Don’t Take My Sunshine Away

July 31, 2015

Oh the excitement. We have had houseguests – two old school friends who I don’t see very often but who have somehow managed (through thick and thin) to retain the essential qualities that made us all such good friends back when we were all 11. The last time we met up, we had an hour for lunch and had to cram in half a lifetime’s worth of catching up into that time which meant talking so fast we had a conversation so dense it risked forming the informational equivalent of a black hole. This year, I invited them down to stay the night so we could catch up properly, while the other half very sensibly discovered he had some important appointments elsewhere.

They came bringing the sunshine, as well as half a case of wine, their own teabags (not taking any chances in a coffee-drinking household) and enough food for a small army. Being regular blog readers, they immediately insisted on inspecting the ford (about four inches) and the vegetable patch (sadly rabbit-chewed these days; the little furry blighters are eating everything but the bastarding lettuce, of which we have a glut) but for some reason declined the chance to cycle down to Papershop Village and go mano-a-mano with ASBO buzzard. Instead we walked (top tip for cyclists: if you suddenly have to start walking about on foot, don’t wear wellies as it’s even more hard work than ordinary walking. Honestly, if God had wanted us to walk everywhere, he wouldn’t have given us bicycles). As I took them up through the woods yesterday evening to look for chanterelles, and then down to the pond at the back of the house to sit on the little jetty and watch for pondlife and set the world to rights, I realised with a bit of a jolt that I hadn’t been into the woods or up to the pond for months.

This morning, after the Brompton had been properly admired (I had to get on the big bike and give chase as it turned out to be too much fun to come back in time for second breakfast), knitting tips exchanged, the world finally and firmly set to rights for one last time, and – crucially – the stock of spare tea bags exhausted, our guests finally dragged themselves away, taking the sunshine with them.

Still, despite the fact that it has been raining solidly almost since the minute they turned the corner of our road, our visitors have reminded me how lucky we are to live where we do. And just as soon as it stops raining, I shall make the time to go out and appreciate it all once more.

Although, at least until the blisters have healed, I think I shall stick to the bike…

Don’t You Want Me Baby?

July 29, 2015

You may have noticed blogging has been a bit light around here – it’s partly because I’ve been busy but also because our broadband has been extremely rural in recent days – as in, a couple of tin cans and a piece of string would be more effective. Not only does this make blogging painful, but it also makes working very slow as I need to use the internet a lot to check things and it can take a minute to load even a Google search, let alone the results. Add in some tight deadlines, and the fact that I’ve been working flat out for ages and would like to get stuff finished so I can have a break and you can imagine I’m not in the best of moods.

Finally, this evening, I broke down and called our internet provider, who we shall call TenSulp to spare their blushes. As it was warning me that it would take 30 minutes to get through to an adviser, I also loaded up their help pages (having rebooted the router) only to find that – and I’m not making this up – they suggested you watch a video to tell you how to troubleshoot your broadband speed. I tried their online chat but couldn’t connect, so I resigned myself to half an hour listening to blasts from my teenage past (when did I last hear any Human League?) which would have gone better if they’d had the sense to put their annoying ‘sorry you’re having to wait’ message *in between* songs, rather than interrupting just as you were joining in with the harmony bits in the chorus (Don’t you want me whoa-whoa-whooo-oh). Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, half an hour later, I get through to an actual human being, praise the Lord. I give our account username, which is in the other half’s name, and the password, and then he asks me to confirm my name, which I do. And then he tells me that having had to sit through half an hour of Eighties hits notwithstanding, he can’t talk to me about our account because it is not my account, it’s the other half’s account. And when I protest as mildly as I can manage that this is insane, he plays his trump card

‘It’s the data protection act. If I talked to you about this account and your name’s not on it I could end up in prison’

Oh, really.

It appears that the state or otherwise of our router, any fault on our line, or any technical issues affecting the exchange which might be making our internet pigging slow are now considered the other half’s private business and anyone else living in the house, including the person who has spent the last 48 hours grinding her teeth as the little thing on the browser goes round and round and round for the better part of an afternoon, must not be told anything about such intimate matters.

Either that or the Data Protection Act, like ‘Health and Safety’ and, indeed, the Human Rights Act, has become the catch all reason why nobody can do anything at all that they don’t particularly feel like doing. Any lawyers out there care to give me a second opinion on that?

At the very least, I do think that TenSulp should think to mention this little fact every time they interrupt their music, so that I don’t waste half an hour of my life getting a nasty earworm (You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry … ) to no purpose.

As it is, if it wasn’t for the fact that TenSulp and their sister company TB are the only broadband providers on our exchange apart from KlatKlat (who merrily overcharged us for months when they took over our previous providers), I’d be cancelling our account as soon as I could and taking our custom elsewhere. And then I’d take great pleasure in ringing them up by explanation and giving them the whole extended Human League remix down the line. With harmonies. (But now I think it’s time I lived my life on my own… I guess it’s just what I must do)

And if that’s not a violation of all sorts of Health and Safety at work directives then it’s definitely in breach of their human rights.

But oh it would feel good.

Puffin’ Wonderful

July 26, 2015

I’ve had a week of flat-out working, and no time to do anything that interesting, but this weekend we’ve been over on the east coast and we took the chance to visit a friend who is just finishing up a three month stint as a warden on the Farne Islands. The forecast was not looking great but we took the chance and drove down to Seahouses (getting stuck behind a bunch of cyclists, ironically enough). There was just time to grab some lunch and get into the holiday spirit by feeling we were being vaguely ripped off while sitting eating outdoors in the sunshine before we boarded the boat.

Inner Farne

See those white cliffs? That’s not chalk, that’s bird poo, that is

There was a load of commentary about the Darlings, St. Cuthbert, seals, kittiwakes etc. but we were there for the puffins (and our friend of course) and there were puffins aplenty – flying surprisingly fast considering how ridiculously unaerodynamic they look, scuttling out of the way of the boat, and – once on land – standing around looking vaguely concerned with a beakfull of sand eels. Puffins are brilliant, they just are, especially so if you were a bookish child and long-serving member of the Puffin Club (I’ve got a special badge and everything) although apparently that cheery looking beak can deliver quite a bite if your job involves having to handle them at all. Still, it doesn’t seem to have put our friend off. ‘Seeing a puffin just makes me happy,’ she said, which must make her off the scale for job satisfaction right now. Or at least compensate for the fact that pretty much everything she owns is now covered in bird poo. It’s going to be tough to go back to a job that doesn’t involve being surrounded by puffins after that.

puffin burrows

I was too busy chatting with my friend while helping her look out for cetaceans and generally admiring the puffins to take any proper pictures, although I think the other half managed some half-decent ones, so you will have to make do with some blurry black and white dots and take it on trust that they are, indeed, puffins. And generally fab.

more puffins

All in all, a grand day out. And a welcome pick-me-up after yesterday’s doom and gloom


Head for the Hills

July 25, 2015

Apologies for what will be an entirely off-topic rant – and on a Saturday morning too – but I woke up with this going more-or-less fully formed around my head at some ungodly hour and I thought I might as well inflict it on everyone else.

Last night I caught a snippet of Amber Rudd’s speech about the government’s climate change policy and it left me feeling a bit sick. She dressed it up in lots of rhetoric about green growth – no climate-change denier she – but that makes it no better, frankly. According to this government, the cost of green policies has got out of hand and they’re just rebalancing things because the UK is doing too much and the rest of the world isn’t doing enough.

This is crap. It’s fundamentally economically illiterate too. Choosing your climate change policy isn’t like choosing between fairtrade and non-fairtrade bananas in the supermarket and deciding that, while it would be nice to help the poor farmers and all, in the end the household budget can’t afford that extra 20p. It’s like choosing whether you’ll pay the bare minimum of your credit card bill now, or enough that it doesn’t get out of hand later. As the Stern report made clear years and years ago, climate change charges compound interest and it charges it at loan shark rates. And when it finally comes for its bill, it won’t come with a court order for bankruptcy, but a baseball bat, the kind with nails hammered through it.

Think about steel mills. They’ve been complaining that energy costs are too high in the UK. So they can do two things – they can go running to the government and threaten to move elsewhere and get their bills down – or they can start to invest in things like more efficient steel-prduction, or even start generating their own electricity (perhaps recycling some of the heat generated in making steel). Lobbying for lower energy costs means we can all carry on as normal pretending we’re not doomed until suddenly we are. Learning to live with them, ahead of the competition, means we might just still be able to produce steel when things get really tough. You can bet that the German steel producers are doing just that. Meanwhile UK producers have probably got the message that only a fool would invest in that sort of thing because the government is quite open to being lobbied over energy prices.

What bugs me is that Amber Rudd dresses all this in the language of caring. Take fuel bills. Amber Rudd wants green policies but not at the expense of high fuel bills for households. But if this government really cared about household bills, they wouldn’t have quietly scrapped the requirements for new houses to be energy neutral or scrapping their (admittedly not very effective) Green Deal without replacing it with something that actually worked. You don’t help people by knocking off a few pounds from their bill now – at the cost of strangling investment in sustainable energy – but condemning them to live in damp draughty houses for ever more, oh and their fuel bills are still high because we didn’t invest in sustainable generation before it was too late. You lay out the cash to get existing houses insulated, and build the new ones right from the start so that we’re not adding to the problem in the future. Compound interest, remember?

No, actually, what really bugs me (apart from the fact that we’re all doomed) is that it’s not even us who will properly pay the price in our lifetimes. Yes, London will get a bit hot and there will be a bit of flooding, and crops will fail, but frankly we live on a cool wet island and if any country will be able to weather a bit of climate change, it’s the UK. The people who will pay are the people who are already paying and who have no resources to weather the coming storm. And if you think a few thousand refugees at Calais is a problem now, you’ve not seen anything yet. It’s only when the planet starts to properly cook that we’ll start to suffer. And by then it will be too late.

I do try to live my life as if riding a bicycle, growing my own vegetables and putting on a jumper instead of turning up the heat might actually save the planet. It makes me feel better and it’s hardly a sacrifice, apart from when I can’t get any more jumpers on and it’s still freezing. But occasionally the background drumbeat of coming disaster breaks through and I can’t ignore the fact that we’re on a road that will lead us all to perdition, and it’s going to take a bit more than a few cycle paths to change that. In the last few years, it has seemed as if governments recognised this and were going to act – if not enough to prevent the temperature rising by a few degrees, then at least enough to stop the earth from turning into Venus. China, for instance, and maybe even the US. Not this government though. It seems determined to join in a race for the bottom instead – and why then should countries like China do anything different. It was almost better when they were climate change deniers, because that made a sort of sense. This is just pure madness. It makes me want to go and stand in Oxford St with a placard saying The End of the World is Nigh. Because what else can anyone do?

Unsung Heroes

July 23, 2015

I spent a pleasant couple of hours yesterday afternoon accosting cyclists in Bigtown to say nice things about their bikes and/or their outfits and ask them if they wanted to be photographed for our latest venture, celebrating local cyclists in all their variety and glory. Amazingly most of them said yes (one even volunteered to show off his trackstand on what is likely the Only Fixie in Bigtown although we weren’t quick enough to stop the Only Hipster in Bigtown as he cunningly rode his mountainbike down a set of steps to avoid us*).

The only people who turned us down – to a man – were what I’d say were actually your typical Bigtown cyclist. These were the middle-aged guys on mountain bikes, mostly looking as if they were heading to or from work. They are the largely invisible cyclists of Bigtown: the ones usually taking a pragmatic approach to riding on the pavement, only wearing hi vis if their work requires it and more likely to be wearing steel toe-caps than a helmet, riding the sort of bikes that snootier types refer to as ‘bike-shaped objects’ although they wouldn’t know that because they probably never read bike blogs, go onto forums, or even upload their rides to Strava; they are, in short Doing It Wrong, according to most corners of the Internet, although in my book they are doing fine because they are, after all, riding a bike, which is all that matters.

I don’t know why they didn’t want to stop to have their photo taken. Maybe they were just too busy, maybe they were a bit suspicious of being accosted by two lunatics on their way to work – or maybe they didn’t see the point of celebrating what was probably just a mode of transport to them. But it’s a shame they didn’t because they are still cyclists and therefore equally deserving of celebration as as all those people who make far more noise (and probably ride half the miles) as they do. As long as you ride …

In other news, our talented bike-portraitist has taken a photo of me that I don’t actually hate. So here it is.

Me + bike

* and yes, I realise the OHiB should have been on the OFiB but hey, it takes a while for these trends to filter down to us out here in the sticks. Or maybe full beards on full-suspension mountain bikes are a thing now and it’s your boring metropolitan hipsters with their track bikes and their ironic facial hair who are behind the times. You decide.

The Only Forecast Worse…

July 20, 2015

…than the one which stubbornly refuses not only to correctly forecast the rain, but even to acknowledge that it is raining at all, is the one which correctly forecasts the fact that it will be hosing it down just as you are at the furthest point from home, and which you decide to ignore because, well, I’m not entirely sure why I ignored it, now I come to think of it. Probably because it’s been so wrong and so variable in the past that the one time it decides to be bob on, I no longer believe it.

Oh and ASBO buzzard decided to have a go at me again as well. As if I needed anything else coming at me out of the sky.

Having got home and got dry I was still pretty chilled and we ended up lighting the fire this evening. Summer, eh? Remind me why I moved to Scotland …

I suppose that’s what I get for attempting to enjoy what the weather gods throw at me.

Gone with the Wind

July 17, 2015

We seem to have had nothing but windy days all year, but it’s been a while since I’ve celebrated the joys of heading out on the bike when it’s blowing a bit of a hooly (as long as the winds are going in the right direction that is). Today was perfect: not raining, not all that cold, and exactly aligned with the bulk of my route home so that when I turned the corner and got it at my back it felt as if I had dropped into a pocket of still air.

I might have struggled into the headwind on the way out but as I sailed through the village on my return I heard the wind singing in the wires and it felt like it was singing my tune…

Curly Wurly

July 16, 2015

We were strolling down to check the level of the ford the other day (about an inch, if you’re interested) and decided to check out how the wild raspberries on the verge were getting on when we discovered that – disaster! – there were none. There’s not a single cane from last year to be seen, and although this year’s canes are coming through strongly, they won’t have any fruit on them until next year. Clearly some change in the verge management process (normally the council sending round a tractor with a sort of lawnmower-onna-stick arrangement) has resulted in the mature canes being removed before they can fulfil their destiny of providing us with a delicious incentive to go for a walk. We’ve got raspberries of our own, and they’re looking pretty prolific at the moment, but it’s still a bit of a blow not to have the fantastically tasty wild raspberries to look forward to as well.

distorted cow parsley

Whoever massacred the canes may have done us a favour though. The cow parsley on the same verge has been looking distinctly odd in recent weeks (and some of the other vegetation too). Anyone know what might have caused it to grow like this? I’m hoping not some nasty chemical that might mean forgoing our blackberries, sloes and hazelnuts too…

At the Speed of Chat

July 15, 2015

Riding back from Bigtown yesterday after yoga (it’s like riding with freshly oiled legs; I recommend it) I saw a rider turn into the road ahead of me. He didn’t appear to be going that fast initially, but I had more trouble than I expected reeling him in on the uphills and when I did finally draw level and said hello, he told me he was riding an electric bike, so naturally I had to settle in alongside him and find out more, along with a fair chunk of his life story (mid-life tragedy, late found happiness and home decorating, among other things…).

I have to admit – much though my inner Londoner might cringe – that happening across some cycling stranger and spending a few miles setting the world to rights with them one way or another is one of my favourite things about cycling around here. Our roads are quiet enough that you don’t have to be constantly pulling over to let drivers past, and the culture is friendly enough that merely taking the time to pause, say hello and compliment your fellow cyclist on their bike (what do you mean you don’t do that?) and enquire if they are going far is often enough to start a conversation, should they be up for one (I hasten to point out that if I merely get a grunt in reply, or a pointed reference to the fact that they ‘must be holding me up’ then I take the hint and pedal on – you can take the girl out of London, but you can’t completely take London out of the girl). Obviously this only applies to cyclists who are slower than me or who overhaul me and are then happy to fall in with my pace, so it limits my options somewhat unless they’re carrying a tree, but I’ve still passed many a happy ride that way although I’m always a little startled at how much people are prepared to divulge of their lives to a passing stranger (it’s a boon to the practising novelist though). And there is something about holding a conversation as you pedal that makes the miles melt away much more easily than when you’re on your own, and it’s got nothing at all to do with wind resistance.

Invisible from Space

July 13, 2015

I have a bone to pick with the Weather Gods, the Met Office and possibly the laws of physics, or at least those pertaining to the workings of the rain radar. Today it was definitely raining. It started off raining quite heavily, as forecast, and then it settled down into a fine, steady, pacing itself sort of rain, which was not in the forecast, the Met Office having predicted it to be ‘overcast’, easing to ‘cloudy’ later (and if anyone can explain to me the difference between ‘overcast’ and ‘cloudy’ without resorting to semantics I would be grateful). In fact, as the morning wore on into lunchtime, and the rain continued unabated, the Met Office continued to insist that it would not rain, and in fact it was not currently raining, wet stuff falling out of the sky or no wet stuff falling out of the sky. Nor was the rain radar any better, because it too apparently cannot see the sort of rain that the Weather Gods specialise in round here (I believe it’s known as a smirr; the Scots naturally have a complex taxonomy for rain although in my experience it all gets you equally wet in the end).

I had a paper to fetch, so having delayed as long as I possibly could, I finally convinced myself that it was clearing up, and headed out only to realise that yep, it was still raining and far from easing off, it was now getting steadily wetter. I was sufficiently soggy to attract attention in the shop (sample conversation: Me: I was hanging on in the hope that it would clear up as that was what the forecast said. Papershop Woman: (with some bitterness) What, in Papershop Village?) and what the Scots would call fair drookit by the time I’d got home.

So I think the Met Office needs to raise its game here and stop messing around with meaningless variations on degrees of cloudiness, while putting in some serious work around the detection, forecasting and distinction between a haar, scotch mist, dreich day and a smirr, or at the very least, let us know when it might actually stop…