Snug as a Bug in a Rug

April 30, 2013

The landlords spent this morning topping up the insulation in our loft which is exciting – at this rate, we may even get the roof fixed and the window in our bedroom replaced which has been jammed slightly open since before the worst of the snow. Apparently the new window will actually be double glazed when it arrives, which has left me looking thoughtfully at all the other windows. It would, of course, be terrible if any more of them were to suffer accidental damage at the hands of a careless tenant…

Naturally all this has happened on the warmest day of the year to date – could it be that spring has actually sprung? Moderate clout casting (I know, reckless or what) has even taken place: I am down to just the one jumper and have put the lobster gloves away although not very far. I’m still firmly sewn into my merino baselayers though. There’s reckless and there’s downright foolhardy and if last summer was anything to go by I’ll still be wearing my thermals in July…

No Mean City

April 29, 2013

This weekend saw me in Glasgow for the Scottish Bike Show where I was slightly unofficially handing out Pedal on Parliament flyers (sample conversation: Me: ‘have you heard of Pedal on Parliament? We’re campaigning for safer cycling in Scotland.’ Passing Punter: ‘No thanks.’ Me: ‘Do you not want safer cycling then?’ PP: ‘nah, I prefer it more dangerous myself.’ I really must work on my patter, but you’ve got to love the Glasgow sense of humour) with thanks to the Bike Station who let us use a corner of their stand. I was staying with Glasgow cyclist and fellow POP organiser Dave Brennan, aka Magnatom, who regularly posts his video adventures of close encounters with Glasgow drivers who have either lost their sense of humour altogether or have a rather twisted one. He lives outside the city, which meant an 8 mile cycle back on some rather challenging roads (at one point he said, reassuringly, ‘it’s all right, we won’t actually end up on the motorway’ as we followed signs to the M8 on a dual carriageway that was already an urban motorway in all but name).

We must have made quite a sight – Dave was on a slick road bike in the full lycra gear, cameras mounted fore and aft, while I was following along behind on a bike which was making a noise like a basketful of kittens.* Dave was going at what I suspect was half his normal speed so I kept up easily and surprisingly it wasn’t too daunting, at least in the company of someone else and on a weekend when the roads weren’t too busy. It’s not a route I’d dare cycle in rush hour – at one point we had to cut across two lanes of traffic to avoid being sucked onto the motorway which is only really possible to do on roads like that when you’ve got empty lanes to cut across (or complete gridlock I suppose). Fortunately the traffic was also on its best behaviour with just the one driver hooting at us and a couple of close passes, including one where the driver decided to swerve in towards us while passing, which is always extra charming. This was balanced by a couple of drivers who showed exemplary patience including an Asda lorry who waited behind us for a long stretch before finding somewhere to pass safely – given that Glasgow has potholes that are reputedly visible from space, such wiggle room is appreciated.

Glasgow is still a car-dominated city – but it’s changing too. There’s a segregated bike lane on the way to the velodrome (well, I suppose they had to, didn’t they?) that is – adjusted for being in the UK – pretty good: nice surface, wide enough to cycle two abreast (as long as nobody’s coming the other way which mostly there wasn’t), has right of way across side streets, sloping kerbs (on one side, anyway); it even manages to take you past a bus stop rather than into the side of it. It’s a slight shame that at one end you have to cut across three lanes of traffic to get to it, because it’s only on one side of the street – and other the other end it turns into a half-hearted shared use path with a caged toucan crossing to the velodrome itself that will be completely unusable if more than 3 or 4 cyclists try and cross, oh and it’s only about a mile long and is totally unsignposted if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but these are mere details in the great scheme of things. The council seems determined that the Commonwealth Games next year will be car free and is building bike routes as well as public transport to support it although it is sometimes going about it in the usual bizarre UK fashion. For instance, it has a mad policy of only signposting bike routes to places up to 30 minutes away – at Townmouse speed, rather than Magnatom speed, I suspect – which means that anyone coming out of the main station looking for the mountain biking will have a nice signposted cycle route the whole way … but only if they know that they are heading via Hampden Park. I left the council guy at the bike show (who I suspect agreed with me) with some full and frank feedback on that one.

Still, I made it home, and enjoyed my ride back from the station yesterday all the more, knowing that the worst hazard I was likely to encounter was a suicidal pheasant. Dave wasn’t quite so lucky – his ride home on Sunday was enlivened by an enraged driver who effectively attempted to use his car as a weapon. It’s just fortunate Dave’s brakes, and undoubtedly his reflexes, are in better nick than mine. While I enjoyed my adventures on Glasgow’s roads in the same way I enjoyed skiing, or rather surviving skiing, I’m glad I wasn’t around for that. From now on I think I’ll listen to my inner wuss and continue to stick to the cycling shallow end until our campaign for safer cycling has prevailed (so please sign this, if you haven’t already, and come out and support this if you can…)

* I do oil my chain, honest, but it’s been a long hard winter

School Run

April 26, 2013

Yesterday I was helping out at the village school bike picnic. Nearest Village School has a grand total of 16 pupils (it’s community council policy to greet all newcomers to the catchment area of breeding age with a welcome pack of Viagra and a packet of condoms with some sneaky holes in them*) and has been enthusiastically participating in the Big Pedal. They decided to celebrate with a ride to the reservoir for the bigger ones, and some bike skills in the playground for pretty much all of them and I volunteered to help the local Sustrans iBike officer out. The day, naturally, dawned wet and promised to stay wet and I thought the weather might put a dampener on the proceedings but these are rural kids who had come prepared with raincoats and it was only really the adults that seemed bothered by a little bit of water coming out of the sky – in fact, the kids on the ride took great delight in riding through every puddle they could find, even the more delicate looking girls.

After the Sustrans officer had fettled the bikes into something resembling working order, or at least got the brakes braking and the handlebars on the right way round, and a bit of cycling round cones in the playground, the nine bigger kids set off in two groups to cycle to the picnic site. I had the slower group, including two girls whose bikes were stuck in top gear, one girl whose bike was stuck in bottom gear, one tiny girl who appeared to be composed of pure energy and got up the hills by sheer force of will alone, and a small boy who stuck at the back well away from the resulting procession of pinkness, plus the playground assistant on a bike shaped object that looked like it weighed half a ton. Three miles – quite rolling miles, with a sharp hill at the end even I don’t like riding up – suddenly seemed quite a long way. The girls – I had forgotten this about little girls – made up a whole series of additional rules about who could do what on the ride (my only instructions were don’t overtake me, go in single file when a car comes, and avoid the puddles, and fat lot of use the last one was) and wasted quite a lot of breath attempting to enforce them. The first real hill had most of them getting off and walking, and there were some dubious looking faces at the thought of carrying on, but they stuck with it and two of them even made it up the hill at the end – which I had renamed heartbreak hill, because if you’re going to be defeated by a hill, it’s better if it has a name. There was then much whooping and squealing as we reached the final flat bit and saw the rest of the school waiting for us. ‘I think this is the proudest of myself I’ve ever been,’ I heard one of the little girls say to herself as we finished.

The ride back was, thankfully, largely downhill and – despite being overtaken by the bigger boys – I think we were all pretty proud of ourselves as we rolled back into the school, myself included, if only because the same number of kids came back as went out. It did open my eyes to the dreadfulness of the average kid’s bike though – it’s not just that the gears and the brakes didn’t work that well, but they were so badly designed, with no mudguards, brakes that small hands couldn’t reach, grip shifts that weren’t aligned with the gears, heavy suspension systems. As a way of putting kids off using bikes they couldn’t really be bettered. And yet, somehow, the kids seemed to have a blast anyway…

Still, I doubt that if the entire school was magically kitted out with beautifully maintained Islabikes that the kids would start cycling in in great numbers. And I’m not going to pretend that one bike picnic and a led ride is going to suddenly transform the Nearest Village school run into something the Dutch might recognise. But if you get a chance to help out at a cycling event for schools like this I urge you to take it anyway – if not for the kids’ sake, then for your own. There’s nothing like seeing the sense of achievement on their faces as they get from somewhere to somewhere else on their own two wheels to gladden even the most jaded cycling campaigner’s heart…

*not really, but the chairman looked thoughtful when I proposed it at the last meeting.

We’re Back

April 25, 2013

We’re home again, having arrived to find two mild disasters: the Rayburn was spluttering its last, and some toerag has flytipped a bunch of tyres in the river at the ford (just to add insult to injury, they were dumped there the night after the village litter pick). The Rayburn will probably stay off now as it’s not worth getting it serviced given we would have been turning it off at the end of May anyway which means no more warm clothes in the morning, among other things. I keep catching myself leaning against it, hoping for some warmth and comfort. As for the tyres, the council won’t do anything because they’re on private land. Perhaps we should have set up that webcam after all…

But I’m not going to worry about any of those things right now. I promised you holiday snaps, dammit, and holiday snaps you shall have. Whether you want them or not, frankly

river pool water_seaweed beach_sheep beachcombing rock_pool tree_roots

Sign here…

April 24, 2013

I will blog properly tomorrow – with holiday snaps and everything – but meanwhile if you’re a UK citizen or a UK resident could you take a moment to sign this please. It’s important.

How High…

April 23, 2013

… do you have to climb to justify a Mars Bar brownie? With extra cream…

view from the mountain

Do you think this might be enough?

Actually, as it happened, they were out of Mars Bar brownies so we had to make do with Oreo (me) and Smartie (the other half) ones instead which were good but didn’t have quite the gooey unctuousness of the Mars Bar ones. Although I suspect the calorific values were about the same.


April 22, 2013

OK Northern Ireland, I love your scenery, I love your friendly people who are the nicest in the world except when they’re trying to kill each other (and that even includes the man who greeted me with a cheery ‘keep going girl’ from the footpath as I slogged up a hill into the wind on the Brompton), I even love your weather which, for someone who is used to South West Scotland, counts almost as semi-arid although I could do without your omni-directional headwinds – but what is it with your dogs? Twice in the last two days I have had a loose dog chase after me on the bike, snapping and snarling, something I’ve rarely had to worry about anywhere else.

Yesterday we were heading down the coast road when two dogs emerged from a driveway and one shot across the road (my heart was in my mouth because it’s a fast road) to sprint along beside me barking in fury. And then this afternoon, returning from the supermarket, a Jack Russell (regular readers will remember I’ve had issues with them before) was instantly transformed from mild-mannered family pet to a one-dog wolf pack, albeit quite a small one, snarling at my wheels and looking ready to keep chasing me across side streets regardless of any traffic. Both times the dogs had let the other half go by and only took issue with me. I’m not sure if it’s because one bike might be just about allowed to pass but TWO is beyond provocation – or if it’s something about the Brompton that sets them off. Come to think of it, I’ve passed grown men on bikes that have reacted in similar ways …

Either way, I haven’t really felt in any danger. In fact – and I think this a far more effective Britishness test than which cricket team I support – both times I was more worried for the dog’s safety than my own. I did wonder whether I ought to have stopped rather than risk having them hit by a car but I wasn’t really sure whether I was going to be able to get across the finer points of the green cross code to an enraged canine, so I took the coward’s way out and kept going until they gave up. I suppose it’s good to know I can outride a mutt, even on a Brompton, uphill, and into the wind.

Perfect Day. Well, Almost…

April 20, 2013

The sun came out properly today, adjusted for being in Ireland. I had stuff to do in the morning but just before lunch I was done and we were freed to get the bikes out for a potter down to the shops for lunch and onward for an adventure. As I was waiting for the other half outside the local Laldi or Aldl – I can never remember which one it is – a family of five showed up on bikes: Mum, Dad with trailerbike and sleeping toddler, two boys on mountain bikes. The mother & I got chatting about the need for more bike lanes (I honestly don’t steer these conversations at all, she started it) as we waited for our prospective partners and watched the cars steadily gridlock themselves in their hunt for the elusive Last Parking Space in Newcastle. They then cheerfully gave us directions to a place where we could watch seals, backed up by annotations from the wee boys (‘turn left at the derelict house’ ‘the stinky house that’s all broken down’ ‘go down to your left and there’s a really nice track’ ‘it’s not nice at all it’s really bumpy’) and off we set with the wind for once on our backs.

We found the spot and picnicked high in the sand dunes watching the seals lie on the beach across the inlet like so many sleeping-bagged revellers after a hard night partying. Occasionally one would lollop in and out of the sea and then collapse on the sand further up, or lie on its back with its flippers in the air with every appearance of satisfaction. The mountains were half veiled with cloud and the beach was misted with vapour rising off the wet sand and there was barely a soul about, probably because the red flag* was flying and the beach was technically a free-fire zone. We headed back into the wind having decided that the extremely wide and deserted pavement beside the 60mph road was really a cycle path, they just hadn’t got around to signing it as such. And then we got onto the actual cycle track which is pretty good – wide, with plenty of space for both bikes and pedestrians. Although you are supposed to give way at every side street, in practice the cars give way to you (they also carefully make sure when they park on the pavement they take up the whole of the pedestrian side and keep the bike part clear, which is a little odd) – with one driver who was waiting for a gap in the traffic even reversing so I could get past him easily. It was hard not to take a certain pleasure in whizzing past the queue of traffic waiting to get into town, and in nipping in and out of the gridlocked cars still looking for that elusive parking spot – indeed some of them might actually have been stuck circling the place since the morning.

And then, as it was a sunny day in a seaside town, there was nothing for it but we needed to have an ice cream. And this is where the ‘almost’ part comes in – I was awkwardly manhandling my Brompton down a couple of steps to get to a bench on the promenade when *plop* *aargh* … my double cone (nutella-flavour on one side, chocolate on the other) had broken and was now nothing more than an empty stump and the ice cream was on the floor.

It’s a sign that I’m 44, not 4, that I managed not to have a meltdown then and there. But it was hard won. And as KarlOnSea put it on twitter:

It’s almost as though he was there…

*Army range, not communists

Bit Windy

April 18, 2013

It’s never a good sign when you’re checking in for a ferry and unwarily opening the car door results in it being almost snatched off its hinges by the wind… I have to admit that we sat in the queue to drive on to the Belfast Ferry with some trepidation, not helped by the excellent fried lunch (and extra cake) courtesy of the Tea Pot* on the way.

Fortunately, although the winds were gale force – and the waves were crashing right over the front of the ferry in an alarming way – ferry technology has moved on since I was a kid and the Irish crossings used to be completely awash with vomit. Hard concentration on the horizon meant we got across with our lunch intact. And although it’s been raining on and off since we arrived, it’s also been sunny at the same time which counts as a win in my book, albeit on points and after extra time. I could do without the town’s awesome bi-directional headwinds though: cycling or walking, whichever way you go, it’s always blowing a gale right in your face. How do they do that?

* Highly recommended. It’s basically a shed on the A75 as you drive to Stranraer where they do good if basic nosh plus stupendous home made cakes at below average prices in direct contrast to the depressing lowest common denominator at whatever they think they can get away with that the ferries serve up. Especially now the ferry terminal is out in the middle of nowhere so you’re stuck with their nasty coffee and the substance known as ‘tastes like fresh milk’ which I have objected to before and will object to again every time I encounter it.

Spawn of the …

April 17, 2013

… frog, presumably. I was just rinsing off my boots in the permapuddle that stretches across our drive after some last-minute what-the-hell-was-I-thinking-agreeing-to-a-week-away-in-April gardening* when I noticed that it had taken on a certain pond-like aspect


Either mama frog has faith in our having another wet summer, or her babies had all been washed out of the top pond during the recent rain. I didn’t want them run over (boy would that take ages to report to the Splatter Project – 479 individually squashed tadpoles) so I decided to transport them back up to the pond. As there genuinely is a hole in my main gardening bucket, dear Henry, I used a 5-litre ice cream tub instead, and each blob there pretty much filled it, so that’s a lot of frogspawn. I can tell you now, persuading it into the ice cream tub without – ewww – touching it, is not child’s play (actually, come to think of it, for a certain value of child, that’s *exactly* what it is. It’s not adult friendly though). Put it this way, it put me in mind of the old joke about the spittoon, which is too revolting to recount here.

Anyway, I managed it, the frogspawn have been moved where they may undoubtedly end up being eaten but at least won’t be run over. And hopefully when we get back there will be developments to report…

frogspawn closeup

*tatties, onions, garlic, parsnips and broad beans all planted out…