They May Think it’s a Movement

January 31, 2011

And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out.  And friends, they may think it’s a movement. (Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant)

But first, the humiliation of turning up to the inaugural meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain on foot. I had planned to cycle, I had been given a lovely route to follow taking in the best of London’s bike infrastructure, I had my Boris Bike key, I had my backup credit card and I had my backup to the backup debit card and I had found a whole rack full of functioning Boris bikes – what could possibly go wrong?

Fifteen frozen-fingered minutes later I had to admit defeat. Not only had I not managed to activate my key, but both of my cards had been disdainfully rejected and my phone had run out of credit so I couldn’t even ring the number and get it sorted out. I was forced to make it to Look Mum No Hands on foot. But make it I did, where I was momentarily stymied by the fact that I had no idea what the people I was meeting actually looked like. Normally, meeting a bunch of cyclists in a cafe – even ones you don’t know – is pretty easy: look for the guys (and they will be guys) who look like obvious cyclists (you know, lycra, hi-vis, helmet hair, permanently startled expression from a close encounter with a taxi on a roundabout) But LMNH is a cycling cafe, and so everyone in it looked like a cyclist. Except, that is, the guy in the corner in a suit, who turned out to be Jim from the Lo Fidelity Cycling Club. That’s the joy of a proper Dutch bike, and that’s the joy of the CEoGB – we’re trying to create something where cyclists look like ordinary people and we had all turned up in character. There were people in suits, people in jeans, people in skirts, even a couple of people in bright yellow because we’re broad minded like that, and besides the revolution hasn’t actually arrived yet and sometimes a little bit of hi vis is what you need on the streets of London.

I’ll leave it to others to tell you about the actual meeting (I was talking too much to listen as usual). Afterwards, a brave man lent me his credit card so I could rent a Boris Bike and join the inaugural infrastructure safari. We weren’t quite fifty people but we made quite a throng as we cycled slowly through the dusk of a London Saturday afternoon on our upright bikes and our rented steeds and – as a passer-by watching our progress was heard to say – ‘I think it’s got to be some kind of a demonstration’

We hadn’t meant it to be, but perhaps after all they had a point.

Look Out London

January 28, 2011

‘You know how you asked about the weather earlier, and I said it wasn’t looking like rain?’ the other half said this morning as I was getting ready to cycle down for the paper. ‘Well, it’s snowing now.’

And so it was, although only the featheriest of flakes, floating gently through the sky – no more than a reminder from the weather gods that it is still January and that we are no more than their playthings. I cycled down anyway but it’s one reason why I’m happy at this moment to be on the train* going down to That London, where winter doesn’t have quite so chilling a grip. I’m mainly going for work, but also because I shall be attending the inaugural meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, lured in by the promise of Ferrero Rochers, bagels, and a bike ride afterwards to see what those new cycle superhighways are really like. I’ve got my boris bike key and I might even be able to get into the website to activate it before tomorrow. And I’m more excited about this than I can reasonably say, but that might just be the chocolate talking.
*And attempting to post this via Virgin Train’s wifi service which is every bit as fast and reliable as you would expect…


Powered Out

January 27, 2011

So I’ve been working this month, which is one reason why the garden is getting so far behind (it takes me at least 30 days to put in 15 days work these days and that seems to involve all the hours God sends – apart from those spent doing essential things like cycling, seed ordering, wood chopping, camera breaking, going out for a daily walk and of course blogging). The absolute deadline is Friday, which made today an excellent day for the power company decide to cut our electricity off for the entire day*

Our nearest library was rumoured to have wifi so, nothing daunted, I packed my trusty laptop into my bike bag and cycled into to Bigtown. Did they have wifi? They did, free to library members and bookable for an hour at a time. Excellent. Where could I plug in my laptop? Ah. Plugging things in is against library policy. Less excellent, for my battery doesn’t do more than 20 minutes on a good day with a following wind. This could be a problem. Fortunately, justice in the Bigtown Library network comes tempered with mercy and policy or no policy, when I explained my dilemma, humanity won out over alleged insurance problems and I was tucked quietly in the corner and allowed discreetly to get on with my report.

Cycling home, job more or less done, I noticed that the power was still out and decided to pay the favour forward. Our neighbours are rayburnless and had been stuck at home for a good seven hours without access to a cup of tea.** I rang them up and announced that I was putting the kettle on and they should come over and we sat out the rest of the powercut having a cuppa by candlelight and putting the world to rights.

* this is the sort of thing those ‘joys of homeworking’ articles in the paper never warn you about, along with the need for thermal underwear if your heating bills aren’t going to go through the roof.

** although they had managed to cook themselves some bacon on the embers of their wood burning stove. These things are important.

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry

January 26, 2011

Driving back from the pub last night we noticed insects flying in the headlights, a sign of the milder weather (although yes, it is colder again today, thanks for pointing that out guys). And there’s signs of life on the ground too: green shoots poking their way through the ground, however tentatively. As a gardener, this meant I’ve one moment of ‘Oh good! Spring is on its way’ followed about a nanosecond later by ‘Omigod and there’s so much to DO in the garden. Panic panic panic panicpanicpanic.’ I’m behind on the digging, I’m behind getting the compost onto the beds, and I’m behind clearing up the stuff that died in the worst of the cold.

Up until yesterday, I was also behind on my seed order, but that at least I have sorted out. I’d already ordered some things with my mum last year, but a friend and I had agreed to put in a joint order for everything else so we could split the seed packets and save a bit of money. So yesterday, having postponed it once, the other half and I went down there for a combined lunch and garden-planning, seed-ordering fest.*

At least, that was the theory. In practice, if you get two gardeners together over a seed catalogue, especially one as seductively written as this one, what happens is you end up sharing between the two of you roughly three times the amount of seeds each gardener would have ordered on her own. After all, you’re only paying half, so what the hell? Why not take a punt on pumpkin, for example? Or sweetcorn? Or tomatoes, despite the fact I swore last year and the year before I’d not grow them again? Or beetroot? Or, as appears to have happened this time, all four, along with a secret salad mix, some other things I have now forgotten, and not to mention the veg I was actually planning to plant in the first place.

Still, I do have a lot of space to fill. Now if you’ll excuse me, I might be behind on my digging, but I have to go and add some more columns to my spreadsheet.

*Poor old other half. It was only as he was long sufferingly driving me back that I realised I’d inflicted on him the equivalent of me spending two hours listening to him and a mate go exhaustively through the Screwfix catalogue.


January 25, 2011

There’s lots I want to say, but most of it would be better illustrated and my beloved new (well newish, it’s not in warranty obviously) fuji finepix camera has decided to have a nervous breakdown. On Thursday I dashed out to take photos of the frost and managed to switch it on as I was pulling it out of my pocket. Whether it was this, or the general hard life that any delicate and expensive piece of electronic equipment that has the misfortune to be owned by me has to endure,* the lens has zoomed all the way out and now is stuck like that. Whatever I do, I get a ‘Zoom Error’ when it’s on, and then when I turn it off it doesn’t neatly tuck its lens away and close up as it’s supposed too, it just sits there looking vaguely priapic and entirely useless.

A quick google has revealed several suggestions, from switch it off and switch it on again, to hoovering around the lens (presumably to get rid of any blocking grit in the mechanism), to attempting to turn the lens manually until you hear a click. So far, I’ve had no luck with any of these. The camera is stuck, I’m stuck, and I’m annoyed. Annoyed with myself for not taking better care of it (the last one died of a similar problem having been dropped once too often), and annoyed with the world because there’s no obvious way of getting it repaired. I feel certain that any camera or electronics shops will be full of pimply youths who will tell me it’s uneconomic to repair and there’s one out which is already newer, faster, cheaper and whizzier and which will only destroy a small slice of the world’s resources. And at the same time, somewhere out there there’s probably an old boy with steady hands and a set of strange triangular-shaped screwdrivers who could probably actually fix it (I mean, it was put together by humans, wasn’t it? It might have been the ultimate in technological wizardry, but it’s not ACTUAL wizardry, is it? So surely it could be repaired, no?) but who found it was uneconomic to set up a repair shop because nobody gets things mended any more. But mostly I’m just generally annoyed because taking a photograph for my blog now requires using the other half’s camera which is a) too complicated and b) too expensive to be reasonably placed in my hands without supervision. When I’m attempting arty shots of frosty woodlands, it’s nice to have the big SLR with the other half on hand to help out but when I’m just trying to capture an amusing-looking sheep I’ve passed on my bike I need a camera I can slip into my pocket. So for now the blog is going to have to be mainly words, unless anyone has any bright ideas.

* I did suggest last time that the other half get me a ruggedised camera, but I had a ruggedised phone, borrowed from Baby Mother, which I have also managed to break. So that probably wouldn’t have helped much either.


Thaw Point

January 24, 2011

The thaw has come, the roads are free of ice, and I was able to get out and fetch the paper on my own two wheels for the first time for a week today. Needless to say I felt as giddy as a schoolgirl just to be out on the bike and cycling without fear of falling. And it is also needless to say – before you do – that the bloke in the papershop was muttering darkly something about it being cold again by the end of the week. I can’t give you his exact words, of course, because I had my fingers in my ears going ‘la la la I can’t hear you’. Hopefully the Weather Gods are doing the same…

If you Go Down to the Woods Today

January 21, 2011

You’ll find that a few days of hard frosts, fogs, and still days have coated everything in rime: every branch and wire and stone, every blade of grass and fallen leaf, every individual twig and needle.

Until the woods themselves seemed haunted by the ghostly shades of trees.

(not of course that these photos even begin to do them justice; I found this afternoon how difficult it really is to photograph the woods for the trees…)

Leaving the House

January 20, 2011

I had a lunch date with a friend today, and though the morning was cold and frosty, the sun was out and a quick scout of the road suggested it was dry and not too slippy. I waved the other half off for his hard day of feeding the ducks and figured I’d set off at around 11:20, giving myself plenty of time to take it slowly.

It went a bit like this:

11:15 – I am in the wrong trousers (‘the Wrong Trousers, Gromit!’) so change and transfer keys into right trousers

11:18 – attempt to round up gloves, mittens, buff, hat, GPS, phone, fleece, bike bag. Have lost bike bag

11:19 – quick mental check of what I’ve forgotten, before locking door.

11:19:15 – I have forgotten GPS. Unlock door. Remember GPS is in pocket and relock door. Switch on GPS, leave it hunting satellites while I get the bike. Find bike bag still attached to the bike

11:20 – forgot to take off extra jumper (needed for sitting around the house, not for cycling). Unlock door, take off hat, take off fleece, take off buff, take off jumper, put on buff, fleece and hat, lose battle with fleece zip, swear, win battle with fleece zip, lock door again.

11:21 – attach GPS & set off. Yay!

11:22 – arse it’s cold. Why did I take off that jumper?

11:25 – first slippy bit. Road mending people have dug an enormous deep hole at the foot of the hill to get at a pipe. Fortunately they’ve put a beach’s worth of grit on the downhill bit. Ride down on my brakes anyway.

11:28 – next slippy bit, under the trees, down by the waterfall. It’s okay, if I take it slowly. Very slowly. This is not helping warm me up

11:30 – I’ve averaged 8mph so far (normal speed: 10-11 mph on average). Lunch will be cold. As will I.

11:31 – turn onto bigger road. Slippyness now extends as far as the eye can see. Proceed gingerly. It’s not as bad as it looks. I can cycle on it…

11:32 … but I’m not enjoying it. And it will only get worse. And my own personal ‘is this a good idea’ gauge (‘can you imagine this as the opening scene in an episode of Casualty?’) is flashing red. Turn around and pedal carefully back.

11:45 – ring friend and am relieved when her reply is ‘thank goodness for that’. It’s foggy and lethal down her way as well and she was going to ring to put me off but decided I could make my own decisions. We rearrange lunch.

Rearranging lunch is easy enough, but it’s not the first time I’ve had to admit defeat recently. The problem is that I can only really justify getting away with not driving the way I do if I can actually get everywhere I need to go by bike or public transport. Most of the time, I can manage, but it takes time, particularly the public transport part. But if this ice continues, I’m going to either have to admit that I’m limited in the things I can do and the places I can reliably get to by the weather (and the dark), or I’m going to have to admit that I’m dependent on lifts from others and particularly the other half, or I’m going to have to drive more. Those are the choices living out here. Well, there’s a fourth choice: the council could provide an actual useful bus service (hourly would be nice, as would running into the evening and not having to ring up the day before to book it). But as that is never going to happen, what do I do?

A Braw Bricht Moonlicht Nicht the Nicht

January 19, 2011

As of yesterday, we seem to have an entirely new and insidious kind of ice on the roads. I don’t know quite what happened – the roads don’t look icy but the surface is lethal. The bike & I got as far as the gate on my way to Bigtown yesterday and went straight back in to get the other half and the car. And it wasn’t just bikes – a friend’s husband saw ten accidents happen on the eight miles into work yesterday, car after car just sliding off the road. It’s a bit better today but there were enough invisible ice patches on the road that I didn’t fancy taking the bike down to choir. And nor, frankly, did I fancy driving – I’m not a great driver at the best of times. And getting dropped off – and picked up – for a journey of one-and-a-half miles just seemed ridiculous. So there was nothing for it but to grab a torch and walk.

Although actually the torch proved redundant for it was a lovely clear night with the full moon lighting my way far better than a few LEDs could. I still skited a bit over the ice, but at least I kept upright. And there’s something so magical about being out on a frosty moonlit night with everything so quiet and still and shadowy around me I barely even felt the cold. In this weather, there’s a lot to miss about London and its gritted roads and public transport, but for properly moonlit walks there’s no better place to be than here.

Previously on Town Mouse…

January 18, 2011

…alert readers may recall that I damaged my finger over Christmas, unwisely playing American Football with my nephews (none of this would have happened if the Americans would just play football with their feet like normal people). My finger got bent as I tried and failed to catch the ball and then proceeded to turn purple and swell up to twice its normal size. I wasn’t about to spend Christmas day in an American ER for what seemed like a trivial injury, and Dr Google prescribed ice, ibuprofen and rest so that was what I did.

mallet finger

Not really how a finger ought to be

Fast forward almost four weeks and my finger was still bent and partly swollen. I could type, which was helpful because that’s my job, but the injury was to my left hand and I’m left handed and picking up heavy things – like pint glasses, to pick an example at random – was painful so clearly something had to be done. Having consulted with my physiotherapist, who doubles as my mum, I made a doctor’s appointment & headed off to the local surgery yesterday evening expecting either the usual NHS miracle cure of ‘time heals all wounds’ or a referral to see someone else in the fullness of time, hopefully when I wasn’t working flat out to meet a deadline by the end of January. What I wasn’t expecting was to be sent straight down to A&E to get my finger splinted there and then. Apparently, what I had was a classic case of mallet finger and the only cure is to immobilise it for six weeks.

mallet finger splinted

you never know, it might work

There’s a window of opportunity with mallet finger – if you catch it and splint it in time, the tendon will generally just repair itself. Unfortunately, that window of opportunity is open for about a week. Nobody was about to come right out and say so but I was more in the territory of a window of ‘well you never know it might work and what the hell it’s cheap.’ So I’ve gone from having a partly functional if painful finger to a lump of semi-useless plastic on my dominant hand. But, as you can see, I can still type* and I can still work and while I haven’t field-tested it in the pub, I have no doubt that I can still drink. And in six weeks time, if you can bear the tension, the splint will come off and we will see if I am healed again or if I shall spend the rest of my life playing the wicked witch in panto.

All of which goes to show the dangers of relying on Dr. Google for your medical advice and the drawbacks of stoicism. I’m generally a bit of a hypochondriac, to be honest, but decided to deploy the stiff upper lip for once in my life. Never again. And for all the wonders of modern medical science, nobody would answer the really burning question that I know is on all your lips: will I ever play the ukelele again?

There’s always a silver lining, isn’t there?


If you’re here because you’re looking for information about mallet fingers and want to know how it turned out, there’s an update a year on here

* and almost at my normal speed although my typing now consist of ‘tap tap tappety-tap-tap backspace backspace tap backspace tap argh backspace backspace backspace’ rather than the fluid well-oiled machine it was of old