A Bank with a View

December 8, 2014

It was with much excitement that I discovered a couple of weeks ago that Papershop Village has mobile banking. I know what you’re thinking: ‘get with the programme, yokel, we’ve had mobile banking for aaaages back here in civilisation where you don’t have to climb the nearest hill to get a signal’, but this isn’t some app, this is actual mobile banking where they put an actual tiny bank into a rather heavily built van and drive it around the countryside so that people can cycle to it and deposit actual money in it (try doing that with your mobile phone) always providing they can catch it first.

It was with even more excitement that, as I was reviewing my plans for the week, I realised that not only was I going to need to visit the bank, but I would need to do it quite soon and – wahey – today was the day when the mobile bank visited papershop village at just about the time when I would be going down there for the paper. Having already signally failed to make it to the mobile library, and having found catching the mobile post office harder than you’d think, I was determined to make use of at least one of our peripatetic services* so I finished the Cycling Embassy Blog Roundup in record time, went out to do the ‘is it icy enough for spikey tyres yet’ dance on the road outside, concluded that it wasn’t, and raced out into the bitter wind to catch my bank.

At this point it would have made for a better blog, albeit a slightly more inconvenient morning, if I had missed the bank, been forced to chase it down, or even slid on the ice which turned out to be lurking near Buzzard Alley (along with a rather subdued ASBO Buzzard, which simply flew off at my approach; it may have bigger fish to fry, given the forestry work going on in that neck of the woods). But no, I caught the bank in the nick of time and made full use of their services (it was lovely and warm in there so I possibly eked out our discussion on whether or not a treasury account could use actual on-a-phone mobile banking as opposed to in-a-van mobile banking), admired their splendid view, almost managed to nick their pen (they were a bit too sharp for me unfortunately), contemplated nicking their one of their umbrellas which they have in a handy stand by the door in case there’s a queue, and headed back out into the cold feeling I haven’t enjoyed a trip to the bank that much in years.

Admit it, oh urban people, you are jealous. And now I’ve got to have another go at hunting down the mobile library…

* Personally I feel that the potential for mobile services in rural areas isn’t anything like fully exploited yet. Although there’s a mobile fish van out there somewhere, and I’ve spotted a mobile convenience store but never anywhere convenient, and there is the fabled ice cream van of the remote moorlands, our plans for a mobile (as opposed to a pop-up) bookshop have not got beyond the wild talk stage and nobody has yet taken me up on my idea for a mobile café stop which could pop up at scenic locations around the region and enable local cyclists to expand their repertoire of leisure rides, which are currently sadly under-caféd …

And Back

October 26, 2014

My journey home was something of a descent from the sublime of East Coast first class (courtesy of Rachel Aldred’s East Coast Points and very gratefully received) as far as Newcastle, to the the volume-turned-up-to-eleven of a Northern Rail service full of northerners on a Saturday night (suddenly the sullen silence of a train full of Londoners didn’t seem so bad) as far as Carlisle, to the train to Bigtown complete with blocked and ever-so-gently sloshing toilet and enlivened by the addition of three rather respectable looking women in their fifties who got on at Gretna with a half-empty bottle of pink sparkling wine which they proceeded to empty over the conductor’s feet (he took it remarkably calmly, I have to say). So I was glad to get home, although I would have been gladder had a missing comma in my email to the other half not transformed our supper plans from a pizza from the place in Bigtown with the special pizza-dough rolling machine into emergency toast and peanut butter …

Still, he had made chocolate-chip banana bread (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it) so all was not lost. In other news, it has not stopped raining since I returned. Stand by for ford updates, you have been warned.

Analogue Pleasures

October 24, 2014

A to Z and Mr Tom bar

“You will be snapped by hipsters for their instagram accounts if you take that out in public,” my brother-in-law warned me as I borrowed their A to Z. I didn’t mind; I just wanted something that would navigate me through a couple of unfamiliar bits of London and would neither eat up my data allowance nor chew through my phone’s battery. In the end, I wasn’t troubled by any hipsters because I didn’t need to get out the A to Z – those brilliant little map obelisks that have been dotted around Zone One proved perfect for the task. I met up with a friend and we had a great walk along the Thames from the Tower of London and its poppy display (which not only has its own hashtag and twitter feed but its own WiFi points so you could upload your pictures there and then to your instagram account, along with any ironic snaps you may have taken of old people using amazing analogue mapping apps) to Waterloo. London is changing so fast, I felt quite the stranger in my own city, with or without an A to Z in my bag.

poppies at the Tower of London

I then dined on a Mr Tom bar (peanut-based snack of choice and as far as I can tell unavailable outside London so I have to take advantage of my rare forays south) and made my way down to the LCC’s Women’s Cycle Forum where I may have been outranked and outdressed by most of the other speakers but I’m pretty sure was the only one with bicycles on her socks. There was a plea from outside for more tweets and pictures during the event but we were all just too busy talking to do our social media duties; tellingly, the conclusion from my own table about using blogs in campaigning was pretty much that we should just get out more…

The conversation carried on into the pub and even (well me and @bikesandbabies) a bit drunkenly on the tube home, fortified by some healthy food choices (mmm, deep fried spring rolls from the stall at Baker’s Street tube. I wonder if there’s a Scottish expat enclave somewhere offering haggis pannini?).

It was all very exciting, and after a quiet four weeks stewing at home, it was just the sort of event I needed, so I’m grateful to Rachel Aldred for giving me the opportunity and organising such a brilliant event. I may have to go and have a bit of a lie down now though, possibly for about a week. And then get back up and carry on the digital conversation once more.

The Iron Laws of Freelancing

October 21, 2014

1. Thou shalt not turn down any jobs

2. The jobs shall never arrive when the client says they will

3. If multiple jobs can arrive at the same time they will

Law three particularly applies when you are planning a visit to your parents followed by a trip down to London. Which is why, instead of a blog post, you’ll have to be satisfied a nice photo instead.

poplar tree avenue

Miniature parental figures included for scale. It’s amazing how they shrink, isn’t it?

Time out of Joint

September 9, 2014

Disaster struck yesterday when I turned up at Papershop Village to be told there were NO GUARDIANS to be had, because, apparently, the lorry which delivers the entire Scottish print run had broken down (“Bit of a wasted trip then?” asked the other half. “Well, not entirely, as I got to ride my bike for an hour”). This was a bit of a blow because we’ve got the pre-paid vouchers for the paper now which do save us a bit of money but only if you can actually buy a newspaper with them (and we’ll draw a veil over the fact that literally a week after I finally decided to sign up to the scheme, they were advertising a free case of wine to new subscribers, and no, that doesn’t rankle AT ALL and I won’t burn with resentment over it for the next 40 years, I should be over it in ooh, another couple of decades or so). I rang the missing bits of the paper helpline (“if you have been affected by any of the issues raised by this blog post you can call …”) to report an entire paper gone missing and they did offer to put one in the post the next morning but I decided on mature reflection that getting Monday’s paper sometime around Wednesday lunchtime was a bit pointless and decided to go Guardianless, although we did print out the quick crossword (apparently the Monday Sudoku is too easy to bother with).

This morning I was relieved to see that the post office on the way into Bigtown had Guardians in stock – and that it was bucking the trend of all the other papers and not leading on the royal baby but still sticking with the important Scottish Independence story – so grabbed one on my way to yoga. As I was meeting the other half in town for lunch at the miraculous Greek deli (miraculous because after a year in business it is still serving actual Greek food and not haggis pannini, although they are adding chips to their souvlaki) and then almost-futile glove shopping (apparently, one only buys black leather ladies’ gloves as a gift these days, so they only appear in the shops before Christmas, although men are free to treat themselves to nice warm fingers whenever they like; when I did track a pair down in the British Heart Foundation shop, of all places, I was asked if I was doing some early Christmas shopping. She seemed quite taken aback at the news that I was buying them to wear them on my bike – “You’ve made me feel really unfit now!”), so I only actually opened the paper once I’d cycled home, made myself a cup of coffee and settled down on the bench to catch up with the day’s news, when I discovered that it was in fact Monday’s.

I’ve texted the other half to try and pick up today’s paper, but I’m not sure quite what I’ll do if he does as he won’t be home until after nine. Probably just finish reading Monday’s and save Tuesday’s for tomorrow. I may not ever actually catch up, but it’s not as if it really matters as the news is out of date by the time I read the paper anyway. As long as nobody posts any spoilers on the quick crossword, I should be fine.


September 3, 2014

As I’ve mentioned before I have what I thought was a Brompton-induced hernia, although my mother now informs me that she and both her siblings had exactly the same thing, so the Brompton may be innocent after all. After a bit of a nonsultation with the surgeon (‘I’ll have to fix this,’ he says looking at my notes while I sit at the other side of his desk wondering if I have any say in the matter) I have now been fed into the NHS’s slow-but-inexorable (there are targets to be met) conveyor belt towards surgery. Today I had my pre-operative assessment, conducted over the phone with a nurse, which consisted mostly of me saying ‘no’ to a long list of conditions I might possibly or impossibly be subject to, from Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome downwards. Having established that I was the healthiest person ever to require the attentions of Bigtown Infirmary, I was then asked if I had any questions.

‘How soon will I be able to ride my bike again?’

Another set of questions followed – how often did I ride my bike, what sort of bike was it, how far, what kind of cycling was it – and I tried to convey the utterly innocuous and pootly nature of my bicycle riding, but to no avail. Nurse goes away to consult with her colleague and comes back with my sentence:

‘All patients are different, but it will be at least six weeks and then it will depend.’

Six weeks! Six whole weeks! This is a nightmare. Quite apart from my mental health and the maintenance of my cake-based lifestyle, that’s my means of transport gone. I am a mile and a half from the nearest bus stop, five miles from the nearest shop and eight miles from town. We do have a car and I can technically drive it, but the other half will likely need it. So I’m going to be monumentally stuck. Not only that, but I’ve got a vegetable plot to look after and that means a ton of muck to shovel (I didn’t even dare ask how long before that was going to be an option). Suddenly this whole rural idyll thing we’ve got going on is looking a bit fragile and dependent upon robust good health, which I’ve tended to take for granted. Maybe living in London with its plentiful public transport wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Turning to twitter for reassurance wasn’t much help. I was hoping everyone would say ‘nah, it’s nothing, you’ll be back on your feet in a week,’ but it seems the best case scenario might be four weeks (the worst-case was ‘borderline suicidal’) (that was from the cyclists; my unsympathetic writer friends just suggested I might want to take the opportunity to finish my book). I’m holding out for a busy autumn for the health service delaying my surgery as long as possible. According to the aforementioned targets, I will be scheduled to have the op by early November at the latest ‘but possibly sooner’. Six weeks off the bike in November and January doesn’t sound anything like as bad as six weeks in September and October. I wonder if it’s at all possible to ‘unjump’ the queue in the NHS?

Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be up in the vegetable garden shovelling manure. Or out on my bike while stocks last.

Playing Out

August 22, 2014

Cycling back from the pub this evening, early enough in the evening that there was still light in the sky (but still late enough in the summer that I had to have the dynamo on for the first time since about April), it was heartening to note that – in the right parts of Bigtown at least (by which I mean the wrong parts of Bigtown more generally speaking) – kids are still perfectly free range. There were kids on bikes, kids on scooters, kids kicking footballs, kids kicking their younger siblings and even kids sitting on the bollards in the middle of the traffic islands (this latter was a bit worrying as some of the bollards further up the road have had to be replaced by the kind that don’t mind being run over).

Why, on the whole, traffic bollards aren't a brilliant place to sit

Why, on the whole, traffic bollards aren’t a brilliant place to sit

Of course, you could equally have said that the streets were infested with feral kids who were out causing mayhem while their parents neglected their well-being, safety, and proper regard for bedtimes, but I reckon it’s all a question of terminology: our children are free range; those people’s kids are feral. But I think that if we want our kids to have the freedom to play, then it’s not always going to be nice middle-class children decorously playing hopscotch (I seem to remember that when we were kids enjoying the fabled freedoms of the 70s, setting fire to things did feature quite heavily although admittedly mostly bonfires rather than, say, cars); we have to be just as delighted to see shaven headed little tykes sitting on traffic bollards, although hopefully without any of the local boy racers coming too fast round a bend.

And besides, it’s nice to discover that there’s still one aspect of childhood where it’s the poor kids wot get all the pleasure, while the rich ones are stuck at home, probably conjugating French verbs or doing something equally improving. They may be getting even more of a head start in life than they had already, but they won’t be having anything like as much fun.


In other news, a sunset. Depressingly, it was before nine. Where did the summer go?


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