Four and 20 Campaigners Came Down from Inverness…

January 13, 2018

… and found someone had left a load of excrement on their doorstep.

bags full of horse manure

Fortunately it was the well-rotted horse kind and I was expecting it. We’ve been trying to sort out a delivery of a friend’s horse poo for ages, somewhat hampered by the lack of a trailer, so before Christmas I gave her a load of empty feed sacks* and she filled them with the end result by way of a new year gift.

It’s lovely stuff, too.

manure in greenhouse beds

This afternoon I topped up one greenhouse bed with some of the contents and did a bit of garden pottering which has filled my head with things that need and could and should be done with it. I’ve still not quite got to grips with it all but now that the greenhouse is almost ready to go, plans are afoot.

Electric trike in Inverness

Big beast and little beast: the Brompton meets the Beast of Inverness

Inverness was fun, if a bit too much of a fleeting visit. Just time to try out the local GP’s electric trike, nicknamed the beast (she started off applying to get some bike racks installed at her practice and it seems to have escalated from there. It’s easily done), meet some local campaigners, rummage through Leakey’s book stocks, and hatch plans for a proper return trip one of these days.

* Top tip if you live in a rural community – don’t ask your local freecycle list for empty feed sacks. You will end up beating them off with a stick.


101 Uses for a Brompton: Coffee-Cup Holder

January 11, 2018

For a long time I have regretted that trips with my Brompton by train – requiring as they do two hands to lug both Brompton and Brompton basket up and down stairs – have precluded being able to drink coffee on the train, because obviously I can’t drink train coffee, and neither can I buy a cup of coffee at the station to take with me on the train.

But now – thanks partly to Blue Planet and the current tide of anti-plastic feeling – things have got better. Not (yet) for the poor baby albatrosses, but at least for me because I got a giveaway keep cup at the end of last year, and also you can now ask for your coffee in it without the embarassment of being That Person.

So behold, a Brompton with on-board coffee.

Brompton basket with coffee cup

So excited was I by this new development that I totally forgot to pick up any sugar so my enjoyment of the coffee wasn’t exactly unalloyed. Still, the technology worked and a world of productive train journeys has opened up ahead of me

Anyway, here I am in Inverness allegedly for cycle campaigning reasons but possibly also because I wanted to visit Leakey’s Bookshop (and test my new coffee carrying technology, obviously). Unfortunately, for reasons which really are too humiliating* to go into, I shall be visiting with almost no cash and no means to get hold of it until I get home.

This might actually be for the best.

* Put it this way – don’t attempt to efficiently sign your new debit card and cut up and get rid of your old one while you’re very jetlagged after 24 hours of travelling when the new debit card looks very like the old debit card. Just saying.


January 8, 2018

(I am grateful to Robert Macfarlane’s Word of the day for the description (and the new word) for the contoured-looking ice you see on puddles by the side of the road)

There’s certainly plenty of cat-ice around at the moment as we’ve had a stretch of bright but baltic days – I don’t think today that it really rose above freezing at all

Despite that, and a brewing cold (or indeed, in an attempt to shake it off) I headed out anyway, to get the paper, and take a little detour on the way back to investigate the gritting of the cycle path to the new flagship hospital where nobody can apparently find room in the brand new car park but it’s obviously not a priority to actually make it safe for people to cycle there because oh I give up, when you work out the reasons why, can you let me know …

cycle path with frost

Anyway, as it happens, the cycle path wasn’t too bad – ungritted but dry enough that that didn’t matter. Lulled by this, and the sunny day, and the fact that I had one spiked ice tyre on (albeit the wrong one – if you only put one on it should really be the front wheel but the front wheel has my hub dynamo and so I’d need to actually change the tyre and I’m not sure I can face doing battle with a spiky marathon plus), I pressed on to take the scenic route home rather than sensibly retracing my steps.

I expect you can work out what happened next.

To be fair, I did not technically fall off my bike. I have not come off my bike while riding it since I was in my 20s. I have, once, actually managed to fall off my bike while at a complete standstill at a traffic light in Glasgow, which was as embarassing as it sounds. Today wasn’t quite so embarassing mainly because there was nobody about but me but it was still pretty stupid. I was taking a little back road and as it dipped down into a valley, I came across a gnarly stretch of ice where the road had flooded and then frozen. Even with both ice tyres on, it would have been unrideable because it was rutted and muddy and the ice had broken and then refrozen in great lumps so that the whole road was a mess of ice and running water and great clumps of frozen mud. Instead of getting off I thought I’d get away with scooting along with one foot on the verge, steering through the worst of it. Fine, until you find a patch of, if not cat-ice, at least ice that was not going to support the weight of the boot of a cyclist. My foot went down into the void beneath, the bike tipped, and in that slow-motion yet utterly unstoppable way that these things happen, took me partially down with it.

No harm was done, beyond a skinned knee (the bike was fine, thanks for asking) and some dented pride (that’s why there’s no photo of the wretched ice, because I had passed a walker a minute or so before and I was keen to get away before she came upon me and witnessed my idiocy). And it’s a salutary reminder that doing things by halves never really works – if it’s too icy to cycle it’s not really any safer sculling along with one foot. I should just learn to get off and push the damn thing. Or remember that rural back roads don’t get any more love and attention from the coonsil than the cycle paths.


Still, I* have managed to adjust my kick stand so that my bike now stays upright 50% more of the time than it did before. At least as long as I’m not around to interfere.

Did I ever mention I was an award-winning cycle campaigner at all?

* and by ‘I’ I mean ‘with the help of the other half’ because it turns out even ‘lefty loosey righty tighty’ is too tricky for the spatially challenged to use to work out which way to turn an allen key to loosen a bolt. Interestingly, my fingers sort of knew and wanted to turn it in the correct direction but my brain confidently overrode them. I really should know by know that when I’ve got a 50% chance of getting something like this wrong I will actually manage it 100% of the time.


January 5, 2018

We woke this morning to a hard frost and fog which gradually lifted – or perhaps sank, for I discovered when I set out to Bigtown this afternoon that we were above the clouds, which is one of the unexpected bonuses of living on the side of a hill.

clouds below

It did give the road that leads down to the river valley an unusually apocalyptic feel.

heading into the mist

I was heading for Bigtown to, among other things, see* whether the library had a book on sourdough bread which it, amazingly, did

Setting off, I began to reconsider my plan of waiting until the warmer weather before getting to grips with bike maintenance. Not only is my rear brake not centring, which means I have to lean back and straighten it up every time I come to a hard stop (fortunately I have designed my ride in so I don’t normally need to do too many of those), but there’s a slow puncture in one of my winter tyres, which means I need to pump the tyre up every morning, something I invariably forget until I’ve already set off and am wondering why the handling is a bit weird. I’m not sure I can handle either learning how to sort out my brakes or working out how to change a spikey tyre without loss of life or limb, but I could at least work out how to adjust the kickstand on my bike – something I have been meaning to do for ooh, approximately three years now, so that I don’t have to find the one bit of the drive where the slope is at exactly the right angle for the bike not to fall over just as I start pumping up the flat tyre.

In other news, the first sourdough loaf is proving as we speak. I haven’t actually read the book yet, apart from dipping into it for amusingly acerbic asides but from the bits I’ve read so far, I think it’s going to be right up my street. Now, who’s written an amusing, no-nonsense guide to being a bit less crap about maintaining one’s bike?

* the entire coonsil library management system has been titsup for over a year now so the only way of finding out is to go and look…

Slow Starter

January 3, 2018

Because I’m clearly Not Busy Enough, with the new year my thoughts have been idly turning on possible resolutions. In 2017 I not only managed to stick to my standard resolution* for the first time in ages but also managed to ‘turn left‘ for a new micro adventure every month, even if it was sometimes a very token effort indeed.

This year, as well as attempting not to start any more cycle campaigns (I need to be very careful if I see Back on my Bike coming anywhere near me with cake), I have decided I will attempt two things and you, dear blog readers, get to be bored rigid – sorry, bear witness – to my attempts. The first is to get better at maintaining my bike, of which more anon when the weather has warmed up (remind me in March or April; I have a plan for this).

The second – after a rambling new year’s eve twitter conversation (which as actually far more enjoyable than a lot of twitter conversations are these days, involving as it did no references to Donald Trump or Brexit or cycle helmets) – is to start baking sourdough bread.

I have made bread occasionally in the past, mostly wheaten loaf (or soda bread), and it’s nice enough but it’s never really stuck as a habit. The attraction of sourdough – apart from the fact that it’s complicated enough to be potentially interesting – is that your starter seems to take on the status of something between a chemistry experiment and a family pet (the most concrete advice I have been given so far is to give it a name, to encourage me to look after it properly), complete with the need to get a sitter in when you go on holiday (are there starter kennels? There probably are by now. If not, I offer you the Hipster Business Idea of 2018, coming soon to a crowdfunder near you). This seemed to me the best way to encourage me to actually keep the habit up as starter thrives on you regularly baking with it, and I’m much more likely to do something when someone is expecting me to do it, even if that someone is in fact a bunch of yeast cells named Jimmy Carter,** rather than an actual real person.

And then there’s the complication side of things. New Year’s eve found me rummaging around in the Scottish Water website trying to work out what water treatment chemicals were used in the Bigtown area to find out if I needed filtered water (it’s the chloramines, you see, they’re much more likely to kill off the organisms than plan old chlorination), and wandering the house trying to find a spot that would remain at a steady 21C (this is the problem with following American instructions for starting your starter. Also with moving out of the house with the Rayburn …). Twitter has been reasonably reassuring on this score and provided enough contradictory advice that I can go ahead and do what I was planning on anyway (sticking it next to the hot water tank).

So far – day three – and Jimmy Carter is beginning to bubble away although I suspect it will take a bit longer before he’s fully fighting fit. This weekend I will attempt to bake my first loaf of bread and hopefully the results will be at least palatable enough that I continue the experiment. And maybe even successful enough that I can quietly sweep that foolish ambition of getting better at maintaining my bike come the warmer weather …

* not starting any more new cycle campaigns – although Back on My Bike has conned me into continuing with the supposedly ephemeral Walk Cycle Vote campaign even though there won’t (we hope) be any voting to be done in 2018.

** Why, what do you call your starter?

There’s No Real Cure for Jetlag …

January 1, 2018

… but you can help the process along by getting outdoors and into the daylight.

setting off in the morning

Having arrived back after 9pm on Saturday, after 24 hours of very little sleep and a 7 hour time difference, we didn’t exactly see in the New Year, but I did have the small matter of a New Year’s Day ride to lead today. So at 10 am, still feeling a little bleary, I was back in the familiar embrace of my Brooks saddle, rattling down the road on my (as it turned out unnecessary) ice tyres.

We’d been threatened with all sorts – snow, ice, Storm Dylan – but what we got was light winds, sunlight, and scattered showers that miraculously confined themselves to scattering while we were in the cafe for lunch.

afternoon light

35 odd miles was perhaps a bit more than my legs were up for after a week off the bike and not much more than pootling beforehand, but it was absolutely what my body clock needed.

afternoon light

And while these are not Colorado’s blue skies, there’s something about our soft slanting winter sun that’s very pleasing to the eye.

last of the afternoon light

Especially when it’s a bit unexpected.