Looking but not Seeing

June 30, 2017

I was in town today running various errands, and also hunting out poor on-road cycling infrastructure to use in the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’s latest toy, Insert Loved One Here.

insert loved one here

Actually, one of the good things about cycling in Bigtown, it’s that we don’t have too much of this sort of thing. The Coonsil’s approach to cycling may be lacking – we may not have a joined up network and it may be shared with pedestrians and their extendadogs, and it may take a week to cross at the lights, and they may never grit the paths in winter – but at least they mostly recognise that slapping some paint and a poorly drawn bicycle onto a scary road isn’t going to help much.

Still, I knew that there was a roundabout near Morrison’s that had some ‘suicide’ lanes around the outside (funnily enough, it’s where half the cyclists in Bigtown have been knocked off their bikes, it seems) so I headed there and took a couple of photos, then joined the road with the worst cycle lane in Bigtown on it where I failed to take any photos because I was concentrating on not being squashed by left-turning traffic. That left the roundabout by the station, which also has a few faded bike lanes around the edge – but it was getting a bit late and I had things to do, so I decided the one photo I had would be good enough and headed home.

cycle lane

And it was only as I reached the turnoff at the outskirts of Bigtown that I noticed this beauty, a bike lane that I never use because of all the places where I may want to be on my bike, cycling right across the mouth of a road used by bin lorries and into the back of a parked car is never one of them. I must have cycled past it literally hundreds of times but its existence has barely registered on me, despite the fact that I spend far more time than is healthy thinking and talking about cycling infrastructure.

No wonder the drivers don’t see us. Frankly, as a species, we’re just very poorly adapted to driving something as fast and as dangerous as a car, compared to something like a horse which notices absolutely everything. You can forget the driverless car – when it comes to transport our real mistake was to persist with the horseless carriage.*

* Although, having cycled through the residue left by the horse element of Bigtown’s Guid Nychburris parade, I can see that there are some downsides to using equines for urban transport


June 28, 2017

So it seems I’m not the only one with an ASBO buzzard, although I like to think mine is the original and best

While I don’t really miss ASBO buzzard, I do regret not taking the opportunity to try and film it in mid-attack, partly because I sense a certain scepticism when I tell people about it that a) it actually happens and b) it is genuinely scary. Plus the whole 15 minutes of fame thing, obviously.

These days, the main wildlife-related hazard I encounter on the road is an increasingly ripe badger carcase which has ended up right by a passing place on one of the narrower back roads. I always dread some well-meaning driver pausing at just that point on the road as they see me coming – leaving me unable to give it as wide a berth as I normally aim for. Squeezing past cars on a disintegrating road edge is one thing, squelching over disintegrating badgers is quite another. Sorry, were you eating?

Other road hazards are potentially a bit more fun

caution ramps ahead

Although the 14-year-old me is rather disappointed that the 48-year-old she’s trapped inside declined to even try to get some air.

Secret Garden

June 26, 2017

So the garden’s come on a bit in recent weeks …

… just kidding. I was actually visiting the local open gardens weekend, billed as the ‘hidden gardens’ of a nearby hamlet, seeking inspiration or at least a plant sale, or failing that home baking.

I got all three, although the inspiration was of the ‘distant aspiration’ rather than the ‘oh I could do that’ sort.
vista with wheelbarrow

Note the wheelbarrow left at just the perfect angle to give the vista the ‘real actual person’s garden’ feel rather than ‘Chelsea show garden’. It takes years to learn how to do that …

mats on steps

This is a good idea for slippery stone steps though. That I can probably manage.

Back in my own garden, I am tackling the paving stones out the back.

paving stones

Note the artfully angled tools to make it clear this has been done by pure hard labour, not Roundup

There is a vague plan to fill the cracks with sand and/or wood ash before they turn back into this.

paving stones vegetation

You never know, it might work.

How Does your Garden Grow?

June 22, 2017

Well now, funny you should ask that.

The plants that just sort of get on with it, like the potatoes and the broad beans, are just getting on with it.

broad beans and potatoes

The bits that regularly have hares sitting on them have hare-shaped gaps in the planting. I don’t know whether to be relieved or offended that they aren’t bothering to eat my beetroot…

beetroot with gaps

And one thing I have learnt since moving here is that beautifully landscaped sandstone terrace walls effectively double as high-density housing for slugs. We were out enjoying the last gasp of the longest day last night when I noticed how many of them were out chewing my plants. Time for some remedial action – fortunately slug beer brews up pretty quick and they don’t seem that fussy.

slugs in slug trap

Oh and up close, clematis flowers are rather fabulous

clematis flower


101 Uses for a Brompton: Avoiding Road Rash

June 20, 2017

Ordinarily, if someone had told me that the main road to our house was to be made 20mph and have the white line removed from down the middle, I would have been delighted.

skid risk

Unfortunately, it’s only temporary, because they’re surface dressing it (so named because after a cyclist has skidded on the loose chippings that result, or has been sprayed with gravel by the passing drivers who consider speed limits to be for other people, they are likely to need dressings on a large proportion of their surface).

This basically starts from our turnoff, and goes halfway down the hill, which almost feels pointed on the part of the coonsil. It’s on a long and winding descent which is ordinarily fun, if a little white-knuckle if you’ve got a 4×4 behind you attempting to overtake on a blind bend. Throw in a loose surface chipping surface, though, and you’ve got a cycling disaster on your hands, especially if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

Today I had a train to catch for a meeting in Glasgow, so I took the coward’s way out – threw the Brompton in the car and got a lift past the danger zone. Cycling up wasn’t too bad this afternoon as nobody overtook me and going uphill meant I didn’t have to worry about braking or slowing down for the bends. Tomorrow, hopefully, the traffic will have bedded it in enough that I can keep the rubber side down. But I’ll be allowing plenty of time for the descent …

Health Checkup, Rural Style

June 19, 2017

To the clinic for my annual checkup, where my weight and blood pressure are measured (no signs of damage from my cake-based lifestyle), and then the usual three questions:

“Do you smoke at all, and if so how much?”

“Do you drink at all, and if so how much?”


“No need to ask you that question, you’re out on your bike all the time.”

It’s nice to know someone’s noticed…

101 Uses for a Brompton: Parading

June 17, 2017


I’m ashamed to say, we’ve lived in the area for 9 years now and this was the first year I’ve ever been to the annual only-slightly-made-up historical celebration of ancient traditions dating all the way back to, ooh, 1932, aka Guid Nychburris.*

Buds of Anarchy float

Today, though, our local cycle campaign were taking part in the parade alongside Buddies, an organisation for people with learning difficulties who last year started a bike project. We’ve been helping them get riding (it’s amazing how many of their members have been confidently told that they’ll never ride a normal bike who turn out to be perfectly capable of it, with a bit of practice and some patience). The Buddies had decided they wanted to celebrate their biking project by dressing up as the Sons of Anarchy (‘Buds of Anarchy’) and we followed along behind as the ‘Hell’s Bells’. Like most of our plans, this all made a lot more sense in the pub when we first discussed it.

Brompton and float

Brompton ready to rock

Anyway, my touring bike, beautiful as it is, didn’t seem quite suitable as part of a biker gang, so I took the Brompton instead, lowering the seat to give it a bit more of a Harley Davidson feel. I’m not sure I quite rocked the ‘biker chick’ look myself, but others had made a more convincing effort and we set off in the sunshine at about 5pm for our slowest bike ride ever.

I hadn’t quite understood what a big deal this parade is for Bigtown. It helped that it was an absolutely glorious day, but the entire route was lined with crowds of people. We could have given out ten times the number of flyers we’d brought, and it was good to be part of a huge civic event, showing that cyclists are as much a part of the life of the town as the local Brownie pack, the young farmers (and boy were we glad not to be the ones dressed up in cow onesies this afternoon), the nearby wetland centre and the Cat’s Protection League

And I suppose it counts as a miracle that, given the many thousands who had lined the streets to watch, only one person felt the need to shout out ‘helmet’ as we passed. Because apparently even when moving at 4 miles per hour on completely closed roads and while dressed up as an anarchic biker gang – you need a magic plastic hat on your head.

biker gang

*I’m only bitter because every time I have to write about it I have to google it first to remind myself of which cod spelling of ‘neighbours’ they’ve officially used as its name. I’m all for Scots being used in the vernacular but given even the locals simply pronounce it ‘good neighbours’ I think they’re actually just spelling it that way for a bet.