September 30, 2013

Exciting news – the village speaks of nothing else – someone has been out with a can of yellow spray paint drawing lines around some of the the tarmac fairy‘s greatest work. Either Nearest Village is home to the world’s least imaginative graffiti artist, or they are about to properly patch our road – and I can’t help but notice that once again this happens in the run up to the next community council meeting. Perhaps we should go back to meeting monthly…

Unfortunately, the yellow paint runs out about half a mile from our house – and just before the road gets really rubbish. The optimist in me is hoping this is because they’re going to actually resurface that stretch of road. The pessimist in me wonders if that marks the spot where the budget runs out. The realist in me is considering going out and investing in a can of yellow spray paint…

Aint Nobody Here but us Cattle…

September 28, 2013

Cycling back from the papershop yesterday, I noticed a big stone lying in the middle of the road that definitely hadn’t been there on the way down. And looking over the stone dyke which now had a big-stone-shaped gap in the top, these innocent-looking characters.

cows looking nonchalant

If cows could whistle in an unconcerned sort of way, that’s what they would have been doing. Nothing to see here, move along. We’re not demolishing the wall piece by piece, oh no, not at all. Who us? It just came apart in our hands. A big cow did it and ran away. It wisnae us.

It will be interesting to see how much wall is left when I go by on Monday…


September 27, 2013

So this morning was one of the tougher bike rides of my life: approximately four miles over two hours to the reservoir and back. And if you don’t think that sounds very tough, add in ‘with ten children under twelve, one of which was riding a full-suspension Hello Kitty mountain bike stuck in first gear’. We’ve done this before and it was more or less the same deal, except that the whole school detoured to the village coffee morning first, to fill up on cake (after all, why else do we cycle?) and to practise their small talk.*

Thus fuelled, the noise levels on the ride out were something phenomenal, abating only as the group tackled the climb that I have dubbed ‘Heartbreak Hill’. I’m impressed with the school discipline, though. At one point, the bickering over who was supposed to go behind who and who wasn’t letting who into the line of bikes reached the sort of volume where birds were in danger of falling out of the sky, so I stopped the ride and turned around and said ‘Hush.’ And they did (if you think that’s impressive, the head teacher can get them to go utterly silent simply by saying ‘one … two … three’ – by three you could hear a pin drop).

Fortunately lunch and about an hour of running around like lunatics (at what point in our lives does running stop being something we do for fun and start being something we do to punish ourselves for getting old?) took the edge off them somewhat and the ride back to school was marked less by bickering and more by bell ringing and the singing of a song of our own invention (‘single file, single file, single all the way, oh what fun it is to ride on a wet and rainy day’ to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’, because I should mention that it was drizzling pretty much the whole morning, a fact which to the children mattered not a jot). One of the P1s – so small that his hi-vis vest reached his knees – also joined us on the ride back, and even beat Miss Hello Kitty back to the school gates.

While it would be nice to have the sort of roads and the sort of culture where all of them cycled to school as a matter of course, at least now, thanks to the efforts of the iBike officer who organised this event, I do see three of the boys cycling to school regularly (one of them on a bike which turned out not to have any working brakes – it’s lucky we don’t have any actual traffic on his road) and events like this help to keep the flame alive. I saw one of the older girls cycling home on her own this afternoon and that was a cheering sight. Worth all the effort if it means she keeps it up.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go and have a little lie down. How do teachers ever survive?

*I love the fact that the head teacher has deemed it part of the curriculum that the children should learn how to make polite conversation with their elders.

Shiny and New

September 26, 2013

Well, sort of. I’ve been neglecting my poor bike, which has responded by gradually limiting the number of gears it will change into with any sort of ease. Which is fair enough: I used to clean my bike as often as I changed my toothbrush, if only because an old toothbrush is the perfect implement for getting into all the grungy corners of the bike. That seemed about right to keep on top of the road gunk, along with chucking a bit of oil on the chain whenever the basket of kittens put in an appearance. But since the other half started working, and taking the car away all day, I’ve gone from doing 40-60 miles a week on the bike to more like 80-100 – and in all weathers. This is great for me (I can not only wear my jeans once more but – just about – pedal in them as long as I didn’t want to go up any hills) but is taking its toll on the bike. Especially if I neglect its maintenance: there are at least 3 toothbrushes in the cupboard under the sink, waiting for their second life as bike cleaning tools.

So today, having a bit of time to spare – and having realised I was now down to just three working gears, only one of which didn’t come accompanied by various clicking and rattling noises – I got the bike out and cleaned it. Turns out it’s blue …

More to the point, it now has all six* gears back and the ride into Bigtown and back was blissfully kitten-free with gear changes as smooth as silk. While it is nice to know that an hour with a bucket of warm soapy water, a toothbrush, and a few drops of oil makes such a difference, it does make me feel a bit of a heel for leaving it so long. No doubt everything would last longer if I took better care of it too. So I’m determined that this time things will be different and I will catch up with the toothbrush backlog** and give my bike the love and attention it will undoubtedly deserve this winter.

Whether I actually will or not, only time will tell.

*Theoretically 18 but I shun the front derailleur and just ride around in the middle ring all the time. I have yet to meet a hill that requires the granny gear, or a dog I need to cycle away from that requires the big ring.
** Not helped by the fact that my dentist takes an extremely robust approach to pain relief – he doesn’t really believe in it – so I have an incentive to keep my teeth and gums sparklingly clean at all times, which wears out the toothbrushes faster.

A Single Step…

September 24, 2013

Oh dear, a month has passed since I blogged about the state my garden is in, and it’s not looking that much better now. Which isn’t very surprising because I’ve not been doing all that much about it. I’ve just had too much to do and I’ve allowed the garden to be the thing that slips. And if I’m honest, it’s felt like I have got so behind with things that there was no point spending the time I did have up in the garden. It had gone from being a pleasant escape from the computer and a chance to do something productive out in the fresh air, to this big looming thing that needed to be done along with all the other THINGS that needed to be done with the end result that if my veg plot was an allotment I’d probably be getting one of those stiff letters from the committee by now.

veg_plot_september veg_plot mess

Fortunately it’s not, although I am there at the indulgence of the landlord, so there’s a limit to how far I can let things slip. So this week I’ve actually been following my own advice and putting in a regular hour a day getting on with what needs to be done (when I haven’t been harassing hard-working vole families). So far without much visible results, but I hope by the end of the week I can at least put up an ‘after’ shot that will look measurably different from these ones.

Watch this space

Snug as a Bug in a Rug

September 23, 2013

And not just because the Rayburn is back on (and is currently drying my socks, trousers and shirt after my latest cycle ride…)

vole nest

I was out trying to make the veg plot look a bit less of a disaster area when I came across what looked like a ball of grass in what was supposed to be one of the paths. I had come across one of these before and found it was nothing but a loose ball of grass – but this time when I carefully teased it open I was surprised to find that I had company

baby voles

Two tiny little voles, curled up together. I moved it as carefully as I could to somewhere less exposed. While one of them stayed put the other was made of sterner stuff and came out to have a look at me while I tried to get a decent picture of it with my camera phone until Mama Vole came along and – with a what I can only describe as a very filthy look – came and retrieved her errant offspring


It has made gardening at that end of the patch a bit tricky. Clearly, I have more than got behind with the weeding…

Ten Signs you May have been Living in the Country too Long…

September 21, 2013
  1. You think it’s acceptable to wear a fleece indoors
  2. You think it’s acceptable to wear a fleece outdoors
  3. If a tree falls in a forest, you think ‘I wonder if anyone would mind if I just took some of the wood?’
  4. You talk to people at bus stops, even in London
  5. You are horribly offended if other road users don’t acknowledge your greeting
  6. You recognise your neighbours from their cars
  7. You also recognise their sheep
  8. You no longer worry about other people’s sheep
  9. You don’t throw or give things away, you just store them in a shed in case they come in handy later
  10. You can no longer imagine living with just the one shed.

Ye gods, it really has been over five years…

I am Cyclist Hear me Roar

September 20, 2013

You can sometimes feel quite small and vulnerable on a bike – like yesterday when a large silver pickup decided to whizz past me just as a large white van was nosing out of the junction I was cycling past. Threading between two big hunks of metal with (apparently) idiots at the wheel you are more frightened than frightening, to be honest.

So it was a nice contrast today as I cycled down to the shop for the paper. Not only was there a heartening absence of idiot-piloted close-passing hunks of metal, there was a huge stubble field full of geese* – back for the winter from somewhere less balmy – and not somewhere with a lot of cyclists. At the sight of me on my bike, puny as I am, the whole flock took off as one and filled the sky with the most incredible racket, unable to settle while the dreadful velocipede was loose amongst them. I have to admit, it made me grin. I may not make much of an impression on White Van Man, but I am at least absolutely terrifying to geese.

* I should probably know which ones but they were on the pink-foot / greylag continuum. Greyfoots? Pinklags?

Drowned Rat

September 19, 2013

I had planned myself rather a pleasant day today – a ride into Bigtown for coffee and bike plotting, followed by a happy afternoon putting the Fankle together, as well as a spot of hat shopping to replace the anti-buzzard hat. But the Weather Gods – having returned from wherever they’ve been over the summer and been alerted to my hatless and rayburnless status – had other plans. It was raining when I got up, and still raining when I looked hopefully out of the window thinking it might have brightened a little, and still raining when the time came for me to set off. I put on my waterproof trousers, thinking to myself as I always do that when it comes to listing all the reasons for riding a bike, ‘the chance to wear waterproof overtrousers’ comes very far down the list. The only tiny chink in the general gloom was that it wasn’t too windy which meant I could at least wear my Akubra which stays on my head surprisingly well on a bike as long as I don’t do anything rash like look up. Given that my glasses were very shortly rendered useless by the rain, this didn’t matter that much as I was having to cycle along with my head down looking over my glasses in order to see the blurry road ahead, hoping that nothing smaller and less visible than a double-decker bus was coming the other way.

Fortunately, because it was raining, all the drivers – nice and dry and warm in their cars – were extra polite and courteous around any poor wet cy… sorry, not sure what happened there, a bit of a rush of blood to the head. What I meant to say was the drivers reacted to the rain as if they personally were getting wet in it, and were even more likely to push past me as if I wasn’t there, including two close overtakes on the approach to a roundabout. So I was glad to arrive at my friends’ house alive, and only having had to retrieve my hat once, and be supplied with dry socks, gloves and a top and be fed coffee and flapjacks until I felt relatively human again, followed by more excellent weapons-strength coffee (and explosive gossip) at the Roncadora Press HQ. Sadly, my hat shopping was unsuccessful – my head is too small* – and the wind had picked up by the afternoon, meaning no hat at all on the way home. And another drenching. Thanks Weather Gods, we’ve really missed you guys. Not.

I should probably, as an award-winning cycle campaigner and everything, wax lyrical here about the joys of cycling, even in the rain. But you know what? I don’t think I’d be fooling anyone.

* insert your own joke here

No Sh*t Sherlock

September 18, 2013

I suppose, in the ranks of unexpected events, ‘the weather getting colder in September’ doesn’t really cut it, it being the start of autumn and us living in Scotland and everything. And yet, it seems to have caught me somewhat by surprise this year. Blame the fact that we actually had a summer and got a bit too used to walking around in – OK, not shorts and a t-shirt, let’s not go mad here, but just the one jumper and no thermals. And so we’ve not given much thought to such vital matters as getting the Rayburn lit until suddenly autumn arrived with a vengeance (it was 2°C this morning …) and it was well past time to ring up Rayburn man to book its semi-annual fettling and de-gunking so we can light it again. Incredibly, it appears we aren’t the only ones to want our main source of heat and comfort sorted out just as it gets cold and miserable because when I rang up yesterday, the earliest he could fit me in was October…

Fortunately five years of keeping in his good books: serving him our best coffee and chatting with him while he works (last time he visited I ended up giving him a twitter tutorial) has paid off. After he heard the dismay in my voice he managed to slot us in a bit earlier than October – although we will still have to wait until Monday before the kitchen will be restored to cosiness. I can’t wait. Having the Rayburn lit doesn’t quite make up for the end of summer – but at least we can look forward to soups and stews, and something warm to lean against while looking out at the rain…