine volumes and tried out one of the closer walks today. Mr Turnbull has a nice dry line in commentary (“Here various mindless vandals have carved their autographs into the sandstone. Mr Clarke of Oswestry carved his in 1879. Admire his stonecarving – mindless vandalism isn’t what it used to be a century ago.”) but the copy we had was published in 1999 and time had not been kind to some of his paths and landmarks (Mr. Clarke of Oswestry was still coming through loud and clear however). It was well worth it though and we found our way, despite my being clad in utterly the wrong shoes for the conditions. We even stumbled across this, in a hidden glade along the way:


Surely the legendary lost burial grounds of a vanished tribe of picnic tables…