October 30, 2014

I wasn’t going to cycle anywhere today, what with wanting to break myself in gently and the fact that it was raining solidly for most of the morning. But then I felt the tickle of an oncoming cold and knew I’d have to go out – and the miserabler the weather the better, for there’s nothing that sees off a cold as reliably as a damp bike ride, for reasons which medical science will surely come to understand sooner or later. Whether a drizzly half-hour pootle along the river and back (supplemented by a spot of drain clearing) will have done the trick, I don’t know. Either way, at least whatever Dreadful Thing I was supposed to avoid by not cycling for another six days has so far failed to materialise. Tomorrow, papershop village, or bust. Perhaps literally.

In other news, alerted by this splendid subject line, I see I’m not the only cyclist making a bid for freedom against medical advice…

Doctor’s Orders

October 29, 2014

Tentatively, and rather dazzled by the light, my bike emerged out of the darkness…

bike emerging from the shed

OK, so it hasn’t quite been six weeks. In fact, strictly speaking, it has only just been five weeks, but what’s a week here and there when the sun has emerged after the rain and you’ve been stuck indoors for what feels like forever? And besides, technically I have not been told not to cycle by a doctor, only the nurses… Even so, I promised the other half that I would take it gently and I did, only going as far as the waterfall and back – less than three miles. I’d have barely been out of the house but I stopped to chat to Sheepdog School man and ended up getting half his life story (I’m not sure whether I have a face that attracts stories, or whether it’s just that men who spend large parts of their time standing alone in a field with nobody to talk to but their dog will talk to anyone about anything for ever, given the chance. I suspect it’s a bit of both, plus a little bit of people hoping they’ll end up in my next book…).

Sticks and waterfall

Anyway, despite yesterday’s deluge, the waterfall was looking disappointingly tame, although it had gained some impressive-looking sticks to play with. It would be something to see one of those come tumbling down the river.

There Have Been Days…

October 28, 2014

rainy front drive
… when I’ve been totally frustrated at not being able to get on my bike. Today, it is safe to say, was not one of them. Something about being woken by the sound of the pouring rain, the view all but obscured by it, made being stuck in the kitchen by the Rayburn all day a rather welcome prospect.

flooded road

Well, not quite all day, because there was obviously hydrological engineering to be done. Exciting coonsil drainage works or no coonsil drainage works, nothing quite blocks a drain like fallen leaves so there were plenty of opportunities to go out and do important poking things with a stick (and the rather less enjoyable reaching into freezing cold water to hoick out handfuls of leaves).

drain emptying

I suppose you could argue that it would be better if the coonsil came along and cleared out its drains regularly after all that is what we pay them for, harumph harumph, but to be honest, where’s the fun in that?* Because there’s nothing quite so satisfying as the satisfaction of hoicking out a final handful of leaves and hearing the gurgling sound that signals that the flooded road is about to empty itself like a giant bath.

field culvert

Water pouring out of the road and into the downstream field. Slightly tough luck on the sheep who were in it at the time but they were on the side of a hill so weren’t likely to flood

That said, there’s nothing like an inconsiderate quarry lorry passing too fast and sluicing you with the last of the water to rather take the shine off it.

Intensive negotiations with the other half have resulted in me being allowed to try a bit of gentle cycling tomorrow and resume the trip down to Papershop Village on Friday. Weather Gods permitting, that is.

Oh and the ford?

ford level

I thought you’d never ask.

*unless they bring their big yellow digger

And Back

October 26, 2014

My journey home was something of a descent from the sublime of East Coast first class (courtesy of Rachel Aldred’s East Coast Points and very gratefully received) as far as Newcastle, to the the volume-turned-up-to-eleven of a Northern Rail service full of northerners on a Saturday night (suddenly the sullen silence of a train full of Londoners didn’t seem so bad) as far as Carlisle, to the train to Bigtown complete with blocked and ever-so-gently sloshing toilet and enlivened by the addition of three rather respectable looking women in their fifties who got on at Gretna with a half-empty bottle of pink sparkling wine which they proceeded to empty over the conductor’s feet (he took it remarkably calmly, I have to say). So I was glad to get home, although I would have been gladder had a missing comma in my email to the other half not transformed our supper plans from a pizza from the place in Bigtown with the special pizza-dough rolling machine into emergency toast and peanut butter …

Still, he had made chocolate-chip banana bread (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it) so all was not lost. In other news, it has not stopped raining since I returned. Stand by for ford updates, you have been warned.

Analogue Pleasures

October 24, 2014

A to Z and Mr Tom bar

“You will be snapped by hipsters for their instagram accounts if you take that out in public,” my brother-in-law warned me as I borrowed their A to Z. I didn’t mind; I just wanted something that would navigate me through a couple of unfamiliar bits of London and would neither eat up my data allowance nor chew through my phone’s battery. In the end, I wasn’t troubled by any hipsters because I didn’t need to get out the A to Z – those brilliant little map obelisks that have been dotted around Zone One proved perfect for the task. I met up with a friend and we had a great walk along the Thames from the Tower of London and its poppy display (which not only has its own hashtag and twitter feed but its own WiFi points so you could upload your pictures there and then to your instagram account, along with any ironic snaps you may have taken of old people using amazing analogue mapping apps) to Waterloo. London is changing so fast, I felt quite the stranger in my own city, with or without an A to Z in my bag.

poppies at the Tower of London

I then dined on a Mr Tom bar (peanut-based snack of choice and as far as I can tell unavailable outside London so I have to take advantage of my rare forays south) and made my way down to the LCC’s Women’s Cycle Forum where I may have been outranked and outdressed by most of the other speakers but I’m pretty sure was the only one with bicycles on her socks. There was a plea from outside for more tweets and pictures during the event but we were all just too busy talking to do our social media duties; tellingly, the conclusion from my own table about using blogs in campaigning was pretty much that we should just get out more…

The conversation carried on into the pub and even (well me and @bikesandbabies) a bit drunkenly on the tube home, fortified by some healthy food choices (mmm, deep fried spring rolls from the stall at Baker’s Street tube. I wonder if there’s a Scottish expat enclave somewhere offering haggis pannini?).

It was all very exciting, and after a quiet four weeks stewing at home, it was just the sort of event I needed, so I’m grateful to Rachel Aldred for giving me the opportunity and organising such a brilliant event. I may have to go and have a bit of a lie down now though, possibly for about a week. And then get back up and carry on the digital conversation once more.

The Iron Laws of Freelancing

October 21, 2014

1. Thou shalt not turn down any jobs

2. The jobs shall never arrive when the client says they will

3. If multiple jobs can arrive at the same time they will

Law three particularly applies when you are planning a visit to your parents followed by a trip down to London. Which is why, instead of a blog post, you’ll have to be satisfied a nice photo instead.

poplar tree avenue

Miniature parental figures included for scale. It’s amazing how they shrink, isn’t it?

Oh the Excitement

October 17, 2014

Apologies for the light blogging recently – the sad truth is I just haven’t had much to blog about. I’ve taken advantage of my enforced near house arrest to get on with beating my latest novel into something vaguely readable, and while I do pride myself on being able to spin something blogworthy out of the least promising material having managed to churn out a daily blog post about my commute back in another lifetime, even I can’t pretend there’s anything more to say about walking down to the village and back followed by half an hour spent staring at a screen, adding in a nicely placed comma and then – after another hour’s reflection – taking it out again. On the plus side, not going anywhere is doing wonders for our bank balance – I’ve been carrying around the same £10 note for almost two weeks now.

But yesterday I had a meeting in town (and by ‘meeting’ of course I mean lunch, gossip, cake, coffee and a little bit of popup bookshop planning) followed by writers group in the evening when we were made to act out dialogue (and I discovered that – two years of aggressive non-aggression on twitter notwithstanding – I really love a good barney as long as it’s just pretend) and I was as giddy as a schoolgirl. Domestication has its virtues, but I long to be able to be independently mobile again (and yes, Mum, I could drive myself. But I am trying to cut down on unnecessary car journeys, and besides the other half has hidden the car keys*). A good 90% of everyone I speak to agrees that it would be daft to start cycling too soon and undo the NHS’s good work and I agree, I really do. But I dreamt last night I got back on the bike again.

And it was wonderful.

sailing through a puddle

* not really. Well, probably not really, although I haven’t actually looked. He did look a bit panicked when I suggested driving somewhere the other day.

More Information for Stalkers

October 14, 2014

After a nice restful period, I’m off on my travels again soon – first appearing as an award-winning advocate at the LCC Women’s Cycle Forum (and if the other half could at least try to say that with a straight face, I would be grateful) and second, hosting a Women’s Cycle Forum (you may detect a trend here) networking lunch to coincide with the Cycling Scotland Conference in Glasgow. To be honest, the latter event will basically consist of me and Back on My Bike in a pub that’s handy for the conference, along with anyone else who chooses to turn up, rebranded, because it’s quite hard to have lunch with anyone else without it also involving a bit of networking (unless your idea of lunch is wolfing down your food in silence interrupted only by snarling at anyone who comes near it, in which case have you considered you might be a dog?). But hey, as the other half said, that’s the sort of thing that wins you an award.

Bringing in the Dinosaur Harvest

October 13, 2014

Now that I’ve resumed light gardening duties, it was time to tackle the dinosaur eggs, otherwise known as Purple Podded Best beans, which have done rather spectacularly well. The problem with getting seeds handed over in a mysterious little unlabelled bag is that they don’t come with any instructions. So I wasn’t sure exactly when or how to harvest. I was going to leave them on the plants until the frost killed them off, but a bit more googling suggested that this wasn’t a great idea in a damp climate so today I hoicked them up to dry them indoors.


Some of the pods had actually dried out (we really did have a spectacularly dry September) and were looking rather spiffy.

bean pod

Others had gone a bit soft so I pulled those off the plants and shelled them and the rest got hung up to dry in the shed on an improvised rack.

bean plants ready to dry

Even further googling suggests that podding them and drying them in the Rayburn’s warming oven might be an even better option, and it might still come to that, although then they won’t germinate, which slightly misses the point of having some heritage orphan seeds.

the harvest so far

Anyway, seeing as these were given to me by a seed guardian, and it’s all about preserving varieties for posterity, if anyone would like a mysterious baggie of dinosaur eggs of their own then give me a shout in the comments, although you might want to wait until we’ve actually tried eating them and tell you what they taste like. Or at least confirm that they aren’t going to eat us…

squash harvest

In other news I’m unimpressed by my squash harvest. My friend suggested that they were ‘mainly ornamental’ but ‘not even particularly ornamental’ would seem to be closer to the mark. Depending on how they taste, I’m going to have to try harder to get hold of gem squash again for next year…

A Mile in My Shoes

October 10, 2014

sunshine and wet road

Well, more than a mile, actually. This week I’ve clocked up well over 15 miles walking back and forth to the village and I’m discovering lots of things, mainly the fact that most of my footwear is more comfortable for cycling in than walking – I’m looking at you, wellies – and that I’d forgotten all about blisters but now that I have discovered them I can confirm that they hurt about as much as minor abdominal surgery. I’ve also discovered that people in cars behave just as badly or well around pedestrians as they do around cyclists, or perhaps it’s actually personal to me, regardless of my mode of transport – certainly I have seen no more observance of Rule 206 than I have Rule 163. I’m much more assertive about taking the country lane on foot, though, especially when it’s raining. I’ve realised that this is because, while the consequences of a close pass on the bike are potentially more lethal (pedestrians can always leap to the verge out of the way) they are also less likely to actually happen, whereas if a driver scooshes past you on a wet road when you’re on foot you have a 100% likelihood of getting drenched.

wet road

Yes, drivers, I could get out of your way and stand meekly by the verge while you accelerate past me here, and no, I’m not going to

That aside, you get much less wet on foot than on a bike – and it’s been rather nice to be reunited with some items of clothing which haven’t proved that practical to cycle in, such as my big waxed coat (too hot) and my Akubra hat (too brimmed), both of which are way more waterproof than anything else I own.

I’ve also learned that, even more than cycling, the village do not consider walking to be a sensible mode of transport so that I’ve had to fend off (and occasionally accept) offers of lifts (depending on how much cake I’m planning to eat). And to be honest, I can’t say I disagree – walking is very healthy and it’s pleasant on a nice day but compared to a bike, my god it is slow. And tiring too. Add in wellies (wellie miles, like Brompton miles, count double, treble if you’ve got blisters), and I come back from fetching the paper – approximately an hour of walking – ready to collapse onto the sofa, with really weary legs. It would be nearer three hours before my legs felt like that after cycling. Long-distance walkers and runners, I salute you.

I’m also beginning to feel a bit of a fraud because people are being lovely and solicitous, while I mostly feel completely recovered, just a bit grounded. I know I’ll regret it if I cycle too early and something goes ping, so I will sit out the prescribed cycling ban like a good girl and not whinge too much. But I am so looking forward to getting back on the bike. And so are my poor legs…

double rainbow