101 Uses for a Brompton: Cattle Rustling

July 31, 2019

Of all the things gardeners don’t want to hear, ‘there’s a cow in the garden’ comes pretty close to the top of the list – perhaps second only to ‘there are cows in the garden’. Today’s visitor was just a lone beast, and fortunately, once it had been ushered away from the veg patch, quite happy to browse on the long grass near the compost tumbler, while Moo-I-5 stared at it over the fence, making helpful suggestions.

The question was where it had come from – unlike our usual coo neighbours it clearly wasn’t a dairy cow, being a rather fetching shade of dark brown (I would post pictures but these things inevitably happen when your camera is out of battery …). The likeliest source was the farm down the road, but we didn’t have their phone number so I hopped on the Brompton to rouse our neighbour to see if she was missing any cows, because obviously the person you need in a misplaced coo crisis is an octogenarian who stands about 4 foot 10 in her sparkly wellies.

She didn’t think she was one of theirs but came up the road to inspect our new resident anyway, and agreed that the best place for it was their field rather than the suspiciously lush grass around our septic tank. It took a bit of ushering from the three of us but the cow finally, reluctantly, relinquished the prime grazing of our lawn for the rather less luxuriant grass next door and we got the gate secured.

‘Do you get to keep it if nobody claims it in a couple of weeks?’ I asked.

‘It’s the owner to blame if it gets out,’ she pointed out with a twinkle in her eye. ‘Might fetch a nice price at the market …’

And then she headed back to the house to, I’m sure, make strenuous attempts to find out where it had come from and return it safely home.

Common Ground

July 30, 2019

I am currently recovering from an unaccustomed bout of sociability; no sooner had I waved off one old friend on her train south, than I myself was heading north to visit two more old friends for our (now traditional – three times is a tradition, right?) annual reunion, this year hosted by my pal in Auchtermuchty.

Too often, when you connect with old school friends in later life, you find you no longer have much in common, but that’s not the case with these two who share many of my own eccentricities such as a fondness for truffling out secondhand bargains, getting outside, eating cake, gardening, and talking the hind legs off any passing donkeys.

This year the Brompton came too and we ventured out along the back roads of Fife, encouraged by the prospect of cake (as we approached the final hill, my friend announced ominously that the food at our intended destination was ‘rather worthy’ but fortunately this didn’t extend as far as the cake selection).

cycling the back roads

On the way back, we just had to stop at the local auction house although it was, perhaps fortunately, too early to put a bid on the giant pig …

giant papier mache pig

My friend helps to manage the local common, which was excelling itself when we walked round it yesterday – I have a particular fondness for harebells and they were in flower absolutely everywhere, along with apparently everything else. We often struggle to keep our gardens blooming in July but it seems that with the proper application of sheep, scything at the right time of the year and otherwise leaving things alone, nature has no difficulty at all.

meadow flowers

Not to be outdone, the local woods were pretty spectacular too.

floral woodland

The rest of the time was spent catching up, putting the world to rights, and inducting my friends into the mysteries of sourdough bread making, having brought a couple of offshoots of Jimmy Carter the Starter along.

jimmy shand statue

You cannot visit Auchtermuchty and not play homage to the other Jimmy

The only tiny fly in the ointment (apart from having to hole away from time to time on the laptop to get some work done) was visiting our hosts’ neighbours’ vegetable patch and associated polytunnel. My asparagus bed has started to perk up in the last couple of weeks and I’d been feeling quite pleased with it, until I realised that this is what it was supposed to look like at this time of year:

asparagus in polytunnel

I think we’ve got a ways to go.

Heat Treatment

July 26, 2019

In this week’s edition of ‘be careful what you wish for’ – after a day spent energetically trolling the weather gods on Twitter, I was rewarded with the arrival of the heatwave in Bigtown yesterday, about 48 hours after everyone else had been forced to freeze their bedlinen to get a decent night’s sleep.

It was so hot, I even abandoned my tweed cap and gloves for the cycle down to Bigtown, where the drivers were extra grumpy (hello actually swerving at the cyclist for the temerity of existing) and the tar was melting on the roads. A few chips of stone stuck to my tyres aside, there’s little a heatwave can do (beyond heatstroke) to hamper my cycling – I just cycled even slower than I normally do and enjoyed the experience of being warm.

No such luck for my visiting friend who had hoped to escape London’s heat with a weekend in Scotland and instead got to spend 3 hours on a sweltering train outside Euston while our rail infrastructure went into meltdown. By the time she was rescued and taken back to Euston, even the Virgin rail staff weren’t recommending she get onto any of their trains so she is trying again today.

It did mean she missed our evening’s entertainment: the heat had brought thunderstorms to Bigtown below us so we switched off the internet (we’ve lost 2 routers since we moved to a house on the top of a hill …), and sat on the bench with a beer in the evening sunshine, watching it pass by us safely by.

approaching storm

According to the forecast, this now pretty much concludes our summer. If anyone’s feeling a bit hot still in London, bear that in mind as we put our jumpers back on and wonder how soon before we can start lighting the fire. Or come up and join us, always assuming you can find a working train.

Cardiff Calling

July 23, 2019

The sun always shines on the Cycling Embassy AGM, but there was a point this Friday when I did wonder if this weekend was going to be an exception…

car and flooded pavement

But in the end, as it always does, it came good.

riding bromptons in the sunshine

I’m not sure how exactly the annual gathering has evolved from a meeting with a bit of a bike ride* attached, to a weekend of advanced bike-borne kerb nerdery with with a meeting shoehorned in around the edges, but you won’t catch me complaining. I’ve been encouraged to note that quite a few other cycling meetings now seem to involve an outing or two before the business proper begins, but at the Embassy gatherings, the bulk of the discussion seems to happen on the bike – at least those conversations that are the real reason why I go to conferences of any description – the chance to catch up with fellow campaigners (and like-minded road engineers), swap war stories, exchange information, learn new things and hatch plans for the future.

looking at roadworks

“What did you do at the weekend?” “Oh, I went down to Wales to look at some half-completed road works”

Cardiff seems like a city that’s going places although (like pretty much all UK towns and cities) it is very much not there yet as far as cycling goes. The council appear to have big plans, and they’re being driven on by Wales’ Active Travel Act which means every local authority in Wales has had to develop an active travel network (coming from Scotland, where our so-called Cycling Action Plan for Scotland neither did much to force any action, nor contained anything you would recognise as a plan, this came as something of a revelation).

bicycle street

The city also has the sort of can-do attitude that can only make me look at the coonsil up here and weep. Putting in a sustainable urban drainage scheme? Why not make the whole area low-traffic neighbourhood while they’re at it? And not only did a councillor and a council officer attend the second of our rides, they were busy discussing where they could put in some extra dropped kerbs as we made our way back. We can’t even get councillors and officers in the same room up here, let alone out on bikes together, in case it removes their magical powers to pass the buck to each other.

Tackling the ‘Alpe d’Huez’. I’ll leave you to insert your own metaphor about uphill struggles.

And of course, as serious campaigners and professionals, there was no temptation at all as we passed the skate park to see what a Brompton could do over a tidy set of ramps and jumps.

Bromptons in Skate Park

No temptation at all.

*I would like to put it on record that I am the coiner of the phrase ‘infrastructure safari’ – the point of the weekend when we set off around a city examining every bridge, barrier and bollard, and of course those all-important kerbs.


July 17, 2019

side by side cycling

I’m in danger of becoming one of those bloggers who post at increasingly infrequent intervals, mainly with a litany of excuses for not having blogged more frequently, yet somehow here it is a week since I last posted and unless you want photos of compost* and some not-very-thrilling garden updates (the asparagus is looking a little more chipper, the beetroot is coming through, we’re still on a three-line lettuce-eating whip) there’s not much to say at the moment or at least I’m not feeling all that inspired to say it.

Life should get a little more exciting in coming days as I’m about to embark on a couple of weeks of unaccustomed sociability: the Cycling Embassy AGM in Cardiff, an old school friend visiting, another all-ability cycling day of chaos in Bigtown and then a dash up to Fife to visit more old school friends from a different school. All of which would be much more enticing if the major editing job which was supposed to be finishing this week hadn’t been extended for the next fortnight – hello freelancing life and the freedom to work to your own schedule as long as that schedule involves spending half your supposed holiday time hunched over a laptop.

'can you see me now asshole' vest

Some things haven’t changed since 2011

In preparing to write this, I did dig out this ancient history from 2011, just at the start of the Cycling Embassy – the first cycle campaign I ever started. Scrolling through the comments reminds me of how far we’ve come – there are few cycle campaigns in the UK now that don’t recognise the importance of proper cycling infrastructure – and also how far we have to go – some cities are cracking on with building a cycle network but even the best are making painfully slow progress, while other places are doing nothing. It seems everywhere in the UK, from the government downwards, is happy to declare a ‘climate emergency’ but whether that will translate into accelerating progress over the next few years is anyone’s guess.

That said, Wales has been quietly getting on with things (implementing the 20mph limits Scotland was too feeble to support, cancelling a motorway, drawing up decent design guidance for cycling infrastructure instead of kicking it into the long grass) so the Brompton and I will be curious to see what cycling in Cardiff will be like. Assuming I get to unchain myself from the laptop for long enough to find out …

* Don’t worry if you do, you will still get them, but all in good time.


July 10, 2019

Yesterday’s roundup of my vegetable blues failed to include the asparagus bed – not because it’s all ticking along nicely, but because it had got so weed-ridden the one photo I took of it didn’t really look like an asparagus bed at all.

weed-ridden asparagus bed

This may go part of the way to explaining why it’s not doing so well, although to be fair the not going well part preceded the weed-ridden part. The fact is, only one or two of the crowns I’ve planted have produced even one decent looking shoot. The rest have tended to shrivel away as soon as they’ve emerged, although more are still coming up in places.

small asparagus shoot

I’m not sure what the problem is (I can’t blame the pheasants this time). I did think it might be the dry weather we have had (regular readers of the blog may be surprised to read this but we have actually had some longish spells of no rain). It’s all a bit unsatisfactory given I spent actual money on these plants from an actual garden centre rather than sourcing them in my usual fashion, a mixture of scrounging, growing from seed* and village plant sales.

cow watching

“I wouldn’t do it like that, if I were you”

Anyway, under the watchful eyes of Moo-I-5 I have now given them a good soaking – and the weather gods are busy rectifying the ‘too little rain’ part as I speak – and mulched the survivors with a good layer of compost, which felt like the sort of thing a proper gardener might do. Hopefully that will do the trick but either way it looks as if my hopes for an abundant asparagus bounty will have to wait a few more years. I’m beginning to understand why the main reaction to my asparagus-growing plans has been shaken heads, cynical laughter, and reminiscences about sitting down to an asparagus spear each after four years of anxious care.

mulched asparagus bed

Any tips from the more successful? Other than ‘move out of Scotland’, of course …

* I did actually, many moons ago, grow some asparagus from seed in our first ever vegetable garden. By the time we sold the house, several years later, the tiny little fronds were just about visible to the naked eye, but only if you looked very closely.


July 9, 2019

‘Looking on the bright side’, the other half said as I surveyed the ruin of what had been only the day before, a bed of French beans, ‘at least you now have a camera so you can blog about it.’

chewed beans

‘I wonder how my beans are getting … oh’

This is true – due to the kindness (and awesome organisedness) of a local cyclist on Twitter I am now the proud custodian of an actual camera for the first time in about five years. Despite being over 10 years old, it’s in immaculate condition and came complete with box, cables, spare battery and manual (ah, remember the old days when things came with instruction manuals instead of a sheet of paper saying ‘Do not stick this in your eyes or feed the batteries to your children. Google everything else’ in every known European language?).

It’s nice to be able to take a proper closeup again, even if it is of the devastation a peckish hare can wreak when it puts its mind to it.

close up of beans

Otherwise, the veg patch is the usual mixed bag of things which are dying in new and horrible ways (potatoes: liable to die at a moment’s notice when you plant them deliberately, but completely impossible to eradicate from the bed where they were once grown three years before)

dying plants in potato bed

and things which have grown in overwhelmingly enormous quantities (it is apparently a myth that rabbits – and, indeed hares – eat lettuce).

giant lettuce plants

The garden remains a work in progress and I suspect it always will be – I shall never be the owner of the equivalent of a garden that still has its box, cables, spare battery and manual. But on a sunny Sunday afternoon when you’ve got visitors coming – it does occasionally scrub up rather well.

garden with parasol

I’m mostly joking when I call this corner ‘the Mediterranean garden’ but occasionally it comes close …

A Nation of Shopkeepers

July 5, 2019

I remain, frustratingly, cameraless after one repair attempt failed leaving me with a phone that will now not focus at all unless I use it in selfie mode. This is particularly annoying as Moo-I-5 have made an unexpectedly early return and I’m sure will be providing entertaining* blogging material as soon as they have got over the ‘Nooo!! Scary humans!’ stage of their visit (meanwhile the cows in the other two fields near our house have discovered each other and have spent the last two days mooing yearningly at eachother across the front corner of our garden).

Bike hub shopfront

So I’ve been trawling back through earlier photos and realised I forgot to announce that I have taken up shopkeeping – or, more accurately, voluntarily minding the Buddies accessible bike hub one day a week. It’s fair to say I’m not rushed off my feet just yet, although I have rented out one bike, shown a couple of prospective punters round, directed numerous confused people towards the ‘real’ bike shops in the town, and spent much of the rest of the time in an undeclared war with the illegal parkers of the supposedly pedestrianised street the shop is on. If a space does open up outside the shop, my job then is to dash round as fast as possible (which is not particularly fast) with the rickshaw bike or other contraptions to fill the space before the spot is nabbed by someone else who’s ‘just dropping something off’ to one of the other shops, a task which apparently takes all day. I can then amuse myself by watching through the window as drivers think they’ve scored a spot and then discover they’ve been gazumped by a bicycle. Or, when I fail to get to the space first, then at least I can enjoy counting the number of direct hits Bigtown’s seagulls score on the scofflaw parkers (there’s a reason all those bikes are sporting saddle covers, and it’s not just to advertise the Bigtown Cycle Campaign.

If nothing else, I’ve found myself a quiet (and internet-free) spot in town to get on with some work and/or knitting while I wait for the good folk of Bigtown to come in for a nosey, so it’s win-win as far as I’m concerned. Watch this space for exciting tales of retailing or parking war triumphs – or at the very least, some progress on my latest knitting project

* adjusted for the peculiarly low standards of this blog.