Can Do

December 31, 2020

Well, if ever there was a year when you might be forgiven for not keeping your New Year’s Resolutions, I imagine 2020 would be that year. Certainly my plan of eating more seasonally did not survive the first bout of panic buying in March, although switching some of my dairy consumption to oat milk has been a boon for limiting additional trips to the shops, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

cans on back of bike

Something that wasn’t a resolution as such, but a project I started at the beginning of the year is going strong though – my one-woman bike-mounted carbon offset programme in the form of rescuing and recycling the aluminium cans I find on the road during my travels. Initially I confined myself to two cans per trip but after a hiatus during lockdown when I was barely going out on the bike I upped my ‘quota’ to four and since lockdown ended this has become more like a minimum – depending on where I’m going and how many litterbugs have preceded me on my regular routes, I often come back with half a dozen or more. I haven’t actually been counting, but since lockdown eased enough in June that I could start my regular rides for the paper again I calculate that I’ve picked up at least 500 cans, the total I was aiming for for the whole year, which means about 60kg of CO2 emissions avoided. And this at the cost of little more a minute or so per day, and the sense that I’ve added yet further weight to my local reputation for eccentricity (I’m not sure which is worse: being known as ‘the woman who picks up rubbish’ or ‘the woman who drinks Monster Punch’, or Dragon Soup or whatever other disgusting concoction of tinned beverages may end up adorning my back rack – although if I come across a Tennants can, I discreetly squash it so it’s hidden in the pocket of my bag; there are limits).

I suppose I should feel some sense of satisfaction about this but in truth I feel a bit eyeorish about it all. I’m quite enjoying the hunt aspect of it, especially now that most of the historic cans have been gathered in – but it’s quite depressing to realise that on any given day I can quite easily find two or three freshly littered cans on a road that I picked clean the day before. The numbers might have gone down a bit since it got cold enough that opening a window to chuck out your rubbish is less comfortable, but I have no doubt they will pick up again in Spring. And if I don’t ride for the paper for a couple of days – or even better, head somewhere new – I can easily pick up 8 or 10 before I run out of room in the outer pocket of my bike bag or the top rack. It’s also a little worrying as a ‘vulnerable road user’ to see how many alcohol cans are scattered along roads far enough away from most habitations that they’ve almost certainly been thrown from cars.

Bike with side basket

I’m also feeling increasingly guilty about all the non-can rubbish I’m leaving behind, even though it’s not as if I threw it there myself. Most of the regular litter picks in the area stopped when the pandemic started and have only partially resumed so once litter is thrown it tends to stick around and because I’m on the hunt for roadside cans I notice it and can see it mounting up. On that front, however, I’ve got a plan. I’ve got a fancy new basket for the back of my bike and today I took it out with a litter picking bag in it and cleaned up a couple of the worst spots (while also fulfilling my can quota, of course). This cheered me up a little until I passed a brand new load of fly-tipped rubbish right by the river. That’s now the third lot I have to pass on my way into town…

I suppose I’ll continue with both the can collecting (I’m not sure I’ll be able to stop now) and the occasional litter picks into 2021. But I might need a more cheerful hobby if any love for my fellow humans is to survive. What quixotic and possibly doomed to failure project are you planning for 2021?

Over tyred

December 29, 2020

Pretty as the snow is, as day follows night, ice follows snow. With the next few days forecast to be sunny but barely creeping above freezing, and our road looking like a skating rink, it was time to put the ice tyres on the bike.

Ice covered road

Although first, I had to evict a wannabe fellow traveller.

Snail on bike wheel

Given my well-documented travails getting Marathon tyres on and off my bike, I have opted to use a set of old wheels with the tyres on and swap those instead, which come with their own problems, not least the fact that the back wheel is wider than my normal back wheel. Also, after a wet and filthy winter so far, the bike is suffering a little from neglect as became painfully obvious once I got it upside down and took the wheels off (every year I vow this will be the year that I regularly clean my bike and oil the chain before it starts doing its basket of kittens impression, and every year turns out not to be that year).

underside of bike covered in muck

Having dug a few handfuls of what looked like quite nice topsoil out of the mudguards and then bodged the fact that the rivet holding the rear mudguard away from the wheel was apparently only being held on by said topsoil (hello, duct taping the loose struts out of the way of the wheel) and spent a painful few minutes tightening the wheels, loosening the wheels to straighten them so they didn’t rub the non-centring brakes, tightening the wheels again, accidentally loosening them because ‘righty tighty, lefty loosey’ doesn’t work when you’re me and doing this all upside down, and repeating until my fingers were numb, I had a bike with two working spikey wheels and I’d even found all the tools that had managed to dematerialise themselves in the process (hello allen keys that drop out of the socket and just … vanish. Where do you go?).

Then it was time to test them out and as so often happened, I started wondering if I shouldn’t have bothered as soon as I was on the main road. The pleasant ice-krispy sound of the studs on tarmac weren’t able to drown out the noise of a grumbling drive train on an old set of cogs, nor the thrum of a bodged mudguard fouling the rear wheel when under too much pressure. The chain dropped off a couple of times in protest at it all, and after all that effort, it seemed like there was no ice anyway. We might have had snow up round us, but all seemed clear once I’d dropped down into the valley .. at least, until I encountered various groups of walkers doing the ‘penguin dance’ on the black ice along the road. A couple of them commented that I was doing well to stay upright at all, giving me the opportunity to tell them about my ice tyres which – for all their issues – had retained their key magical property of keeping me rubber side down.

snow on hills, green fields

This helped power me back up the hill, for all that each one weighs almost a kilo. There’s no better winter warmer than the smug glow of knowing you’ve got magic tyres on your bike.

And speaking of magic:

I’m hoping these work in the way new rain gear works – i.e. they stop punctures altogether. But failing that, I hope they mean I can actually mend a puncture AND get the tyres back on without creating another one. Because that truly would be magical.

Stay at Home Order

December 27, 2020

The Met Office had been making vaguely threatening noises about snow and ice this weekend, but I hadn’t really believed it until we woke to a dusting of snow on the skylights. Nothing to write home about, I thought, but by mid morning it was putting its back into it a bit.

snow falling

One of the consequences of living up a hill is that we get all that ‘falling as snow on higher ground’ that the weather forecasters do like to go on about. And as we only live up a relatively small hill, we’re often right on the border between snow and not-snow, which means that photos taken looking down the valley just look like a continuity error.

Snow covered farm with green fields beyond

Anyway, the sun came out, which was not in the forecast, so we took the opportunity to get a walk in while the snowiness lasted, such as it was.

snowy track through forest

Even after snow, this part of Scotland cannot help being GREEN, and I have finally worked out how to persuade my phone to take photos that capture just how GREEN it is.

Green mossy trees and woodland

Fortunately, other than our state-sanctioned walk, we had nowhere we needed to be today. The forecast is for freezing temperatures and more precipitation overnight so I expect tomorrow will be a day for the ice tyres, if I’m going anywhere by bike…

snowy scene, looking down at green below

Then again, I might just stay at home.

Are we Feeling Christmassy Yet?

December 24, 2020

One problem with our plan of minimising all contacts for the fortnight before Christmas – apart from the whole emergence-of-a-mutant-virus-and-country-going-into-imminent-lockdown thing – was that we forgot to stockpile any actual Christmassy food or treats. This is partly because the other half is American and has no affection for dried fruit so he places almost all UK Christmas food on a scale that ranges from curiosity to derision (I hadn’t realised until I turned up for Christmas one year at his parents proudly bearing Christmas cake that fruit cake is considered a punchline in the US, rather than a foodstuff. That said, I had a similar reaction when I was served sweet potatoes with marshmallows; I’ve got a sweet tooth, but that was beyond even me. Some traditions are really best left in their own countries).

So although we have had plenty of healthy and nutritious meals in the last fortnight, we have not had anything that would really get us into a festive mood, something which is more urgently needed with every news cycle. Fortunately, there is one Christmas treat we both enjoy, the cinnamon roll – ideally, in the other half’s eyes, Pillsbury Poppin’ Fresh cinammon rolls, although he’s willing to accept my hand-crafted home-made inferior substitutes in a pinch.

Unfortunately, our careful menu planning hadn’t taken into account the need for an egg for the dough. Since the 10th, we’ve basically bought nothing in person that can’t be purchased from the garage, which, while I’m sure its petrol is excellent, offers quite a limited selection of human fuel. I wasn’t sure it would have any eggs at all, let along free range ones (the honesty box eggs tend to disappear during the winter as back-garden hens stop laying), but then I remembered it had this:

Egg vending machine

An egg vending machine with impeccably local credentials, which lurks between the car valeting area and the bags of coal. A quick inspection revealed that the eggs were sold in open trays of 15, a bit of a challenge when you’re on a bike (sure, you can transport your Christmas tree by bike, but unpackaged eggs are another matter), so yesterday I cycled down with some empty egg boxes, paid my £2.50 and hey presto, another chance to make an exhibition of myself in front of the right-thinking driving inhabitants of Bigtown by repackaging eggs in a garage forecourt to fit into a bike pannier bag.

Anyway, with the eggs safely transported home, it was time to try and generate a little Christmas spirit in the face of 2020. They may not live up to the wonders of Pillsbury, but they disappeared quickly enough (after they’d been immortalised for social media, of course).

In terms of Christmassy-ness it sort of worked, although I’d probably be feeling more festive if I hadn’t inadvertently got up at 5:30 this morning having read my watch wrong in the dark. This may be why I then capped my cinnamon roll triumph by forgetting I’d put a loaf of bread on to bake. Clearly the part of my brain that keeps track of needing to take things out of the oven had been fooled by the fact that it had already taken something out of the oven and switched itself off.

burnt loaf

And then, having thoroughly over-indulged ourselves, it was time to make the most of the brief appearance of the sun with a bike ride. We do miss our Christmas visits to Colorado, but occasionally Scotland makes a decent fist of a winter blue sky.

blue skies

I hope you manage to scrape some festive spirit from the bottom of the 2020 barrel, whatever this skip fire of a year has brought you.

Chipping Away…

December 21, 2020

‘So how’s the sitooterie project going?’ literally nobody has asked, but never fear, I’m going to tell you anyway.

future sitooterie site
cleared site

Actually, progress is being made, largely because ‘dismantling the dog kennel’ has been the other half’s project in recent weeks. Looking at it now, I’m amazed we lived with such an eyesore for four years, but then again we do have a patio which still features large piles of not particularly decorative gravel so we’re quite good at not seeing things when we don’t want to.

Garden wall with old ivy marks

The ivy on the back wall, which was rampant but much less of an eyesore, has also had to go, sadly. Ivy is a great place for wildlife to hide (as well as enormous urns) and it’s a good winter foodsource for pollinators when it’s mature enough to flower so I was loth to remove it, but we needed to get at the back wall, and we had to do it around now, before any birds started nesting in it in spring.

Old birds nests

(it’s already hosted blackbirds for the last two seasons)

The ivy will undoubtedly grow back, albeit maybe not as magnificently, and we’ll also try and provide a new habitat elsewhere in the garden that can host baby blackbirds, among other things. Suggestions for good plants to use for a nice thick wildlife-friendly shrubbery gratefully received.

Pile of garden waste awaiting shredding

Meanwhile, the ‘to-be-shredded’ pile grows ever larger to the point where it might have become hedgehog habitat (well, we can hope). Even with our dalek army and the mothership, it will anyway overwhelm our current composting capacity so we’ll just chip away at the pile over winter slowly and there should be enough to protect any dozing hedgehogs till the spring arrives.

I did think we might be a bit late with our plans as this was the year for outdoor socialising, if ever there was one – but with everything that’s going on in the news, it does look as if al fresco entertaining will be with us for a good while yet.

In 2020 …

December 19, 2020

… you take your victories where you can.

wet road and flooding below

It feels we’ve been woken every morning this week by the sound of rain on the skylight above our bed, except on those days when it’s kept us awake all night so when there was a brief window in the weather this morning I decided to nip out for the paper while the going was good …

Sun on wet road
sun on trees with clouds behind

It’s been wet all right.

River starting to flood

But sometimes, just sometimes, you manage to get out and get back home and (more or less, adjusted for being 2020) dry before the rain resumes.

Rain through window

As our Christmas plans are thrown into confusion and we head back into lockdown, that might be as good as it gets.

Bin Day Come Early

December 16, 2020

I’ve been known to joke on Twitter that bin day is the highlight of our week, but to be honest, it’s one of those jokes that conceal a half truth

Our rubbish goes out to our road end, which meant that during the first lockdown – when we were initially restricted to one state-sanctioned hour of exercise per day – Bin Day gave us the exciting prospect of an extra walk in the morning to drop off the rubbish (with the exciting prospect of a second walk at lunchtime to see if the bin men had been). It also means that we have colour-coded official council bags; they change the colour every year, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear but possibly to prevent a black market in surplus bin bags from developing. One of our neighbours excitingly got the colour wrong in deep lockdown and had to endure the sight of their bags of shame sitting at the road end uncollected for a week until they had a bright idea of adding a rainbow and ‘thank you keyworkers’ message on the bags which seemed to do the trick (it turned out they’d not been bothering to put their rubbish out up to now, just taken it down to the dump when they were going, so had fallen behind with complexities of the system).

Since then, we’re allowed out a little more but our daily state-sanctioned walk remains, and so does the slight frisson of Bin Day at a time when the days have a way of otherwise merging into one. So we were extra discombobulated last week when the other half reported that he’d gone down to drop the bags off and the bags that had been there earlier were already gone. Now it was our turn to endure the Bags of Shame (typically, it was a week when we had a few, having finally got rid of the Manky Pink Carpet). Clearly Bin Day – or rather, Bin Moment – had shifted a few hours earlier and we had been caught on the hop (the council do say you have to have the rubbish out by 7am but the binmen have never come before 10 before so we’ve tackled this task at our leisure).

This week, unwilling to be caught out again, we celebrated Bin Day Eve by strolling down to add our new bag to the Bags of Shame and then headed up at our normal time (what can I say, habits die hard) to see if the bin men had come early again, but they hadn’t. So now we’re thrown into uncertainty – do we put the bags out the night before, in the dark? Revert to our morning stroll and hope? Get up and get the rubbish out for 7am? Even if the bin men never come early again, we’re left with the lingering doubt that this week is the week that they might.

It is I suppose typical of 2020 that nothing, not even Bin Day can be counted on…

However, in exciting news, next year the Coonsil, after a gap of ten years, will finally join the rest of the country and resume doorstep recycling (or, in our case, road end recycling) which means a whole new system of coloured bags. I bet you can hardly wait. I know I can’t.


December 10, 2020

In a fortnight’s time it will be Christmas Eve, and we’ll be heading to my parents to spend two days attempting not to spread any germs and have something resembling a festive Christmas, adjusted for 2020. I’m somewhat conflicted about the whole thing – it’s possible I now follow too many epidemiologists and public health specialists on Twitter (some of them actual epidemiologists and public health specialists; the rest somewhat more self-appointed) as half my timeline seems to consist of ‘well fine to spend Christmas with your family if you want to KILL GRANNY’ or variations thereof (the other half is cycling Twitter which, you’ll be relieved to know, carries on mostly unchanged, as it has throughout the pandemic. Those kerbs won’t criticise themselves, you know).

I’ve read all the advice on how to have a COVID-safe Christmas and to be honest I don’t think I’ll be managing to persuade my parents to throw the windows open for the duration of our stay, let alone eat Christmas dinner outside. So we’re taking the alternative approach of minimising our contacts with people for the next 14 days, which is relatively easy for us to do (‘How will you tell the difference?’ my sister asked). I’ve done all the Christmas shopping that it’s possible to do in Bigtown and Notso Bigtown, and today the other half took the hit of shopping for two weeks’ worth of meals in one go, so we can avoid the supermarket from now on. We’ll still need to do a couple of post office visits and I’ll still get the paper, but I’ve already stopped going to the shop on the outskirts of Bigtown in favour of the nearest garage, which has the papers outside the door and where I can be in and out in less than a minute. It feels a bit wierd to be supporting a petrol station, but everyone at the garage wears a mask and it does mean I don’t have to stand in the shop silently fuming while the inevitable unmasked customer chit chats obliviously at the till or edges up behind me in the queue because clearly standing half a metre away from someone is going to make you get to the front faster than if you just stood on your little dot and waited like everyone else.*

We’re in one of the lower risk areas in the UK – although now that we’re about to be moved into Tier 1 I imagine that will change – but even with all our precautions it’s still not zero risk, so I imagine that epidemiology Twitter isn’t going to be too impressed, but it’s the compromise we’ve come to and I can only hope that it’s enough (meanwhile, cycling Twitter won’t be impressed to learn we did our stockpiling by car either).

Come Boxing Day, we’ll be home again and bracing ourselves for another big shop for enough supplies to see us through a (now looking inevitable, I fear) no-deal Brexit. This would have been a good year to have done better with my leeks which, despite the gift of some spare plants from the Garden Visiting Committee, are still pretty puny. If the snow and frost holds off then we’ll still hopefully be picking chard, and we’ve enough stored potatoes to see us through January, but other than that we’re may be looking at eating a lot of kale for the next few weeks unless Boris pulls something out of the bag in a couple of days.

plenty of kale
Somehow, there’s always plenty of kale …

Any recipe suggestions gratefully received …

*I actually stopped going not because of the slightly increased chance of catching coronavirus, but because of the approaching 100% chance of me being banned from the shop for good for standing in the middle of the aisle shouting ‘just wear a fucking mask, people, how hard can it be?’ until I’m bundled out by security.

On the Fly

December 4, 2020

I’ve been noticing on my bike travels (if going to the shop and back to buy a paper counts as ‘travels’ in these restricted times) a patch of bright red flowers blooming by the side of the road, an unusual sight at this time of year. One of those sights that I’ve been meaning to stop and investigate, one of these days, but never quite having the time on the way out, and then forgetting all about it on the way back. So long have they been blooming, indeed, that I began to wonder if they were real at all – sometimes people leave wreaths at special spots by the river, and sometimes they are artificial ones.

Anyway, yesterday I finally took the time to check it out and found they were real, but they weren’t wildflowers – someone had fly tipped the contents of their summer hanging baskets by the side of the road and there were pelargoniums and a few lobelias still valiantly blooming away, in some cases upside down.

Discarded hanging baskets

As flytipping goes, it’s not the worst I’ve seen, nor is it the most useful (I’m still using the plant modules I found dumped in the river many moons ago) , nor even the most bizarre, which has to go to the pair of crutches I saw last month (or perhaps the full-sized vending machine that cropped up in the same layby a couple of years ago)

But even garden waste is still flytipping and it’s still annoying that people just dump stuff on the side of the road – one of the worst things about cycling is that you can’t help but notice the flytipping and litter pretty much everywhere you go. And besides, there was something very poignant about these poor discarded plants, still doing their thing unregarded by the side of the road.

bright pelargonium blooming

Soft hearted a gardener as I am, I felt I did very well not to try and rescue them for another season (I have to admit, I did consider it) – and given that we woke to snow this morning, I’m guessing that they’ll have flowered their last by the time I next go past.

Although if they are still going when I next see them, I’ll be hard pressed not to scoop at least some of them up and take them home …