Stick it to ’em

January 17, 2012

It’s that time of the year again – I’ve just sat down with a gardening friend to go through the seed catalogues and put in a joint order. We save money by splitting the packets (because, seriously, who needs 500 parsnip seeds?) and then cheerfully plough the savings – and then some – into egging each other on to try things we wouldn’t otherwise have considered. This year, it looks like we’re trying black kale, celeriac and cauliflower (I did try very hard to persuade her against carrots but she’s bent on a path of self-destruction and is giving them an absolute final last chance. Fool!).

Of course I was already in a more adventurous frame of mind, as the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall washing-up creation experiment continues, reaching something of a local maximum with the consumption, by me, without TOO much whining, of mushroom and kale lasagne. I have long resisted mushrooms (apart from chanterelles) on the grounds that a) they’re slimy, b) they’re neither animals nor vegetables and are very possibly of alien origin and c) they just look nasty. Close examination of my conscience revealed that none of these reasons were based on my ever having eaten the things although anyone who’s a properly picky eater will know that that’s largely irrelevant because in order to taste something like mushrooms you’d have to put them in your mouth and why would you do that if it’s something you don’t like? Eeeuw. But anyway, I am in fact 42 and not 4, so I was persuaded to give them a go. I was hoping we’d start on mushroom soup which would get rid of the whole texture issue but lasagne it was and actually it turns out that the texture of lasagne noodles and the texture of sliced mushrooms are more or less identical and once they’ve all been cooked together for long enough, so is the taste.

Anyway. The other half made a lovely lasagne AND did the washing up (which is verging on the heroic) and I prodded it with a fork for a bit and then ate it. And it was fine. I’m not going to stand up and declare that the first four decades of my life have been spent in the darkness of non-mushroom eating and now the scales have fallen from my eyes and their deliciousness has been revealed – but they were fine. I no longer have to pick mushrooms out of my food or automatically discard any mushroom based options from a menu. The other half is looking forward to adding such delights as grilled steak and mushrooms to our menu (he’s not really on board with the whole ‘eating less meat thing’ is he?). And I take one small step towards being a slightly more normal person, food wise.

I did feel that, on the whole, my bravery at eating it all up should be recognised so the other half made me a sticker:

If we get onto sprouts – or courgettes – I’m holding out for a medal.


Winter Returns

January 16, 2012

Those snowdrops must be regretting their imprudence because the frost is back with a bang; we’re not complaining though because it’s dry and sparkly and sunny as well as bitterly cold. Well, maybe we’re complaining a little bit…

I don't think much of this episode of Sherlock

Either way, it’s just the sort of weather for snuggling up on the sofa with a warm cat but our days of doing that are over: the neighbour has returned to reclaim his cat, and there’s an enormous (though marginally smaller since the diet kicked in) furry cat-shaped hole in our life. We get visiting rights but it just isn’t the same…

Made in Scotland, from Girders

January 13, 2012

As I was walking up to Laid Back Bikes on Wednesday, ready to borrow the Paper Bicycle for the demonstration, I started to get a bit concerned about the whole single gear thing. After all, I knew the bike wasn’t ACTUALLY made out of paper, in fact it’s rather solidly built out of steel. And Edinburgh has an entirely unnecessary amount of topography with very steep streets, flights of stairs, roads that turn out to be about 40 foot below other roads and a nice scattering of cobbles to make the cyclist’s life more difficult. While I had been quite happy cycling around the malarial flatlands of South London on a bike with only one functioning gear, as soon as I moved to Scotland I quickly got that sorted. If I didn’t watch my route in Embra, I was going to be spending more time pushing this bike than riding it. And that would be no fun at all.

I needn’t have worried, as it turned out. For a start, Dave of Laid Back Bikes regularly runs recumbent tours around Edinburgh and so was adept at finding routes that avoided the worst of the gradients as we cycled to and from the demonstration. And besides, single gear or no single gear, the Paper Bicycle didn’t seem to have any trouble climbing hills, even with me at the pedals. After the first little ‘oh help, steep bit, change down, oh damn …’ I didn’t really find I missed the gears at all. I’m not saying that hills were effortless, for I was certainly a bit puffed as we came up the first significant hill, but I never had that feeling of running out of gears, and in fact I never even needed to get out of the saddle. Whether it was the geometry, the build quality, the big fat floaty tyres or some sort of hidden engine in the seat tube, the bike just kept on going up and up and up in a way that even my own bike doesn’t (there’s a rather more scientific discussion of why this should be so on Lovely Bike if you want to get all technical on me – see the comments). Of course, that could be because my own bike has spent the last few months cycling along awesomely muddy roads and through floods without, perhaps, the sort of love and attention lavished on it that it deserves. There’s a lot to be said for full chain cases in a Scottish winter. And I suppose, given that it was designed from the ground up in Ayrshire, that is entirely to be expected.

Other than the lack of a rack, which apparently newer models will have, I was generally pretty impressed with the Paper Bicycle. I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to the technicalities of bikes, but I do know what I like, and I liked it a lot. It didn’t quite give me the upright regal bearing you get on a propr dutch bike (although if I’d had the handlebars a little higher it might have). There’s a level of attention to detail to the design that makes it really pleasing to the eye – like the fact that when you kick up the integrated kick stand it lines up with the chain case thing to look like a little chrome exhaust pipe. It has everything you’d expect from a sensible city bike – full chain case, mudguards, dynamo lighting, reliable brakes – a true get on and go bike. It attracted second glances (even allowing for the fact that I was following a bloke on a recumbent) and admiring looks, which is always nice. In a handsome, dress-up city like Edinburgh it’s nice to have a bike you can ride in smart clothes without worrying about oil. And you can get it powdercoated to order almost any colour you choose so you could even match it to your favourite outfit if you wanted to really work the cycle chic vibe. If I lived in London still, I’d buy one right now and ride it everywhere – although I’m not entirely sure, without the rear triangle, how I’d lock it up. As it is, even as a single speed and with our hills, I’d be seriously tempted. It’s one of those things where you start trying to think of reasons why you need one (it would make a great guest bike! It could be my winter bike! Err, I need a bike that matches my coat!) however tenuous they might be. Dave described it as a ‘Scottish Pashley’ which certainly captures the build quality (and possibly the weight – it’s not a bike for hoisting in the air at a demo, put it that way). But it’s not a retro looking bike at all, just a rather handsome one.

But don’t take my word for it. If you’re in Edinburgh at all, book yourself a test ride at Laid Back Bikes (or if you fancy becoming part of a real subculture, go on one of his recumbent tours). He’ll even show you round the city on your own bike, if you want to know the sneaky ways avoiding the worst of the hills. And that alone in Edinburgh has got to be worth plenty of your English pounds.

Egging them on

January 12, 2012

blah blah blah

So I learned yesterday that 350 people on bikes and on foot on a rawish January Wednesday lunchtime is enough to winkle a transport minister out of his office … but not really enough to make him change his mind. From what I could hear of Keith Brown’s response it was along the lines of ‘well it’s nice to see lots of people passionate about their little single issue, and we’d love to give you more money but we grown up politicians have to make difficult decisions and besides those bastards at Westminster have cut our funding but never mind there’s lots of other sources of money that may help encourage cycling (if we’re not squandering it all on electric cars) if you don’t mind a pig in a poke and besides, you never know, the councils may step into the breach…’ (I may have paraphrased a little).

So was it a waste of time? Well, the BBC covered it reasonably well, these things have to start small, and if what’s going on in London is anything to go by they can grow until they’re unignorable. As with so many of these things, aside from posing for the cheesy photos (‘can everyone hold their helmet up in the air please’ … er…), most people spent their time catching up with other bikey people and meeting new ones. It’s out of that kind of networking that real movements can grow up, if people are angry enough. Watch this space.

The other thing I learned yesterday was as I stood outside Laid Back Bikes in Marchmont Crescent, waiting to mount my lovely borrowed Paper Bike (more on this tomorrow) to ride it down to the demonstration. A car roared past, there was a shout and an egg came flying past to break against the glass of the shop window – missing me, fortunately, as I was in my grey wool cycle chic coat, not my everything-bar-the-apocalypse jacket. Now Laid Back Bikes, as its name suggests, specialises mainly in recumbents, the Paper Bike being a bit of a new direction. I knew that some people find recumbents and their wee flags a little odd, but I didn’t realise the hostility had grown to the point of drive-by eggings. And in Edinburgh, too! What would they do to them in Glasgow?

Oh, and if anyone’s wondering, there were no Socialist Worker placards, although there were some lovely pre-prepared ones for the disorganised all the same. It looks like the end times really are upon us…


January 10, 2012

I was thinking back this afternoon trying to remember when I last went on a demo – a proper demo, that is, one with placards with the ‘Socialist Worker’ bit ripped off the bottom* and people shouting ‘what do we want?’ I’ve a horrible feeling that it was probably around 1990, at the time of the poll tax. I didn’t go in the big rioty one, but we did have one big one at university where we all solemnly pledged not to register for the poll tax on pain of being arrested – and then a much smaller one where we protested about people actually being taken to court for not registering (the city council had cunningly not bothered with any of students and stuck to arresting people like the university cleaners who were less likely to have important fathers so the turnout was a bit pitiful. This probably taught me more about the nature of UK politics than the degree course in the subject I was studying at the time). Since then, my political activity has largely been confined to voting, canvassing, signing petitions, helping start cycle campaigns, writing to my MP and having full and frank – if somewhat one-sided – exchanges of opinions with the radio.

All that changes tomorrow when I head up to Edinburgh to attend this. I’ll leave it to the good people of Spokes to explain properly why it’s so important – I just know that it’s my chance to be stand up (or pedal up) and be counted. I’ll even be able to be on a bike – not mine, because it’s just too complicated to get mine to Edinburgh on the train – but this Paper Bike**, courtesy of the good folks of Laid Back Bikes.

If you’re a Scottish cyclist (or a pedestrian) please do consider turning up for this tomorrow if you can. And if you can’t, then writing, petitioning, talking to your MSP (but probably not shouting at the radio) are probably just as effective, if not more so. Just not as fun.
*It’s been so long since I went on one, I don’t even know if they still turn up for every single protest with pre-printed placards for the disorganised to use.

** And no, it’s not really made out of paper. And yes, I did initially think it might be when I first heard of it. And no, I have no interest in any beachfront properties in Arizona.

Don’t Tell the Weather Gods

January 9, 2012

After the last two winters we’ve had, the start to 2012 has been astoundingly mild – confirmed by the snowdrops coming up almost a month earlier than they did last year (how do they know?). A somewhat less welcome milestone was passed yesterday, when I managed to inhale my first insect while cycling of 2012. Surely, you’d think, in January you would be safe? Not, I hasten to add, that I’m complaining.

And today? Today it’s been mild and sunny and not blowing a gale and that’s three things we don’t expect to coincide until at least May. It won’t last, but I’ve been enjoying it while I can. And keeping my mouth firmly shut while I’m out on the bike.


January 6, 2012

So, one of my Christmas presents this year was Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘Veg Every Day‘ book which is part of Hugh’s crusade to make every home cook in the country dirty every dish in the kitchen every day – sorry, eat less meat AND dirty every dish in the kitchen. I’ve long been trying to have at least one meat free day a week, much to the other half’s disgust, so I seized on this as an opportunity to try out some new vegetarian – and even vegan – recipes. We came to a bit of an arrangement – for the next month we’d try out one or two of the recipes each week and he had to not complain about there not being any meat and I had to not complain about trying new vegetables. OK, well, ‘not complain’ is a bit strong, but we had to eat the results anyway. Now, regular readers may remember that I’m not the most adventurous eater in the world, although I’ve come a long way from my entirely non-vegetable-eating childhood, so I started to get a few twinges of doubt on this deal once the other half started leafing through the pages and chuckling to himself ‘oh you’re going to have to stretch yourself a bit’ (he’s particularly looking forward to the part where I have to eat mushrooms other than chanterelles) but I’ve stuck to my side of the bargain and he’s stuck to his – indeed, more than stuck to it because the first week is barely over and we’ve had meatless suppers for three out of six days (and, er, steak on one of the others – but that was our 20th wedding anniversary and I wanted to last out at least another few years).

So far it’s gone reasonably well, although there has been predictably large amounts of washing up to be done. We’ve had squash and red onion pasties, stir-fried cauliflower, spanakopita, spicy chickpeas and we’ve been getting through a backlog of lentils of various colours that have been hanging around in our cupboards for long enough that I had to do a quick ex post facto google on ‘will sprouted lentils kill you?’* The culmination (so far) came tonight when I cooked ribollito which is Italian for ‘all the things townmouse doesn’t really like, poured over garlicky toast in a bowl’. Had I been served this up as a child, I would have just sat there sobbing at the table for the entire meal and yet here I was not just cooking it but eating it. Not, in the strictest sense of the word, enjoying it – let’s not get carried away here – but eating it. Although even I have to admit that the garlicky toast part is actually rather yummy. Apparently it’s better the next day. Which is good, because there’s loads of it left.

So there you go. I don’t really have a snappy ending to this one, except to say that it turns out after 40-odd years of picky eating, a few vegetables really won’t kill me after all. And nor will not eating much – or much less – meat. And, nor, if it comes to that, will slightly sprouted lentils. Although I’m still not 100% convinced about mushrooms.

*just out of curiosity, you understand