Old Friends

August 30, 2020

In today’s exciting news, our ford correspondent sent me a text that began

“Thought it might cheer you to know that ASBO buzzard has been located …”

Apparently the nice young man who now lives in our old house has also inherited my mantle of chief buzzard victim, after three buzzard attacks in a row. If it is indeed our old friend, she’s moved her location from her old cyclist hunting grounds but I like to think that she’s up to her old tricks in a new spot – at least as long as she keeps hassling my successor rather than me.*

Felled forest

ASBO Buzzard’s old home, now sadly demolished

In other news, Moo-I-5 are back, but proving rather elusive at the moment. Poor weather and too much work have kept me out of the garden, so I haven’t yet found myself the centre of attention of a crowd of cows. Or perhaps they too are getting to grips with social distancing.

cows listening in
* My close raptor encounter of the day was a sparrowhawk shooting across the road in front of me as I laboured up the hill homewards; birds of prey are always cool and never cooler than when they’re hunting something that isn’t you.


Eat, Drink and Be Merry…

August 23, 2020

In this weekend’s exciting easing-out-of-lockdown news, I have finally gone to a bar for the first time since about February.

Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign had spent an exciting couple of hours counting bikes on the High Street and confirming that your classic Bigtown cyclist is a bloke on a mountainbike, sometimes with a shopping bag dangling from the handlebars (the classic family cycling configuration, on the other hand, is a group of adults on foot accompanying a child on a bike). It was good to see the High Street pretty busy with people shopping or eating out – I had feared it would never come back but you would be hard pressed to see any difference from this time last year, were it not for all the masks dangling from people’s ears.

supposedly pedestrianised street

Anyway, counting bikes is thirsty work and there’s a new bar opened up (they had been due to open in April, poor sods) that has in very unBigtown fashion taken over a couple of illegal parking spots in a nominally pedestrianised street to make a little beer garden, and we wanted to celebrate the fact. They have a wide variety of fancy beer, at similarly unBigtown prices (not quite London levels, but definitely verging on Edinburgh in August) but this was slightly mitigated by the fact that they will sell it to you in 2/3 pints, a measure I have long felt should be on offer more widely.

outside seating area

I think it will be a long while before you find me in the inside of a pub or a restaurant, but sitting outside like this felt fine, especially after I’d drunk the 9.8% ABV stout which slipped down very nicely and made the 8-mile ride home somewhat interesting (it’s a good test of your town’s infrastructure if you can cycle safely back from the pub and the only danger you face is from yourself). The weather has backed off from the heatwave we enjoyed last weekend, but it was still pleasant to sit outside for as long as the showers held off, reminiscing about past beers and past adventures.

September is often a pleasant month around here – indeed, it’s generally more reliable a ‘summer’ than August. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this continues to hold true in this the most untypical of years, and that we can enjoy a bit more al fresco living while stocks last.

Making Connections

August 19, 2020

view of distant hills

So, a mere 14 months after the Scottish Government – at some expense, albeit not directly to us – installed fibre optic cables right up to our front gate, we are now connected up to the superfast broadband network.* I’d blame the pandemic for the time it’s taken but in truth it’s just been that we never quite got around to it and really there was no hurry until suddenly we were all in lockdown making video calls and it was impossible to get an installation (see also: not bothering to book an eye test because there was no rush and now there’s a six month waiting list and my glasses are scratched to hell).

lone tree

So far it’s passed the first test (still working even if it’s raining – very much not a given before) and the second (both of us on video calls at the same time) and is actually costing us less than the old service, despite being from effectively the same company, because this is 2020 and nothing must make sense by law. We’ve streamed a bit of telly, just to show willing, although to be honest the weather was just too nice last week to spend any time indoors playing with the Internet, however fast and responsive it might be. Streaming sunshine beats streaming video any day of the week.

empty back road

With impeccable timing, the ability to video conference with people who don’t look like characters from Minecraft has also coincided with my first actual in-person meeting since March. Having postponed it once already, I was determined to go come hell or high water (both equally likely at the moment) but the weather actually played ball this time and I had a lovely and impeccably socially distanced meeting with a community group who have taken matters into their own hands and are just funding their own cycle path to join two communities, without waiting for the coonsil to get around to it. Never underestimate the ability of a group of people who don’t know how difficult something is to do, to just go ahead and get it done.

distant church

It’s clearly a ridiculous waste of time to cycle a 24 mile round trip for a 90 minute meeting, especially when there are plenty of digital alternatives – but as their community just happens to be on one of my favourite routes, I was prepared to make the effort (are you bored of my photos of back roads yet?) And it was also refreshing to remember what it’s like to talk with a group of people who aren’t all trapped in their little video squares, grappling with their mute buttons. If meetings under the new normal could be guaranteed only to take place in beautiful gardens overlooking a fabulous view on a pleasant (adjusted for Scotland) summer afternoon, then I’m prepared to adjust. October’s going to come as a nasty shock, isn’t it?

sign saying dangerous hill

* Actually more like the superfastish broadband network because when you’re used to getting 3Mb/s (and that was an improvement over the speeds in our last place), paying extra for anything over 50Mb/s felt like an extravagance too far.

Plant a Fast Growing Vine

August 14, 2020

This week has combined fine weather with unusually few things for me to do, so I have spent as much of it as possible in the garden, contemplating the question: how overgrown does your garden have to be that you can spend four years there without realising that there is a massive planter on your patio?

chicken shed

The garden when we moved in.

To explain, at the back of the house there is a very overgrown woodshed/old dog kennel by the garage that has been on the list of things to deal with in the fullness of time. The current plan is that this will be converted into a sheltered sitooterie,* but while those plans mature we’ve just left that corner doing what it does best – growing ivy. Ivy is a brilliant plant for wildlife so we’ve just let it get on with it until we noticed that the path to the clothesline was getting a little bit compromised.

back garden

This week I was in a hacking back sort of mood, and the blackbirds had finished nesting there, so I thought I’d clear the some of the growth back a foot or so to the wall and reclaim that patio space when the other half started wondering what was lurking deep in the ivy: Is that … a planter?

lurking planter

Some enjoyable hacking away at ivy plants later, it became clear that was exactly what it was.

emerging planter

At first it looked as if it had a lid on it, but by the time I’d cleared the ivy right back to the back wall of the old woodshed, it was clear that what we had was something about three feet tall and two feet in diameter (and rather more space on the patio than we thought). The ‘lid’ turned out to be the base of the planter, which had broken off and been placed on top, and it also has a crack right down the front but more to the point it is really quite an impressively ugly thing.

excavated planter

The other half’s sensible suggestion was to take a sledgehammer to it and cart away the bits. And we may well do that (possibly inadvertently depending on how structural that crack is) and yet, and yet … I am still wondering whether it can be used in some way. It is somehow part of the place, and the fact that it has sat there quietly for so long makes me feel as if it belongs.

garden statue

After all, we’d never have actually bought a garden ornament like Mostly, yet we’ve grown fond of her over the years. Perhaps this too will grow on us? Or perhaps the ivy will just grow back and rid us of the dilemma for another few years.

Suggestions for sensible uses gratefully accepted in the comments. And now I’ve got several barrow loads of ivy to shred and dispose of…

* where you can sit oot, obviously

Summer Haulin’

August 12, 2020

I had feared that one of the casualties of the current crisis might be Bigtownshire’s barter economy as the local Facebook bartering group shut down at the start of the pandemic although I suspect this may have been more to do with the admins wanting a break. I don’t think they realised when they started it that they would shortly be acting as the central bank of an alternative local economy with an emerging currency based on prosecco, fabric softener and wax melts (no, me either). Fortunately, the local village freecycle list is made of sterner stuff and last week I spotted an extending curtain pole on offer which was just what we needed for the spare room.

Naturally, this was a job for the bike. Six miles to pick up the curtain rail was no problem but I had also made plans to see a friend about a bike and – as is always the case when you can arrange for a couple of things to happen at any time on an otherwise free day – suddenly the only time that was mutually convenient to all meant I had to be in two different places in a fairly short time frame. Which is why yesterday saw me heading off on a 10-mile cross country cycle trip with a four-foot metal curtain rail bungied onto my cross bar, the traditional hi-vis vest dangling from the end in case anyone fancied tailgating me (fittingly, the rail will be used for the curtains that have also been taken on a nice bike tour of the surrounding countryside, and no, I haven’t hung them yet, don’t be ridiculous).

summer back road

Fortunately, this involved one of my favourite routes

summer back road

And on roads like these, there’s nobody to hear you rattle

summer back road

Which is fortunate, because I was doing a lot of it.

summer heat haze

It was only as I was heading home – and realising that the one time you don’t want a tailwind is when the heatwave finally, properly sets in and you’re sweating your way uphill – that I encountered any real traffic. I was wondering whether the presence of a four-foot pointy-ended pole would make any difference to drivers’ behaviour, and was a little disappointed that it didn’t appear to (Twitter’s suggestion to mount it sideways might have been more effective but possibly impractical on the narrower back roads …). After a tractor had passed me in a reasonable fashion, the five cars lined up behind it all overtook too, regardless of the approaching bend (and indeed an oncoming van). I then pulled out to discourage any further passes until the road straightened out and was a bit disappointed to hear something shouted by the driver of the lorry behind who, when he finally overtook me, then put his hazards on in what seemed to me a pointed manner.

bike with mounted curtain pole

Just say no to hi-vis, people

Fortunately I didn’t rise to it because when I got home I realised that this wasn’t in fact road rage so much as an attempt to warn me that my load had come partially adrift and the hi-vis vest was threatening to get tangled in my spokes. So apologies, Mr Lorry Driver, for doubting your good will – and I’ll leave it to a certain corner of Bike Twitter to point out how this just confirms that you rely on hi-vis for your safety at your peril.


August 9, 2020

After the past few months we’ve had, simply getting out our little suitcase and packing for a weekend away felt like something of a radical act. But this weekend we did just that, with an urban mini break …

Complete with al fresco dining in the central square.

cafe tables outside in Duns

And a cycle tour of the surrounding countryside, courtesy of a local guide.*

quiet borders road

Two nights in Duns might not be on most people’s holiday bucket list but add in an adjusted-for-Scotland heatwave, and the exotic sight of people actually dining outside in a town which I suspect would normally consider such things to be a foreign affectation and it almost felt like an actual holiday. Which is fortunate, because that may well be it for us this year although we still entertain vague hopes of our regular ‘sunshine break’ in Northern Ireland should the pandemic relent sufficiently.

When it comes to the current situation, I’ve no idea if we’re at the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning – or perhaps the start of something new. All I know is I saw more people cycling in Duns during the course of the weekend than I’ve seen in the entire ten years my parents have lived there, and that’s got to be a sign of the tectonic plates shifting. Here’s hoping the Borders Council (motto: ‘It’s Aye Been’) has plans to encourage this one silver lining of the current crisis to continue shining.

quiet borders road
* In fact a fellow Bromptoneer who was happy to meet up with a random person off the Internet to explore some of the less scary roads around Duns (and also avoid the worst climbs).

Clouds, Silver Linings Thereof

August 4, 2020

A week or so ago, I was a little excited at the prospect of actually going to a meeting, my first in ages.

Fast forward a few days, add in the Weather Gods and the Scottish Summer and it’s fair to say that my excitement had been tempered somewhat. First it was going to be cloudy, and then it was going to rain in the morning but maybe clear up in the afternoon, and then it was going to rain heavily in the morning but only lightly in the afternoon, and then by yesterday it had settled into a solid day of double-dot rain with blustery wind, and this morning the Met Office added the cherry on the cake in the form of a yellow weather warning for rain for the entire day.

Obviously, I’m not made of sugar and I’ve ridden entire days in the rain before; I’ve even turned up at meetings in full drowned-rat mode and been (moderately) cheerful about it but I did tentatively inquire whether the meeting could be held online yesterday, and then slightly more urgently this morning. And then, having heard nothing and postponed setting off as long as I could, I reluctantly dug out the waterproof trousers and socks, Actually Waterproof in Scotland rain jacket, spare gloves, and a sweater to put on when I arrived so my teeth didn’t chatter too hard (can you tell I’ve done this before) and donned my winter boots and tweed cap ready to roll.

I’ve never been quite as happy to hear my phone ring and be able to cry off as I was two minutes later.

I still feel slightly bad about this as, for various reasons, we weren’t able to seamlessly switch to an online meeting as I had assumed we would. Ordinarily, I don’t like to inflict the limitations of my preferred mode of transport on other people as I recognise that cycling for transport in all weathers is not normal around here and it is a choice I have made, not a necessity. Even a few month’s ago I would have just gritted my teeth and gone and made something of a spectacle of myself as a result. But, if nothing else, the pandemic and lockdown has made me increasingly reluctant to cycle somewhere in rubbish weather just because my diary says so.

Online meetings aren’t perfect, but now that we know almost everyone is capable of discussing most things online, then I am not sure why that shouldn’t be the default – especially when St Swithin is having his annual massive posthumous hissy fit. And besides, if we want cycling to become a more widespread mode of transport, then being a bit flexible about arranging things around the weather might be part of making that happen.

rain radar picture

Sometimes it’s better just not to look at the rain radar

Of course, round here, that may mean far fewer meetings taking place at all. Which, thinking back over many I’ve attended in the past, might be chalked up as a win.

Who Let the Dogs Out

August 1, 2020

Since we’ve been living up here, we’ve been entrusted with the odd bit of animal sitting, mainly chickens, which comes with its own rewards. This week, however, our animal sitting activities have been taken up a level.

pigs in pen

Our neighbours up the road have gone off for a week leaving us in charge of three pigs, several sheep, a dozen hens, some pheasant chicks, three guinea fowl, two dogs and four extremely aggressive geese (the whole operation isn’t so much a smallholding as a novelty Christmas song). Fortunately, this mainly just involves checking that the various animals are still where they’re supposed to be and have water, chucking food at some of them, and shutting the door on the geese (hurriedly) at night and letting them out again in the morning.

The hens are still young uns so aren’t laying, but the guinea fowl are more than making up the deficiency (I have to confess, I had no idea that you could keep them for eggs as well as for just having fantastic polka dot feathers and making a racket; apparently they also eat ticks and don’t make as much of a mess of your garden as chickens do).

guinea fowl eggs

And it’s also been a chance to enjoy all the good bits of having a dog – going for walks, appreciating the aerodynamic qualities of a good stick, finding that specific spot behind the ear where it’s the most satisfying to be scratched – and none of the rubbish bits (mainly, picking up poo and paying vet bills). Even if the younger one (apparently a Labrador-kangaroo cross) has spent the week practising leaping until she managed to get out of the yard unaided today – and the weather has occasionally been a little suboptimal for walkies …

dogs in the dreich

People often ask us if we’re ever going to get some pets of our own. I do occasionally consider it but on the whole I think that the best kind of animals are the ones you can give back to their owners when they become tiresome (see also: children). Certainly, I’m no closer to wanting a dog, or a smallholding, of my own after this week … although I may have to stop googling ‘raising guinea fowl’ before things get out of hand.