Hitching Up Again

December 31, 2019

After a Christmas week with just the one token cycle ride, I’m not entirely sure that a 20 mile round trip towing a trailer was exactly what either my bike or its rider were after, but that’s by the by.

Bike and trailer

Did I ever mention that we live at the top of a large hill?

The fact is, we’re home, and there was bartering to be done – I continue to be unnaturally fascinated by the local barter site. My old yoga mat was surplus to requirements (I have a fancy new cork one, and very nice it is too; I think the other half has worked out that if things don’t come in merino then I would like them in cork, seventies child that I am) so on it went and a swap was quickly arranged for a couple of miniature roses.

The only problems were that a) my barteree lives in one of the more cycle-unfriendly parts of Bigtown and b) my non-rolling yoga mat did not fit in my saddle bags and could not be usefully bungeed onto my rack.

Fortunately, the two problems cancelled each other out – it turns out that if you have to tackle the more car-centric roads around here on a bike, then towing a trailer is the way to do it. As I’ve remarked before, despite the fact that it’s actually no wider than my handlebars it seems to give me far more presence on the road and only one driver (because the rule is that there’s always one) felt the need to squeeeeeeze past and that was the one who always seem to do it when I encounter them on our B-road on the way home (well, it’s the same car – I assume it’s the same driver).

I did wonder – as I took a pot of plants off a stranger’s doorstep and thrust a bin-bag containing an old yoga mat under their car – whether someone would stop and ask me what the hell I was doing, but if anyone noticed they didn’t challenge me at all. Either this sort of bartering behaviour has become commonplace in Bigtown (the site has taken off in a big way, and some of the most implausible swaps seem to be arranged in matters of hours), or they were still too flabbergasted at the sight of someone at that end of town On A Bike let alone Towing A Trailer to take note of what I was up to. Clearly a career as the world’s most brazen potplant burglar looms, if I can manage to pedal my ill-gotten gains up our hill.

miniature rose

I wish you all a happy Hogmanay and a fulfilling year to come. Who knows what the next decade will bring, but as long as it includes plenty of cycling, gardening and even combining the two, then I shall have some measure of content.

Tinsel Town

December 25, 2019

Christmas tree decorations

I’m generally a great believer in family Christmases – especially if the family in question is not your own. In return for putting up with someone else’s weird Christmas traditions, you get all the fun and festive trimmings you could ask for while remaining completely oblivious to all the underlying tensions. If the family in question has had the good sense to live somewhere bright and sunny, and keeps a pair of bikes in the garage just for your visit then all the better…

This year, though, we’re at my parents’ in Duns, which has at least dressed up for the occasion.

Christmas yarn bombing

We did manage a token Christmas Eve bike ride in the fading afternoon, but I have to admit I’m wistful for the blue skies of Colorado (or even last year’s sunshine break in Norn Iron).

dim afternoon light

Still, for all the dubious joys of a family Christmas, I know that I’m lucky to still have most of my family around to drive me up the wall – and our own comfy double bed in a proper spare room.

So have a great Christmas everyone, if such a thing is possible, and if not hang in there because, if nothing else, we have had the winter solstice and the days are getting longer. bikes waiting

Post Forwarding, Bigtown Style

December 18, 2019

Turning up at a meeting with someone I’ve not met before, he immediately greets me with a piece of post and the words ‘I think I might be living in your old house’.

Reader, of course he is; I would expect nothing less. I’ve pointed him to this blog for tips on the care and feeding of the Rayburn. What more can you ask for by way of a housewarming gift?

Superhuman Me

December 15, 2019

‘You cycled three miles in this weather?!’

It’s fair to say I didn’t get any of the results I was hoping for in Thursday’s election – but I did at least get to bask in the awed disbelief of the presiding officer and the polling clerk* at the polling station that I had cycled a whole three miles in the rain in order to cast my vote (and more importantly ensure my bike made it into #BikesAtPollingStations on Twitter).

bike at polling station

Actually a bike at a polling place, because Scotland does have to be different

I decided not to blow their minds by informing them that I regularly cycle eight miles into Bigtown (and back), but we’ve had a fair few workmen at the house in recent months and they’ve all been flabbergasted when I mention I’m going to town and wave away their offers to move their vans on the grounds that I can easily get past on my bike. The scaffolder was all ready to throw my bike in the back of his lorry to save me the trip (this might have been more welcome on the way back up the hill) while the bathroom fitter wanted to know what power the motor put out, and was mightily impressed to discover that the sole motive power was me (putting out considerably less than one horsepower, I imagine). Even at parkrun, which is full of scarily fit people who’ve run marathons and got the t-shirts to prove it, I was asked what event I was training for after I mentioned I’d ridden 10 miles to get there which made me feel – just for a moment – like the sort of person who does events you have to train for, the kind you get t-shirts for completing, instead of just being someone who’d like to fit into her newest jeans. I was never the athletic type at school, pouring more energy into ever-more elaborate excuses why I couldn’t attend swimming lessons than I ever did into actual sporting activity of any kind, so this is a pleasant novelty for me.

The thing is, I hang out with people who think nothing of cycling 100 miles in a day just for the heck of it, so my little jaunts into town and back, hill or no, don’t usually get considered particularly impressive. And yet there are times when I’m heading home and looking at the hill ahead and steeling myself for the next 10 minutes or so of climbing and I can tell you that it does feel like an achievement to stick with the bike. So frankly, I’m going to take any kudos where I find them, even if it’s just for nipping out for a paper a few times a week…

* I now know what both these officials are called thanks to this excellent thread on Twitter which, among other things introduced me to the Shaw’s Ballot Box Compactor, pretty much the only shaft of light in an otherwise grim election. I do love a nice piece of specialist stationery.

Cry Me a River

December 10, 2019

Regular readers of this blog will know that there’s almost no weather I will not (albeit sometimes with a certain amount of whingeing) cycle in. However, almost a year ago, I finally started to learned how to let discretion be the better part of valour. This year, it didn’t take me being blown into a hedge sideways to give up the my planned social engagement this afternoon – one look at the weather forecast was enough to have me cancel and spend the day largely watching the weather gods do their worst from the cosy vantage of my study.

I did venture out once to pick up a parcel from the UPS man (and watching him battle with his van door was confirmation enough that I’d made the right decision) and then to quickly harvest some kale from the garden. Back in the old place, I’d have been spending much of the time trying to clear the drains with sticks and watching the flood waters rise in the yard, but one advantage of living on a massive hill is that the water doesn’t hang around and we’re no longer at threat of flooding if we don’t keep on top of the drainage. On the downside, we’re also no longer within walking distance of the ford (and my local correspondent declined to flood out her car just to go and check for me) so I can’t report whether it recorded a new high score. I feel a little sad about this, though not so sad that I was willing to go and check it out myself, by any means. And besides, what use is a ford when your entire road has become a river?

water pouring down the road

Here’s hoping it will at least wash away the worst of the thorns. Every cloud, and all that…

The Definition of Insanity …

December 8, 2019

… Is supposedly doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. However, I have found that this doesn’t really apply with sufficiently complex computer software and politicians, who can ignore something for ages and then suddenly decide it’s their own idea. I can’t do anything about the computer software, and I’ve already confessed I’m about ready to give up with the politicians – but I did exempt cycle campaigning …

And so I’m preparing to step once more into the breach and am winding up for next year’s Pedal on Parliament which will be (breaking with tradition a tiny bit, just to keep them guessing) on the first weekend in May.

We’ll also once more be going local, meaning lots of little events to fret about instead of one or two big ones. The jury is still out as to which is more stressful to organise, but at least with the pop-ups the load is easier to share, always assuming we can find some people to share it with.

In fact, we’ve already had a few ideas popping up with plans underway in Inverness, Aberdeen and Glasgow (and Bigtown, of course). I’m looking forward to finding out what will be popping up elsewhere …

cow on a bike

Politics as Bloody Unusual

December 6, 2019

We’ve a new game in our household, whereby the other half shows me a headline and I have to guess if it’s from the Onion or not. This is getting harder and harder, to be honest, as reality appears to be playing catchup with satire; it’s getting to the point where reading the Onion just gives you a jump start on what will be happening down the line, only it’s a lot less funny when it’s for real. Despite us being in the middle of a general election, I’ve reached the point where I’m actually beginning to lose interest in politics, at least as it happens at Westminster, which for a lifelong politics geek (it was even my degree) is embarrassing. It’s almost as bad as when they decided to shake up the Archers by throwing Nigel off the roof of Lower Loxley – one minute you’re invested in these people and follow every twist and turn of the plot, and the next you’re lunging for the radio when the Today programme comes on. Which is sad, and a bit worrying, given that they’re actually running the country, not pretending to farm it.

Every so often, reality does break through and I remember why it’s so vitally important – like when someone at writers’ group was outraged because the council budget exercise is asking us to choose between homeless shelters and library opening hours, school music lessons and lollipop ladies. I pointed out that (much as I love to give the coonsil a kicking) it’s not their fault that they’re being asked to cut everything to the bone just in order to deliver the statutory services and suggested that as well as defending the homeless shelters we should be writing to MSPs to suggest they properly fund local authorities. ‘Well no doubt they’ll just blame Westminster,’ someone said. ‘Well, you know what to do about that on December 12th’ I said, to scepticism all round that voting for any one party over another might make a difference, which even in my disengaged state I found a bit shocking. Blame social media or our short attention spans, but we’re all so caught up in the minutiae of who made what fake video or ducked out of what debate, that the actual massive differences in actual policies has somehow managed to pass people by – even me.

So this week I did something distinctly analogue and attended a hustings event for our local constituency (it wasn’t a climate specific one, so all four candidates attended, even the Tory). It was recorded by Radio Scotland (so you can hear it in its entirety here for extra credit) and I didn’t get to ask my carefully worded question but I did get to clap, boo, and greet the Tory candidate’s weaker efforts at humour with a contemptuous silence (he did get the only genuine laugh of the event by promising to ‘deliver breakfast’ though – a policy would could have all properly got behind if he hadn’t meant to say ‘Brexit’). In our digital age it was a good opportunity to observe the politicians in person, and make them all at least a little more human. As always with politicians, their initial answers weren’t too bad – the test comes in the less scripted follow-ups* and I have to confess that I was surprised by which candidate impressed me most (it wasn’t the Conservative, though, that would be more than ‘surprised’, that would be ‘flabbergasted’).

None of which will alter how I vote, unfortunately – in a first-past-the-post system I have to vote tactically for the least worst option. In fact, this might be at the root of my disengagement. Over the past 10 years I’ve got used to voting in Scotland for the person I want to represent me, instead of having to settle for the person who will beat the bastard I don’t want.

I’ll still be voting, of course – I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. But I’ll be continuing to put the rest of my efforts into cycle campaigning in Scotland, where politics do remain a tiny bit saner than further south.

vote by bike

* Like when one candidate firmly promised to look at all policies ‘through a climate-related lens’ in response to a climate-related question, and then twenty minutes later was happily agreeing we should dual both major A-roads through the region without so much of a nod towards the climate emergency. If you listen carefully you might be able to hear my squeaks of frustration as I bit back a heckle…

Getting Some Sparkle Back…

December 1, 2019

So, was I moaning about the wet winter weather? That has definitely passed in recent days, to be replaced with blue skies but some very heavy frosts. Last night, as we returned from a social engagement, the car was registering a chilly 18F (F cold, or -8 in Celsius) and I don’t think the temperature got appreciably over freezing out of the sun at all yesterday.

So it was something of a wrench to head out this morning for a planned work party keeping one of Bigtown’s better cycle paths clear, into a world turned almost white. Frost is very beautiful to contemplate from the warmth of the house, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go and cycle in it …

frosty start

But not for long. Once I’d negotiated the worst of the ice on our road, I could relax and enjoy the brief glory of a sunny winter’s day- all ghostly pastels, except where the sun had touched the colour back into the world.

winter sun

I’m not 100% convinced that sparkly winter mornings like this entirely compensate for the freezing temperatures, but that could just be chilblain-induced grumpiness (and if the Victorian era calls and would like its disorder back, it would be very welcome). They certainly go a long way.

river and trees

So too does discovering that a good dozen people, many complete strangers,* are willing to come out on a frozen morning to help cut back vegetation, even though much of it was frozen solidly to the ground.

frosty afternoon

* Adjusted for this being Bigtown; I have not doubt that had we chatted a bit more we would have discovered all the connections we have in common