Wind Assisted

November 28, 2018

So I survived my guest lecture this morning – the students seemed to largely pay attention throughout (I had visions of competing with their urgent snapchat conversations but it seems Young People These Days have absolutely no difficulty in putting their phones away and listening to someone rabbiting on, despite what you might think from the media). After some lively discussion and a (rather more academically informed) presentation on Warm Showers I climbed back into my Not Waterproof in Scotland waterproof trousers and my Actually Pretty Waterproof in Scotland rain jacket, and headed for home.

foggy road

The ride in had been damp but in the end not too miserable, but as I had been pontificating about the joys of the authentic experiences available to those who travel by bike, the Weather Gods had been brewing up a properly authentic weather experience for my ride home. Well, authentic in all but one detail – true authenticity would have required a grinding headwind. Instead what I got was a fairly epic tailwind through town (interesting on the riverfront where, had there been any actual pedestrians hardy enough to be out on it, I would have had trouble slowing down for them) and then a properly epic cross-tailwind for the final climb up to the house. It’s quite something to suddenly find yourself cycling along on the wrong side of a B road when a gust catches you unawares; fortunately there were no other vehicles foolish enough to be out in this weather.

From the outside, had there been anyone to witness it, I must have looked a miserable sight – rainswept and windblown, battering uphill on a pushbike, my cap stuffed in my pocket for safekeeping. But I have to confess that it was actually a lot of fun. It’s one thing to leave a warm house and go out into the wind and the rain on a bike. It’s quite another to take on the wind and the rain, knowing you’ve a warm house to get home to.

Of course, this all depends on said wind and rain then not taking out your power for a couple of hours once you do get home. Thank goodness for woodburners, and laptops with decent batteries. And engineers who are willing to go out and repair power lines in a howling gale… now that really must be miserable.

candlelight and laptop

That’s MS Expert to You …

November 27, 2018

climbing the hill in Arran

I’ve joked in the past that having now been on not one but two cycle touring holidays – in two different countries to boot – I am now an international expert. Unfortunately, I seem to have had my bluff called on this one. After a couple of encounters with a lecturer at the local university when I might have pontificated on the topic with more confidence than my knowledge really warranted, I have been invited to come and give a guest lecture to his students on the potential of cycling for slow tourism in Scotland.

cafe and patisserie

I’m only really entirely qualified to comment on the ‘slow’ part, to be honest, but this was one of those things that I agreed to back in September when it was aaaaages away and I had time to become a proper expert in all the other things before the end of November was upon me.

beach cycle parking

Except now of course, it is November, and I am no more expert now than I was then. Just to add to the fun, the weather is forecast to be dreadful, so even as I wax lyrical on the joys of cycling on holiday, the steady dripping of rainwater off my cycling gear will be giving the lie to everything I say.


Perhaps an alternative title could be “Cycle tourism in Scotland: Fine if you’re a duck”

cycling in the rain

Still, it’s been a nice excuse to go back over my holiday snaps again …

Knocking the Stuffing Out

November 24, 2018

A fair amount of crashing and banging from the garage this morning heralded the fact that the other half was getting on with a sad but necessary rite.

Sofa being dismantled

The sofa we had bought as newlyweds from the ramshackle little antique shop (I spotted it on the pavement outside just as the proprietors were scratching their heads and wondering how to rearrange their stock to fit it inside, and I made them a fairly cheeky offer to save them the bother) was for the chop.

Described as ‘a good sofa for cuddling on’ it proved extremely comfortable as demonstrated here by the cat.

sleepy cat

But 25 years of service takes it out of even the most robust upholstery and when we moved to the new house and there was only room for one sofa, it was this one that didn’t make the cut. It has spent two years in the garage which didn’t really do it any further favours. A spring had gone, the stuffing was coming out of the bottom and the sides were peeling off. Re-upholstering it would have cost more than it was worth, and we still wouldn’t really have had a place to put it even if we had returned it to its former glory.

sofa springs

And now we need the space in the garage, so it had to go, broken down into its constituent parts (and yielding 85p in change and the remote control to a digi-box we no longer own in the process). I’m sad we let it get into such a state we couldn’t find it a new home, but at least as much of it as possible will be recycled or reused.

sofa parts

Sorry old friend. Not the most dignified way to go, but perhaps better than the dump.

And at least, courtesy of the stove, you gave us one more comfortable evening in …

bucket of wood

Take up thy Bike and Pedal

November 23, 2018

So, a number of you have asked how Stephen has been getting on with his bike riding endeavours. I have to confess that we’ve failed to get him pedalling on two wheels, although he’s now perfectly happy riding a trike – in the end, after giving it our absolute best shot, we decided it wasn’t fair on Stephen or on us to keep persisting. Bikes are (mostly) wonderful self-balancing machines, but only above a certain speed, and he has so far never quite had the confidence to get up to that speed long enough to achieve escape velocity.

We may give it another go later, encouraged by another of the Buddies – let’s call him Peter – who’s been pretty determined to stick to the four-wheel go kart for the last few months. We’ve been trying to encourage him to at least give a trike a go, and he’s consistently promised that next week he will definitely ride the trike, and every week there’s always a reason why he needs to stick to the go kart this time around (I suspect that the fact it’s got a steering wheel and can be made to do something resembling a handbrake turn has got a lot to do with it). So yesterday, out we went on a variety of bikes, plus Peter on the go kart, made our painful way across the two-stage-caged-in-sorry-were-you-in-a-hurry toucan crossing to the park, had some fun practising high fives and slaloms around the band stand and then started heading back along the river. It was at that point that one of the other guys decided he wanted a go on the go kart to see what it was like. Peter happily obliged – and then picked up the left over bike, got on it, and happily pedalled off, to everyone’s amazement except, perhaps, his own.

Buddies on the Whitesands

Perhaps one day Stephen will do the same…

Times Tables

November 19, 2018

What with one thing and another, I seem to have spent the last three weeks on a train with one or other of my bikes. This weekend it was Glasgow and the Go Bike AGM where I was filling in for my little sister as a speaker. Bigtown to Glasgow is usually pretty civilised by train, as long as you check the football schedules before making any plans – the train is slow but scenic and takes six bikes without any need to effectively lock yourself in a cupboard and have faith that someone will let you out, unlike when travelling on Virgin, so the big bike gets to go, which is fortunate as Glasgow has potholes that would swallow a Brompton whole.

bike on train platform

There’s a snag, however. I stayed overnight in Glasgow so I wouldn’t have to be rushing for the last train or, indeed, suffer the horror that is the last train out of Glasgow on a Saturday, a journey that can sometimes be a bit … lively. Unfortunately this meant that the first train I could get home on a Sunday was at 3 in the afternoon (and the next one after that at 10), which is the sort of service you might expect from a country bus, not the direct train service between Scotland’s largest city and a fairly major town about 75 miles away. So my kind hosts were stuck with me not just overnight but well into Sunday lunchtime too.

Fortunately, it being a sunny morning and they being cyclists too, they had just the plan to fill the morning. A nice pootle round Pollok Park (and fortunately it was a pootle – these being people who think nothing of 100 mile days on the bike), followed by brunch after we’d worked up an appetite. Brunch isn’t something that’s quite reached Bigtown yet as far as I know, so it was a welcome novelty. Indeed, it was a bit of a novelty not to be rushing anywhere, so maybe the Bigtown Sunday train service has a point.

cycling in Pollok Park

Today I had the luxury of having nowhere I needed to get to other than a ride out for the paper, and nothing I had to do except make inroads into a stack of work that’s building up. I don’t think it will last – indeed I have to be in Edinburgh on Thursday, having forced lots of Important People to rearrange their schedules because – guess what – the train service meant I’d have to spend three hours hanging around before the meeting if it had been at its originally scheduled time. Ironically enough, it’s at Transport Scotland (and yes they’ve had some full and frank feedback about rail services to the South West) but it turns out even they can’t make the Transpennine Express stop at Lockerbie on a reasonable schedule.

I seem to remember I used to spend quite a lot of time complaining about the train service in London back in the day. Man, I didn’t even know I was born …

Crowning Glory

November 16, 2018

It’s been a funny old day, and not just the way the government appears to be disintegrating before our eyes. After alternating days of apocalyptic rain and bright sunshine we had a strangely mild, still, murky sort of a day, with rather tasty pearly light breaking through the clouds.

November light

Perfect for riding down for the paper (despite the fact that by the time I had bought it, it was already wildly out of date. A week is no longer a long time in politics, frankly; six hours is) although it was positively sweaty riding back.

I have loads of stuff that should be keeping me chained to the laptop, but this mild spell was also too good an opportunity to miss in the garden so I took a short break to get on with the next phase of the veg plot – the rhubarb bed. I’d already dug out the bed and sourced some rhubarb via the very splendid New Nearest Village freecycle list but I wasn’t entirely sure I’d planted them right. The rhubarb had outstayed its welcome in a garden up the road and had been dug out with a mattock. It didn’t look particularly convincing (are rhubarb crowns supposed to have roots attached?) and I’d shoved it in the new bed in a bit of a hurry. After a bit of googling (always good to check how to plant something AFTER you’ve planted it …) I decided to hoick it out and plant it a little deeper before the hard frosts came. This may or may not be a good idea as Google also suggests rhubarb hates to be disturbed, but then again, it probably hates being dug up and dismembered with a mattock – well don’t we all – and that doesn’t seem to stop it.

Either way, it’s showing signs of life already. Hopefully not to be cruelly cut down by the first frosts.

rhubarb shoots

Next step will be the asparagus bed, which I’m expecting will require a little more care and attention, if only because I’ll probably have to actually pay for asparagus crowns, unlike the rhubarb. Unfortunately, the googling I’ve done so far suggests we may simply end up expensively feeding the hares. I may have to reinstate my hare defences …

Bike Maintenance Achievement Unlocked

November 13, 2018

Pedalling back from Bigtown during today’s temporary cessation of hostilities on the part of the Weather Gods, I stopped to enquire whether the cyclist who had stopped at the side of the road was okay.

“Not exactly,” she said. “I seem to have a flat tyre”.

Now, I always stop and ask if I can help when I see a cyclist by the side of the road, because it just seems wrong not to, but I have to confess, I’m usually relieved when they wave me on. The odds of a stranded cyclist having something wrong with their bike that is so simple that I can fix it, but not so simple that anybody else can’t fix it, AND it requiring the somewhat patchy content of my toolkit (tyre levers, patches, dumbell spanner, cheering-up sweeties, wrong size of allen key and usually no pump due to the iron law that you’ll always have left your pump in your other bike bag), are pretty long. But it turned out today that she had a pump and a spare inner tube, but no tyre levers, and the theory but no actual experience of changing a flat tyre. Between us, then, we made an awesome team. We extracted not one but two Bastard Big Thorns out of her tyre (one of them was so large I suggested she get it stuffed and mounted) and she was back up and running just in time for a man to cycle past, notice the two extremely competent females dealing with the problem, and pedal on with barely a hitch in his cadence. She was happy that she now felt she could deal with a puncture herself (a good thing, as hedge-cutting season is in full swing and nothing is proof against Bastard Big Thorns) and I was delighted to have cancelled out my woeful performance on Saturday, and also made a slight dent in the giant debt I have accrued from all the times someone else has helped me with my bike.

November afternoon

It has also reminded me that I should probably go and put the pump back in my main bike bag and track down the right size of allen key, because if this post isn’t an irresistible temptation to the Puncture Fairy, I don’t know what is.

On Failing to Keep the Rubber Side Down…

November 10, 2018

I suppose, if I’m honest, the really surprising thing is that – as a notoriously clumsy person with poor bike handling skills who has spent the last 10 years cycling almost daily – it hasn’t actually happened before. And yet, until today, I could honestly say that I hadn’t properly fallen off my bike since I discovered at university that brakes and black ice don’t really go together (this in front of several dozen delighted tourists in Oxford who could tick off ‘watching a student slide gracefully off her bike outside the Radcliffe Camera’ from their must-see list).

Annoyingly, as a cycle campaigner, I didn’t even manage to do it in any useful way: no poorly designed infrastructure, impatient driver or un-gritted cycle path were to blame. Instead, this one was entirely user error: I was not paying enough attention to where I was going, realised I was about to clip the curb and bailed out sideways onto the pavement, leaving me with dented pride and a fashionably ripped knee in the leg of my trousers and a slightly less fashionably ripped knee in the leg of my me (the Brompton, you’ll be relieved to hear, is fine). Just add to the humiliation, I was actually supposed to be the tail-end Charlie on this particular ride, and I had spent the day before on a ride leader training course in which the instructor somehow failed to mention anything about not actually falling off your bike for no very sensible reason, possibly because he felt it went without saying.

View from Stirling Castle

All this put a slight dampener on the end of a sparkling scenic ride around Stirling, after an evening spent stirring up a little light troublemaking. Perhaps, indeed, I was a little hungover and a little dehydrated, having failed to appreciated that ‘scenic’ in Stirling means ‘up a sodding great hill’, and that impaired my concentration. Either way, I am relieved to discover that falling off your bike – at least at the speed I ride – is not really any more hazardous than tripping over while running, something I’ve managed to do multiple times and with more lasting damage. Chalk it up as just one more reason (should reason be needed) to stick to riding at the speed of chat. Although maybe I’ll try and do a bit less chatting and a bit more concentrating from now on…

bridge in stirling

101 Uses for a Brompton: Wool Transport

November 6, 2018

When my cousin announced that he’d found me some potential yarn bombing supplies I thought I’d save him a trip to the post office and pick them up when I was in Edinburgh on my travels this weekend. Wool, after all, is fairly light and squashable so I was sure I could squeeze it into my bag and transport it with me as I ran one workshop and then travelled to Dundee for a little light troublemaking and a conference.

What he hadn’t quite conveyed to me was the scale of his find…

bag of wool

Not quite three bags’ full …

Bromptons don’t really have a huge carrying capacity, at least compared to the big bike, so it took some ingenuity (and a willingness to look a bit like a bag lady, albeit one with impeccable taste in bikes) to work out how to attach the bag of wool to the back of my backpack and cycle along with it hanging behind me. This was made extra exciting by a massive tailwind down Princes Street (it’s always … interesting … when you apply the brakes and put your feet down, only for the bike to continue moving forward of its own volition). It also added a certain something to the ride over the Tay Bridge and definitely something to the climb up to the Tay Bridge, the lift being out for repair.

Dundee has come on a bit since my last visit and now has a shiny new museum you can cycle under, Rijksmuseum-style, meaning the connection between the station and the waterfront is much improved albeit still involving crossing five lanes of traffic. It’s still got a long way to go before it can truly be said to be the livable city its powers-that-be seem to want it to be, but as I found out yesterday evening, it also has a group of campaigners who seem determined to help push those powers-that-be into fulfilling its promise (I also learned last night that Dundee has a great fondness for penguins, something of which I fully approve). Watch, as they say, this space …

V and A sign

Anyway, wool, Brompton and I are now all safely home again along with a bonus potplant from my uncle, because when you’re already transporting large quantities of wool on a small bike, a miniature potplant is neither here nor there. All I have to do now is find some sort of suitable yarnbombing project to make use of my newly acquired loot. Perhaps even penguin-related …

new pot plant

Orange is the Warmest Colour

November 2, 2018

Gosh, it’s been a bit quiet here, hasn’t it? Somehow the week ran away with me without anything too blogworthy happening, although I did witness a sheep-related miracle

Winter has also firmly arrived, forcing us to turn on the heating properly and also finally get around to installing some foil behind the radiators that are sitting on outside walls. This is probably of marginal benefit, but comes under the heading of ‘might as well’ – especially when I realised it gave me the chance to use that fabled substance from my Blue-Peter watching youth, double-sided sticky tape.*

morning sunshine

So far the weather has been erring on the cold and sparkly side, which is how I like my winters. This has led to another revelation. It turns out that cork-lining your study (and possibly also painting it orange – the brain is a funny thing) does seem to have an appreciable affect on how warm it is, or at least feels. There have been mornings when the sun has been pouring in and I have actually had to not only remove my woolly freelancer hat but also my outermost jumper and I was still Too Warm.

This is marvellous.

This afternoon I’m off to Edinburgh and then Dundee, before briefly returning home and then heading out to Stirling again, all in the name of stirring up trouble. This could mean much more frequent updates or it could mean more radio silence – keep tuning in to find out which.

* Sadly, in practice, this comes firmly under the heading of ‘never meet your childhood idols’ as it turns out that it’s fiddly and annoying to use, and not particularly brilliant at sticking things to other things, at least the brands we used.