If it’s Tuesday, This Must Be Aberden

September 30, 2016

Aberdeen Esplanade

OK, to be strictly accurate it’s not Tuesday and I’m not in Aberdeen, but it has worked out that I was in Glasgow last Tuesday and Edinburgh the Tuesday before that and this Tuesday I will be in Aberdeen so it’s beginning to feel like visiting Scottish cities on Tuesdays is my new hobby. A bit like last year, the cycle campaigning is kicking up a gear now that the summer is over – especially with crucial local authority elections coming up in May (and I do realise that for anyone normal it’s too early even to talk about Christmas, let alone next year’s elections, but it turns out you have to plan in advance in this game).

So anyway, the reason why I’m telling you this now, and not just waiting till I’ve been to Aberdeen to tell you all about it then is because, among the many hats I will be wearing in Aberdeen, one will be my Women’s Cycle Forum Scotland one, and Suzanne Forup and I were wondering if anyone who was interested in the WCFS, and who happened to be at a loose end on Tuesday between five and seven, wanted to meet up.

It’s obviously ridiculously short notice, and what will probably happen is that Suzanne and I will have a nice chat and something to eat on our own, but the danger is whenever we do that we always seem to end up having brilliant ideas of things we could do that end up creating more work for ourselves, which is how we end up in places like Aberdeen in the first place. So if nothing else, come and say hello and save us from planning something else

We don’t bite.

me and Suzanne

Suzanne and I the last time we visited Aberdeen


Oh, and tomorrow I will be in Wigtown, popping up.

How the Other Half Live

September 29, 2016

In proof that no good deed goes unpunished, I was rewarded for my efforts to encourage cycling among kids yesterday with a puncture this morning that turned out to be not so much a Bastard Big Thorn as an entire twig which had somehow overcome my tyre’s puncture protection and got itself thoroughly embedded (I had passed the hedge-cutting tractor and wondered if I ought to worry, but I noted it was cutting hawthorn rather than blackthorn and decided I’d be okay… Big mistake).

Bastard Big Thorn

Fortunately I was visiting the office of a cycling friend so she helped* me wrestle with the tyre and provided a patch. Unfortunately, we were so focused on removing the Bastard Big Thorn and getting the tyre back on, we made the schoolgirl error of not checking the inner tube was actually holding air first. I was so demoralised when the tyre immediately went flat again that I let her get back to work and wheeled the bike to the nearest bike shop which has only recently opened (I like to think that Bigtown can only maintain three bike shops plus Halfords because of all the easy tenners they make fixing my punctures) and proceeded on foot to Aldi where I was intent on securing some bargain basement merino.

It’s not a part of town I go to that frequently, to be honest. It’s not a great road to cycle on and, Aldi cycling specials aside, there aren’t many reasons to visit, although possibly the bike shop will change that. But walking up that road, I realised that, unpleasant as it is to cycle on, pedestrians have it much worse. At least on a bike I can pretend to be a car and take a nice direct route, while pedestrians have to be penned in to prevent them from crossing the road in a straight line (after all, with cars enabled to make such nice sweeping turns, it simply wouldn’t be safe to let them cross where it would be convenient for them).

car desire lines

Car desire lines catered for; pedestrian desire lines thwarted.

Cyclists are considered to be an angry, organised bunch, but this sort of thing makes me wonder where all the angry, organised pedestrians are. If I actually spent any time on foot I’d be hopping mad at this sort of thing, all the time. It’s probably fortunate for the coonsil that I’m generally too lazy to walk if I can ride my bike and anyway already have my hands full moaning about the cycle provision. As it is, anyone would think they actually wanted us to drive …

* OK, she did it while I made helpful suggestions and passed her tools.

Weather Eye

September 28, 2016

I should know better, really

And of course, the weather gods caught up with me this morning, when the primary school at Nearest Village was having their cycling day, which traditionally takes place in the pouring rain

When I first started doing this, the school was tiny and it was (in retrospect) a piece of cake although it didn’t feel like it at the time. Since then a shiny new building has encouraged all sorts of additional enrolment, and there are now a massive 40 kids at the school and all of them were raring to go (we had to disappoint the two P1 girls, one of whom had only come off the stabilisers a week ago, that they couldn’t come on the main ride, although they did still get to do a bit of riding on the road to get to the playing field and back).

little bike

On the whole, perhaps not quite the bike for a spot of off roading

We’ve settled into a bit of a routine with these rides. There’s a route which does a bit on the road and then veers off via some farm tracks so they can struggle up the ‘big hill’ at their own pace and then whizz down the other side and fall off at their leisure without any traffic to worry about.*

the big hill

Tackling the last bit of the ‘big hill’

Rain emphatically did not stop play, although we kept things moving so nobody was hanging around too much in the rain (riding in the rain was fine). These are Scottish kids and very much not made of sugar, although the head teacher did decree that the heating could go on for the afternoon, despite it not yet being October. I was glad to get home myself and light the fire and collapse on the sofa for the rest of the day

Even better, the headmistress, after years of me encouraging her, has taken to cycling over the summer and promises that next year she will join us on her bike. In the end, it was a week in Cumbrae that converted her – I really must visit; there seems to be something in the water there as people go as convinced bike sceptics and come back having spent a week cycling everywhere. She has problems with her knees so has increasingly found it hard to walk much, so she’s thrilled to have rediscovered the bike. ‘It’s given me the outdoors back’, she said. And then admitted, ‘I should have listened to you years ago.’

If only the council would follow suit, I’d be a happy woman. Perhaps I should just arrange to send all of them to Cumbrae. And maybe leave them there.

* Turns out, if you stick your legs out wide on the downhill bit and then miss putting them back on the pedals, you can do quite a spectacular tumble all on your own. Fortunately no broken bones, much to the other kids’ disappointment, as they were hoping for at least an ambulance

Giving Up the Ghost

September 25, 2016

It seems that trees don’t cope so well without their other halves: cycling back to the veg plot today, I was confronted with this sad sight

fallen tree

The remains of the tree that had been severed by the storm earlier has gone now too. I suppose it’s not so surprising, for the tree must have been left seriously unbalanced, but it is nonetheless a shame.

fallen tree

Meanwhile, down at the plot, some of my veg is taking advantage of my absence and displaying expansionist tendencies.

squash plant

It could be worse though: at least it’s not a courgette, but an acorn squash

acorn squash

In fact the whole plot is rather betraying the fact that it’s only getting a couple of hours of tending a week, not counting any weeding the rabbit might put in.

main plot

Meanwhile, I am coming to terms with the fact that any veg plot at the new house is unlikely to be much bigger than my original first six beds.

original plot

This is the plot I originally started with …

I shall have to be much more selective about what I grow …

Mindlessness Therapy

September 22, 2016

So a while back, I forgot why it was I didn’t buy wool in skeins and bought some anyway. A then, a few days ago, having finished one pair of socks, I decided to start on another, which first meant rewinding the skein into balls.

Suffice it to say, this did not go well.

If there’s a trick to dealing with skeins, I have not mastered it (vague childhood memories suggests it involves finding someone prepared to stand there holding the wool stretched out so it cannot tangle. Truly, we made our own entertainment in those days). And besides, it is now too late because the skein is now irrevocably in a fankle and can only be retrieved by the patient teasing out of the wool, one tangle at a time.

I’d be more annoyed about this, and myself, if I didn’t actually find the process rather soothing. Although it’s a bit too close to an old Jack Dee joke about wicker unravelling for comfort, it’s the perfect way of filling a bit of time – it doesn’t involve looking at a screen, it’s not as pointless as colouring in (seriously, are we over that now?), and it keeps the fingers and just enough of the brain occupied that the rest of it can wander at will. Knitting is a great way of adding value to any given bit of dead time, but its repetitive nature means it’s not really that interesting to do unless you’re trying something new, so I generally need something else going on. Untangling wool, on the other hand, can be utterly absorbing, consisting as it does of a series of small, varied but ultimately solvable problems, each of which immediately leads to the next, and the next, and the next. You (and by you, obviously, I mean me) sit down to do a bit while the kettle boils and your coffee brews and the next thing you know half an hour has passed, your coffee is cold and untouched at your side, and you’re saying to yourself, I’ll just get this really juicy knot loose and then I really will stop …

I like to think that it functions as a sort of meditation – a pause in the day, a chance for the subconscious to roam free, and a way to untangle the knots in my mind as well as in the wool. But even if it doesn’t, I will at least get a couple of balls of unknotted wool out of the deal, which, once re-knotted in a more systematic fashion, will hopefully end up as socks. And you can’t say that about colouring in.

Pull the Udder One

September 21, 2016
bovine audience

“What’s she doing? Doesn’t she know to check the train timetables before scheduling anything?

You might ask yourself, had you seen me yesterday opening the garage to the usual fascinated audience of cows and heading off on my Brompton for a couple of meetings in Edinburgh, why I was leaving at 8am to get to a 3 o’clock meeting. Sure, cycling to Bigtown to catch the bus to Lockerbie to catch the train to Embra takes an or three, but I was still in Waverley by just after 11.

Indeed, I was asking myself the very same question. I had blithely agreed to meet at three, thinking that surely there would be a lunchtime train that would get me in for then. After all, Lockerbie is on the main(ish) line to Edinburgh, it’s only an hour’s journey, we’re trying to cut carbon emissions … why wouldn’t there be a service at least every couple of hours?

But if you think that, you would be wrong. If you want to go to Edinburgh from here and you don’t want to go via Glasgow on the chuffer, or Carlisle, which is in totally the wrong direction, then you have to make a day of it. You can get in at 11 or you can get in at 3:40. But don’t get too comfy because the last train is just after 8. Is it any wonder people drive?

Still, at least it gave the cows something to talk about all day.

Ready or Not

September 19, 2016

It was a beautiful start to the day this morning with the blue skies over our garden full of darting swallows, but we’re not fooled – the dew was heavy on the grass and the nights are drawing in.

first autumn leaves

We’re getting ready though. The chimney sweep came and gave the woodburner a clean bill of health. It’s a Clearview (the ‘Rolls Royce of stoves’, apparently) and it does seem to have kept the glass remarkably clear so far. It makes it slightly hypnotic to watch

clearview stove

It has a back boiler, so we’re hoping it will cut a little bit off our electricity bills by heating some of the water tank, which is also ready for winter now:

lagged hot water tank

Most of the DIY on the house has left me struggling – I’m neither patient enough to stick with the preparation and finishing required, nor handy enough to do a decent job, but fitting a jacket to a hot-water tank is much more up my street. It’s closer to knitting than anything really technical, and if it isn’t exactly a tailored fit, the tank isn’t going to complain.

And speaking of knitting…

latest socks

I think I might be getting faster as this only took three and half months …

Poorly Timed

September 16, 2016

My watch has stopped. In truth, it’s been stopping intermittently for a while now – it seemed to only work properly when I had been doing a fair bit of cycling, and shut off if I spent too long sitting at the computer, like some sort of primitive analogue fitbit, which I could have lived with (although it might have made a bit of a dent in my earnings taken to extremes), but now – just when I needed to get up at silly o’clock this morning for our Bike Breakfast – it seems to have given up altogether, even after cycling about 17 miles today. This is disappointing as it is less than two years since it last returned from being serviced. While I stand second to no-one in my tendency to persist with gadgets which anyone else might have consigned to landfill long ago* even I am reluctantly having to admit that a watch which needs to be sent off to be serviced for 3 months every 18 months at vast expense is something of a liability. Perhaps after 20 years I should face the fact that nothing lasts for ever, even fine Swiss timepieces, at least in my hands.

bike breakfast

Fortunately, watch or no watch, I managed to wake up in time for the bike breakfast anyway … and look, the sun came out!

So it’s time to think again about watches, bearing in mind the fact that I have a face, or at least a wrist, that apparently stops clocks. A bit of Googling suggests that Seiko seem to do reasonably priced automatic watches with luminous dials at about half of the cost of getting my watch serviced, which would tick all my boxes. Well, apart from the one marked ‘but I just want my old watch to work properly like it used to …’
* Case in point: the phone with only one-third of a working keypad which I kept using for another half a year

Trailer Trash

September 14, 2016

Excitement in the Townmouse household as I have a new trailer – or rather, the Bigtown Cycling Campaign has a new trailer which is temporarily in my custody. I had already towed it briefly through Newcastle for complicated logistical reasons which needn’t detain us here, but I’d not had a chance to use it properly until today when I was due to attend the local university Freshers’ Fair to promote our forthcoming bike breakfast.

bike trailer

It’s not the smallest of trailers (although it’s actually not any wider than my handlebars) and I’ve never really used one in anger before so I was a little anxious about how it would handle. On the whole, it was fine – quite lively on the way down (it was hard to tell without craning my neck round, but I got the distinct impression that it was getting air over some of the rougher patches of road) but crucially stoppable, and it does follow the bike faithfully, making negotiating even the narrowest of chicanes a doddle, or at least about as much of a doddle as negotiating them on my bike without it.

It also has a distinct presence on the road – I definitely got treated as something with actual width by the cars, as opposed to something that can be squeezed past with impunity. It was quite the novelty to be approaching a parked car and needing to pull out and hearing the car that had been gearing up to overtake behind me decide that actually wasn’t the time to be blasting past the cyclist after all. Of course it has its downsides too – it’s not brilliant for filtering through traffic, and when I stopped at the shop to pick up a paper, I realised I was going to have to take up a parking space rather than just hop up onto the pavement as I normally would. I should probably also apologise to the driver who very courteously left a gap in the backed-up traffic so that bikes could cross at the toucan crossing in the town centre – and then had to wait for me to finish crossing the other half of the road once the traffic had started moving again. Oops. No good deed goes unpunished indeed …

Stopping off on the way home to hand out flyers to commuting cyclists, I also discovered that the rain cover is waterproof in Scotland, or at least waterproof in Scotland on a day that was forecast for blazing sunshine for most of the day, which in practice meant just the one short torrential downpour.


Rain cover doing its thing. Why did I feel the need to use the rain cover on what was forecast to be a gloriously sunny day? Call it instinct…

And then I got to tow it back home. Fortunately, students have a keen eye for a freebie, so I was hauling rather less in the way of assorted bike crap than I’d taken down. But it was still a long old ride back and I don’t think I’ll be using the trailer for the weekly shop or bringing home heavy building materials any time soon. As the old proverb has it, cyclists who live in high houses, shouldn’t tow stones.*

Trailer in evening sunshine

* sorry, I had a long time to think up dreadful punchlines on the way home and I don’t see why I should be the only one to suffer.

Chop and Change

September 11, 2016

There ought to be a word – German, maybe or perhaps French – for the nostalgia you get travelling along what used to be the road to your home, noting the changes that persist in going ahead without you.

Cycling to the ‘allotment’ today to water the greenhouse (which would have been less stressful if there wasn’t a robin in there that reacted to my presence by ignoring the open door and attempting to fly out through various panes of glass instead) I noted that a tree I had long admired had partially fallen victim to the recent winds.

damaged tree

It has always been a landmark on my route home. It’s easy with these things you can cycle past them every day admiring them, but never get around to recording them until they’re gone, but I was pretty certain I had actually stopped to take a photo and sure enough, a quick rummage through my image files found it, albeit not in leaf.

Tree in March last year

It’s now half the tree it was.

half a tree

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too regretful about the removal of the trees around our new house after all …