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


June 17, 2014

salad and spring onions

As a long period of far too much gadding about begins to draw to a close, we passed a bit of a milestone in the garden, with the first salad picked this weekend. That makes it the first crop for this growing season. Everything else is madly behind except for the broad beans, which are quietly going beserk and seem impervious to neglect. I must have a rummage and see if there’s enough beans in there to make them worth picking.

Broad beans

On the other hand, my peas are looking pretty weedy for some reason (although I have no idea why we call it that: weeds themselves never seem to be weedy; in robust health would be more like it)

weedy looking peas

As ever, my garden provides a mixture of pleasure and angst. I could happily spend hours doing activities which would be dangerously close to ‘tidying up’ if done indoors but which are highly enjoyable in the context of a garden. The painful part comes when I don’t have hours to potter in and the list of things to be done urgently gets longer and longer. Growing veg is pretty time consuming and planting dates wait for no man. I’ve already lost half my fennel by keeping it too long before planting it out and the celeriac was a complete non starter. Everything else is being threatened by weeds. I comfort myself with the thought that you can never actually finish gardening so it’s all relative. However, it would be nice to be able to find the crop in among the weeds

vegetable plot in June

My fellow gardening pal in the village keeps dropping hints about coming up for a look round the plot. His own tiny garden is always crammed with immaculately kept and meticulously planned veg. There’s only so long I can continue to fob him off with stories of outbreaks of bubonic plague and/or zombie apocalypses before he’ll get suspicious. I’ll just have to keep cracking on until I have something worth showing off or at least something that won’t get me hauled before the court for garden neglect.

The mystery beans, at least, are doing well.

mystery climbing beans

Buzzard Dundee

June 16, 2014

OK, so here’s something I never thought I’d ever say: it was just too lovely and sunny this afternoon. And not because I was stuck indoors – I had to head off on the bike. To the papershop. Through Buzzard Alley. And that was the problem. Having lost my magical tweed hat earlier in the year, my only remaining anti-buzzard head protection that it’s practical to cycle in was the hood of the apocalypse proof jacket and breathable as it is, I didn’t fancy wearing it on a gloriously warm sunny afternoon.

That left me with a choice of braving the buzzard bare headed – or cycling in my Akubra hat, which I did, as fortunately there wasn’t too much of a breeze. It means you either have to keep your pace slow or your head down to avoid it flying off – but it does seem to offer sterling buzzard protection as I wasn’t so much as buzzed in either direction. Clearly the general air of readiness to wrestle wildlife to the ground it gives the wearer was sufficient to keep my nemesis at bay. Long may that last. Although I suspect that it’s more likely that it will simply start raining again as usual.

And How Was Your Weekend?

June 15, 2014

In retrospect, the weekend had definitely been going far too well. The Bike Curious event had been a bit of a blast (more details here from one of our demonstrators) and we’d had a packed out room of women talking a mile a minute about cycling at the Women’s Cycle Forum in the evening, followed by the pub. I was at the station this morning well in time to catch my train home, secured the perfect seat (table, facing, power socket, no annoying fellow travellers) and settled down for an hour’s journey catching up with a little work.

Put it this way, when your quiet journey home is interrupted with a rattle and a bang, followed by the train coming to a halt and the news that the overhead lines have been severed and the pantagraph had come down and crashed into a window, the rest of your day is not going to go well. I won’t bore you with the tedious details (I used to have a whole blog for that) but suffice it to say that I was very very glad to have brought a book, an actual book that didn’t need to be plugged into a power socket to work, with me. Also that you know it’s serious when they don’t just distribute free tea and coffee, but crack open the contents of the snack bar and tell people to help themselves

So, having lunched on crips and chocolate, I have finally made it home seven hours later, although I suspect that had the passengers going to Lockerbie not formed a united and vocal faction and all but taken over one of the replacement coaches after they seemed to have forgotten about us, then I might be standing in Carstairs still. Fortunately, they do have a reasonable facility for train passengers driven mad by the chaos that reigns in the wake of a broken train. In fact, it’s possible some of the inmates had escaped a while back and had been keeping themselves busy trying to run a railway since…