Miracle Cure

March 31, 2014

As I may have mentioned, I came back from London with a lurgy, which has proved rather more debilitating than normal – I spent the weekend alternating between feeling sorry for myself and attempting to cough up a tonsil, neither of which really make for entertaining blogging. Today, I had to be in Bigtown, lurgy or no lurgy. I thought I’d take a side trip to Aldi for some Manuka honey, because twitter had declared it the cure for all ills, and while I’m not sure it’s necessarily that effective I had managed to dig up enough pseudoscience on the internet to at least delude my brain into arranging some beneficial placebo effects. All was going well – sun shining, birds singing, spring springing – until I reached the outskirts of Bigtown when the sensation of suddenly riding through treacle, combined with an extra death rattle from my rack, alerted me to the fact that my back tyre had gone completely flat. Although I now have a beautiful tool roll with all the bits I needed to repair a puncture, I had managed to forget my pump. The nearest garage’s air pumps were out of order, so that meant going the rest of the way into town on foot – I had forgotten just how slow and tedious walking is when you’re used to zipping around on a bike. I got to my destination rather hot, bothered, weary … and, as I realised as I turned in the gate, no longer feeling ill. Whether it was the bike ride or the walk of shame, or just the passage of time, the lurgy had somehow eased its death grip on my throat. I think that I’d have preferred dosing myself with honey, on the whole.

At this point I should have loved to have said that I then borrowed a pump and repaired the puncture with practised ease – but I have to confess that I just wheeled the bike on to the bike shop and shelled out for a new inner tube and outsourced all the swearing at my tyres that refitting them entails. I’d be more embarrassed about this, if I wasn’t the 4th person to come in that day with a flat tyre. It seems that, while hedge-cutting season is long over, drinking outdoors season has only just begun and the paths and roads and verges all sparkle with celebratory bucky bottle shards as a result.

In other news, the cough has started up again.


You Know you’re not in London any more…

March 28, 2014

… when you find your train journey enlivened by a stranger’s life story. I caught the Bigtown connection by the skin of my teeth this afternoon, and slid into one of the table seats beside what I took to be a mother and teenage daughter. The girl was soon chatting away merrily about the Brompton, the train service, her international gymnastics career (now retired), her As in maths, English and child care, her three-year-old daughter, the various fights she had got into in school after the announcement of her engagement, her plans for this evening (chicken curry cooked by her fiance’s sister if you’re interested), the fact that you can no longer get a half on the bus if you’ve got your own toddler in tow, and much much more. It soon became apparent that the older woman was not her mother – indeed, she was a stranger too, and as bemused as I was, as well as being slightly concerned. The barrage continued until the stop before Bigtown where the girl got off, with a cheery ‘see you later’. It was certainly an eye-opener and I suppose it beats one of those overheard telephone conversations that used to enliven my morning commute down in London, although it wasn’t much less one-sided…

You also know you’ve been in London when you come back feeling like you’re coming down with a lurgy. What with the public transport, all the people, school-age children and the pollution, my isolated country immune system just doesn’t stand a chance…

Canal Dreams

March 27, 2014

I’m gadding about a bit at the moment – spent Tuesday night pretending to be an expert at the NewCycling AGM (I don’t think they rumbled me) and then yesterday I came down to that London where I had to get myself, bags and Brompton from Kings Cross to Wormwood Scrubs, as you do. The obvious answer would have been the tube, but I had plenty of time and the Brompton remains an awkward travelling companion in anything other than bike mode. A quick glance at the map (eek!), consultation with Google directions bicycle mode (double eek – since when do A roads count as bicycle friendly, Google map people?) and finally an appeal to Twitter (aha) revealed that I could get there almost entirely along the canal towpaths. Somehow in my imagination London has developed a semi-tropical climate in the years since I used to live there so the prospect of an afternoon gliding along in warm spring sunshine beckoned.

My train arrived a little late into Kings Cross, where they have done something very peculiar to the space-time fabric – possibly opening the portal at Platform 9 and 3/4 – but I found my way out heading north and quickly found the canal where a brand new plaza gives access to the tow path to pedestrians, very adventurous wheelchair users, and Danny Mackaskill

steps down to canal

What were they thinking?

Consultation with a passing cyclist revealed that yes, that was the way down for bikes too and after negotiating a mere million chicanes past the moored boats (fair enough, I suppose) and wheeled the bike through Camden Lock market, I was soon gliding along as I had hoped, albeit sans spring sunshine and through what felt very like south west Scotland rain.

Regents canal in the rain

It was still magical to pedal along in peace beneath the busy grind of London life, past gleaming mansions and the zoo, almost alone apart from some very fancy looking ducks. It was especially magical as I could hear the roar of the traffic on the roads I wasn’t having to negotiate. I nodded hello to the few oncoming yellow-jacketed cyclists I encountered who uniformly ignored me (obviously – how could they see me without my hi vis?) and the pedestrians, who didn’t, and got some very detailed instructions from a resident in one of the boats on how to make the interchange from Regents Canal to the Grand Union which I still managed to mess up by ending up on the private side rather than the hoi polloi’s public towpath side. Then it was back up another flight of steps with a reluctant Brompton in tow (Bromptons with fully laden baskets don’t really do wheeling ramps) and enough on-street cycling to remind me that – in the great scale of things – bus lanes really aren’t cycling infrastructure, although at least they don’t have flights of steps to negotiate.Regents Canal


And then it was home via the tube, with my now folded companion making itself as awkward as possible (stuck in the tube gate, getting in the way, becoming heavier and heavier on the apparently three-mile walk betwen the entrance to Willesden Junction and the platform) reminding me why on the whole, bike is best.


March 24, 2014

So I was having a lovely ride this afternoon, the sun in my eyes and the wind in my hair (it being too gusty for the hat), and nothing to detain me but a herd of cows being brought in to calve, and even then I just hung around and chatted with the cow man about his sciatica while the cows decided whether or not they would be brave enough to go past the Scary Bike Thing.

Resuming my journey, I saw a tractor which very patiently waited for me to go past before pulling out of a field and joining in my wake in an impromptu rural procession (it must be a novelty for a tractor driver to be at the back). All would have been well, had a mischeivous gust of wind not snatched my glasses off my face and right across the road, forcing me to come to a stop so I could retrieve them – and even then all might have been well had the tractor driver, being a very courteous young man, not decided to pass me very politely, giving me loads of room, by going right up onto the verge, the very verge on which my glasses had come to rest.

The other half has long wondered (sometimes out loud) what it would take for me to actually go and replace my glasses, rather than just blogging about it and then swearing at them every time they fall off my face. He got his answer today.

squished glasses

Actually, for something that has been run over by a tractor, they look remarkably chipper. I can only hope that I would fare so well.

Stinging in the Rain

March 22, 2014

Thursday was one of those days when you look out of the window and think “thank God I don’t have to cycle anywhere today in that” as the rain lashes sideways past the window. The only problem was I did have to cycle somewhere in it; I had to be in Bigtown to catch a bus to go and meet someone. I told myself that it always looks worse from inside than it does when you’re actually out in it, put on the full monty raingear (apocalypse-proof jacket, rain skirt, leggits, tweed cap, gloves), remembered to pack a spare pair of gloves (I have yet to track down a pair of actually waterproof gloves, and there are few things more miserable than putting on wet gloves after you’ve been sitting in the warm and dry, so the only option is to pack as many pairs of gloves as you have journey legs) and set off.

As I’d hoped, it wasn’t too bad at first. The trip into Bigtown is generally done with a tailwind, and rain is a lot less unpleasant when it isn’t being blown into your face. In fact, I was cycling along musing about the fact that I’ve probably ridden through more rain in the past year than I have in my whole life up to then, and that I’ve gradually accumulated the right kit, and a few ideas, to make the whole wet-weather cycling thing if not pleasant, then bearable. I started putting together in my head a blog post of all the things I’ve learned in the last year to provide others with the benefit of my accumulated wisdom, entirely forgetting that I had not only blogged the day before about the imminent arrival of spring – but had also tweeted happily about the joys of cycling with a tail wind…

So I shouldn’t really have been surprised when the tail wind suddenly sprang round to hit me hard right in the face – enough to actually bring me to a standstill – and whipped off my cap and flung it into a puddle before settling into a punitive gusty cross wind for the rest of the ride into town. In the course of the next 30 minute I was to learn several entirely new and exciting facts about cycling in the rain when you have angered the weather gods:

1. Tweed floats. Indeed, an upside-down cap can sail quite a distance along a puddle when the wind takes it

2. Leggits are no protection to your shoes if you have to wade through the water to retrieve your hat.

3. A rain skirt is no protection at all when it is blowing a hooly and the rain is simultaneously coming at you from the side, front, above and possibly below

4. When your apocalypse-proof jacket starts to let in water, the pockets are where the water will accumulate and are therefore a poor choice of place to store your mobile phone, your Guardian voucher, and your dry gloves

5. There is no weather so unpleasant that it cannot be made more unpleasant by a driver choosing to pass you at speed through a puddle.

In fairness, I can’t really blame number five on the Weather Gods (but seriously drivers, what is it with close passing cyclists in the rain? Do you think we are out there getting wet for fun?)

By the time I had reached the bus stop and steeled myself to spend the rest of the day in wet socks, I had decided to hold off on that ‘top tips’ post until I had another decade or so’s experience to draw on. Meanwhile, I will rever to my former position, that the best wet weather gear of all is a roof.

Anyone commenting to the effect that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, will be hunted down and drowned.

Year End Bonus

March 21, 2014

big digger

I promised you excitement – but even I didn’t realise we were going to wake up to a big shiny yellow digger in our drive this morning. How the council knew it was my birthday,* I have no idea, but they decided to celebrate by sending back the old chap and the young chap and the world’s biggest Tonka Toy to come and sort out the drainage for once and for all. This was fortunate, because the return of the weather gods in the last few days (of which more anon) has conclusively proved that attempting to use a broken three-inch pipe to drain an entire burn in South West Scotland is not going to work. Clearly, all the rain we’ve had has concentrated the council’s mind on matters of drainage – and with the mild winter we’ve had, it would appear they’ve got year end money to burn as it was a very new and clean looking digger (either that or they left their computer logged in with a tech savvy toddler about …)

But it’s not just the council that’s offering up a little year-end bonus. I thought I’d dug up all my parsnips already this year, but spring has proved me wrong

emerging parsnip

Not a bad haul for an empty vegetable bed.

last parsnips

* 45. How on earth did that happen?


March 20, 2014

There is much to write about – including more exciting drainage news and possibly my least enjoyable bike ride ever – but I’m short of time to do either justice so you’re stuck with me doing the paperwork for the Errandonnee. In the excitement of Monday’s exciting drainage news I forgot to mention that I had also cycled down to Papershop Village to meet my fellow editor to select the pieces that would go into the next Fankle, which I’m counting as playing my wild card, category wise (it’s either that or a very specialised form of book reading). That means that I have completed all 12 rides within the allotted time (distance: 11 miles; my observation was that the pub which I thought was open and would serve us coffee was not, which complicated things somewhat)

new drains

obligatory photo

So, for completeness (and to check that I have indeed completed the challenge) here are those entries in full:

1. 7th March Errand: fetching paper; category: store (non-grocery); distance: 11 miles.

2. 8th March Errand: attending Environment fair; category: community meeting; distance: 16 miles.

3. & 4. 11th March Errand: post office; category: work. Errand: meeting with coonsil; category: community meeting; combined distance 16 miles.

5. & 6. 12th March Errand: fetching paper; category: store (non-grocery); distance: 11 miles. Errand: choir rehearsal; category: personal care; distance 3 miles.

7., 8., 9. & 10. 13th March Errand: shoe repair; category: personal care. Errand: tour of Bigtown and lunch; cagetory: lunch. Errand: dividing up seeds; category: coffee. Errand: butcher; category: store (grocery); combined distance 32 miles.

11. 17th March Errand: editing the Fankle; category: wild card; distance 11 miles.

12. 18th March Errand: plotting over lunch; category: lunch; distance 16 miles.

So that’s 12 errands, 8 categories and 116 miles (blimey, it adds up, doesn’t it?), all of which I would have done by bicycle anyway, but it’s nice to feel you’ve achieved something just by way of a bonus…

Back to exciting drainage news tomorrow.