November 30, 2013

After yesterday’s pity party (mental note to self: do not blog when feeling sorry for yourself) I woke up this morning feeling less than ready for much of anything today. It was cold, I wasn’t well, and I was supposed to be helping lead a bike ride I’d done almost nothing to promote due to the whole candle-at-both-ends, gadding-about thing, which meant probably nobody would turn up. Even the fact that it was a sparkly frosty morning didn’t really help – didn’t the weather Gods know that I was ILL?

Fortunately, as the ride was going practically past my door, my fellow ride leader was happy to meet the group at the start and let me join the ride en route. Having had no text indicating a complete no-show, I set off slowly towards the rendezvous point, still thinking that this was probably a silly thing to be doing with a cold.

autumn sunshine on trees

Regular readers of this blog will probably guess what happened next. The sun was slanting across the hills and giving everything it touched a hyper-real air, like autumn had been turned all the way up to 11. There was even some faint warmth in the sun on my face. I was reminded that I live in a gorgeous part of the world and here I was out on my bike, taking advantage of it

road ahead

Not only that, but seven people had showed up for the ride, including two octogenarians – one of whom proceeded to set a cracking pace (there was a cafe stop and a bacon roll waiting for him and he wasn’t going to let anyone slow him down). There’s nothing like being dropped by an 84-year-old to give you a sense of perspective.

Clearly the main thing that was wrong with me last week was not enough cycling… I shall have to rectify that from now on.

approaching cyclists

Extinguishing the Candle at One End

November 29, 2013

As alert readers may have noticed, I’ve been a bit busy recently. Not just all the gadding about of the last few weeks, but at some point in the preceding months I have managed to go from doing occasional welcome freelance jobs to being somehow employed more or less full time. Adding in all the various cycling stuff I do – and my writing, which is technically supposed to be my day job – then I was left with very little time to do all the things we moved up here in order to be able to do.

So I have decided, if I can, to rebalance my life a little, at least over December. My resolve has been strengthened by the fact that I’ve come back from That London and its plentiful and germ-filled public transport with some sort of lurgy (having compounded my error by staying in a house with school-age children – I’m surprised that the other half didn’t institute some sort of a quarantine arrangement on my return). Occasionally you have to listen to what your body is telling you, even if it is doing so through the medium of pain and snot. I still have a few more commitments to get through (like running a pop-up bookshop today, as you do, and oh look I’ve got something on every evening next week) but then I’m going to be strict about clearing the decks and concentrating on what really matters. Like blogging.

So stand by for more updates about the important stuff in life. Like getting the garden ready for winter, going for long walks, curling up in front of the fire, and – of course – updating you on the level of the ford.

Brompton to the Rescue! (Again)

November 25, 2013

There are times when travelling with a Brompton does feel like it’s more trouble than it’s worth – such as when you’re in Chester station sprinting* up and down the stairs after your third platform change in 20 minutes, or indeed when you get to the barrier at the shiny new Kings Cross and discover that you can only top up your Oyster card by going down more stairs to the underground station and back up again because obviously integrated transport systems are for wimps with poor upper-body strength.

But I’m still glad I brought it with me this trip because on Friday, after the conversation had somehow turned to cycling (can’t think how that happened), one of my fellow trainees revealed she’d never ridden a bike as where she grew up it was considered not done for women to cycle. Half jokingly, I suggested she have a go on my Brompton. To my surprise and slight trepidation she readily agreed and so on Saturday during a break in our training I found myself teaching an adult to ride a bike – a first for both of us.

Now the Brompton isn’t always the easiest of bikes to ride, being a bit lively (some might say squirrelly) about the steering. But riding a bike is all about balance and my pupil had beautiful posture, which was half the battle. There was a long straight tarmacked driveway with a gentle downhill slope and I stood in front of her and walked backwards as she rode towards me. After one false start she was away and pedalling like a good un and there was only a little screaming, which quickly went from fear to delight. By the time she had got to the bottom of the drive and back up she was ready to buy her own bike and accompany her daughters on their rides in the park. In fact, once our lesson was over, I had a bit of a job to get her to let go of the Brompton at all…

So, although I now have a terrible case of Brompton shoulder from all yesterday’s lugging about – and undoubtedly a fresh set of Brompton bruises on my leg – I wouldn’t have left it behind for the world. There’s nothing, but nothing, like seeing someone experience the freedom of cycling for the first time to remind you that all the pain and angst and aggro of cycle campaigning is worth it because riding a bike itself is nothing but delight. Now all we have to do is create the conditions so she can ride her new bike on our roads, as well as round the park.

* and by ‘sprinting’ obviously I mean staggering up the stairs with it resting on one thigh.

More Gadding

November 22, 2013

So I’m in Chester – well, outside Chester – on a campaigning workshop all weekend. The place is about 5 miles from the station (in a gorgeous spot – who knew Chester was so lovely? I mean, apart from everyone but me, of course…). Taxis from the station were on offer but I had a better idea – why else do I have a Brompton after all? After my adventures in Glasgow I did some thorough research of my route (and took some local advice) and found that there was a rather nice greenway that ran almost from the station to almost where I was going. Armed with my GPS, a printed out map, and turn by turn directions, and having viewed all the potentially scary bits on Google StreetView to make sure there weren’t any unexpected motorway junctions, I came out of the station with my Brompton ready for almost anything.

The first thing I did, obviously, was get lost. Nobody had thought to signpost anything as unimportant as a bike route from the station, and there was a diversion as well. But that was fine – I was expecting to get lost and I had allowed plenty of time. My GPS was hopeless – I don’t know where it thought I was but it wasn’t anywhere I recognised from the street names – but my printed out map was enough to get me onto the green way which was wide and tarmacked and deserted (and unlit – I’ll be getting a taxi back on Sunday evening, I’m afraid). It ran straight the way I wanted to go, under several scary looking roads, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I sailed along in the autumn sunshine.

And then I got to the flood sign, and the flood. A proper flood, right across the road, pouring out from some drain, with a smell that suggested it wasn’t just rain water that was involved. Naturally, they hadn’t thought to warn anyone at one of the exits to the path so that we could take a diversion – and besides, I think that would have meant sprinting across a motorway – so the only way on was through it. The woman in wellies walking her dog looked a little dubiously at my Brompton ‘I’ve seen cyclists go through it, but your wheels are rather low to the ground,’ she said. She wished me luck and on I ploughed, wishing I’d thought to pack wellies, or even a spare pair of shoes. The waters reached well above the bottom of my pedal stroke, but I managed with a sort of alternating foot pedal stroke to keep my shoes out of the worst of it, regretting my decision to go all ‘cycle chic’ and wear my long grey coat. I sailed out the other side more or less unscathed, if a little whiffy, and was startled to meet a guy on a racing bike – sans mudguards – coming the other way. Clearly they’re made of stern stuff in Chester. And then I went back to pedalling in the autumn sunshine, admiring the glorious countryside, and trying to ignore the faint smell of sewage coming from my bike

So there you go. Cycling infrastructure, UK style – often beautiful, occasionally extremely convenient, just make sure you wear your wellies…

Oh, and I got to the venue to find I was the first one there. Terrible traffic, apparently…

One Man and His Car

November 21, 2013

Riding into Bigtown this morning I encountered a bit of sheepherding, modern style – one (ordinary saloon) car driving along in front with its hazards on, a flock of sheep, and one driving along behind to make sure there were no stragglers. I suppose there’s no actual reason why one should herd sheep from a quad bike with a dog – or even from a 4×4, except that it just looks a bit more authentically agricultural that way (although I did notice that both drivers were at least wearing their tweed caps). And if you’re on a normal car it’s probably a lot warmer and more comfortable than a quad bike and cheaper to run than a Land Rover.

But it did seem a little strange that these sheep were being herded from next to the field where sheepdog school regularly runs – and indeed, as I cycled back before lunch, there were all the trainee sheepdogs bouncing up and down waiting for their turn to chase the remaining sheep in circles round the field. You do wonder what the point is of all that training if you can move the sheep around just as easily with a couple of Ford Focuses fore and aft. And you’d think the dogs would relish the chance to actually try their stuff on the road doing an actual real job moving sheep from one field to another.

But then again, being trainees, perhaps they’re not up to being out there with the traffic? At what level do you allow the dogs out on the road? Sheepability 2?

Slick and Tyred

November 19, 2013

So the unexpected downside of having amazing spiked winter tyres for your bike is the amount of emotional energy that goes into deciding when to actually deploy them. The easiest thing would probably be just to put them on the bike in November and keep them on there until the end of March but they are quite heavy and also quite expensive and riding them solidly for five months would wear them out too quickly. On the other hand, swapping the wheels around is not an entirely straightforward process, especially with the dynamo, and is much better done by the other half, for reasons we’ve discussed exhaustively already, so a bit of forward planning is required.

This morning, despite all the dire forecasts, things weren’t looking too bad by the time I ventured out on the bike. Fortunately (or unfortunately) one of the worst spots for ice on our road is the bit just outside our gate so I can usually decide whether or not to risk the ice spikeless by standing on the road and doing the little ‘how slippy is it?’ dance.* Today the verdict was that it was just about doable, with care and so it proved – although I had forgotten just how paranoid-making it is to cycle on a patchily icy road on normal tyres. This meant I spent most of the ride down mentally debating whether I should have just swapped the tyres myself or whether I should get the other half to swap the tyres tonight or whether I should stick it out until the weekend and if so how long before I’d have to take them off again, and the rest looking out for icy patches, leaving no mental cycles for my usual cycling activities of admiring the view, arguing in my head with people who have been wrong on the internet (I always win when I’m on my bike) and thinking deep thoughts.

Which is how I managed to look up and suddenly discover a kestrel flying straight at me, being chased by a raven. Both birds veered off before I had to take evasive action, which given the conditions was probably fortunate. I assume had it been a tractor heading straight for me instead I would have noticed sooner, but I can’t be 100% sure…

Maybe I’ll just put those tyres on and have done with it after all.

*you sort of twist your feet around from side to side along the lines of the dance scene from Pulp Fiction. Best done when no passing dog walkers, farmers or neighbours are watching

Winter Approacheth

November 18, 2013

trees and mist

The forecast this morning was full of doom and gloom and frost and snow and ice and lions and tigers and bears (oh my). Otherwise known as ‘winter’.

morning mist

But not quite yet, and today it was still all mellow fruitfulness as autumn lingered like the morning mist.

autumn colour

Time to get the ice tyres on the bike soon …

spider web