Hailing Taxis

October 31, 2008

OK, this is officially the wierdest weather I have seen in this country to date. Anyone else getting hail mixed with snow, rain, thunder, lightning and the occasional startled frog*? We’re in Duns, and contemplating an interesting drive home…

… more when we get home including the status of the ford, if, as Huttonian would say, we are spared.

*I may have made the last one up

Small Outbreak of Common Sense, Nobody Hurt

October 29, 2008

So, last week the plumber came to look at one of the sources of damp in our cottage, the leaking shower (the other one is basically the rest of Scotland, and there’s not much even a plumber can do about that). He found that fixing it would involve removing and reseating the bath, which in turn would mean a new frame for the bath and the whole thing being retiled. Obviously more than a man and a can of silicone sealant could do in a day. He rang his boss, the boss rang the agent, the boss rang back: go for it. Ah but, said the plumber, wouldn’t it be best to round up a joiner and a tiler first, before ripping everything apart and rendering the bathroom unusable? Good point, says the boss. Because, as anyone who’s ever tried to build an extension knows, getting all the tradesmen you need in one place at one time is something akin to lining up all the planets, only not quite as predictable.

Anyway, as of rather earlier than we expected this morning, we have a plumber and a joiner in conjunction, mirabile dictu. They are making banging noises as we speak. And, showerless, we are off to Huttonian’s where – he confidently expects – all of his tradesmen will be in place and finishing off his extension. As I’m fairly certain there’s only one joiner in the whole of Scotland, I think his confidence may be misplaced…

Oi! Miss Peep? We Found them…

October 28, 2008

Heading out in a circuitous manner to check the level of the ford*, along what is probably the only footpath in the area that doesn’t lead the unwary walker straight into a bog, we found our way blocked by these:

Lost Sheep?

Lost Sheep?

Now, there’s nothing that makes me feel more the ignorant townie than coming across unexpected livestock. Sheep, to my London-born eyes, belong in fields or, if they’re out and about, trucks or, at the very least should be accompanied by a dog and shepherd. But these sheep seemed reasonably happy (at least until we came along) browsing on the vegetation along the track. Were they escaped sheep? Or were they supposed to be there? And how were we supposed to know the difference, our knowledge of sheep husbandry being confined to the Christmas special episodes of One Man and his Dog? So we did what all good townies do, and stood around for a while, hoping someone would come along who knew what to do. But the problem with the country – or rather, its defining characteristic – is that there never is anyone about. There was the distant sound of some machinery laying waste to something in the background, there was us, and there were the sheep.

I don’t know, what are we supposed to do in this situation? If we ignore it, and it turns out the sheep weren’t supposed to be there, then we’re just ignorant townies who don’t take responsibility for things that they see. And if we try and find someone to tell them, and the sheep are supposed to be there, then we’re just ignorant townies who don’t know how the countryside works and try and interfere all the time. So we just waited until the sheep found a field all by themselves – and who knows, it may even have been the right one – and then we continued our walk.

Anyway, if you recognise them, and you’ve lost them, let me know…

*Six inches, since you ask, such is the mysterious way of the ford

This wasn’t Just a Puddle…

October 27, 2008

…it was a junior lake which had escaped from the flooded fields on either side and stretched a good hundred yards and more along the road. Going out it wasn’t too bad because I had enough momentum from the hill to sail through it with my feet off the pedals and out of the way of the ensuing bow wave, but coming back was another matter. I hadn’t the space to get up enough speed to get through without pedalling at some point, and the water was well over pedal depth in places. All I could do was coast for as long as I could and then, in the shallower bits where I could see the surface of the road through the water, pedal like mad.

I’ve seen the odd person – usually a farmer type – cycling in wellies around here. I’m beginning understand why…

Cutty Sark

October 24, 2008

It was foul weather yesterday, steady driven rain that left me stuck in the house all day, watching it sheet past the kitchen window. Today, as is often the way, was better: bright, cold and breezy. Really breezy. Really, really breezy, as I found once I got onto my bike and into the teeth of the wind.

David Hembrow had an interesting post about head winds in the Netherlands, and how they can be just as much a problem as hills are in a less flat country. The Dutch, of course, have their own practical solution – they fit tri-bars onto their granny bikes so they can be all upright and urban-chic in the shelter of the cities, and then adopt a more aerodynamic posture when they’re battling across the polders with their entire extended family in a trailer off the back, or whatever it is they do on their bikes. It looks a bit odd, but it’s practical, and this is the nation that brought the world clogs, so I don’t think they care much what the rest of us think.

There’s no room on my handlebars (what with the light bracket and the bell and the air horn and the gear lever and the bird poo) for tri bars or anything else, sadly, so as I battled up the longest hill into the gale, I had to adopt my own, rather unorthodox, approach to aerodynamics. With my hands still on the handlebars, I stand up on the pedals (otherwise I end up going backwards), tuck my elbows in and back, and lean down and forward,  as far out and low over the front wheel as I dare. The effect – I like to think – is that of the figurehead on the prow of a ship, only with more clothes. On a scale of ridiculousness it puts both clogs and tri-bars into the shade, but there’s no-one to see me do it except the cows and the sheep and they all think I’m mad anyway.

Coming back, of course, the wind was behind me and I was flying, my wheels barely touching the road. It’s worth battling the wind, sometimes, as long as you know it will still be there on the way home, pushing you on.

More foul weather to come, they say.

It is Never a Good Sign…

October 23, 2008

… when the plumber comes in from the bathroom asking for air freshener.

On the Other Hand…

October 22, 2008

… I’ve come back to the cold and the damp and a Rayburn that won’t stay lit. The other half has spent the morning rescuing clothes that have gone mildewed, even though they were hung up, and the dehumidifier is producing a litre of water an hour without making any sort of a dent in the clamminess. I have no doubt that the only thing that’s holding the frogs back from moving in and setting up shop in our bedroom is the chill in the air.

I read somewhere that water will soon become more valuable than oil. In which case, may I interest anyone in some damp-scottish-cottage futures? At least you’ll never suffer from liquidity problems…

In Which Disgruntled Commuter makes a Brief Comeback

October 21, 2008

I was doing all right in London, until they hit me with the replacement bus service. I had regained my London legs: walking at warp speed, crossing the road more or less at random, slapping my oyster card casually down on the reader with insouciant ease. I have, somewhere, mislaid my chugger blinkers, but I think I’ve escaped more or less unscathed from the attentions of the cheerfully-clipboarded young people who kept flinging themselves in my path. I managed not to stop, stare, and loudly exclaim at the dirt, the prices, the traffic, or the casual litter-flinging habits of its inhabitants. I didn’t even get mown down by any bikes. And then I was heading back to Palmer’s Green last night, one G&T and one beer to the good, feeling rather proud that I’d remembered (this time) about the Victoria Line being closed after 10pm. At Finsbury Park I was advised to change at Ally Pally. On the way to Ally Pally it was broken to us that we would be changing onto a bus. Aargh.

The problem with replacement bus services – oh, okay, ONE of the problems with replacement bus service – is that there’s never any information on the ground. I mean, they’ve gone to the effort of planning some engineering works, and finding a bus, and a driver, and all of that, and it never occurs to anyone to put up some helpful signs. Like ‘Replacement Bus Service this way.’  Or a timetable. What we found when we got off at Alexandra Palace was a gnomic arrow that pointed us up the road to the left. This led us to a bus stop, complete with a bus (hurrah!) with a rail replacement sign in the window (double hurrah!) and a man in yellow, who told us to cross the road and go and wait at the other bus stop, off to the right. There we stood for the next ten minutes in the drizzle staring very hard at the man in yellow and his bus, trying to will him to come and pick us up. Eventually, he got out of his bus and ambled over.

‘We’re just looking for the bus,’ he explained. ‘Then we’ll run the service.’

‘It’s behind you,’ we said. But, as he explained, this wasn’t our bus. This was the spare bus. We couldn’t get on this bus, because then there wouldn’t be a spare bus and if that bus broke down then there wouldn’t be another one. When the other bus came, we could then get on the spare bus, as there would then be another spare. But not before.

We failed to see the logic of this. But then, we weren’t the ones wearing yellow, and there weren’t enough of us to overpower him and storm the spare bus, which had anyway remained at a safe distance, so we stood there chuntering in the rain until yesterday turned over into today, and the spare spare bus arrived and we could get on our way.

There have been times in the past six months, I have to admit, when I have wondered what exactly I’m doing up here and whether we were mad to come. Last night/this morning was not one of them…

Safely back, thank God.

A Weasel is Weasily Recognised*

October 18, 2008

Well, well, well, you learn something new every day. As I was riding down to the garage this morning for the paper just for a change, a long thin scuttling beastie crossed my path. I assumed it was a weasel just because I’ve always called those little scurrying things weasels, stoats seeming somewhat out of my league. But having looked it up on t’internet, it turns out that the black tip to the tail – plus the fact that it was big enough for me to think it was a squirrel at first glance – marks it out as a stoat. A nice addition to my list of positively identified wildlife I’ve seen from my bike. Not only that but a kestrel took the chance to show itself off in a sudden patch of sunshine, gliding and darting through a field of indifferent sheep. Throw in a wren, darting across at ankle-height on furiously flapping stubby little wings, and the top of a telegraph pole that suddenly transformed itself into a buzzard and flew heavily away, and the fact that I came back with a paper at all seems like a bonus, rather than the whole point of the ride. (The roadkill total was also enhanced to the tune of one dead badger, but let’s not dwell on that one).

*Whereas a stoat is stotally different

We’ll Weather the Weather Whatever the Weather

October 17, 2008

I find I’m using different words these days to talk about the weather. No, I’m not getting all colloquial, yet, although I like the use of ‘mucky’ to describe a particularly wet day, just lowering my expectations somewhat as to what constitutes a decent sort of a day.

So here’s your handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the new weather, new-speak style:

Not too bad – it stopped raining occasionally
Fine – it stopped raining when I wanted to go outside
Nice – it stopped raining long enough to put out laundry
Really nice – it even stayed stopped long enough to dry it
Lovely – the sun came out
Gorgeousand the rain stopped at the same time
Glorious – it didn’t rain at all, the sun came out, the wind dropped, and the one small blot on the horizon was that the herd of flying pigs passing overhead crapped on the laundry before we could get it in.

A similar re-calibration by financial journalists to describe the mood in the markets might come in handy, no? That way they won’t run out of superlatives by Christmas.