Back on the Bike

January 22, 2009

I haven’t been on the bike for over a week, partly because the weather has been beyond atrocious – ludicrously awful with gales, sleet, snow, fog, bucketing rain and at least half an inch of hailstones yesterday. Partly also because I’ve been trying to get my driving going again which meant some practice sessions in the new car with the other half. These did not go particularly well: the best that could be said for my first outing was that I didn’t hit anything. As for the rest – well by the end the other half was only going ‘Jeeeeesus Christ’ three or four times a session, which I count as an improvement, although it could have been because he had his eyes covered and was cowering in the back. But anyway, I have done the driving that I needed to do and today, it being fine and breezy, I was back on the bike to the relief of all concerned.

My route took me past the scene of the mysterious pipe and bucket combo, and I can now report that there have been developments. The bucket has gone and been replaced with …

mystery (partially) solved

mystery (partially) solved

… a water feature.

Now you might think – given that this – rather impressive – construction is effectively in the middle of nowhere and certainly nowhere near any house or garden, that the mystery continues. But, having had to give directions around here it makes perfect sense to me. You see the landscape around us, while beautiful, consists of the same few elements – drystane dyke, church, cottage, farmhouse, barn, field, plantation forest, bridge, stand of trees, hill – repeated over and over. The roads are almost all un-named and un-numbered and the signposting tends towards the erratic. If you see a sign to where you’re going at one junction then you can be fairly certain that at the next junction, there will be no mention of your destination, and half the little roads around here get no sign posts at all. Directions tend to be of the ‘go 3.8 miles along the road until you come to a track, go up it and take the ninth left, and if you reach the sea you’ve gone too far’ kind. A couple of weeks ago, in the fog, we had to go out and rescue someone who had got so lost trying to find us that she had almost given up. And she had lived in the area for years…

So if you live down an un-named road, off another un-named road, off a third un-named road, in the land that signposts forgot, then building something like this at the end of your road makes perfect sense. Because with ‘Turn left at the big water feature’ there’s  no chance of there being another one of those around. Or at least until the idea catches on, and everyone has one.

I still don’t think it adequately explains the bucket, though.


January 21, 2009

Phew. Rayburn man came yesterday and degunked the Rayburn, and its temperature had finally crept back up to normal. We’ve solemnly promised not to turn it down lower than ‘2’ in future (makes you wonder why they bother to have a ‘1’) and shall be laying offerings before it diligently every morning to make sure it doesn’t get angry or sick again. The writings of G***** M****** will also be excised from the Guardian and burnt (if we can ever get them to light) before bringing the paper into the house.

Actually, what this has done is prove that – as far as our little Rayburn goes at least – Mr M****** was completely wrong. If the last few days have been anything to go by, running the Rayburn  actually saves us oil. Without it we’ve had to have the heating on much more (it was 12°C in the kitchen yesterday morning without it), running our inefficient boiler much longer, and even then we’ve spent most of the time huddled in the other half’s man cave with the electric heater on. Our oil gauge isn’t accurate enough to tell for sure, but we know from calculations we’ve done in the past that running the boiler for about 3 hours a day uses up 3 roughly times as much oil as running the Rayburn for 24 hours a day, so it doesn’t take much extra heating to tip the balance. Throw in all the savings on boiling the kettle, cooking with electricity and not having to run the tumble dryer or iron (in the unlikely event that we ever have to do any ironing) and I reckon the Rayburn’s positively green, in the winter at least.

And in the summer? Well if we ever actually have one, I’ll let you know.

Burns Supper: Lessons Learned

January 19, 2009

Well, you’ll be excited to hear I survived my first encounter with haggis on Thursday night. It wasn’t too bad, actually, if you don’t think about what’s in it or, indeed, what it’s in. I learned a few other things too:

  1. if bagpipes were originally designed as a weapon of war, then played indoors they’re a weapon of mass destruction. They certainly make for very poor incidental background music while people are chatting before a meal
  2. on the other hand, watching a tallish piper with a taller set of pipes limboing through a low door while piping in the haggis adds to the evening’s gaiety
  3. Scots derive great entertainment from making Englishmen recite Burns. Apparently they don’t mind their national poet being mangled.
  4. However, when the bard’s verse is read by someone who actually knows what it means – and does the actions – it almost makes sense. Almost
  5. a full plate of haggis, neaps and tatties is possibly the stodgiest meal in the world. Fortunately, they diverged from tradition for the pudding course and I didn’t have to tackle a deep-fried Mars Bar to follow.
  6. you’re not supposed to cross your hands until the last verse of Auld Lang Syne. First you have to sing all the verses in between the one you think you know the words for (Should auld acquaintance be forgot and tumty-tumty mind…) and the last one. There are a lot of verses.
  7. when someone asks ‘Should we try a couple of sets of strip the willow*?’ the correct answer is ‘gosh, is that really the time, we should be going …’

There was probably more, but by this time there had been drink taken and if I had any other words of wisdom to share with you, I have forgotten them.

*It’s a dance. Get your mind out of the gutter. Honestly…

Two Cultures

January 17, 2009

So – for reasons too complicated to go into – we were at the local aviation museum helping to make a willow-and-paper lantern for the Burns night parade. An artist had been provided to show us how it’s done and she had done some research in preparation.

‘I looked up a picture of a Spitfire on the internet,’ she said. ‘And I’ve done a design of how we might make it by weaving the willow together here.’

‘That’s great,’ said one of the museum guys. ‘There’s just one small problem.’

‘What’s that?’

‘That’s not a Spitfire in your picture. That’s a Zero

Google image search strikes again. Fortunately, the museum had a Spitfire of its own – still handily in pieces from where they fished it out of a local loch – to act as a more reliable guide for designing our lantern. Oh, and one of these, which was a more convenient size for working from indoors.

You may even get some piccies of the end result, one of these days.

Unhappiness is…

January 16, 2009
oh dear

oh dear

… a cold rayburn.  We had to administer the coup de grace last night as it was stuttering to a halt. Now all we can do is wait till Tuesday when help will come.

Fortunately we’re going out to eat tonight at least. Unfortunately, it’s for an early Burns supper. I have a feeling haggis will be unavoidable.

Suggestions for non-haggis related meals that can be cooked in an electric frying pan gratefully received.

Thanks a Bunch, George

January 15, 2009

No sooner does George Monbiot declare his campaign against Agas, when our Rayburn – whether piqued at not being included in the cast-iron axis of evil, or coming out in sympathy for its bigger, oil-guzzlingier cousin – goes into a bit of a decline. The problem (annoying green campaigning journalists aside) is apparently due to our habit of not running it hot enough, which saves us fuel, and hence carbon emissions, but means it cokes up quicker. I’m sure there’s some happy medium balancing heating oil consumption by us versus fewer miles driven by Rayburn engineers, but attempting to work it out only served to confuse my poor addled (and now chilled) brain further. And so we have to wait until Tuesday, when the Rayburn engineer can fit us in, and hope the patient survives until then.

I’m not hopeful, though, as it is doing the dreaded Rayburn death-rattle as I type and the temperature in the oven – and the kitchen – is slowly, slowly dropping. Mr Monbiot can be assured that there will be some few grammes of carbon saved between now and then, I suppose. But if I promise to fly nowhere and keep cycling down to the paper shop, do you think I could get him to lay off my main source of heat, comfort, and coffee?

Bird Brains

January 14, 2009

It’s not just the snowdrops that – deludedly perhaps – think spring is on its way. The birds are showing signs too, in their inimicable fashion: they’ve started fighting again. So far the blackbirds have mainly confined themselves to a few skirmishes, which is a shame because when blackbirds really start to fight it’s a sight to behold. They completely ignore anything which isn’t a blackbird and they are proper battles: a real knock-down drag-out feather-pecking squawking combat to the death, sometimes literally when they’ve decided to hold it in the middle of the road. I’ve almost cycled over a pair of them when I was under the impression that they would get out of my way. If Five ever run out of humans willing to sign up to one of those total combat type programmes they could always stage some bird-on-bird encounters. Nobody need know until they tune in that they mean the feathered kind.

But the real bird brain round here is our local robin. He chases off the chaffinches and he’d have a go at the blackbirds too, if they weren’t three times his size, but he reserves his ire for the real enemy:  the robin who lives in the wing mirror of our car.

This is not doing anything for our paintwork, I can  tell you.