Ouch

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.

sunset

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


London’s Boiling

July 17, 2014

So I’m in London without my Brompton having reluctantly made the decision that the short few hops I would be able to take on it weren’t worth lugging it down on the train. And it was certainly very pleasant to be able to get onto a Virgin train without having to fret about finding space for even a compactly folded bike in the luggage rack AND to have a hand free to pick up a coffee at Carlisle and save me suffering the horror that is train coffee. It was also a bit of a relief to have the other half around to give me a lift to the station yesterday morning as it was raining quite heavily for the whole period when I would have been cycling and, while technically I don’t necessarily mind cycling in the rain, four hours is a long time to be sitting on a train in wet socks.

That feeling of having made the right decision did diminish somewhat as I emerged at Euston into a budding London heatwave: hot as cycling would have been, it is somehow never as sticky and unpleasant as getting on the tube and the train in rush hour. So today, with the heat forecast to increase, and not being burdened by my bags, I decided to take the train up to Waterloo and then walk the two and a bit miles to my appointment near King’s Cross. After all, when I lived in London, I walked everywhere in zone one and I was quite looking forward to getting my city legs back. I find navigating by bike through London quite hard work, whereas on foot it’s a doddle. I had my A to Z, and there are now handy maps on every corner so I didn’t end up going off at a tangent the way I always do when I’m trying to find my way on a bike. In fact, in the course of my walk, I discovered a much more pleasant cycling route from Kings Cross down to Waterloo Bridge (via Lamb’s Conduit Street, basically) than I’d ever managed to work out for myself before. Not only that but I spotted a fellow Cycling Embassy person as he sailed past on his very spiffy bakfiets and we stopped for a brief catch up and gossip before I continued on my way.

Indeed, I was rather grateful for the break. What with one thing and another – the bike, not really living anywhere within walking distance of anywhere – I don’t actually walk that much these days. And I certainly don’t walk on hard city streets in summer sandals, so by the time I reached King’s Cross my feet were on fire. Sweat or no sweat, I took the tube back and winced the last half mile from the station. Once safely back, I was grateful for a borrowed bike for our afternoon’s excursion to the park – frankly, this walking lark is way too much like hard work. I’ll be happy to get back home tomorrow and back to cycling around again in a civilised fashion

Deer in Bushy Park

You can tell these are London deer and not Scottish ones because a) it’s not raining and b) they’re busy ignoring everyone

Indeed, given it’s due to be even hotter tomorrow than today, I might even be grateful to get back to a bit of … OK, not for any actual rain. But a little bit of Scottish cool summer weather may not go amiss.


Free Parking

July 10, 2014

A local biking person was shocked (she’s young) to discover that – while Bigtownshire Council has been eeeeever so slooooowly considering maybe thinking about developing a cycling strategy but, you know, all in the fullness of time and only if there’s nothing urgent going on with the buses, let’s not go mad here – Bigtown has long had a parking strategy and that parking strategy is that for every parking space that is lost, a new parking space has to be created.

This in a way is odd, because as it happens, ‘lost’ parking spaces are quickly found again – there’s a street right on the edge of the town centre (where there has been rash talk of a bike contraflow lane) which has had double yellows on it for as long as we have lived up here, and people still park on it as if they weren’t there, despite it being ooh, 50 yards from an enormous, free (good Lord, you wouldn’t want to make people pay for parking would you?) car park, which complements the many dozens of other free car parks dotted around the town centre. Indeed, when I decided to join in the fun by parking my bike on the double yellows outside the bike shop (hey, I’ve got a kick stand now, which means I can just park it anywhere, as long as I don’t mind doing the 50 yard dash back towards it when it inevitably falls over as soon as I’ve gone out of sight), I was amused by all the filthy looks I got from drivers who were trying to park illegally on that street and had found that one of THEIR illegal parking spaces was being taken up by a bicycle. You could almost see them looking around for a traffic warden, except that all the traffic wardens have gone (replaced by the police allegedly), to universal rejoicing earlier this year. Oh how they regret that now…

Still, I got some inkling how they felt when I rounded the corner to meet a fellow bike conspirator at one of our favourite coffee and cake emporia to find that MY bike parking (leaning it up against the window where I could keep an eye on it) had been blocked by tables and chairs and people sitting around in the sunshine as though we were in France or something. The horrors. Fortunately we were able to score a table in the sun (and view of our bikes) ourselves – and were mollified by the proprietress coming out and inquiring about ‘one of those big planter bike parking things‘.

Clearly all my energetic tweeting about cake is beginning to pay off as the local coffee shops, if nothing else, start to realise that their real profit lies in the hollow legs and bottomless appetites of the local cycling community, and Bigtown’s parking strategy is about to get a lot more complicated … It’s not exactly a cycling strategy, but it’s a start.


A Listening Administration

June 11, 2014

The gadding continues, although the end is in sight: yesterday I was in Edinburgh for the day, partially camapaigny stuff, but mostly meeting up for lunch and attempting to cram several years’ worth of catch up gossip with two old school friends into a couple of hours. Having talked ourselves almost hoarse, and finished with a cheeky half (at four in the afternoon! The decadence!) in the pub in the station, I got on the train home to find I had seated myself opposite the leader of the coonsil, also on his way home from what sounded like a much less fun afternoon.

He gave me the slightly hunted look all politicians must reserve for the moment when one of their local single-issue activists has managed to corner them somewhere with no hope of escape for at least an hour. He manfully managed to connect my face to my cause, which is pretty impressive, and even bravely raised the subject of cycling, but I had work to do and to be honest he looked pretty worn out and did mention quite sadly that the weekend before he had been at some event in Glasgow and ended up next to someone from the area who spent the whole evening moaning to him about the state of the schools. I suppose it’s par for the course – especially round here – and part of the job and all that but I’m just not ruthless enough to spend a whole train journey talking some poor local politician into the ground even in the cause of cycling. Plus I’m pretty sure that promises made under those conditions would count as ‘duress’…

So he got to have his journey in mostly peace and quiet, and I got a bit of work done as planned, and we left on good terms which will hopefully stand me in good stead when I really need to bend his ear over something. Or maybe I’m just going soft in my old age. Time will tell.


Planting Matters

May 6, 2014

The downside of starting everything off in modules on the kitchen windowsill is that if you leave your mangetouts just starting to unfurl while you go off to That London, and your other half doesn’t think to open the kitchen blinds while he’s off at work all day for three days, your seedlings get rather leggy…

leggy seedlings

… of course the upside is that they come up at all. Not a given in our damp cold (yes, even in May) soil. They’ve had to be sent out for a break in the sunshine* like slum children to try and build up their strength for actual planting out.

In other news, I have planted my contraband. I’ll let you know if they come up, or alternatively, hatch…

*adjusted for being South West Scotland


The Road Home

May 2, 2014

It’s kind of hard to believe that this morning I was cycling past a wall of double-decker buses on Waterloo Bridge…

The road home

It’s been a fun few days in London, and the Brompton has certainly earned its keep (it’s earned a bath too – let’s just say that the tow path from Richmond to Teddington isn’t really recommended for those hoping to arrive at their destination not splattered in mud from head to foot). It’s been the first trip in ages when I haven’t had to top up my oyster at all, and I’ve enjoyed the sensation of actually being the fastest thing on the roads at times, instead of the slowest (rural cycling, lovely as it is, is never the quickest option). I feel like I’ve experienced a wider spectrum of London cycling than I ever tried when I lived there: from a suburban school run, to jousting with traffic, to trying out semi-decent segregated infrastructure (thank you, Camden Council), to inhaling a bee in a deer park (on the whole, not one for the bucket list although if things go badly the ‘before you die’ part could be quite imminent. I am fine, before you ask. The bee, on the other hand, is not).

Fun as it’s been, it’s been even better to come home. Not only was I relieved to get on the train at all with all my limbs intact (nothing to do with the traffic – I thought I had lost my return ticket and was going to have to pay the standard walk-up fare of one arm plus one leg) but it was just bliss to cycle home with the late afternoon sunshine dappling through the trees and the birds all singing, and the verges starting to fill with flowers.

I now have a billion things to catch up with that I’ve promised people I would look at after POP. But hopefully there will be a little time now to stop and smell the flowers…


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