Sheep May Safely Graze

November 30, 2012

So there I was yesterday, waiting for my toast to toast while simultaneously getting my stuff together for an overly complicated two-bike, car and train journey*, looking out the window at the back garden wondering if the washing was dry yet, wondering if the sheep were going to eat it, thinking about what I’d have on my…

Hold on – sheep?

sheep on lawn

It’s a sign of how far I’ve come since moving up here that instead of rushing out and attempting to round up the sheep in a bit of a panic, I waited for my toast to be done, buttered it (got to butter your toast straight out of the toaster), and THEN rang up the person who knows whose sheep are whose and informed them that there were straying sheep to be shepherded back to their field, should anyone want them.

Oh and the sheep? I left them on the lawn. They might as well eat the grass in the back garden as anywhere at this time of year and the alternative was chasing them onto the road, which still has a mini glacier across it where the permapuddle has frozen. I didn’t fancy having anyone see the sheep and try and make an emergency stop on the ice… I did retrieve the laundry, though.

* I had to get my main bike down to the bike shop to be fixed, while taking my Brompton on to Embra.

Baby it’s Cold Inside

November 28, 2012

Here’s one unexpected benefit of cycling in the winter: staying warm. No, bear with me. Every week I venture out into the cold night to cycle down to choir, sometimes getting drenched and almost always windblown, and get in to the village hall, where I instantly strip off my scary yellow jacket, gloves and hat, full of the joys of autumn and ready to roll while everyone else is still standing round shivering in their fleeces. Clearly that fifteen minutes of pedalling is enough to raise my core body temperature (why does that sound so much more scientific than ‘warm me up’?) for the evening. Tonight, it already being well below freezing before I set off, I wimped out and asked the other half for a lift down and ended up spending the entire evening huddled in my fleece, absolutely frozen. ‘Now you know how the rest of us feel,’ my fellow choir members said a little resentfully when I complained.* Clearly I’ve been overdoing the whole rosy-cheeked fresh-air-and-exercise thing a tiny bit.

The sad part is, I could probably have cycled down perfectly well because the only bit of the road that was actually icy was the patch outside our gate where the permapuddle has turned into a permarink – but that is skiddy. Even the poor hare we started up on the way back had difficulty cornering as it bolted for our gate, its four paws heading in about five different directions. Might need to get some grit on that before I tackle it on two wheels. If only so I can get out in the cold long enough to get warm…

* You’ll be glad to hear I refrained from suggesting that they could always cycle too.

Tiniest of Plug-ettes

November 27, 2012

Edinburgh Review cover issue 136Regular readers of this blog may be surprised to learn that as well as my regular cycling, gardening, ford-monitoring and general trouble-making activities, I am technically supposed to be a writer. Friends, family AND regular readers of the blog may be even more surprised to learn that I have actually finally written something AND found someone to publish it. No, not the long awaited Difficult Second Novel – honestly, who do you think I am, Thomas Pynchon? – but a short story which will be appearing in the forthcoming issue of the Edinburgh Review. Not only that, but I have decided to dig myself out of my rural isolation, pick the straw out of my hair and scrub the chain grease off my knuckles – I might even change out of my gardening trousers, if I remember – and go to the launch. Well, what can I say, there was a promise of free wine. Anyhoo, if you’re interested, I shall be here, and if you’re even more interested, you can buy a copy of it. I’m sure it’s packed with brilliance.

Oh, and if you’re reading this and going ‘I didn’t know she was a writer! Where can I buy her fabulous and acclaimed and likened-to-Barbara-Vine-no-less first novel?’ then can I direct your attention to the links on my sidebar.

Here endeth the plugging. As you were. Carry on. Nothing to see here, folks, move along…

Clunk Click Every Trip

November 26, 2012

here’s no getting away from it: my bike needs some serious love and attention. Not just the occasional clean and a drop of oil when my chain starts to sound like a basket full of kittens, not even the annual trip down to the bike shop for new brake pads and a new chain. After almost three and a half years, and something over 7000 miles (there’s never a spreadsheet around when you need one), it’s started to accumulate rattles and squeaks and, most recently, an annoying click in the right pedal with every revolution. Dr Google diagnosed it as a problem with the bottom bracket, whereas twitter was divided between it being a loose wheel, my shoelaces, or my aged knees. Having – click – ridden it – click – down to the – click – papershop – click – in wellies* – click – I can eliminate – click – the shoelaces – click – but I can confirm that it’s bloody annoying. I did try having a closer look yesterday but it’s the sort of thing that never happens when the bike isn’t going anywhere. The exercise did remind me, on the other hand, that neither of my wheels is particularly true, there’s something rubbing somewhere on the back wheel, and most of the bolts and exposed parts are rustier than they ought to be

So I think I’ll be taking it (click) down to the local bike shop next time I get a chance, to see if it’s something expensive. My own feeling is that it’s just a worn pedal bearing (she said, almost as if she knew what that meant) but that a bit of renewal of some of the moving parts probably won’t go amiss. And if the clicking continues after all that, then the same might well be said for me.

Then again, I might just keep on riding it until the problem goes away or I stop noticing it. Although to be honest, Twitter wasn’t very encouraging on that score either…

*because of any remaining flooding, not to eliminate the shoelace possibility.

When I Said…

November 24, 2012

… ‘enjoy the scenery while stocks last

foggy start

I was only joking – I didn’t mean for it to get taken away…

winter trees

Winter cycling starts here

Aye Well, it Wilnae Last, Mind

November 23, 2012

Today formed the brief gap between weather warnings, and in fact it was glorious, at least for November. Not much to say about my ride today, but I thought I’d bring you a bit of scenery while stocks last


flooded fields

still looking a bit soggy … and there’s more rain to come

stubble field

Long November shadows on the hills

november sunshine

The camera can’t capture the spectral green of the moss

road flooded

Fortunately I was cycling in wellies…

road home

Heading home…

*being the correct traditional response to any attempt to note that it’s a nice day. Occasionally, if the forecast is for several days of fine, warm weather, then the response may creep into ‘Aye well, enjoy it while it lasts’. In the event of actual summer weather lasting for longer than a week, the locals are all driven indoors by the intolerable heat so I’ve no idea what they might say.

Floody Hell

November 22, 2012

Hmm. It’s almost as if someone’s been taunting the weather gods around here, for we had our second day of continuous heavy rain in less than a week, falling on ground that’s not so much saturated as basically muddy water with a few sheep floating in it. I sat down at around 9:30 to get on with some work and when I looked out of the window an hour or so later the flood in the yard was lapping at the bike shed door and I had to dash out to do an emergency leafectomy on the drains. You know you live in the southwest of Scotland when you can almost get flooded out on the side of a hill. I was supposed to be cycling in to town to put my 2p worth to a local consultation effort, but I took an executive decision that I could email in my remarks instead. Sometimes the whole ‘it’s better by bike’ thing meets cold hard reality and backs down, muttering something about caution being the better part of valour. That said, as I stood at the roadside with the landlord and we watched the cars nosing cautiously through the flood with their bumpers half hanging off, I’m not sure the car drivers were really any better off themselves. At least if the flood waters come up over the drivetrain of your bicycle the worst you suffer is wet feet, not a complete write off. Sometimes the best mode of transport of all is a nice warm dry kitchen and a broadband connection.

Which goes some way to explain why there are no photos of the ford for you this afternoon. Quite apart from the whole missing depth gauge taking the fun out of it for everyone, I didn’t fancy discovering the hard way that the flooding on the road was over welly depth. I’m dedicated to the blog, but not that dedicated…

More tomorrow, if I’m spared.

A True Knight of the Road

November 20, 2012

I had an encounter with a wonderfully courteous lorry driver today.

No, really.

In fact, it was even a quarry lorry driver. They’re a bit of a bugbear around here, quarry lorries. Our road and Nearest Village form a massive shortcut between the local quarry and Big A Road. Technically, the quarry lorries aren’t supposed to go down our road because in many places it’s basically as wide as a quarry lorry (if the hedgecutters have been past recently) and it’s also made out of tarmac about as durable as cheese. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, the lorries still take the shortcut and so this morning as I set off in the rain for a conference on marketing sustainable travel, musing that probably lesson one was going to be ‘don’t turn up all wet and bedraggled from coming on your bike’, I wasn’t surprised to hear a lorry coming up behind me. I was just whooshing down one hill preparatory to tackling the next, and it was a point where the road does actually widen out enough that a lorry could pass a bike. Unfortunately, it was also at a point where an enormous puddle had spread out halfway across the road. I knew what was going to happen next. Lorry sees cyclist. Lorry *must* overtake cyclist. Lorry overtakes cyclist just as cyclist has choice between cycling through the puddle and cycling under the lorry. I was gritting my teeth and preparing to plunge through the puddle when I noticed something odd. The lorry was not overtaking me. Not only that, but it wasn’t accelerating to overtake me. In fact, it was dropping back, giving me loads of room to pull out around the puddle, and pull back in in time for it to – safely and courteously – pass me before the road narrowed again. After I’d picked my jaw up off the floor, I gave him a grateful wave and got two cheery toots of the horn in reply.

So thank you, quarry lorry driver, for making my morning. Although really, you still shouldn’t be using that road …

Due Diligence

November 19, 2012

Another month, another rain warning, and with heavy rain overnight continuing into the morning our main concern wasn’t so much the level of the ford as the level in the yard, but fortunately serious flooding was averted before we had to move the bikes to higher ground

Bigtown may not have been so lucky, if the SEPA alerts were anything to go by. There was some excitement on Twitter when someone found the Bigtown webcam showing major flooding along the river until someone pointed out that the Bigtown webcam had been showing major flooding along the river since 2009, when the major flooding reached the webcam and broke it. This tells you pretty much everything you want to know about how connected we are up here.

But that’s not what you want to know, you want to know what the level is on the ford. And of course I slogged down there as soon as the rain had stopped to check for you. Not soon enough to catch the water at its height, if the high water mark on the road is anything to go by. And of course they haven’t fixed the depth gauge yet so the answer is I don’t know. (Apologies for the quality of the pics: cameraphones and dull November afternoons don’t really mix)

I wonder if it would be an unwarranted abuse of my position on the community council to press for the ford depth gauge to get replaced as a matter of urgency? All in the interests of road safety, naturally…


for anyone feeling that the ford update service is lacking in these parts I’m grateful to @Cha0tic on twitter for this link

Making Mountains

November 17, 2012


I’ve never quite understood what it is about moles that gets gardeners so worked up. Sure, they can turn a lawn into an ankle-twisting assault course (I’m not entirely certain how they haven’t drowned in their tunnels this last summer, so soggy has the grass become), but compared to rabbits (and mice) they hardly really count as a pest. If you ever see one in person they are so strange and so endearing, it’s hard to know how anyone can bear to send for the mole catcher or attempt to polish them off.

molehills in leek bed

Well, that’s one way to earth up your leeks I suppose

Of course, that was before they stopped excavating the lawn and turned their attention to my vegetable patch, and specifically my leeks, instead… although in truth, my leeks are not up to much this year, half of them having bolted and the other half barely bigger than my spring onions (which are still going strong). So on the whole, although I’d prefer it if they didn’t re-engineer my raised beds with their molehills, I’m not quite at the stage of making a mountain out of it. Ask me again when they start using my parsnips for pit props… or I put my welly through one of their tunnels.

broad bean

Last of the summer broad beans


But all is not doom and gloom – lurking among the (still-flowering) broad beans, I found this surprise. Anyone got a recipe for just one pod of broad beans? The rest, I’m afraid, got sent to the compost heap. They might still be hopeful of producing beans, but there are no pollinators around to help them out. I also noticed a tiny, perfect, cauliflower lurking amid the leaves, and the purple sprouting broccoli seems to have given up all thought of sticking to its spring schedule and continues to sprout away like mad. Might be time for another of my (un)seasonal veg medleys

Anyone else’s garden still throwing up the odd surprise?