Before a Fall

March 31, 2016

seeds planted

As I took this photo in the greenhouse yesterday – pleased at having caught up a bit with my gardening backlog and got all the ‘sow by March’ seeds at least started in the greenhouse – I reflected that, over the years, I had managed to pick up a few bits and pieces about this grow-your-own lark (after all, making mistakes is probably the most effective way to learn). While things might change if we move to a new place with new soil and new pests and a different microclimate, at least in my old familiar plot in the walled garden I knew enough to get the growing season off to a good start in a pretty slick operation, even if I did say so myself.

With the other half’s tomatoes and tomatilloes germinating on the kitchen windowsill, and the chillie seeds enjoying the gentle heat of the rayburn, and the seed potatoes chitting nicely at the back of the greenhouse ready to be dug in, I went to bed feeling that we had done a good days’s work.

And woke to a heavy frost. I *think* the seed potatoes should have survived it, but who knows what a seed potato that has succumbed to frost looks like, compared to one that hasn’t?

Certainly not me …

Secret Squirrel

March 29, 2016

So, one of the reasons why I’ve been so busy recently has finally gone live – an interactive bit on the We Walk We Cycle We Vote website where (for viewers in Scotland) you can enter your postcode or constituency and find out where your candidates stand on active travel, and then tell them what you think about it. The other half did the clever bit, that actually makes it work* while I did what should have been the easy bit of gathering information on all the candidates standing for election and their contact details and getting them into a database.

Oddly enough, this proved quite tricky. You’d think, if you were running for election, that fairly high up on your agenda would be simple things like announcing you were running for election, and providing people with the means to contact you. And yet, a few weeks ago hardly any of the party websites had lists of candidates and those that did disdained to provide any way of contacting them beyond those annoying web forms that don’t give you any real sense of confidence that the email it supposedly generates will go anywhere but straight in the bin. Even now, with nominations closing on Friday, there are still gaps – some some parties haven’t included all their list candidates, some still treat their candidates’ email addresses like state secrets, some provide email addresses half if which ended up bouncing (naming no names, but it was the Lib Dems), and almost all of them make sure you have to click on each candidate individually to find out if there’s an email address for them at all – which is all good fun when your broadband is a rural as ours. Add in Gmail deciding this afternoon that I was a spammer because I was sending out too many emails – to be fair, it had a point – and as you can probably tell it’s been a frustrating exercise.

However, I have persevered, and with a mixture of googling and rummaging around in various Facebook ‘about’ pages, and just plain guessing (if a candidate called Firstname.Surname ever runs for office they’ll be a shoo-in) – I have managed to contact about three-fifths of the people who allegedly want to represent us in the Scottish Parliament. The rest clearly feel that not getting inundated with adverts for penis enlargements – or, indeed, requests for their policy positions on active travel – is more important than being reachable by their electorate.

Now comes the really hard part – which is deciphering the replies that have come in from the more practised candidates and trying to determine if they’re actually promising something or just writing something which semantically looks like a promise but has a way of wriggling out of your grasp like a double jointed eel when you try and pin it down. But that part, I’ll leave up to the voters to decide. If you want to play along go here and put in your postcode and see what comes up for your constituency. Bonus points to the first person who extracts an actual measurable promise out of a politician …

* And yes, I did use to be a computer programmer who managed web-based database developments in a previous life, but I have thoroughly de-skilled myself in the intervening years. Possibly the ‘managing’ bit was part of that process…

It Can’t Last …

March 28, 2016

wheelbarrow with a view

… but I actually managed to find the time to get out and do some gardening over this weekend. Not much, but a few barrowloads of manure were hacked out of the nettle heap and transferred to the greenhouse. If I get really reckless, I might even start some seeds, or just dig up the parsnips which have emerged now that the soil is warming up a bit

parsnips re-emerging

… and tomorrow, I will even be able to return to yoga. Actually, these two announcements may not be entirely unrelated…

sunshine and showers

Normal Service Resumed

March 26, 2016

rain falling

Like most of the country, we’ve had a miraculous period of settled dry weather for a couple of weeks now. As always, it has coincided with me being too busy to take much advantage of it, beyond my usual bicycle excursions – hence the rather light blogging in recent weeks – but, just as things were easing up on the work front, the Weather Gods returned from wherever it is they’ve been …

I was due to be leading a social ride in Bigtown this morning and I was extremely grateful when someone else offered to be the one who went and stood at the rendezvous point waiting for nobody to turn up, as it saved me a 45 minute ride there in the rain, followed by a 45 minute ride back, and having to get changed in the bath.

wet lawn

As it was, if I hadn’t had to empty the compost bucket and feed the landlords’ cats, I might not have ventured out at all today.

Well, except for one important thing, obviously

checking the level of the ford

Normal blogging service should also resume too, hopefully.

felled daffodil

Meanwhile Happy Easter, everyone.

Sure Signs of Spring

March 22, 2016

Greyish brown blobs of frogspawn in every puddle and ditch…


… and litle white blobs fleeing over the hill at the sight of a blogger with a camera phone

fleeing sheep and lambs

You’ll just have to take my word for it that the lambs are gambolling away like gooduns and are very cute, but a tad flighty.

Batteries Not Included

March 21, 2016

It was my birthday today and, while nobody gave me what I really wanted, which was a whole week of time to catch up with myself, I had many fine presents, including a new Brooks saddle for my Brompton and books from my Amazon wishlist.

bike stand

what’s in the box?

The other half, displaying rather more faith in my skills than I have myself has given me a lovely Park Tools bike maintenance stand. I did have a vague plan to get it assembled this afternoon and photograph it with my bike on it and maybe even investigate the latest New Noise that I shouldn’t be ignoring, but after it took me several minutes just to wrestle the box open (it was fastened with about 17 of those giant brass staples that say whoever fastened it meant for it to stay fastened) I realised I was not going to have the time even to unpack everything, let along work out how to put it together so I just peered into the bottom to see if they had included a tiny bike mechanic along with all the other bits.

Sadly he or she seems to have got lost in the post, so I will have to wait until the weekend to do justice to what appears to be a Serious Piece of Kit. Meanwhile, if any of you have any spare time lying around, please send it my way. I promise I will use it well.


March 18, 2016

I’ve often wondered why I seem to be constantly running to catch up with myself but never quite manage to get through everything I need done.

I got up this morning, ready to tackle the job I’d been working on last night (till 11pm, eek, if you’re interested in work-life balance, can I suggest you never ‘downshift’ and take up a freelance career?) and didn’t quite get finished, before I went on to finish the other job that was queued up behind it to meet my Friday deadline and then have time in the evening to catch up with all the other things that have been piling up recently, including preparing for the Bigtown Environment Fair.

bus consultation posterAnd then I saw in my email that I’d been invited to an event on Facebook which turned out to be a petition against cutting the local bus service.* I signed, obviously, if only as a counter to the campaign to dual Big A Road, but did wonder whether there was a consultation exercise going on as it’s usually more effective to respond to those than sign a petition. It turns out that the consultation exercise consists of this poster (not sure exactly where it’s been put up – you’d hope in bus stops, but perhaps in car showrooms …) and a two week window when people can respond. There’s nothing on the relevant website, and if it wasn’t for the local Greens there wouldn’t have even been a consultation at all.

Rural bus services are a complicated subject and there’s no doubt that some of them cost a lot and don’t really deliver much benefit.** But you can’t just slash them with no warning when it’s often the most vulnerable people in society who depend on them. So rather than settling down immediately to crafting an executive summary for a report on empowering rural communities, there I was attemptin to actually empower a rural community to save its bus services. No doubt the coonsil will go ahead and do what it wants anyway but at least we will have tried.

And now, back to the grindstone…

* I was actually quite surprised to learn that Bigtownshire actually runs enough evening and Sunday buses to make them worth axing as Nearest Village certainly doesn’t have any, but then again, that’s why I don’t use the bus any more which is why the buses are so empty and why they have to be cut further …

** See also: massive boondoggle road dualling projects that carve up half the country and cost billions to shave all of five minutes off the journey to Notso Bigtown.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves*

March 16, 2016

I was in a sandwich shop in Bigtown yesterday waiting for my order of mini donuts to finish frying, as you do, and the proprietor was feeling chatty. In the time it takes for a dozen small roundels of sweet dough to float across a moat of boiling oil and be flung into a pile of sugar,** he, I and the other customer in the shop had covered the habits of Bigtown’s seagulls (not as voracious as they’re cracked up to be), the qualifications and experiences needed for a career in medical administration, the perils of running a small literary magazine, and the correct use and distinction between a semi colon and a colon.

It was only afterwards, as I biked my hot donuts post-haste to my destination, where we were to put together the next issue of the Fankle (Errandonneering ride 12 – hooray – Arts and entertainment), that it was a sign that I have begun to go native. Certainly when I had just come up from London there is no way on God’s earth that I would have answered a question like ‘so what are you getting up to this afternoon’ from a shopkeeper with anything but the blandest of responses, let alone attempt to elucidate the finer points of punctuation by way of a follow up (he was the one who brought it up, I must point out; I didn’t start it).

Of course, that’s partly because, for the first year or so at least, every conversation I had with a native of Bigtown sounded like this

Oh, and the mini donuts were absolutely delicious.

* with thanks to Paul M on Twitter for the post title

** None of your Krispy Kreme nonsense here – go on, you know you want some.

Wait for MEEE!

March 14, 2016

And now, bang, spring has arrived and oh God I’m not ready. In fact I’m not even sure what ready might look like and I don’t have any time to get ready either. I’ve done nothing in the garden for weeks and when I went to drop off some seed potatoes from potato day to my gardening chum today* he’d got his tomatoes and leeks and peas all growing away on the windowsill already.

Seed potatoes

Seed potatoes from Potato Day. An even more random selection than usual because I had to deputise my parents to pick them up and they had to substitute some of my (already quite random) selections for random selections of their own.

It doesn’t help that – as alert readers may have already divined – our househunting activities have switched from ‘vaguely hoping someone might sell us a house’ to ‘actually going and looking’ so there is a real danger that we may buy something before I’ve harvested so much as a new potato. Still there’s an equally real danger that we’ll still be here this time next year in which case it would be good to have planted some vegetables. After all, as has been pointed out, vegetable seeds cost a few pounds whereas houses cost quite a lot more, so planning our house buying around not losing some of my garden produce is perhaps to get things out of proportion.

seed order

So the seeds have arrived, the potatoes are chitting and I’ll just have to hope that it all works out in the end.

* Errandonneering ride 10, as soon as I’ve worked out what category that comes under.

Contradicting Myself

March 12, 2016

‘Have you given up blogging then?’, the other half was asking me today (although I’m not as funny as I was in 2005, he still checks regularly, just in case the quality has improved). The truth is, I’ve been simply too busy to blog (it’s funny that this was never a problem back when I had a full time job but hey ho, that’s the joy of ‘downshifting’) although I did manage to hammer out this to help the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative celebrate their women in cycling month and promote Pedal on Parliament to boot (you are all coming to POP aren’t you? I mean, those of you who live within a reasonable distance of Scotland. Or even those of you who don’t).

Of course, having happily written a whole guest blog about how one of the things preventing women from cycling is having to run errands that make using a bike more complicated, I’m now going to completely contradict myself – for me it’s running errands that actually gets me out on the bike in the first place. In fact in times like this, if it wasn’t for having to go and cycle for the paper or into town, I’d probably never leave the kitchen and I’d be climbing the walls by the end of the week.

papershop run

Errand six: papershop run. Distance – 11 miles, category – store, observation – however many times it happens, you *never* notice a tailwind until you turn around and it becomes a headwind

Of course, because it’s errandonneering time, I can’t *just* go and get the paper – I have to think up other categories of things to do. This made Thursday a little tricky until I had the sudden genius idea of dropping off some POP flyers with a contact in the Coonsil. I also took the time to follow my own advice and say something nice to the Coonsil sustainable travel officer, which took him by surprise…

Bike at Coonsil offices

Errand seven: Coonsil office. Distance 8 miles, category – non-store errand, observation – sometimes the carrot works better than the stick. Although I reserve the right to get out the stick again when the Coonsil are being useless.

But that wasn’t all. As part of We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote, we’re asking people to post selfies (again) in their local area in Scotland, saying what they’d vote for. Having already established that I can’t take a selfie, let along a selfie while holding a sign AND enough of the surrounding area to make it clear where you are, I headed to my chosen spot (the Burns statue on Bigtown’s High Street) and then looked around for someone who would help me with a bit of social media campaigning. After the first chap I tried decided to tell my his life story by way of explaining why he couldn’t take a photo of me with my phone (is it something in my face that encourages this? A simple ‘no’ would have sufficed), the chap sitting next to him on the bench took pity on me and helped out. And yes, you can’t actually read my sign, but I wasn’t about to complain.

Errand eight: selfie tweeting. Distance 8 miles (at least, by the time I’d got home again), category – wild card, observation – Burns was a keen proponent of active travel, having walked several miles to get to a pub when he was stuck out at Brow Well in the middle of nowhere supposedly taking the waters. As it was taking the waters by wading out into the Solway Firth in January that finished him off, this might have been a sound move had he actually stayed in the pub.

Friday was another trip, this time to Edinburgh, but because of the shortage of time, I’m afraid I got a lift in the car. I did have the Brompton though, so I managed a multimodal ride to and from the the station to the training course where I was sharing my experience of campaigning. I forgot to take any photographs on the day and, while I did consider photographing the resulting Brompton bruises (I can’t carry it up and down steps or into a crowded train without banging it against my leg) but I didn’t think the Internet was really ready for my thighs, so my train ticket on to my parents will have to do.

train tickets

Errand nine: travel to training course. Distance: 3 miles, category – work or volunteering, observation – it’s a little disconcerting to be asked to share your expertise in something even when you still feel like you’re making it up as you go along.

And finally, today, visiting my parents in Duns (and still mega busy – the joys of freelancing…), we did have time to pay a social call on a gardening friend of my parents, and – of course – inspect the ford.

Duns ford

Errand ten: ride to Gavinton. Distance – 4 miles, category, social call, observation – there really is very little point in having a ford with no depth gauge.

Are we nearly there yet?