And the Puncture Fairy makes Three

January 29, 2017

misty morning start

After a couple of years of running winter rides for the local Bigtown Cycling Campaign that have attracted none, one, or at best half a dozen participants, suddenly all our likes, comments and shares on Facebook have started turning into actual cyclists, turning up on actual bikes, to come out and ride with us, which is nice.

Unfortunately the Puncture Fairy is also apparently following us on Facebook and turned up this morning with a vengeance – including one poor lass who’d only been out for a spin on her nice new Halfords bike on her own and been struck by way of collateral damage as she passed our assembly point. Sadly Halfords had not thought to supply her with a pump or spare inner tube (or managed to set up the quick release on her brakes) so she was awaiting rescue when help arrived in the form of several knights in shining – or at least hi-vis – armour in the form of several of the wiry-old-boy-in-lycra brigade who like nothing better than fixing a puncture, especially if it can be combined with fulminations about the uselessness of Halfords.

And even if you don’t count her, the grand total by the time we finished was one delaminated tyre (fortunately noticed before we set off), one puncture at our destination, and one mega puncture involving a Bastard Big Thorn, a duff valve on a spare inner tube, and a recalcitrant back wheel, which meant by the time the back markers had arrived at the cafe stop, most of the front markers had already gone home. Having eaten all the soup. Honestly, there’s just no solidarity among cyclists these days…

Still, it was a gorgeous day to be out, and the weather was mostly pleasant enough to make standing around in the sun making helpful remarks during someone else’s puncture repair (and handing out cranachan-inspired flapjacks, complete with a tot of whisky, to mark the fact that this was our Burns ride) almost pleasant.*

afternoon sunshine

* apart from the point where I said, ‘we’ve been very lucky with the weather within earshot of the weather gods, who imediately started raining on us, just to remind us they could.

What I Preach

January 27, 2017

They say, if you want tips on getting a good night’s sleep, ask an insomniac, because the people who actually sleep well every night just go to bed and fall asleep and have no idea how they do it. Similarly, if you want advice on avoiding procrastination, ask a procrastinator … but do remember to give them a firm deadline or you may be waiting a long time.

As it happens, this came up at my writers’ group (after we’d just postponed starting our session by two weeks, in a rare example of synchronised procrastination, which is harder than it looks) and I somehow volunteered to jointly run a session on becoming more productive as a writer (stop laughing at the back there). Fortunately there was a firm deadline, and – as I was putting off doing something else more important at the time – I ended up doing a fair bit of reading on the topic and managed to put together an interesting and (apparently) quite effective evening. It ended up as a cross between a group therapy session and a stationery sales convention (there’s nothing quite like a new notebook, calendar or pack of coloured post it notes to take the sting out of actually getting on and doing something, and if that doesn’t turn your crank, then there’s always the option to set up an elaborate spreadsheet).

Anyhow, I thought I had better put my money where my mouth is, so I have made a commitment to try something along the lines of this, to make sure that I make time for my own writing alongside all the other important things I seem to have agreed to do. Today I set up the calendar on my phone and scheduled my first week’s worth of writing sessions – and so far (accountability is everything) I have got that first crucial half hour under my belt, as well as managing to power through a few more things on my to do list.

The problem is, while I feel I’ve actually achieved a fair bit today (and I still managed to spend at least half an hour getting a tricky game of Spider solitaire out), there’s still effectively an infinite number of things I have to do (winning at Spider Solitaire wasn’t one of them, either). One of these days – when I get to the bottom of my current to do list – I shall start learning how to say no to things and concentrate on what’s truly important. Unfortunately, with the way the world is these days, that seems to be everything…

Meanwhile, if you’d like a funny, a bit sweary, but accurate analysis of procrastination, I recommend you start here.

Drilling Down

January 25, 2017

I think I may have mentioned that our attic was previously insulated by someone who was in no way shape or form a completer finisher, and we’ve been working on rectifying that, spurred on by the combination of electric heating and a smart meter which tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Although, that said, progress has still been slow. We did the easy bits, and redistributed all of the loose insulation that was just sitting around in the attic into the gaps between the rafters along the side of the house, which was straightforward enough if I didn’t mind spending a lot of time inching along on my elbows trying not to breathe in too much insulation fibre and/or mouse poo.

Then we thought we’d do the other apparently easy bit, which was to top up the insulation in the apex of the roof which looks like this:

attic space

For reference, that’s just tall enough for me to wriggle into, but not get up onto my hands and knees, so it’s back to the commando crawling.

That seemed like a straightforward enough job: another layer of mineral wool over the top of the rafters. Unforutnately, in practice it has been one of those projects that a colleague of mine used to refer to as climbing the bug tree: in order to get to the point where you fix the problem (not enough insulation), first you have to fix all the other problems which are in the way: no loft boards to crawl on to get the insulation down there, loft hatch too small to get spare loft boards up into the attic space, designated loft insulator (me) having a small panic when she got up into the attic space and then realised how impossible it was to move around with just two planks to balance on and couldn’t work out how to get out again. So, once I’d extricated myself from the attic without the assistance of the fire brigade, we went and bought some more loft boards with the plan of creating a nice crawl path down the middle, firmly screwed down, so I could work a bit more comfortably.

So then the next problem was cutting down the loft boards to a size where they spanned an integer number of rafters and still fit the gap, which would be easier if all of our rafters didn’t appear to be a different distance apart (naturally, whoever installed the first layer of insulation ignored this so there’s a gap of about 10cm in the middle but hey, that’s about par for the course for this house). Then I had to start screwing the loft boards down, which is where things began to come unstuck. Whenever I do a job like this I am confronted by the fact that I am quite extraordinarily unhandy. It doesn’t help that I’m left handed, nor that I never learned how to do these things at school, nor that I am actually not strong enough to hold up the other half’s super duper Makita power tools with one hand, making it difficult to hold down the loft board with the other. Nor indeed that I was trying to do it while lying on my front in a space you wouldn’t keep a chicken in, by the light of a small torch. I think I managed two and a half boards before the increasingly inventive swearing drifting down through the loft hatch alerted the other half to the fact that things were not going well. I could no longer hold the drill straight and steady enough to get the screw into the board, let alone screw it down onto the rafter, and I was ready to throw in the towel, followed by the screw, drill, loft boards and torch, directly into the nearest pond. Time to take a break.

Hopefully, in a day or two my arms will have recovered enough to get a few more boards down, but this is looking like a looong job – and that was the easy part. Still, looking on the bright side, I can now get in and, more importantly, out of the attic without freaking out.

Remind me why it’s so much better to own your own home again?

There’s a Hole in the Fence where the Sheep Get In

January 23, 2017

fence hole

… I’m stopping them from wandering (with apologies to the Beatles).

bedstead blocking hole

Given that I have also finished adding random shed parts (and also the former contents of the shed, including the old chipboard floor, which in some places was just mulch) to the carpeted area of the garden (complete with the salvaged landscaping fabric), there’s a danger that I have overdone the allotment chic…

veg plot in January

Indeed, adding a bedstead* to the fence may well have tipped me over into agricultural chic – my aunt and uncle memorably had a fine brass bedstead which I believe they had salvaged from a farmer’s ad hoc fencing arrangement.

In my head, this is all the chrysalis stage and eventually a beautiful butterfly of a garden will emerge, with some cleverly reclaimed material here and there to give it that make do and mend feel. Failing that, we’d better hope that old bedsteads, carpets and wandering sheep feature heavily at Chelsea this year…

* Mine has not yet stood the test of sheep, and may well need to be reinforced with baler twine, in which case I think we can say the transformation will be complete

Not Marching, but Cycling

January 22, 2017

Yesterday saw me up early on a blisteringly cold morning and onto the bike to catch a train in Bigtown, which was still blanketed in fog.

frosty morning

I wasn’t going to join the Women’s March in Edinburgh, although looking at my Twitter and Facebook feed, there’s a part of me that wishes I had. I had a prior engagement, however: to join some of the fabulous people of the Women’s Cycle Forum Scotland (and a couple of honoured guest) for what we had half jokingly called a cake summit.


Let them eat cake

Inevitably, when you invite women to come along and bring some baking, things can get a little out of hand.


And possibly even a tiny bit competitive, although I prefer to think of it as just a desire to ensure that nobody goes unfed. Fortunately we were meeting at the Glasgow Bike Station whose staff fell on the surplus with cries of glee. As they had also just fixed the bent front chain ring of my bike (and replaced the ill-fitting bottom bracket to boot) for the princely sum of £15 it was well deserved.

group photo

Taking a break from our plotting on how to change the world …

The discussions were a fantastic chance to share knowledge and approaches, reaffirm what it was we wanted to do, and come away again re-energised and ready for what is going to be a busy few months ahead. While I’m sorry it meant missing the chance to show solidarity with the rest of the women of the world, I hope it does ultimately contribute in some small way towards a better world.

Glasgow skyline

And that will have to do for now.

Burning Down Da Shed

January 20, 2017

Honestly, I go away for one night and I come back to find the garden deficient to the tune of one shed.

no shed

Or rather, the shed had undergone a radical alteration and was now in the form of a pile. The other half, despairing of anyone wanting to come and take it away, had got the bit between his teeth and had spent a happy afternoon tearing it down.

pile of shed parts

So now the question was what to do with the shed parts, given that most of the structural wood was fairly rotten and what wasn’t rotten was still fairly liberally coated in chicken poo.

Some of the sidings have been tentatively repurposed to reach the parts of the planned veg patch that the carpet didn’t cover. Thinking about it, I could have put down the chicken poo first, but it has literally only occurred to me just now. As it is, I’m not convinced they will do much to kill the grass but it’s always worth a shot.

shed boards on veg plot

Shed boards laid out around the veg plot. Do feel free to warn me of all the wonderful chemicals that will be leaching onto the soil…

As for the rest, we did consider using it to make biochar – something I do still want to have a go at – but in the end we decided just to burn it.

burning shed

Theoretically, I disapprove of bonfires. And yet, there’s something about an outdoor fire on a dark January day that seems right. And it beat the hell out of paying any attention to what was going on in Washington this afternoon.

Tomorrow I travel up to Glasgow to meet with some fab cycling women for an event we have tentatively dubbed the Cake Summit. There is not yet any formal agenda. But there will be plenty of cake.

Sometimes you need a spot of bonfires and brownies in a world that is going insane.

Good Fences make Good Neighbours

January 16, 2017

Since the cows went in for the winter, we haven’t had any next door neighbours for a while, but about a week ago, some sheep appeared in the field next to the garden.

sheep running away

They’re pretty flighty, so I haven’t been able to take any decent photos of them, but today as I headed out to get the washing in, I noticed that the bleating was a little louder than usual, and looking again, realised that two of them had decided to pay us a call.

sheep in the garden

This is in fact two sheep, not some weird two-headed sheep creature as it appears here

It is a universal sheep truth that, while they can get through some amazingly small holes in fences when you don’t want them too, they cannot get through a wide open gate when you do. Our garden has four corners, and in one of them is an open gate onto the lane. Our visitors and I proceeded to spend the next fifteen minutes extensively testing this truth as the sheep ran inot every corner of the garden except the one with the open gate. They were even willing to bolt directly past me (at an impressive speed) in order not to go anywhere near the opening.

speeding sheep

Apologies for the blurry photo but it was moving at some speed and the light was poor

Tiring of the game, and a bit worried about panicking possibly pregnant sheep, I left them lurking behind the shed like a pair of naughty schoolchildren, and went and rang the farm.

sheep behind the shed

‘I’m pretty sure she can’t see us here’

Two farming chaps came pretty promptly and in the fading light gave a masterclass in garden de-sheeping (farming chap one hides behind the shed, just by the fence. Farming chap two starts chasing the sheep towards the shed. Sheep gets up to warp speed. Farming chap one catches it and effectively bounces it over the fence. Repeat with second sheep).

The problem, apparently, is that our predecessors cut a hole in the fence so their dog could get in and out, and although the farmer keeps closing up the gap, it keeps opening up again. I left them allegedly sheep-proofing the fence again with string (it was too dark by then to see anything), pleased that we discovered this gap in the defences before we had planted the veg plot and not after. I’m already working on a design for a hare-proof fence around the new plot; I might have to upgrade that to a sheep proof one now…

The Augean Chicken Shed

January 14, 2017

I think I may have mentioned that when the previous owners of the house moved out, there were a few things they left behind, including the rather unsalubrious interior of their chicken shed*

shed interior

We’ve been gradually clearing out that corner of the garden, as the likely site of our fruit cage and ultimately a greenhouse. Either way, the shed is for the chop. The other half’s suggestion was that we just douse it in petrol and throw in a match, but I was determined to make use of all that organic matter. So today, being just barely above freezing, but otherwise a lovely day, it seemed like a good opportunity to clean it out without being too overwhelmed by the smell.

There’s not much to say, really, about shovelling chicken shit. It wasn’t as unpleasant a task as it would have been in the height of summer; in fact most of it was well on its way to being compost already. I lost count of how many barrowloads it was, but our (350 litre) compost dalek, which I’d emptied to add to the planned veg plot, is now full again. And I did retrieve (and clean up) that spade …

piled up chicken manure

I’m still sad for the chickens who had to live in it, although at least the nest boxes had fresh shavings in them, which have also gone into the compost. I think I may need to take it all out of the dalek and mix it up more thoroughly, but that can wait. I feel like I’ve dealt with enough crap for one day.

So now it’s just a matter of getting rid of the shed. Nearest Village’s hyperlocal freecycle group has had someone looking for a shed of ‘any size and any condition’ for almost a year now, and I have passed on a message that we have one that’s very much of ‘any condition’ if they want to come and get it. Whether it can be actually disassembled and usefully reassembled into anything resembling a shed remains to be seen. It may be the petrol and the match after all.

* sans chickens, but not, as I discovered this afternoon, entirely sans eggs. Given the amount of time since it had likely been laid, I transferred it with extreme gingerliness to the compost bin …

Room with Rather Too Much of a View

January 12, 2017

Apologies to my twitter followers today who were subjected to a stream of tweets of the view out of my study window

The view is distracting at the best of times; add in snow and it becomes very difficult to concentrate on anything else.

sunny interlude

In the end, after lunch, when there was a lull in the weather and everything began to go a bit sparkly, I cracked and decided to go out and enjoy it properly.

sheep in the sun

You said there could never be too many pictures of sheep, right?

snowy lane looking uphill

avenue of trees

snowy lane looking downhill

And then it was back to the grindstone again

Well, sort of.

It is One Thing …

January 11, 2017

… to slog up the hill cycling home on a dark wet freezing afternoon from Bigtown, head down into the teeth of an icy headwind with the Met Office’s latest weather warning for wind and snow ringing in your head.

It is quite another to do so knowing that no sooner have you got in than you will have to turn around and head out again on the bike to Old Nearest Village, which has now become Really Too Far Away for Comfort on a Night Like This Village.

And it is an entirely third thing to head out into the cold and rain when the reason you’re heading out again is to act as secretary of the community council for a community you no longer live in because they haven’t found a replacement yet. Apparently the next stage, our Facebook call for volunteers having failed, is an appeal from the pulpit (to the congregation, I assume, I don’t think God interferes in community council appointments which are surely an ecumenical matter).

On the bright side, getting home and collapsing on the sofa in front of the fire with a whole pizza has never felt quite so justified. Or so sweet.