Rider on the Storm

January 31, 2014

I knew the forecast wasn’t looking too clever this morning, so I thought I’d better just quickly check the rain radar before settling down to see whether I had time to get some work done before setting off. A quick glance showed an enormous scary mass of rain marching rapidly towards us with no end in sight so I didn’t hesitate and was out on my bike to get down to the paper shop and back while I still could. In fact, I probably could have done without the rain radar as a glance to the west revealed nothing but increasing murkiness. I abandoned my normal contemplative pedalling style and concentrated on making progress, egged on by the chilly bite in the headwind: it wasn’t just rain that those dark clouds promised. The sky over papershop village was looking apocalyptic and all the east-bound cars headlights were on, never a good sign, but at least on the way home I had the wind behind me. Focusing on the lighter skies to the east, I put my head down and let it push me home and, very satisfyingly, was wheeling my bike into the shed just as the first drops fell.

Since then we’ve had rain, ice, sleet, snow, and back to rain again. Pleasant as it is to be safe at home throughout it all, it’s the village Burns supper tonight so out I must go again, and in all my Burns night finery,* because the other half has the car and won’t be back in time to ferry me down. I wonder just how easy it will be to do the Dashing White Sergeant in wellies…

* In my case, ‘clothes I haven’t gardened in recently

Salute the Sun

January 29, 2014

I just want to record that the sun came out while I was riding down to the paper shop and I had to take my hat off to maximise the feeling of it on my face. It was only for a moment and it wasn’t as if there was any actual warmth to be had but it was sunshine and thus to be cherished. In other news, I had failed to notice the hammering East wind which meant a monstrous head wind all the way home, but these things are sent to try us.

And if you’re trying to visualise me riding along, bare headed, more than half a metre from the verge (hey, there are potholes), then I recommend you stop that behaviour right now because such imagery is socially irresponsible and likely to cause harm and offence.*

*And if like me you think that is a pile of horse poo, you can sign here

Feeling Floaty

January 28, 2014

I don’t know how I’ve managed to get to the ripe old age of 44 without ever trying yoga – especially as I was humiliated as a child by a school gym report saying I had a ‘weak but flexible body’ which my family thought was hilarious and has never been forgotten and I thought was a bit unnecessary, frankly (and who gives six-year-olds gym reports anyway?). I suppose when I was growing up yoga was still a bit alternative and hippyish, and by the time it had become just another reason to go shopping for accessories I had taken up pilates which seemed to involve similar amounts of bendy-stretchiness without having to embrace a whole eastern philosophy. But as time has worn on and I’ve failed to do anything about booking myself a pilates class up here (there are waiting lists), yoga has started to look more appealing. Apart from anything else, I am now a bit alternative and hippyish myself, and suddenly the whole meditative aspect (if not the actual philosophy) is becoming a plus rather than a minus in my mind. So when a friend suggested I join her at her gentle, beginners, and (most importantly) pay-as-you-go yoga class, just as my neck and shoulders were giving me gyp, I decided to take it as a sign and see how it went.

I was a bit nervous that I’d make some horrible faux pas or just be hopeless but fortunately a welcoming teacher and the aforementioned weak but still mostly quite flexible body meant I managed okay, especially as doing a mid-week morning class means I’m the youngest in the room, although it would help if my glasses didn’t keep falling off. And – combined with the fact that I have finally managed to get my bike serviced (it’s been even harder than getting a GP appointment, frankly) – the ride home has been lovely and fluid with me and the bike both moving like well-oiled machines. To keep this going, I’ve been promising myself I will stretch out, yoga fashion, after every ride (cycling is brilliant for you in so many ways, but it does tend to tighten up the hamstrings) and keep the bike a bit cleaner and the chain lubricated. Let’s see how long either of those resolutions last…


January 26, 2014

In what’s shaping up to be the rainiest winter ever, there’s an unwelcome new development: the courtyard in front of our house has taken to flooding regularly.* This morning was another wild and wet start and pretty soon the water levels were creeping up and no amount of poking things with a stick was going to make any difference

yard flooded

A quick yomp around in wellies revealed that we were surrounded

The burn that runs down one side of the property had overflowed and was now running across our drive as well as onto the road

driveway converted into a burn

On the other side and behind the house the water was running directly off the hillside behind us and pooling right up against the back wall, which may be why we don’t have a back door. Oh well, I’ve always wanted to live in a property with a moat…

flooding at the back of the house

As for outside the property, it’s never a good sign when there are white caps on the water running down the road.

whitecaps on the water on the road

It did all drain away eventually, although it reached the shed door at its height and I spent a fair bit of time anxiously monitoring it. If this continues we’re going to have to erect a depth gauge in the front yard, ford-stylee

Meanwhile, here’s a glimpse of the real thing.

ford in flood

More heavy rain forecast for tomorrow. Oh joy.

*It tells you something about the Scottish weather that it’s possible to be in danger of flooding even when you live on the side of a hill

Going Spare

January 24, 2014

So I was at a meeting yesterday (hang on, didn’t I quit my job so I didn’t have to go to meetings any more? What happened there? And I’m not even being paid to attend them, although there was cake). It was a ‘stakeholder meeting’ which means people make proposals about how they could improve some local streets, and the council puts a stake through the heart of anything at all radical, although they were willing to accede to ‘heritage style’ lampposts and possibly ‘heritage style’ street signs as long as they were standard heritage style and not some sort of off-piste made up heritage style in case all the other streets started wanting them too.

However, one semi-radical proposal did look as if it was sneaking under the cooncil ‘ooh we couldn’t possibly do that’ radar. There’s a road that runs through Bigtown that is a sort of spur of the one-way system that was designed back in the sixties when we were all going to swoosh everywhere in our cars at all times, which means it’s a bit of a nightmare if you’re not swooshing along in a car but trying to cross it on foot or negotiate it on a bike. As it’s two lanes at one bit and only one lane further along, there’s actually no reason why it couldn’t go down to one lane all the way along which would free up space for all sorts of possible uses from parking to a contraflow bike lane. Even the planning and roads guy seems to have agreed that this would be doable without hell freezing over or opening the Hellmouth which everybody knows lurks beneath Bigtown and can only be appeased by ensuring that the number of parking spaces never diminishes by a single spot.*

All was going quite well, until the guy responsible for digging up the roads piped up. The problem with taking away a lane from that road was that if you had to dig it up to do any work on the utilities, then the road would have to be closed, which obviously would never do, even though there’s another major road running parallel to it with another four lanes of traffic capacity. Whereas if we kept the other lane as a spare, then we would never have to close the road ever and there would never be a traffic jam in Bigtown again, probably. So no road capacity must be removed ever in case we might need it sometime in order to dig up other bits of the roads. End of argument. I was so taken aback that I couldn’t see the flaw in his logic until I got home and told the other half and he pointed out that if the utilities were all under the bit of road that was being taken away then you’d never have to dig the road up again anyway, you’d just have to dig up the pavement. In fairness to me, I do have to point out that I’d been sitting in a meeting with multiple council officials for almost two hours at that point, so my brain was rapidly losing the will to live.

Still, at least we will get some nice heritage-style lampposts…

* at least I think that’s the reason why you must never suggest anything that might affect parking in any way.

Familiarity Breeds … Well, Politeness Actually

January 22, 2014

I was chatting with a prospective neighbour the other day – another cyclist, who is contemplating moving down from Nairn.* He was mentioning that they suffer a bit from boy racer syndrome up there and drivers can be a bit aggressive around bikes, and I was saying how little I experience that around here. And then it struck me that a good half of all the drivers I encounter on my daily round – and more like 80% on the papershop run – are either people I know, or people who have seen me out on the road hundreds of times before and have got used to my being there. It means that the little courtesies I extend to them (pulling in at a farm gate if the road is too narrow to pass me, acknowledging a good pass with a wave, doing my damndest to pedal quickly up a hill when someone’s patiently waiting behind me) get paid back down the line – like the tractor that always gives me masses of room by practically pulling off the road every time it encounters me, which as it’s generally pulling a very rural-smelling trailer-load of something, I’m extremely grateful for.

As a case in point there’s a bloke who drives a pickup truck which is often parked at a forest entrance on the way down to the papershop. The first time I encountered him, he practically ran me off the road – not maliciously, I don’t think, he just didn’t leave me very much tarmac to ride on. I saw him parked up shortly afterwards and I was tempted to give him a piece of my mind but his dog was barking at me and it was one of those leg-at-each-corner bulldogs that clearly had cyclist murder on its mind so I just said good morning and let it pass. Since then I’ve encountered them both on the road often enough and while his dog would still clearly take a lump out of me if only it could work out how to wind down the window, these days he now gives me all the room I could ask for and we exchange friendly waves of greeting. Clearly as the months have passed, I’ve gone from being an anonymous obstacle on the road to an actual person who needs some space, and no need to deliver a little lecture about it either. Well, either that or he’s worked out just how wide his vehicle is…

Of course this cuts both ways – a bit of obnoxious behaviour on my part would not be quickly forgotten either.  So I ride as courteously and considerately as I can, and hope it does all pay forward in the end.

* This being Bigtownshire, where we don’t really do degrees of separation, we quickly discovered we had been standing about 200 yards apart during the Tour of Britain this year.

Signs of Madness

January 20, 2014

It’s usually not a good idea to listen to the voices in your head but – like new rattles on your bike – it’s definitely worth paying attention to the little voice that pipes up just after you’ve locked the front door to go out on the bike, especially if it’s saying something like ‘wouldn’t it be a good idea to bring a pump’ rather than ‘the government is reading all your emails’.* Or, as was the case before I set off for a soggy group ride on Saturday, ‘what is the point of packing all of your puncture repair stuff if you don’t bring a pump and how about a spare pair of gloves in case those ones get wet?’

So yes, I suppose it was inevitable that I should end up not just with gloves whose waterproofing had failed so comprehensively that I could wring them out before we’d gone the first mile – but that I should encounter a blackthorn that managed to beat the puncture protection of my Schwalbe Marathon Plus back tyre (it was so wedged in that I couldn’t actually remove it – I ended up just having to poke out as much of it as I could and break off any sharp bits on the inside of the tyre). Fortunately somebody could lend me a pump and the puncture was slow enough that I didn’t have to demonstrate how long it takes me to repair a flat in public, but I did end up having to ride without my gloves on as I just couldn’t face putting my soggy ones back on again. It turns out after the first mile, your fingers don’t get any colder…

Still I did *almost* manage to repair the puncture myself yesterday (I failed at putting the tyre back on, and yes I have seen the video with the zip ties) and today I also managed to swap my front ice tyre out and put the normal one on – apologies to everyone who was enjoying the resulting mild weather, but we’ve had so much rain recently the little steel spikes were actually going rusty …

* oh hang on, wait…

Glug Glug

January 17, 2014

OK, I think I have finally worked out how to use the rainwrap properly now. If you add in the Leggits! it takes fully ten minutes to get all your rain gear on before venturing out. In that time, it will almost certainly stop raining and stay stopped raining until you get to your destination whereupon everyone will look at you even more oddly than they would have done had you turned up drenched. HOWEVER this magical rain repelling property only works if you put everything on before leaving the house. Leaving the house with the rainwrap in the pannier having foolishly believed the weather forecast will result in it starting raining heavily as soon as you are half a mile down the road, or in the middle of Bigtown High Street, whichever is the more embarrassing for attempting to clumsily don a rain skirt in.

In the time it’s taken me to work this out, I may have inadvertently flooded Bigtownshire, for which I’m sorry. On the other hand, it should at least mean we get a nice dry day for our planned winter bike ride tomorrow. Assuming nobody else is foolish enough to leave their over-the-top rain protection in their bag.

In other news, putting your ice tyres on is guaranteed to bring about a prolonged mild spell.

Have you Seen these Socks?

January 16, 2014

It’s a sign of how slowly I knit, that I have only just completed the socks* I started on the flight out to the US at Christmas.

new socks

Alert readers will note that there’s something a bit odd going on on the sock on the left, and they’re not the only ones. On the way home from the States we stopped off in Salt Lake City and I was knitting away when I noticed the other half looking over my shoulder. ‘Keep knitting’ he said, which naturally made me stop and turn round and discovered I was being photographed by a curious tourist. She then came over and expressed great interest in my then half-knitted socks, paying particular attention to the wonky bits of the one on the left. The combination of her English, and my Speak Loudly And Clearly to Foreigners were not good enough for me to explain that the wonkiness was not a feature but my attempt to master the jogless stripe based on a vague memory of what you were supposed to do, rather than going and googling it properly like a normal person. Anyway, after a prolonged and close examination of the offending sock she managed to convey to me that she too was a knitter, and that she had worked out how to do what I was doing. I have a slightly uneasy feeling that I may have started a craze somewhere in the Far East for knitting slightly screwed-up stripey socks, ‘American style’. I can only apologise to the actual competent knitters of the US for sullying their reputations.

So, those of you who inhabit the knitting blogosphere rather than the cycling one might want to look out for sightings of my wonky socks online. I’m sure they’re up there somewhere…

* Mysteriously, no sooner did I complete the socks, than I opened my sock drawer this morning to discover two pairs of completely unexpected black socks which appear to have materialised out of nowhere. Bizarre.

Shortcut to Happiness

January 14, 2014

I’m currently reading The Happy City by Charles Montgomery about how we can make ourselves happier (and greener and healthier) by redesigning our cities. It ticks all sorts of boxes for me: from a cameo appearance by Enrique Penalosa on a bike to plenty of love for the sort of mixed human-scale urbanism so eloquently championed by Jane Jacobs, as well as putting into words some of the things I find a bit disturbing about visiting Colorado, however bright and glorious the winter weather.

I haven’t finished reading it yet, but one thing did stand out in the chapter on what makes humans happy. One of the key ingredients of happiness, apparently, is the feeling that you can trust the people around you and happiness researchers measure it by asking people what they think the likelihood is that their wallet would be returned to them by a stranger if they dropped it where they lived.

Now, as it happens, most people massively underestimate the chances of getting their wallet back – what the question really measures, indirectly, is how well they know their neighbours and how often they interact positively with the people around them. Improving people’s happiness, therefore, includes basically re-engineering the way we live so that we can have lots of friendly interactions with other people, which means doing things like getting rid of sprawl, shortening commutes, creating green spaces in cities and rolling back the dominance of the car – all brilliant and worthwhile things but a) a bit long term and b) unlikely when you have a government whose transport policy consists of building dual carriageways between every town in Scotland and then when they are finished with that possibly thinking about some cycle paths (I really wish I was making this up).

Obviously, I will continue to campaign for such a re-imagining of our cities and towns but fortunately there is a shortcut for those of us wishing to be happy in our lifetimes – you can be me, and just leave your wallet and other assorted valuables in a trail behind you wherever you go, and discover first hand the honesty of the people around you. It’s a slightly high-risk strategy, perhaps, but imagine your surprise and delight at getting a letter in the post informing you that your wallet which disappeared on the train on the way to the US over Christmas, has turned up in a lost property depot in Huddersfield. This means I shall soon be reunited with not just my (by now cancelled – I’m optimistic, not completely naive) bank cards, but my driver’s licence (I think I have a use for it; it will come to me eventually…), WWT membership card, Advanced Open Water diver’s qualification (may come in handy if it keeps raining) and, most important of all, every library card I’ve ever been issued…