Once you POP…

February 27, 2019

… You can’t stop. Not (just) Pringles, but cycle protests. For yea, it is that time of the year again, when we start to gear up for Pedal on Parliament.

Although – pedants be warned – as I’ve already mentioned, this year we’re not pedalling on Parliament, but we’re going decentralised with a load of Pop-Up PoPs (did you see what we did there?) over the weekend of the 26th-28th April in the hopes that (a) nobody asks ‘why do you call it POP if you’re not pedalling on Parliament?’ and (b) having lots of people organise lots of little protests is easier than having a few people organise one big protest. You might want to check back with me in a few weeks time to see how the latter is going …

Either way, in two month’s time (assuming the country is still here and we still have things like roads and towns post a no-deal Brexit), I will either be in the final throes of a nervous breakdown, or basking in the glory of another successful POP. Or, indeed, both. Or, come to think of it, neither.

I’d just like to say now that in my next life, should I be foolish enough to take up organising cycle protests, I will arrange for them to happen in the autumn, rather than happening right in the middle of peak gardening busyness. Or perhaps I’ll just go around driving a car like a normal person and wonder what all the fuss is about.

But where would be the fun in that?

#POP2018 (5 of 230)

Fedgeing My Bets

February 23, 2019

Among the many reasons why I’d like spring not to career onwards too quickly (Brexit, my own imminent half century, POP preparations or the lack thereof) one was that I am as usual somewhat behind in my gardening. In particular, I’ve been conscious that when you’re planning to plant a fedge, the willow is best cut ‘just before it buds out’ which, for those not possessing a time machine, tends to mean ‘about a week ago would have been perfect’.

ready to plant

Stakes in, ground prepared, it almost looks as if I know what I’m doing here.

Still, working on the assumption that willow is well-nigh impossible to kill, and with the mild spell looking to continue for a while, I decided to crack on this weekend. I had, unusually actually finished the ground preparation a week or so ago, and in the course of re-pollarding a willow at the top of the garden, we had produced some suitable stakes as well as loads of withies of about one or two year’s growth – perfect (according to a random page I found on the internet) for striking cuttings.

first willow in

First sticks in. There’s something liberating in a task where you’re actually aiming NOT to get everything in straight

This will no doubt come back to bite me in some way, but the whole thing actually went unprecedentedly smoothly, which is giving me faint premonitions of disaster.

criss crossed willow

Weaving in the sticks the other way

On the other hand, the whole enterprise has cost me precisely nothing apart from our time – from the stakes to the willow, to the old shirt turned into ties, it was all sourced from stuff we had lying around.

fedge finished

All tied up and finished in record time. Something must be wrong here…

So, whether none of it sprouts, all of it sprouts and we end up living in a willow thicket, or Moo-I-5 lean over the fence in a few months time and scoff the lot in fifteen minutes – I’ll still feel somewhat ahead of the game.

And that’s got to be worth something in these uncertain times.

Slow, Slow, Quick Quick, Slow

February 22, 2019

A Public Service Announcement for All* Cyclists:

There is no such thing as a self-healing puncture. Nor, realistically, is there such a thing as a slow puncture: a slow puncture is a fast puncture that’s had the decency to warn you it’s coming. The correct response to such a courtesy from the P****** fairy, is to fix the puncture as soon as you notice it – or at least on the day after, when you don’t have to go anywhere. The incorrect response is to keep pumping up the tyre every morning in the hope that it will magically go away, until it chooses the most inconvenient time possible to become a full blown flat tyre. It seems obvious written down, so clearly this is absolutely not what I’ve been doing this week.

In other news, this is happening, almost a month earlier than last year.

daffodil blooming

I don’t wish to appear ungrateful at the current mild weather, but at this time of the year, the last thing I need is for spring to start speeding up on us.

* Or possibly just me

More Sheep Adventures

February 19, 2019

Setting off unforgivably late this morning, having already been delayed by a soft back tyre, a talkative neighbour and my unfailing need to act out a demonstration of ‘more haste, less speed’ whenever under pressure to do something to the bike quickly,* I worked out I could still be on time if I stepped it up a gear. As long as I didn’t encounter too many tractors attempting to squeeze past each other on a narrow section of road (just the one pair) and any wayward sheep I would be …

… which was when I saw the sheep caught up in barbed wire. For it is February, which means we’re getting into prime sheep escapology-and-attempted-suicide season (it runs from approximately the beginning of February until the 31st of January, as far as I can tell, but it peaks as spring approaches), and someone on the pipeline project had left a stretch of loose fencing, including barbed wire, just hanging about where they’d cut the fence to put a gate in. Obviously, this wasn’t in a field with actual sheep in it, but it was next to one, and that meant that at least one sheep had got out and was now tangled up in the loose wire and pinging around like a panicked woolly pinball trying to get itself free.

Late though I was, this didn’t look like it would end well for the sheep and, this being the countryside, there was nobody about who looked like they’d be any better at fence de-sheeping than me. So I stopped, approached the gate, and stood with my bike plotting how I might manage to grab hold of and subdue what was quite a large and by now quite panicky sheep, remove the barbed wire, and get it back in its field without doing any damage to myself or the sheep.

Fortunately, at that point the sheep spotted the scariest thing in the known world – my bike – ripped itself free from the wire, and then – in an act of genius unparalleled in the sheep world – got itself back into its field through the same hole in the fence from whence (from the evidence of the wool left all around it) it had escaped.

I live in fear that one day the bike won’t work its magic and I’m actually going to have to free a sheep from something, but so far it’s been 100% effective at injecting some sense of self-preservation into their little woolly heads. Long may it last.

sheep escape

Barbed wire, sans sheep

Oh, and I time-trialled it the rest of the way into Bigtown and was a scant three minutes late.

* For reasons known only to my subconscious, when returning to the house to pump up a tyre in a hurry, I always seem to decide that leaving the bike at the gate, going to get the track pump from the garage, walking back to the bike with the pump, walking back to the garage to return the pump, and then walking back to the bike to set off again will be quicker than just wheeling the bike up to the garage in the first place. No, I don’t know either.

Mood Inversion

February 15, 2019

I have to admit, I did wonder this morning why I’d agreed to meet someone in Bigtown at 10 am – cutting right into my most productive working hours. Especially when I opened the curtains and realised that despite some giddy talk from the BBC weather presenters about springlike weather, it was actually pretty frosty out (fortunately, not icy enough to make me regret removing the ice tyres although had I had a winter bike …)

misty morning

But it’s hard to beat a temperature inversion for making for a gorgeous ride down the hill and into town. Partly because Bigtown looks better when its veiled in mist (don’t we all), partly because, well, just look at it.

It’s interesting to actually feel the temperature inversion too, not just see its effects. It was distinctly colder by the time I’d reached the river valley, as well as mistier. The frost was gone where the sun had hit it, but only just

And by the time I was riding home, buoyed by the enthusiasm of someone who’s putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to Bigtown cycling, it was really jolly nice indeed. Perhaps not the giddy heights promised by the weather forecast, but definitely a bonus for February, when you take what you can get, weather wise

Some days, work just has to wait…


February 14, 2019

Well, huh. No sooner had I almost half persuaded myself that I was going to be forced to get another bike – something one can usually rely on one’s fellow cyclists to fully back you over – than one of my commenters (who I believe is no stranger to the lure of N+1 himself) points out a reasonably priced hub dynamo which, combined with a triumphant sub-15 minute wheel swap on Monday morning, has somewhat destroyed my case for a spot of winter bike shopping. Now, this would normally appeal to my frugal nature because even bike shopping is not something to be rushed into, but I had been feeling the need for cheering up.

For, not only does my shoulder continue to give me grief, but I have now become so self-conscious about my poor posture that I no longer know what I should be doing with my head so as not to damage my neck – I have reached the stage where I would honestly welcome the ability to take the damn thing off and carry it under my arm. I even agreed to acupuncture at the physio which left me in the position of both hoping it worked because that way I might not need to resort to beheading myself to get a decent night’s sleep, and hoping it didn’t because rearranging my entire world view to one where moving around the chi energy actually proved effective would be almost as painful. In the end, karma had the last laugh because I woke up yesterday with a painful crick in my neck suggesting that a) the acupuncture actually did something, albeit that something was make it worse, and b) the yoga teachers are possibly right when they say that sore necks are a symptom of being unable to see both sides of the issue. So yeah, thank you universe (and I’ve now at least got an appointment with the GP to see if western medicine can at least manage not to make the whole thing worse).

Just to put the tin lid on it, yesterday morning, I was then forwarded an email about my bike outings with the Buddies, because apparently ‘concerns have been raised’ (ah the masterful use of the passive voice) that they have been seen going out cycling alongside someone who wasn’t wearing a magic plastic hat. The emailer had already been sent off with a nicely callibrated flea in their ear (I wouldn’t be working with these guys if they weren’t able to handle busybodies with one hand behind their backs or, indeed, their heads under their arms), but even so, it did nothing to lighten my mood. Normally, the answer to that would be going out on the bike, but the shoulder is starting to impinge on that too, and – short of getting myself a proper Dutch bike – does even worse things to my head and neck* than sitting slouched on the sofa with the laptop, so even a ride into town and back didn’t do it for my mood.

So I did the next best thing and asked Twitter to cheer me up, which it duly did with a slew of Dad jokes and other cheering responses and this afternoon capped it off with this:

If I were in the market for a winter bike, I think I may have found it.

* If I could take my head off and ride with it under my arm, do you think the helmet police would still moan about what I was wearing on it?

Get Thee Behind Me …

February 10, 2019

Me a couple of days ago: I’ve got around 20 minutes on this fine, almost springlike day, before I need to set off into town. How can I be most productive?

*prepares batch of sourdough, sends an important email, orders a repeat prescription, leaves house with five minutes in hand, feeling almost like an organised person.*

Brain: don’t forget you need to swap the ice tyres back off your bike.

For yes, it has reached the time of the year when the ice tyres’ role is to be in the wrong place – either off the bike when it is icy, or on the bike when it is not. The latter wouldn’t matter that much – I quite like the rice crispy noise they make on the tarmac and it helps alert pedestrians to my presence behind them far more effectively than the bell-or-no-bell calculation – except that my hub dynamo is on my non-winterised front wheel so at this time of the year it’s a choice between grip or lights (this winter, I’ve been running my dynamo lights day and night because even during the day the sun is so low it’s bound to be in someone’s eyes).

snow-covered bike

What do you look for in a winter bike?

I could get a set of battery lights, but space on my handlebars is at a premium and charging them is a pain, especially when they’re only occasionally used. I could get a second dynamo for my winter wheels, but a nice hub dynamo costs How Much!? and – such are the quirks of the human brain – it seems somehow less wasteful to get a whole new winter bike with a dynamo to use on the icy days than it does to get just a new front wheel with a dynamo that will barely be used.

Obviously, any cyclist reading this will be muttering ‘N+1’ and urging me to go for the new bike, but I do feel any additional bike would have to earn its keep, beyond just spiky wheels, and fill a niche my current steeds aren’t currently filling. But I have to admit, I’m a tiny bit tempted by the thought of a new-to-me bike. Given I already have a comfy touring bike and a Brompton, and any new bike would still have to get me up our hill (so no heavy mountain bike), if you were in my shoes, what would you go for?

Unfast Fashion

February 5, 2019

After knitting enough socks to get a little bored of the process, and then an unexpectedly successful tea-cosy for my mother, I have decided to risk knitting something a little more ambitious (and by ambitious, I mean ‘something any actual knitter can do with their eyes shut): a jumper.

tea cosy

Not a jumper, unless you’re a teapot

I have actually managed to knit myself a whole cardigan in the past (it even came out quite successfully, although sadly the moths got more use out of it than I did in the end), and then abandoned an attempt to do a jumper, but I thought I’d have another go having fallen in love with a pattern I saw on the Internet (I realise, looking at it now, that half the attraction may be that it’s a grey jumper in the picture, but never mind).

wool coneOne of the problems with knitting something like a jumper is that you end up spending a substantial part of your life turning about £60 worth of wool into about £40 worth of jumper, at least if you buy the wool new. Fortunately my cousin, who is a master of the car boot sale, found me a 50p bargain cone of 2-ply Shetland wool that’s been sitting in my knitting wool stash for *checks notes* five years waiting for me to work out what to do with it (never let it be said that I rush into things when it comes to knitting).

After a certain amount of calculation (and having actually knitted a proper test swatch rather than just assuming it will be fine like I normally do) I worked out that if I wound it into balls and knitted with two at a time, I should have enough 4ply wool for the pattern. This does mean acquiring a jumper that isn’t grey, which will be a bit of a shock to the system, but at least, given how slowly I knit, I’ve probably got a couple of years to get used to the idea …