School Daze

June 30, 2015
skull and crossbones valve cap

I’m pleased to say this was on one of the little girls’ bikes…

I was helping out at the village school bike picnic again today, which means I’ve spent the rest of the day in a state of nervous exhaustion on the sofa after helping lead three separate three-mile rides with eight kids apiece, not to mention trying to get 24 kids on bikes safely round three blind bends on the road to the recreation ground when one of them had his handlebars on crooked and rode into a bush (just as the headmistress was taking his photo, which probably made for a great shot, although not the one that will be appearing on the school website) and one of them proved quite capable of steering himself into a bush unaided. Oh and it turns out that when a driver is warned to pass slowly because there are a lot of kids on bikes around the bend, they will assume that the big bunch of kids is all the kids there are, and then accelerate round the last bend only to meet the stragglers bringing up the rear which, inevitably, includes the one who can’t steer his bike and so he’s halfway across the road… fortunately no children were harmed in the making of this blog post, although one parent helper is pretty angry and I imagine one driver is even now getting cold sweats over what might have happened, or at least I hope they are.

Fortunately, this being the village school, all the other vehicles we encountered, tractors included, were driven by someone related to one or other of the kids in some way so we saw some extremely patient driving, and the rest of the day passed off more or less like the last one, although we have a new iBike officer who has banned bell ringing except in an emergency; I expect she gets quite enough of bike bells in her line of work. We took them up a stiffish hill and then let them have their heads on the descent and that was, apparently, the most brilliant thing ever, to the point where they were quite prepared to tackle the hill again to have another go.

I also got a bit of an insight into the life of the average farm child. We were admiring some pedigree Suffolk rams, which turned out to belong to one of the older boys (his personally, that is, not his family’s). In fact half of them seemed to have their own animals – sheep or cattle – which they breed and show. That puts my childhood ambition to have a pony firmly in its place…

You Know you’ve been Neglecting your Garden When…

June 29, 2015

… you head up to your veg plot and discover that the rabbits are busy moving in under the purple-sprouting broccoli

rabbit hole

This is not good news, as getting rabbits out of a walled garden is harder than you might think. The sad truth is, though, that this is no more than I deserve as I’ve let myself become just too busy to put any real time into my veg. Fortunately, the other half, meanwhile, has been doing sterling work in the greenhouse, complete with our first tomatillos (hopefully – who knows what lurks inside all that packaging?)

tomatillo fruit

Still, today I finished one mega job that has been taking up most of my waking hours. And with the Cycling Embassy AGM out of the way, I now have no more places I have to be – except home – for a while. I have regretfully turned down the opportunity to go to Birmingham for a meeting, there are no deadlines looming, and life will, I hope, return to something like normality for a while.

dry ford

although what’s normal about a completely dry ford?!

Starting with routine ford inspections, naturallement


June 28, 2015

I am back from the Cycling Embassy AGM in Leicester, a weekend of deep cycling deliberations and, of course, the traditional infrastructure safari of the good, the bad and the ugly bits of our host city’s cycling facilities.

Unusually for a UK city, Leicester has a fair few places where the cycling provision is, if not entirely Dutch in its execution, is at least something we could show our cousins across the North Sea without them laughing openly at it. The city centre, for instance, is almost entirely car free, they’ve taken a whole lane out of the inner ring road to create a cycle track instead, they’ve taken out a whole flyover and replaced it with a walking and cycling path instead, and there’s a nice greenway that ties up the city centre with the suburbs to the north and south, meaning that (if you pick your host carefully – staying with cycle campaigners helps) you can cycle from your accommodation to your meeting place and barely have to tangle with any traffic at all. The details are pretty nice too – like road crossings that allow you to cross the road all in one go, rather than spend what feels like the rest of your life penned up on a traffic island, and forgiving kerbs on the edge of the cycle paths which slope gently upwards so that you aren’t likely to catch your pedal on them as you ride along side by side earnestly discussing the finer points of cycling policy. It is attention to such details as kerb angles that gets us dubbed “kerb nerds” by the rougher elements of the cycle campaigning world, a label we wear with pride, for we are largely at peace with our inner infrastructure geekery

That said, my favourite bit of the trip wasn’t really intended to be cycling infrastructure at all, dated from a few decades back, and was definitely not good practice in many ways.

Yes, the bollards here are too close together, and not reflective (they may need some colourful knitwear), and later on we came across some kerbs which were sadly vertical, but how wonderful to see such mature trees taking up space where cars had once roamed free. An entire neighbourhood had been turned into a series of cul de sacs and we saw plenty of kids playing out on scooters, which is in many ways even better (and rarer) than loads of cycling.

It wasn’t until I’d tweeted it that I heard the story behind why such a scheme had been put in in the first place – nothing to do with cycling at all, but to stop kerb crawling.

At least until we came along …

Grand Designs

June 25, 2015

As well as Chilled Hare, we have another new addition to the biodiversity of our front courtyard: the second home House Martins. At least, we hope it’s their second home they are building on our shed wall, as if it’s their first nest then they’re a) quite late in getting going if they want to raise a brood before the end of the summer and b) a bit useless at nest building. Every time they get about half way with their mud construction, most of it falls off and they’re almost back to square one. There also appear to be three of them, rather than the more conventional pair – I’ve decided that the third one is the house martin equivalent of Kevin McCloud and is busy wrinkling his house-martin brow in concern as the imported Cumbrian mud turns out to be not the perfect shade as envisaged by Mrs House Martin, while Mr House Martin, having changed his mind three times about the design of the frontage and sacked his architect, decides to quit his job and project manage the whole process himself in order to get it done. Or perhaps they are just slightly rubbish at nest building and I should get out more.

It will be a shame if they don’t finish it because house martins are brilliant little birds and would be an adornment to the courtyard, and besides, it appears the swallows are falling behind on their hoovering up of midges duties, if the amount I’ve been getting bitten is anything to go by…

The RSPB have some rather complicated instructions on what to do if a nest falls with the young inside, which  suggests that structural integrity is not your average house martin nest’s strong point, but no suggestions on how to help them build it in the first place, apart from providing them with ample supplies of mud, which is really not a problem around here. So I’ll have to be content with watching their progress out of the window and reporting back. If they build anything worth photographing, I will let you know.

Hare Today

June 24, 2015

One benefit of our extremely relaxed approach to weeding the courtyard:

hare behind woodpile

Can you see the young hare? We’ve nicknamed it ‘chilled hare’ because it seems equally relaxed about our presence – that photograph was taken with my (now resurrected – hurrah!) phone camera without any zoom at all, and while the hare was keeping a close eye on me while I took it, it was also continuing eating the weeds we’d left for its delectation. Mostly we only notice it when it gets bored of eating weeds and stands up for a stretch – occasionally, if we pay it too much attention it will lope off behind the woodshed but not for long.

We haven’t had hares around since the cat arrived, but now they’re back, I think that’s all the excuse we need to leave that section of the cobbles unweeded, don’t you? We might need to do something about that wood though…

Northern Enlightenment

June 23, 2015

… and now, as they say, for something completely different, although having said that, it did start on Twitter. Last night just as I was thinking of going to bed, I noticed a tweet warning me that a solar storm was on and there was a high likelihood of seeing the northern lights in the UK in about – ooh, well about that very moment. Perfect timing. It was a clear evening and we have little light pollution around us so I could just pop out the door and have a look for any mysterious glowing lights to the north of us.

Just one slight problem, which was that at 11pm it wasn’t particularly dark yet. Nor was it dark once I had wasted a bit more time on the internet, brushed my teeth, and nipped out for one more look at around 11:30. Nor was it much darker by the time I had sat on our garden wall in the quiet for a while and watched the bats flying around overhead and got a fright as an owl screeched from a nearby tree, and the other half came out to join me for a look. There certainly was a light in the sky to the north of us but it wasn’t all that mysterious, and if we were honest, it looked much more like the last glow of the setting sun than the aurora borealis, or at least how we imagined the aurora borealis might look, given that we’ve neither of us actually seen it. So we watched it for a bit to see if it might do something, and then we strolled up along the road to the top of the rise to get a better look at it not doing anything, waking up the neighbour’s horses which galloped around their field in the dusk, and then we stood for a while and looked at it not doing anything and agreed that we had no idea whether it was the after-effects of a sun storm, or just the after-effects of the sun setting. And by this time, it being almost midnight, we decided it could be what it liked, it was bedtime, and so we returned home.*

And I would have liked at this point to add something philosophical about how it was worth it anyway, northern lights or no northern lights, just to take advantage of the wonderful long days and lingering dusks of summer and to take a break from the dreaded internet and go out and experience the beauty of the evening for ourselves – but the midgies were being absolute murder and frankly, I was glad to get indoors.

* I note that I came to exactly the same conclusion three years ago. Stop me when all this repeating myself gets boring, won’t you?

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s a Bacon Roll

June 22, 2015

There’s been more bad news in the cycling world with yet another female cyclist crushed by yet another lorry in central London at yet another junction where safety improvements have been discussed but not implemented (it kind of brings it home to you when you anxiously check your various cycling tweeps of the right age and location to make sure they’re still safely tweeting). And meanwhile on Twitter there’s been yet more … oh actually I can’t be bothered, imagine a circular firing squad for yourselves, with the media forming an outer circle and sniping about a ‘war on the roads’ and ‘vigilante cyclists’ because it’s obviously totally unreasonable to film someone at the wheel of a fast-moving vehicle who almost took you off the road while they finished their breakfast. And it’s all horribly depressing because we all know that the only thing that will really make a difference is changing the infrastructure so that it’s safe for everyone to cycle, and that will take forever and we’re barely started (and in some cases we’re going backwards). But at the same time, there are things that we can do now that – in small ways and with no doubt uncertain results – might advance the cause somewhat. Like making connections between the cyclists in your community, to try and build pressure locally for better cycling conditions. Or encouraging more people to use their bikes so that the coonsil can see that there might be votes in catering for them. Baby steps

So a small cheer, please, to the proprietor of BJ’s snack van in Bigtown who, when we suggested a little breakfast meetup near his fine dining establishment this Friday, promptly offered to give everyone who turned up on a bike that day a free hot roll and a tea or coffee. It won’t solve all our cycling problems, and it won’t save anyone from the wheels of a lorry, but it will at least add something to the sum total of human happiness while we battle on for cycling nirvana, Dutch style.

Build a Better World Bingo card

It should also (assuming I get my phone and camera sorted in time) help earn me a point (row 3, column 2) on the #BABWBingo challenge. Although, as I invented it, I’m not sure I’m allowed to play.

Meanwhile, for those in London or thereabouts who would like to do more to campaign directly – or just mark another useless loss of life – there is a protest at 8am on Wednesday