Tour de France

June 15, 2018

french maps

So, we’re setting off today with our bikes via 5 trains (including one sleeper), 24 hours, and an exciting ‘you may well not die’ bike ride through central Paris. We’re going to be doing a week or so of what I hesitate to call cycle touring, because I associate that with the sort of people who think nothing of 90km days, sleeping in bus stops, and crossing continents alone equipped with nothing but a bike, a map they picked up in a garage and a bag of jelly babies in their back pocket.

Our own plans are resolutely non-epic: approximately 30 miles a day, long lunches, sleeping in hotels, plentiful stops for cake and coffee – in short, cycle pootling, or in other words a holiday with a bit of cycling attached. Hopefully it will be enjoyable, because it’s costing approximately what we’d have paid for a fortnight in Barbados, once we’d booked all the trains. Also, I could now go on Mastermind with ‘taking your bike on European trains’ as my specialist subject.  We’ll have to tear ourselves away from the hares, which are being particularly adorable at the moment, and the garden which is just getting going (when the hares allow). Actually, I have no idea why we’re going on holiday at all, now I come to think of it, but it’s too late now …

I am also NOT taking my laptop so there won’t be any blogging for a bit. I’ll undoubtedly be tweeting and (if you’re desperate) posting carefully curated pictures on Instagram. Hopefully we will come back tanned, toned and ready to take on the world. Always assuming we make it through Paris on day one.

Wish us luck.

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On not Going to Troon

June 14, 2018

The trouble with prolonged periods of fine weather is that after a while – despite ten years of evidence to the contrary – I start to believe that it will last for ever. And so, back in May when I was stuck indoors editing with the sun shining outside, and a suggestion came up of a meeting in Troon, it seemed an excellent wheeze to arrange to take the train up to Kilmarnock and cycle the ten or so miles to the coast with my co-conspirator. If nothing else, we would have had a nice couple of hours cycling, whether the meeting proved worth it or not, and I’ve never been to that part of the world.

Fast forward to this week, with Storm Hector on the horizon and a forecast 50 mph headwind and this was beginning to seem somewhat foolhardy. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and we relocated the meeting to Kilmarnock – which still meant I had an 8 mile ride to the station, in what turned out to be a lively headwind for at least some of the way and by lively I mean ‘pedalling downhill as hard as I can and barely making any headway’. I think, in fact, it was one of the strongest winds I’ve ever encountered on the bike. The road and cycle paths were carpeted with debris, but there were fortunately no trees down, and having turned the corner and found a tailwind I made it to the station with plenty of time to spare.

storm debris

Where, naturally, the train was cancelled. Although ScotRail were considering putting on a taxi for myself and the very pleasant young mum and her very lively toddler who were also heading to Kilmarnock, in the end the meeting was cancelled, somewhat to my relief. Troon will have to wait for another day.

That meant the small matter of pedalling home into the renewed gale, which seemed to have strengthened enough blow even the rainbows out of the sky.

strange light

The photograph doesn’t show it very well but this really was the strangest light…

As I got home – windblown, somewhat damp and entirely exhilarated I reflected that there’s something to be said for having braved a gale and ridden 16 miles and arrived safely home – and all by 10:30 in the morning…

All of which will hopefully stand me in good stead for our main adventure, which starts tomorrow.


East* of Eden

June 13, 2018

For those of you awaiting with bated breath to find out whether I chose to risk cycling the A701 to Eden, or indeed whether I survived, you may breathe out – apologies for leaving you all in suspense, but an unlucky lightning strike on Saturday took out our phone line and internet and we only got it back yesterday.

This enforced digital detox did not exactly bring out my best self, but hey ho. Anyway, it did tip the balance towards cycling to Eden, because what else was I going to do at home? And besides, it was a nice morning

view on the road

In the end 90% of the ride was just lovely. Avoiding the A701 for most of the way meant lots of zigzagging back and forth and a fair bit of unnecessary up and down but the day was warm and not too windy, the roads were quiet and it was pleasant to be out on the bike exploring new places.

road not takensignpost

Including the intriguingly named Murder Loch … a story there, surely?

Murder loch

“There’s been a murrrrder …”

As I approached the point where I had no choice but to join the A road, the gathering clouds started to feel a bit like a harbinger of doom, but in the end the mile or so was … doable. On the plus side the tarmac was lovely and smooth and flat all the way to the edge, and the lanes were reasonably wide so the fact that many of the drivers passed me without crossing the white line didn’t feel quite as threatening as it does on our B road where the road edge is crumbling and steeply cambered. On the other hand, with everyone doing at least 60, and only one driver bothering to wait before passing me until it wasn’t a blind bend, it did feel all a bit too high stakes for me. Uninviting, to say the least. Unsurprisingly, the festival itself looked like a giant car park, which is effectively what it was.

gathering clouds

When I got to Eden, it turned out that the gathering clouds were in fact a harbinger of rain. Fortunately I had got to the backstage area by there where we had a nice tent (even if it did have a stream running through it after a while). We sang, we had more people watching us at the end than we did at the beginning, and it was an enjoyable enough experience.

backstage watching the rain

There was no bike parking, but I think the bike enjoyed its access-all-areas luxury covered spot just behind the stage. Hopefully it won’t go to its head…

bike back stage

Personally, as soon as we were done, I was ready to leave, so I wheeled the bike back through the crowds and was happy to get out on the open road, especially once I’d turned off the main road and was back on my own. Even a little rain couldn’t dampen my enjoyment.

road home

I think I can now safely tick off ‘go to a music festival’ as an experience I have tried and won’t be hurrying to repeat. Who knows, I might even try oysters next, but I doubt that they will beat the pleasure of finally tearing into one of those Snickers bars on the bench at home, with 40 miles in my legs and a well-earned cup of coffee on the side.

On Friday we set off for an even bigger adventure, of which more tomorrow.

* Well, more like South West of, but what does Steinbeck know?


I’m with the Band

June 9, 2018

eden artist's ticket

Oh all right, the choir I have been singing in (in the loosest possible sense) will be performing at the Eden Festival tomorrow, which is somewhat less rock’n’roll but probably more my speed.*

The main issue will be getting there. We’re getting into the festival for free – but car parking costs £15 (there was an audible intake of breath at this news – round here even paying for parking at all is considered a breach of human rights). I could try and scrounge a lift, as I normally do, but at the moment, mainly because the sun is shining, I’m toying with cycling there. I love the idea of getting there by bike and it’s 20 miles, which is perfectly doable. The problem is, while almost all of it can be done on quiet roads, but there’s an unavoidable couple of miles on the A701, which is a nightmarish road even in a car. There’s also the bus, which takes full-size bikes, so I could keep my options open if it all turns out to be a bit too hair raising.

We will also be performing tonight in Kirkcudbright, if anyone happens to be at a loose end and wish to hear some excellent singing (and me). It’s all very different from the village choir  and the odd music evening in the village hall …

* One of my junior colleagues back the day once tried to persuade me I should try going to a festival until I pointed out I don’t do camping, don’t like crowds and am not that interested in going to hear bands. “OK, so maybe Glastonbury isn’t for you”, he conceded. This seems like the perfect opportunity to dip my toe in the festival-going waters without any of the camping part and possibly less in the way of crowds…


Hauling Home

June 6, 2018

road home

Summer is here, still, the work that’s been keeping me chained to the desk is finally over and I have even started to dig my way through the pile of stuff that’s been waiting for this moment leaving me with a bit of free time (which actually feels a bit weird). Obviously, that means getting out into the garden as much as I possibly can, but I have managed to ring the changes with a spot of retail therapy, which in my case means a good truffle through Bigtown’s charity shops, looking for all the things I have on my list to look out for next time I was in a charity shop, which is my idea of shopping. Indeed, I’ve decided the real reason I like charity shop shopping – notwithstanding the benefits of saving money, avoiding more new stuff and supporting good causes – is that it takes aaaages to actually find the thing you’re looking for in them, which usually means not having to buy anything at all, which doesn’t bother me at all.

My current mission (apart from that most elusive of secondhand quarries, a bookcase that will fit a specific spot in the house, the measurements of which I have committed to heart just in case one shows up) is glass storage jars for our pantry. Indeed, I saw some in a charity shop a couple of months back but I hesitated and they were snapped up before I could go back for them, because the other thing about charity shop shopping is that when something does come up that you’re looking for, you have to act fast.

charity shop jars

Yesterday I hit the jackpot: four ex-sweetie shop jars (actually five, but by the time I’d sorted out how I was going to get them home, one had already been snapped up). The problem was, I was on a bike and four large glass jars, I can report, are effing heavy. They also don’t all fit in my pannier and even if they had done I don’t think the bike would have handled at all well. In the end, I got two in my pannier, bodged a bag onto my bike to take the other two, and wheeled them* to the edge of Bigtown where the car was (the other half having cycled across town to work) and left them there. Sometimes cars have their uses, if only as handy town lockups for the over-ambitious bike shopper.

Then it was just a matter of riding home, unburdened. I thought about taking a different, more scenic, route as I was starting from a different part of town but then decided to just head back to my usual road. ‘It’s boring’, I thought, ‘but it’s less effort.’

road home

But you know, when it’s June, and the sun is out, and the birds are singing, and the hedgerows are blooming like mad, and the roads are quiet, there really is no boring way home…

road home

I think I might be getting a bit spoilt. But I have dreamed all winter of days like these, and I’m glad that I’m finally managing to have the time to enjoy them.

filled jars

And our new jars are bringing a little order to our lives, so it’s all good.

* Bumping into my regular bike shop guy out on a lunchtime walk with his dog on the way. The fleeting look of horror on his face as he thought he might be roped into an impromptu bike repair on his lunchbreak was a picture…


Seven Fat Years

June 1, 2018

wheelbarrow full of compost

OK, so I promised you a post about compost and you were all keen so now I’ve actually got to write one. Naturally, this is the point where I realise that I have nothing really very interesting to say about compost except that it turns out to be much harder than it used to be when I had access to our old landlord’s vast composting infrastructure which consisted of seven huge bays, each of which took a year’s worth of garden waste, were topped off with well-rotted cow manure, covered, and left to mature for seven years until they came round again on the calendar. I can confirm that this method makes lovely compost, but is not much use when you only have a small plastic dalek army and don’t have the luxury of seven years to wait for them to get to work because you have raised beds to fill…

So the fantasy version of compost making with these dalek bins is that you put a nicely judged mixture of weeks, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and additional *ahem* accelerator* in at the top, and then after some time you open the little hatch and scoop lovely crumbly compost out of the bottom:

compost and compost bin

Unfortunately because (a) the little hatch is useless and (b) the contents of the dalek are actually likely to be a mix of lovely crumbly compost, some minging slimy stuff you don’t really want to think about, weeds which are emphatically not dead yet, and clumps of vegetation which has managed to sit in the compost apparently unscathed for months, the reality is more like this:

overturned compost bin

The first picture is of compost that I had previously emptied out of a dalek (and then put back in without all the stuff I should have shredded first) a couple of months ago. The second picture is the dalek that we had been filling undisturbed for almost a year. So it seems that the secret to compost seems to be to periodically dump it out, turn it, and stick it back in the dalek until you need it. Think of it as an excellent upper-body workout. Or just buy another four daleks and wait.

I still have vague plans to set up a proper composting corner, which at least would make turning the compost easier even if we don’t have room for seven bays. But given my slow gardening progress, it’s likely that by the time that happens I will actually be in possession of seven compost daleks. And an enviably well-defined upper body … or a very bad back.

* If you want to see a discussion escalate quickly over something you thought was innocuous, and are bored about asking cyclist about helmets, it turns out that peeing on the compost heap is a gender issue, and not just because of the practicalities. Who knew?