The Puncture Fairy always Knocks Twice

May 31, 2013

Huh. Did I say I’d be taking my big bike to Newcastle? Silly me. I was heading out for the paper this morning – a glorious, glorious May morning, all scented with bluebells and loud with birds – when badumm, badumm, badumm, I became aware that I had a flat. Hmm. I didn’t have much time for cycling, as I had a busy day so I took a chance and pumped the back tyre up as hard as I could to see if it would hold.* Hold it did until I got the paper shop and part of the way back when badumm, badumm, badumm – down it went again. What followed was what I’m rebranding the ‘puncture full body workout’: pump up tyre as hard as possible, hop on bike, pedal as hard and as fast as you can until it goes flat, hop off, pump up again, rinse and repeat until the interval between one flat and the next gets so short that you’re better of walking home (about a mile away in my case).

Well, no matter, I’m a big girl and I know how to fix a puncture with only a few appeals for help from the other half, so I left my bike out by the bench thinking I’d get to it later and have a nice excuse to sit in the sun waiting for the glue to dry. Lunchtime came around, and I was sitting on the bench eating my sandwich and enjoying a break when pfffffffffft. A strange noise. A noise exactly like air coming out of a tyre. Except that my bike was just sitting there unridden and couldn’t possibly have got another puncture.

Except that it had. According to twitter, this can happen, especially when your inner tubes are more patch that tube and your tyres heat up in the sun. I can’t say it’s something I’d ever heard of, but then again, my bike doesn’t get to spend a lot of time in the sun. So now I have two flat tyres and what are clearly some dodgy inner tubes and I have decided it might be time to treat myself to some new ones.** So it looks like the Brompton SHALL go to the Cycling Embassy Ball after all. Here’s hoping all that pumping has done wonders for my upper body strength…

*I’m not entirely sure what sort of magical self-healing puncture I thought I had, but you know, maybe one day tyres will just fix themselves. It might happen. It never has though

** inner tubes, not bikes. Although…

All Politics is Local

May 30, 2013

From the (not very) sublime to the (only faintly) ridiculous – having trod the corridors of power on Tuesday, Monday will see me back at the community council, discussing – I feel sure, because the village speaks of nothing else these days – potholes*. Oh and bus shelters, but that’s another story.

That said, while meeting with the minister leaves you with nothing but the dawning realisation that you have been fobbed off, the community council would appear to wield more power. For with the meeting looming and the agenda distributed, lo and behold we have had another visit from the tarmac fairy along our road, the road that, coincidentally, 50% of the community council will drive down to attend the meeting. And this time she has actually managed to lay some relatively flat tarmac, rather than the usual dropped-from-a-spade-and-trod-down-will-this-do job.

It doesn’t exactly amount to a properly fixed road, but it reduces the chances of me personally flying off my bike and landing in a patch of nettles by approximately 50%.

Safer cycling, indeed

* With a possible side excursion into dog poo

Gadding About

May 29, 2013

I was off on my travels again yesterday to Edinburgh; just your everyday multi-modal journey: brompton – bus – train – foot – foot again – sprint to catch train to avoid the dreaded rail replacement bus service – brompton – train – and finally a lift home by car courtesy of the other half. The purpose was a meeting with the minister of transport (I managed to avoid derailing our allotted half hour with a diatribe on the contradiction in terms that is the rail replacement bus service) which is the sort of thing which happens when you assemble 3999 others to pedal with you on parliament. Whether it leads to anything other than another glimpse of the labyrinthine interior of the Scottish Parliament and a fleeting feeling of self-importance, time will tell.

And then on Saturday I’m off to the Cycling Embassy AGM which I’ve cunningly arranged to be in Newcastle so it’s easy for me to get to on a train that takes proper big bikes. Lovely and handy as the Brompton is, I have discovered a downside to it. Once folded, it is too heavy for me to easily lift, which means lugging it about with it banging against my leg with every step. Throw in a flight of stairs or two, and you end up with legs covered in bruises. Time to work on my upper body strength – or my tan by way of disguise. Does anyone have a programme of Brompton-lifting exercises I could try? Because the tan part isn’t going to be easy…

Ford Update

May 27, 2013


An administrative error with the weather gods, and a miraculously dry few days has finally allowed me to reveal important ford developments

dry fordWe’ve been watching with interest as each week the epic pothole we’ve been able to glimpse through the flowing water has grown larger, and more loose chunks of road have appeared. With it finally dried up for the first time in about 12 months, it was finally revealed in all its glory. The picture hardly does it justice; the rest of the road bed is basically just lying in loose chunks ready for the next deluge. If this continues, they’re going to have to recalibrate the depth gauge (or fix the pothole – but that will never happen).

ford pothole

We’ve also been watching with interest as the tadpoles in the ditches on either side of the road beyond have been developing into frogs. Ordinarily, I would have thought that betting on the water not completely drying up before they grew legs and lungs would be a sure thing around here, but yesterday it wasn’t looking good for our proto frog heroes. While they’ve been getting larger, and fewer, they’ve gradually been confined into smaller and smaller amounts of water and it was beginning to be like one of those grim nature documentaries where the waterhole inexorably dries up under the African sun, only in miniature and without much in the way of sun. If the footprints in the mud were anything to go by, the local birdlife were also paying close attention – I imagine picking off tadpoles in a rapidly diminishing puddle is pretty easy game. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to witness the last wriggling gasps as the water finally evaporated and the mud dried, even without the accompanyig doom-laden music and a narration just-this-side of anthropomorphism from Sir David Attenborough.


Fortunately – for the tadpoles, if nothing else – the weather gods returned and normal service has been resumed… Stop me if any of you are surprised.

The Cat Came Back

May 25, 2013

We’re delighted to see our neighbour returned – albeit only for a few more weeks – along with his cat. We’ve missed them both, although I’m not sure the same can be said for the cat who greeted me with the sort of polite yet distant attention a minor royal might muster on being introduced to the back room kitchen staff. She spent her first night back out marauding, and then the morning miaowing piteously outside the neighbour’s door for he is not an early riser and she has apparently got used to the amenities of a cat flap at her new home. I was out binge gardening, to make the most of some miraculous sunshine (on a bank holiday weekend – are the weather gods ill?) and a temporary hiatus between cycle campaigns, and had rather forgotten the cat until I went into our bedroom and found I had rudely woken her royal highness up from her post marauding nap. I can see we’re going to have to rearrange ourselves back around her convenience.

And the cat’s not all. Walking up to the compost heap I found myself under observation from a nice little flock of Black Rock hens – the landlord’s new arrivals. They appear to have made themselves at home in the grounds between our cottage and the main house, which overlaps with the cat’s territory. It will be interesting to see which out of the hens and the cat will hold this new ground. If these new birds are anything like the old ones, my money isn’t on the cat…

I’m Not Here

May 24, 2013

Today I’m blogging here  in the Guardian Bike Blog.

True to form the dear old Grauniad, bless its eco-friendly organic bamboo socks, has introduced an error in the editing, but that’s okay. I’m just excited to be, however peripherally, in the ‘paper’.

I was a bit worried about the comments, but fortunately the first commenter was so monumentally obtuse and trollish that the rest of the commenters are lining up to give them a kicking, leaving me relatively unscathed. Phew.

In other news the sun came out today and I have a combined case of sun-and-windburn which, as far as ‘summer’ goes, will have to do

A Wee Blether

May 23, 2013

If a county could be said to have a hobby, then Bigtownshire’s is blethering and I can tell you they take it seriously around here. As I have mentioned before, many’s the time I’ve had to thread my way between two farmers who are passing the time of day through their Land Rover windows on my way down to the paper shop and you can bet that half the time they’ll still be there when I’m on my way back.

But it’s not just the farmers, and it’s not just people who know each other either. If the county also had a motto it would be ‘there are no strangers, just people who you’re about to discover used to live next door to your old head teacher’ or some such connection. A recent writing exercise invited me to observe what people were reading in public and from that imagine their inner lives and write them a brief back story. Hah. Whoever invented that did not live around here, that’s clear. Even were you to find someone actually reading in public, a bus in Bigtown is treated as a chance to make the acquaintance of your fellow passengers and discover how they might be related to you and your world, in order to enjoy a nice wee blether to speed the journey along. A twenty-minute bus journey would therefore likely furnish you with their entire real life story, in more detail than you ever really needed.

Normally I tend to just keep quiet and listen but the Brompton is a great ice breaker, especially once it’s launched itself off the luggage rack onto someone’s feet, so on my bus trip to catch the train to Edinburgh last weekend I found myself part of the general conversation. We touched on on the best way to keep the bike in place (wedge it in with my bag), whether or not it was a handy wee thing (it was, obviously), the general dreadfulness of the weather (dreadful), lateness of the bus (shocking) and it was only lack of time that kept us from the price of fish and whether any of my friends or relations had any remote connection to my fellow passengers. ‘Bye for now,’ said one of my new best friends as she got off the bus, as if we would soon be reunited to continue our conversation.

Indeed, knowing the way things work around here, she was probably right.

Remember This?

May 22, 2013

snow in waves under the trees
It now looks more like this

bluebell wood

Better late than never

bluebell blur

(sorry about the phone quality snaps. Guess whose camera waited until the extended warranty had expired to finally and definitively give up the ghost. How do they know?)

Caution Safety Chickens at Work

May 21, 2013

I was cycling back with the paper the other day when I heard the unmistakeable note of a car winding up to overtake me. As it was a bit of a twisty narrow section of road on the approach to nearest village, I held my line until I got to the entrance to the village where the road widens out enough to allow a driver to pass. It was just at that moment that I saw the two safety hens were out, with one of them ever so slowly beginning to make her way across the road. I signalled to the car behind that perhaps it might not want to overtake me after all (what is the international signal for a chicken crossing ahead? Possibly something Peter Sagan might do crossing the finish line…) and then both car and I waited while the bird walked meditatively across the road, inspecting the surface every now and then for interesting things to eat. Given that the car was a hatchback with two youngish lads in it (by then making chicken noises at her out the window, but refraining from attempting to run her down) this was impressive stuff.

It would be even more impressive if there were still three safety chickens, rather than the two that remain, but you can’t have everything. Now all we need to do is roll the safety chicken programme out nationwide, and I can stop organising monster cycle demonstrations and go back to pottering in my garden and inspecting the ford, where there have been developments.

Been There, Done That, Gave a Cycling Legend my T-shirt

May 20, 2013

Phew. We did it. If there’s been one thought that’s been secretly gnawing away at me for the last four months, it’s ‘what if we held a cycle protest and nobody came?’ What if the rain, engineering works, half-term holidays, general apathy, everything conspired to keep everyone at home? As I woke in Edinburgh to fog which then resolved itself to a steady mizzle* I felt certain we were doomed. It was going to be us, a bunch of bored marshals, some amused policemen and Graeme Obree. We’d closed off the centre of Edinburgh, and all for nothing… As I pedalled a borrowed monster cargo bike laden with panda t-shirts down to the Meadows in Edinburgh I was glad that its wonky steering and tendency to put its parking brakes on all by itself distracted me from worrying about anything else.

Of course, it didn’t happen. There was one point when I looked round the Meadows and saw that the line of people stretching out waiting to start the ride not only went round the corner as it had done last year, but disappeared right out of sight. One feeder ride from an Edinburgh suburb had 160 people on it. And our t-shirts – our only real fundraiser, apart from two generous donations from CTC Scotland and Andrew Cyclist – went so quickly that when one of the marshalls dashed over to pick up a t-shirt for Graeme Obree there were none left. There was only one thing for it. Thankful that it had been cold enough for me to have a nice merino baselayer underneath – and that it wasn’t one of the ones the moths had got at – I sacrificed mine. It’s not often you get to share clothes with a genuine legend of cycling.

Last year, I was at the front of the ride, leading the charge down the cobbles of the royal Mile. This time I was right at the back with an empty cargo bike, a very relieved deputy chief marshal, a marshal dressed as a panda and the last of the riders: a woman, and her little girl who was determinedly pedalling her tiny bike as fast as her legs would go, an expression of fierce concentration on her face. I asked her if she was having fun and she gave a huge nod that almost unseated her, still concentrating hard. I saw later on twitter that the police escorted her safely the whole way before finally opening the roads back up to the cars. I expect that yesterday was a day she will remember her entire life.

I hope that when she does look back at it, she can tell her grandchildren that she was there at the moment when cycling changed in Scotland for the better.

*’this isn’t rain it’s just haar’, someone said. People of Edinburgh, if there is water falling out of the sky it is raining. Rain isn’t just something we have on the west coast you know.