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.


February 13, 2012

Much excitement on Saturday in the Townmouse household with the arrival of a *very* firmly wrapped parcel from the Netherlands containing not contraband but a Nordlicht Dynamo from Dutch Bike Bits. I’d already got the headlight for Christmas from my Mum and chosen the one I wanted; all I had had to do was order the dynamo so, naturally, this took me a month and a half of procrastination to get round to.

Despite all the putting off (it’s just what I do), dynamo lights seem a bit of a no-brainer to me, as long as you’re not massively worried about weight or efficiency.* And besides, bottle dynamo can be flipped on and off the wheel so it only affects the bike when you need to run the lights. However, fitting a dynamo setup to a British bike that wasn’t designed for it in mind feels a bit like shoeing a giraffe: technically possible but pretty bloody awkward. For a start, once all the parts had arrived I had a few anxious moments as the instructions for connecting the headlamp to the dynamo seemed to bear no relation at all to the connections that were available in either the headlamp box or the dynamo box. This, it turned out, was because the instructions were for someone attaching a headlamp to a hub dynamo, which all sensible bikes, of course, are expected to have. A bit of anxious googling clarified how to wire it up to the dynamo but then a second problem reared its head. UK bike lights usually come with a handlebar bracket that allows you to bodge them onto any bike with a bit of ingenuity and swearing. German lights have no such compromises: they are designed to be mounted to a bolt on the headtube which will, of course, be there, because that’s where your bike headlight goes. But the only suitable bolt, the one holding my front brakes on wasn’t long enough to also accommodate the light and the other half (and chief bike engineer) didn’t feel messing with the integrity of my front brakes was a very good idea. It looked as if a trip down to the bike shop might be in order until the other half managed to make a nut with a bolt on it that magically meant it did fit after all (you’ll have to excuse all these technical details).

Then all I had to do was wait for dark and have a go. I’d post pictures of how bright it is but it switches to standlight mode when I stop and I’m not going to attempt to cycle along at night one-handed taking photos. So far, my impression is that it’s pretty darn bright although it does flicker a bit after riding through the deeper puddles so that may be something to watch out for. And if this photo is anything to go by, I shouldn’t be getting any Smidsys, at least not after dark…

It’ll probably need a bit of tweaking – and definitely a longer ride – before I know if it really works for me but so far I’m pretty happy with the results.

* as I clearly am not: this morning when I rode down to the papershop I had to keep checking to see if the dynamo had somehow flipped itself into position because the bike felt like it was dragging an anchor. Turns out that a twig jammed into the cogs at the front is way more of a drag on the bike than any dynamo. Really must clean my chain more often


February 10, 2012

In the pub the other day, the conversation turns (as it often does when you hang out with people of a certain age) to medical horror stories, and in particular the story of one woman’s 84-year-old mother-in-law who came round half way through her gall-bladder operation to the sensation of someone rummaging round in her innards apparently with a corkscrew.

‘How’s she doing now?’ I asked.

‘Oh, not bad, she’s back on her bike.’

It’s entirely unscientific, but I’ve noticed the phenomenon up here of the indestructible octegenarian, usually cyclists, though occasionally walkers (someone else was complaining that she was getting little breathless but that her doctor didn’t take her complaint seriously as it was only happening after the first five miles or so). Obviously I should be above taking unrepresentative anecdotes into account, but somehow a story like that is far more of a spur to action than any number of large-scale longitudinal studies. At least, that is what I told myself today as I dragged myself out on the bike not once but twice on a day untroubled by sunshine, warmth or indeed much in the way of visibility.

Don’t Just Sit There…

February 9, 2012

Blogging material is a bit light at the moment due to a combination of actual paid work keeping me stuck in the house and utterly miserable weather today making cycling problematic. (Freezing rain – I ask you, what is the point? I was supposed to cycle up to the doctor’s this morning but wimped out after the radio was full of the usual dire warnings of icy roads. The other half scoffed as we drove there along reasonably non-dicey roads but I felt somewhat vindicated when I got out of the car just outside our gate and nearly went flying. A broken bone would have been nasty, of course, but at least I would have been proved right…)

So by way of a public service – and this time for anyone who doesn’t have a mallet finger, but does have an office job – I give you this*, via Doctor Mama. And I would add as my own top tip that you should immediately move to Scotland and start heating your work space solely with a wood burning stove burning not-particularly well-seasoned wood. Not only will you soon be too cold to sit still for long periods of time except under a blanket, but you will need to get up at least every hour to refill it…
* I was pleased to note that the comment thread beneath it was immediately diverted into an unrelated discussion on cycling to work. I have been noticing for a while that the internet is increasingly made out of bicycles. I had thought that that was mostly thanks to Google’s uncanny ability to serve you up what you want and Twitter’s echo chamber effect but maybe it really is. What’s your internet made out of?

Better by Bike?

February 8, 2012

Ice yesterday morning prevented me from enjoying my usual ride down to the papershop (what can I say, I’m a wimp and my front teeth were very expensively straightened by my parents so I like to keep them intact) but we made up for it in the afternoon by both cycling down to one of Bigtown’s big box electronics shops to do a little light laptop shopping. I’d meant to go down on Monday but it was just too bloody nice and I spent the afternoon gardening instead but yesterday the ground was frozen and I decided that if there was at least a bike ride thrown in I could handle the strain.*

Now, I would love this to be one of those posts where I prove that cyclists contribute just as much to the economy as car drivers but sad to say we were mainly going down to the big box shop to try out the laptop we’d chosen prior to actually ordering the thing on Amazon. There’s a lot of things you can find out about a laptop online but you can’t find out if it’s got an annoyingly clicky keyboard or an over-sensitive pad that mistakes you reaching for the shift key for you wanting it to highlight acres of carefully crafted prose and then overwriting it in an instant. It’s also hard to tell whether that nice shiny thing in the picture actually translates into something sleek and strokeable or whether you’re going to end up with something that looks like it was designed by a barrel full of drunk monkeys who’d spent too long watching Strictly Come Dancing. I’d never do such a thing to a small independent retailer and I don’t exactly feel that good about doing it to a big one, even if it is one who employs all the monkeys that were rejected from the inebriated laptop design squad on the grounds of taste and decency. I do feel sorry for them though. It must be soul destroying working for a retailer whose business model is fundamentally broken, like realising you’ve signed up for a carriage-building apprenticeship in around 1907, but I simply can’t bring myself to spend £300 more on an identical model laptop just because they’ve employed someone to ‘help’ me do so, especially when by ‘help’ I mean ‘get all the facts wrong and try and sell me an extended warranty’ so we go on with our keyboard testing and stroking while fending off the sales staff and then we pedalled home.

It struck me on the ride back (I have plenty of time to think while the other half disappears over the horizon ahead of me) that we’ll be sorry when the big box is gone and we’ll have to put up with whatever the drunk monkey design teams throw at us. There’s got to be a role somewhere for a showroom for expensive items like laptops where the physical object still counts as much as the specification (see also, trousers). Maybe staffed with actual helpful knowledgeable people who aren’t hampered by the need to flog a useless insurance policy to make up for the fact that the internet has stolen their employer’s business. And maybe (C*met take note) with actual bike racks outside it rather than acres of car parking space.

Oh all right, I’m fantasising now.

*Am I the only female on the planet who considers ‘retail therapy’ to be ‘therapy needed to recover from an afternoon spent shopping’?