You Park Like a …

July 31, 2013

Before I start this post, I have to make a small confession – while I always stop at red lights, I do cycle on the pavement. Specifically, I cycle on the pavement in Papershop Village on my way to the papershop (I cycle on the road on the way back). I do this because the alternative is to turn right onto Big A Road (and by Big A Road, I mean the principal road to the Belfast ferry, so you can imagine how lorry-tastic it is) and then to turn right again off it to reach the papershop and I didn’t fancy adding myself to the statistics. I know that I should actually get off my bike and wheel it along the pavement, in fact that’s what I started out doing, but over the years I’ve gradually let my impatience get the better of me. In my defence, I should add that a) I always get off my bike if I encounter a pedestrian, and b) this happens about once a month, so deserted is the pavement I do my scofflaw cycling on. And nobody’s ever complained either to me or to the world in general; I can be fairly certain of this because I’m pretty sure that Papershop Bloke would be the first to mention it to me if they did.

The real problem with this outlaw behaviour is that I’ve absolutely no leg to stand on when it comes to complaining about people parking their cars on the same pavement, which they universally do. In the winter they carefully park them over the one bit of gritted and shovelled pavement and the rest of the time they turn the short trip through the village into an obstacle course. This week, someone excelled themselves, parking their car so that it took up the full width of the pavement (they were selling their car so I expect they wanted it in a nice prominent position. Had I not been a bit deficient in the moral high ground department myself I could have had a nice half hour ringing the prominently displayed number and giving them some full and frank feedback about their parking abilities). The pavements are pretty wide, so it must have taken some some doing.

Which is odd when you think about it. As I mentioned the road in question is Big A Road which is nice and wide and straight at that point, and the vehicles which pass through tend to have a bit of a problem getting from 60mph to 30mph as they reach the village outskirts. They’ve got one of those flashy signs that tell the drivers to slow down but all that does is give the postman a bit of advanced warning as he attempts to sprint from one side of the road to the other (I’ve never seen anyone else cross the road – I assume the people who live on that side do visit the shop, but I’ve a nasty suspicion they just drive there). Surely a nice slalom course through some loosely parked cars would be a bit more effective at slowing traffic? And all perfectly legal, as there’s no double yellow lines. A slight risk that your pride and joy might get squashed by a convoy of ferry-bound trucks – but surely that’s a price worth paying for a bit of traffic calming and they postman keeping all four limbs intact?

Of course, they would probably answer that they would – but they need to park on the pavement instead to counter the scofflaw cyclist. Touché…

Why Can’t we All Get Along?

July 29, 2013

Kitten Pair

Years ago, when I was still at school, the BBC showed a documentary about people applying for the Foreign Office. The successful candidates must have been somewhat dim bulbs because my father, who was head of the Information Section at the Foreign Office at the time , received a letter from an amused viewer applying to join on the grounds that they had been to Eton, Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge (but only on shopping trips) and that the solution to the problems of the Middle East was ‘um, er, people should be nice to each other’*

I am powerfully reminded of this by the launch of the this road safety campaign which the Scottish Government has been talking up recently as part of its plan to increase the safety of vulnerable road users. Set aside the fact that the launch photo shows a car which was clearly illegally overtaking a cyclist at a zebra crossing and has barely stopped in time to let the pedestrian cross. Set aside too the rather hastily put together website (top tip: change the boilerplate wordpress ‘about’ text to your own text before launching, guys) and its implication that there is some sort of equivalence between the risks and responsibilities of pedestrians and cyclists and those of drivers. It could be that the planned adverts will be brilliant, memorable and effective, you never know. It will still be waste of money and time. The thing is, most drivers aren’t callous murdering bastards who go out of their way to threaten and endanger cyclists and pedestrians. So there’s really no point telling them to be nice and we can all get along.

Kitten Call

Last week, I cycled past a dead kitten, the second cat I’ve seen killed even on our quiet roads. A kitten. What could be less threatening and more lovable than that? But somebody ran it over all the same. They probably ran it over because kittens have no road sense, and the speed limit on our narrow single track road is astoundingly 60mph, and the cottage where the kitten came from was right on the road, giving the kitten no space to be a kitten in safety. Perhaps they didn’t even see the kitten (the kitten wasn’t wearing hi vis after all). If you wanted to save kittens, I can guarantee that the least effective way to do so would be a campaign pointing out that kittens are adorable and nice and fluffy and please don’t kill them, any more than asking road users to be nice to each other is going to…

It would be awfully cute though. And probably a better use of £424,000 than the alternative

*If you’re reading this and you wrote the letter, you should have signed your real name – Dad was so amused by it he was ready to recruit you on the spot…

(All pictures courtesy of the talented Blackpudding on a Bike)


July 26, 2013

The time of year has finally arrived when the average home-grower switches from ‘will we ever actually get anything to eat?’ to ‘oh my god, how are we ever going to eat all this stuff?’. I half jokingly suggested that all those posts on twitter about the tweeter’s latest delicious home-cooked home-grown meals should have a warning hashtag (#smugveg) so people can filter them out but I’m a serial offender myself. There’s just something so … smug making … about sitting down to a meal where almost everything has just been picked in the garden, grown by your own fair, if slightly grubby-fingernailed, hand. From the first fresh salad leaves to the latest glut of broad beans, it makes all the digging, manure carting, weeding, watering and slug trapping worth while.

wild raspberries

Even better, of course, is when the food just arrives for free. We’ve always had a few wild raspberries growing along our road; they’re much smaller than cultivated raspberries, but they have a flavour all of their own – intense and aromatic, as if they’ve been flavoured with vanilla. There’s never been enough to bother going out and picking, just something to add a little sweetness to a summer evening walk. But this year they’ve gone a bit beserk and last night we took some tubs and managed to pick enough for dessert. A bowlful of pure delight. Smug doesn’t even begin to describe it…

Link Restored

July 25, 2013

Well. How’s this for customer service?

I had emailed Dutch Bike Bits about my dynamo bracket – explicitly not complaining because the part had been pretty cheap, but to see if they had any more solid brackets available. I very quickly got an apologetic email back that the part had failed, and after sending photos, this arrived in the post:

replacement dynamo bracket

One replacement bracket, plus a rear bracket as well in case that proved a better option. It seems even cheap parts get the Rolls Royce treatment at Dutch Bike Bits (and I feel having impugned the quality of Mr Hembrow’s dynamo brackets I should say that on closer inspection, it was made of proper steel, not cheese, and it’s a bit of a mystery why it should have cracked).

I support Dutch Bike Bits not just because of the fact that they sell practical bike accessories that are hard to find in the UK, but because it’s a way of giving the Hembrows something back after the years they have spent trying to lift the scales from the eyes of the British cycling establishment about Dutch infrastructure. But their awesome customer service doesn’t hurt either…

So now I have a replacement bracket and a replacement for the replacement and all in plenty of time to get my dynamo back on long before I actually need it when the clocks go back. And I definitely definitely WON’T end up hurriedly trying to get the damn thing fitted at the last moment some time towards the end of October…

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Hat

July 24, 2013

OK, so if today was anything to go by, the anti-buzzard hat may be losing some of its effectiveness. ASBO buzzard was waiting for me at Buzzard corner on its favourite telegraph pole, already glaring at me and calling. Once more it took the shortcut as I puffed up the hill and glared at me again from the top, and although it didn’t quite swoop, I think it made its feelings fairly clear. It also escorted me on the way back, possibly to make sure I left the premises. Combined with the fact that the anti-buzzard hat more of a winter hat (I haven’t worn it since June) and extremely sweaty, I may have to take desperate measures to be safe. If you do see me in a helmet, it’s only because of the buzzard, I swear.

On the other hand, it does add that little frisson of uncertainty back into my trips to the papershop now that the temporary traffic light has gone. Who says life in the country is dull?

And Let the Moon Follow me Home

July 23, 2013

Sometimes, just sometimes, it all comes together. Back in the depths of the coldest spring ever, I had a slightly mad idea. Our local cycling campaign had been running joint winter rides with the local museum (long story, involving twitter as these things often do). While on the whole they were enjoyable they were so cold that when we got in and warmed our hands up again it was like having someone hit your fingers with a hammer. Please, please, please, said our museum person, can we do something in the summer next time. So a plan was hatched to run a moonlight ride, because there’s something a little magical about riding out on a warm summer night. Back in the frozen days of, er, April, I jokingly promised that it would happen and it would take place on a perfect summer evening, the sort of evening when it had been too hot to ride in the afternoon, when the heat still comes off the tarmac and the air flows like velvet over your skin. It seemed barely possible to imagine then – or even remember what warm felt like – but we pressed ahead.

A quick check of the internet determined that the most likely full moon was the 22nd July, a supermoon no less, rising at 8:30pm. A plan was made and word was spread, although we knew that we were as likely to be rained off as not. Then summer, miraculously, arrived and as day after day passed with no let up in the good forecasts – or in the warm weather – and I began to hope that it might actually last long enough to let my little winter dream come true. Indeed, by 8pm yesterday evening as we assembled at the museum, it was still warm enough that I was regretting wearing long trousers. We rolled off into the humid evening with 25 miles of pedalling ahead of us.

There was, strictly speaking, no actual moon as it was too overcast, but in all other respects it was exactly as I had imagined it. The clouds and the humidity served to keep the air at a perfect temperature for cycling in even at a goodish speed – my fellow ride leader was mainly concerned with ensuring we got back in time for last orders at the pub. The night crept up on us, thickening into twilight. A few bats kept brief pace with us along the road, a few sleepy pigeons crashed out of the trees as we passed underneath, but mostly the countryside was still, with no signs of life but the lights coming on in the cottages we passed. As we turned onto the last road – at this point the front runners had the scent of the pub in their nostrils and nothing would slow them down – we were reduced to a long string of red lights, blinking away in the darkness. We had been riding along in pairs, chatting, but now we were mostly silent, just pedalling along, and the air did indeed flow like velvet, albeit velvet heavily studded with insects.

After a brief hiccup because someone (obviously not me. ahem) had not checked that our intended pub would indeed be open on a Monday evening, we raced on to catch last orders at the next one where we startled one bored barman and four chaps playing guitars (I’m still not entirely sure whether we’d walked in on Bigtown’s least successful gig or crashed a private rehearsal – either way they sensibly did not try and get between nine thirsty cyclists and their beer). I then had a further 8 miles to ride home, on what were now rather weary legs. While riding in a group had been fun, the last miles home were almost better, with the moon finally putting in an appearance beside me (top tip for night cyclists – don’t try and look at the moon over your shoulder as you ride, it’s a great way to almost end up in a hedge). It was well past my bedtime before I got home (another top tip for night cyclists – don’t yawn while riding, it only trebles the amount of insect life you ingest) and my legs are now rather feeling the strain after a total of 52 miles but it was everything I’d hoped for and more.

This morning the weather broke, with two inches of rain coming down in the space of an hour, thunder, lightning, powercuts and everything. Summer may well be over, but I can say now that we’ve properly made the most of it. And there’s always next year. ‘Is this an annual event?’ one of the riders had asked as we rehydrated in the pub. ‘It is now,’ I replied. All I have to do now is arrange for next year’s weather to be as perfect.

That should be easy enough, right?

Weakest Link

July 20, 2013

Two years’ of Landrover ownership, if it taught us anything,* taught us to never ignore a new noise. Sometimes, of course, it was hard to pick out the new noise above all the other noises, but whenever a novel whine, rattle or squeak made its presence felt we knew it was time to take action or spend a long time on the side of a road in some desolate corner of Southern Africa hoping some good Samaritan with a copious supply of Landrover spares would come along, which happens more often than you might think.

Sadly, it’s not a lesson I’ve transferred to the bike. Despite commenting to a friend that it had become a ‘symphony of rattles’ recently, I just assumed that the rattles in question were the normal ones of my broken bottle cage, the not madly sturdy front light bracket and the slightly shonky rear mudguard without noticing a new note had been added until the rattle turned to a clonk this afternoon. My bottle dynamo had detached itself from the front fork and almost swung into my spokes. Ah. Yes. That is the problem with attaching one’s solidly-engineered German-technology bottle dynamo by means of a cheap bracket made out of (apparently) cheese that cost something like one Euro – it’s amazing, really that it lasted as long as it did having gone over as many potholes as it has.

Now normally if I were going to lose my dynamo then July would be the time to do it as it’s still light well into the evening and I wouldn’t normally be riding anywhere that requires a light until October (although knowing me that would still mean I’d be rushing to get it fixed in the last days of September). But it just so happens that on Monday I’ll be leading our long planned full moon ride, and full moon or no, it would be good to have something to see by on my way home from the pub afterwards.

Time to find a bracket that’s made out of something slightly stronger than cheese. Or just out of sturdier cheese…

* other than ‘don’t buy a Landrover’ of course

Just when you Thought it was Safe to Get Back on the Bike…

July 19, 2013

Guess who is back

I have been rashly cycling bareheaded in this warm weather, hoping to sneak past ASBO buzzard, and up till recently I’ve got away with it. I had hoped that it had either mellowed in its attitude to cyclists, or gone off to harass cyclists somewhere else. Earlier this week I did notice a buzzard glaring at me from its favourite telegraph pole – and nothing really glares quite like an angry buzzard – but it didn’t move as I went past so I thought I’d got away with it, dead-rabbit hairstyle and all. On Wednesday it was there again but it took off as I approached and flew off into the woods without so much as a glance in my direction. So I wasn’t all that worried today when it was calling from its perch, fixing me with its beady eye like a Daily Mail reader spotting a single mother riding two abreast with an asylum seeker on the pavement. But then it took off and cunningly took a short cut through a stand of trees as I headed round the corner and up the hill before swooping down – not quite as close as its first ever attack, but certainly enough to put the fear of bird into me.

On the way back, fortunately, it was too busy seeing off another buzzard to go for me, but I think it’s time to put the hat back on, heat wave or no heat wave. There are some risks I’m not willing to take…


July 18, 2013

I had an unexpected day off today, and for once it couldn’t have been better timed. It’s been warm and dry but not particularly sunny here these past days, but today was a gorgeous, cloudless morning, just the day to be out on the bike. If all had gone to plan I would have been chained to the computer earning some money but the work had not arrived and so I was free to do what I wanted. And, as it happened, the other half had some leaflets that needed delivered a few miles beyond Bigtown. As I had a few errands to run in town and a couple of people to meet, what more excuse did I need?

river path

I would say more, but I think that just about sums it up. I now have that lovely slightly parched and wrung out feeling that comes from a day being out and active in the sun. And sandal marks sunburned into my feet.


It’s almost like being on a real holiday.

Red Light District

July 17, 2013

It is a truth widely acknowledged on the internet that cyclists are all a bunch of red light jumpers and general scofflaws (see also: riding on the pavement, riding two abreast, riding in the road, riding a bike generally, not driving a car like a normal person). Some would go further and suggest that – like a class being kept in over break until the person who stole the teacher’s pen owns up and returns it – until every last cyclist obeys every last red light, then we’re not to be considered a serious form of transport and we can’t expect the government to spend any money on anything other than comedy cycle lanes that go into the sides of bus stops (compare and contrast with the current proposals on raising the speed limits for lorries on the grounds that they’re all speeding anyway).

Although I don’t really believe this, I do stop at red lights all the same, mostly because I believe observance of traffic laws is one of the markers of a civilised behaviour and because I like to be on the moral high ground at all times so I can complain bitterly when a driver does something I don’t like – but also so that I can disprove the statement that ALL cyclists run red lights; after all, it only takes one who doesn’t. And with the road works in the village trundling into their third week (seriously, how long does it take eight men to lay one pavement?) I’m still hoping that I’ll get my chance to observe the elusive red light. So far, all that’s happened is that it has turned green as soon as I approach, except for the one time when they were still switching them on, when the workmen just waved me through anyway. Occasionally I get to slow down and even put a foot out ready to stop, but I’ve been stymied at the last minute by a swift change to green. And besides, there’s never anyone in the village to observe my conspicuous civic virtue even if I were to get a chance to exercise it.

I live in hope though. One day the light will be against me, and I will stop, and the massed ranks of villagers will spring from their houses where they have been hiding from the unbearable heat* and carry me shoulder high through the streets – sorry, street – declaring that from now on, Nearest Village shall have proper cycle lanes. Because otherwise, if a cyclist stops at a red light and there’s nobody there to observe it, did it really happen?

And besides, with the continuing bone-dry status of the ford, it adds a little uncertainty and tension into my daily routine…

* About 20°C