Bike Bingo

September 19, 2011

Right, I’ve been in the Netherlands for less than a day and already I’ve got my Dutch bicycling bingo card almost full: Bike with flowers in the basket? check! Old guy cycling along at a stately pace with his knees out, waving at his friends? check! Other old guy on a sit-up-and-beg bike with tri bars out the front (it’s for the headwinds, you know)? check! Gaggle of teenagers cycling five abreast while texting each other? check! Dude cycling along bolt upright with his hands in his pockets? check! Girl on a bike with crutches? check! Implausibly cute apple-cheeked baby carried on a sling by Dad on a bike? check! Stations stuffed full of bikes, bikes tethered to railings by canals, bikes with beer crates on the back, bikes with teenagers riding sidesaddle on the rack, bikes with adults riding sidesaddle on the rack, cargo bikes, delivery bikes, folding bikes, bikes, bikes, bikes … check, check, check, check, check. We even saw a guy in full lycra and a helmet, because truly there is every kind of bicycle imaginable. I’m sorry, I think I’ve gone a bit delirious.

I hope to post something a little more coherent later, but so far the Netherlands is proving to be exactly as I imagined it only a little bit more so. Though my B&B is right next to a motorway, so it’s not quite Nirvana yet…


You Shall Go to the Ball

September 17, 2011

Well, there’s been some exciting news for my bike – tomorrow I’m heading off to the Netherlands for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Infrastructure-safari-to-end-all-infrastructure-safaris and it turns out I can take my bike after all.* This saves me renting a bike when I’m over there and, while I’m a little disappointed at not getting to try a real Dutch bike, I am at least relieved to be saving some money on the trip. All is not entirely plain sailing, of course – while there are no longer any of the dreaded engineering works on the line, there’s a strange quirk in our train service that means the first train out of Bigtown on a Sunday leaves at 1pm, presumably to ensure that people can go to Kirk first. This means it’s impossible for me to make it to Newcastle on time for the ferry’s departure unless we first drive to Carlisle where the Godless English have no such Presbyterian qualms.

And then, at the other end, the bike and I face the prospect of the journey from the centre of Newcastle to the ferry terminal armed only with my sense of direction – and we all know how good that is. I had a vauge idea (head for the Tyne, then keep it on my right until reaching the docks) but I was hoping for something a little more reassuring by way of guidance.

This is where blogging – and latterly twitter – gets brilliant. first Bill Gibbon responds to my plea for help by sending me a PDF of the bike routes across the city. Then Katja Leyendekker of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign trumps that by offering to meet me at the station and escort me to the ferry. I have a feeling that there’s now no town or city in the UK where I couldn’t find a fellow cyclist to offer me advice or routes around their patch if I needed it. This goes some way to making up for the fact that attempting to get around by bike without a native guide is fraught with difficulty if not actual danger in this country. Maybe when the revolution comes we can have nice cycling meet-ups AND well-signposted, separate infrastructure for visiting cyclists. Until then, thank goodness for Twitter…

For those of you who come for the gardening, cat updates and wildlife, you may find the next week is a little heavy on the wonders of Dutch cycle infrastructure and a little light on the rest of it (although fear not weather god fans – it looks as though I’m taking the rain with me). And those of you who come for the cycling stuff – be warned: too much exposure to really first class cycling provision can cause side effects such as envy, irritation, sleepless nights, outbursts of rage, depression, and drool on the keyboard.

*Ahem. Someone had got August and September confused when reading the timetable…

On the One Hand…

September 16, 2011

Ah September. Miserable as the summer has been, it has at least been warm enough to go without my gloves on the bike, but no longer. The last couple of rides have been chilly enough to require gloves but, as seems to happen every autumn, I discover that I’m the proud owner of 3 left gloves and no right gloves. At the moment I’m making do with the least handed glove on my right hand, but it’s only a thin woollen glove that won’t do once the winter really gets into its stride.

As I haven’t been knitting much recently, I’m wondering if it isn’t time to rectify this with a pair of nice thick mittens (they’re warmer than gloves and also have the advantage of not requiring me to knit any fingers) Anyone got a pattern they can recommend for the spatially and knittingly challenged? The warmer the better, if last winter is anything to go by…

Indian Summer (hurry while stocks last…)

September 15, 2011

All summer long – as soon as it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a sunny one – we’ve been pinning our hopes on September. Sure June / July / August was a bit of a washout but the weather usually picks up in September, we told ourselves. We’ll make up for it then, with golden afternoons and slanting evening light and the leaves not yet falling from the trees. And then September arrived with half a hurricane and no let up in the rain and cold and there wasn’t even that lovely moment of lighting the first fire because we’ve had the stove lit on and off since half way through August.

Still, we had today. Today was glorious: sunny and still and almost warm after a cold night. And, after about three solid weeks of gallivanting about and working, I had the day to myself. It wasn’t forecast to last so it was time to attempt to cram a month’s gardening into a single day…

I didn’t quite make it, of course. I have managed to harvest another lot of potatoes (Edgecote Purple) and the red onions (awaiting the Rayburn’s return so I can make red onion marmalade). I’ve finally transplanted the last of my leeks and harvested the last of the purple sprouting broccoli that put in a surprise summer appearance. We’ve almost got some French beans coming through, just in time to be struck down by the first frosts, I imagine. I’ve pulled up several basket loads of weeds and even managed to move some perennial flowering plants as well. I have been nettled and scratched and stung, and the garden still looks like the plot that gets pursed lips and shaken heads down at the local allotment, but at least I have the feeling that I am more or less on track again…

I’m not the only one doing some harvesting for the winter:

Some mouse appears to have developed a taste for beetroot. Which a few weeks ago I might have counted as a relief, but I was just beginning to develop a taste for it myself…

Absolute Return

September 14, 2011

We were delighted to notice the other day that the goldfinches have been busy this summer turning all our nyjer seed into more goldfinches. As we were out walking a flock of at least a dozen passed over, filling the air with their liquid chirrups, and settling in the tree. As we’re in word-eating mode here, I might as well admit that, unappealing personal lives aside, there really is very little that can beat the sight and sound of a charm of goldfinches flitting through the garden and the more of them there are, the better.

Of course on the other hand this does mean we’ll probably be spending a bit more on nyjer seed because they really do eat it as fast as we can put it out. But, given the return we’ve had for the few quid we’ve spent so far – and the measly rate of interest we get on our savings and the uncertainty of everything else, I can’t see that we can do much better than putting our money into goldfinches rather than into gold…

Of course, that may be why I’ve never been offered a lucrative job as an investment banker. Though, to be honest, I can’t see that I’d have done any worse than the real ones did.

Eating My Words

September 13, 2011

I realised this morning – having waxed lyrical about them less than a month ago -that maps do have their downsides: consulting one while in a hurry in the tail end of a hurricane is a bit less than convenient. As is having to dash back across a busy road to retrieve it before it ends up in the next county. But they do function quite effectively as a flag of distress to any other passing cyclist that you are a) lost and b) incompetent (I had at this point managed to navigate myself round in a circle and was heading in exactly the wrong direction). I wonder how many car drivers would not only stop to give a fellow motorist directions, but then patiently escort them part of the way they want to go until they’ve reached a point from which even I couldn’t lose my way?

Anyway, the reason I was wrestling maps and generally getting lost was because I was attending the Understanding Walking and Cycling Conference at Lancaster. The report has already managed to generate a bit of controversy among cycling campaigners (well, no surprises there) but setting that aside, the lessons from the research was pretty clear at least to me: as long as our towns and cities provide second-class infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians, then the people who live in them will believe that pedestrians and cyclists are basically second-class citizens – albeit extremely chivalrous and helpful ones, if my knight in shining lycra this morning was anything to go by.

Pipe Down

September 12, 2011

On a flying visit to Edinburgh today I noticed that Paris’s Post-it wars seem to have spread across the channel. Picked out in bright yellow squares in an office window on Princes Street – right above the corner where the mendicant piper (as Huttonian always used to call him) plys his trade – were the despairing words

Oi! Piper! Shhhh!*

The piper, of course, wasn’t taking a blind bit of notice. When your instrument doubles as a weapon of war, it takes more than stationery to stop you…

* Picture, you say? Well I tried to take a picture on my phone and it didn’t really come out and I assumed it would be on flickr somewhere already but I couldn’t find it. So you’ll just have to believe me…