Why on Earth…

September 30, 2009

… Tesco feel the need to shrink-wrap their swedes, I will never know. Do you think they come out of the factory like that?

It’s the end times, I tell you.


September 29, 2009

Red Kite4

Originally uploaded by paul_m

After the wettest August ever – announced a good three days before the end of the month, too – we’ve now had miraculously dry weather for most of September. Which is why I was confused to hear the patter of what sounded like rain on my jacket as I rode out on the bike this morning. Looking down, I found the answer scattered all over my legs: not rain, but bugs. And more than a little squall of them too, more like a steady drizzle. By the time I got to the papershop I had them in my eyes, my mouth, probably up my nose, on my glasses – if this continues, I’ll have to clean my lenses with the bug removal spray you get for windscreens.

We need them though. Down at the coast, the house martens were hoovering them up in one last feeding frenzy before they head off south. The reason why we get such abundant bird life round here is that we have such abundant bug life at the bottom of the food chain. I tried to remember that, as I cycled home. But mainly I just tried to remember to keep my mouth shut as I struggled up the hills.

And talking of bird life, no sooner does Bystander post this, than I saw a pair of our own red kites quartering the hills on my route home. They were reintroduced a fair way west of us, but have been dispersing steadily into the surrounding countryside ever since. No bugs for them; road kill’s their thing, and when the pheasant-running-over season gets into full swing at the end of the month, they should eat like kings.

Holey Moley

September 28, 2009

So, because some – well two – people have asked, I thought I’d update you on my progress in breaking in my new saddle. I’ve done almost 190 miles on it already, so I think we can say we’re past the introductory stages. It was not all plain sailing at first – and there was a moment when I thought I was going to be morally obliged to give it back, but I have bought off my conscience with a charitable donation instead. And then there was the matter of getting the rake right (i.e. how much it tilts forwards or backwards). The nose of this saddle is a little higher than my old one and that, combined with the fact that the whole set up was a little firmer, meant that … actually, you know what? I’m not going to go into any more detail on what that meant. Suffice it to say that most of the people commenting on my original post on how comfy their Brooks saddles were were men, and I’ve got the angle sorted out now thank you very much.


Unimpressed (it is, not me)

Anyway, it’s certainly different. On this one, you’re certainly aware of your sit bones and that you’re sitting on something firm, but not in a bad way. I’m definitely more upright on the bike, which is a good thing except on a really windy day. And on one long ride that both the other half and I did, he was the one wincing and pedalling standing up for the last half mile, while I was feeling fine. There’s no sign, yet, that the saddle is conforming to the shape of my bottom, so I can only conclude that I am suitably Brooks-shaped behind. That, or it’s just that there’s enough padding down there to make for a comfy ride on anything.

Oh, and as an added bonus, according to the comments here, the saddle should also contribute to the life of my jeans* (or it would do if I could actually pedal freely in my jeans any more. I’d like to think that this is due to the extra powerful thigh muscles I have developed, although I suspect it may be more to do with the power of snacks…). The wonders of a Brooks saddle will never cease.

*Although, of course according to one commenter on this related post, riding in anything but lycra is – wait for it – elitist. What riding on a Brooks amounts to, I dread to think.

Dog Bites Blogger*

September 26, 2009

The embarrassing part of this story is that it happened just after the other half and I had faced down two really mean looking boxers (the dogs, not the sweaty men in satin shorts) which had decided that the track up to the footpath was part of their territory. Having got past that particular hazard, we were walking down the road home discussing dog-ownership etiquette. ‘They really should be under better control,’ I said. ‘It’s not like the herd of little tiny dogs down at the turn to the ford. Those ones get out but they’re not exactly scary.’ ‘Yeah,’ said the other half. ‘They sort of remind me of how many five-year-olds can you take in a fight.’

How we laughed. Until we got to the turn off for the ford and one of the herd – not my friend from last time – came bounding over the wall towards us. Now normally when dogs get out of their territory they’re pretty craven, but this one hadn’t read the manual and the next thing I knew it had dashed across the road, swung round behind me, and closed its tiny needle-sharp teeth on my calf. Ow. Suddenly the words ‘you stupid bitch’ were entirely appropriate (for indeed, it was a she) although I only thought of that when I had got home and inspected the damage. It’s pretty humiliating being bested by a creature you could theoretically drop kick over a wall (although perhaps not so humiliating as realising you could only take 12 five year olds in unarmed combat. That’s my nursery teaching career out the window then).

So our walks from now on may have to be accompanied by stout sticks. And I’m going to start being extremely cautious around cows

*Yes, I know this is the archetypal not-news story but hey, it’s my blog and it happened to me and I bet you any money that even in the days of hot metal, ‘Dog Bites Newspaper Proprietor’ would have made the front page.

Another Day…

September 25, 2009

…another gardening problem. I’m seriously considering doing something less stressful next year, like bomb disposal. No sooner have I managed to get on top of the caterpillars in my broccoli, than I find my squash plants looking like this:



Hmm. Something tells me this isn’t right. A quick consultation with Dr. Google has suggested that I should water more, water less, thin the plants, pick off the leaves, not let the leaves get wet (in Scotland?), not worry about it, perform open heart surgery on the stems to remove vine weevils, and abandon all hope now and burn everything.

too young to die

too young to die

My money’s on the latter being what I’ll end up doing. But meanwhile there are still little baby squash! I can’t give up now! Won’t somebody help save my babies, before it’s too late?

(It’s possible I’m getting a little too involved with this gardening lark.)

I Lose myself a Reader

September 24, 2009

Chatting over lunch with yesterday at one of my irregular attendances at the BNCC (Motto – ‘too old to die young’) with one of the more senior members.

Him: ‘What is it you do?’

Me: ‘I’m a writer’

‘And what subjects do you write about?’

‘It’s fiction.’


And for a moment there he was interested, until a fractionally younger companion clarifies: ‘Fiction. FICTION’

‘Ah, fiction,’ followed by a rapid change of the subject.

Clearly my muse is falling down on the job if it wants me to acheive much success round here. (This is an improvement on the reaction of the chimney sweep who didn’t even want to know what my book was about. ‘I’ve only read one book in the past 10 years,’ he said hurriedly in case I was about to press one on him. ‘I was going into hospital and I picked it up for 50p. Kenny Everett’s autobiography. I couldn’t get past chapter one.’ I can’t help but feel he hasn’t given the world of literature an entirely fair crack of the whip there.)

A Fine Pallet

September 23, 2009

The excitement of the day – maybe even the week – today in the TownMouse household was the delivery of our heat logs, thanks to the generosity of Huttonian, who is perhaps hoping that the house will be a little warmer the next time he comes to stay. I was excited because it means my fingers won’t necessarily drop off this winter, but the other half was even more excited because they came on a pallet, which the delivery man left with us. They also came with what appears to be a lifetime’s supply of fine German sandpaper, between the pallet and the heatlogs which is even more exciting than bubblewrap, although less fun*. Both have been squirrelled away into the other half’s expanding shed empire, along with the heat logs themselves. I’m pretty sure if we were living in London we’d be begging the delivery man to take the pallet away so we didn’t have to try and get rid of it but here it can just sit around until a pallet-shaped hole appears in our lives. We’re still regretting not saying yes when offered our old electricity pole. I mean, what were we thinking? If nothing else, it would have made for awesome firewood. As, indeed, would the pallet, in the unlikely event we ever run out of heat logs.

*Remember when you were a kid and the packaging a thing came in was more fun than the thing itself? Some things never change…

White Van Manners

September 22, 2009

I was passed by a white van on my bike today.







You lot still here?



Oh … you’re waiting for the rest. The rant. The diatribe against white van man and his ilk and the way they go bombing down quiet country lanes, buzzing cyclists while laughing with glee, sending women, children, dogs, chickens (they’re very free range in these parts), stray cattle and pheasants flying into the nearest ditch.

It’s not like that round here. It really isn’t. In fact, when I got home, I found the same white van parked outside the house, it having been driven there by our cheery tv-aerial repairman who was busy ensuring that our next door neighbour could receive her fix of Strictly Come Dancing.

‘Oh, was that you I passed?’ he asked

‘It was, why, were you muttering to yourself about bloody cyclists?’

‘No, it was just that I was driving behind another car and when it passed, I hung back a bit to make sure that you’d heard there was another vehicle behind before I passed you. Otherwise, I wasn’t sure you’d know I was there.’

Now that’s advanced level driving politeness, that is. Especially as he didn’t know he was about to park in my drive at the time – although, given he seems to be about the only tv-aerial repairman in the district, the chances of my being a customer were fairly good.

I got passed by a different white van yesterday. According to the sign on the back, it belonged to a company calling itself the ‘White Van Gentlemen’. It didn’t do too badly either, but they’re going to have to try a bit harder if they want to stand out for their courtesy here.

(I still think bike lanes are a good idea though. Although maybe not here…)

Ah, Autumn

September 21, 2009

I stepped out of the front door today to find the air damp, cold, blustery and faintly redolent of cow shit. Well, it’s always faintly redolent of cow shit – that’s what’s meant by ‘fresh country air’, in case you were wondering – but the damp, cold, blustery part meant that, as predicted, the autumn weather has arrived at last. We’ve actually had miraculously fine weather for the last couple of weeks so I shouldn’t complain, but I’m going to anyway, particularly about the part where it goes from not actually raining to raining the minute I cycle out of the gate to get the paper. I thought about turning back, but I did sign up to 10:10, after all, and I’m not going to get very far if I get in the car every time there’s a bit of moisture in the air. So bike it was.

The Guardian bike blog was asking a while back how to persuade someone that cycling up hills was enjoyable, but I’ve got a more pressing question. How am I supposed to persuade myself that cycling in the rain can be anything but utterly grim? If I didn’t think it would turn into a spinnaker the minute I encountered a cross wind, I’d seriously consider getting one of these.

Anybody got any better ideas?

Hands up, hands up for Bike Lanes…

September 20, 2009

One of the things that struck me when I was in London the other week, was the number of cyclists there were in the centre – on a fine day, admittedly, but impressive all the same. The other thing that struck me was that – even though they were on all shapes and sizes of bikes, and dressed on the whole spectrum from full-blown cycle-chic to helmeted road warrior – they were all quite similar looking: mostly young, generally pretty fit, and every single one of them wearing a look of utterly fierce concentration on their faces. You need this to cycle in London. Even on the fairly nice piece of separated bike lane along Torrington Place, I saw one cyclist nearly get killed when a car backed out into him, and another get almost left-hooked. In both cases, it was only the alertness of the cyclists that saved them from a nasty smash.

I know that feeling. The unacknowledged truth is that there’s actually something exhilarating about being out on a bike in among traffic, all five senses alert, just waiting for a vehicle to do something stupid at an unexpected angle. You are the ninja cyclist, and you never quite feel as alive as when you’ve just anticipated a bendy bus swinging into your path and escaped certain death by inches.* Deep down at the bottom of all the arguments about separated infrastructure versus vehicular cycling, and even H*****-wearing versus non-H*****-wearing I’m sure there’s this sneaking feeling that if you don’t have the cojones to go play in traffic, you’re just not really good enough of a person to deserve to be on a bike. And besides, we’ve had to suffer alongside the lorries and the taxis and the white-van-men, so why shouldn’t everybody else.

But, but, but. Ninja cycling is all very well, but it’s self limiting. Pretty soon all of the young fit fast people with nerves of steel will be on bikes, but that will leave everybody else. You probably can’t get more of 10% of mode share that way, however many nice posters you put up, or campaigns you run. Britain’s towns and cities at the moment are not fit places for beginners to ride, or children, or people who are a bit slow or a bit dreamy or who don’t want to spend their mornings and evenings doing battle on the roads. For the rest of us (and I freely admit my own ninja days are over), we need decent bike lanes

Which is why you should go and sign this. For some reason, they’ve decided bike lanes are a woman thing, but I’m sure if you chaps ask nicely, we’ll let you use them too. Although undoubtedly they will be painted pink, so maybe you won’t want to. In which case have fun, and look out for that lorry.

* Unless of course you didn’t, in which case you’ve probably never felt less alive.