Here be Phantoms

February 28, 2012

‘They’ve repaired that nasty pothole at least’ my neighbour remarked as she gave me a lift home from choir last week. To be honest ‘that nasty pothole’ doesn’t really narrow it down that much as after two icy winters and a year of rain our road is more pothole than anything else, but I knew the one she meant: a deep little bugger lurking just as you come round the bend from the bridge outside the village, just ready to catch the unwary wheel of a car (or a bike). It’s been filled in to the usual man-with-a-bucket-of-tarmac standards, but it has at least been filled, along with a few others on the road – signs that the year-end-spend frenzy might be upon us.

Still, filled or not, I still find as I come round that bend on my way back from the papershop that I swing wide to avoid it, or the place where it used to be. The pothole has gone but its music linger on, so ingrained is it in my muscle memory to take that corner as if it were there. The question now is which will come sooner: my finally learning I don’t need to avoid it, or the return of the pothole as the crappy patch wears away again.

Actually, don’t bother to answer that – I think we can all make an educated guess…

Questions, Questions

February 27, 2012

Dressing this morning …

“I wonder whether I can still fit into my smart trousers?”

“In fact, I wonder whether I can still find my smart trousers?”

*rummages through floordrobe, finds them at the bottom of the heap*

“I wonder how anyone will even know these are my smart trousers?”

For future reference, if it looks as if I’ve been gardening in them, they’re not my smart trousers. Unless, that is, I forgot I was wearing my smart trousers and went out gardening anyway

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

February 24, 2012

Along with other, less certain, signs of the impending spring (like being lured into wearing only one jumper by the warmth of a sheltered corner, only to subsequently regret it when you emerge into the full force of a north-westerly wind) – this morning brought us the first tentatives rehearsals of our friend the wakey wakey bird. One day, remembering that I am supposed to be some sort of a bird watcher, I will stumble blearily from my bed and identify exactly what he* is, but for now I shall content myself with lying under the covers half welcoming his return along with the brighter weather … and half wishing him, and three-and-twenty of his closest associates, baked in a pie

* something tells me it’s a he

Nothing to See Here, Move Along

February 23, 2012

While I am not, repeat not, planting anything until it’s absolutely properly spring, there’s obviously no harm in getting the bed ready for the broad beans – you know, just in case some elves come in and get your broad beans started for you when you’re not looking. And if, when you’re getting the bed ready for the broad beans which you’ve no intention of planting for ages, you were to happen to come across two heads of garlic that you had unaccountably missed when harvesting last year, and which had been happily sprouting away over the winter in the wrong place, then it absolutely does not count as planting things if you were to carefully fork them up and break them apart and then dig a hole for them in the place where you might have planted them (had you been planting things) and bury them carefully root-side down and sprouty-side up in neat little rows. No, that doesn’t count as planting stuff at all, it’s just tidying up.

It was pretty satisfying all the same, though.


February 22, 2012

There are some mornings when you wonder whether it was entirely worth getting up. Not only was the weather hideous – undoing all of the last couple of weeks’ worth of reasonably dryish weather in one night – but when I did get up, bleary-eyed, to make coffee I saw the butter dish sitting out on the table. Thinking I’d be helpful, I moved it up to its normal spot on the shelf above the Rayburn – it’s the only way it remains spreadable rather than chiselable. As I put it up I dislodged a picture that was propped up on the shelf, saved the picture but failed to save the butter dish, which shattered into approximately a million pieces. Not only that, but I’d also managed to turn off the oil flow to the Rayburn, something we didn’t notice until it was too late, the burner was out and the temperature was dropping to the floor…

Fortunately, after an anxious wait for it to cool down enough so that we could relight it and a scrabble through the instructions, the other half managed to get it going and it seems to have forgiven us, for now at least and I have managed to go the rest of the day without breaking anything, which I’m counting as a win given the way it started. And I’ve reminded myself that the only thing I’m qualified to do before I’ve had coffee of a morning is make coffee and not attempt anything more complicated than that in future. The weather hasn’t exactly improved, but then there was a guy on the radio banging on about drought and how it needed to drizzle solidly for 6 weeks in order for water shortages to be avoided, but that was never going to happen. That’s just the sort of challenge the weather gods are hardly going to take lying down, is it? I just wish they’d improve their aim.

Still, weather or no weather – and it’s definitely not no weather out there at the moment – were I in London right now I’d be on this.

Best of luck guys

A Bit Seedy

February 21, 2012

woo hoo – it’s taken its time, but our joint seed order has finally arrived which meant an excuse to go down to my gardening buddy’s for lunch and the big divvying up of the seeds…

It wouldn’t be a seed order if some of them hadn’t actually arrived yet, and others weren’t randomly different from what we’d ordered, but we got our French beans for free so we aren’t complaining. There was a fair bit of ‘what were we thinking?’ as we went through our more adventurous purchases (I mean, really, celeriac?) but mainly it’s a mix of old favourites, new adventures and crops drinking at the last chance saloon – I’m looking at you, sweetcorn. And I have definitely, definitely, definitely NOT ordered any carrots.

The tricky bit now is to contain my excitement, put the seeds away, and concentrate on getting the veg bed ready. Last year I planted pretty much everything too early and that’s always a recipe for disaster. So if you catch me sneaking a few things onto the windowsill in pots before it’s at least March, do me a favour and stop me. I’ll thank you for it in the end.

Although … maybe a few broad beans in early wouldn’t hurt… no?

See you, Jimmy

February 20, 2012

It was an exciting weekend for my bike as it returned to its ancestral home, Glasgow, albeit just for one day. The occasion was the Cycling Embassy’s infrastructure tour, which I won’t bore you with here (I’ll bore you with it elsewhere, don’t worry). Getting there on the train means a 40 minute ride to the station for the once-every-three hours, two-hour long chuffer service (it’s all of 75-odd miles, but never mind that – look at the lovely scenery!). Thus my Saturday started with me waking in the dark and listening to the rain splattering energetically against the window and wondering why I hadn’t taken up knitting advocacy or something equally indoorsy.

Fortunately, a glitch in the Weather Gods’ system meant I managed to ride to the station during the 40 minute break in the rain and was safely under the canopy discovering I’d forgotten my bike lock when the heavens opened again. And amazingly, despite a forecast bordering on the apocalyptic, another 15 or so hardy souls turned up for the event and even though we did get snowed on a little and were visited by the puncture fairy and I discovered that my back brake wasn’t working (I don’t really need to stop the bike much around here, so it doesn’t really arise. Oops), it was an interesting (adjusted for being mainly about cycle infrastructure) day out all round.

Heading back, after an after tour tour of the pubs of Glasgow looking for one that wasn’t absolutely rammed on a Saturday night – a mission akin to trying to find a decent piece of cycling provision in the average UK city – I got on a train that turned out to be full of Rangers fans (do they know that peace has more or less broken out in Northern Ireland, btw? Do you think maybe someone should tell them?) and reached Bigtown at 9pm ready for the 8 miles back – the first time I got to try out my dynamo lighting for real.

So what’s the verdict? Well the first thing is that, if anyone tells you they ‘hardly feel’ the effect of a dynamo on a bike, then they’re either lying or have legs of steel. The second is that it lights up the road like nobody’s business, possibly even better than the light I borrowed last year. The third is that a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale and a bag of chips are not, perhaps, the ideal pre-ride meal for someone who wants to test out their dynamo for the first time, although I’m not sure exactly would have been – maybe spinach?

I woke up on Sunday morning with leaden legs, feeling absolutely shattered. And then the sun came out and as we were out of milk, we did the run again in the afternoon down to the local garage and I remembered that the road back from Bigtown always feels like extra hard work, seeing as it’s uphill and into a headwind.

I reckon on balance, the dynamo adds about an extra 10 mph to the wind in your face, although it does seem to feel like harder work the slower you go; struggling up the final bit of hill at the end of a long ride was just cruel. On the plus side, the way it lights up the road means you can get up to speed on the downhill bits and take a run at the next climb. For people whose brakes have gone a bit kaput, it’s reassuring to know you’ll be able to see what’s up ahead in good time. If I were commuting home in the dark five days a week I’d probably lay out the cash to get a rechargeable system, just because I think it would be pretty wearing every day and I don’t really want to end up with the legs of Chris Hoy. But for the use I want to put it to – the occasional trip into town of an evening, and back and forth to the village, it will be fine. More than fine, in fact, if the night is as black and as starry and sparkly as Saturday was.

And now, I think it might be time to get that bike down to the bike shop for a bit of love and attention to those brakes…

Spring is…

February 17, 2012

The problem with composing a nice blog post in your head about how the end of winter is in sight, is that inevitably the weather gods get wind of it and dish out a miserable afternoon of driech and a yellow warning of ice and snow – the latter especially inconvenient when you have plans to get up at sparrow fart to go to Glasgow for a wee bike ride.

BUT, be that as it may, and much as I may regret writing this, it’s hard to deny that the days are getting longer and the sun a little stronger. We sat on the bench in the sunshine on Wednesday lunchtime and it was pretty damn pleasant. True, we were wearing our fleeces, but we’ve been known to do that indoors. The birds are starting to get friskier – I almost ran over two blackbirds locked in mortal combat the other morning, a sure sign of something being in the air. Testosterone, probably.

We’re a long way from actual summer, of course. But the other day I came across @Swallowsighting on twitter (appropriately enough, if you’ve ever heard a flock of swallows exchanging gossip of a summer evening). They’re using tweets to track swallows as they arrive this spring. In fact, they’re even hoping to track them all the way from Africa if they get followers in the right places.

And yesterday they tweeted this:

It’s not summer yet, but it’s on its way… (they’ll be here by April 7th if last year was anything to go by)

Pas Devant les Enfants

February 16, 2012

Another exciting package arrived today from Amazon* – yes, I’ve finally got myself a new l*****. Well, when I say ‘I’, what I mean is that the other half lost patience with my procrastination and just went ahead and ordered it for me (I am after all the person who waited six weeks to buy a dynamo because – actually, no, I’m not really sure why it took me so long myself and I was the one doing the putting off. It made sense at the time). Now that the l***** has arrived, it has been whisked off to be set up and have its rescue disks created which now apparently takes 4 DVDs** and the better part of an afternoon. So I’m still using the old one. Which is why I’m being a little coy about what it is that’s in that package.

You see, it’s a well known fact that computers know when they’re about to be replaced and get a little antsy about it. The other half’s Netbook started playing as soon as we ordered the new l***** until we reassured it that it was not the one for the chop. Since then we’ve been being a little discreet around the computers – just to be on the safe side, you know. Perhaps going down for a walk to the ford (three inches, bridge still damaged, ‘ford closed to pedestrians’ sign still in place) to discuss the matter was a tad cautious – but you never know. I’m in the middle of a big editing job and I can’t affort a cantankerous computer. Although, I think it’s guessed. The other day it suddenly decided to repaginate my 100-page Word document to 18,000 pages and nearly ate a day’s work. I’m not sure, but I think the Netbook might have been telling tales out of school.

I’m a little sad about it because the new l***** – while being new and shiny and everything – isn’t quite as sleek and strokable as the old one was when it was the  new and shiny one. These days, to quote a participant at the Cycling Embassy policy bash, it looks as if I’ve been playing hockey with it, but it still retains a faded remnant of its former glamour. The new one just looks sort of brutally efficient. And I’m going to have to knit it a new cover and everything.

* before you point out my obvious schoolgirl mistake – I am aware that this is not an Apple product. Looks like I’m a loyal Sony girl after all.

** ahem. Looking back at this post, I notice that I rather blithely implied that I’d made rescue disks for the last one and lost them as opposed to meaning to do it and then putting it off until, well, frankly I dropped the damn thing. Fortunately the other half sees through my schtick

It’s Good to Share

February 15, 2012

One of the downsides of following a lot of cyclists on twitter is that suddenly you’re alerted to a world out there of near misses and non-misses, bad driving, threatening behaviour and downright assault. In the last couple of days alone I heard of people I ‘knew’ – some of whom I’ve even met – being knocked off their bikes or just getting harassed in one way or another. It’s distressing to read about and brings home just how much unpleasantness there can be on the roads. Perhaps it’s good for me to be reminded that cycling is not all hello trees, hello clouds but actually an urban war zone for some people. But then again, perhaps a bit of a corrective is needed, if only for the benefit of Bigtownshire’s tourist board (Motto: shh! Nobody knows we’re here).

I don’t tweet on the bike due to a severe lack of co-ordination, working phone and G3 (indeed any) signal, but if I did, my ride yesterday might have looked like this:

Neighbour just about to pull out of gate, saw me coming, waited even though I gave her room to leave. Big smile and wave on both sides

Car hanging well back and patiently waiting for an opportunity to pass… especially noble given I was going uphill and into a headwind

Oops hadn’t noticed that tiny van behind me cos it was hanging well back while I crawled up the hill. Stopped to let him pass at the top. Sorry driver!

Two dog walkers leaping out of my way. No need, but thanks for keeping rover on his lead…

And today? Today, I hardly encountered anybody on the road at all except my shadow (and boy was I grateful to see that after the weather we’ve had. I was beginning to think I’d lost it) and two kids out for a little pootle along the empty roads.

It’s good to share, especially when people share nicely … but it’s even better to have the road all to yourself.