And What Did you Do in the Great Internet Shortage, Grandad?

October 30, 2010

Things have been a tad busy lately, what with all the gadding about and working for a living to boot. For the last few weeks, pretty much all of my non-gadding time has been spent chained to the computer and then on Thursday I suddenly realised that a deadline for ‘the end of October’ actually meant this Friday and not, as I’d mistakenly got it into my head, Monday. And so suddenly I had to simultaneously go up to Edinburgh for a meeting and finish off some work which meant lugging my laptop around and desperately trying to find somewhere to plug it in during the random hours and half hours you have to pass when you’re using rural train services (Edinburgh’s Central Library reference room is a good place to start, by the way, just don’t get the seat with the socket where you have to hold the plug in with your foot like I did). I got home yesterday afternoon feeling shattered but triumphant having more or less finished the job, emailed off the document (nothing literary I’m afraid), blogged and then thought I’d do a little light surfing to see how the internet had been getting on without me. Little did I know, but that was the last time I’d be able to log on properly for over 12 hours.

An hour or so later I gave up, as our connection went from irritating to flaky to dead as a doornail. A quick call to the ISP revealed problems everywhere and so we decided to switch off the router and entertain ourselves the way people used to back in the old days, but there was nothing on the telly so we lit the stove and watched that instead. I then spent a happy evening (and the other half perhaps a slightly less happy one) catching up with the newspapers and trying to remember how to play the ukelele.

This morning, although the problem was allegedly fixed, our connection wasn’t all that much better. But the weather was, and looking out of the window I remembered that I had a garden and it had been rather neglected in the last couple of weeks. So I switched off the television, sorry, internet and went out to do something less boring instead.

And jolly pleasant it was too.

Ooh, I’m Annoyed Now

October 29, 2010

I posted that video yesterday because I saw it in someone else’s twitter stream and I thought it was a vaguely amusing way to round off a post that was otherwise a tad thin. I knew it was an advert but I liked the way it used bikes as a normal mode of transport – well, normalish, anyway. And then this morning what do I find in my inbox but an email from some ‘social media and digital PR’ firm suggesting I might like to share that very video with my readers. So now I look like the worst kind of suggestible fool who will post any old rubbish if some PR company sends it to her, instead of what I really am which is the kind of suggestible fool who will post any old rubbish she stumbles across in her twitter stream, which is obviously a completely different kettle of fish.

I was going to take it off but I won’t because I still think it’s vaguely amusing. Watch it if you want – just promise me you won’t buy any of their shirts. I mean, unless you were going to anyway.

I don’t Normally Do Dreams…

October 28, 2010

… at least, not blogging about them, but I feel I have to share the fact that I dreamt on Tuesday night that our bedroom was filled with homeless men who were living like ducks. Every time I went into the bedroom to get a sock or something I’d think that I really ought to talk to them as they were swimming about because for all that they were living like ducks they were still people and some of them probably had interesting tales to tell. And yet, it was always easier just not to catch their eye as I skirted round them and so I never really did find out how it was they’d come to be there.

As I was lying in bed trying to work that one out, it came to me that that was a having-been-in-London dream, and no mistake.

And, in what is absolutely the last word on the subject, if any of you are having difficulty imagining my Boris Bike ride, it was a bit like this. No, really.

However Far I may Roam…

October 27, 2010

… and however exciting my destination, there’s nothing quite like getting home again, sleeping in my own bed, and – most importantly – riding my own bike.

That is all. Except that I’m off to Edinburgh on Friday, though fortunately only for the day. I wonder if I’ll be able to borrow a bike?

The Streets of London

October 26, 2010

There was a point last night when I was ready to give up on the whole idea of the Boris Bikes. I’d cycled into town in the morning and that had been okay, apart from the small matter of my somehow not having activated my key and having to talk to the nice man on the help desk and then not being able to get the bike out of the rack (‘give it some welly’ the helpdesk man advised) and then discovering that my memory of London’s geography was rather hazier than I’d hoped. And my search for a free docking station at my destination had meant not only being late for my lunch date but also over-running the free hire period by two minutes (there’s supposedly a way where you can ‘check in’ to a full docking station and get an extension but it wasn’t clear at all how to do that and I’d like to apologise now to anyone who saw me do an entirely illegal u-turn on Tottenham Court Road when I suddenly spotted a docking station with a couple of slots). And now I was trudging round Bloomsbury looking for a working bike to get me back to Vauxhall and wondering whether the tube wouldn’t just be easier (and, if I’m perfectly frank, a little less scary) after all. When I did find half-a-dozen at Malet street in working order there was a part of me that rather wished I hadn’t but I got my green light and, on the second go, wrestled the bike out of the rack (after applying a bit of welly), failed to adjust my seat and set off in a wobbly but stately fashion – it’s actually the only way to ride one – in the general direction of the river. After a shaky start and a couple of attempted side-swipes from some twats in sports cars I got my rhythm back and as I got out of the narrow streets around the museum I found myself in a stream of bike traffic – boris bikes and normal bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, folders, fixies, some lit up like mobile discos and some entirely dark.

I’ve never actually ridden through Central London at night – I never would have done it when I lived there partly because I wouldn’t have wanted to leave my own bike locked up anywhere in the area. But, while it doesn’t have the wonderful infrastructure of the Dutch and the Danes there have been enough little changes like helpful signs and cut-throughs and counter-flow lanes to mean that a yokel like me could sail along with the straw blowing out of her hair navigating by luck as much as judgement and make it back alive. It helps that most of the traffic (and some of the other bikes) give you a VERY wide berth when they see what you’re riding. Clearly I’m not the only loose cannon to have been unleashed on the streets of London on a boris bike. And while everyone was overtaking me (apart from the dying pizza delivery scooter which I overtook on the Kennington Road – sorry about that mate, I didn’t mean to humiliate you) and shooting past me at the red lights and no doubt wishing that the tourist on the Boris bike wasn’t in their way, I still felt part of the great mass of London Cyclists and I was delighted that I’d stuck with it after all. And then a white van man hooted at me and I called him a twat and I knew that there was part of me that would always call this city home.

My legs are aching this morning – fifty-plus miles a week over the hills of Scotland are nothing compared with heaving a Boris bike over the col du Waterloo Bridge. And I’m back on foot and tube and train as I make my way home. But I’m glad I persisted with my Boris bike and I’d recommend anyone visiting London – or even living there – to give it a go. Just remember, to get them out of the rack you really do need to give it some welly.

Farewell, Salad Days

October 24, 2010

This morning was looking like an excellent one to be heading down to the relatively balmy south

There’s some still un-frosted under a cloche, but I think the days of all-you-can-eat lettuce may be coming to an end.

Back shortly, with exciting tales of my London adventures, if I’m spared

One Wheel on my Wagon

October 22, 2010

I thought I’d got a bit unfit after a week off the bike last week – not to mention the fact that I was carrying a little bit more ballast onboard after some chocolate-brownie related overindulgence – but I wasn’t prepared to find pedalling quite such a struggle as I did on my way back from the papershop this morning. Surely a week off wouldn’t make that much difference, and additional brownie consumption didn’t explain why I was having to pedal going downhill, and with a tail wind to boot. Getting off the bike, I realised that I had made mistake number one of any owner of a mechanical object (learned the hard way during two years Landrover ownership): never ignore a new noise, however inoccuous it may sound in comparison to all the usual squeaks, rattles and bangs of normal operation. The gentle ‘shhh – shhh’ sound I’d been ignoring all the way home was in fact my rear wheel rubbing itself ever harder against the chain stay and the wheel was now more or less jammed solid, beyond the point of even quite pointed percussive maintenance.
I limped the last mile home and the other half came out and had a look. Was this the wheel I had removed before? It was, as it happened, and it had now worked its way off-centre under pressure from the chain. Two minutes work with a spanner and he had re-seated the wheel where it belonged and explained where I’d gone wrong. It turns out that about the only bit of bike-maintenance advice I could remember – not to over-tighten the wheel nuts – was aimed at rufty-tufty male mechanics armed with pipe-wrenches, not people with girly levels of upper-body strength with normal-sized spanners. Me, I can try and over-tighten those wheel nuts all I like, I’m not going to break anything. And I’m probably still going to end up with wobbly wheels…*

*Although I should like to make it crystal clear that I still don’t want any more practice on this one



October 21, 2010

Hot on the heels of news that otters are returning to Britain’s rivers, our neighbour reports the presence of otters in our own river, a bare couple of miles down the road. This adds a whole layer of whiskery cuteness to our wildlife, just in case we were getting a tiny bit blasé about our red squirrels, hares, baby swallows and the like. I mean, otters! How awesome is that?
What would have been even more awesome would be if our neighbour hadn’t found this out only because he ran one over the other night…

Fried Green Tomatoes

October 20, 2010

This year I swore I wasn’t going to grow tomatoes. I don’t really like tomatoes, and besides they never grow properly up here unless you’ve got a greenhouse and if they do grow they never fruit and if they do fruit it never ripens. So I didn’t buy any tomato seeds and when tomato seeds mysteriously appeared in my seed order I didn’t plant them and I didn’t buy any tomato plants at the village plant sale and despite all that, summer came around and I found I was the foster owner of one unwanted orphan tomato plant (I think the magic words ‘it’ll just go in the bin otherwise’ were uttered at some point). And this year it actually flourished, possibly encouraged by copious amounts of coffee grounds and stewed nettle. We stuck it in a sunny spot and watched as it set fruit, and the fruit gradually ripened and then not so gradually split from all the rain in September (it’s all very well saying not to overwater your tomatoes, but nobody told the weather Gods that). But there was still tons of fruit – more tomatoes than I’ve ever managed to grow – probably because I’d looked at all the complicated instructions about picking off the smaller fruit and removing the side trusses and filed them under ‘life’s too short’ along with mushroom stuffing and ironing. And it was almost all of it green.
And that’s where we were until last night, when the first frost came and my little orphan tomato-plant-that-could keeled over leaving us with a substantial family of unripe tomatoes to support.
Chutney recipes, anyone? Unless you’ve got a better idea?

Postman’s Knock

October 19, 2010

There were two exciting packages in amongst the junk mail this morning.
The first was from TfL, presenting me with the Keys to the City:

My Boris Bike Key

Or rather a key, my Boris bike key. Until this summer, I thought that my continued possession of an oyster card would be enough to mark me out from the tourist herd as at least an ex-Londoner, if no longer a fully-fledged citizen. But oyster schmoyster, I’m pretty sure all the really cool Londoners are zipping about on Boris bikes these days. I’ve been planning to use this scheme ever since it was announced. The last time I was down there the number of bikes was phenomenal and I felt pretty resentful at having to trudge around on foot, but my next visit will be different. Come Monday I’ll be zipping about on two wheels instead and I can’t wait, although I could wish that the map in the accompanying leaflet was a little more useful. I mean, I know the Superficial Cycle Highways and other routes have been slated by the bike blogging community but I didn’t think they were so bad that they wouldn’t bother to put them on a map that will be going out to any number of London cyclists. And I know cyclists are notorious scofflaws who like nothing better than to zip the wrong way up one-way streets, but they could at least mark them on the map so we know we’re about to break the law, no? Still, at least the key came in time – I only signed up on Sunday night. I could see nowhere on the TfL website where it told me how long it would take for the key to arrive so I was worried it wouldn’t make it before I left, but fellow twitterers reassured me the process was quick and I took the risk and it paid off. So yay!

And even more yay:

Home made bagels

A passing comment on a post about h****** led to an astoundingly generous offer from Karl of Do the Right Thing of some of his home-made bagels. Well, I wasn’t going to say no to that, was I? Sure enough a very fragrant parcel arrived, even more promptly than my bike key, and the contents were sliced*, toasted and promptly consumed for tea.

Going, going...

I just hope the Boris bike key proves a little longer lasting… I suspect it wouldn’t taste anything like as good though.


*Sadly, the holes weren’t big enough to do it like this