Christmas Come Early

November 30, 2014
festive Brompton

101 uses for a Brompton – part many. Ferrying tinsel

This is, I hasten to say, not usually a good thing. There’s a strict pre-Christmas curfew in this household – family are not even allowed to discuss where we’re spending Christmas until the end of August, because seriously, who can even think about Christmas in August? (Apart from every single member of the rest of my family, apparently). Actual preparations for Christmas definitely can’t begin until Advent and even then that seems a bit premature. Now that I’ve managed to reduce Christmas shopping for my own family (all avid readers, thankfully) to posting off a large box of books at random and getting them to choose which ones they want (if anyone wants to try this, I should add that it works best when they are all in one place and you are 4000 miles away) the bulk of the shopping can be done on the laptop with a large glass of wine in one hand, within a day or two of the last postage date before Christmas.

Santa on a bike, doing the full cycle chic, I’m glad to say. Some people should never contemplate lycra….

However, my normal Christmas routine of sticking my fingers in my ears and ignoring anything vaguely festive till at least the 14th has come unstuck this year as I seem to have inexplicably ended up planning not just a pre-Christmas popup bookshop tomorrow, which would have seemed obscenely early a few years ago, but with the arrival of Black Friday on our shores now looks positively restrained, but a day of festive fun and cycling next weekend. The latter started as a vague plan to have a ‘Santa ride’ and has ended up with us taking over half the local park, dragooning a local Santa impersonator into riding a bike while towing a sleigh, cornering the market for tinsel in Bigtown, and unleashing what we hope will be a herd of tiny two-wheeled reindeer on a ride along the banks of the river. This all seemed like a great idea in the pub a few weeks ago, and now seems like something that hovers between madness and genius, with the thumb of the fates very much weighted on the ‘madness’ side.

reindeer heads

One likely consequence of all this is that, come December the 8th, Christmas will already feel as if it is over, and I will be unable to stir myself to organise anything else. If you’re expecting a Christmas present from me, now might be a good time to get your wish list in early. Or it’s random books all round again this year…

Blurred Vision

November 28, 2014

sun on beech hedge

OK, so my long-term vision for more sunshine hasn’t quite worked out as effectively as I’d first hoped, but there’s something still to be said for the moment when the November sun fights its way through the murk and lights up the road ahead.

We’ve had an extraordinarily mild autumn (and we’re not alone). I should probably be worried about this, indeed I am worried. But I cannot quite bring myself to be sad…

The Great Escape

November 27, 2014

errant sheep?

Coming back from a walk the other day, I happened across a flock of sheep in the road, which I reckoned must be the gang in the field opposite our house. I thought for a moment they might be on the lam, but no, there was a farmer on a quad bike at the back although instead of the more traditional dog, he seemed to have a cyclist with him to help chivvy them along (or perhaps just a passing cyclist who knew better than to try and pass a flock of sheep when riding the World’s Scariest Thing). The sheep turned obediently enough up a track, and the farmer came along behind with – I couldn’t help noticing – a sheep sitting in a rather undignified fashion on his lap. A sheep I recognised (yes, I can now tell them apart – well, some of them).

I don’t quite know why Houdini was getting a lift rather than having to hoof it along the road with the rest of her colleagues – possibly because she had a slight limp, or perhaps to stop her from lighting off again over hill and dale. Or perhaps she is indeed the sheep mastermind some commenters believer her to be and he was no farmer but her accomplice in her most daring escape attempt ever.

I look forward to seeing her ride past next time on a bike.

Right Twice a Day

November 26, 2014

For those waiting with bated breath for an update, I am still watchless and if anything further from a solution than before. I have long been one of those people who, entirely unscientifically, ‘stops’ battery powered watches (which I have now remembered is another reason why I went for the expensive mechanical watch in the first place – I think I remember this afresh every time it goes in for a service and I have to look for a temporary replacement). It’s unscientific because if you search for information about the phenomenon you will get a lot of scientists explaining how this is a common fallacy due to people misunderstanding electromagnetic fields and confirmation bias and all that (see also: the puncture fairy), which all makes perfect sense. And indeed, it is perfectly true that once you’ve killed your first two or three battery powered watches you stop buying expensive ones, so it does become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I do understand that the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’ and that I am likely to start looking out for watches stopping on me and use that to reinforce my belief that I kill watches, while overlooking all the times I’ve had a battery-powered watch that didn’t die, at least immediately etc. etc.

None of which was much comfort yesterday when I took my old running watch in (a Timex no less, with a built in light) for a new battery only to be told it was dead as a dodo and would have to be sent off to be serviced. Nor when the other half came in late last night having not realised how late it was because his watch – which I had been wearing overnight for the last week or two and which had hitherto been entirely reliable for at least the last 15 years – had stopped.

Sceptics will be delighted to learn that the other half’s watch just needed a new battery; time will tell whether he’s willing to risk letting me wear it again all the same. And I still have no working watch, although I have noticed that I still manage to wake up at roughly the time I need to in the morning (perhaps we could have a scientific explanation of that too?). Meanwhile, maybe any scientists wishing to explore the whole watch stopping phenomenon would like to send me some watches on an entirely randomised basis? I promise to report my findings faithfully, although for it to be a completely fair trial, they would obviously need to be quite expensive ones…

Vision Accomplished

November 24, 2014

After a bit too much gadding about and far too much dual-ended candle consumption, yesterday was a day to get away from the dreaded laptop and take our binoculars out for a nice walk. And as it turns out all you need to do is publish your long-term vision for more sunshine* and lo and behold, it shall be so, at least as far as Sunday was concerned.

So we got ourselves down to the coast

Balcary Bay in sunshine

It really was rather glorious. I was taking photos blind because there was too much sunshine to see what was going on, but it seems to have worked out.


Not shown in the photos were the porpoises glimpsed coming up for air out to sea, the rock doves (oh, okay, they’re probably feral pigeons, but they live on the sea cliff miles and miles from the nearest McDonald’s so they must surely have reverted back to the original bird by now) whooshing over the cliff edge with a great rush of wings at top speed, and the interesting little brown bird that we pursued through the gorse hoping for a rock pipit or at the very least a stonechat but which turned out to be a robin.

cliff-edge donkeys

These natives were mostly friendly, although we decided not to get on the cliff side of them – they had the air about them of animals that would not stint in their search for concealed polo mints in people’s pockets, and if that meant nudging an unlucky hiker over the drop, well, no omelettes without breaking eggs and all that.

wall with lichen

And if lichen is a sign of unpolluted air, then we were getting it by the lungful.

All in all, a grand restorative day, and just what the doctor ordered. We don’t really take advantage of our glorious surroundings anything like frequently enough. Something to bear in mind.

* I’d love to say that the Scottish Government’s vision of direct, safe, well connected cycle routes on major roads had also magically appeared but clearly that level of wishing and hoping takes a little longer.

Top Tip for Houseguests…

November 21, 2014

When you’re arriving by bike along any of the UK’s lunar-surfaced roads, and particularly in a town or city  which has retained a fine legacy of cobbled streets, then you may wish to warn your hosts that the bottles of beer you have carried with you in your basket by way of a hostess gift may want to settle for a little, before it is opened.

A week should do it

My Long-term Vision for Scotland’s Weather

November 20, 2014

November beeches
Sunshine is great. It’s pleasant, and it’s healthy in moderation. It warms us, and it makes plants grow and people happy. Here in this blog post I’d like to set out my vision of what I hope Scotland will be like in 2030 if sunshine on most days becomes the norm. I’ve drawn it up in consultation with many stakeholders, including the cat, the Weather Gods and the Tarmac Fairy.

view of cows

People will smile more. ‘Taps’ will be ‘aff’ earlier in the year. The people of Scotland will largely go an attractive shade of pink, except for those who were already an attractive shade of brown. Coffee on the bench will become a routine. Cyclists will no longer have to apologise for the glare from their legs when they make the switch into shorts. Vitamin D deficiency will be a thing of the past. Suntanning salons will be converted into cake shops and garden centres. The tables outside cafes will no longer be for miserable wet smokers but for chic laughing people with their sunglasses pushed up onto the tops of their heads.

St Mary's Loch

Flowers will bloom all summer and never end up flattened by the rain. The rain will fall at night, keeping the hills green. Cyclists will have a tailwind on the way out, and then also on the way back. Raspberries will be plentiful in the hedgerows. Every bee will happily buzz as it works its way around the garden and we’ll grow french beans and sweetcorn every year.

mystery beans flowering

Summers will be the way you remember them as a child. Autumn will be crisp and cool and smell of woodsmoke. The mist will rise off the rivers but will quickly disperse. It will start snowing big fat magical flakes of snow at midnight on Christmas Eve but the snow will be gone before Hogmanay except in the skiing areas. Spring will come early and the hedgerows will be filled with blossoms. The English will be jealous. Oh God, will the English be jealous…

tree in the sunshine

But what’s that, I hear you say? Just having a vision for something is not the same as achieving it? It’s a terrible waste of time to write a whole document saying how nice it would be if something nice happened? That if wishes were horses then beggars would ride? Well then what on earth is the Scottish Government doing wasting its time producing this?

double rainbow

Blown Away

November 19, 2014

I was heading up to the veg plot for a bit of therapeutic pottering between tasks this afternoon when I heard the dreaded vrrmm brrrrmmm vrr-vrr-vrr-vrrrmm of mechanised gardening going on and remembered that Wednesday was the day the landlords have the gardeners round -and by ‘gardeners’ I mean two lads with a van full of every petrol-driven toy you can think of – and that, even worse, they were concentrating their attentions on the walled garden. My idea of gardening is something done to the strains of Radio 4, broken only by the sound of a spade striking a stone, or perhaps some light swearing when I lose track of my fork. Again. And I have an irrational loathing* for the other kind of gardening, the kind that requires people to wear ear defenders, although, in fairness, that may have just been them attempting to block out Moneybox Live.

This time they weren’t leaf blowing, but they were strimming so I left them to it. I still don’t believe that it’s possible to properly garden an actual flowerbed with a strimmer, but that may be why my flowerbeds look the way they do (they are, however, impeccably wildlife friendly). I took myself out of earshot to the front garden instead and tried to find a compromise between scorched earth and wilderness. And, while I didn’t leave the garden looking anything like as groomed as the neighbours’, I did at least manage to work around the last of the late autumn blooms. You can’t do that with a strimmer.

last daisies of November

Of course, you can’t absentmindedly leave it in your compost bucket either…

* Well, I say irrational, I think when it comes to leaf blowers it’s perfectly rational. As the waters close over our heads, or the last ambulance grinds to a halt because we have used the last drop of petrol, our descendants will turn to us and say, ‘you used to burn fossil fuel to do WHAT?’

Time Out of Joint

November 18, 2014

November beeches

I have a watch, a very nice watch. A beautiful mechanical self-winding watch with a glass back so that you can see all the tiny parts ticking away inside. It needs no battery and will last for decades: the absolute antithesis of today’s short-term, throwaway society. There’s just one tiny problem. Every few years (technically every 3 years, but that’s never going to happen), if I want it to function as an actual working timepiece as opposed to a piece of wrist-borne kinetic sculpture, it has to be sent off to a specialist horologist to be taken apart by highly trained elves, cleaned in unicorn’s tears, and dusted with fairy diamonds (judging by the cost), a process which takes several weeks. Oh, and it also doesn’t keep very good time, but that might just be because I’m a bit slow to send it off to the elves because I could in fact buy a very nice watch for the cost of having it serviced. In fact, adding it up, I could have replaced the whole watch by now, but that would be a terrible waste.

For the last few months, my watch has been showing distinct signs of unhappiness and I’ve been vaguely meaning to do something about it, an intention reinforced by the fact that the strap broke and – thinking that I might as well get a new gryffon hide strap from the elves whie they were at it – I haven’t replaced it, instead wearing my watch rather precariously on a rubber wristband advertising a firm of cycle injury solicitors. Despite this, I hadn’t actually done anything about it other than think ‘I really must get my watch serviced’ at increasingly frequent intervals until Thursday when, being in Glasgow with half an hour to kill, I impulsively dropped into a watch place to find out if they could get it serviced. They could (they gave me back my wristband; I don’t think they were very impressed. I just hope I’m to be allowed to have the watch back…), and it is off to the elves for at least 6 weeks, leaving me watchless

Despite everyone telling me nobody wears a watch any more, that’s what your phone is for, I’m finding this quite difficult. I do like to know what time it is at any given moment in the day. I particularly like to know what time it is when I wake up in what might be the middle of the night and it’s dark out. The other half kindly lends me his at night, but it doesn’t have luminous hands so I would have to turn on the light to find out that it’s four in the morning and only half an hour since I last turned on the light to find out what time it is, which would probably get a bit old quite quickly for the other half. I could keep my phone by my bed but I’d rather keep it out of the bedroom because I’d only end up replying to emails or going onto twitter and forget to check what time it was. So either I have to find myself a cheap, ideally secondhand, watch with a luminous dial or I’m going to have to train myself to not want to know what time it is in the middle of the night.

A quick scout around the charity shops of Bigtown suggests that the latter is going to be easier. It seems watches do not come as standard with luminous hands. I find this baffling, to be honest. Am I really the only person who wants to be able to tell the time in the dark? Is it really such an odd thing to do? What do the rest of you do?

Oh and the photo? No reason, really, but even on a fool’s errand, a sunny morning in November on the bike is a pleasure that should be shared.

Gated Community

November 17, 2014

Heading out for a walk this weekend, the other half and I noted that the farmer (either that or someone with a more impressive collection of stuff-that-might-come-in-handy in their shed than us) had replaced the broken half of the gate with a new gate. We also noticed that Houdini the sheep was back out of her field again and happily browsing the verge outside the landlord’s house. Having checked the level of the ford (a surprisingly robust five inches), and considered sampling the raspberries (raspberries! in November!) in the hedgerows we wandered homewards and considered what best to do about the sheep. Chasing her into the landlord’s garden didn’t seem quite on, and nor did leaving her where was on the road because we’d feel pretty rotten if we came across her mangled corpse the next morning, sheep not being particularly hi vis nor reflective, nor, indeed, particularly endowed with road sense. We briefly considered herding her into our garden and keeping her as a pet (and blog fodder – the other half is a harsh critic and feels the blog has been on an endless downwards slide, quality wise, since it started and could do with an expanded cast of characters) but in the end she made up her own mind and headed off back to the gate where after a certain amount of vaguely comic squeezing (you never have your camera with you when these sorts of things happen, do you?) she reinserted herself into the field via the unbroken half of the gate.

This morning, we found that the farmer (or impressive shed hoarder) had done this:

blocked and mended gate

I’d like to think that that was an end to the saga, but having seen this sheep in action, I’m not 100% convinced. Stay tuned for further developments.