Jacking it in

February 28, 2021

It is a well-known fact that any cycling purchase related to the ahem slight downsides of cycling life work a powerful but temporary magic: waterproofs, for instance, can usher in a few days of fine weather, longer if they’re really expensive ones, whereas we buy anything like sunscreen or warm-weather gear at our peril. And it seems the magic also works on the puncture fairy for it’s been a full two months since I got this Christmas gift from my nephew and I only had to get it out of its packaging today.

tyre jack

Regular readers will be aware that my cycle maintenance history is one long struggle with repairing punctures (and please, I’ve been blogging about this as a female on the internet for over a decade now, so you can be certain I have had ALL THE ADVICE I need on the subject, no, really, and that includes the video with the zip ties) and specifically the joy of the Marathon Plus tyre. Over time I have painfully learned how to get the damn tyres off (involves swearing), the importance of checking the inside of the tyre for what caused the puncture (and how to get an embedded Bastard Big Thorn out of a Marathon Plus tyre), the length of time you can let a slow puncture go without having to do the walk of shame home (N-1 days, where N is the number of days you will try and leave it for), the fact that sometimes you will have TWO holes in your inner tube, the need to wait much much longer than you think for the patch glue to dry (this is a good time to start looking for what caused the hole and then doing battle with the embedded Bastard Big Thorn), the fact that fixing a flat tyre is so much more civilised – and actually easier – inside in the warm rather than outside in the cold, and latterly the fact that puncturing a repaired inner tube while attempting to wrestle a Marathon Plus tyre back onto your wheel is the easiest way to break a cyclist’s heart and/or morale.

Which is where the tyre jack comes in. I only discovered such a thing existed last year after a couple of failed puncture repair attemptes, put it on my Christmas list, and today I got to try it out in anger. Or rather, I thought I would – the problem was that it came with no instructions – how you actually get a tyre back on with it is apparently self explanatory unless you’re me. I called the other half in to see if he could figure it out and then went to see if there was a helpful video somewhere on line.

I can confirm that the way a tyre jack works is that in the time it takes for the average YouTuber to stop talking about things that aren’t how tyre jacks work and get around to demonstrating how they do work, your less mechanically declined husband will have worked it out and got the tyre back on (this is in fact how all the best bike maintenance tools work).

Meanwhile, some friends have left a fresh supply of Bastard Big Thorns outside our front door: gooseberry bushes to be precise.

pots with gooseberry plants in them

I shall be planting them well away from anywhere I might be cycling. The tyre jack is neat and all, but it’s not magic …

Full of the Joys

February 23, 2021

The traditional response around here to any incomer who is unwary enough to remark on the weather being fine is either ‘Aye but it’ll no last, mind’ or – in the unlikely event that sunshine is forecast to continue for more than one day – ‘Well, but we’ll pay for it.’

sunshine through bare trees

I was reminded of this today as I woke to the sound of the rain battering the skylights and saw that we were facing an amber warning of rain from noon today. February can be unremitting in its grimness, but it does throw up the occasional day or two when the wind drops, the sun edges out, and we all dare to hope that spring might be on it way (clearly the Weather Gods know all too well that it’s these brief glimpses of respite that are the real killer by this point in the year). Sunday and yesterday were just such days and I had duly made the most of them. And now the bill was due.

I don’t know whether it’s lockdown, or a slow dawning of common sense, but in the past year I’ve found myself much less willing to go out in properly grim weather unless I really have to. The Met Office can be a bit free with its weather warnings at times, but it tends not to muck about with the amber ones (I’ve never actually experience a red one, and I don’t think I want to) so the sensible approach would probably have been to batten down the hatches, forgo the paper and enjoy our nice warm waterproof house. But today was also Binday, and Binday cannot be so easily denied.

Given that the weather was forecast to go from merely windy and raining to blowing a hooly at lunchtime, I reasoned that it was better to just get wet the once and get it over with. So I donned the full wet-weather gear, complete with wellies, and wheeled the rubbish down to the road end before cycling the rest of the way down for the paper.

And, a bit like eating liver, it was … fine. I mean, it wasn’t exactly pleasant but I wasn’t blown across the road, no driver overtook me while speeding through a puddle, and at least I had a roaring tailwind at my back for much of the ride home. That said, I did discover that rain doesn’t need to be frozen to pepper your face like so many tiny needles, and I did need a complete change of clothes once I had got home, if only because my waterproofs lack a certain amount of breathability.

And then – changed, warm, and enjoying a well-deserved cup of coffee at my desk, I got to enjoy the best bit of all: watching the weather get worse and worse, and having absolutely no need to go out in it again.


February 21, 2021

As I mentioned before, we were entrusted with our neighbours’ smallholding last summer, for which we were handsomely rewarded in the form of (vegans look away now) one lamb – not as a pet but as a neatly packaged set of joints suitable for going into the freezer. In fact, payment came in two parts – half a lamb last year and another half which duly arrived a couple of days ago.

lambs getting fed
Not the actual lamb in question, although it did arrive at our house in a bucket

The only downside of the first half was having to look the other sheep in the eye when we passed them on our occasional walks past their field, but the second half came with a bonus package: the liver (as well as a bucket of slightly whiskery surplus carrots and onions and almost a dozen eggs). Now, I have become a much less picky eater than I used to be over the years – having added many vegetables, and even the odd invertebrate to the list of things I eat, but so far I have drawn the line at offal except in the form of pate. The other half, who knows me well, realised that if the liver went into the freezer along with everything else it would likely stay there until the end of time or we defrosted it, whichever was sooner. So it has been in our fridge waiting for me to get the courage to give it a go.

Yesterday the day arrived. A quick google revealed that there is precisely one liver recipe in the entire English-speaking world, which is to flash fry it with bacon and onions (the other recipe, favoured by our school kitchen back in the day, of boiling it until it resembled shoe leather but with a faintly greenish sheen, seems to have fallen by the wayside). Twitter more or less confirmed this but divided decisively between the ‘slice-first-then-fry’ and ‘fry-first-then-slice’ camps – as it turned out the liver was pre-sliced so I didn’t have to choose a side.

So anyway, to cut a long story short, I cooked it as instructed and it was … fine. It did not taste of shoe leather. It did, quite definitely, taste of liver. Covering it in onion gravy and bacon helped a bit, but I now know that I’m not massively keen on the taste of liver. However I can say that I have moved lamb’s liver from the ‘do not like despite not ever having tried it’ box to the slightly more grown up ‘do not really like and yes I have tried flash frying it with onion and bacon’ box. Hey, it’s 2021. We take our achievements where we can these days.

In slightly more grown-up news, I have been putting the surplus carrots to more delicious use: not just carrot cake but, in the ultimate in pre-preparedness, ready-chopped batches of soffritto mix for the freezer.

All I have to do is find a space for it among all the lamb…

Communications Channel

February 18, 2021

Yesterday’s essential excuse for a bike ride involved dropping off some plants* with a friend who had admired them back in the giddy days of summer. I’d promised to give her some when I divided up the clump and a two day intermission in the Weather Gods’ February hostilities gave me enough time to both do so and arrange to cycle them down to her.

Bike parked by river.

This meant not just cycling somewhere new – oh frabjuous day – but also a trip through the heart of Bigtown, which is (as it has been the last few times I’ve been down) absolutely hopping. The shops might almost all be shut, but a family of otters have been making their presence felt in the river and in the absence of any other thing to do, le tout Bigtown appears to be spending the days of lockdown looking out for them. This gladdens my heart (even though I’ve not managed to spot them myself) but makes navigating the shared-use river path somewhat slow going.

Fortunately I had left myself plenty of time because as well as having to weave my way politely through the otter spotters, I also ended up having three separate conversations – one with the chap who was busy surveying the toucan crossing we’ve been campaigning for the last five years over, one to admire the nifty e-bike and trailer setup of a mum visiting the playground, and finally a catch up with a friend who is locked into a gaslighting battle with the coonsil and now the polis over the fact that if 3,000 drivers speed down her road in a week, and she puts up some scarecrows to remind them that people live there and they might want to slow down, it turns out it’s she who gets in trouble with the law (she is made of sterner stuff than me and appears to be making progress on this one, amazingly). Combine that with a good socially distanced outdoor natter with my pal (exercising your jaw muscles is still exercise, right?) and then another good long chat about local issues with another acquaintance, and that was five face-to-face conversations in one day, possibly doubling my total for the year (not counting the other half). It’s no wonder I was knackered by the time I got home, and not just because it’s been a while since I cycled 30 miles in a day.

We’ve recently started using Slack with the Bigtown Cycle Campaign, mainly in a vain attempt to cut down on the numer of 8-page emails I get from certain people with impeccable attention to detail but no inner editor whatsoever. I have used it in various campaigns and found it useful for communicating the sort of day-to-day matters and discussion that need raising but don’t necessarily warrant a full email. But good as it is, it still doesn’t replace the main communication channel for cycle campaigning round here – bumping into someone when you’re both out on your bikes.

And as a means of communication I can confirm that it knocks the painful Zoom meeting into a cocked hat.

* Some nice dark red Astrantia which were given me when we moved in, so I felt it was appropriate to pay it forward.

Always Winter, Never Snowing

February 13, 2021

As the rest of my social media feed fills up with photos of fun in the snow across Scotland, we seem to have had the worst of the deal: all the bone-chilling cold you can shake a stick at and none of the white stuff (it is forecast to snow overnight tonight – and then rain all day tomorrow so we might at least get to enjoy the slushy melting stage …)

This means that the chief pleasure of our daily constitutional has become the way it makes the house feel warm when we get back in out of the east wind. And today I got double the pleasure because I’d spotted some cool looking ice forming in the burn, and had to dash back for my camera (it is an iron law that leaving it behind means we’ll see something worth photographing).

floating ice blob

Of course, it turned out to be harder to photograph than I had hoped, especially after I had climbed over a fence, scrambled down a steep bank, and crunch-squelched my way through a not-really-frozen-enough bog to reach it. A tree branch had fallen into the water and just where the tip was sticking out, a ball of ice had formed and was bobbing up and down in the water as though it were floating. None of this comes across in a photograph and once fetched out of the water it was just an ice blob.

blob of ice

In fact, everywhere that touched the water was busy freezing up in ways that turned out to be quite difficult to photograph without risking an icy dip. And it felt cold enough out that I didn’t want to end up turning into an icicle myself.

icicles at the fringes of the burn

So I went home and ordered this year’s veg seed in the warm instead. This feels like even more of an act of faith that spring is on its way than it usually does.

Give Us This Day our Daily Cycle

February 9, 2021

More than a month into this latest lockdown, I’ve made the decision that I’ve got to get back to regularly cycling again. On Sunday I went for a walk with a friend which meant a five mile bike ride, an hour’s walking, and then the five miles home and couldn’t work out why my legs were so tired later in the day.

sunshine and open road

Unfortunately, it’s become abundantly clear I’m not going to just go out for a cycle for the heck of it, however much I might preach the joys, health benefits and all-round excellence of riding a bike. So, now that our case numbers locally have declined back down from the scary peaks of January (I’ve been checking the excellent Travelling Tabby site for the latest data almost obsessively since the new year), I’ve decided to bribe myself with the prospect of getting an actual paper as long as the numbers remain heading in the right direction. So far, this has been enough to get me out cycling further in three days than I’ve done in the past few weeks, despite the Baltic east wind (perhaps it would have been better not to make this decision during the arrival of the Minibeast from the East although so far we haven’t had any proper snow, unlike apparently everyone else in Scotland) and the Weather Gods experimenting with their latest innovation: snow flakes that seem to materialise randomly out of clear skies just when you’ve set off on your bike.

Anyway, today I had a proper excuse for an outing – inspecting an underpass and photographing all of the broken lights (basically 4/5 of them) so I can report them to the appropriate authorities. Never let it be said that the life of a cycle campaigner is not a glamorous one.

Underpass with broken lights

And I was cheered on the way back to encounter one of the older litter-picking locals who I often stopped to chat with back in the day. I haven’t seen him since the first lockdown in March (and if my can collecting efforts are anything to go by – I hit a high score of 15 today – he hasn’t been out that much in recent months) so I was pleased to find him fit and well and rejoicing in having received his jab* three weeks ago so he should now be protected. As the weeks pass, and the rollout continues, I’m hoping to find that many more of Bigtownshire’s indomitable senior citizens have made it through and are – at least for now – in the clear.

* I know, I’m supposed to say ‘jag’ up here but it just looks wrong.

A Rose in Any Other Place

February 6, 2021

Don’t tell the weather gods, but while the rest of the country seems to be lurching from one amber weather warning to the next, the weather here today has been strangely … fine. Neither raining nor sleeting nor snowing for the first time in what feels like weeks, temperatures above freezing, and even the wind has moderated itself somewhat. Indeed, the sun even put in an appearance, fleeting though it was.

Time to head out into the garden to press on with the sitooterie. The current task is clearing out the bed beside it, which will need to be dismantled, and rescuing some of the plants I want to keep while attempting not to spread the ones that will otherwise take over any further than they’ve got under their own steam (I’m looking at you, periwinkle, although I do appreciate your winter flowers – just not the fact that you have already managed to spread yourself under the flagstones of the patio and it’s only a matter of time before you’ve moved into the house).

periwinkle flower

Among the keepers are some red jasmine (Jasminium beesianum, which looks as if it will quite happily root itself anywhere it gets the chance so I’m not too worried about) and this delicate little rose that has been long outshadowed by all the other plants in this bed. Cutting things back earlier gave it its moment in the sun and it has rewarded us by flowering when nothing else has been in bloom.

peach coloured rose

I’d want to keep it anyway, as it’s a pretty rose, but even if it were hideous, the fact that it’s persisted against the odds while almost overwhelmed by its more robust neighbours means that I feel honour bound to give it a chance in a new location. Unfortunately, that could be a tricky task as it means extricating it from the mass of roots the other plants have laid down. And boy have they laid down a lot.

Two hours later, not much progress had been made. I have a feeling that every foot is going to be hard fought on this one.

partially cleared bed.

But after a week of sitting at a desk and not getting out to do much of anything at all, it felt good to do something physical out in the fresh air. Even if I did end up feeling the way this fork looks…

bent garden fork

Tips for moving roses successfully gratefully appreciated. Or, indeed, unbending forks