Through a Glass Darkly

July 31, 2011

(this post is for Ragged Thread…)

Shetland Dark (and a stray Rocket - there's always one)

OK, so because I’m infinitely suggestible, way back in March I bought some Shetland Dark / Shetland Pink seed potatoes based on a recommendation in a comment (go on, suggest in the comments that I jump off a cliff and see what happens, I dare you). And yesterday, as they were on the critical path of a complicated manouevre involving my early potatoes, brassicas and savoy cabbages that theoretically allows me to get four rotations into three years, I dug them up – well as many of them as I could find, as they’re rather difficult to see against the soil.

They’re rather lovely, you must admit, with their ring of colour round the middle.

And best of all, exactly the right shape for chips. Well, we call them wedges, and we don’t deep fry them, but they amount to the same thing.


(yes, they’re would ideally be a photo of the finished product in this post but you know what? We just ate them instead).

Hanging Together

July 29, 2011

Cycling down for the paper today, I was overhauled by another cyclist. He slowed down, or I sped up, and we did the rest of the ride together, chatting about bikes and bike parts and bike routes and bike rides and other fascinating topics. As we reached Papershop village where our ways parted, we stopped to continue the conversation – admiring each other’s respective bikes and discussing the merits or otherwise of clipless pedals, Brooks saddles, carbon forks, internal geared hubs and steel frames. Our bikes couldn’t have been more different – he was riding a modified aluminium cruiser with slick tyres and flat bars vs my old-school touring bike – and we couldn’t have looked more different either; he was kitted out in lycra and I wasn’t, although I’m guessing from his ‘it’s not exactly Miguel Indurain stuff’ remark that we’re about the same age.* But all the same we found much to talk about as, in my experience, two cyclists almost always do, particularly if they’ve got their bikes with them.

Six months ago, I was in on the meeting that founded the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Since then, I’ve found out the hard way that the world of cycle campaigning can be bitterly divided in ways that would surprise anyone coming from outside, although maybe not as much if they’ve ever been involved in anything remotely political. I’ve also seen some online discussions in which cyclists disparage other cyclists of the ‘wrong sort’ in no uncertain terms, as if it really mattered what kind of bike you rode or where or how you rode it. It was enough to put me off the whole thing, particularly the campaigning bit. But I’m beginning to wonder whether any of the people concerned actually cycle at all, because I never seem to meet them when I’m out on my bike. Presumably they’re too busy patrolling the internet for people who are doing it wrong to get out and cycle at all. No wonder they’re so grumpy.

The problem is, that if we don’t hang together then, as Lenin said, we will all assuredly hang separately. And fortunately, or unfortunately, there is an issue that has united pretty much all cyclists in London, albeit against a common enemy. As I write this, hundreds of cyclists of all shapes and sizes will be gathering at Blackfriars bridge in London to protest the fact that – despite cyclists outnumbering cars at rush hour – Transport for London is about to press ahead with changes that will make cycling over the bridge much less safe and more unpleasant, despite a vote in the London Assembly to reconsider the scheme. It all seems a very long way away from our quiet roads up here but, sadly, all of a piece with some very car-centric planning that Bigtown Council is proposing. I won’t be able to join the Blackfriars protest, although I would have done had I still lived in London, and I very much doubt if we could muster more than ten people to protest if the council up here actually go through with their proposal to remove a pavement from one side of a busy bridge to accomodate an extra lane of cars. But I’ll be watching to see what happens, and I’ll be keeping on keeping on, remembering that what unites us will always be bigger than what divides us.

* I’m pretty sure that reference to the big Tour de France riders of the past date you as quickly as Blue Peter presenters or Dr Whos.

In the Interests of Balance…

July 27, 2011

… I feel I should point out that, yesterday’s post notwithstanding, our meal planning this week has revolved around the need to eat up all the beetroot, broad beans, peas, potatoes (the Shetland Dark), salad, Romanesco, perpetual spinach and, unexpectedly, purple-sprouting broccoli which wasn’t supposed to start sprouting until next April but which managed to confuse the early part of summer with winter (an easy mistake to make) and has gone already.

In the interests of balancing this balance I should add that a baby rabbit was spotted lurking behind the water butt this afternoon so it could all still end in tears. If only for the rabbit.

First Find your Veg Patch

July 26, 2011

I am never going away for two weeks in July ever again.

Fortunately, a little excavation has revealed that I still do have some veg growing under all that


And my beans are finally beginning to climb up their poles. Undoubtedly in desperation to get their heads above the tide of weeds, but whatever works…

One that didn’t Get Away

July 25, 2011

‘Go look in the fridge’ the other half said when I got back from a hard* day taking disadvantaged kiddies out.

I looked in the fridge. ‘Eek!’ I said.

There are perks, it turns out, to volunteering to do the books for the local inshore rescue service. And this is one that definitely won’t be getting put back.

Still, 14 pounds of salmon is a lot of fish, rather too much fish for our fridge, so it will be off to the smoke house tomorrow to get turned into smoked salmon. Which will be something of a relief because I still find myself going eek! everytime I unwarily open the door…

*not really. It was a sunny day at a farm park where the ‘farm’ part was entirely incidental but the various slides, bouncing things and go-karts were great fun. Well, I enjoyed them, anyway, and I’m sure the disadvantaged kiddies did too

Train a not-particularly-Grande Vitesse

July 24, 2011

It seemed a bitter irony that, having gone to all the effort – not to mention spent a fair bit of money – booking our trip to the South of France by train, we still ended up delayed for over an hour at Charles de Gaulle airport. It was just that the delay was on a train under the airport rather than in it – as the TGV succumbed to what appeared to be, from my uncertain translation of the announcement, the ‘wrong kind of rain.’

In fairness to SNCF (and I type this with gritted teeth) there was a fairly epic storm brewing over the flatlands of northern France. Ragged Thread had, rather optimistically as it turned out, suggested that the French Weather Gods would see off our puny British ones. Sadly, ours were just on their way and once they had caught up with us, the Dordogne found itself experiencing a whole week of classic Galloway weather, for which I hope its farmers are grateful. I can only surmise that the storm which delayed our train long enough for us to miss not one but two Eurostars at Lille was some sort of final showdown, a battle royale between the two sets of minor deities. Whoever won, when we finally got to the UK, the clouds seem to have parted and by the time we got up here, we were treated to a glorious long light late summer evening with not a cloud sullying the sky.

Unfortunately we were also rather lighter in the pocket for we had missed our Glasgow train and, in a bit of a false economy, I’d bought advance tickets which were useless on any other trian and meant we had to pay the full price, walk-up fare. There’s nothing like unexpectedly having to put £193 on your credit card just to make it home to put the tin lid on that post-holiday glow, is there? Apparently had it been the Eurostar that had been late we might have been all right but as it was our French connecting service that was at fault, well – and here, the Euston ticket clerk demonstrated his mastery of the Gallic shrug.

But anyway, we made it, which is the main thing. And for our holiday next year – well, if there are any drought-stricken farmers or worried reservoir managers out there who’d like a guaranteed week of steady rain next summer, just put your best offer in the comments box and we’ll see what we can do. Or maybe, for a small sum, we can guaranted not to visit whatever holiday spot or resort you were planning on booking yourselves. Or maybe we’ll just stay put next year and get rained on at home.

Mad Dogs and Ecossais

July 19, 2011

So we’re sitting outside the local cafe, about half way through lunch (course three of five, coffee and wine included)* when the rain rolls in as it has been rolling in at regular intervals since the weather gods got wind of our whereabouts on about day three of our trip. At first the other diners simply huddled closer until the wind started flinging the rain water that had pooled on the canopy onto the outer tables and then, one by one gave up and fled indoors. All except us, of course, although fortunately we’d bagged the one relatively rain-proof outdoor spot, and besides I was in my everything-bar-the-apocalypse-proof jacket. The proprietor even came out to apologise for the weather but I managed to summon enough French to explain that we lived in Scotland and this was normal where we came from.

it followed me home, can I keep it?

Actually, the real reason we were sitting outside was that the other half has been doing a bit of impulse shopping. We had gone back to the bike-rental place to return one bike (I’m borrowing my sister’s) and discuss extending the rental on the other one. As we walked into the office we couldn’t help but clock the beautiful old-school racing bike leant up against the desk and asked if it belonged to the guy behind it. No, he said, it was for sale. How much? “Cent Euro.”

Well, what would you have done? Given that renting a fairly plodding mountain bike for the remainder of our stay would have cost 70 Euros, the fact that we have absolutely no idea how to get it home on the TGV and Eurostar, not to mention Virgin Trains, paled into insignificance. The bike is as close to weighing almost nothing as it’s possible for a bike to be, it appears to have barely been ridden, at least recently, and it looked as out of place among the rest of the rental stock as a thoroughbred in a field of donkeys. We couldn’t leave it there. I was reminded of the holidays as a child when I had spent all week befriending some appealing-looking stray dog and pleading with my parents to let me take it home with us. So now we are the owners of a fine French racing bike and a bit of a logistical problem, but at least the bike won’t have to spend six months in quarantine and the other half has suddenly rediscovered his interest in cycling.

The one fly in the ointment is that we don’t have a decent lock (apart from anything else it would double the weight) so that means all our dining will have to take place al fresco, rain or no rain, while we keep an eye on it.

Oh, and it has magical properties too: it makes the other half disappear into a rapidly-diminishing dot on the horizon.

I think that’s a sight I’m increasingly going to have to get used to, once we get it home.

*This came highly recommended as the place where all the local workmen gathered for lunch. It was certainly good value, but I wonder if French tourists eagerly seek out the sort of greasy spoon which would be the English or Scottish equivalent, and what they would make of it if they did**

** That said, the egg, bacon and black pudding roll for £2 at the cafe at the Bigtown industrial estate not only comes highly recommended but probably also costs about the same, calorie per calorie, as our lunch. Fine dining indeed.

French Cycle Chic

July 18, 2011


A little something to amuse you while I am en vacances


On Pain of Death

July 14, 2011

It’s Bastille day here, which fortunately doesn’t mean the boulangeries are closed (the French take their national holidays seriously, but they take their fresh bread supplies even more seriously). I’ve got into an eminently civilised routine of pedalling up to the baker’s for pain chocolate and fresh bread while our morning coffee is brewing, testing to destruction my theory that chocolate fetched by bike has no calories. Today, my sister having run out, I also had to ferry an extra baguette up the hill to the farm, which necessitated improvising a baguette holder on my backpack. Obviously, the whole thing would be a lot more French if the baguette was in a nice basket, along with a small yappy dog and – let the stereotypes run free, why don’t you – a string of onions, a stripy top and a beret, but my rented steed is a mountain bike without such fripperies as a basket, so sweaty backpack it was (sweaty for me, I hasten to add – the bread got a nice cool ride in one of the outside pockets. I didn’t want to get arrested).

Apparently, people may be seen pedalling along with a baguette strapped crossways onto their back rack, and it struck me that that mightn’t be a bad safety measure around here. French drivers may no longer hold competitors in their own bike race sacred, but they’d not risk damaging someone’s bread. We’re off to a ‘Festival of Pain’ this evening and I shall investigate whether there might not be some sort of hi-vis safety bread available to ensure I get plenty of room on the road.

Mad Dogs and Englishwomen

July 11, 2011

Well, we made it after a journey that started at goat speed, at least until I managed to usher a pair of errant goats out of the road on the way to the station. The speed picked up considerably after that, although not enough to stop us from missing our connection in Paris, courtesy of a delayed Eurostar. That meant they paid for us to spend the night in Montparnasse, which we realised, as we walked down the Rue de la Gaiete, past numerous shops offering very specialised services, is basically Soho. At least the hotel they put us up in didn’t appear to rent its rooms out by the hour and although it was late by the time we got there the evening was gorgeous and we found a restaurant* where we could sit out and watch the parade of stylish people (and the odd stylish bicyle to boot).

Then it was down to Angouleme on the oh-god-fifty TGV service the next morning which managed to be delayed and mess up the seat reservations (may I just say now that the UK trains performed like clockwork and yes, the Bigtown-Carlisle service basically is clockwork). Fortunately my French, as well as not being able to fool Parisian restaurateurs, is not up to anything but the most direct ‘excuse me but you’re sitting in my seat’ and it turns out the French are just as bad as the English about insisting on getting the seat they booked**

Since then the weather has been glorious – well I think it’s glorious. It’s still about 35 C now at almost eight at night – the sort of bone-melting, limb-loosening heat I thrive in. It’s slightly putting a crimp in my plan that we can use our rented bikes to get between our chalet and the farm where my sister is. As far as I’m concerned, it’s perfect cycling weather, but the other half for some reason seems to think noon might be a bad time to be pedalling up a steep hill on a rented bike on a gravel road. Cuh. Lightweight.

* ‘We don’t do steak and frites,’ the proprietress announced as soon as I opened my mouth. Clearly I need to work on my accent. Fortunately we managed to persuade her we would be able to cope with a menu that didn’t come with laminated photographs of the food

** and in our defence, some Australians were sitting in what might have been our seats and weren’t taking hints either