Baby it’s Cold Inside

October 16, 2008

We thought there had been a disaster this morning. We woke up to find the Rayburn stone cold, our only means of cooking transformed into a useless lump of iron. It had had a bit of a hiccup on Saturday, but had still been, just, alight, and it had returned to normal when we turned the oil up. Today, though, it was completely out. The other half lit it and it has come back up to temperature but this will have to serve as a Dire Warning: we need to provide ourselves with a backup. Of course, this is exactly what we said after it gave us trouble in May, and what we said on Saturday too, and at intervals in between, normally when it’s making a strange chugging noise or otherwise causing concern. But then it rights itself, and the matter becomes less pressing, and we don’t. Besides, what can we get? I’m not buying a whole cooker just for the few days when the Rayburn’s playing up. I’m leaning towards an electric frying pan at the moment, if such a thing can still be found. It was amazing what we could cook on mine back when I was a student.

Or maybe we’ll just talk about it for a while and then forget about it till the next time. That wouldn’t surprise me in the least…

Confused? You will be

October 15, 2008

Rashly, I’m planning a trip to London next week. Suicidally, I’m trying to travel down on Sunday – despite the edict of the Wee Frees that run Network Rail that None Shall Travel by train on the Sabbath (that is the reason, right?). Amazingly, it seems that I can still get a direct train from Carlisle to London because there’s a National Express from Aberdeen to Kings Cross which has decided to take the scenic route (I’m not sure I entirely believe in this train but the internet says it exists so it must be so). So far so normal in our land of the ‘integrated transport system’. But here’s where it gets wierd. If I try and book from Big Town to London, I can’t get the cheapie* Advance fare. If I try and book from Big Town to Palmer’s Green via London, I can. Exact same train, exact same time, but getting off it and then getting another train: 89 quid. Exact same train, exact same time but NOT going onto another train: 155 quid. Eh?

Now of course, I’m wondering how much cheaper it would have been if I’d tried to go even further. And if they escort you to your destination to make sure you really do get on that final train …

*i.e. just the one arm and leg

Us and Them

October 13, 2008

Coming back from a hard day’s footpath clearing today – after several hours doing battle with the skin-tearing, hair-tangling three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that is the gorse bush – we encountered two walkers. ‘Oh,’ said the female half of the couple, spotting our implements of destruction. ‘Oh good, I’m glad someone’s doing something about it. I was just saying we should …’ I smiled politely, ready to direct her to the guy from the council who would happily provide her with the opportunity to join us on the next task. ‘Email somebody and tell them they should do something about it,’ she went on.

See, all this time I’ve been thinking that I was one of ‘us’. Only now do I discover that actually I am one of them, the great they that gets things done, or doesn’t, depending on whether a public-spirited citizen has emailed to remind them. Still, at least that makes me a somebody after all these years. Next up: what they, sorry, I, should do about the credit crunch…

More Bus Mysteries

October 9, 2008

Why is it, that with just five buses from Big Town to Nearest Village a day, they start at four different locations? Are they trying to shake us off?

And why is it that even if I get the bus from its supposed starting point, there’s always another passenger already on board? Is there a secret bus terminus we incomers are not to know about? Or is riding the bus back and forth on your free pensioner bus pass the way to keep warm?

Come back TfL, all is forgiven. Still, at least I’m guaranteed a seat.

Honey, I Shrink-wrapped the House

October 8, 2008

I don’t really handle the cold well. You’re probably wondering why I moved to Scotland, and there are times at the moment when so am I. At the same time we’re trying to keep our oil usage low both for planet- and money-saving reasons, so we can’t just let rip with the heating. Our electricity company have sent us a handy little thermometer with temperatures ranging from Reduce heat, but stay warm (24-27° C or 75-80° F) to Danger of hypothermia take action now! (9-12° C or 48-54° F). We’ve been so far hovering between these two extremes with the bedroom at about 15° C and the kitchen (where the Rayburn keeps things nice and warm) nearer 20°. 18 degrees I can just about handle, if I’m dressed for it, although it still means blue fingers and chilblained toes. And with the cold comes damp – streaming condensation on the windows, and anything left unattended in a quiet corner likely to sprout mildew or grow a beard of mould.

So we decided to do what we could, and – following the advice of Huttonian, former owner of the Coldest House in Christendom (TM) – we decided clingfilm was the answer. OK, not exactly clingfilm (although it can also be used) but a clear plastic wrap that you tape over the windows on the inside to create instant, cheap (eight quid so far for three sets of windows) if not 100% effective double glazing.

It was actually pretty easy, although the 18-point detailed instructions the film came with managed to strike a healthy level of fear in our hearts before we began. Not only that, but the pack we bought contained that substance beloved of all Blue Peter viewers, double sided sticky tape (up until now, I wasn’t entirely certain it existed). As the other half found when he left me going solo on the last set of windows last night, if you take care the process is difficult, but not impossible, to screw up and is also forgiving enough so that when you do screw up, a bit, maybe, the magical application of a hairdryer (or a little fan heater. One glance at us would be enough to see that we don’t actually own a hairdryer. I mean, come on) makes it okay again as the film shrinks into place.

As for the results, so far the main effect is that there’s much less condensation on the windows we’ve done. We’re not exactly wandering around in t-shirt and shorts, but the house seems to hold the heat better than it did before when the heating is off. And you can’t really see the film once it’s on – I was going to take before and after shots until I realised that the after shots looked just like the before ones, except you could see through the windows better because we’d cleaned them. The only real downside is that I look back now at the two really quite miserable winters we spent in a similarly cold rented house in London, and wonder why we didn’t think to do it there as well. I think it’s just that it’s hard to believe that something as simple as clingfilm and double-sided sticky tape could actually make a difference. But now that we’ve started down the DIY insulation road, what’s next? Knit-your-own hotwater tank lagging?

Never Mind the Level of Water in the Ford…

October 7, 2008

… it’s the level of the water in our front yard we were worrying about this morning. There was rain last night and a steady soaking rain all this morning, but I didn’t really think it was that bad until we looked out of the kitchen window and noticed a brand new burn running directly towards our woodshed. The ground all around here is so sodden that any heavy rain now seems to result in mass run-off and blocked drains and in this case the ditch that runs alongside our cottage had overflown and was seeking a new route down to the sea. Not only that, but the road outside was flooded again and the cows further down the hill were doing a sterling impression of water buffalo as they waded through shoulder-high instant lakes.

Fortunately our landlady, who knows about these things, came out armed with a stick and a fork and we had fun finding and clearing out all the drains by the road. Or at least she and the other half did while I waded about in wellies acting as a human depth gaugue for the cars that were nervously hovering, unsure of whether to tackle the flood or not. The other half valiantly stuck his arm down the most blocked drain and with a great squooshing noise it unblocked and the water started draining like a bath emptying out through a plug hole. This, I think, would have been more satisfying had he not also grabbed a handful of nettles by mistake. It turns out soaking them in water for a couple of hours does nothing to lessen the sting.

Fortunately the rain has now stopped, the yard has drained, the wood is no soggier than it was before and we can go back to wondering about the level in the ford. Hmmm. I wonder what it has reached now?

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

October 6, 2008

Now that autumn is properly underway, I’m having to back off a little from my ‘cycling in ordinary clothes’ stance. Not, I hasten to add, that I am togging myself out in luridly coloured lycra – I have almost no actual cycling gear of the sort you might buy in an actual cycling shop – it’s just that slowly I’m finding I have to change out of my usual sitting-around-the-house-writing clothes* into things I only ever wear when heading off on my bike.

The first to go were my jeans. Generally I wear no other kind of trousers, and probably always will until I get the notification from the fashion police that I’m officially too old for them, but they are not practical on a bike. Even when they’re dry, they’re too stiff, and when they’re wet they most closely resemble setting concrete which, as you can imagine, makes cycling a little tough. And a bike is tough on your jeans in return, particularly in the seat, which can work out pretty expensive after a while. So my cycling trousers are a pair of lightweight summer walking trousers which not only fit, miracles of miracles, but have a handy drawstring at the bottom so they don’t get caught in the chain. (They also have those zips round the legs that mean you can transform them instantly into a pair of unstylish shorts OR a pair of unstylish capri pants which appeals greatly to my inner dork. I know. Don’t worry, I won’t actually do it, not in public at least, but I like knowing I can).

Next up is my top. This is my only actual proper piece of cycling kit apart from my scary yellow jacket: a slim cut, elegant and long-sleeved plain black merino wool jersey from Howies which is not only the most stylish piece of cycling clothing I’ve seen, it’s in contention for being the most stylish piece of clothing I own. It’s warm, breathable and surprisingly non-itchy, and this from a woman who can’t even wear wool socks. In fact, the only reason I don’t wear it off the bike is because it would show up the rest of my wardrobe.

On top of that goes an ordinary cotton denim jacket to cut the wind until I warm up, ordinary black leather gloves from M&S, my waxed cotton cap to keep my head warm and dry and the rain off my glasses and my normal shoes – for someone as uncoordinated as myself, clipping my feet to the pedals on my bike makes as much sense as tying my shoelaces together before I go for a run. The end result is something that’s practical on the bike but doesn’t scream ‘cyclist’ when I’m off it. All right, so I’m not as stylish as these people – but then I’m never that stylish at the best of times, bike or no bike. And cycling in heels? I’ll get back to you when I’ve worked out how to walk in them.

So, all you cyclists out there – what do you wear?

* currently trending towards my usual winter outfit of as many of my clothes as I can put on at once and still move.

There are days…

October 4, 2008

… when you can say sod the weather and get out and do things anyway.

And then there are days when you just want to hole up inside and watch the snails slide slowly down the windows.

Today is one of those days.

And Now, with Pictures

October 3, 2008

Some time ago, I attempted to give a flavour of my ride to the papershop & back in words, having not mastered the technology of taking photos or videos while on the move. I still haven’t mastered it, although I did find out almost the hard way why it is not a good idea to take your camera out of your pocket using your primary braking hand while still moving. What I did do, however, is stop and take a few photographs along the way, to give you a flavour of the ride.

If you’re a cyclist, you’ll understand why the resulting slideshow is called ‘from the top of each hill.’

More Light than Heat

October 2, 2008

Much excitment here – we had the chimney swept on Tuesday (by the world’s least contented – yet strangely cheerful – chimney sweep; motto ‘if I never sweep another chimney it will be too soon’). So last night, it being cold, we lit our first fire. I had forgotten what hours of entertainment an open fire provides what with having to prepare the grate, fetch the wood and other bits from the shed, find the firelighters, make all the little scrunched up newspaper balls, lay the fire, light it, watch it go out, blow on it, light it again, do the thing with holding the newspaper up in front of the fireplace to get it going, watch it go out again, take it apart and re lay it, light it, get it going properly this time, poke it, fiddle with it, almost put it out again rearranging it to make it look more aesthetic, add more wood to it, take some off again, and then, when it’s really going, just staring into it. Who needs the television with all that going on? It’s like having a new pet.

What I had also forgotten was that open fires don’t really give off all that much heat. I’d love a wood-burning stove, but it’s not really practical in a rented cottage. Still, it did enough to keep the heating off for one more evening, and that’s got to be worth something at least. And it proved, if nothing else, that I am easily amused.