Jingle Hell

November 13, 2017

Stopping at the shop on the outskirts of Bigtown this morning for the paper, I was repelled back out the door by the sound of Christmas music. I know that railing about Christmas music in shops (in November!) is a bit like railing against it being Monday, or self-service tills, or the book you were reading and you thought still had a chapter to go suddenly ending leaving you with a chapter’s width worth of book club notes and plugs for other books (seriously, though, publishers – stop doing this. How would you like it if the last two biscuits in the packet, which you had been counting on to accompany your morning coffee, suddenly turned out to be plywood models* of other biscuits in the biscuit manufacturer’s product range?) but it was combined with a hefty queue, made worse because the shop has installed a self-service till so now only puts one person on the other tills to deal with the people who want to buy lottery tickets or booze or tobacco or a bacon roll or buy a newspaper with a voucher or top up their electricity meter which, given the particular demographic this shop serves, is basically everyone.

Cycling onwards into town to the tune of Winter Wonderland, I was forced to use WH Smith’s where the standoff continues between the people of Bigtown and head office over the self-service tills, so the queues are equally long but where – undoubtedly due to some bureaucratic error – there was no Christmas music, except for the loop of Winter Wonderland which was by now irrevocably stuck in my head.

There’s much I miss about Papershop Village, including the ride there (something I failed to appreciate as much as I could have done at the time), the mordant humour of Papershop Bloke, the wry amusement of Papershop woman, the sweeties for sale by weight in little paper bags – but most of all the certainty that they would never ever install a self-service till and that hell would definitely have frozen over before they played any Christmas music.

It is at this time of the year that I constantly give thanks that I do not work in retail.

Sorry if you’ve now also got Winter Wonderland stuck in your head.

* Unless they’re Rich Teas, of course in which case it would be an improvement

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When Will I Ever Learn?

October 3, 2017

new shoes

We’ve been here before, but my beloved granny biker boots have worn out after just three* years. Did I buy a spare pair at the time (at least once I’d worked out how comfy and brilliant they were)? At £100 a pair, I did not. Did I start half-heartedly looking for a pair once the first crack appeared and find some on clearance but then not get around to actually buying a pair until they had sold out in my size? I did. Did I foolishly trust Dr Martens to keep selling the same design of boots for women year after year as they do for men? I did. Was I wrong to do so? Well, what do you think?

It turns out that the Gayle boot has been through a couple of revamps since I bought my pair – first they came out with a tweed version (hmm, not sure, I like tweed and all that but it’s not exactly boot material) and now that’s finished and they only come in with a fake fur lining. Clearly we flibbertigibbet women need to have our tastes titillated with a new version of something every six months or we move on. Or something. This woman would like to just be able to buy the thing she wants to buy when the old thing wears out. Then again, given how often I buy shoes, any company attempting to boost its profits by catering to me is on a hiding to nothing.

Perhaps if I wait long enough, the old version will come around on the guitar again, but meanwhile I’m lost without my boots and the smarter pair I bought hoping to replace them (in Clarks of all places) have too pointy a toe for my foot-shaped feet and are giving me grief so I can’t afford to wait. Indeed, a furry lined boot does sound quite nice for the winter, even though I’d still prefer to have the choice. And at (now) £125 I still don’t think I’ll be investing in two pairs in case the next iteration only comes in satin, or is see-through, or has four inch heels…

* Three years is pretty good for Dr Martens in my experience, which I seem to recall had an 18 month cycle of 6 months of agony as you broke them in, 6 months of blissful comfort, and 6 months of the growing realisation that you had walked through the bottom of your Bouncing Soles and it was time to start the process again. Of course, these days I walk hardly anywhere because I cycle instead which might explain their longevity.


Selfie-Respeck

August 30, 2017

So, as those who follow me on Twitter will know, I have got some new glasses.

To be strictly accurate, these are my spare glasses – I need two pairs because I can’t function without my specs and so I need some to wear while my other ones are being reglazed with the new prescription. However, it did occur to me that I’ve been wearing the same (increasingly hard-to-obtain) style of glasses for about 20 years now and it might be time to experiment with a different look.

I’m still not 100% convinced, although the reaction has largely been positive (at least nobody has openly laughed at them, but then again they could just be being polite). They’re quite heavy compared to my old frames, and even though they are apparently what all the cool kids are wearing these days, to someone my age they still look irrevocably like NHS specs… Plus I have the sneaking suspicion that they would not handle being run over by a tractor.

But we must move with the times, even if it does mean learning to do a selfie without adopting an expression that is a cross between ‘how does this phone thing work?’ and ‘who is that middle-aged woman on my phone screen and why is she wearing my hat?’

More on the latter this weekend. And possibly also the former.


On the Map

July 26, 2017

So, next month’s adventure is taking shape and I realised I was going to need to fill a hole in my local map collection. This is the kind of shopping I like to do:

To be honest, I didn’t think that much about this picture when I tweeted it – I just had a vague inkling that some of my fellow twitterers might appreciate a nice wall of maps in the same way I did.

And as it happened, so they did as I found myself immersed in a rapidly ramifying, ever-so-slightly nerdy* multi-dimensional cheerful twitter conversation about the joy of maps which descended into the surreal in places

And at one point, Ordnance Survey themselves joined in on the foolishness of laminating tissues (it made sense in context, honestly)

Anyway, it reminded me of how Twitter used to be before everyone got so angry with everyone else and it was a pleasant break from all the arguing. I must remember to tweet more about maps whenever I need to cheer myself up (everyone else, I send dormice)

* Did you know that Northern Ireland had its own Ordnance Survey for instance? Do you have a favourite OS map edition? Or are you a fan of Harvey’s Mountain Maps, which I’d never actually heard of until last night?


Shiny, Shiny

May 25, 2017

And not just the strange bright light in the sky, either…

Well, I made it home safely yesterday evening, finally, after about 24 hours of travelling and today’s chore was finally reuniting myself with my old laptop, which had returned from its adventure in Bristol about 12 hours after we’d left for the US. The excitement had barely abated when a knock on the door came and a UPS delivery man arrived with my new laptop which is not, in fact, shiny at all but a rather sleek matt black. It has a super-duper screen, all the battery life you can shake a stick at and any other number of bells and whistles which I hope will make it worth the ‘how much?!’ I paid for it.

It also has Windows 10 and a new version of Office. I’m sure both have many fine features and one day I will work out what they are but for now I am wrestling with the fact that nothing is where I expect it to be and that Microsoft have, in their wisdom, removed Picture Manager from the current Office installation, apparently on the grounds that it was a nice little application that allowed people (me) to very quickly crop, adjust and compress a photo with a minimum amount of fuss and clearly nobody wants that in the modern age. A quick google has revealed that there are alternatives and when our rural broadband has finished downloading the resulting 300MB file, I will be able to resume adding photos to the blog. Just as soon as I work out the setting that allows me to transfer files from my phone via Bluetooth without having to individually give permission to accept each one. Nobody say get a Mac.*

So you’ll just have to hang on a bit longer for illustrated hare news, gardening updates and the glory that is Scotland in May when the may is out. Clouts may very well have been cast…

Oh and delighted to discover that my compatriots are treating terrorism – and the political response to it – with a little derisive mockery. I knew the UK wouldn’t let me down.

* Or &%*$ Linux. Thank you.


Lost and (Almost) Found

May 10, 2017

I have much to tell you about Seville, with many photos* but you will have to wait because – as regular readers of this blog know – I live my life trailing lost belongings, and yesterday the lost belonging in question was my laptop, which is a key part of the blogging-with-photos process. I had taken it out of my wheely bag because the airline was checking the bigger carry-ons, and slipped it under the seat in front of me, and then when we were getting off the plane I was focused on getting moving because the absolute last train to anywhere even close to Bigtown left at 8:15 and I wanted to make sure I was on it and now I’d have to wait for the luggage to come out of the hold.

So it wasn’t until we were through passport control, and I had spotted my bag on the carousel and grabbed it and was about to bolt for the tram (at this point, I actually had more than an hour before I caught my train** but after many hard years of London commuting I never consider that I’ve enough time to catch a train until I’m standing on the platform waiting for it) when I remembered my laptop. Which was still under the seat that had been in front of me, and was now – it turns out – locked on a plane bound for Bristol.

At this point, naively, I had thought that someone at the customer service desk would take my seat number, alert the crew or the staff at the other end, suggest that someone could retrieve the laptop and put it in a safe place until the plane returned to Edinburgh, and then it could be handed in to lost property. However, this isn’t how airline lost property works. If it hadn’t been handed in already, nobody seemed to think it was worth letting anyone on the plane know that it was there until someone stumbled upon it or the cleaners found it when the plane got cleaned wherever it was it ended up for the night.

So this morning was spent discovering that the world of airline lost property has become, like many other things, largely outsourced. Lost property at the airport is handled by a company (which charges an unspecified fee to reunite you with it). Lost property on the airlines is handled by a different company whose call centre only operates for a few hours in the morning. The airline customer service team feel that as there is a company handling that sort of thing for them, they don’t need to do anything further. The lost property companies just sit there waiting for things to be found and handed to them, and can’t access anything that’s on a plane. As the laptop had not apparently been handed in after the plane had presumably been cleaned for the night, I pictured it spending the next few days happily travelling from Bristol to Brno to Manchester and Madrid, until somebody finally noticed it and handed it in to the lost and found, which by then could be anywhere from Aberdeen or Zagreb, where nobody would know it was mine. This is the way of the world, I realised, and there seemed to be no way to talk to an actual person who might take pity on me and follow up with somebody who could actually track it down.

And then, just as I was ready to give up, I got an email from someone at Bristol Airport who had not only read the message I sent through the ‘contact us’ form (never the most confidence-inspiring means of communication), had also gone and followed up with their security team who run their lost and found, Bristol having not apparently caught the outsourcing bug. And, oh frabjous day, despite originally telling me last night that nothing had been found – the security team did after all have my laptop.

All I have to do now is get it from Bristol back to Bigtown but that is in hand and hopefully laptop and I will be reunited before we have to depart once again (family duty calls, sorry, I will plant more trees in penance) on a plane to the US. You can be certain I will be keeping a very close eye on it this time. While undoubtedly losing something else important (Passport? Head? Husband?)  that I ought to be hanging on to…
* It’s going to be a bit embarrassing if anyone who’s not a cycle campaigner wants to see my holiday snaps: ‘so yes, these bollards are interesting because look at the little pictures of bikes on them, and this is the tree in the middle of the cycle path, and this is a stop sign for bikes and … what, any actual historic sights? Wait, I did take a photo of the cathedral, because there was this nice bike parked in front of it, it’s here somewhere, I think just after the floating bus stops …’

** Which was anyway cancelled.


Vamos a Sevilla

May 1, 2017

And then, with a bang – almost as if the Weather Gods were paying attention to our puny human calendars – it is May and suddenly there as proper warmth in the air. The hare has gone from sitting looking hunched and miserable in the wind to stretching out sparked out in the sunshine (at least until its pesky human hosts attempt to go out and photograph it.) And I, who have been thinking every day as I get dressed how sick I am of my winter clothes, had to shed not just my gloves and hat but actual jacket on the cycle into Bigtown this afternoon.

I had better get used to it, because on Thursday, as soon as the election is safely over (at least the local one – when it comes to the general election, I’m just putting my fingers in my ears until its over, although I will vote, don’t worry), I am off with my wheely suitcase but not my bike to Edinburgh and thence to Seville where the same gang of four who took a highly serious study tour to Amsterdam back in September will be conducting a thorough investigation into the cycling infrastructure of ‘build it and they will come’ poster child, Seville.

And by thorough we mean really thorough because it’s well known that I can get lost getting out of a wardrobe, so we’re likely to end up giving any wayfinding in the city a brutal workout (obviously my companions are all skilled navigators AND know how to use the GPS on their phones, but I’ve a tendency to be impatient and lead from the front whether I know where I’m going or not. POP organisers, you can stop sniggering at the back now). We’ll also be ensuring that the infrastructure can be as easily used when you’re coming back from the bar as when you’re going to it, and that the bike hire system can be worked out by someone whose Spanish has been learned from a phone app that is heavy on phrases like ‘where is the train station?’ and ‘would you like more beer?’ but rather lighter on phrases like ‘give it some welly‘ which is, as I recall, the key to getting a Boris Bike out of the docking station. If our trip to Amsterdam is anything to go by, there will undoubtedly also be testing of the ease of using bikes for spontaneous shopping trips, finding a decent cup of tea, riding a bike having been lured into drinking mojitos and discovering how many kms of Seville’s segregated bike network need to be ridden to work off excessive consumption of tapas and other Spanish goodies.

I think even the most earnest of kerb nerds would agree, that’s a pretty good assessment of a city’s bike infrastructure. Although we’re open to inspecting any interesting floating bus stops, innovative junctions or nicely angled kerbs should anyone want us to have a look. And if you’ve any other suggestions, bike-related or not, for what to see, do, eat, drink or experience in Seville, bring them on.