The Better Part of Valour

October 31, 2013

clothes drying outI can’t help but feel it was a teeny bit unfair of the Weather Gods to wreak their revenge on me just as I was cycling home from a climate change demonstration – but then again, perhaps the Weather Gods are all for climate change as it gives them the chance to create even more havoc than usual. As it was, they did at least hold back on the hailstorms, freak blizzards and plagues of frogs and confined themselves to ensuring that I was thoroughly soaked from stem to stern, paying extra attention to making sure that my shoes filled up with water so that my socks had to be wrung out before being hung along with pretty much everything else I was wearing on the Rayburn.

At that point, with the rain still blattering down, and realising that I was going to have to go out in it all again to get to choir, I gave in and texted a fellow choir member for a lift. I can increasingly put up with worse and worse weather on the bike these days – but I draw the line at going out and getting soaked again when I had only just got myself into warm and dry clothes.

Today was better – dry enough to wash, re-apocalypse-proof, and dry my jacket and venture out again to help lead 24 11-year-olds through the streets of Bigtown (we walked the bikes for the horrendously hostile first 100 yards outside their school) and up to the local campus where they could cycle in relative comfort and safety while loudly disputing whether or not doing a wheely while riding down the middle of the (fortunately empty) road counted as riding single file in the strictest sense of the term. Having clarified my instructions (single file, with both wheels on the ground, and over to the left, and no, doing skids on the leaves is neither big nor clever and does not count as a controlled descent down a steep hill) we got everyone back to school in one piece and with only a few extra grey hairs on the part of the ride leaders.

coffee and cake

That left only one piece of unfinished business: my fifth coffeeneuring stop, this time at the Polka Dot Vintage Tea room where the coffee may not be that fancy but the china is exceedingly pretty (and no, I’ve no idea why the tearoom is described as vintage; the coffee seemed pretty fresh). A well-earned slice of cake and a good hour of gossip masquerading as discussing cycle campaign matters soon restored me for the ride home, where I was further rewarded for my efforts by the opportunity to test out the re-proofing of my jacket…

So now I’ve decided to simplify things and just have two outfits on the go: the one I’m wearing and the one drying out on by the Rayburn. All I ask is that I manage to go long enough between soakings that the last lot have dried out before I have to change again. That doesn’t seem too much to hope for, does it?

afternoon sky

This was supposed to be a photo of some geese flying overhead but by the time I’d got the camera working they had almost gone

Total distance cycled: 18 miles.

To Cap it All

October 29, 2013

I realised as I left the house this morning that I really need to sort out replacing my anti-buzzard hat. It’s not just ASBO buzzard – who’s been rather quiet of late – or even the rain, it’s that having worn a flat cap of some form or another for so many years I feel somewhat underdressed without one. This morning it wasn’t raining but it was pretty nippy and I felt the lack of a head covering keenly. Not only does a good hat keep out the rain and keep your head warm and shade your eyes from the low sun, it does also give you a faint feeling of invincibility which is sometimes needed in order to get out of the house at all, let alone on a bike.

My first cap was a Chinese one (bought by my father in New York in the 70s apparently in order to impersonate a member of the Chinese UN delegation – I think for a comedy skit rather than diplomatic skulduggery, but you never know – and appropriated by me along with some Mao badges in order to annoy rightwing fellow students at university). I wore it for years and then left it in a cinema in Slough and it was never seen again. It was replaced for ages by my Akubra which is brilliant at keeping off the rain and making you feel as if you could wrestle a salt-water crocodile* at a moment’s notice but not that brilliant at staying on my head on the bike in a cross wind. When we moved up here the other half got me a waxed cotton flat cap for cycling in and that was fantastic until I dropped it somewhere in Bigtown and it was replaced by the most recent incarnation – a gift from my mum from Hoggs of Fife which was also pretty good, apart from the fact that I kept being sent catalogues full of exciting shooting products (I mean really, ear defenders so you can take your toddler safely on a hunt?)

I’ve been looking around for a replacement for a while now. Bigtown is full of flat caps but none of the shops stock ones small enough for my head, so I think I’m going to have to go online. And I think the time has also come to go for a proper Harris tweed one. Quite apart from the fact that it’s British made, which is quite something in this day and age, I can’t help noticing that every farmer over forty round here wears one, preferably so ancient its original colour has long since passed into the mists of time. Given that farmers have to be out in most weathers that suggests that they’re pretty practical, weather proof, and definitely stay on your head when bombing around on a quad bike, let alone a normal one.

The only slight problem I have is that tweed has inexplicably become a bit of a trendy urban bike thing, thanks to tweed runs and the like – although now that I’m about to adopt it, that will surely end. I need to find some way of wearing one that makes it quite clear that I’m not wearing it ironically. No doubt hanging on to it until it has become as shapeless and colourless as the farmers’ hats would do the trick – but that requires me not losing it for roughly 40 years. Which, on present form, is pretty unlikely. Meanwhile I’ll just settle for it keeping my head dry and the buzzards at bay…

*Obviously you probably couldn’t so don’t try this at home

It’s Rare…

October 28, 2013

…that we get to listen to news of the weather gods wreaking havoc over the south of England while we sit securely in Scotland suffering not much more than some heavy showers interspersed with autumn sunshine.

sunshine in peat bog

We had friends visiting from London this weekend which has meant two-and-a-half days of chatting, cooking, eating, drinking, sitting by the fire playing silly games (Bananagrams – the gateway drug to Scrabble – followed by Texas Hold’em with the contents of the penny jar), not spending any time on the internet, and above all going out for long walks in unsuitable weather.* I found the walking surprisingly hard going; I’ve become a bit lazy and just cycle everywhere these days. We had a few culinary adventures as well, from a huge cauliflower fungus found in the woods to my less-than-huge sole surviving celeriac (hastily christened Cedric).

celeriac and beetroot

Cedric the Celeriac awaits his fate

Our friends left this lunchtime to find out whether anything remains of southern England after the storm. They have stocked up with plentiful supplies of Criffel, so should society have broken down altogether under the pressure of power cuts, train breakdowns and Waitroses being closed for up to a week, they should be able to hole up somewhere safe and repel any attackers with the smell


Am I the only person who sees a rainbow as less God’s promise to the world, and more the Weather Gods’ reminder that they’ll be back …

Meanwhile we will batten down the hatches and await whatever punishment the fates have in store for us for being sarky about the storm.

*I’ll hold my hands up right now and and admit that visiting the local peat bog might have been a mistake. Still, it taught the youngest of a party a valuable lesson about how wellies don’t do much to keep your feet dry when you’re in up to your knees.


October 25, 2013

Looking back, and not all that far back either, it’s a bit strange to note that less than two years ago I was contemplating going on my first demonstration in almost two decades. Little did I know that three months later I’d be organising one of my own, on a slightly larger scale. I suppose these things get to be a little addictive.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that next Wednesday I’ll be heading up to Edinburgh again, to ask the Scottish Government for more money for active travel again. Not so much Pedal on Parliament as Stand Around Outside St Andrew’s House, but all in a similar cause. And at least I don’t have to be the one to organise it either – this one is the brainchild of the good people of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.*

So if you’re in Edinburgh and you walk or ride a bike or would like to ride a bike or walk or know and love someone who rides a bike or walks – which I think covers pretty much everyone except Eric Pickles – then you should come along and join us. I don’t think anyone who reads this blog regularly needs to be told about the benefits of active travel, the joys (and occasional non-joys) of cycling, the difficulty we face trying to find safe routes for kids to cycle to school and all the other manifold reasons why investing in cycle paths might be a better idea than, say, more roads. But these things don’t happen by themselves, you have to go out and ask …

Go on, everyone else is doing it…

*If the weather forecast for the weekend is anything to go by, they’d better hurry.

Half Way

October 24, 2013

I’m beginning to think the hardest part of this coffeeneuring lark is explaining to your non-coffeeneuring companion why you might be taking a photo of your cup of coffee.

bucket o' coffee

Actually in this case I might have photographed it anyway, but I would have included something (coin, teaspoon, small dog, a person) for scale as I’d asked for a medium Americano and been a bit startled to get a large china bucket of coffee. What can I say, I prefer a coffee you can finish before it gets cold (although I might have finished it sooner had I been talking less). And yes, this is a large national chain and not some small independent place but we’re beginning to run out of options here in Bigtown. Although they do do latte art, I noticed, if I’d wanted to get really fancy.

I made up for it by cycling back via the shortbread emporium to pick up some outdoor-reared bacon, and say hello to the pigs whose backs it turns out you can scratch if you feel that way inclined (I neglected to mention that I had their mates in slices in my bag). I’d managed to cycle right past them without noticing on my last trip


It’s been a funny autumn so far – wet (okay, that part’s not so unusual) and strangely mild. Today was the first day that actually felt and looked like autumn, with a bit of a nip in the air, and also the first day in ages it’s actually properly stopped raining. Good weather for cycling home with cured meat products in your bag.

big sky

Another 20 miler, and that’s four out of seven coffeneuring rides (pending a final arbitration on Saturday’s entry) in the bag.

Soggy Bottom Blues

October 22, 2013

So, I think I might have mentioned it’s been a bit damp recently… well, that weather has continued (we were greeted on Monday by the cheery announcement ‘they say it’s set in for the rest of the week’). So miserable has it been that when we went to the local wetland centre yesterday we found that – if the look of the teal was anything to go by – it isn’t even particularly nice weather for ducks. And today I had two meetings in Bigtown which meant that not only was I going to have to cycle eight miles in the rain, but I was going to have to look fairly presentable when I got there.

This meant pulling out all the stops: apocalypse-proof jacket (whose hood I have managed to make work even on a bike through the deployment of a cunningly placed cord which probably makes me look like basically the biggest dork ever* but does at least mean the hood stays over my head except in the worst headwinds), waterproof trousers, and Leggits (sorry ‘Leggits!’), which did a creditable job of keeping my feet dry. But there is a problem with my waterproof overtrousers – I mean quite apart from the whole thing of them being waterproof overtrousers – which is that they are now not quite waterproof … and they have chosen to fail particularly in the crotch area.

I have been putting off looking for a decent pair of waterproof trousers. Quite apart from the whole trouser shopping thing generally, to go out and spend more than about £5 on them is to cross some sort of a line. On one side of that line lie classic white shirts, slim-cut trousers, trench coats, lambswool v-neck pullovers, flat leather lace-up shoes – the sort of clothes that I imagined myself wearing when I grew up. On the other side of that line are fleeces, vests (oh all right ‘merino base layers’), lobster gloves, wellies and now waterproof overtrousers – the sort of clothes I have somehow, gradually, ended up wearing. I might not wear lycra, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought that my wardrobe was doing the image of cycling any favours.

But what the hell. If I’m going to keep cycling and it’s going to keep raining (and if the forecast is anything to go by it will), it looks like waterproof trousers are the last link in the chain. And they might as well not be rattly navy nylon ones that make me look as if I’ve wet myself. I gather that waterproof trouser technology has moved on in recent years, so if you’ve any suggestions for trousers that won’t let the rain in, won’t rattle, and will allow me to look as much like a normal person as possible when I get off the bike, let me know. I’ll be the one curled up in the corner, whimpering, as I relinquish the last vestige of my sartorial self-image.

* I come from the generation of kids that never ever ever ever put their hood up – the only time your hood was allowed on your head was if you were running around without your arms through the sleeves of your coat, pretending to be batman.

Couldn’t Resist

October 21, 2013

Among my more random seed potato purchases this year were five Highland Burgundy maincrops which I knew were red all the way through, and stayed red when you cooked them. Given that I’m a sucker for randomly coloured vegetables (purple mangetout anyone?) I had to give those a try – but what nobody mentioned was how pretty they were when sliced

highland burgundy potatoes

So when it came to topping off a casserole with potatoes, I couldn’t resist (even if they do clash with both the casserole and the tomato in the sauce.

highland burgundy slices on casserole

I’d show you a picture of it when it came out of the oven, but we ate it before I remembered. Still, there’s plenty left, so perhaps some multicoloured chips to go with the Shetland Darks. Who knows, I might even manage to photograph the finished article this time before the gannets descend…

Nice Weather for Ducks

October 19, 2013

There are mornings when you set off for a bike ride with a song in your heart. And there are mornings when the song is ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’. This morning was one of the latter. I was supposed to be leading a nice social ride, but I had managed to send out an email two weeks ago to everyone who was likely to attend with the wrong date and only realised my mistake yesterday, so very few people could actually make it. And anyone else who might still have been able join me would have looked out of the window and seen that the weather was designed to put to the test the saying ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s only bad clothing.’ It was that sort of fine damp rain that not only gets you wetter than any other kind of rain, but can go on for ever. And besides, I was wearing my waterproof overtrousers and if those aren’t the definition of ‘bad clothing’ then I don’t know what is.

river view

But anyway, it had been in the paper that there was going to be a ride and I had better be there at the rendezvous point in case any particularly masochistic nutters fancied a bike ride, and so I had to cycle the eight miles there, rain or no rain, muttering to myself that if this was cycling campaigning then perhaps I had done enough of it. Nobody duly turned up and I was just about to go and have a nice coffee and a slice of cake with the other half instead when two chaps arrived having come all the way from England just for this ride. And they were keen. When I tentatively suggested cutting it short and just heading for the cafe they weren’t having any of it. In fact they suggested a nice detour around the coast road to boot to add a few miles on. Rain? Well, we were dressed for it weren’t we? And off we went.

Ruthwell Cross

Ruthwell Cross

I have long theorised that it’s impossible to be truly grumpy on a bike. And indeed, although the rain kept going for most of it, and the wind managed to be in our faces both out and back, in the end it was fine. Not, perhaps, fun in any technical sense of the word, but fine. One of my fellow riders was a local campaigner across the border and we swapped ideas as we went along. We visited a church with an Anglo Saxon cross that was saved from the iconoclasts of the Reformation by being buried by the local congregation and later reinstated. We stopped at Brow Well to see the one place Robert Burns drank in that wasn’t a pub (and which probably killed him), and again to admire a huge flock of oystercatchers waiting for the tide to turn. And then we reached the cafe – a largely community-run venture on a spectacular spot on the river where we were revived with hot drinks and (for my part, anyway) an egg and sausage roll that hit the spot like nothing else. And the rain finally stopped and the clouds parted as we rolled back the last four or five miles, steaming gently in our waterproofs. And then I cycled the last eight miles home and collapsed by the Rayburn for the rest of the day

Now my understanding of the coffeeneuring rules was that a coffee stop taken as part of an organised ride does not count. However I’m hoping that as this ride was partly organised in order to go to a cafe, then it might sneak through on some sort of a technicality …

coffee shot

The obligatory coffee shot. Latte art has not reached this corner of Bigtownshire, but at least we still get proper tea pots

Mileage (including to and from the start point: 44 miles)

How to Speak Coonsil

October 18, 2013

I think we need to examine the pathway of how that might work within a holistic framework – that sounds quite expensive, let’s kick it into the long grass

I am unable to comment as to the specifics of that at this time – I don’t know

I think that’s something we will need to revisit going forward but for now I think we should just place that on the table as something to take on board – I don’t care

I fully take that comment on board – I’m a bit annoyed

I’ve comprehensively taken that point on board – really quite annoyed

Looking backwards I think we need to concentrate on going forward – I have fallen over.

There was more but my brain clearly balked at remembering it, possibly out of a sense of self-preservation. Still, at least there were biscuits.

Coffeeneuring part Deux

October 17, 2013

One sad side-effect of the coffeeneuring challenge is to make me feel like a bit of a Norma-no-mates: what’s the point of going out for coffee if you’ve nobody to go for a coffee with? The other half regards cycling as largely something for a sunny summer afternoon when the roads are dry, the winds are light, the moon is blue and the pigs are flying high.* And people with normal lives are generally busy going to work on Thursdays, which was the first day I had free after another busy weekend. So I was in two minds as to whether to continue, but as I had to ride into town anyway I decided to play it by ear. The forecast for today was shaping up to be pretty dire so I was expecting to want to just get home again as quickly as I could.

But the weather gods seem to be having an off day for lo and behold today was sunny again, and even mild, and I managed to bump into a friend in Bigtown and arrange a coffeeneuring date for later in the month, so I decided the challenge was back on. And as the weather was so lovely I decided to take a little detour by way of the old A Road and stop off at the local farm-shop-turned-shortbread-emporium.

neigh horsing around

No horsemeat here…

I’ve been a bit snotty about them in the past because the shop bit seems to mostly consist of expensive and over-packaged generically Scottish giftie type stuff (hence ‘shortbread emporium’), and they are essentially an out-of-town shop in what is otherwise open countryside but they do have a nice and not too pricey cafe and that’s a good thing – and their meat is undeniably local and has a good reputation in a part of the world where good meat is taken seriously, from bacon to beef to haggis. It’s one of the few places around where you can buy outdoor reared pork (although without the option to go and say hello to the pigs – I suspect that as they have a ‘tickets only’ nature trail on offer, going and scratching a few porcine backs would cost extra). As a bonus, the twelve-year-old serving in the butchery (well, apparently – it’s not just farmers who are getting younger) told me he rides his bike in every day, so there were at least two of us to balance out all the big shiny 4x4s in the car park. And with the sun, and the cafe’s sheltered terrace, it meant I could have my coffee sitting outside. In October. In Scotland. That’s got to be worth something.

coffee and sunshine

I then rode home on Bigtownshire’s accidental cycle path, stopping only to enjoy the view of the hill I wasn’t having to tackle on the other road.

hill avoided

Some things are definitely worth the detour…

Update: forgot to add the mileage. Probably about 20 all told, including the detour

*and yes, I am aware of the irony of being an award-winning cycle campaigner who can’t even persuade her husband of the joys of cycling.