A Thousand Words

June 30, 2019

I am currently, annoyingly, cameraless having cracked the lens on my shiny new-to-me phone (technically, I can still take photos using the front camera but anyone who has seen my selfie face will know that’s a non-starter). This is frustrating for the blog, because I do like to illustrate my posts if I can – but also when I’m in the garden, because I like photographing the progress of the garden – or at least take before and after shots to get some idea of whether I’m actually making any progress or just treading water…

Fortunately although my phone is apparently very old (despite being new to me) the parts to replace the lens are still available so hopefully I’ll soon be regaling you once more with my photos (and yay! for getting things fixed). Meanwhile, a dashed-off tweet about a rush-hour ride down Princes Street in the rain on the Brompton (to retrieve my phone, ironically enough) resulted in something far better than my usual wonky-horizoned dubiously composed photographic efforts:

It’s fair to say I hadn’t enjoyed the experience, particularly the bit where Princes Street is just two lanes of stationary buses with a cyclist-sized gap between them, but then again, it’s not often you get to (partially) inspire a cartoonist

The result appeared online in the Guardian a few days ago and I felt a sort of parental pride, particularly at this panel which I feel captures my Edinburgh experience perfectly. Honestly, who needs a camera when you’ve got your own cartoonist?

Ain’t no Cure for the Summertime Blues

June 26, 2019

“These are the days we dream about all winter” I said as I pedalled homewards with a pal from the last day of Buddies’ bike extravaganza. For the sun had come out, the wind had dropped, and I was light of heart, if not exactly of bike

(look, when it comes to charity-shop shopping, she who hesitates is lost).

“Never mind all that,” my companion replied, for she is truly a person after my own heart – “can we just stop and take a photograph of where the pipeline went in?”

flowers along pipeline route

The grass may long since have grown up over the pipeline route, but the flowers give it away…

I had stuff to do after a day spent gallivanting around the roads with our cavalcade of curious cycles, and I will likely regret not spending this afternoon and evening doing it, but when I got home it was sandals weather for the first time all year, and the other half had fired up the barbecue. If we can’t down tools on occasion and waste a few hours just enjoying the garden, why do we bother having one?

daisies in garden

For these really are the days we dream about all winter and we need to make the most of them when they arrive.

Hitting the Road

June 24, 2019

When you’re heading out on the bike for a day of adventure, it helps to have the weather on your side

(photo does not show the epic thunderstorm that – from the sound of it – passed directly overhead shortly afterwards)

Luckily it wasn’t really my adventure today, but Buddies who are holding a three-day sponsored bike ride on the flatter roads around Bigtown, and by the time they had assembled (held up, ironically enough, in traffic on the bypass) the rain had stopped and stayed more or less stopped for the rest of the day (my socks, on the other hand, were still soaking wet when I got home six hours later).

Cycling event sign

Twenty-one miles over three days on back roads may not seem like a lot for most cyclists, but it’s big jump when your cycling up to now has been mostly round the local park and you’ve never really ridden on anything but the quietest residential street. Fortunately, our motley crew of two- and three-wheelers – plus the wheelchair transporter trike – were also accompanied by two motorbikes and a following car, courtesy of our local Blood Bikes.

Obviously, this being a bike ride, we needed a cafe stop and fortunately a local farm runs a delicious ice-cream parlour – we even got free ice creams. This was exactly a mile into our ride but you take your cafe stops where you find them around here.

Ice cream parlour

From there, the six further miles to the pub where we ended the first day went remarkably quickly, even with one rider stopping dead every time she came to a hill she didn’t like, which was most of them. The drivers were pretty patient, nobody fell off, and we arrived with the same number of people as we left with,* which always counts as a success for a group ride. In fact, once you’d got over the unusual bikes and the need to allow for various additional needs, it felt pretty much like any other group ride – riding along through beautiful countryside chatting with the other riders, saying hello to the cows (you all do say hello to cows as you pass them, right?), speculating about how much further there is to go, rejoicing in a downhill stretch or a tailwind – and above all the sense of achievement as you sail into the pub car park, certain that you have earned your lunch.

Arriving at the pub

There has been a massive amount of logistics involved, of course, in getting to that point safely – these guys are a long way from being able to enjoy the real freedom a bike brings, and maybe they never will. But at least they’ve got a taste of what’s possible – and from there, who knows?

PS – for those wondering – Stephen came too, but on a trike and he had an absolute whale of a time.

* Actually we gained one, as we managed to rendezvous with the passenger for the wheelchair transporter en route. I think the community transport guys were a bit bemused to find themselves taking a wheelchair user out into the middle of nowhere to track down a bunch of cyclists and then load her up onto a cargo bike, but they did it with good grace.


June 19, 2019

I have been reading The Running Hare with some enjoyment (despite, perhaps, rather than because of its prose style). It’s an interesting excursion into what wildlife-friendly farming might look like and it has reinforced my recognition that much of what we think of as natural countryside is in fact a green desert. In particular, the dairy farm that borders our garden; much as we enjoy the annual visitation from Moo-I-5, for the rest of the year the field next to us is being put to work growing silage and it is much sprayed, cut, slurried and the like, making me wonder just how chemical free our own vegetables really are.

Fenced-off field margin

However, after the coos all but put paid to the garden fence last year, we’ve gained a bit of a breathing space. For reasons best known to himself, instead of replacing the tottering fence, the farmer just strung a new one at an angle to the old, creating a triangle of land which is now out of reach of cows and tractors (albeit not the sheep who usually spend a few weeks there in the winter). It gives us a little more distance from whatever is being sprayed and it has also created an uncut corner which is going a little wild. I’m watching with interest to see what comes up, assuming it’s allowed to remain – if you believe some rewilding gurus this will turn itself into scrubland, and then forest, unassisted, given enough time.

So far, we’re seeing nothing more exciting than nettles, dock, cow parsley and buttercups among the grasses (none of which are in short supply in our garden either), but rest assured you will be regaled with updates should things become more interesting.

I know, you can barely wait.

Garden Assistance

June 16, 2019

After a week of gadding about, today felt like a day for hunkering down and getting on with the gardening. Undoubtedly there were more productive things I could have been doing, but sometimes you get stuck into a task and find it hard to stop.

Which is why our back patio now looks like this:

weed-free patio slabs

Oh, okay, that was a carefully selected camera angle and a tight crop; the true picture looks like this (please excuse the pile of stones which are awaiting a project that needs a load of stones (we’re not bringing any more gravel into this garden if we can help it), various random stumps which have been sitting there so long I’ve stopped seeing them, the mystery giant’s chair that was left by the previous owners and has proved a good place to harden off seedlings out of reach of slugs, the equally mysterious spare flagpole (we already have a main flagpole) found in the garage, and the overgrown mass of vegetation which is currently smothering a collapsing trellis and wood store which will be sorted out in the fullness of time):

back patio

I did leave one ‘weed’ – a little patch of speedwell. I’ve always thought of it as growing in lawns but it seemed happy among the stones so I’ve transplanted some more around the edges of the patio. With any luck it will spread along the gaps between the paving stones and at least give the dandelions and other weeds a run for their money. Something has to, as I know that my efforts this afternoon have largely amounted to giving them a nice radical pruning, rather than actually eradicating them.

speedwell flowers

It was also satisfying to discover many ex-snails (last seen doing their bit for science) among the weeds – we have a resident thrush whose intermittent hammering forms a soothing soundtrack to any gardening task. While I am now a little fonder of the stripey snails than I was before, I’m fonder of thrushes, which have had a tough time of it due to our farming habits. It’s good to know that our garden functions as a thrush habitat as well as a hare one, especially if it makes the garden a bit less of a snail habitat.

Meanwhile, the young hare is no gardening help at all, having decided that my (allegedly fenced off) asparagus bed is a handy place to chill out – unless ‘contemptuously demonstrating the uselessness of my hare defences’ counts as helping…

hare in asparagus bed

Damn it’s cute though.

Blooming Marvellous

June 14, 2019

Returning from Edinburgh yesterday afternoon, and doing the garden round to see what if anything had changed in the two days I’d been away, I noticed that something had been nipping the flowers off my geum and leaving them scattered on the ground.

This morning, the culprit was revealed.

hare eating flowers

It appears that the stems of geums are very delicious if you’re a young hare.

hare and flowers

Fortunately we’ve long since decided that when it comes down to flowers versus hares, the hares win every time. This one in particular takes cuteness to an advanced level, as I think you’ll agree …

hare cleaning whiskers

(Photos courtesy of the other half and his much more capable camera)

This went some way towards cheering me up after our MSPs made entirely the wrong decision in Parliament yesterday.


June 12, 2019

There’s some irony in finding yourself – not more than an hour after blogging about the joys of being temporarily disconnected – hunched over your phone in a frenzy of communication as you attempt to mastermind the logistics of urgently getting 60 chairs from one part of Edinburgh to another, all from the top seat of a rural bus lurching in and out of signal on the way to Lockerbie.

Fortunately a van was procured (internal combustion engines have their uses) and the chairs were transported to the Scottish Parliament.

Empty chairs

Sixty chairs, sixty lives interrupted – and fortunately more than sixty people who were willing to turn up and let their MSPs know that they wanted to see slower speeds on Scotland’s residential roads.

People at the demo

If you’re in Scotland, there’s still time to write to your MSPs and let them know if you agree.

It was somewhat sobering to be demonstrating alongside Sudanese protesters who have bigger problems than urban speed limits to worry about. Kindly, they paused their chanting for 20 minutes or so, then got on with attempting to bring about democracy in their own country in the face of military brutality. I sincerely hope that in a decade or so’s time, they’ll have the space and the energy to worry about active travel – and the open democratic space we enjoy in Scotland in which to make the case.

Then there was the small matter of getting the chairs back again – this time sans van.

chairs in cargo bike

No problem.


June 11, 2019

After a day and a half of phonelessness, I now have a phone again – courtesy of Back On My Bike who seems slightly less hard on her personal electronics than I am. It’s still at the ‘how do I get rid of that annoying notification?’ stage of being set up, but I have now at least been reunited with most of my social media channels just in time for our 20mph demo today and the Women’s Cycle Forum ‘Pecha caka’ evening on Wednesday.

I’m actually in two minds about this – and not least because I found that after just 24 hours with neither a phone nor much to do on the laptop, I woke up with no pain in my shoulders and several extra degrees of rotation in my neck. It was also interesting to see when I was automatically reaching for my phone and how often it was just out of boredom rather than any really pressing need to be in touch. I do use Twitter and the like to pass the time – even when I’m not actually at a loose end, just procrastinating. I have occasionally found myself reading the very same article on my phone that I know is printed in the paper I have cycled eight miles for and purchased at some expense. Certainly I far too often find I’ve reached the end of the day having not had time to read much of the paper or read a book, and yet I’ve obviously had time to spend far too long idly scrolling through various social media feeds.

On the other hand, it’s a (metaphorical) pain in the neck trying to make arrangements to meet people without a means of getting in touch and with three trips to Edinburgh and Glasgow this week, going completely without a phone would have been challenging. I also genuinely miss having a camera with me to record the things I want to share with the world – from a new young leveret scampering flightily around the garden (it’s going to have to learn that hiding under the car, right by the front wheel, isn’t sensible; hopefully not the hard way) to Bigtown’s baby rhino sporting a traffic cone, Duke of Wellington style, on its head. And this ‘road narrows’ sign on our already narrow road, courtesy of our trench digging pals from last week, which amused me this morning (the camera on the new phone is also a step up from the last, so I’m looking forward to boring you with compost pictures in higher resolution than ever before).

road narrowing sign

Not entirely sure how it could get any narrower …

So on balance it’s probably a blessing to have a phone again but I have resolved (a forlorn hope, I expect) to try and make sure I’m picking it up when I actually need it, rather than just to scratch the boredom itch. Who knows what I might manage during all the extra time that frees up?

Exciting Trench Digging News

June 7, 2019

I suppose I should be grateful to my phone for choosing the morning after I had just met a series of unfeasibly tight deadlines to die on me. It has been proving erratic for a while, but I like to get as much life out of my stuff as I can before replacing anything, so I was resolutely ignoring it until finally I couldn’t. Rebooting, cache wiping and a factory reset all failed, the phone repair shop admitted that they’d just be googling it the same way I was, so it looks as if it’s time for a new phone (or new-to-me, anyway). Fortunately I have enough offers of people’s cast offs that I probably won’t be left stranded for too long – but today at least I have been phoneless, which also means cameraless.

Which is why you’re not being treated to the exciting (in the very specialised meaning of the word used in this blog) sight of two men digging a trench along the side of our tiny dead-end road (it was quite sweet that they’d even put out roadworks signs, even though it would probably have been less effort to just come round and warn us individually). Screeching to a halt on my bike I said the words that most rural householders can only dream of uttering:

… are you … putting in … fibre … by any remote chance?

Readers, they were. This was exciting enough news that I had to cycle back up the hill to tell the other half (OK, I had also forgotten the Guardian voucher but to be honest, such is our hill, that I normally just donate the Guardian the cost of the voucher if I realise I’ve forgotten it by the time I’ve descended). I leave it to you to calculate the bandwidth* of a slow cyclist on a steel tourer pedalling up a Category 3 climb, but believe me it won’t be the lowest we’ve experienced since moving to the country so this is exciting news

Looked at objectively,I would have to agree with the guy on the digger when he declared it mad to be running fibre up a road that serves a grand total of six houses, but it seems the Scottish Government is committed to rolling out superfast broadband to every house and business in Scotland and amazingly that appears to be what it’s doing. Colour me amazed.

Now we just have to hold them to turning their climate emergency promises into actual policies and we may just be getting somewhere. I might suggest 20mph limits as a good place to start.

* as the lecturer on my IT degree used to say back in the last century, ‘never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of floppy disks** heading down the freeway.’

** younger readers – ask your parents.

Rotting to the Core

June 4, 2019

Yesterday saw me at home, waiting for some work to arrive, knowing it was going to be a ridiculously short deadline when it did arrive, unable to go anywhere because it could arrive at any moment but with no actual work (work work, that is) to do until it came …

It’s in situations like this that a garden comes into its own, because once you’ve started there’s no end to the pottering that can be done in one. It wasn’t particularly convincing gardening weather, being June which means our summer is effectively over and our ‘green winter’* has begun. Still the rain held off and – in between nipping in to check my emails – I managed to plant out the rest of the Swiss chard and two kinds of kale, tie up my peas, water the greenhouse, cut back the grass around the raised beds and (if you squint a bit and choose your angles carefully) generally make the garden look as if I knew what I was doing.

Vegetable garden looking tidy

Even the peas (well, one pea plant) were behaving themselves – I believe this may be the first time in my pea-growing history that one has actually attached itself to the support provided.

pea tendril attached to cane

Come lunchtime, with the work still not in evidence, I had to get a bit creative. Time to empty the compost tumbler and start a new batch. We’ve been turning the current batch for a few weeks and while it never really heated up that much, it has turned into something resembling compost in less than two months. It’s certainly turned into something that resembles compost more closely than what was in either of the two working daleks – one of which has been sitting there since *looks at the pieces of newspaper miraculously preserved in perfectly readable condition at the bottom* mid February without noticeably composting anything at all but which had acquired a working wasps’ nest (sorry mama wasp).

compost in tumbler

Compost tumbler day one – watch this space. Literally, as I’m quite capable of making this into a timelapse sequence and inflicting it on you

By the time the other half came home from work I had the tumbler filled with one and half daleks’ worth of compostable material and we then spent a happy half hour feeding a pile of brassica stalks into the shredder to add to the mix. We’ve got a way to go before we’ve fine-tuned our composting operations – without worms (and wasps) to do some of the work as you get with a traditional heap, getting everything finely chopped up and getting the balance of carbon and nitrogen (and moisture) right is a bit more crucial, but at least I could head back in to check my emails one last time, confident that the tumbler is doing better than our previous arrangements (even if not *how much!?* better) … only to discover that the work I’d been waiting for had actually arrived three hours ago.

* The months of June, July and August when the weather’s not that much nicer than actual winter, but people look at you funny if you wear your winter clothes.