Losing my Licence

June 30, 2009

Yesterday saw me sitting on a Northern Line train, staring in horror out of the window. Not at anything particularly horrific – just that the station we had pulled into was Angel and I was trying to get to Waterloo

I was on the wrong bloody branch

To put this into context, I grew up on the Northern line (High Barnet branch, naturally). I am a Northern line girl. Its ramifications are engraved on my soul, tattooed onto the inside of my eyeball. I hadn’t looked at a map, because I didn’t think I needed to (and also because I had managed to pack the Glasgow instead of the London A to Z, but let’s just pass over that one, shall we?). And here I was making the most basic of mistakes, something even newly arrived tourists could master. I have been out of London too long, that’s what it is. I am beginning to lose my city mojo.

It isn’t just the tube lines, either. I found myself walking slowly at times on the – entirely irrelevant – grounds that I wasn’t in a particular hurry to get somewhere (although I did make sure I wasn’t blocking the way of anyone who was). I smiled and exchanged a pleasantry with someone I didn’t know (she made eye contact first). I stood on the escalator instead of sprinting up (on the right, though). And when I wandered down the South Bank among the summer crowds I found that I didn’t automatically want to rip the heads off of the many many people who still – even at my most leisurely pace – got in my way.

And when I got to Foyles on the South Bank, with some time to kill in the heat of the afternoon, and saw that they had put deckchairs out for people to sit in outside the shop, even though my inner Londoner wondered what the catch was* and how much it might cost, my outer visitor – footsore and hot and weary – went and sat down. And spent a very pleasant time as the clouds boiled up over Central London, and the breeze blew across from the river, absorbed in my book.

I’ve been out of London too long all right. Or maybe I’m just beginning to have been out of London long enough.

Oh, and they were free.

*The catch of course is that once you are folded in the embrace of a deckchair, there’s nothing you can do but get out a book and read. And what better advertisement for a book shop can there be than a dozen people all intently reading outside their shop? Very clever.

See You Next Tuesday

June 26, 2009

I’m off to London today again, so posts will be thin on the ground until then. My oyster card and A-Z are packed, my seats are booked, and I have just realised I have made a major tactical error in arriving in London just after five and having to get from Euston to Waterloo with my wheely suitcase during Friday’s rush hour. Oops. Here’s hoping my city-honed commuting reflexes haven’t grown too flabby over the past year.

Apologies in advance to anyone else attempting the same journey. I’ll be the one trying to feed my oyster into the little slot of the ticket barrier. That is how it works, right?

A Question of Etiquette

June 25, 2009

So you’re walking down a rural road – a long straight rural road – and you see in the distance another walker coming towards you. The question is not whether, when you do meet, you’re going to say hello to them – that goes without saying. The question is, how soon do you acknowledge their presence during the walking-towards-them process? Do you smile and raise your hand as soon as you have seen them, and then have to maintain a sort of rictus grin until you’re within hailing distance? Or do you find that gosh-that’s-a-fascinating-hedgerow until you’re almost upon them and then suddenly look up and notice they’re there?

Rural Bus Timetables…

June 24, 2009

… and other great works of fiction.

I was in Bigtown today trying to concentrate in the library through the endless loud wittering of the library staff (where this myth arose about librarians saying ‘shhh!’ I don’t know. Not here, anyway, where they never shut themselves up, let alone the punters). I decided to take the last bus home to Nearest Village, which leaves from the train station at twenty to six. Fearing – for some reason which now escapes me – that the bus might be full if I tried to catch it from my normal stop at the bus stands, I went up to the station to see if it really did leave from there, or if this was just some mad flight of fancy dreamed up by a transport official who believed in the myth of integrated public transport. The timetable said it did, but I’ve been caught that way before so I went into the train station and asked there. ‘I don’t know anything about the buses’ the woman behind the ticket office said, as though I’d asked her about unicorns, or metaphysics, or dogging. ‘There’s a bus out there, ask the driver.’

‘I havenae the least idea, I’m not frae here,’ said the driver of the bus, but he helpfully got out and looked at the timetable with me. As his bus was leaving after the one I was hoping to catch he said he could take me to the roadend for Nearest Village if my bus never came. Thus assured that I could at least get to within walking distance of home I accosted the driver of the next bus ‘Aye, Nearest Village, the bus comes in here, but it’s no me, it’s a wee white one,’ he said. ‘You’ll be best to stand out there and wave at it for it comes by this way but it doesnae always stop.’ So I stood out there ready to wave, and ready too to sprint for my backup bus should it show signs of leaving. And finally – just as I was about to give up hope, the ‘wee white bus’ arrived, bearing a destination board for somewhere else entirely and the driver stopped at my anxious waving and admitted she was headed for Nearest Village. She didn’t seem to have a ticket machine, and my money went into a rather unofficial looking purse, but she was undoubtedly driving a bus, and I decided to go with the flow and see where she might take me.

After a tour of the bus stops of Bigtown, she took me off in solitary splendour towards my destination. But she didn’t take the route the bus normally takes, through the back roads and the other village on the way – she went straight for the big A road, put her foot down, and drove me direct to Nearest Village without passing go and without stopping to collect any more passengers. As I got off, I asked her about her route. ‘does it not normally go through Intervening Village?’ I asked. ‘Oh well, normally. But if there’s only one passenger I just go direct. It’s quicker that way.’

I wonder what happens if she gets none?

Summer has come to Bigtownshire

June 23, 2009

The sheep are lying panting in whatever shade there is – there’s really nothing hotter looking than a hot sheep, even a recently sheared one. The dogs that regularly mark my passage on my bike have stopped telling me in great detail what they would do to me and my infernal machine were they not inconveniently chained up, and have been contenting themselves with a half-hearted ‘wuff’. And – you may have seen the white flash from London – I have recently donned a pair of shorts.

But not in the house. Even with all the windows open, all through the heat of the day, to step inside is to feel the chill clutch of the grave. Up until a couple of nights ago we were still using a hot water bottle. I’m guessing it’s the damp, that or letting the Rayburn out. Still, at least it means that if I’m ever tempted to utter those dread words ‘it’s t** h**’ I can go inside and lie down until the feeling goes away.

All Downhill from Here

June 22, 2009

I have to admit I find the longest day of the year somewhat depressing – summer’s barely started and already it’s in decline. But I was reading the Observer magazine yesterday and its gardening column had what seemed like sound advice: going out and squeezing the last drop of enjoyment out of the longest day:

“Tonight I make it my mission to sit out with blankets until the last of the light is drained from the sky. It will be shared with the bats which dive-bomb the halo of midges that collect in our leafy huddle of gardens, and I will soak up the moment to slow it a little and try to avoid a small pang of sadness”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Anyway, there I was at a quarter to eleven, thinking about going to bed, when I noticed that there was still a little light in the sky and I remembered the article and stepped outside to catch the last few moments of the lingering evening. After all, we too have bats and we have midges and we even have a hedgehog who wanders around in daylight looking grumpy because there’s not really enough dark to go round. And then I just as promptly stepped back in again, for it was drizzling. I don’t really know where Dan Pearson gardens, exactly, but I’m willing to bet it isn’t anywhere near here…

Meanwhile, in other news, the other half has just announced the emergence of this year’s crap baby swallows. All together now …

Boob Tube

June 19, 2009

Six months after we last watched anything (Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, if I recall correctly) and five months after we noticed we were no longer getting any sort of reception and four months after we first thought to mention it to the landlord – having noticed the aerial dangling loosely off the chimney – and about three months after they decided to do something about it and a mere two months since we were told the aerial people would be coming to have a look within the next ten days, and less than a month since the aerial man did actually come and have a look and a mere two weeks since he was supposed to come and fix it having pronounced the aerial, cable, post, fixtures and fittings as being in the second worst condition of any aerial he’d ever seen, we now have television again.

I feel that, having gone to all that effort, we might want to try and watch the thing occasionally (other than the Tour de France, of course, and the other half has been known to tune in to Wimblebore). Given that prior to its sad demise we basically watched Grand Designs and then only to watch Kevin fret photogenically about the lateness of the hand-carved Italian staircase*, is there anything actually on that’s worth watching? What do you watch? Confessions in the comments please.

*Actually, that may just have been me.

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet

June 18, 2009

The problem with having a shiny new bike is that you want to keep it that way. Which means that when I squelched into the kitchen this afternoon, having been caught in an epic downpour, my first call was not for new clothes, nor even a reviving whisky, but a dry tea-towel … for my bike. And then I squelched back out in the rain to the bike shed so I could dry off the chain. First things first.

And then second things second. I think that whisky might be calling me now…

N+1 Bikes

June 16, 2009

So, more than two years after I first started thinking about buying a new bike, it’s finally here…

The old bike and the new bike get to know each other

The old bike and the new bike get to know each other

What can I say? It’s a bike, I like it…

you asked for an action shot, you got one

you asked for an action shot, you got one

Thanks to the guys at Common wheel for putting it together for me, and making it all happen.  Now please go and donate all your old bikes to them, so they can be loved again.

Now then, perhaps a Pashley?

*The formula for the ideal number of bikes, where N is the number of bikes you already own.

Garden Update

June 13, 2009

… because I know you’re all just desperate to know how my garden is doing. (You are, aren’t you? Just wait, I’ll take up decorating next, and keep you posted on how the moisture levels in the paint are decreasing).


Broad Bean Pod

Anyway, we harvested our first potatoes last night. This was less to do with whether the potatoes were ready and more to do with a slight catering crisis – it turns out that having four people in the house instead of two means we get through bags of potatoes faster. So anyway – three and a half potatoes, yay! They were – well, convention dictates that I tell you that these were the most delicious potatoes I have ever eaten, at least since the last first crop of freshly dug home-grown potatoes I ate. And they probably were but, you know, when all is said and done, a potato is a potato is a potato.

Replanted Broccoli. There is some in there, honest

Replanted Broccoli. There is some in there, honest

Meanwhile, the broad beans are showing the first tiny pods, the replacement broccoli seedlings are in, the parsnips are given up for dead, the peas are climbing like crazy but not flowering yet, and I have one – count ’em – surviving leek. I’m thinking of growing it to mammoth proportions and entering it into the village show as I can’t really think of any other real use for a single leek.


Peas and Beans

But far more interestingly* than all that, I have started a spreadsheet! There have been a lot of excited articles in the newspapers recently about how you can beat the credit crunch by growing your own vegetables. I’m sceptical on this one. My experience of growing your own vegetables is that you get fresh and delicious** vegetables and (when they survive) they’re fun to grow, and it’s good exercise and you control what chemicals go into them, if any, and it’s a very minor way of cutting your food miles, but I’ve never really seen it as a way to save money. After all, by definition you’ll be eating them when they are in season and hence pretty cheap in the shops. And any casual glance at a catalogue or a garden centre shows that there’s an infinite amount of stuff you can spend money on. I’m a pretty tight, sorry frugal, gardener but I’ve already spent around (oh all right then, exactly) £31.40 on seeds, compost, and getting my round in at the slug pub. Meanwhile, 120g of freshly dug new potatoes (retailing at £2.99 a kg in Tescos) has saved me precisely 36p.It’s early days, of course. But I’ll be interested to see if I break even on the plot this year. And even though you won’t be, I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

*adjusted for being about gardening. And spreadsheets

**adjusted for being vegetables