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?’

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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.


A Tale of Two Journeys

November 14, 2014

It was the Brompton’s turn for a day out today with a return visit to Glasgow and the Cycling Scotland conference where, in a change from last year’s format of having a lot of men in suits read their powerpoint slides to us, there were a couple of women reading their slides to us as well (although, top tip for conference speakers who’d like to at least try and project a less blokey image for their subject: twisting everything round to a reference to the evening’s impending football match is not the way to do it).

I could blog more about the conference itself but if you follow me on twitter you’ll have likely got the gist: it was the usual parallel world in which everything was wonderful and Scotland will be the new Netherlands any minute now. What was more interesting* was the trip to and from the Velodrome where the conference was being held. Once you know the route, you can actually cycle there almost entirely on cycle paths without tangling with traffic – apart from the small matter of a four-lane one-way road with about a million buses to get you down to the river, needing to convert to a pedestrian to get across another monster road, lugging your bike down a flight of steps to get to the river path, waiting several eons for the lights to change on the toucan crossings, and needing to cycle across an unmarked and unsignposted bit of pavement to find the flagship segregated cycle path to the velodrome. But hey, if cycling through cities was easy, everyone would do it and we can’t have that can we? Oh no wait, hang on…

On the way back, having managed to forget my Brompton front light (and lose a glove, but I was sort of expecting that), I was grateful to be offered a lift in a taxi to the station by the staff of a cycling organisation who should probably remain nameless. This had the advantage of being warm, dry, and protected from the traffic by a nice hard shell of metal and came with the entertainment value of a driver lecturing us about cyclists who didn’t bother to use lights (oh the irony). It was, however, also much much slower than trying to cycle back would have been, as Glasgow’s rush hour traffic congealed in all those wide multi-lane streets that disfigure its city centre. The problem with our cities isn’t just that they don’t really work for people on bikes. They don’t even work for people in cars either, not even the ones like Glasgow where cars have been given almost all the room. So now all we have to do is convince the powers that be that solving the former problem might just solve the latter too…

You never know, it might work.

* for a certain value of interesting


Dark Skies at Night…

November 13, 2014

…not exactly a cyclist’s delight – especially when the cyclist in question has a bottle dynamo that has taken a dislike to the damp and cuts out whenever they go through a puddle, only to cut back in again when they hit the next pothole which, when they are running on the standlight only, is fortunately a pretty frequent occurrence. Indeed, on the worst stretches of road, the effect is similar to one of those flashing front lights. I love my dynamo, I really do, and when it works it’s brilliant, but I might want to avoid the dark rides home until I’ve done a little percussive maintenance on it, possibly accompanied by swearing.

And yet, and yet … when there’s no moon and it stops raining and the clouds vanish and you can see the whole sky freckled with stars, it is still a sight for sore eyes and worth almost ending up in the verge because you have been speeding along in the deserted dark looking upwards and into space.

I had a busy day today with a trip to Glasgow and a fantastic lunch and a tour of an actually-might-be-if-not-good-at-least-not-horrible-adjusted-for-this-being-the-UK planned cycle route, all of which I should probably be writing about, and may actually do one of these days. For all that, the highlight was still the ride home under the stars.


Spoke too Soon

November 12, 2014

I was just preparing to have a quick lunch before cycling into Bigtown to be interviewed* by a student for his research into Smart Cities, when I looked out of the window and realised that my last blog post had been somewhat premature.

It turns out that blocking a hole in a gate with string, plus the addition (by someone else) of some tree branches, only makes it harder to get the sheep back into the field, not for them to get out. This time it took me, the other half (who turned up in the car half way through the proceedings) and a passing horserider to corral the sheep to the point where it would go through the gate. I think I’ll leave farming to the farmers from now on.

If the sheep does return (or a sheep – I think this was a different one this time), we may well just leave it in the garden. It can keep the grass down, add a bit of fertiliser, and when spring comes, hopefully provide us with a couple of lambs. Not exactly a substitute for the cat, but it would be considerably more delicious…

*I like to consider I agree to these things because I am a big hearted person who likes to help out students with their research. The other half thinks it’s because I like being interviewed because I get to talk as much as I like AND the other person has to listen. He may well be right, but even so it’s ALSO because I am a big hearted person who likes to help out students with their research. Plus often they buy me coffee


I Said a While Back …

November 11, 2014

… that one of the signs of having lived in the country too long was no longer worrying about your neighbours’ sheep. However, we found out on Sunday that this doesn’t extend to when you find them in your own garden, even once your garden has reached the stage where having sheep in it is likely to reap a net benefit, assuming they eat weeds and non-weeds in roughly equal quantities.

This sheep – spotted by the other half slinking behind the woodshed – was an unusually chilled one, adjusted for being a sheep. Having ushered it out of the flower bed, it trotted out of the yard and onto the road where, it being dusk, I worried it was likely going to form a bit of a traffic hazard. Fortunately it seemed to know where it was going, headed straight to the gate of the field opposite and limboed back in, which is a bit of an acheivement for a sheep because normally getting them back into a field they’ve been perfectly capable of getting out of is as difficult as getting an insect to fly through the open half of a window. Closer inspection showed that the gate was broken and the bottom bar had been torn away by a large rock, leaving a temptingly sheep-sized hole.

It is another sign that you have lived in the country too long, that you have in one of your many sheds numerous lengths of binder twine that you have found lying on the road when you’re out on your bike and picked up and kept in case they come in useful (OK, maybe that really is just me). And it turns out that one of the things that lengths of binder twine come in useful for is creating a nice hand-woven anti-sheep barrier on a broken gate which, so far at least, seems to have kept the sheep where they belong, assuming I have remembered how to tie my knots correctly (and if I have, such is the permanence of temporary solutions, that I fully expect it to still be there in spring).

Binder twine – the duct tape of the rural world?