101 Uses for a Brompton: Discovering that Some Things Haven’t Changed

October 30, 2020

In this strangest of years, it’s good to know that some things haven’t changed. It’s an iron law of life around here that almost any interaction where favours are being exchanged must involve some form of baked goods (in summer, garden produce may be substituted).

Exhibit A: today’s journey to drop off our second string ice cream maker. We bought this at the local charity-shop-which-does electrical-items (not to be confused with the charity-shop-with-a-good-selection-of-knitting-needles, the charity-shop-that-always-has-decent-books or the charity-shop-where-someone-knits-little-cosies-for-its-mugs – I’m sure the charities involved all support good and noble causes but it’s their stocking policies which tend to count most when I’m actually buying something) a couple of years ago and have since upgraded to a bigger and better one.

I was going to take it back to the charity shop (by which I mean putting it in the special place of things awaiting the trip to the charity shop, where it would probably still be when the earth finally fell into the sun, along with the curtains that were in the spare bedroom when we moved in and our Antarctic expedition padded jackets which may well get resurrected as going-out-for-lunch jackets the way things are going). But a fellow cyclist expressed an interest in having it at our last group ride and today there was a sufficient window in the weather to load up the Brompton basket with the help of a couple of cunningly deployed bungees and set off into Bigtown.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to then be presented with some home-made biscuits in return, which was very nice, albeit unnecessary (especially as we have a new shiny ice-cream maker which the other half is busy testing out). I then headed to some other friends who are moving house, to have a rummage through their surplus books (outside of course) and parlayed a couple of the biscuits into further baked goods, in the form of flapjacks and brownies, before pedalling my well-gotten gains home.

I’m often asked by baffled locals why I ride a bike when a car would be quicker, safer, and on most days and most journeys drier. There are many reasons which I’ve covered here before, but the one that makes most sense to those I’m talking to is that it allows me to maintain my cake-based lifestyle. Or these days, my cake- biscuit- and ice-cream-based lifestyle…


The Cyclist’s Full-Body Workout

October 27, 2020

Warm up: Go to get your bike to head down for the paper, and remember about the slow puncture that showed up on Sunday. No problem, it’s a thorn in the tyre, it will probably stay pretty stable for a few days before you get a chance to fix it. Pump up the tyre fully with the track pump and set off with a song in your heart and not a care in the world.

First interval: Three miles down the road, realise that the tyre is now flat again. Contemplate turning round. But it is only another three miles to the shop and surely you can get there and back if you pump it up a few times. Get out the little bike pump and refill the tyre. Pedal as fast as you can, in case that will help

Second interval: Two miles later, with the shop almost in your sights, admit the tyre needs pumping again. Refill tyre, sprint for the shop. By the time you have bought your paper, realise that you tyre needs pumping again.

Main workout: repeat the pedal, stop, pump, full gas sprint for the next five and a half miles, with decreasing intervals between them. For extra points, be wearing full rain gear so you can sweat off any additional weight.

Tip: Remember to breathe! Sometimes an audible breath can help you manage the stress of a workout like this. You can use an ‘ujjayi’ or ocean breath – or you can scream ‘f*** off you stupid machine’ at your bike as it falls off its kick stand for the umpteenth time. Whichever works for you.

Cool down: Do the walk of shame for the last half mile home.

If I’ve learned anything cycling here for the last 12 years, it’s that the puncture fairy always wins. And clearly, I’ve not learned anything …


Actually Quite Interesting Traffic Signal News

October 21, 2020

‘Oh that’s nice, Papershop Village has a proper pedestrian crossing’ the other half remarked as we drove through it on a rare outing this morning. Long overdue, as the village is bisected by Big A-Road and is scary enough that the only person I’ve ever seen crossing it before was the postman, and then always at a sprint.

Anyway, I don’t know how long Papershop village has had its pelican crossing – it wasn’t there earlier this year the last time I went through it – but I hope the postman enjoyed it. Because in the time it took us to drive to the coast, have a lovely walk through woodlands by the sea, discover the famous local fish and chip shop was shut on Wednesdays, source a couple of pies for lunch instead, stop off at Notso Bigtown for supplies and head back home …

… someone had managed to take it out with their Jag.

(no photos because that would be a bit tacky so have some lovely woodland scenes instead)

Looking back through the blog archives, I recall that, whether due to the postman’s sprinting prowess, or the fact that nobody else dared cross the road, the village missed out on a trial 20mph limit because not enough vulnerable road users had been injured there, in the dismal calculus they use to justify not spending anything on road safety. I don’t know if pedestrian crossings count as vulnerable road users (perhaps they ought to) but maybe this will be enough to get Papershop Village a stoplight of shame and really slow the drivers down.


Fleeting Meetings

October 17, 2020

Me: Only being able to meet up outside is fine! We’ll go for a walk! We’ll sit outside under blankets! The Danes do it all the time! There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!

Weather Gods: Yeah, about that …

We’ve been trying to work out how we can meet up with my parents under the new regime without breaking any rules or exposing them to their death of cold and/or coronavirus. The Woodside Garden Centre near Jedburgh seemed like our best bet (thanks to Twitter for the tip) – a sheltered walled garden, a walk in the woods near by, somewhere between our two households.

And in the end, despite it being a four-hour round trip for a 30 minute walk and lunch and the dreich weather threatening for the whole way there and back, it absolutely was fine. The walk was perfect with all the autumn leaves beginning to turn, the rain decided to stay off at least while we were out, and the cafe was set up very nicely with gazebos for shelter and plenty of well-spaced picnic benches.

walking in the woods

Of course it was mainly about being able to catch up and see each other while we still can – I know many of my friends have not seen their parents since this crisis started, while others have suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of a health board boundary that they probably didn’t know existed until this cursed year. It was never about the walk, the weather, or the quality of the lunch…

… Although, that said, I can report that the cake portions at the cafe were pretty epic (this photo is misleading because that was not a small cup) and highly recommended especially to any passing cyclists in need of fuel.


The Great Outdoors

October 13, 2020

With Scotland’s restrictions beginning to tighten, it’s clear that any non-virtual social life we’re going to have for the foreseeable future will depend on the weather and our willingness to get out and about in it.

One side effect of this is that the Bigtown Cycle Campaign’s family friendly rides – which hitherto might have attracted an average of 8-10 particants, maybe more if it was a very nice summer’s day – have become popular beyond our wildest dreams. We’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops before we could make them happen – appointing a Coronavirus Officer being just the start of it – and make elaborate plans to keep people safely apart, but the last three rides have ended up fully booked on almost zero publicity, and I have had a surplus of volunteers to help out with the rides too, which is definitely not the normal state of affairs.

Sociable distancing

Much as I love bikes, I’m not sure that it’s entirely the cycling that’s the main attraction, at least not for the adults. Partly we’ve been lucky with the weather – we had nigh-on t-shirt weather for the first two rides – but mainly it’s been the realisation that we aren’t kidding when we say we run our rides at the speed of chat, and that chatting is what we do. For many of us, it’s been a long time since we had a chance to simply shoot the breeze with a person we don’t live with, in person, without a screen and all the fun of muted microphones and unflattering up-nostril shots to get in the way. The first ride we ran, out to Bigtown’s determinedly low-key stone circle, the middle group were there chatting when the third group arrived, and were still there chatting after we’d had a snack, walked all the way around the stones and gone back to our bikes. For some of us, there’s just a lot of pent up talking that needs to be done.

It’s very satisfying when people line themselves up in rainbow fashion for a photo…

Today, we had an extra bonus ride down to the local wetland centre to welcome our wintering geese home and learn a bit about the local wildlife – a good 20 mile round trip, and a challenge to some of the younger participants, most of whom had never ridden that distance before. The weather was distinctly Octoberish and I wasn’t sure if if it would dampen people’s enthusiasm but it didn’t seem to, despite a blustery headwind the whole way back – as we rode back I showed one of the kids who came along where to position himself relative to my wheel so he could draft a bit out of the wind. ‘Is this a bit like what the geese do?’ he asked, and it was such a perfect ‘learning moment’ that I was slightly embarrassed to foist it on the poor lad during what was supposed to be his half term holiday.

Next Sunday is the last of them and it’s already fully booked. Who knew at the start of the year how much enthusiasm there would be for the simple act of heading out and riding a bike in company?


Schroedinger’s Traffic Light

October 7, 2020

There are many reasons for extending a bike ride, from getting in some extra exercise or hitting some weird numerical challenge you’ve set yourself, to going to see something particularly interesting. And then, in my case, there’s adding an extra half hour onto your daily trip to the paper in order to see if a traffic light is working or not.

I’ve mentioned before that some interactions I’ve had with the coonsil have gone beyond the normal frustrations you might expect from a large and bureacratic organisation and have started to feel more like gaslighting. Certainly yesterday they actually had me doubting my own grasp on reality after a toucan crossing which has never worked well at the best of times (we talk in cycle campaigning about ‘Danny MacAskill infrastructure’ when a path appears to have been designed to prevent cycling rather than enable it – this one gives you a green man for exactly 3 seconds so is more of a Usain Bolt crossing) stopped working altogether* just as we were about to resume our group rides. After the usual measures (official report, follow up email) had failed to produce a result, I reverted to frustrated tweeting and retweeting which finally produced an email telling me it was fixed after a mere two weeks. Yay! Or rather Nay! for Twitter reported it wasn’t working. I followed up. Council employee reported he had gone down and personally seen it working. Twitter repeated that it wasn’t. There was nothing for it but to go and look myself at this traffic light which is either dead or not, depending on whether the observer was a council employee or not.

Fortunately it was a nice afternoon so it was no real hardship to cycle down, observe that the crossing had been partially fixed (in that it now at least included a green man stage) but that one set of lights was still completely dead. Off I cycled back home to email a photo of the dead traffic light only to be told that it was working, it was just that, after the green man had come on, it then went blank briefly until the red light came on. Clearly I’d managed to take a photo of it during that exact few seconds, without noticing either the green man (fair enough you could blink and miss him) OR the red man that comes on for the other minute or so of the cycle.

This was stated with such confidence that for a moment they even had me believing it, even though I’d stood there, looked at the light, took two photographs, and then crossed at the light again without seeing a flicker of life. Fortunately, just as I was beginning to question my own sanity, my spies reported that a traffic engineer had started work on the light which rather implied that perhaps, just maybe, the damn thing was broken after all.

Traffic light not working

Apparently – and we’re taking nothing for granted here one way or the other – it is now working again, although I’m not counting on it until I actually see it for myself. I’ll keep you updated with events as they develop; just think of it as a more high-tech equivalent of the height of the ford.

* for pedestrians and cyclists. It was working just dandy for the cars, obviously, or they’d have fixed it.


Your Late Season Hare

October 4, 2020

On a day when apparently the whole of the UK was being battered by Storm Alex, here in Bigtownshire it’s been rather suspiciously lovely – mild, dry, sunny, and I even had a tailwind uphill on my way home, which is unheard of in October. The other half was tempted out to do some strimming while he could – ‘while he could’, in this case, translating into ‘until he started up a baby hare’ because nobody wants to find a baby hare the hard way while strimming.

In this case, the leveret got itself safely away from the strimming monster but apparently struggled to get into the raised beds in a particularly adorable way. By the time I had come out, and the other half had got his camera out, it was safely ensconced under the broccoli.

meadow in June

There’s no real point to this tale except to show you this photo, really (irritatingly WordPress has switched to a new interface and has decided to make it so you can’t click on it and see it in all its glory [update it turns out I can make it work by editing the html …]). October is late for leverets of this size, but hopefully the weather will be mild enough for it to thrive, and it’s welcome to all the brassicas it can eat. Meanwhile, the strimming will have to wait.