August 6, 2022

Recently (having realised I missed it), I resurrected the idea of tracking my Eddington number. Having been bitten by the loss of my tracking spreadsheet, and not wishing to get involved in the murky waters of Strava (even though it might have made the latest regional transport analysis a tiny bit less skewed), I have gone low tech:

Notebook with 'Eddington Rides' on the cover

I don’t do many Eddington rides – I’m unofficially aiming for one a month, where anything over 37 miles would count towards increasing my number, but longer is better – so it’s not a massive bureaucratic burden to write a brief note of each qualifying ride and then update the various tallies accordingly. Indeed, I’m hoping that, in time, the notes themselves will act as a prompt to remember some memorable days (and nights) out on the bike, even if this blog itself is long gone.

Yesterday was a case in point. The occasion – a chance to meet up with a friend who is holidaying out west for a walk and a catch up. The distance – a total of 55 miles, largely on the quiet roads we do so well out here …

Road lined with beeches

Along wooded river valleys …

narrow road with woods on either side

And up into what I think of as raven country …

Empty road across moorland

Coming back, I had a tailwind, and on a warm late summer afternoon there’s really nothing finer than bowling along for miles and miles and miles on an open empty road with the wind at your back. No pressure of time, nothing to achieve, nobody to please but myself and nowhere I needed to be except (eventually) home. It’s not something I’d want to do every day or even every week, but yesterday filled a hole I didn’t even know needed filling until it was gone.

Eddington number tallies

Getting one step closer to increasing my E-number is just a bonus, really.

Further, Furtherest

May 5, 2021

As I mentioned before, I’m on a bid to extend my cycling range for reasons not unconnected to this. I’ve even been training – or ‘training’ anyway – with a mixture of faster rides and trying to up my weekly mileage, although I don’t think I’ve still managed to reach the average distance I was riding each week pre lockdown just by dint of having a busy life and getting to most of it by bike.

Road up to Eskdalemuir

On Saturday I was able to put all this effort to the test with my longest ride to date, out to Eskdalemuir and back, a mere 69 miles and many many feet of climbing. This took me and my long-suffering companion (long-suffering more for the fact that after several long rides in each other’s company we’re mostly just repeating our best anecdotes than for the ride itself, as he’s much fitter and faster than me, although I think he was regretting not switching out his single geared hub this weekend) seven and a half hours, which was much faster than my last big outing, and left me feeling that my next big adventure, should I actually attempt it, might actually be doable. I didn’t even feel that broken afterwards, although going up and down stairs was a bit interesting. (I would like to register a complaint with the weather gods though: I do know all about not casting a clout till May is out, thank you, but was it really necessary to treat us to a snow shower as we climbed back out of the valley after our lunch stop? And while we’re on the subject, what is it with all the hail?)

Garmin GPS unit

Anyhoo this morning a parcel arrived which promises to up my training game further (it is one of my great pleasures in life to give a second home to people’s slightly obsolete pieces of technology (see also keyboards, and every phone that Back on My Bike has owned) that might otherwise go to landfill). However, it comes with its own hazards. I’ve been spreadsheet free for almost a decade now, and I’ve never looked back, although I do still occasionally feel a slight wistfulness that I’m no longer tracking my Eddington number. Starting to record and log my rides in an attempt to gauge my improvement … well it could just be the thing that tips me back into relapse. Add in modern tracking apps and, from what I’ve seen on line, that way madness lies (google Veloviewer tiles to get a flavour of the sort of obsession that can develop). Clearly I’m going to have to limit my use of the thing to strictly necessary purposes only. And stay well clear of the spreadsheets.

That said … it would be nice to know my Eddington number again. I quite like the idea of being the sort of person who’s still increasing it into their eighties …

Welcoming our Compost Overlord

March 29, 2019

I mentioned we had exciting composting news and I can now reveal that the Dalek mothership has landed.

We’ve been curious about compost tumblers ever since visiting my friend’s parents’ amazingly productive plot. It’s fair to say that our own adventures in composting haven’t really been more than partially successful so far.

Enter the compost tumbler (or technically speaking the ComposTumbler), which cost How Much!? and promises speedy compost (as long as your average temperatures are high enough), or at least the opportunity to spend less time emptying and refilling an ever-growing platoon of daleks.

In between shelling out for this behemoth and it arriving, the subject of compost tumblers came up on Gardeners’ Question Time where they were roundly dismissed. All we needed to make compost, Bob Flowerdew opined airily, was four pallets joined together – and to turn it regularly. As it happens we do have four pallets but I also have A Shoulder and that has made turning the compost a bit painful, and probably unwise. And besides – while I’m all for frugal gardening and the creative use of pallets – there’s something about having a great big steampunkish metal contraption that is equally appealing.

The other half assembled it in the garage, and yesterday we carried it out onto its stand in composting corner where we filled it up with a starter load of stuff that had been festering (or, more properly, failing to fester) in one of the daleks all winter. According to the very detailed instructions that came with the beast, we should be taking its temperature daily (disappointingly it did not come with a spreadsheet for recording it, although it did include a few graphs) to ensure the magic is happening, and turning it at least four times a week.

You would think that would be enough, but I’m slowly realising that composting is an exacting science and we are also going to need a decent shredder. Plus, in order to get the right balance of carbon and nitrogen, separate holding areas for things like grass clippings and wood chippings. Not to mention somewhere for kitchen and garden waste while we wait for the tumbler to do its work and somewhere to store the finished compost once it’s completed it. Compost Corner clearly still has a way to go.

I have long suspected that gardening largely comes down to the accumulation of stuff to go into the compost. Now, I am sure of it.

Surely Some Mistake

February 1, 2017

Chatting with a friend this evening, I realised that for the last few weeks I have been increasingly tied up with what I can only describe as ‘work shaped activities’ – things which have every quality that you would normally associate with doing for a job, apart from the bit where money arrives in your bank account in return for it. So I have been to meetings (some of which involved cake, but most of which did not), I have written up notes, read and sent countless emails, taken Skype calls, created Excel spreadsheets, updated websites, met deadlines, circulated agendas, updated my wall planner* and written reports. With footnotes. And references.

All of this has left distressingly little time for the things I quit my actual job to have time to do like garden, ride my bike (except to meetings), play with the new house and generally enjoy myself.** It also leaves me with the slightly scary prospect of giving evidence to a committee next week in the Scottish Parliament about cycling and climate change, which is both exciting, in a way, and also deeply worrying. I mean, it’s great that they’re asking Pedal on Parliament to give evidence, and are taking us seriously in matters of policy. But on the other hand, there’s a voice in my head wondering what on earth I think I personally am doing opining on these matters. There’s a whole government apparatus out there which should be perfectly capable of reading a few policy documents and sets of statistics, throwing together a spreadsheet and working out a few figures, with footnotes, and references. But then when I read what the government apparatus had actually come up with on the subject …

Draft Climate Change Plan snippet

er, what?

… I realised that even someone who can’t even keep their wall planner stuck to their wall could do a better job than that. So it might as well be me.

* Except that it has now fallen off the wall and is now a floor planner

** I am, however, making time to do some writing, thanks to taking my own advice regarding procrastination. Well, so far this week, anyway…

What I Preach

January 27, 2017

They say, if you want tips on getting a good night’s sleep, ask an insomniac, because the people who actually sleep well every night just go to bed and fall asleep and have no idea how they do it. Similarly, if you want advice on avoiding procrastination, ask a procrastinator … but do remember to give them a firm deadline or you may be waiting a long time.

As it happens, this came up at my writers’ group (after we’d just postponed starting our session by two weeks, in a rare example of synchronised procrastination, which is harder than it looks) and I somehow volunteered to jointly run a session on becoming more productive as a writer (stop laughing at the back there). Fortunately there was a firm deadline, and – as I was putting off doing something else more important at the time – I ended up doing a fair bit of reading on the topic and managed to put together an interesting and (apparently) quite effective evening. It ended up as a cross between a group therapy session and a stationery sales convention (there’s nothing quite like a new notebook, calendar or pack of coloured post it notes to take the sting out of actually getting on and doing something, and if that doesn’t turn your crank, then there’s always the option to set up an elaborate spreadsheet).

Anyhow, I thought I had better put my money where my mouth is, so I have made a commitment to try something along the lines of this, to make sure that I make time for my own writing alongside all the other important things I seem to have agreed to do. Today I set up the calendar on my phone and scheduled my first week’s worth of writing sessions – and so far (accountability is everything) I have got that first crucial half hour under my belt, as well as managing to power through a few more things on my to do list.

The problem is, while I feel I’ve actually achieved a fair bit today (and I still managed to spend at least half an hour getting a tricky game of Spider solitaire out), there’s still effectively an infinite number of things I have to do (winning at Spider Solitaire wasn’t one of them, either). One of these days – when I get to the bottom of my current to do list – I shall start learning how to say no to things and concentrate on what’s truly important. Unfortunately, with the way the world is these days, that seems to be everything…

Meanwhile, if you’d like a funny, a bit sweary, but accurate analysis of procrastination, I recommend you start here.

Not So Smart

December 21, 2012

With the year drawing to a close, alert readers may have noticed that, despite our exciting new smart meters being fitted, I haven’t been posting any details of the results. You may have thought that was because even I drew the line at such a dull post, but that’s only because you haven’t been paying close attention to the blog. After all, I never drew the line at sharing the glories of my vegetable growing spreadsheet.

But in fact, the reason is much simpler than that. Despite my poor gadget track record, I haven’t yet managed to break the smart meters – but I do appear to have broken the entire smart metering project as the website we’re supposed to log into to get the results has suffered unexpected technical difficulties (possibly I should have warned them…). So we’re still waiting to get our hands on the figures for the last few months’ oil consumption. Well, apart from the figures we’ve worked out for ourselves through the use of our mark one smart meter, the graduated stick. Proof yet again – if proof were needed – that there’s very little in life that can’t be managed somehow by poking it with a stick.

Clunk Click Every Trip

November 26, 2012

here’s no getting away from it: my bike needs some serious love and attention. Not just the occasional clean and a drop of oil when my chain starts to sound like a basket full of kittens, not even the annual trip down to the bike shop for new brake pads and a new chain. After almost three and a half years, and something over 7000 miles (there’s never a spreadsheet around when you need one), it’s started to accumulate rattles and squeaks and, most recently, an annoying click in the right pedal with every revolution. Dr Google diagnosed it as a problem with the bottom bracket, whereas twitter was divided between it being a loose wheel, my shoelaces, or my aged knees. Having – click – ridden it – click – down to the – click – papershop – click – in wellies* – click – I can eliminate – click – the shoelaces – click – but I can confirm that it’s bloody annoying. I did try having a closer look yesterday but it’s the sort of thing that never happens when the bike isn’t going anywhere. The exercise did remind me, on the other hand, that neither of my wheels is particularly true, there’s something rubbing somewhere on the back wheel, and most of the bolts and exposed parts are rustier than they ought to be

So I think I’ll be taking it (click) down to the local bike shop next time I get a chance, to see if it’s something expensive. My own feeling is that it’s just a worn pedal bearing (she said, almost as if she knew what that meant) but that a bit of renewal of some of the moving parts probably won’t go amiss. And if the clicking continues after all that, then the same might well be said for me.

Then again, I might just keep on riding it until the problem goes away or I stop noticing it. Although to be honest, Twitter wasn’t very encouraging on that score either…

*because of any remaining flooding, not to eliminate the shoelace possibility.

Smart and Smarterer

October 10, 2012

Well, much excitement today in the town mouse household as the Energy Saving Trust (not realising what happens to smart gadgets around me) have kindly come along and installed not one but two smart meters in our house – one for the electricity and one for the oil. It’s all part of a project to see if we can reduce our power usage with the use of meters as well as customised advice. As I’ve reported before, simply tracking what we used had a dramatic effect on our electricity bills, and while I’m not expecting the same big drop in usage, I am hopeful that we can continue to make incremental changes, or at least find out for once and for all how much of the oil drinking round here is the Rayburn’s fault and how much the boiler’s.

I’m especially looking forward to cutting our electricity use further as it’s become something of a grudge match between me and the power company. After we cut our usage dramatically they did cut our bills – and even sent me a cheque – but they seem convinced that our power consumption will go up the minute their backs are turned. Last time I got a new bill from them they hadn’t managed to read our meter twice (I think the meter reader commando crawls through the flowerbeds to get the ‘sorry you were out’ card through our door without being spotted) so they unilaterally decided we’d started using more power and put our bill up again until I rang them with a new reading and they put it down again. I’m not entirely sure what logic dictates that our usage would suddenly randomly shoot up having been steady for two years, but that’s probably why I’m not a highly paid utility company director.

Anyway, what I will be soon is someone in possession of lots of shiny new data. Which means that after more than a year of being completely clean, I think I can feel a spreadsheet coming on. Stand by, there may even be graphs…

The Great 2011 Vegetable Round Up

December 31, 2011

Right well you asked for it, and my poor soggy vegetable garden continues to resemble a rice paddy more than anything I could actually imagine digging, so now’s the time for a spot of virtual gardening instead as I consider what went well, what went badly, and what’s going to be on the seed order for next year.

I think the first lesson is that I planted WAY too many potatoes this year. When I’d harvested the maincrops, I sorted out the damaged ones to eat ‘immediately’ while the rest got stored in the shed – and we’re still eating the damaged ones (now going a bit sprouty). We really don’t eat that many potatoes. On the plus side, they keep better than expected and I’ve managed to donate some to neigbours and family. Even so, I think I’ll be scaling back on the tatties next time round.

That said, potatoes – along with red and normal onions – were about the only thing that really did that well this year. Suddenly the Scottish diet makes a lot of sense: it consists of things that will grow even if it rains solidly for about 9/10 of the year. Nobody moves to South West Scotland for its mediterranean climate but even so, the weather this year has been spectacularly damp and miserable, even in May when we traditionally have our summer. Anything that required pollination wasn’t happy as a result. The broad beans and peas grew fine but we got way less of a crop than we’ve been used to. And the french beans? Well, the french beans got planted out the day before the huge gale and never really recovered. Although I planted more, it was always a game of catchup and they barely flowered, let alone provided any beans. Still, they fared better than a friend’s runner beans – he planted them out on the morning of the gale when they had two nice big true leaves each, sticking out on either side like little wings … I think you can guess the rest.

Without much in the way of flying insects about, at least my brassicas didn’t suffer so much from the cabbage whites, which was good for the romanesco at least. Here endeth the good news. The purple sprouting broccoli, which are supposed to overwinter and then sprout in the spring, unsurprisingly mistook the summer for the winter and flowered early. The cabbages were simply remorselessly munched by the slugs (as were the squash) and anything left just bolted. I still have five broccoli plants left which will hopefully sprout again in spring. The pumpkins flowered and then all the little fruits just rotted on the vine. The sweetcorn flowered and then promptly blew over (you’d think a wind-pollinated plant would be a bit more resistant to a bit of wind, but no). Did I mention at all that it was a bit damp and breezy this year?

One thing I’ve not suffered from this year at least is monster parsnips, for which I can’t blame the weather (for once) as it was because I completely failed to thin them out so we have a mixture of normal sized and completely weedy parsnips. In fact, if I’m honest, many of my gardening woes have been as much to do with user error than the weather and the slugs. I always, always, always plant everything too soon and then have lots of leggy desperate seedlings on every windowsill. I never stay on top of the weeding or the slug patrols, and I always plant things too close and then can’t bear to thin out the babies. I have never got the hang of soil nutrition and end up with multi-storey garlic (we ate it anyway). I get the veg I deserve, frankly.

I shan’t quite be giving up though. I work on the principle that I have to fail three times before I completely give up on any crop. With persistence, I managed to grow some carrots, although I really can’t honestly hand on heart say that it was worth the effort. I also managed to learn to like beetroot, although not as efficiently and quickly as the garden mice did. They basically demolished the entire second sowing and I suspect they’ll be quicker to get to them now they know what they are. Short of shooing the cat off the sofa and up to the walled garden, which is easier said than done these days, I’m not sure exactly how to tackle that problem.

I also got third-time lucky with my leeks. After a first year in which I grew a single solitary (but delicious) leek, and a second year in which I grew rather more, and equally delicious but tiny leeks, this year I have actually grown a fair number of reasonably sized leeks. In fact, rather a lot of them. I planted out a full bed’s worth of little ones and then, as each crop either got harvested or turned up its toes, I transplanted some of the little ones into the space that was left. I now have basically four beds of leeks dotted around the garden (which makes digging it over a little complicated). We’re getting rid of them slowly but surely though. I’m chalking up ‘too many leeks’ under ‘nice problem to have’.

The surprise success of the year has been perpetual spinach (or leaf beet) which seems to substitute fine for real spinach, although Jane Grigson, she who knows everything about vegetables, is a bit sniffy about the stuff. It grows, that’s the main thing. I tried real spinach and got about one plant. Our landlord plants it as well and then doesn’t eat it as much as we do so we’ve been supplementing ours with theirs with some success. In fact it’s been so remarkably unremarkable and reliabe, I don’t seem to have taken any photos of it or blogged about it or did anything but grow it and eat it. I suppose that counts as a win, in my garden. It’ll have to because without a spreadsheet any more I have no other way of keeping score.

So there you go. Every year I start off with great plans and enthusiasm and a determination that this time I will succeed with everything and win prizes for my produce and every year the garden mostly wins. If it ever stops raining, I shall head out and – working around the leeks – finish digging over and manuring the plot. And then I’ll get the seed catalogues out and start dreaming again. Only this time, I know I’ll be more organised and less optimistic and harder working and more diligent and it really WILL be different in 2012

Well, maybe.

String Em Up

October 3, 2011

I remember well the first time I ever tried to string up onions to store them. This was quite some time ago, before the internet had become the thing of usefulness it is now, and so I had to guess how to do it (or take a book out of the library to find out how, but I decided life was too short for that). I carefully plaited the dried leaves together to form a neat braid, tied a knot in the end, hung them up from a hook and later went to bed, satisfied at a job well done,  where I was woken some time later by the sound of onions cascading one by one onto the floor.

As a little light googling makes clear – and it seems obvious now – the first ingredient for stringing up onions is some string (the second one is onions). So, my onions having dried out as much as they were going to, I had a quick look online and decided to have another go. The instructions for these things always make it seem like a wonderfully logical and orderly process (see also: diagrams of knot tying, furniture assembly instructions) and the first two onions more or less worked as described, although once I’d added a few more it was looking less like something a Frenchman would wear around his neck while cycling and more like something you’d tie around a Frenchman’s neck to drown him.

Still I persevered and ended up with not just one but three* strings of onions that, while still not recommended for cycling with, do look quite fantastically rustic, instantly transforming the back of the shed door into something out of Country Living. Well, if you ignore the rest of the shed that is. So far there’s been no patter of falling onions so I’m chalking that one up as a result.

Coming up next on Town Mouse: weaving corn doilies, making marmalade and how to knit your own royal family.

*Strictly speaking, two and a half, if you’re the sort of tedious person who likes to keep track of things. With a spreadsheet. Cuh.