Heat Treatment

July 26, 2019

In this week’s edition of ‘be careful what you wish for’ – after a day spent energetically trolling the weather gods on Twitter, I was rewarded with the arrival of the heatwave in Bigtown yesterday, about 48 hours after everyone else had been forced to freeze their bedlinen to get a decent night’s sleep.

It was so hot, I even abandoned my tweed cap and gloves for the cycle down to Bigtown, where the drivers were extra grumpy (hello actually swerving at the cyclist for the temerity of existing) and the tar was melting on the roads. A few chips of stone stuck to my tyres aside, there’s little a heatwave can do (beyond heatstroke) to hamper my cycling – I just cycled even slower than I normally do and enjoyed the experience of being warm.

No such luck for my visiting friend who had hoped to escape London’s heat with a weekend in Scotland and instead got to spend 3 hours on a sweltering train outside Euston while our rail infrastructure went into meltdown. By the time she was rescued and taken back to Euston, even the Virgin rail staff weren’t recommending she get onto any of their trains so she is trying again today.

It did mean she missed our evening’s entertainment: the heat had brought thunderstorms to Bigtown below us so we switched off the internet (we’ve lost 2 routers since we moved to a house on the top of a hill …), and sat on the bench with a beer in the evening sunshine, watching it pass by us safely by.

approaching storm

According to the forecast, this now pretty much concludes our summer. If anyone’s feeling a bit hot still in London, bear that in mind as we put our jumpers back on and wonder how soon before we can start lighting the fire. Or come up and join us, always assuming you can find a working train.

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Home. And Away

January 22, 2019

I’m back from London after far too many social engagements for someone of my normally retiring habits. I’d normally be looking forward to a restful few days to recover (and a chance to catch up with the blog) but this is only a brief pit stop to pick up clean pants and our funeral clothes before flying off to France to say goodbye properly to my brother in law.

cobweb

Normal service will resume next week.


Dirty Ol’ City

January 18, 2019

Ah yes, you know you’re in London when – in among the normal notices about standing well clear of the doors and taking care when exiting the train – you hear the following announcement

‘Please don’t urinate in the passages. Will men stop urinating in the passages. Will the man in the passage between platforms 3 and 4 please stop urinating in it.’

They say Londoners wouldn’t turn their heads to look at someone even if their hair was on fire, but I can assure you that the man who finally emerged from the passageway between platforms 3 and 4 had our full attention.

Sometimes I wonder whether I should make the effort to get back to my native city more often than once a year. This wasn’t one of those occasions.


Times Tables

November 19, 2018

What with one thing and another, I seem to have spent the last three weeks on a train with one or other of my bikes. This weekend it was Glasgow and the Go Bike AGM where I was filling in for my little sister as a speaker. Bigtown to Glasgow is usually pretty civilised by train, as long as you check the football schedules before making any plans – the train is slow but scenic and takes six bikes without any need to effectively lock yourself in a cupboard and have faith that someone will let you out, unlike when travelling on Virgin, so the big bike gets to go, which is fortunate as Glasgow has potholes that would swallow a Brompton whole.

bike on train platform

There’s a snag, however. I stayed overnight in Glasgow so I wouldn’t have to be rushing for the last train or, indeed, suffer the horror that is the last train out of Glasgow on a Saturday, a journey that can sometimes be a bit … lively. Unfortunately this meant that the first train I could get home on a Sunday was at 3 in the afternoon (and the next one after that at 10), which is the sort of service you might expect from a country bus, not the direct train service between Scotland’s largest city and a fairly major town about 75 miles away. So my kind hosts were stuck with me not just overnight but well into Sunday lunchtime too.

Fortunately, it being a sunny morning and they being cyclists too, they had just the plan to fill the morning. A nice pootle round Pollok Park (and fortunately it was a pootle – these being people who think nothing of 100 mile days on the bike), followed by brunch after we’d worked up an appetite. Brunch isn’t something that’s quite reached Bigtown yet as far as I know, so it was a welcome novelty. Indeed, it was a bit of a novelty not to be rushing anywhere, so maybe the Bigtown Sunday train service has a point.

cycling in Pollok Park

Today I had the luxury of having nowhere I needed to get to other than a ride out for the paper, and nothing I had to do except make inroads into a stack of work that’s building up. I don’t think it will last – indeed I have to be in Edinburgh on Thursday, having forced lots of Important People to rearrange their schedules because – guess what – the train service meant I’d have to spend three hours hanging around before the meeting if it had been at its originally scheduled time. Ironically enough, it’s at Transport Scotland (and yes they’ve had some full and frank feedback about rail services to the South West) but it turns out even they can’t make the Transpennine Express stop at Lockerbie on a reasonable schedule.

I seem to remember I used to spend quite a lot of time complaining about the train service in London back in the day. Man, I didn’t even know I was born …


Floundering

April 20, 2018

You know, when you have lived somewhere for almost 10 years (and how did that happen, I want to know), you start to think you’ve got a grip on the place and its little ways and strange customs like talking to strangers on buses. And then you have a conversation in your writers’ group that goes like this:

Local person: yes, it was like at the flounder tramping when I just couldn’t bring myself to stand on a flounder.

Other local person: oh God, they’re so wriggly, I don’t blame you.

Me: Wait, whoa, hang on, back up a minute. Flounder tramping?

So it turns out, there used to be an annual event where you waded out into the sea to go and stand on flounders (you can get a flavour of the excitement here).

Sadly (or perhaps happily if you’re a flounder) it has apparently since been banned on health and safety grounds – although not, presumably, the flounders’. You snooze, you lose, even in the world of bonkers rural pursuits it seems.


Untrammelled Womanhood

March 7, 2018

So the Women’s Cycle Forum Scotland wants your stories of cycling and liberation, in honour of International Women’s Day and Susan B. Anthony

Susan B Anthony quote

I was actually scratching my head about this one because I couldn’t think of a time when I felt that riding a bike had particularly set me free mainly because it feels like I’ve always ridden one. But then someone mentioned the joy of switching to a bike from the bus and I remembered how I first started cycle commuting, back in the last century.

I was working at Kew and living in Maidenhead and my journey to work meant the train to Ealing Broadway (relatively painless but expensive) followed by the dreaded 65 bus from Ealing to Kew. The bus company had a ramshackle fleet of double decker buses, including one which smelt strongly of mould and leaked so badly in the rain that there would be water sloshing about on the top deck (hardened bus goers knew to lift their feet up as the bus accelerated or braked heavily and the resulting pool of water raced the length of the bus). The buses turned up when they felt like it, and then inched along the South Ealing Road so slowly I reckoned that I could probably halve the journey time by getting off, walking past the queue of traffic, and getting onto one of the two or three other 65 buses that would be inevitably stuck in the same jam ahead of it. There was a Jehovah’s Witness who would come and sit next to you and engage you in conversation if you weren’t careful, although she was often drowned out at the end of term when the bus was packed full of school kids about to go on a day trip to Chessington World of Adventures and whose voices reached a starling pitch of excitement as a result.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realise that I could lock up an old bike at Ealing Broadway station and just cycle the three miles or so to work instead, even when we had an old bike in our shed, which we had inherited from the former owner of our house (the shed key had been lost and Arthur had sadly died, so we just took over the contents lock stock and barrel, including his collection of tobacco tins with assorted screws in them). Arthur’s bike was an old black three-speed Raleigh and probably a classic although at the time I saw it as a bike that was simply too ramshackle looking to steal. After about a year of humming and hawing, I took the plunge, bought a backpack and a yellow Sam Brown reflective belt and transported Arthur’s bike by train down to Ealing. I had calculated that if I managed to ride just three days a week, it would save me money on a weekly bus pass, which I reckoned I could probably manage. I worked out a route using back roads and through a park that didn’t seem that likely to kill me and with some trepidation, I gave it a go.

Anyone who’s ever swapped a bus commute for a bike knows what happened next: I basically never got the bus again. Far from having to push myself to cycle, I positively relished it. The only tiny fly in the ointment was looking back on all those hours I’d spent waiting on the bus, stuck on the bus, inching down the Ealing Road, missing one train home after another. What had I been thinking?

Arthur’s bike didn’t survive the experience, sadly. After a year of faithful service, its chain broke and nobody I knew could fix it (the local bicycle repairman had already declared it unsafe to ride and refused to touch it), so I wheeled it to the dump (I know, I’m sorry, I’m an idiot – in my defence, I left it outside the gate so hopefully someone salvaged it). It didn’t stop me cycling though – I kept on riding between Ealing and Kew right up until I went on sabbatical and we sold the Maidenhead house (including the contents of the shed, having once more misplaced the key – I’m rather sad now that Arthur’s bike wasn’t in it) and moved to Hackney, which wasn’t the cycling hotspot it is now.

Perhaps it’s not quite in the spirit of Susan B. Anthony to be dependent on an old boy called Arthur who I’d never met for my moment of liberation, but I like to look back at myself on that very first ride as I realised just how easy it was going to be, relishing the feeling of freedom and self-reliance, the very picture of free untrammelled womanhood.

I’m just sorry I didn’t take better care of your bike, Arthur.


Well, that Escalated Quickly

February 26, 2018

So I might have thought I was bestriding London as a returned exile triumphing in her native city – but it turns out that at a microbial level I was but a lamb to slaughter: to the average London virus my poor naive immune system was about as defenceless as a bottle-fed fawn stumbling into a live deer cull.

bare trees and blue skies

Yesterday, despite a continuation of the vague aches and pains I was complaining about before, I managed to lead a 25 mile winter ride on what turned out to be a beautifully sunny but pretty baltic sort of day. But by the time I had got home (having scrounged a lift from one of the ride participants) I was not feeling at all well and today I have spent mostly in bed, dragging myself up only to light the fire and lie on the sofa by way of a change of scene in the evening. Given the increasingly apocalyptic tone to the weather forecasts (Britain colder than the Arctic Circle! Polar Vortex split! Amber warning of the Seventh Seal opening!) this may be no bad thing.

Looking back, this happens pretty much every time I go to London; I really should learn either to avoid the place altogether or at the very least not risk the tube…