Like Riding a Bike. Again.

June 29, 2013

OK, so there I was in the garden, digging up the first of the new potatoes, planning a nice gentle blog post about the first season’s harvest from the garden when my phone rings. Can we go and rescue someone’s boyfriend who is in Bigtown’s A&E having come off his bike in a bike race and is now far from home sans wallet, phone, clothes-other-than-lycra and car, which anyway he has just been told he can no longer drive. Naturally the answer is yes so off we go to A&E to pick up the wounded warrior – who seemed more worried about the state of our upholstery than his battered self (or indeed his bike – they must have been handing out the good painkillers tonight). The plan was hatched that we would drive him to his car, then the other half would drive him and his car home while I followed in our car, and then we’d take him to the station to get himself home.


Yes. I can drive. I even passed my test first time, astoundingly (even my driving instructor was surprised. “You didn’t have to reverse park then’ was his less than flattering comment). I then didn’t drive for about 5 years, and thought I’d better re learn when we moved up here – because everyone knows, if you live in the country you have to be able to drive. After a while, I gradually managed to replace any trip I took on my own with a combination of bike, buses, and ruthless lift scrounging and well, somehow at least two years have passed since I last drove anywhere. As I was never that confident a driver it had started to hang over me a bit. I was beginning to wonder if it wouldn’t in fact be easier just to give up on the whole driving thing altogether.

Fortunately, it turned out that I hadn’t forgotten, how although some of my gear changes were a bit heroic. The hardest part was probably backing out of the parking space, and even that went okay when I remembered what the clutch was for. And luckily, we didn’t encounter any cyclists all the way home, so I didn’t have to either overtake them or not overtake them in the approved fashion. Ahem. I really must try and be a bit more empathetic to the poor sods in their cars…

In fact, it was probably better to have it sprung upon me like that, rather than thinking I must do it and then having it hanging over me. Still, while it’s good to know that I can still do it if I really have to, if it’s all right by everyone, I think I’ll just go back to my bike. So much easier and simpler and safer for all concerned, when all is said and done.

Compare and…

June 28, 2013

… contrast with yesterday’s adventure: I was cycling home from the papershop today when I encountered a tractor with the normal lethal looking assortment of dangling ironmongery off the back. I was going uphill, it was coming down and the driver very kindly found a wider part of the road and pulled over and waited to let me past.

Now technically, this puts as much pressure on me as yesterday’s car crawling along behind me, but I still prefer it – even though it did mean I had to pedal a bit harder up the hill than I would normally like. I suppose it’s because any driver doing that has clearly seen you (always a bonus on the bike), thought ahead, realised there’s not much room, been considerate enough to recognise the pain involved in being forced to stop on a hill is a lot worse for a cyclist going up than a tractor going down, and done something intelligent about it. (And also the hill was a lot shorter, which helps). Rightly or wrongly, I always assume that the drivers who do that are cyclists themselves.

Given that this week I also encountered a 4×4 driver who showed considerable faith on my ability to negotiate a crumbling tarmac edge and maintain a perfectly straight line while going downhill with his wing mirror microns from my ear, I think on the whole this week has come out even.

And how was your week, on the bike or off?

Patience is a Virtue. Well, Sometimes

June 27, 2013

I think I may have mentioned this before, but some non-cyclist deemed that it would be an excellent idea to site the nearest doctor’s surgery in a village that’s perched up on the top of a steep hill. This means that I can only really visit the doctor’s when I’m in peak physical condition – which I suppose does save the NHS some money – and I have to make sure I arrive for my appointments about 10 minutes early, to allow my heart rate and blood pressure to get back down into the normal range.

There are three roads into the village, and all of them are bastards, but the most direct route is the bastardest of all, and that was the one I was plugging my way up this morning. It’s the sort of hill that starts steep and then goes round a corner and kicks up a notch more, just to break your will. It has not one but two false summits, and a number of identical looking houses along its length so you keep thinking you’re nearer the top than you are. The only way to cycle up it is to suffer away at your own pace, while doing your best impression of Thomas Voeckler valiantly defending the yellow jersey on the first real day in the mountains in the Tour de France and pulling a variety of theatrical grimaces (can anyone explain why gritting your teeth and gurning helps you cycle up a hill? Because strangely enough it does). And the absolute last thing you need when you’re doing this is someone driving along patiently behind you in their car.*

I know what you’re thinking. Bloody cyclists are never satisfied. If you squeeze past them they moan about a close pass, and if you patiently hang back waiting for the road to widen then they complain about that too. And it’s true that I’d rather not be swept off the road by some oblivious 4×4 in a hurry. But there’s a world of difference between sweeping past a cyclist regardless of pot holes and blind bends and calmly overtaking them on some straight bit of the road where there’s room to do so without leaving the imprint of your wing mirror in their backside.

Unfortunately, this driver seemed unused to our narrow roads and didn’t pass despite several pointed looks over my shoulder. And there was no way I was stopping on that hill to let them past, so we had to carry on together, me feeling obliged to at least look as if I was making an effort to go at something above walking pace. By the time they’d finally summoned up the nerve to overtake (on a nice narrow bendy bit of the road, naturally) my legs were ready to explode. I should probably apologise now to the poor people in the health centre who got to sit next to me as I cooled down from the sweaty red-faced mess I was when I arrived, not to mention the doctor… it’s hard to demonstrate the joys of cycling as a regular mode of transport when you’ve just had to wring the perspiration out of your cap.

That said, anyone looking for the real joys of cycling should have seen me on the way home. Barely turned a pedal, just glided the whole way down. Magic.

* I mean, unless it contains the team manager and spare bikes and a mechanic and you actually are Thomas Voeckler in which case it would be quite handy

I’m not Here…

June 26, 2013

… I’m only in the Guardian again aren’t I?

Oh all right, it’s not the real Guardian, just the Scotland blog, but still…

Safety First

June 25, 2013

Pedalling down to the shop today, I came around the corner to be confronted with a small procession: Cow, calf, farmer, quad bike with more farming-type folk on it and a car that had got caught up behind everyone else. Naturally, as I was on a bike – the scariest thing on the planet known to livestock – the cow immediately started panicking at my appearance, which didn’t bode well for the procession ever getting past me before darkness fell. This is not the sort of thing they cover in the highway code, as far as I remember, so I just had to improvise. First I got off my bike and laid it down flat on the grass so the cow couldn’t see it. Unfortunately this just transformed me from scary cyclist to still-quite-scary standing human, and mama cow still wasn’t having it, so I turned my back and waited. For some reason, my back isn’t anything like as scary as my face* so that was enough to let the whole lot proceed on their way, cow, calf, farmer, quadbike, car and me.

So there you go: cows are even stupider than you thought. Truly, if wolves ever learned to walk backwards they’d clean up among livestock – at least, as long as they don’t take up getting about by bike.

In other news, I am grateful for Matthew W in the comments for word that ASBO buzzard is not alone

*and you can just keep your sarky remarks to yourself


June 24, 2013

So, after a busy and fairly productive day, and a weekend away, come five o’clock this afternoon it seemed like the perfect time for a spot of gardening to try and catch up with the weeding backlog. The wind had dropped, the sun was tentatively appearing, there was no shortage of weeds: what better way to fill a late afternoon hour than a spot of horticultural therapy?

Wrong. I’ve never really been troubled by midgies around here – maybe a few prickles on a damp mild September afternoon when clearing out old vegetation, but nothing like further west (there was a memorable family holiday in the Mull of Kintyre where we all developed a sudden fondness for mackerel fishing as out to sea in my uncle’s boat was about the only place where the midgies couldn’t get us). But here, today, for some reason, it was absolutely bloody torture. You don’t see midgies and you don’t hear them and you don’t even feel them exactly – it’s more as if you’ve become allergic to the air because suddenly every inch of exposed skin is on fire. I stuck it out – I’m really very behind with the weeding – but it was murder and my eyelids are itching even now. And my scalp. And my neck. Even just thinking about it.

Time to dig out the Smidge… anybody else getting midged?

Goodness, Gracious, Great (well, tiny) Balls of Fluff

June 20, 2013

Just when I thought I could relax over the fate of various baby animals with our tadpoles safely mutated into frogs, a new worry presents itself. As I rode into the drive yesterday afternoon I was confronted by the following sight

Pheasant and chicks

A mama pheasant, teaching her little fluffballs-on-legs that the safest thing to do when confronted by a wheeled predator was to crouch down and disguise yourself as a bit of the driveway… truly they are the bird brains of the bird world.

pheasant chick

there’s a baby pheasant in there somewhere – unfortunately this was taken with my phone, not the other half’s excellent camera

After a while mama and chicks dispersed into the undergrowth that was once the neighbour’s flower bed, which was probably sensible from the not-getting-run-over point of view, but less so given the presence of his cat. I’m not, on the whole, a huge fan of pheasants as they’re garden pests and a road hazard to boot (it’s hard to keep your composure on a bike when one waits until you’re almost alongside it to rocket out of the verge past your ear yelling blue murder) but the babies are rather sweet, and I don’t want to have to be dealing with any stripy fluffy corpses on my doorstep… and the cat has a distressing tendency to play with her food.

Tiny Froggies

June 19, 2013

I promised you ford news and glory be, it seems the tarmac fairy’s rather more thorough older sister the concrete fairy has visited:

mended ford

But that’s not all. For those of you holding your breath on the question of whether the tadpoles would make it out of the ditch before it dried up … you can breathe now (as can the tadpoles) – they’ve grown their legs at last and have been venturing out onto dry land.

Today the other half took his camera down to record the moment properly.

tadpole swimming

tadpole with legs

tiny frog
Our little tadpoles almost all growed up … it’s enough to bring a tear to the eye.


Knit Wit

June 18, 2013

There is ford-and-tadpole news but it needs me to have a decent camera so it will have to wait so I shall bore you instead with a knitting post, as it’s my blog and I can if I want to.

Some while back I discovered that some of my knitwear had fallen prey to clothes moths – I’ve already had to recycle one into socks – including two nice merino numbers, one navy cardigan and one sort of fawn-coloured jumper. Having tasted the delights of a snug merino base layer during the winter* I thought I’d better not let those go to waste so I unravelled what was left and have been looking for a project to make use of the wool ever since. I came across this pattern which seemed just the ticket although even with three strands of it held together (which makes for an interesting colour – something like plasticine after all the different colours have been munged together) my wool is much finer than the gauge for the pattern so in order to make it fit I’m having to knit it for basically a 42-inch chest, which I can assure you I’m not. Ahem. Anyway, that meant casting on approximately a million stitches so it’s slow going…

base layer knitting project

I’m hoping it will be finished for winter, although which winter is anyone’s guess.

The pattern starts off nice and simple (once you’ve figured out circular knitting) and then gets oh-help-that’s-quite-complicated around the sleeves and things but I am sure I will manage to work it out. They used to select women who could knit to operate computers during the war because if you could read a knitting pattern you could work out a computer, so I’m hoping that – as a former computer programmer – this also applies the other way around. Surely after mastering C++ instructions like “Next Row [WS]: Work all sts in patt, picking up wraps and working them together with wrapped sts. Join to held sts of back left shoulder using Three-Needle Bind Off” should be child’s play… And once finished, how environmentally sound will it be? Not only is it entirely recycled and hand made, it should keep me nice and warm rather than cranking up the heating. Although, on the debit side, I suppose it did entail the destruction of an important invertebrate habitat…

And when I’ve finished that, look what my cousin found me in the car boot sale, for 50p.

knitting wool

It’s shetland wool, two-ply. Any suggestions or requests? Because otherwise that’s an awful lot of socks…

*that’s August to June, in case you’re wondering

Flower Gardening

June 17, 2013

wild flower verges

At this time of year, the hedgerows and verges are a mass of flowers as the cow parsley, hawthorn and, er, pink flowers run riot along the side of the road.

flower beds
And so too are my own borders – about three weeks later than normal – as the columbines, snow-in-summer, poppies, solomon’s seal and mystery purple things also get into their stride.

The difference is that in a couple of weeks, most of the flowers in my beds will be more or less over – everything pretty much peaks in June and then spends the rest of the summer sitting around looking green and lumpy – whereas the verges just go on and on and on, with the cow parsley giving way to meadowsweet and then to foxgloves and willowherb (and a few outbreaks of Himalayan Balsam, but let’s draw a veil over that one). It makes me wonder why I bother – my beds involve much weeding, mulching and trips to village plant sales, while Mother Nature somehow manages to arrange a whole succession of flowers right through until September aided by nothing but rain and a going over with what looks like a lawnmower on a stick courtesy of a man from the council on a tractor once or twice a year.

It’s enough to make you take up growing carrots