March 29, 2013

Both the bike and I were a tad overdressed on our run down to the papershop this morning – it with its ice tyres rattling over bone-dry tarmac, and me having to discard buff and unzip my jacket, at least until I turned for home and back into the biting east wind. It’s nice to remember what it’s like to be too warm, but a bit bizarre as I’m still cycling down through a narrow carved canyon of snow in places

snow melting

The hillsides have taken on a rather piebald aspect, depending on where the snow was blown away or where it gathered behind sheltered walls. Or was just piled up in dirty great piles, dirty being the operative word…

snow piles

And somewhere under these waves of snow our bluebells lurk. Maybe in a month or two, we’ll see them…

snow in waves under the trees

Meanwhile, we’re just happy to have glimpsed the sun.

snow on the hills

Winter Gardening

March 28, 2013

First find your leeks…

snow covered leeks

Actually, scratch that – first find your basket…

snow covered basket

In the interests of strict accuracy these pictures were taken a couple of days back, and today we’ve had actual sunshine and, if not warmth, at least the return of sensation to our fingers and toes. The snow is also gradually melting, although I expect the big piles along the roadsides will be with us for a while.

I had hoped that the snow would offer me one benefit – I might find out who or what has been eating my kale, which has basically been reduced to sticks. Yesterday, the other half reported pheasant footprints around the kale bed in the snow, so I went up this afternoon to get documentary proof only to discover this:

non-snow-covered kale

The miscreant has obviously been watching CSI:Bigtown and has decided to cover its tracks. As this would make it some kind of garden criminal mastermind, I think we can pretty well eliminate pheasants from our enquiries…


I wish a certain grey furry miscreant would learn the same trick

muddy cat footprints


March 26, 2013

I really wasn’t expecting much of my ride to the papershop this morning. To be honest, I was only going out to see whether the snow had been flattened down enough that I could pick my way through the worst bits and I was fully expecting to have to turn round long before I’d got anywhere near Papershop village but look!

wall of snow

It was very odd to be cycling between walls of snow, head high in places, especially with the hillsides mostly green and free of the stuff. It seems all the roads around have been ploughed, even the ford road (scraping off several years’ accumulation of mud and vegetation in the process). It’s narrow though – exactly a vehicle’s width in most places. A couple of times I had to tuck myself into a niche in the snow to let an oncoming vehicle through – and had a nice chat with the white van man who stopped to wind down his window to say thank you. For once round here the bike really was the quicker option, once you factor in reversing half a mile to find a space where two cars can pass…

I’m not the only one who prefers to make direct contact with the ground, picking her way very carefully through the deeper bits of snow …

cat and snow

Although I noticed that when she thought there was a mouse to hunt, she forgot all about it

cat footprints

In other news, it’s been trying to snow all day, but I’m ignoring it.

The Fine Art of Knowing when to Quit

March 25, 2013

Marvellous as they are, my ice tyres don’t quite manage to cope with the situation where all the snow in the surrounding fields has been blown into the road where it has gone just slushy enough to make even the most intrepid cyclist have to deploy God’s stabilisers just to stay upright.

snow covered road

I had a feeling that every dip and hollow between Nearest Village and the Papershop was going to be similar and so, not being all that intrepid, I turned round and deployed the other half in a car instead.

huge pile of snow

It’s going to be fun when this lot melts…

lambs getting fed

But after dire stories in the news about buried sheep, I was relieved to see these little chaps looking so chipper. Clearly right inside the feed bucket is the place to be this March…

Snowed Up

March 23, 2013

snowy yard

Yup, it snowed again last night.

We’re not exactly snowed in – in fact parts of our road are actually visible thanks to some ploughing and gritting yesterday. But we had no pressing reason to dig our car out of the snowdrift it was in this morning so we took the local police advice (‘Do not drive’ – note there was no messing about with ‘is your journey really necessary?’ or ‘take extra care and allow more time to get to your destination’) and holed up beside the Rayburn and stayed warm.


My twitter feed was full of those further west having it much worse than us – someone stuck in their car in the snow overnight and having to walk the last mile home, someone who had to dig themselves out of their own house after the snow overtopped their front door, a ‘last tweet’ as someone’s mobile died, their power having been off for 24 hours. So it felt like a luxury to be able to go for a walk for the hell of it – and when we were sick of wading through thigh-high drifts – just turn around and yomp home (top tip for those playing the page’s part in the Good King Wenceslas reenactment: make sure you step off on the correct foot because once you’re thigh deep in someone else’s footprints it’s hard to change legs so you have to weave extravagantly from side to side putting your left leg into the right hand footprint and vice versa)


As for us, apart from a distressing lack of a weekend paper, so far the only thing we have run out of is salad, which to be honest hardly counts as a hardship. I expect we’ll get sick of it soon, but for now we’ve decided to enjoy it while we can.

There are more snowy pics – for those who like that sort of thing – on my flickr stream

Spring Offensive

March 22, 2013


I wasn’t really worried about today’s forecast snow until someone mentioned in the pub last night that rain from the west was due to meet a cold blast coming in from the east. If we know anything about rain from the west round here, it’s that it keeps on coming, and we’ve been feeling enough of the east wind in recent days to know it doesn’t muck about much either. So I wasn’t all that surprised to wake up this morning to snow on the ground; having it piled a foot deep against the front door was a different matter.

bench in the snow

cat_footprintsFortunately we had food, power (unlike many), plentiful wood and a roof over our heads so we just hunkered down to sit it out. The hard part was getting the cat fed – we feed her over at the neighbour’s to avoid her moving in on us permanently, so first we had to persuade her out of our house where she’d spent the night and into the cat-deep* snowdrifts. She doesn’t take kindly to being picked up and if there’s anything more squirmy than a cat that wants DOWN I’ve never encountered it. In the end, the other half managed to maintain a grip on her as far as the shovelled path he’d made and we got her safely home. And then the neighbour, bless him, who’d battled down from Fife and got out of his van with a thousand-yard stare when he finally arrived, had bought extra milk and bread for us so we have no need to go anywhere until it’s gone. Apart from nipping out to take some photos for the blog, of course…

snowy hillside

We’ve had as much snow before – indeed we’ve probably had as much snow this winter – but we’ve never seen it drifting like this or piled so high. Astoundingly, the council sent a snow plough and gritter round this afternoon, which means it must be *really* bad – and it’s still snowing …

snowy stream

Time to get the ice tyres on again? Or just give up and hibernate till May?

*Slight exaggeration

Cat on a Hot Tin Rayburn

March 21, 2013

Happiness is…


… your own stool by the Rayburn

In the interests of strict accuracy, that is supposed to be MY stool by the Rayburn but we’re cat sitting again and the cat and I have been conducting an undeclared turf war over this prime bit of kitchen territory. I think the cat’s won though, as MY stool has had to be moved from a position where I could sit with my back against the Rayburn because the cat had a tendency to fall asleep on it and then stretch luxuriously on waking, pressing her paws against the hot metal. It turns out it takes a little bit of time for the message that your paws are burning to get through to a cat brain (although when it does, boy the cat can move). We wouldn’t want her damaging herself under our care, so we have moved the stool to a safe stretching distance and if that inconveniences anyone else in the house well, she’s a cat, and she doesn’t give a stuff, frankly.


Someone remind me what cats are for again?

Bike Hourish

March 20, 2013

I hadn’t been paying too much attention to Bike Hour – but then I came across its code of conduct and it tickled me enough to consider taking part. Bike Hour is the least organised and most flexible of any cycling event – it’s less a ride and more a state of mind: pared down to its essentials, it asks you to go for a bike ride between 6pm and 7pm (your time) on each of the equinoxes. Its purpose as far as I can tell is to make bikes more visible, but without the in-your-faceness of Critical Mass and without the organisational effort of (say) a mass bike ride on your local legislature, although they do have some cool posters.

Normally at 6pm I would be riding down to choir but it wasn’t on this evening so I was free and despite the rawish weather I decided to join in despite the fact that at all good Scottish people were likely to be indoors having their tea. The only non motorised transport I saw was a horse and rider (I don’t follow any horsey people on twitter: do they also have a #horsehour?) but who knows, perhaps the three cars that passed me got the message. Whatever the message actually is…

Still, it gave me a chance to go for a ride that wasn’t for any real purpose and not in any real rush and I took the opportunity to take some photos while the light held. I didn’t think I’d be out that long, but in the end I was back just after 7 as the light was almost gone.  For the first day of spring it was pretty wintry, but there were a few signs of changes on the way. Indeed, I think perhaps I might repeat the experiment in a month or so’s time to see what changes have been wrought…

bikehour_7 bikehour_8 bikehour_9 bikehour_10 bikehour_2 bikehour_4 bikehour_6

Headwind out…

March 18, 2013

Cycling out to the papershop this morning, I wondered which was worse: sailing out all unknowing on a tailwind and only realising on your way back, or heading out in the full knowledge that you will have the biting east wind in your face every slow grinding mile of the way home.

And then I cycled out to Bigtown in the afternoon and on the way back I got my answer: worst of all is cycling out into a headwind and then coming back to discover that the wind has shifted north and is not at your back but coming at you crossways all the way home. For a headwind is a headwind is a headwind – it can come at you from almost 90 degrees on either side and still be in your face – but a tailwind is only a tailwind when it’s got it’s hand on your back and is pushing you home. And that almost never happens.

Still never mind all that, I bring you Important Ford News:

mended ford sign

Someone has fixed the sign! Although whether it was the council, or just someone who waded in to retrieve the broken off half of the depth gauge and mended it (looks like they cleaned it too) I don’t yet know. If so, my money would be on the postman, who has form on this matter


March 16, 2013

I had a mechanical malfunction on the bike on Monday – my back wheel managed to lock up as I was pulling onto a roundabout, leaving me stranded. I was fortunately not too far onto the roundabout, and hadn’t made too aggressive a jump into a gap in the traffic, so I was able to get myself and my crippled bike off the roundabout and onto the verge and I even managed to fix it with a minimum of swearing and looking around hoping somebody would come and rescue an obvious damsel in distress.*

Anyway, once rolling again I decided to avoid that roundabout at least until I was certain my bike wouldn’t let me down again. It’s already the scariest bit of my journey into Bigtown – a two-lane roundabout where a major trunk road meets a minor residential road, with the traffic mostly assuming it can go straight on. The only way to cross is to find your gap and go for it as hard and as fast as possible, using all your cyclecraft skills to hold your lane, while simultaneously assuming that you are invisible and hence prepared to either accelerate like a madwoman or slam on the brakes when – regardless of your road positioning, amount of hi-vis or lights visible from space – White Van Man decides to pull onto the bit of the roundabout that you were going to be on next. As it happens, there are toucan crossings on both sides of the roundabout allowing cyclists to cross without having to get the bit between their teeth and ride as if the very hounds of hell were after them, so I resolved to use those instead.

This resolve lasted approximately two trips before I reverted back to the roundabout. It’s not that I want the adrenaline rush or even prove that I’ve as much right to the road as any other traffic, etc. etc. etc. It’s just that I haven’t got all bloody day. And that’s approximately what it takes to use the toucans. For a start, there are two of them, one for each carriageway of the road, and they’re not synchronised in any way, because lord knows, someone might want to cross one half of the road but not the other half and spend the rest of the week standing on a traffic island. For another start, they take forever to change – because we mustn’t impede the flow of traffic to let people cross, now, must we? And for a third start, they’re all caged in with ‘pigpens’ so that even if you cross the first half and see a gap where you could nip through and cross the second you have to manoeuvre your bike around Hampton Court Maze first by which time the moment is lost. Add in another bike – or a pushchair – and the whole traffic island becomes effectively gridlocked. As you stand there, pressing buttons and waiting while whole aeons pass, watching the sun glint off the ‘cyclists dismount’ signs that festoon the shared use paths around you, it’s pretty clear where bikes and pedestrians stand in the great scheme of things. We’re not anything like as important as the grown ups in their cars, swooshing off the bypass up to Glasgow. Indeed, we’re not even as important as the people nipping into the drive-thru McDonalds on the corner.

The part of Bigtown in question is one of the poorest in the county, and one that sees some of the highest bike usage around. The local primary school’s racks are always filled with bikes – even in the depths of winter – and 17% of pupils ride to school. But I’ll bet you when they grow up those kids will get a car as soon as they can afford one. Why wouldn’t they? Everything about the roads around them tells them that’s what they’re supposed to do. If Bigtown really wanted to see people cycling they’d build roundabouts like these – but instead we design cycle facilities as if cycling was like smoking: something a few addicts might do because they can’t help it, but not something to be encouraged.

*not, I hasten to add, that all damsels *need* rescuing, although sometimes they wouldn’t mind.