When N+1 meets S-1*

February 16, 2014

Chatting with a fellow cyclist this afternoon about the indestructibility of the older cyclist and other matters, he told me he’d been in his local bike shop the other day and was admiring a very fancy bike (electronic gear shifters, carbon, the works) when an old boy came in and claimed it as his.

It turns out that this chap had bought the bike a few months ago and not yet managed to pluck up the courage to tell his wife. So he was heading out on his old bike for a ride, all innocence, then swapping it for the shiny new steed which he was keeping safely out of sight in the shop…

Suddenly the algebra of cyclo-maths has got just that little bit more complicated

* N+1 is the ideal number of bikes for a cyclist, where N is the number of bikes the cyclist already owns up to S-1, where S is the number of bikes at which point the cyclist’s spouse leaves them…

The Way to a Cyclist’s Heart

February 14, 2014

‘Great bike,’ said the old boy coming out of the shop this morning as I was getting ready to head off. ‘Aye, that’s a wee cracker that is.’

And suddenly a cold, dark, blowy February morning got a little brighter and my bike looked a little shinier and we flew home together aided by more than just a tailwind.

The words ‘nice bike’  – or variations thereof – never ever get old…

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum

February 13, 2014

It’s not often you settle down for a nice coffee and toasted tea cake in a Bigtown cafe with a friend and get passed a little baggie of contraband

mystery beans

We were meeting to do our seed order and my friend had brought along some heritage seeds a friend of hers had sent her. He’s a member of the Heritage Seed Library and had grown them last year – they can’t be sold because they’re not standardised hybrids. Once grown, the seed then gets passed on to other gardeners to keep the heritage varieties alive, although given my gardening success I’m not sure I’m the best person to be given anything precious to curate.

mystery beans close up

Up close they’re rather spiffy looking, but there’s a one tiny problem: my friend has forgotten what exactly they grow into (Twitter thinks they may be borlotti beans or failing that, dinosaur eggs). Clearly, the only thing to do is plant them and see what happens. For after all, nobody ever came to grief from growing beans given them by a mysterious stranger…


Simple Pleasures

February 12, 2014

So I was going to entertain you all today with a long rant on the joys of rural public transport as composed by me on the two mile trudge back from the bus stop* in the freezing cold rain after I had decided against cycling today for reasons which became less and less compelling with every squelching step.

And then I got home and switched on the radio and listened to the weather news around the country and felt rather petty. There I was, sitting in the warm and dry, with a cup of coffee and a round of toast and no need to go out into the weather again, and my forty minutes in the rain and a pair of sodden shoes rather paled in comparison to what everyone else was having to put up with. After all, when was the last time I had even realised just how pleasant and comforting it is to have warm feet and dry socks? And now suddenly they seemed like one of life’s little luxuries…

I hope your heads are all above water, wherever you are.

* The bus stop for which we’re not allowed to have a bus shelter because not enough people use it because they don’t find standing around in a layby by a trunk road half a mile from their village in Scotland in winter to wait for an hourly bus that costs FIVE pounds return an attractive proposition, for some reason**

** to give you the condensed version

It’s not often…

February 11, 2014

… we sit up here and listen to the South East of England getting all our weather. I used to live in Maidenhead so the news bulletins have been a bit of a trip down memory lane, albeit one where memory lane has required a pair of chest waders and/or a rubber dinghy to negotiate.

We were forecast all sorts ourselves today from sleet to heavy rain to ice, but so far apart from one short snow flurry it’s actually been (whisper it) sunny, if cold. It only promises to be a brief respite between storms but I took the opportunity of a free afternoon after my epic work bout to go and see whether anything was going on in the garden – looks like the snowdrops have recovered from last year’s harvest, anyway.


Whether you’re flooded, soggy, or just anxiously watching the waters rise, hang on in there. Spring *is* on its way…

It has to be.

Ruled by a Tomato

February 10, 2014

Bleurgh. I’ve been a bit busy recently, doing the sort of concentrated heads-down at-a-computer type work that earns money but doesn’t really provide much in the way of blogging material unless you want to know just how stiff my neck and shoulders are (I even had to skip yoga last week). But as a result, I have been seriously using the Pomodoro Technique, as the best way of maintaining my concentration and basically getting the work done without endlessly frittering away my time on twitter. I’ve dabbled with it in the past and found it quite effective but not transformative but this time I actually went to the effort of downloading an app for my phone (there are tons of them) and doing it properly. As a result I’ve managed to do way more work than I’ve ever managed in the past, despite the fact that in essence as a technique it’s almost insultingly simple: you work for 25 minutes and then you take a short break, and then you start again. There’s something faintly ridiculous in the idea that I have to have my phone to tell me when to work and when to take a break, and yet at the same time there’s something very compelling about having a timer count down the seconds till you can take a break – and then imperiously ringing you back to work once your break is over.

And amazingly I’ve found that with the thing on I actually can resist the temptation of just quickly checking what that email is, because after all it’s only another 7 minutes and 38 seconds before I can legitimately read it and respond. Nor do I find that a quick glance at what’s going on in Twitter results in me looking up slightly dazed some time later and discovering I’ve spent the last 30 minutes looking at websites offering donkeys for sale (this really happened, although fortunately I don’t appear to have bought any donkeys). In fact, I’ve got better all round at concentrating on what I’m doing even when I don’t have the tomato ticking away in the background, although I can’t promise that substantial chunks of my time aren’t occasionally lost down internet rabbitholes. In fact the only unexpected side effect is that I’m drinking more coffee because the symbol it uses for a ‘break’ is a picture of a cup of coffee and so suggestible am I, I obediently put the kettle on…

I don’t know whether the whole Pomodoro thing is built on some actual brain science that shows that 25 minutes is the optimum time for concentrating on a task – or whether it’s just that I’ve subconsciously decided that having downloaded the thing I’m going to make it work for me. I suspect it’s a bit of both. We humans are really quite irrational creatures and apparently sometimes it makes sense to hand over some of your autonomy to a piece of software on a phone that’s pretending to be an Italian kitchen timer that’s pretending to be a tomato. At some point – probably when I need it most – my brain will rebel and I’ll stop paying attention to its commands and I’ll have to find some other technique which will work for a while in its stead. Until that day, I’ll just keep it ticking away…

Weather Gods in Action

February 9, 2014

Shortly after posting Friday’s little challenge, I headed off to the station for the weekend and had to stop and capture this:

passing storm

Even as I watched, a shaft of sunlight slanted through the rain (‘quick, get your shovel out and start digging – that’s where the pot of gold is’ said a passing cyclist)


From the amount of rain on the road, they had only missed me by a matter of minutes…