Flushed with Pride

September 21, 2008

We’ve been out this weekend taking part in beachwatch, the Marine Conservation Society‘s annual beach clean and litter survey. It’s been a bit of an eye-opener, even for fully paid up a litter-hater like myself. Today, in less than two hours, on just our small portion of the beach, the other half and I picked up more than 65 little plastic sticks that had originally been cotton wool buds. As people don’t generally take these to the beach with them, it means they’ve come out of the sewers. Mmmmm, lovely. Add in broken glass, bottle caps, dog poo, an (un)’sanitary item’, cigarette butts, chocolate bar wrappers and dozens of drinking straws and you can see why, when it comes to my next beach holiday, I think I’ll opt for a nice  walk in the hills.

Sadly, there’s another effect to doing a beach clean, other than simply adding to the warm glow of smugness that surrounds me and which is now in danger of being visible from space. Yesterday, we went for a short walk along our road, down to the post box and the cottage-that-sells-eggs. Suddenly tuned in to the stuff, I could see nothing but litter: discarded bottles, cans, wrappers, ciggies, bottle lids, you name it. I even caught myself thinking I should take a bag and pick up some of the worst of it as we went, just to make myself feel better. Girls, take it from me, you can’t fight it. Eventually you will turn into your own mother*.

And the other thing that struck me (other than the fact that it’s a really really bad idea to flush your cotton buds down the loo) is how willing the holidaying Brit is to sit and watch other people work. By the end of our two hours, we had a fascinated audience of middle-aged couples, sitting comfortably on the benches of the front, enjoying the show. Some of them had even brought sandwiches. Some of them – undoubtedly – dropped the wrappers on the beach afterwards. But if they did, they did at least wait until after we had gone. And for that,  if nothing else, we should be grateful.

*Which is not necessarily a bad thing, of course


I Appear to have Formed…

September 20, 2008

… the main course of an all-you-can-eat mosquito buffet. This is the downside of conservation volunteering – next time, maybe, I’ll try and pick somewhere that isn’t a peat bog and intensive mosquito breeding area.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to go and spend some quality time scratching my bites. I think it might be my new hobby.

Will Work for Wood

September 19, 2008

Ooh ouch, the light on our oil meter was flashing yesterday – time to refill the tank for the winter. Five hundred quid for a thousand litres of oil; running the rayburn does not come cheap. Heating the house won’t either, with an oil-fired boiler and single glazed windows, even if the walls themselves are a foot thick. Time to get out the Antarctic parkas, I think.

Still, I was out today chopping things down in the name of conservation and by the end of the day a largeish pile of wood – all in nice fireplace sized chunks – has happened to come my way. Normally I volunteer for the nice warm metaphorical glow it gives me, but on this occasion, I was more than grateful for a literal one as well.


September 18, 2008

You know, I really think more people would take the bus round here if the bus actually left from the stand that the sign said it would. Just a thought…

Fortunately, I noticed in time and caught it. Unfortunately so did all the schoolkids. I now know more about the circumstances of Elvis’s death (filtered through the particular obsessions of the adolescent mind) than I really ever wanted.

*Secret Bus Service

It’s a Sign…

September 16, 2008

…that I’ve lived out here too long when I set off confidently for Big Town on my bike and almost forgot to bring my bike lock with me. Big Town may not be London, but it’s no place to leave an unlocked bike (neither, probably, is Papershop Village, if I’m honest, but what’s the point of living in the country if you can’t boast smugly to urban type people about being able to leave things unlocked?). It was my first time back in traffic, and it wasn’t too bad, although I did discover that there’s a difference between being used to cycling in traffic (pooh! I used to cycle in London, you know) and being used to cycling in traffic up hill. Suddenly nipping out into the lane to make a quick right turn becomes something of an all-out sprint to get clear of the traffic up what has suddenly become the north slope of the Eiger. It didn’t look like that from the car.

I also encountered another crap cycle lane – not jaw-droppingly, into-the-side-of-a-tree crap, just ordinarily, designed-by-a-non-cyclist crap. This one was just as I reached the outskirts of Big Town, after the 30 mph sign, where the road got lovely and wide with plenty of room for all and very few parked cars. The first I noticed was the dreaded ‘pedestrians and cyclists sort it out amongst yourselves’ sign, indicating a mixed use lane, then some bizarre markers on the road indicating – apparently – that I should slalom wildly around some traffic islands and end up on the wrong side of the road, on the pavement before crossing over and slaloming back to my side of the road because the bike lane had ended and I was back on my own. Eh? Of all the roads I cycled on, this was the one that needed a bike lane the least, but in order to use it, I was going to have to pull out into the middle of the road – the real road – turn right across traffic, all for a couple of hundred yards of traffic-free but pedestrian-infested cycling. No thanks.

I know why it’s there, though. The bit of road it was on was going past a soulless new-build development, hundreds of little brick boxes that could have been anywhere. No doubt the developer had had their arm twisted to put in a few yards of bike lane. Because there’s nothing like a bike lane to turn a soulless brick-box housing estate into a soulless brick-box housing estate with a crap cycle lane, sorry, eco town. Boxes ticked, targets reached, everybody happy. Everyone except me, of course. But then, I never am…

Some Very Fast Bicycling Indeed

September 15, 2008

Not me, naturally. But we did go to see the Tour of Britain on Saturday when it passed sufficiently close to our particular bit of the middle of nowhere. I’d post some pics but, while I carefully packed my camera in my bag in preparation, I then rather less carefully left it on the kitchen table. So, words it is, then:

Arrive in plenty of time at our chosen spot and find a place to park. On the col du Galibier, ‘plenty of time’ means about a week in advance, but here on the col du Mennock Pass, an hour or so will do.

Eat our sandwiches

Walk about for a bit, enjoying the scenery

Wonder whether we’ve got the best spot but decide it’s too late to change now

Sit in the car, turning on the wipers occasionally so we can see out.

Police car goes past. Get very excited.

A cyclist! Get out of the car. Decide that, given he’s about fifty, a little paunchy, and practically going backwards, he’s probably not part of the race. Give him an ironic cheer anyway. After all, he’s the one who came on the bike, not the nice heated car.

Find optimum spot on the road to take pictures, if I had a camera. Realise that this was also the optimum spot for the last dog that passed through to have a dump. Scrape off dog poo. Find slightly suboptimal but less smelly spot. Wait



Another police car. Hurrah! Give it a wave. They don’t wave back. Boo.

About four thousand police motorbikes come past. None of them wave. One of them yawns. One of them is eating a banana.

Another cyclist, this time wearing a king of the mountains jersey, but for a different race. Another spectator getting to the top the hard way. We watch him with some anxienty. How will we know when the actual race comes past? What if it did and we didn’t notice?

More police motorbikes. Other non-police motorbikes in official orange vests. Closer inspection reveals them to be more paunchy blokes in their fifties. Are the Hells Angels doing the security then?


Sound of helicopter. Hurrah. Wave.

Lots more cars. Carbon footprint of a bike race must be huge. Where’s the publicity caravan? Where are all the pretty girls dancing to Europop and throwing out sweeties?

Advance car drives past slowly, telling us what’s going on. Which is good because we have absolutely no idea. Wave. They wave back

More cars. Motorbikes. Helicopter approaches.

Bikes! I can see bikes! Here they come it’s …



zwimm zwimm zwimm zwimm zwimm*** …


… over.

And then we drove down the hill and did it all again further up the road.

Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

**Chasing group of two

More Slow Bicycling

September 12, 2008

I keep thinking I should do a video or timelapse of my ride down to Papershop Village, like all the cool cyclists do, but I don’t really have the technology. So here are some mental pictures for you instead:

Not actually raining. Cold enough for a jacket, cap, gloves. Scary yellow jacket in bag. Bag on back, Bike out of the shed

Out the gate, round the corner, up the first hill. Always hate the first hill.

First squashed animal of the day – hedgehog. Looks just like a cartoon squashed hedgehog, round, with its four legs sticking out. Sometimes they’ve sort of squirted their guts out the back like a tube of toothpaste (hey, I didn’t say they’d all be nice mental pictures…)

Through nearest village. Who builds a village on the side of a hill? Non-cyclists, that’s who.

Three pied wagtails bobbing about on the road. At least they’ve got the nous to fly away.

Aargh. Verge cutting. Verge cutting tractor pulls over to let me past. I’m always worried they’ll just lift up their big lawnmower-onna-stick thing and expect me to cycle under it. Far more dangerous than ladders. Squeeze through and away with a grateful lift of the hand.

Landrover overtakes me slowly and courteously and carefully. Do they count as four-by-fours?

Large flock of rooks and wood pigeons rise up from the harvested field and wheel away

Sheep running away. Sheep are very stupid. Cat not running away, but standing in the middle of the road looking at me. Not sure if this is typical cat arrogance or sign that cats, also, are very stupid.

Through the farmyard where the tied up dog tells me that he hates me. A lot. One of these days he’s not going to be tied up…

Too hot for gloves. Take them off.

Two bullocks stare at me through a gate and then run away. I am obviously the most terrifying thing on two wheels around here.

Sheep lying down. Doesn’t that meant it’s going to rain? Or is that cows? Of course, round here, just being a sheep is a sign that it’s going to rain. It’s always going to rain…

Another grass cutting sign. Grass is clearly growing faster round here than one man can cut it.

Still not raining. Now too hot for jacket, but don’t want to stop.

Second verge-cutting tractor, in worst possible place, half way up the steepest hill. Going even more slowly than me. Together we reach the top of the hill and I stop to avoid riding in his exhaust. He stops too and gives me an encouraging wave. What? He is completely blocking the road. He wants me to go past on his right but there’s a ditch there. He’s waiting for me to pass. I get off and squeeeeeeze past with the bike wheel in the ditch. I knew there was a reason I hung on to my hybrid.

Give ditch guy the benefit of the doubt and give him a grateful wave.

Past the broken-down cottage I want to buy and rescue and live in forever (other half not so keen)

Up and round the last serious hill, praying I don’t meet a third verge-cutting tractor

Still going up the last serious hill

Still going up the last serious hill… no tractors.

Thwap! Headbutted by large insect, possibly bee. Perhaps that’s why all the bees have disappeared, I have inadvertently eaten or run into them all. Sorry about that.

Final run into village. Cows lying down now. Definitely going to rain, but then we knew that. Wonder whether cows round here lose the use of their legs from all the lying down they have to do.

Pffft! Insect in mouth. Argh, spit, cough, splutter. Don’t think I swallowed it. Don’t think it was a bee.

Papershop Village… buy my paper, forget my change, make merry banter with papershop bloke, escape back out to bike. In a fit of foolish optimism, take off jacket.

I can see my shadow! Does that mean we get another month of winter? Oh no, wait, it’s summer…

Mud on road. The farmers don’t put up those signs round here. They probably reckon that we can see the mud, which is true. Perhaps more helpful would be a sign saying ‘road under mud’, because sometimes you wonder.

Cows on the left lying down, cows on the right standing up. Cows are either incredibly precise or pretty rubbish forecasters. Also all pointing in different directions, so rubbish compasses as well.

First hill. Always steeper than I remember it. Second hill. Change down the gears, around the corner, down the hill, picking up speed.

Right at the bottom, it’s ditch guy. I squeeze past on the other verge, deep in the mud. No sooner am I past than a lorry comes round the bend. Both he and ditch guy are exactly as wide as the road. Back on the verge for me, glad to be on the bike, squeeze past the lorry and away. He keeps on coming, ditch guy keeps on coming. I wonder which one of them will back down first.

Great tits flitting about in the hedgerow. Blackbird. Flock of sparrows. Dead frog. Or toad. Probably frog.

Inhale something. Definitely insects, plural. Ack.

Back through the farm yard where the dog hates my guts. He still hates me. He tells me at length.

This is the best bit: smooth road, lovely swooping curves, gently downhill. One day I’ll meet a car…

To my right a fence and on top of each fencepost, a rook, all facing the same way. They look as though they’re waiting for the start of a battle.

Nearest village appears on the horizon. Check my watch. If I get home in eight minutes I’ll be on course for a decent time. Not *ahem* that I care about these things. But you know…

Through the village, last turn, under the canopy of the trees. Zig-zag sign on the road – they’re not kidding. Car on the bridge. There’s always a car on the bridge. Brake to go past slowly, never quite sure if they’ve seen me. Raise a hand as I pass but they give me the dead-fish stare. Londoners…

This bit is definitely a double-ramped hill. Uphill both ways.

Cottage-that-sells-eggs. House with scary dog (quietly growling rather than barking is so much more menacing) Squashed hedgehog. Nearly home.

Last hill. Aargh. There is no way up this hill without getting out of the saddle. Still, better than getting off the bike.

And home. One hour. Not bad. Not, you know, that I was trying, or anything…