As Winter Approaches…

November 28, 2016

… the bones of the garden are beginning to emerge.

shed in summer

This was the old chicken shed in summer

shed before clearing

As the nettles died back, we’ve been able to hack our way through and start to remove the fencing around the old enclosure

shed after
The interior of the shed makes me feel a bit sad for the hens that used to live here, although it’s all good stuff for the fertility of the soil, ultimately.

shed interior

“You can be in charge of getting that spade out and cleaning it up”, says the other half generously

First, though, we have to work out where to put the compost bins and then we have to fill them. Oh, and find out exactly where our septic tank is and make sure it’s still working …

compost bins

I don’t think that little dalek is going to cut it

That may be a subject for a whole other post


Cyclists Should be Seen and not Heard

November 26, 2016

Cycling to Tesco yesterday on my way to Edinburgh* in the just-about-dark, I approached the roundabout in the retail park somewhat warily – Bigtown drivers take a somewhat freestyle approach to roundabouts generally, and this one is particularly random. I was turning right, there was a car approaching slowly from my left, so I continued on round the roundabout somewhat warily, which was fortunate because the car kept on coming and kept on coming even as I shouted ‘hey’ and waved my arms about and then (having stopped to let it go past as that was obviously what it was going to do) did a big ‘what the hell are you doing?’ gesture – all with not a flicker of awareness from the driver.

The car then continued on at approximately 10mph – it was all I could do not to overtake it – and parked right outside Tesco, where I considered knocking on the window but I didn’t fancy a confrontation so I just continued on and locked up the bike. And then, as I was walking to the entrance, I saw the driver still getting out of the car and I realised he must be about 90.

Now I know that the right answer is that if he drives like that, he doesn’t belong on the road and that if he didn’t hit me (and at the speed he was driving, he was never going to hit me) he might hit a child, but I also know that his car is very likely his independence. And in fairness, I was on my Brompton with the not brilliant lights and in ninja mode (black jacket & trousers) so I could have done a bit more to help a driver pick me out in a complex and poorly lit environment – if it had happened when I’d been on my big bike with the dynamo front light I’d have been less forgiving. So I didn’t say anything. In a perfect (Dutch) world, he wouldn’t need to drive, he’d still be cycling (there are plenty of people in the area still riding their bikes well into their 80s and beyond but they’re a breed apart). But this is not a perfect world.

However after this, and a close squeeeeeeze by a taxi on Princess Street yesterday evening, and then almost walking into a Deliveroo rider with no lights as I crossed the street on foot (I don’t like to play on the tram tracks), I have decided to upgrade the Brompton lights and add a bit of reflective material to my winter cycling outfit. I doubt it would have made a blind bit of difference to either incident, but it would have allowed me to deploy a lot more self-righteous indignation afterwards.

* ‘Where is it you’re going again?’ the other half asked me yesterday morning. Edinburgh, as it happens. Then back again and then Dundee in our bid to meet all the cycling women of Scotland.

Shine a Light

November 24, 2016

So when we moved into a house where the bedroom had a south-east facing skylight right over where the bed goes (in a room with coombed ceilings there’s not a lot of choice), we did know that come June we might find having the sun shine in at 4 in the morning would get a bit old, although it’s hard to imagine it right at the moment. What we weren’t expecting was to be woken by the moonlight pouring in in the small hours, in November. Even a crescent moon generates a surprising amount of light when it’s otherwise completely dark, enough to make me think it’s dawn already and I’ve overslept before realising it’s still the middle of the night.

Eventually we will probably break down and get blinds for the window, but at this time of year any light in the sky is a bonus – especially when you can watch the stars in bed (so much warmer and more comfortable than any other stargazing) – so it won’t be any time soon.

I suppose even thinking it has scuppered their appearance for at least a decade round here, but how awesome would it be to wake up and see the Northern Lights – all from the comfort of my own bed?


November 23, 2016

After much thought and consideration, I have decided where to put the new vegetable patch. Originally I was going for raised beds, but I’ve realised that with all the other things we have to get done, if we want to actually have somewhere to plant in the spring, I would probably have to start with just digging some ordinary ones. We can always upgrade them later.

tree stump

But this left us with a problem: there’s a lot of tree stumps in the garden, and this one was bang in the way of the prime spot in terms of sunshine and flatness, and not being underneath a defunct chicken shed.

So the other half left me with the task of digging round it while he went off on various errands to see how easy it would be to get out. It’s always interesting to see where tree roots go. Quite a long way in this case, but they were fortunately quite rotten so I could pull some of them out with my bare hands.

digging around the stump

Note that around here any task involving digging quickly becomes a task involving making a pile of stones. In fact, I’m coming to the conclusion that all the drystane dykes in the area have nothing to do with marking boundaries or keeping stock in – they were just started as somewhere handy to put all the rocks.

dug stump

And then, just as the light was fading for the day the other half came back with a shiny new pry bar and we thought we’d just have a go and see if we could shift it.

stump gone


Not a bad afternoon’s work …

Cold Snap

November 21, 2016

frozen puddle

I don’t know why I should be surprised – cold weather in Scotland in November,* shock horror – but even given the fact it has already snowed this month, I wasn’t expecting to wake up to temperatures of -5C this morning and neither was the poor olive tree which I still hadn’t got around to moving to the warmer climes of our porch last night. Hopefully the olive tree will wake up from its cryogenic adventure – apparently they are tougher than you might think, especially if they have been watered before they get frozen which is not a problem around here. And nor have I put the ice tyres on my bike yet, so stop asking.**

This lunchtime, once the road had safely thawed out, I headed off for the paper to discover the OTHER big disadvantage of living two-thirds of the way up a long hill, which is that when you don’t need to turn a pedal for the first ten minutes of your ride, you get very, very cold. As in cold enough to make your eyeballs ache, which is a new one on me. Looking on the bright side, I also arrived home considerably less sweaty than I usually am after tackling the chief disadvantage of living two-thirds of the way up a long hill.

olive treeI do remind myself every morning to take a moment to appreciate the views (when we can see them) because I suspect that this winter I will be regularly paying the price for our wonderfully exposed position. Even as I write, the latest weather warning is rattling the windows, but the woodburner is doing its stuff and the olive tree is safely tucked up in its winter quarters and so, for now, am I.

*especially as the Met Office has already predicted a colder than average three months, in this genuinely interesting if somewhat cagey article – I’d heard of El Nino and La Nina, and the polar vortex, but the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation was a new one on me. No mention of the weather gods, though, for some reason

** Although come to think of it, that may be the very thing we need to reverse polar vortex and unleash the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation, and return us to milder winter weather.

Curtain Call

November 19, 2016
stacked wood

No reason for including this photo except so you can behold my beautifully stacked wood …

So, we are at my parents’, swapping wood stacking services for a spot of curtain-sewing consultancy from my mother, who was delighted to pass on (among other gems) the ‘pulled thread’ technique for cutting an absolutely straight edge across a piece of material. This was something her mother taught her, and her grandmother taught her mother before her, and she was delighted to finally have a daughter interested enough to learn it from her, albeit one who has negligently failed to breed, so she will have to teach it in turn to her nieces or, indeed nephews, should the occasion arise.

And it struck me – after much measuring, and measuring again, and cutting, and pinning, and checking, and checking again before I finally got my hands on the sewing machine – just how technical and systematic properly sewing something is. Equally as technical as making something out of wood or metal, needing the same combination of know-how and knack (as I discovered when I put the bobbin in wrong and messed up the tension, or attempted to ‘feel my way’ with the scissors to cut a straight edge), except perhaps with less need for ear defenders and upper body strength. It also reminded me how much I like getting to grips with a well thought-through piece of machinery like Mum’s sewing machine with neat little features like a bobbin winder which automatically stops when it’s full – and which, at 35 years old, is still going strong, except that you have to be firm with the foot pedal at times.

pinning material

I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised at my own occasional techy leanings, as I did work in IT for a dozen years, but I don’t think it’s all that unusual for women, despite what a dozen lazy pop scientific books (and half the men on Twitter when they argue that the reason women don’t go into IT in greater numbers is down to anything other than the inherent institutional bias of the IT industry) might try to claim. In Delusions of Gender, her excellent demolition of all lazy explanations of so-called inherent differences between men and women, Cordelia Fine points out that supposedly neutral tests for things like systematising (often described as an inherently male trait) include questions like ‘would you feel comfortable using a wiring diagram to wire your house’ but not questions like ‘would you feel comfortable using a knitting pattern to knit a cable sweater’ even though both require similar abilities to translate abstract instructions (indeed, women were chosen to wire up computers at Bletchley Park because they could understand complex knitting patterns) it’s just that one is something boys are culturally encouraged to learn, and the other something girls are. Plus, nobody ever burned their family in their beds by incorrectly cabling a sweater, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

Of course, once the curtains have been finished, there’s still the small matter of installing the rail in the bedroom to hang them from. This will require drilling and making sure things are level and finding the right kind of screws and rawl plugs, and all the sorts of thing I normally let the other half do because he’s so much better at them than me, plus you know, power tools are a man thing. Hmm. Perhaps I’m going to have to put those up myself as well…

Cycling By Mistake

November 17, 2016

Bear with me, because this is a rather dry post about the design of cycling infrastructure with very little in the way of rural amusement, homicidal buzzards or even particularly attractive photographs (also very few jokes, but you’ve probably got used to that by now).

In Bigtown there is a road, a not particularly nice road, which I mostly avoid cycling on because it is busy and has multiple lanes of traffic and a roundabout where people keep getting knocked off their bikes. Unfortunately, it’s also a fairly major route through town and there are some trips where I can’t really avoid it, so occasionally I use it. Although I much prefer cycling away from cars and lorries, I’m not, on the whole, that nervous a cyclist when I’m on familiar roads, and I’m quite capable of holding my own in traffic if I need to, as long as I know where I’m going and I don’t have to do it for too long and the drivers aren’t actively trying to kill me.

So I was a bit surprised, the last time I cycled down this road, that I was feeling much more uncomfortable and beleaguered by the traffic. The road had been freshly resurfaced, so I wasn’t having to do the pothole slalom, and the traffic wasn’t any worse than usual, and there was a lovely new cycle lane – so why was I feeling that I was in the wrong place?

bike lanes

Shiny new bike lanes. Lovely! Why would I not want to cycle in the very spot where drivers are going to be sweeping left into the Lidl car park?

And then I twigged that it was the cycle lane that was the problem: it was trying to put me in the wrong place.

bike lane and left turn lane

Left turn only. Unless you’re a bike. Of course the drivers will look before they turn. Erm. Probably. Oh and ignore all those stickers on lorries telling you not to go up the inside of them. Confused yet? You will be

One of the things that makes this road (and any big multi-lane road) is that you’re constantly having to watch out for left turning traffic. Where there are left-turn only lanes, you basically have to keep pulling out into the middle lane, or else hope that the lights are red so you can get ahead of any potential sideswipes. This is what makes most cycling in the UK something for the quick and the brave and it’s bad enough at the best of times. But it’s worse when there’s nice bright new paint on the road trying to encourage you to stay on the left (and encouraging drivers to think that’s where you belong) just when you should be pulling out away from the kerb. That lovely cycle lane was in fact a dangerous trap. Unlike a proper Dutch style cycle track, it wasn’t making me feel safer or be safer, it was actually making things worse.

Now this would normally be the point where I start ranting on about the coonsil being idiots who wouldn’t know a decent piece of cycle infrastructure if it jumped up and bit them on the nose – but here’s the thing. This is not actually the coonsil’s fault. They didn’t put the paint on the road just on a whim – they were following the design guidelines. Guidelines which have you cycling in the place where you’re mostly likely to get left hooked by a turning lorry because otherwise there’s no legal way to get into the bike box at the front of the junction (to be fair, they also allow for cycle lanes right in the middle of the road but trust me, they’re even scarier).

So why am I telling you all this instead of burbling on about knitting or growing vegetables? Well the Scottish cycle design guidelines (Cycling By Design) are in the process of being revised. It’s an opportunity to ditch the default paint-on-the-road approach which does nobody any favours, not even existing cyclists, and adopt something slightly more forward thinking. Such as junctions that look like this

Amsterdam junction with cycle track

Or even this

Hovenring suspended cycle roundabout at night. By John TarantinoOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Any Scottish bike bloggers (or just cyclists) out there who have seen similar issues on the roads they cycle regularly – I’m looking for similar examples of where the design guidance has gone wrong, of things you’d like to see banished from the roads altogether as a waste of paint. It doesn’t have to be spectacularly bad, just the everyday mild disappointment at the way things could have been better most UK based cyclists suffer as a matter of course every time they take to the roads.

Village People

November 15, 2016

Cycling back in the pitch dark (supermoon schupermoon – it doesn’t matter how close it is to the earth when you’re under a blanket of cloud) from the community council meeting* in old Nearest Village (our new Nearest Village is what used to be Doctor’s Village, for those trying to keep up at the back), I was startled to discover myself running out of gears, until I worked out that I was on Growly Dog Hill (named after the collie which regularly terrorised me on the papershop run), which has a sharp little kick half way up it. It got me thinking. This is a road which I must have cycled along hundreds, if not thousands of times. It might have been dark, but I would have thought I could have cycled it blindfold by now and been able to work out where I was. How quickly we forget things which were once completely woven into the daily fabric of our life.

Perhaps it’s a sign that I should be moving on – except that I haven’t yet actually dared get involved with new Nearest Village, which seems to be dauntingly abuzz with activity and initiatives. Old Nearest Village is much more my speed and if last night’s community council meeting was anything to go by, continues on its placid way, disturbed only by an ASBO crow which has taken to attacking the cars in the school car park, which makes a change from buzzard attacks on unwary cyclists. Oh, and someone has rashly organised group ukulele and penny whistle sessions. Who on earth would be interested in attending that, you ask yourselves?

ukulele in bike pannier

Have ukulele; will travel

Who indeed?

If nothing else, the massed ukes might make enough noise to see the ASBO crow off – and it beats nailing a dead crow to the school fence, which was the other suggestion raised at the community council. I’m fairly certain that would not go down well with the parents, even if the kids were fine with it…

* Apparently, merely moving out of the parish is not enough to get you excused from being the secretary of the community council once you are foolish enough to have become one. Indeed, I’m not sure whether dying is sufficient either, although it would tend to mitigate against the efficient running of the community council.**

** assuming you’re a rather more efficient secretary than me.

Choose your own Adventure

November 12, 2016

I had two thoughts as I contemplated the hard frost outside the window yesterday morning just as I was preparing to cycle down to the station to Glasgow: 1) now would have been an excellent time to have already put the ice tyres on the bike, and 2) on the whole, brand new brake pads work better when you’ve put them on your bike than when they’re still sitting in your bike bag. Added to that a third thought, as I set off, carefully, down the hill with the sun rising almost directly into my eyes: that I also need my bright dynamo lights during the winter days if I’ve a hope of being seen by drivers coming up behind me. If this winter is to go on as it has begun, then I may need to install the ice tyres on my current dynamo wheel rather than just swap my winter wheels back and forth, if I can figure out how to do that without tearing my hands to shreds on the spikes

Still, such considerations pale into insignificance when you’re on you way to Glasgow to hear from women who think nothing of cycling across America, or 500 miles around the north coast of Scotland in 36 hours or – in Kate Rawles’ case – cycling the length of South America on a bamboo bike she has built herself to raise awareness about conservation and biodiversity.

bamboo bike

As someone who prefers her peril mild, and her bike rides at the speed of chat, I can’t compete with either feat, but after we had finished a good morning session of bike-related plotting, my partner in crime and I did head out for an adventure of our own entitled “what happens if you attempt to follow the bike signs on part of the National Cycle Network when you have no idea where you are going?” We do it to raise awareness about the hard of navigating…

Exploring Glasgow

Now where??

We got there in the end.

Kelvingrove walkway

House Warming

November 10, 2016

You know you’re a gardener when you’re delighted if someone leaves a bag of poo (several bags actually) on your doorstep (oh all right, by the side of the garage). It helps if the poo in question is well matured horse manure, and is in fact a housewarming gift from a horsy friend rather than some sort of a rural warning off. It’s all part of my grand plan for raised beds for vegetable gardening, which so far hasn’t got much further than choosing a potential site and asking around for ‘matters arising‘, as Buckingham Palace once delicately chose to describe it.

olive tree

The olive tree might appreciate a bit of warmth from somewhere …

Of course, given the speed with which I normally progress my plans, there is a danger that the poo in question will be very much more mature than it already is by the time I get around to using it. But then again, if this winter decides to go on as it has begun, we might actually be pleased to have a steaming heap of manure on the premises. After all, if you can heat your house from the energy released by composting woodchips, some sort of poo-source heat pump arrangement mightn’t be too far fetched an idea.