Nothing but a Number

February 28, 2015

Today could have been deemed a bit of a wasted day – only one person showed up for the planned group ride, perhaps unsurprisingly seeing as the BBC Terror Centre were predicting the end of days (or possibly just a winter storm) to blow in in the afternoon. However, he was up for a nice spin and an impeccably locally and organically sourced lunch and so was I, having done nothing more interesting than plugging back and forth to Bigtown or Papershop Village in recent weeks.

We set off, only slightly hampered by my bike continuing its negative campaign for more maintenance – despite the fact that I have actually finally oiled its chain – by developing a puncture about 3 miles in. Between us we (OK, I was mostly holding things and making helpful remarks) managed to get the tube changed and a Marathon Plus tyre wrestled into submission aided by his extremely nifty little bike pump that pulls out and turns into a tiny track pump. We set off again and made excellent time over the 10 miles or so into a headwind to the cafe, had a very convivial lunch, decided to take the long way round back to Bigtown (also, mysteriously, into a headwind), conversing all the way about bikes, hill-walking, the frustrating lack of decent tea-rooms in the region and other matters of mutual interest. I reached home – very satisfyingly just ahead of the forecasted weather apocalypse – to spend the rest of the day on the sofa recovering from the day’s efforts, with a feeling of having been thoroughly out-cycled – and definitely out-bike-maintained – by my companion for the day.

I suppose, given the well-known anti ageing effects of regular cycling, the fact that he was in his eighties should not come as any real surprise… It does give me some hope for the future however.

Rude Awakening

February 27, 2015

Pity the poor toad that has settled itself down for a nice winter nap in the compost heap when some gardener suddenly wants to get ready for spring.

toad in compost

Fortunately it came out whole and unharmed, although it did appear a bit pissed off, and I wasn’t suddenly confronted with finding half a toad in my nice barrowload of compost. Nothing that eats slugs deserves that fate, although you could argue that had it been up and about and eating slugs it wouldn’t have risked a spade through the head.

The post that holds up the side of the compost bay was also full of unexpected biodiversity


I could imagine a whole Dr. Zeuss world in miniature playing out among that lot. Perhaps Horton had a point…

Every Silver Lining

February 26, 2015

Today was supposed to be another mainly pottering sort of day – a little light stick poking when the scheduled rain had stopped seeing as how the drains were flooding again, some work, some emails, preparing the dough for some scientifically proven chocolate-chip cookies, possibly a wander down to the post box if I was feeling adventurous. And then I noticed that the other half – who was away feeding the ducks – had forgotten to take the newspaper voucher with him. This little green book of vouchers, while technically saving us money, seems to have turned into a major logistical hazard because it only saves you money if you remember to bring the little vouchers with you,* but driving all the way back to pick up the forgotten voucher obviously negates all that. So, with the rain stopped and the sun emerging – *sigh* – I was forced to ride into Bigtown for the paper after all.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s a plus, right? The sun is out, you’re on your bike, why not burn off those chocolate-chip cookie calories in advance, it’s win win. And yes, so it is, at least on the way to Bigtown, adjusted for the fact that my bike – despite all the lovely things I’ve said in public about future bike maintenance strategies and stakeholder bike maintenance forums – is still negatively holding out for some actual bike maintenance and refusing to go into any gear other than ‘too low for riding along on the flat’ and ‘too high for going up a pigging hill’, and the latter only accompanied by the usual symphony of squeaking

On the way back from Bigtown, however, there was an icy headwind. Again. And I may have cast a few imprecations in the other half’s direction as I battered into it for what seemed like an hour. Funny how you never notice the tailwind anything like as much, isn’t it?

Oh and I still haven’t oiled that bike chain yet. But I will…

*Papershop village usually let us bring it along next time, but Tesco for some reason seem less keen on that arrangement

A Voyage of Discovery

February 25, 2015

There has been far too much Gadding About going on in recent weeks, which is fun and everything, but tends to involve too much in the way of getting up early and coming back late and not enough in the way of pottering. Today was still busy in that I had things to get done, but I didn’t have to actually be anywhere and the day was suddenly mild so the garden – and more particularly the greenhouse – called.

greenhouse interior

I feel a bit at sea with the greenhouse. I’ve never had one before and while the mediterranean climate part is nice to visit, it’s a bit daunting having something that – unlike the rest of the garden – doesn’t water itself. I’ve also realised that my normal outdoor garden habit of dumping a load of manure on the beds and letting the worms do the work over winter won’t work if there’s no worms. There’s also the worry of it getting an infestation of the sort of thing they’re always issuing Dire Warnings about on Gardeners’ Question Time, like vine weevils). Fortunately, my gardening pal from the village stopped by with his seed potato order for Potato Day and has given me the benefit of his wisdom (I think he’s a bit scunnered that I’ve got my hands on a greenhouse twice the size of his for free out of pure dumb luck but I think he realises his laurels at the village show are fairly safe so hopefully his advice is still sound).

plants hardening off

Anyway, today was spent testing both my pal’s advice to dig in plenty of organic matter, and the handiwork of my hernia surgeon, by hefting barrowloads of compost about, and giving my Project Random Perennial plants a little holiday of a day trip to South West Scotland in the drizzle so they can start the long road towards hardening off.

As an aside, I’ve discovered the archive of podcasts of the Life Scientific in recent weeks, meaning I can head up into the garden for an hour or so whenever it’s convenient without having to dovetail with the listenable bits of the Radio 4 schedule and can do my pottering while eavesdropping in on a fascinating and agreeable conversation between two very clever people. This has been an eye opener (and not least because the producers seem to have found a 50:50 ratio of male and female scientists to interview without making a huge fuss about it). It has reminded me of what I used to find fascinating about my old job, before we had an infestation of consultants, a pest almost as ineradicable as vine weevil. Not that I did any actual science, but I did get to talk to a lot of clever people that did and then build things for them that helped them do it better. Obviously a job as simple and as satisfying as that was never going to last in today’s enlightened times – where are the boxes to be ticked? How can progress be measured and managed? – but it was pretty damn good while it did.

Sales Pitch

February 24, 2015

I had a train to catch this morning, which meant getting up at some ungodly hour – although sadly I actually woke up at a marginally more godly hour which meant scrambling out of the house in more of a hurry than I like to be, thinking ‘ah is that rain? Probably not heavy enough for the full rain gear, might just get away with it…’

Three minutes down the road, the Weather Gods woke up and started turning the taps on. I didn’t fancy two hours in the train in wet trousers so I stopped and pulled out my rain skirt and attempted to put it on in a hurry. This proves easier to do when you’re not battling a stiff breeze and frozen fingers and watched by a curious crowd of sheep* and hurrying to get the whole palaver out of the way before one of your neighbours drives past and finds you apparently dressing on the side of the road. I was just bending down to finish off the final step (attaching the elastic cord that keeps the whole thing from turning into a spinnaker) when a little dog appeared behind my legs, closely followed by concerned dogwalking neighbour who had spotted my bike sans me, and then me apparently doubled over in agony, and was checking to see if I was okay.

Having reassured her I was fine, and merely eccentric, not injured, told her I was rushing for the train and then explained why I wasn’t on my usual train-catching bike (the Brompton; I had no idea people were paying such close attention), I zoomed off again (tailwind assistance fortunately enhanced by the rain skirt) into the now clearing weather. The rain skirt works best as a rain repelling device, I’m finding, and the more complicated it is to put it on, the better.

Still it was absolutely pissing down by the time I pulled into the station forecourt with  five minutes to spare, so that’s something. And a fellow passenger was very taken with the rain skirt – I had by this time abandoned all pretence at decorum and just whipped it off in the booking office – so there’s that too. Why cycle clothing companies aren’t inundating me with free samples of their wet-weather gear I will never know. Round here, even the non-cyclists can see the benefits.

* None of them was called Keith; I checked.

The Squeaky Wheel

February 23, 2015

I was at a cycle campaigners’ day on Saturday up in Edinburgh which was not just a nice opportunity for me to stand up and talk rubbish at people who could neither interrupt nor politely leave,* but also to meet others who could talk sense about their own campaigns. In among the other speakers was a local politician who was there to tell us how best to influence local politicians (and no, you cynics, brown envelopes full of cash didn’t feature although given today’s headlines perhaps that’s where we’re going wrong). There are a lot of people who would like cycle campaigners to be more positive generally – back-pedalling somewhat on the whole cyclists getting squashed by lorries thing, not getting too shouty when misguided advertising campaigns attempt to foster mutual respect by accusing all cyclists of running red lights, and not simply pointing and laughing when councils release plans for cycle paths that send cyclists into the side of a bus stop. Obviously, politicians are usually included in this group; indeed we have had representations made to us that it was unfortunate that a minister got heckled at the last Pedal on Parliament but one because now they won’t want to come any more, the poor delicate wee flowers. To which I reply: have these people never had to go to a hustings in Glasgow? I mean seriously? You’re a Scottish politician and you don’t like to be heckled? Because being heckled is, in fact, your job.

Cleaned bicycle. Archive shot. No bicycles were actually cleaned in the making of this blog

Cleaned bicycle. Archive shot. No bicycles were actually cleaned in the making of this blog

So anyway, at this point, I was about to develop an elaborate metaphor about how I don’t clean and oil my chain when it’s purring along nicely telling me what a wonderful job I’m doing maintaining my bicycle, but wait until it’s bitching and moaning with every gear change about my dreadful neglect. And then I rode into to town today and I realised that in fact, I don’t oil it then either. I wait until it won’t get into the lowest gear when I need to get up the steepest hill into an icy headwind because of my neglect and THEN I promise that when I get home – if I get home – I will definitely oil it, and give the whole bike a good wash and brush up to boot.

Oh, and then I get safely home and forget all about it until just now. You may develop your own elaborate metaphor about the political process, poltiicans’ promises and the coming election if you like.

*I’m possibly the only person in the country who actually looks forward to doing a bit of public speaking. Don’t tell anyone though because it’s a bit embarrassing.

The Group W Bench

February 19, 2015

He said, “What were you arrested for, kid?” and I said, “Litterin”. . . .
And they all moved away from me on the bench there, with the hairy eyeball and all kinds of mean, nasty things, till I said, “And creatin’ a nuisance”.

(Alice’s Restaurant*)

For some reason, these lyrics have been going round my head the last day or two, for reasons which I can’t quite put my finger on

In other news, there is no longer as much colourful and reflective knitting and crocheting around the house as there used to be.

Desperadoes of the worst kind, clearly

* You know you’re getting middle aged when it strikes you that the Group W Bench along with the mother-rapers, father-stabbers and father-rapers is exactly where people who drop litter belong…

Ancient History

February 17, 2015

Of all the things I needed this afternoon, with a busy evening planned (of which, possibly, more anon), and an hour or so to kill in town, having the cash machine to decide to reboot itself in the middle of giving me some cash, was probably somewhere between ‘a hole in the head’ and ‘a slap in the face with a wet fish’.

Adding insult to injury, was the fact that, as it rebooted itself and I stood there staring at it, only just coming to terms to the fact that I was about to be left with no cash and no means of getting cash and no means of buying anything without cash, I noticed that the cashpoint was running on OS2 Warp.

For those of you of tender years, OS2 Warp was the operating system IBM brought out in the early nineties to challenge Windows and my first ever proper job in IT was porting software onto it, which will tell some of you just how ancient I really am, and certainly in IT years.* It was a steaming pile of matters arising then, and I don’t imagine it’s much better now. ‘Isn’t rebooting something supposed to make it work again?’ asked the other half when I texted him to bring me over some cash. From what I remember of OS2 Warp, nothing short of percussive maintenance with an axe was going to make a cash machine running OS2 Warp better which – curiously enough – was exactly what I wanted to do.

And how was your afternoon?

*Only last night I was reminiscing happily about the Y2K panic, which some of you may have heard your grandparents talk about.

It is not Spring

February 16, 2015

It will not be spring for some time (calendar dates notwithstanding), there are still pockets of snow lurking in the lee of the dykes, the north wind can still deliver a sharp nip when it gets up and there is undoubtedly more weather coming our way.

And yet

sunshine on trees

The trees are starting to show that first fuzz of colour that promises leaves.


And in the sunshine, you can almost feel the warmth.

Bit of a contrast with the last pictures of trees I posted, anyway

Getting the Nod

February 13, 2015

I have long pondered, but never got round to, writing about nods. No wait, let me explain. You’re on the bike, out there in the elements on a lonely road. You approach another lonely soul also out there in the elements – whether another cyclist, a workman digging out a drain, a farmer on a quad bike. You nod, they nod back – a little interaction that is probably universal across rural cultures where everyone, including strangers, gets an acknowledgement of some sort in passing. Except I began to notice that people nod slightly differently up here. I’d bob my head up and down as I learned as a child and in return, my interlocutor would not so much nod as rotate their chin through a few degrees – from say six to eight on a clock dial. One of those things you note, think must blog about that one of these days, and then totally forget until someone comes along and writes about it (or its Norn Iron equivalent) far more eloquently than I ever did.

So far, I’ve confined myself to my own native English nod, uncertain whether I could actually pull the authentic South West Scotland version off without looking like a complete fake. But after such encounters I do sometimes find myself practising it as I ride along. Just, you know, to see if I can manage it in case I ever need to go into deep cover.*

It’s lucky our roads are really very empty indeed.

Oh go on, it’s Friday: what embarrassing things do you do when you’re out on your own on a bike?

* See also dropping ‘outwith’ into casual conversation.