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