Statistics for Dummies

June 30, 2014

We’re back from the Netherlands and a crammed 72 hours of cycling and adventures (you can read the slightly more official report here). I had a great time drooling over all the cycling infrastructure, while the other half, having discovered that one side-effect of mass cycling is huge numbers of fit-looking women with great legs, has also become something of an evangelist for the Dutch way. The sun shone, the headwinds were mostly kind, and all went very well, apart from the motor scooter that nearly took out all four of our party on an otherwise blissfully pleasant cycle path – oh the irony – and some navigational issues on the way in to Amsterdam.

On our way back, Marc from Amsterdamize very kindly not just pointed us in the right direction, but rode with us till we were practically half way to the ferry terminal (at the aptly name Halfweg). That meant that, even after a fairly leisurely lunch, we got into the outskirts Ijmuiden with more than an hour to go and our thoughts began to turn towards stopping for coffee and some well-earned cake.

‘Even if we got a puncture now, we could still make it in time,’ one of our number said rashly, and I rapidly shushed him before the Puncture Fairy could hear us. He, being a rational medical man, pointed out my folly, and explained all about regression to the mean and centralised tendency theory and all the other reasons why simply mentioning a puncture does not in itself make a puncture more likely. Which is why I now know that the fact that I then got a massive puncture from a metal spike that went right through my Marathon Plus back tyre, is simply a coincidence…

Still, as he did very kindly also fix the puncture and we did as predicted make it to the ferry on time (while, in a final surreal touch, being serenaded by a Dutch male-voice choir singing Wild Rover as we came round the final corner) – he is forgiven.

You’re Skidding

June 26, 2014

As if aerial attack weren’t enough, the coonsil have decided to make my ride down to the papershop even more hazardous by resurfacing the road. Or rather, not so much resurfacing the road as burying it in chippings:

loose chippings skid risk sign

Now, this section of road was fairly bad, with a couple of craterous potholes, so I’m grateful that it’s been repaired, but not at the expense of turning my quiet back road to the papershop into a skid hazard. I appreciate that this method is cheaper than doing it properly, and I know that theoretically after two or three days the surface will have bedded in, but that rather relies on there being a steady stream of cars to press the chippings into the tar. But given the levels of traffic on this road, it will be more like weeks before I’ll be able to rely on being able to stop safely in any kind of a hurry. And I don’t imagine being close passed by anyone ignoring the 20mph limit will be much fun either.

The farm yards are the worst: the tractors have already put tracks into the chipping which shows how thick the loose layer is.

loose chippings on roads

That was always a brilliant downhill section to savour on the way home, too.

In fact, what with the chippings on half the road, a thick layer of mud further along, where the silaging tractors have been hard at work, and the return of the hedgecutting tractor my route to the papershop this morning was less a bike ride and more of a proving ground for puncture proof tyres*

The only upside is that I was so annoyed by all this I forgot all about the buzzard till I was halfway up Buzzard Alley, and it didn’t even bother to swoop. Clearly, when it comes to being a hazard to passing cyclists, it knows when it’s been beat.

* and if any manufacturers would like me to test out their wares they know where to find me…

As Compliments Go…

June 25, 2014

… the phrase ‘that’s a lovely view of the bowel there as this lady is so slim’ is not one of the classics to be treasured all one’s life but I will take what I can get these days. I was in Bigtown Hospital being used as target practice by a trainee sonographer as they hunted down my on-again off-again Brompton-induced* paraumbilical hernia. I didn’t get to see the lovely view of my bowel, but I did get to see the (tiny) hernia although, unlike babies, you don’t get a photo to take home and post on Facebook for all to see, as I’m sure you’re all delighted to hear. I will now wait for the diagnosis to grind back through the system and turn into an appointment with a man (or woman) with a knife, assuming they think a minor case of Brompton belly (as I am now officially renaming my complaint) is worth repairing. It’s all go on the minor injuries front here, I tell you.

Meanwhile, I’m not the only one on the waiting list – with the arrival (until today anyway) of the big yellow thing in the sky, cycling has become so popular in Bigtown that you can’t get a bike serviced for love nor money until ooh, I could fit you in back of next week at the earliest. This is awkward as we’re off for a jaunt to the Netherlands this weekend and my bike’s gear changes had become decidedly random, while its brakes were heading towards the ‘advisory only’ category. In the end I managed to guilt trip my second favourite bike shop owner into at least replacing the rear brake pads while I was in my yoga class (he’s right next door to the studio). As I came out feeling all bendy and relaxed (and well-rested – does anyone else just nod off during naptime, sorry the meditation session, at the end?) I went round to see how the patient was doing. ‘Your gear changes were shocking,’ he said. ‘I’ve put in a new gear cable as well and at least it’s indexing properly again.’ He then charged me a massive ten quid. Which is almost as good a deal as the NHS.

* The surgeon pooh-poohed my suggestion that it was caused by me attempting to lift the Brompton up one flight of stairs too many, but this is only because he’s never carried a Brompton up to a third floor Edinburgh tenement about a million times in a weekend.

Dare to be Bare (Headed)

June 23, 2014

So, we’ve had a bit of a phoney war last week, ASBO Buzzard and I: I’ve done it the courtesy of not daring to cycle through its territory without head protection, and it has confined its attacks to theatrical but not very close swoops on me as I pass. But the weather has been awfully hot and sticky for a felt hat, and anything with a full brim is really unsuited to cycling anyway, so today I decided to take the risk and remove my hat before I reached Buzzard Alley.

On the way out, all was well, with no sign of the buzzard at all, so as I started the return trip I was beginning to feel fairly relaxed about the whole thing – for some reason it’s much less inclined to swoop when I’m on my way home. Even when I saw the buzzard up above, I didn’t worry too much as it was way up there in the sky, barely more than a speck. It could hardly get me from there, I thought, and just as I thought it, I saw it fold its wings and deploy its talons and basically plummet towards me like vengeance in feathered form.

So yeah, even though in the end it pulled out of the dive long before it reached me, I think I’ll be sticking with the hat.

Mothly Harmful

June 21, 2014

Coming back from fetching the paper this morning, I was stopped in my tracks by a tree that still seemed to be stuck in the middle of winter

Every leaf had been eaten down to the stalk, and the whole tree webbed in caterpillar silk. Intensive googling* suggests that the culprit was the bird cherry ermine caterpillar (we got the adult version in the house when we inadvertently turned our bathroom into a big light trap).


I had nonchalantly leaned my bike near the tree while I was taking the pictures. Fortunately, I didn’t leave it there too long …

ermine moth larva on a Swedish Army Bike

Ermine Moth Larva on a Swedish Army bike – via Wikimedia

* mostly these days I just ask twitter, but clearly twitter was in a bit of a silly mood this afternoon; the only answers I got were ‘goblins’, ‘really big spiders’, and ‘fairies’ from someone who has clearly been living in Bristol far too long.

Down an Actual Rabbithole

June 20, 2014

A week of fine weather, limited gadding and a light work schedule has meant that I’ve managed to … well, catch up with the gardening would be putting it strongly, but almost everything that was climbing out of its pots to be planted has been planted, the weeds are now in most cases lower than the plants they are engulfing, and I’m beginning to see how the year might not be a complete disaster, veg wise.

cleared gravel

This afternoon it was almost too hot to be up in the walled garden – yes, really (or perhaps I’ve lived in Scotland too long). So I switched to my other obsession which is reclaiming the cobbles and gravel from the encroaching vegetation, which is rapidly making the transition from ‘very Chelsea‘ to ‘second growth forest’. It’s one of those jobs which, when I’m in the right frame of mind and there’s something good on the radio, I can do pretty much indefinitely. If you want to know how indefinitely, and you’re familiar with the Radio 4 schedule, I ended up weeding from the start of Gardener’s Question time to the end of the News Quiz. It doesn’t seem to have cleared much gravel, but I’m now incredibly well informed about everything from splitting herbaceous perennials to the superpowers of Susan Calman. Fortunately, I don’t think it’s possible to overdose on Radio 4 but I’ve certainly got some interesting aches developing in my weeding arm…

The cleared cobbles are being planted with creeping thyme, something I first mooted three years ago, bought the seeds for a year ago, and am now actually getting round to doing, which is about normal for my schedule. Whether it will work or not, only time will tell. In my head, of course, it’s already forming a gorgeous scented weed-suppressing carpet underfoot.

creeping thyme seedlings

In other news, a rabbit has been spotted in the walled garden, and an exploration with a friend’s dogs this morning discovered this going in under the fence on the south side:

rabbit hole under fence

I may have to get all Jeanette Winterson on their arses. Or more likely find a humane way of blocking it up while apologising to the rabbits.*

*not because I’m against killing rabbits, just because I’m a bit of a wuss

This is Just to Say…

June 19, 2014

… that I cycled into Bigtown yesterday evening to watch Rising from Ashes (and very good it was too, even if it did raise as many questions as it answered) and the ride was just perfect: the air still warm and scented by the hedgerows, the sunlight slanting under the clouds and lighting up the hillsides, the verges full of young birds still practising their flying skills. Nobody even cut me up. As long as I kept my mouth shut enough to keep the insect life out, I couldn’t imagine a better time and place to be riding a bike. If this week proves to be the total of our summer, and having posted this it undoubtedly will be, then it’s already shaping up to be a great one.

Rwanda looked pretty ravishing in the film, but when we came out of the cinema we found that Bigtown wasn’t looking that shabby either. Aided by the fact that we found a nice place doing beautifully thin-crust pizza* for not very large amounts of money just over the bridge.

evening light evening light evening light

They said in the film, ‘if you want to be a cyclists, you’ve got to suffer. There’s no getting away from it.’

I beg to differ.

* They also offered haggis lasagne, but we thought we’d pass on that one