Jam Tomorrow

May 8, 2015

Well, that was depressing. I went to bed at around midnight before any significant results were in, and got up to the prospect of a renewed Tory government possibly propped up by the DUP (slogan: ‘Ulster says no; what was the question?’*). Things are somewhat better in Scotland but, while I don’t buy any of the ‘most dangerous woman in Britain’ nonsense about the SNP, I don’t think it’s healthy to have one party sweep the board the way they have in Scotland. Add in the now inevitable EU referendum – you know, the EU that the Scots were told they would have to leave and reapply to join if they dared vote for independence, that EU – and the prospect of £12bn coming out of some unspecified part of the social security budget, and I can say that Scotland today – or maybe just this one Scottish resident – feels far more estranged from what’s going on south of the border than it ever did during the giddy days of the September referendum.

But hey. The sun shone (and that wasn’t forecast either – perhaps the Met office could start predicting election outcomes and the polling organisations could have a crack at the weather; they can hardly do any worse), I had to ride into town to put together a Fankle and catch up on almost three months of literary gossip, and by the time I was cycling back I was feeling somewhat restored to myself, if not any more optimistic about the immediate political future. And tomorrow, I have invited some cycling buddies to come and help me celebrate 46 years on the planet with a 46-mile pootle around our back roads and I had preparations to make:

Chocolate peanut butter brownies

Chocolate peanut-butter brownies

lemon and caraway cakes

Lemon and caraway-seed cakes. Round cupcakes are so last year, you know…

Two of them are coming from England. I’m semi-expecting them to claim asylum as soon as they step off the train. At least they won’t go hungry, anyway

*remind me again how awful it was going to be to have a party from the fringes of the United Kingdom holding the English to ransom, oh no wait, that was only a problem when it was the Scots, sorry, my mistake.

Old Habits Die Hard

May 6, 2015

Cherry trees in the Meadows

No rest for the wicked: today I had a flying visit to Embra to get the Brompton serviced (it has, after all, only been about a year since its derailleur stopped working properly, leaving me with just the 3 gears, but what’s 12 months between friends), and do some advanced plotting with @Backonmybike about the Women’s Cycle Forum which will be steaming back for another triumphant run at the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling (available for booking now! Come on, you know you want to…).

I should probably have done my usual multi-modal bike-bus-train route to Edinburgh (and by ‘usual’ I mean ‘haven’t actually done it since the other half has been around to give me a lift to the train station’. Oops. I do mean to, but there’s always a good reason) but it was raining and I had slept in, so I ended up getting a lift to Lockerbie (these are the sort of good reasons I mean). We had left plenty of time, or so I thought, but as we pulled up at the station I saw what looked like my train arriving at the platform. Thinking the trains must be seriously messed up, I was taking no chances. Out I hopped from the car, grabbed my Brompton from the boot, kissed the other half goodbye (these things are important even if you have a train to catch) and dashed onto the platform and into the train before I thought to ask ‘this is the Edinburgh train, isn’t it?’

Mental note to self: you are not a London commuter any more, and you do not have to treat every train like the last helicopter from Saigon. Fortunately, the doors hadn’t closed so I could get off what turned out to be the Glasgow train and go and buy a ticket for Edinburgh at a civilised pace.

pub puppy

Anyway, Brompton and I made it safely to the Brompton dealers (by walking; the one-way system around Haymarket is INSANE) where I was lectured about proper chain maintenance and then on to a pub with hot and cold running puppies, well, puppy, but a seriously cute one. The Brompton dealers relieved me of a not insignificant sum of cash (but I’ve still spent less on both bikes this year than we will on servicing the car) and I got to watch a newly minted Brompton owner take charge of his first fold (ah, bless … almost as sweet as a puppy) and then ride back to Haymarket on a freshly fettled but, disturbingly, still a bit squeaky Brompton. All in all, a satisfying day out for all concerned.

A Voyage of Discovery

February 25, 2015

There has been far too much Gadding About going on in recent weeks, which is fun and everything, but tends to involve too much in the way of getting up early and coming back late and not enough in the way of pottering. Today was still busy in that I had things to get done, but I didn’t have to actually be anywhere and the day was suddenly mild so the garden – and more particularly the greenhouse – called.

greenhouse interior

I feel a bit at sea with the greenhouse. I’ve never had one before and while the mediterranean climate part is nice to visit, it’s a bit daunting having something that – unlike the rest of the garden – doesn’t water itself. I’ve also realised that my normal outdoor garden habit of dumping a load of manure on the beds and letting the worms do the work over winter won’t work if there’s no worms. There’s also the worry of it getting an infestation of the sort of thing they’re always issuing Dire Warnings about on Gardeners’ Question Time, like vine weevils). Fortunately, my gardening pal from the village stopped by with his seed potato order for Potato Day and has given me the benefit of his wisdom (I think he’s a bit scunnered that I’ve got my hands on a greenhouse twice the size of his for free out of pure dumb luck but I think he realises his laurels at the village show are fairly safe so hopefully his advice is still sound).

plants hardening off

Anyway, today was spent testing both my pal’s advice to dig in plenty of organic matter, and the handiwork of my hernia surgeon, by hefting barrowloads of compost about, and giving my Project Random Perennial plants a little holiday of a day trip to South West Scotland in the drizzle so they can start the long road towards hardening off.

As an aside, I’ve discovered the archive of podcasts of the Life Scientific in recent weeks, meaning I can head up into the garden for an hour or so whenever it’s convenient without having to dovetail with the listenable bits of the Radio 4 schedule and can do my pottering while eavesdropping in on a fascinating and agreeable conversation between two very clever people. This has been an eye opener (and not least because the producers seem to have found a 50:50 ratio of male and female scientists to interview without making a huge fuss about it). It has reminded me of what I used to find fascinating about my old job, before we had an infestation of consultants, a pest almost as ineradicable as vine weevil. Not that I did any actual science, but I did get to talk to a lot of clever people that did and then build things for them that helped them do it better. Obviously a job as simple and as satisfying as that was never going to last in today’s enlightened times – where are the boxes to be ticked? How can progress be measured and managed? – but it was pretty damn good while it did.

Not as Funny as I was in 2005*

December 31, 2014

Be that as it may, what did 2014 bring? (And yes, I am recycling material because I’ve nothing much new to say, why do you ask? All the papers are doing it…)

yard flooded

In January I got the very latest in rain protection https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/wrap-up-dry/ which was fortunate https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/surrounded/, and took up banging my head against a brick wall, aka the council https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/durr/, repeatedly https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/going-spare/ – luckily I also took up yoga https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/feeling-floaty/ so things more or less balanced out

ford almost at 2 feet

In February I found a use for a tomato https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/ruled-by-a-tomato/, took delivery of some contraband https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/fee-fi-fo-fum/ (which came up trumps, or at least beans https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/bringing-in-the-dinosaur-harvest/). With the rain continuing, we did wonder if it might be time to invest in a pedalo https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/water-water-everywhere/, although at least I remembered the simple pleasures of dry socks https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/simple-pleasures/

big digger

In March, the month I turned 45, I decided to embrace my middle-agedness with a festival weekend https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/festival-tastic/, broke all the errandoneering rules https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/hors-categorie/ and shared some exciting drainage news https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/exciting-drainage-news/ (no, really https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/year-end-bonus/ ) although despite all the practice I discovered I was still a complete novice at cycling in the rain https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/stinging-in-the-rain/ and lost my glasses to a passing tractor https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/crushed/

Brompton in the rain

In April we pedalled on parliament again https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/back-to-earth/, which is becoming something of a habit https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/the-third-sign-of-madness/ and I turned down the chance of doubling my garden size https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/n-plus-my-god-what-am-i-thinking/ (although I did later manage to acquire a greenhouse https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/gardeners-question-time-2/). The Brompton and I survived cycling in London https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/bike-the-strike/ (and not for the first time https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/canal-dreams/)

cake remnants

In May I discovered an entirely new word for hills https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/a-gap-in-the-market/ which came in handy when we decided to eat all the pies https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/05/31/as-it-turns-out-it-was-we-who-ate-all-the-pies/, but I still managed to get lost in the middle of a mass bike ride https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/space-for-cycling/. My gardening style received the Chelsea imprimateur https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/take-that/ which helped the hens convert our food yards into food inches https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/home-delivery/

Bromptons on the beach

In June, the Brompton and I continued to gad about https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/flight-of-the-bromptons/ – at least once I’d managed to leave the house https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/how-to-leave-the-house-on-a-bicycle-an-expert-guide/. Nature turned bad with the return of ASBO Buzzard https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/air-rage/ and the discovery of the ermine moth https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/mothly-harmful/, while the council did everything it could to make the papershop run more hazardous https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/youre-skidding/ and we discovered that the puncture fairy’s remit also runs in the Netherlands https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/statistics-for-dummies/

little grey cat

In July we were briefly reunited with the cat https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/101-uses-for-a-brompton-cat-reunions/. In a summer that after all the rain turned out to be good enough for snakes (and sandals) https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/snake-in-the-grass/ and going the long way round https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/the-long-way-round/ we went to the beach under the only cloud in the United Kingdom https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/haar-de-haar-haar/ and I took on the bank (the bank won) https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/bank-error-in-nobodys-favour/

monstrous potato

In August I discovered the delights of cycling with children https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/eye-opener/. The garden got out of hand, as is traditional https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/thickety-boo/ but I only failed to win big at the village show through my own stupid fault https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/robbed/

tree in the sunshine

In September, along with the rest of Scotland, I tried very hard to make up my mind https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/absolutely-positively-the-last-post-on-the-independence-referendum-i-promise/ (without much help from the politicians https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/scotland-undecides/) while the summer seemed like it would never end https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/squirrelling-away/. I got assaulted by a man with a knife https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/grooh-3/ and discovered that the most painful part was not being able to ride my bike https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/ouch-2/

A to Z and Mr Tom bar

In October the exciting drainage news just kept on coming https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/exciting-drainage-news-update/ and I made an exhibition of myself in London https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/analogue-pleasures/. I was forced to learn how the other half live https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/a-mile-in-my-shoes/ and finally ended up flouting doctors’ orders a week early https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/doctors-orders/

Balcary Bay in sunshine

In November, despite my best efforts https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/my-long-term-vision-for-scotlands-weather/ the rain returned and I decided someone was wrong on the internet https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/rain-rain/. The Tarmac Fairy also put in an appearance https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/rarities/ despite a politician’s promise https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/theres-promises/

sun breaking through

And in December I started another possibly doomed garden project https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/project-management/ but did at least discover my own little slice of Mediterranean climate https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/i-dont-care-what-the-weather-bomb-says/. The Brompton and I continued to battle the coonsil https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/up-the-down-escalator/ – but at least, together, we survived Christmas https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/101-uses-for-a-brompton-surviving-christmas/

And how was your year?

*The other half’s verdict on my blog every year since I first started, almost (eek) a decade ago

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.


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