Out Like a Lion

March 31, 2015

There was a moment or so last week when it started to feel as if spring had, if not arrived, was at least texting us to let us know that it was on its way. This week has proved that that was somewhat premature – the first clue being the fact that we woke to a smattering of snow yesterday, the second being the fact that the birds were flying backwards today, which is never a good sign when you’ve got a TOHH* journey ahead of you.

But, you know, I had yoga to go to, and an important literary plotting meeting to attend, followed by an hour of fantasy cycling-infrastructure shopping with someone in the council who can’t, sadly, actually implement any of my plans but is prepared to indulge me while I explain them, which amounts to a significant step forward in these parts. The journey into town was completed in record time, aided by a massive tailwind, and I did hope that the wind might drop before I had to head home, but I was disabused of that notion after filtering to the front of a queue of traffic at the lights, foolishly failing to change down a gear, and then discovering when I attempted to set off again that I was barely able to move into the wind. Fortunately, the drivers behind were extremely patient with me and hung back until there was space for them to safely pass, for which I was enormously grateful, given the cross winds which threatened to send me half way across the road at times.

As for the last few miles home, I can only say that was the longest 40 minutes of my life (time does funny things when you’re plugging into a headwind; I was convinced I’d been riding for at least an hour when I got home). I don’t think I’ve ever ridden into anything like it, particularly when it started snowing again. It didn’t help when a car suddenly appeared about a foot to my right, having come up behind me without my hearing a thing, and passed me on a narrow bend as if I simply wasn’t there, thereby undoing all the warm fuzzy goodwill I’d been feeling towards the drivers of Bigtown up to that point.

Fortunately, we have recently been extensively testing the proposition ‘it is not possible to have too much cake’** due to a backlog of over-ripe bananas, which obviously have to be turned into banana bread and/or Ruby Tandoh’s banana thyme cake, combined with a belated birthday present of more cake which arrived in the post yesterday (complete with candles, naturally, you’ve got to love my friends). So the other half was able to revive me with plenty of carbohydrate when I finally staggered in the door, looking as if I had been freshly sandblasted. The rest of the day has been spent firmly on the sofa, waiting for April…

*tailwind out, headwind home; HOTH is the correct configuration for cyclists.

** preliminary results suggest that it is both logically and practically true.

A Rainy Sunday Morning…

March 29, 2015

.. and the other half rendering the kitchen temporarily uninhabitable by making banana bread;* what to do?

greenhouse in March


planted seed trays

A bit of seed planting

notebook with planting plan

A bit of light plot-plotting

Never has the sound of rain on the roof sounded sweeter.

* I love the stuff, especially his chocolate-chip version, but I can’t stand the smell of bananas, especially overripe ones, until they’ve been safely transformed.

Project Update

March 27, 2015

‘So, how’s Project Random Perennial coming along?’ I hear you all cry*

Well, funny you should ask that:

random perennials

After a storming Phase One (not killing everything off over the winter) we have moved onto Phase Two – planting out. Or at least planting some of them out, because Phase One has gone so unexpectedly well, I have ten more of these little trays queued up in the greenhouse and hardening off.

The other half was a little disappointed that I haven’t taken the project to its logical conclusion and planted everything in a random order as well; I suppose I might as well have done because I still have very little idea what everything its, although some I can make a good guess.

plants in situ

I do realise that the chances are they will turn out to consist largely of plants I already have in the garden, plants that vanish without trace or suffer a lingering death, and plants that are effectively invasive weeds and all of them flowering, if they ever do flower, in madly clashing colours. But there’s always the slim chance that one or two of them will turn out to be something interesting I wouldn’t have thought of and after all the seeds were free and they’re replacing a bit of the flowerbed that was basically all creeping buttercup, so anything at all would be a bonus.

Of course, I hadn’t thought of the fourth possibility: that the minute my back was turned, the landlord’s hens would make a beeline for the newly planted bed, having been nowhere to be seen all winter. Freshly turned earth is almost as attractive to hens as it is to cats and they are even more destructive of young plants. Fortunately this marauder was seen off before she’d had a chance to dig everything up but clearly I’ll have to be vigilant.

marauding hen

And yes, as the picture shows, I’ve still got a long way to go on that flowerbed.

* OK, not really

Lessons Learned

March 24, 2015

Exciting times: my seed order has arrived!

seed packets

Every year I seem to leave getting my seeds a little later, but that’s okay because according to the proper gardeners, the great peril up here is planting things too early, so the fact that I’ve only just got my parsnips and broad beans now when the packet says plant February-April isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Especially as we’ve been getting overnight frosts for most of this week.

And lest that sound as if I know what I’m talking about, a small confession. I have been filling my watering can at the water butt in the walled garden for about 5 years now, struggling with the little tap, which has become somewhat loose and difficult to manage, waiting ages for the watering can to fill up, wrestling it from under the tap once it is full (there’s not much space under the tap, and when I dug out a hole to make more room, the moles just filled it in again) spilling half the water in the process. And it was only about a week ago (now that I am having to water my greenhouse and hence having to repeat this operation every day), that it occurred to me that I could just lift the top off the water butt and dip the watering can in and fill it in seconds.

I’d calculate how much cumulative time I had wasted, but it would just be too depressing. So instead I just put it out there in case there’s anyone else similarly dim who might benefit. Feel free to mock me roundly in the comments…

Routine Ford Update

March 23, 2015

Because we haven’t had one of those for a while, and I know you like them.

Ford in March - almost dry

Ford status: almost dry


Frogspawn update: the annual race between the maturing frogs and the drying up of the ditch has now begun. Ordinarily in south west Scotland this would not be an issue, but given the shallowness of the ditch that Mrs Frog has chosen for her offspring this year, I’m afraid it’s the ditch’s race to lose this year. I will keep you posted, unless it all gets too desperate in which case I’ll probably draw a veil.

lambs and sheep

Bonus ickle lambs: normally given my phone camera capabilities, lambs are usually rendered as white dots on this blog, but apparently I looked enough like a farmer (it must be the tweed cap) to these sheep that they all came running over hoping for tasty sheep treats. Their disappointment is your gain.

one in five hill

We then climbed a 1-in-5 hill to reach the top of the ford road and back into a suddenly icy headwind. Inexplicably, Sustrans haven’t included this in their national cycling network yet, although I imagine it’s only a matter of time.


March 20, 2015

I love a good solar eclipse. When the total eclipse was forecast in 1999 we had our plans to go down to Cornwall made about a year in advance – which would have gone better if the sun hadn’t been completely eclipsed throughout by a thick layer of cloud instead of the shadow of the moon. It was still rather a spectacular experience though. We had driven down to the coast and taken up a spot along the cliff edge, along with what looked like half the population of Cornwall. From our vantage point we could see along the coastline for miles, and all the people lining the cliffs waiting. As the moment of totality approached, everyone decided to start taking photographs, despite there being nothing to see except a rather dimmish light, and all their flashes started going off, so the whole cliff edge for miles was lit up with sparkling lights. As a majestic heavenly spectacular, it was a complete bust, but as an absurdist situationist art happening, it was amazing.

We hadn’t gone to anything like the same lengths for today’s eclipse, mainly because the forecast was for cloud so I wasn’t getting my hopes up. The sun duly disappeared behind a thick cloud at around 8:15 so I got on with some work until I noticed that the sun had made a reappearance. With the weather we’ve had, any sun at all was a bit of a miracle, and unlikely to last so I rushed out with a colander to see if I could get some sort of pinhole action projected onto our house:

colander eclipse

pinhole camera

I knew there was a reason why we bought our coffee in bulk

That looked pretty cool, although I wasn’t entirely certain if the little crescents I was seeing represented the eclipse or just the way the light went through the holes in the colander. So I dashed inside and consulted Professor Google and made the world’s fastest pinhole camera out of the box our coffee comes in and some tinfoil. As a bonus, two people could look in it at once so we played with that for a while until the sun duly went in and we went in ourselves for a cup of coffee. By then, we had reached the height of the eclipse and it did look rather gloomy, but that may have been because it had started raining. We gave up any hope of seeing anything more and I went back to getting on with my work.

And then I looked out and found we’d got just the perfect amount of cloud cover (not a sentence I ever thought I would have cause to write):

eclipse through cloud

The other half’s camera saw it better:
Cool, eh?

Tap* Aff

March 18, 2015

hazy hills

Oh what an errandonneering day I could have had today – a dental appointment in Notso Bigtown, with a side trip to pick up the paper and deliver POP flyers to any likely looking destination. Any sane person would probably feel that 13+ miles each way by bike is a bit excessive for a 20 minute check up and a scale and polish. But the other half needed the car, and the weather forecast was unusually optimistic, and the bulk of my cycling in recent weeks has been up and down the road to Bigtown, so I didn’t really much encouragement to recast it as a nice bike ride with a small dental appointment attached. Which makes a whole lot more sense that way round.

road ahead

The promised sunshine was hazy rather than glorious, but it was certainly warmer than it has been all year, so I soon stopped to peel off my jumper and then, daringly, my gloves. Pausing only to pick up the paper and drop off some Pedal on Parliament flyers (‘Oh, I’ll give one to Roland’, said Papershop Bloke. ‘Why, is he a keen cyclist then?’ ‘No, he hates them. When the police came round to warn him because some cyclist had reported him for his driving, he said next time he saw one he’d run them over.’ Hopefully he won’t be turning up in Edinburgh on the 25th of April, in a tank), I was soon out beyond my normal daily cycling round and remembering why I like riding my bike around here so much.


Sadly, my camera doesn’t seem to manage to capture the steepness or otherwise of a hill. This is one of those ‘check your brakes’ descents that means I never take this road the other way (and yes, it is a national cycle route. Perhaps we should all have a whip round and buy Sustrans a map with some contour lines on it)

Teeth given a clean bill of health, and with more POP flyers distributed to Notso Bigtown’s three (count ’em) bike shops, I had to hurry back a bit faster than I would normally like, because I was expecting an important work-related phone call. I’m glad I took the opportunity to escape while I did because looming work commitments, not to mention organising a wee demonstration in Edinburgh, mean that opportunities for sunny cycle rides on flimsy excuses might be a little thin on the ground in the next few weeks.

And I wasn’t the only one lured out by the sunshine, either…

lizard on the cobbles

Approximately 4/5 of a lizard.

*because let’s not go mad here. Removing just the one layer is quite sufficient in March

Repositioning Flight

March 17, 2015

Cycling back from yoga today I was puzzled by a noise – what appeared to be the sound of voices, coming from somewhere over the hills. It sounded like a crowd of people, perhaps spectators at a race, or maybe a rugby match, crying out their support. But that couldn’t be and as I pedalled on I realised that it was in fact a flight of whooper swans heading purposefully over the river and then turning north. Perhaps just foraging … or perhaps returning to Iceland to breed. I stopped to watch them on their way but by the time I’d thought to get my phone out and take a picture, they were a less than impressive sight. You’ll just have to take my word for it that they were swans.

Whooper Swans

Whooper swans. Honest

It was also all change in yoga this morning – after a three week absence, I have once more lost my spot to a newcomer but I am not the only person who’s been skipping classes: Yoga Bunny did not show so I have reclaimed my corner. Whether I will be able to hold it against all comers, I don’t know. But it was good to be back in home territory again…

Puttzing about

March 16, 2015

What with all the gadding about I’ve been doing recently, it’s actually been a while since I simply cycled down to the shop for the paper, but today I got to do just that. And although it was a cold day and spitting lightly with rain, it was a relief to get back on the rolling back road to Papershop Village, with almost no other traffic but me and the bike. I was relieved to note that, despite using the bigger front ring, I found the hills pretty easy all the way there. Clearly, I thought to myself, I’d got a fair bit fitter over the last couple of weeks. All this gadding about must be doing me some good.

And then I turned around and discovered I was suffering from PUTS: previously unnoticed tailwind syndrome.

We’ve been here before…


March 14, 2015

There are relaxing ways to spend the weekend – and then there’s manning the Bigtown Cycling Campaign stall at the Environment Fair for the whole day. My Brompton had a starring role in the Brompton folding-and-unfolding race, which meant I had to demonstrate the fold to several million people and then talk them through the process as they attempted to beat the record of 43 seconds set by a fellow member (and Brompton owner) using an innovative technique that involved undoing all the catches at once and collapsing it in one fluid move – possibly not something to try for the first time when you’ve a train to catch and a platform full of curious people watching.

Trying to help the others, I realised how unconscious the whole folding and unfolding process has become to me. For instance, it was only on about the ninth or tenth demonstration that I realised I was using my knee to gently hold the frame down as I swung the front part of the bike round. Nor had I really realised that you have to stand on one side in order to fold it, and it’s impossible to do it from the other. Or that, if you don’t just let the handlebars drop down and click into position with the right satisfying clunk, then it just isn’t right, somehow, although that’s more of a stylistic point than a practical one. Either way, trying to help someone else is like trying to teach someone to knit – it’s almost impossible without taking it out of their hands and just doing it for them…

The other thing I realised is that standing around talking to people all day is absolutely knackering. Even when you’re talking to them about bikes. Add in 18 miles (and Brompton miles count double) and my final errand and it’s no wonder I’ll be spending what remains of the weekend on the sofa … I am DONE.

Brompton outside post office

Errand 11 – post office, category: non-store errand, observation: it’s amazing how quickly people can move to get in front of you in the queue for the counter and then how slowly they move thereafter

Brompton folding races

Errand 12 – Environment fair, category: wild card, observation: I may be the least handy person ever, but I have at least managed to learn ‘the fold’. Therefore I conclude that, with time, anyone can fold a Brompton

Total 18 miles.