Toad in the Hole

May 21, 2014

Desperately trying to get the garden ready for month end* I was clearing out my old purple sprouting broccoli bed and found a clod of earth that moved:


There’s no way I’m harming something that lives on slugs, so I left that bit for later and concentrated on destroying something else’s habitat elswhere in the veg plot. Hopefully Mr Toad will find himself a new place to lurk and foray out for a profitable evening’s hunting. He certainly looks as if he hasn’t been stinting himself recently.

veg plot

The veg plot is … barely under control. I’m just about managing to get the minimum needed to get everything planted out, and that only by ignoring the part where I was supposed to have planted my celeriac two months ago.

walled garden view

But the view from the gate of the walled garden is pretty nifty at this time of year.

* You know, all those seed packets that say ‘plant outside April – May’. How the seeds know the difference between May 31st and June 1st I have no idea, but I don’t want to risk it…


May 20, 2014

Oh what a glorious ride I had into town this morning. I’d have taken a photo to share with you, but it wouldn’t have really captured the moment. The air was soft and warm and damp and just laden with scent for the hawthorn is in flower and it is almost too much to bear. The birds were all singing their hearts out, especially the larks, high up in the misty blue sky.

One of those days when I wouldn’t live anywhere else for the world, or travel any other way but by bike.

Blessings most firmly counted.

Creatures of Habit

May 19, 2014

So we spent this afternoon clearing out the shop that will be this weekend’s pop-up bookshop. A group of us started the bookshop last year, primarily to annoy the arts high heidyins who would rather local writers confined themselves quietly to giving readings in pub toilets and then dying genteelly in poverty instead of demanding to be noticed and celebrated by the literary establishment at our local book festival. By some accident of fate it turned out to be something of a success so we are now invited to pop up at other artsy events by the same powers that be (as long as we find ourselves a venue, sort out our own insurance and do all the marketing ourselves, obviously). Anyway, with the local Arts Festival looming, we found ourselves the perfect shop in Notso Bigtown, an old newsagent and stationers that shut down three years ago – and even then was old fashioned enough that the one time I went into it I was rendered unable to speak for about three minutes* because I could not shake the conviction that I had actually stepped back into the past. It has a long wooden counter with the goods displayed in glass cabinets behind it and I had to double check when I came out with my paper that it was actually that day’s edition of the Guardian, and not the Manchester Guardian reporting the Suez war or, indeed, the progress of the Gallipoli campaign.

the shop that time forgot

Since closing down, the owner has been using it to keep all those things you think might come in handy but don’t normally have the space for, plus things which he hasn’t got around to throwing away, on top of leftover stock dating back at least fifty years (dip pen nibs at 2p each, anyone? – apart from anything else, it’s a stationery fetishist’s idea of heaven). We were there last week for a preliminary clear out where we managed to hack the undergrowth back as far as the counters, and today we were cleaning and putting in some finishing touches that will turn it from the opening part of Alice’s Restaurant into a moderately convincing temporary book shop.

shop that time forgot

It was a satisfactory afternoon’s work all told, but what I did find amazing was – as we swept the floors, and cleaned the windows, and emptied out the cabinets, and stuck up posters with such giveaway hints as ‘pop-up bookshop this weekend’ on the door, in a shop that’s been closed for over three years – how many people still walked in and attempted to purchase a paper. Here’s hoping they’ll return for a book or three at the weekend.

*insert your own joke here

Space For Cycling

May 17, 2014

It takes a special sort of navigational incompetence to go on a mass bike ride and still manage to get lost half way through …

Crowd listening to the speeches at the start of the ride

I was at Newcastle for the #BigToonRide – part of a day of mass bike rides in cities around England in support of Space for Cycling. I was there to support the lovely people of New Cycling, but also the enjoy the novelty of just turning up for a protest ride without having to go to all the effort of organising it first. And didn’t they do well, with 150 people of all ages out on a sunny Saturday morning ready to take the Toon by storm to ask their councillors to support space for cycling.

Katja from NewCycling

I know that expression. It’s the expression of someone who’s been up all night thinking ‘what if we hold a mass bike ride and nobody comes’ and has just realised that everybody has…

And boy do they need it. Newcastle is a fairly hostile place to drive, I imagine, with ‘no car lanes’ and traffic lights which are carefully timed to ensure that you never go more than 30 yards without coming to a halt, but that doesn’t make it any better for cycling. And with 150 cyclists scrupulously obeying every signal, and having to wait behind, between, in front of and beside an enormous assortment of double decker buses, very quickly what started as a mass bike ride became several slightly smaller mass bike rides, one of which – it quickly became apparent – wasn’t fully cognisant of the official route… As we lost sight of the peleton at a particularly gnarly series of signals, the people in front who we were confidently following started to look around at each other and us and make gestures that implied that they weren’t entirely sure which way to go next. So we formed an autobus and circled the town anyway, until we discovered the rest of the ride coming up a side street towards us and tagged along, pretending that was what we had meant to do all along. After all, that way an even greater proportion of Newcastle got to sit in bus stops and ask their neighbours what all the bikes were doing out and what was space for cycling anyway? (Not shared bus lanes anyway, I’ll tell you that for free)

Small navigational glitches aside, the day was brilliant, the sun shone, and we went afterwards to have the best coffee in the North East (according to a man who knows) and what were definitely the best salted caramel brownies I’ve had in my life so far, and not just because they were the only ones (I wonder what impact bringing 150 hungry and happy cyclists into your centre has on your town’s coffee-and-cake economy. Substantial, I imagine…)

Bisy Backson

May 16, 2014

So apart from getting up at oh god hundred hours to attend the Newcastle bigtoonride tomorrow, and organising a popup bookshop next weekend, and my Anniversaire ride the weekend after that for which there is much baking still to be done, and then going down to Brighton for the Cycling Embassy AGM the weekend after that (the sun always shines on the Cycling Embassy AGM), oh and organising the Women’s Cycle Forum (although I say organising, can I heartily recommend Suzanne Forup for all your organising things needs as she seems to have done 90% of the work including securing all the funding, while I’ve just stood around making daft suggestions) the weekend after that – and a small jaunt to the Netherlands at the end of June, I shall mostly be relaxing over the next few weeks. Not. Still, through some slight oversight I do seem to have left one weekend unorganised between now and July … let’s see how long that lasts, shall we?

101 Uses for a Brompton: Sheep herding

May 15, 2014

I have to admit, I was sceptical of this story of bike-borne sheep herding when I first read it. In my experience, if you have a skittish lamb to round up, then a bike is probably the worst thing to attempt it on because sheep do one thing and one thing only when confronted by a bike and that is run away and the faster the bike gets, the faster the sheep goes. Sure, in theory you can get past the lamb and then herd it back to mama, but in my experience, they can get up to quite a speed when being chased by a bike and I’ve never had either the legs or the heart to press on past them, especially when they start to look a bit panicky. Clearly Lovely Bike is way fitter and faster than me – or else Norn Iron sheep are just more chilled around bikes, which seems unlikely. Some lambs (well, one) are a bit less bike-phobic than their mothers but on the whole, I didn’t think Brompton sheep herding was likely to catch on.

But today, I had to be in Notso Bigtown to help prepare a popup bookshop and I was fairly sure I was going to want to scrounge a lift back, so I took the Brompton. I was running a little late and into a head wind so I wasn’t best pleased to see half a dozen sheep loose ahead of me on the road towards Papershop Village. I didn’t have time to get off the bike and try and get them into a field and I didn’t want to end up herding them in front of me all the way to Big A Road, where woolly carnage would ensue. I approached them over the crest of the hill trying to calculate my options. There was a farm yard coming up ahead which they might dart off into and become Somebody Else’s Problem. Otherwise, I was a bit stuck.

But, as I got closer and closer, the sheep didn’t seem to even notice my presence. Finally one of them, a ragged individual who had already half climbed out of her winter fleece, glanced my way. She seemed to say something to the others who glanced up casually too. Eventually they shuffled off to one side of the road. As I passed, they had resumed eating and seemed supremely unbothered by my presence. I can only assume that the Brompton – small and upright and inconspicuous as it is – just doesn’t read like a bike to the average sheep. I must have just looked like a fairly speedy human, or not even a particularly speedy one, given the headwind. Either that, or these were Irish sheep, hardened by the passage of the Giro d’Italia.

The other reason for taking the Brompton was to test it over some fairly hefty hills. It might have to be lent out for my next Anniversaire, and I wanted to make sure that the route I had chosen was actually doable with the gearing I’ve got. So far so good, although I think I may have to factor in a few more cake stops this year…

More Testing Times

May 14, 2014

So I finally got around to getting my eyes tested today after walking round every opticians in Bigtown with my poor out-of-fashion tractor-crushed glasses asking if they had anything like them in stock and booking myself in at the only place where they didn’t look at me as if I was some sort of a weirdo for wanting the sort of glasses I wanted to wear as opposed to wanting the sort of glasses the powers that be have deemed people should wear. So I actually ended up at the place where I got my eyes tested the last time and was avoiding because their lenses tend to be a lot more expensive than the bigger chains – never mind the frames, just replacing the high index lenses (essential for moles like me who don’t want to end up peering through a pair of milk bottle-bottoms) ended up costing almost as much as a new bike. But they were the ones who said, ‘certainly, we can order something like that’, rather than ‘they no longer make glasses like that; we’re sick of telling people there’s no call for them’ so I decided it was worth the expense.

squished glasses

They also have a very nice optician who explains what she’s doing when she’s testing your eyes so the whole eye examination felt more like a consultation and less like a series of trick questions. It turns out my eyes as well as being extremely short sighted are also quite variable – my astigmatism has mysteriously got better in one eye, but shifted in orientation, while my other eye has decided to develop astigmatism and both have got more short sighted. And while my close vision is still pretty good, the stronger prescription will mean that I will now start to do the thing where you want to take your glasses off to read small print, after which its only a short hop skip and jump towards needing longer arms, followed by the dreaded varifocals. ‘You’re not quite there yet,’ she said sympathetically. ‘But the time will come…’

After that, it was just a question of choosing some frames. As expected, they didn’t have anything in stock but they did know where to look on the internet and with a cry of triumph one of the assistants unearthed a couple of pairs they could order in for me to try on approval that only cost an arm or so, rather than an arm and a leg. And when I with trepidation asked about the lenses themselves, I got some more good news: not only had the prices gone down (from ‘how much?!’ to ‘ouch’) but if I waited until next week there would be a sale with 30% off the complete package, bringing it all the way down to almost reasonable. I can’t help but feel that they don’t let you know about little things like that in Specsavers…