All of a Twitter

January 17, 2023
Tree silhouetted against blue sky and clouds

As I may have mentioned, I have a shiny new phone which continues to give me much joy by a) working when I want it to, as opposed to when it feels like it, and b) having a very splendid camera. I’m continuing to explore the features of the latter – which, I suspect, will end up being largely limited by the capabilities of the person holding it, rather than any technical failings of its own. And I’ve more or less got it set up as I like having silenced as many annoying notifications as I can, told it to stop telling the Chinese Government/various tech giants where I am (or at least, pretending it isn’t), switched off any helpful suggestions, and generally got it into ‘grumpy old fart’ mode.*

Close up of pot plant against a green background

There is, however, one thing which I haven’t managed to get working, though not through any fault of the phone’s. The Twitter app has quite happily installed but, embarrassingly, it seems I have forgotten my password. No problem, you’d think – just get it to send a reset email. Except that Twitter is so broken these days that the reset emails never arrive. So I’m a bit stuck. It’s still working fine on my laptop and my old, knackered phone so I’m a bit loth to make too many attempts to guess the password in case I’m locked out completely – it turns out that when it comes to Twitter I’m sadly addicted. For all its well publicised faults and recent problems, it remains my go-to place when I need a bit of chat, a deep dive into some fascinating topic I’d never even considered before, or just a video of a rescue beaver building a Christmas dam.

So now I find myself having to have TWO phones, one purely for Twitter, and one for everything else. I’m not proud of this, but that’s how it is. I suppose this does at least make me more conscious of how often I reach for Twitter for distraction when I should probably be doing something more productive.

My parents walking in the woods

It’s also been a bit of a wakeup call about password management. I’d actually been investigating password managers for my mother but hadn’t got around to trying any out for me. Conceitedly, I’d rather thought I’d got a handle on all my important passwords, but it turns out not, and simply relying on password resets for when my memory fails clearly has its limits. Unfortunately, like planting trees, the best time to set up a password manager is some time in the past (see also: decent backups). And the second best time is ‘after you’ve got yourself back into Twitter’. Once that happy day arrives, which one would you recommend?

* You think I’m joking, but it does actually have a ‘senior’ setting, although I haven’t actually tried it.

Almost Festive

December 24, 2022

We’re enjoying an unusual luxury this Christmas: spending it at home on our own, just the two of us.

With the Pepperpots and the rest of the immediate clan off in Norn Iron for the week, we have nobody to entertain and the luxury of only doing those bits of Christmas that we fancy, which turns out to be very little of it. The upshot, at least this year, seems to be spending the festive season cooking all manner of other delicious things, some traditional, some not so much.

So today (and a fair bit of yesterday) has largely been spent cooking, to the point where we’ve had to schedule turns in the kitchen: this morning I baked speculaas biscuits to take as a gift to the neighbours (fair exchange for several barrow loads of pig poo), giving way in the afternoon so the other half could churn two batches of ice cream (plum, and prune and whisky – don’t knock it until you try it, and coincidentally, very delicious with a couple of pieces of speculaas thrown in). Then when that had been done and stashed in the freezer, I headed back in to turn the other half of the monster beetroot into borscht and prepare cinnamon rolls for tomorrow morning. This turned out to be an entire evening’s work, starting from making a broth out of some lamb bones and scraps from the freezer (there seem to be about seventy billion borscht recipes out there on the Internet, so I just rummaged around until I found one that used the stuff we had) but with delicious results. And then Christmas dinner will be pork roast with couscous and roasted vegetables. Untraditional, perhaps, but we’ve only ourselves to please and we neither of us actually like turkey or sprouts. And besides, our freezer is currently filled with half a pig (payment for a week’s farm sitting for the neighbours) so it will effectively be free. In these cost-of-living crisis times, not something to be sniffed at.

Actually, one childhood Christmas ritual has survived the cull. Many a frustrating hour was spent trying to get the angel chimes working, before giving up and putting them away to disappoint us another year (see also, the painstaking checking of the Christmas tree lights for the one duff bulb that was preventing the whole set from lighting up). Rummaging around for Christmassy decorations I came across a Moomintroll version given to me years ago and never used. More in hope than expectation I set them up:

It seems, like Christmas lights, angel chime technology has moved on since the seventies.

Anyway, I hope everyone of you reading this has a Christmas just the way you like it, including no Christmas at all if that’s your bag. And a happy new year.

Nuts with Everything

December 6, 2022

So as I mentioned earlier, I’m at the time of life when pretty much everything that goes wrong can be blamed on the menopause.* So far it’s mostly been niggly little things so I haven’t felt the need to seek medical help, although I know a lot of people who swear by HRT as transformative when they’ve really been suffering. The general advice for the rest of us seems to revolve around reducing stress (ha!), exercise and diet. I feel like I’ve probably got the exercise part of it covered but I know I could probably do more to improve my diet.

Talking to the optician about dry eyes, she recommended increasing my intake of Omega 3, which seems to be a good idea generally. If you search for nutritional advice on the internet, you can very quickly get deep into the weeds, but if the more reputable sites agree on anything, it’s that you should always try and get your nutrients through a varied diet, rather than taking supplements (with the possible exception of vitamin D for us higher latitude dwellers, as there is only so much oily fish you can eat in the week …). Googling high Omega 3 foods also tends to elicit a multitude of different answers (depending on which food marketing board you’ve landed upon) but there does seem to be something of a consensus around fish, seeds (flax, pumpkin and chia) and nuts, particularly walnuts. Which is good because walnuts are also high in magnesium, another nutrient we’ve been advised to increase (it can help to reduce migraines, apparently).

Obviously our first thought was ‘we need to plant some walnut trees’ – and indeed we’re already ahead of the game because I’ve actually got a small walnut tree in a pot waiting until we have miraculously got enough land to plant an orchard. But I think we’re a ways away from our first harvest there, so in the short term we’ve just been getting them from the supermarket like normal people, and then adding them to pretty much everything we can think of (possibly not like normal people).

small walnut seedling in a pot

So far, this has been pretty successful. Walnuts turn out to make a nice crunchy addition to lots of things including my own sourdough bread (still going strong with the sourdough, thanks very much for asking), cauliflower cheese, and carrot and walnut muffins (which also help with getting through the carrot backlog, so it’s win-win). They also seem pretty sustainable, while we wait for our walnut tree to mature. We’re also adding other seeds to the mix, and increasing our intake of mackerel, and it’s been an excuse to vary our weekly menus a bit, which have a tendency to get into a rut. I can’t say I’m feeling any health benefits yet, but if we do, it will have proved a pretty tasty way to do so.

carrot and walnut muffins

So yeah, share your favourite walnut recipes – or even fish, flax and pumpkin recipes. And what are you doing, if anything, to fight back against the forces of time?

* With me, anyway, I can’t blame the menopause for the coonsil. Although …

Burning Down the House

November 26, 2022

So, Twitter is a skip fire, and has been for a while, it’s undoubtedly getting worse under its current ownership … but all that said, it’s still a fantastic place to have the sort of conversation it’s hard to imagine having anywhere else

Exhibit A

It’s often said that people don’t talk about the menopause enough. In my experience, this isn’t quite true. As a woman in her 50s, in my experience, you seem to talk about little else, as every little new niggle and bizarre symptom turns out to be, yep, ‘just your age’. Dry eyes? Menopause. Suddenly being prone to heartburn? Menopause. Night waking, sudden fatigue, old trout whiskers that grow at lightning speed? Menopause, menopause, menopause. The optician, the physio, the practice nurse – all of them falling over themselves to explain how, yep, declining hormone levels were to blame. Who knew that oestrogen was the magic molecule that kept everything running smoothly until suddenly it didn’t? And how on earth do men manage at all without it?

Anyway, in my experience, the problem isn’t that we don’t talk about it, it’s that we’re talking about it to the wrong people. Women in their fifties get inducted into the menopause club – the secret handshake can be a bit sweaty, sorry about that – as they huddle in corners to swap bizarre symptoms and recommend remedies. Women in their early 40s, on the other hand, are left in blissful ignorance of what might be around the corner. They’ll each have to work out for themselves that suddenly suffering electric shocks, flat feet, hair loss, or whatever else comes up on the random symptom generator isn’t them going mad, it could simply be the menopause. It’s not just the hot flushes of popular imagination. If the experiences other Twitter users have shared with me in response to my tweet, it could be practically anything – and that includes nothing at all, and, indeed, some that might be positively welcome:

(Perhaps that is how men manage?)

Anyway, having joked about what I’d got on my menopause bingo card, @tweetcaroliine said I should make one, and so I decided to do so. And what better way, than to crowdsource it on Twitter? I had an amazing response to my question and some of the replies were eye opening for me even though I’m already inducted into the menopause club.

Menopause bingo card - click on the image to get a pdf with screen-readable text

So here it is. I think I included everything although there were so many it was hard to keep track of all the replies. I should add that I know nothing about the topic other than what I’ve read on Twitter so please don’t ask me for advice* or take any of this as gospel. But I hope it will be eye-opening – and useful – to anyone coming up to this challenging time of life. And to the men who love them.

Anyone got a full house?

* Unless the question is ‘should I take up cycling?’

Ups and Downs

October 29, 2022

So, I was going to write a long piece about how the current climate crisis was making it hard for me to stay positive when someone came along and saved me the bother with one tweet

I haven’t been bursting into tears (yet) but I did have a wee moan on Twitter, which is more or less the equivalent.

Optimism is more a matter of chemistry than logic, I’ve always thought, but even my cast iron buoyancy is struggling in this particular flood tide of despair. This time last year we were throwing ourselves into planning Pedal on COP and it felt like we were making a difference, in our own small way. With a prime minister who can’t even be bothered to go to COP this year (but apparently can find the time to make it to the World Cup) it’s hard to see how we’re going to turn things around quickly enough.

I will keep on keeping on – and I’ll be marching again at the Global Day of Action (although thankfully not organising it) on November 12th – but I think I’ll need to find some more effective way to resist the slide into disaster we’re facing than spending 10 years trying to persuade the coonsil to put in a few cycle paths.

This Crisis demands Action. March for Climate Justice COP27 Global Day of Action Edinburgh St Andrew Square Nov 12 12:00

What would you do?

A Turn Up for the Books

October 12, 2022

I may have mentioned that I’ve got a book out – now in paperback (including a very fancy exclusive edition for Waterstones with the sprayed edges).

Unlike my last book, when my bookshop support team consisted of my Dad furtively ringing me from random bookshops around Scotland, announcing that he had just moved my book somewhere more prominent, Waterstones have massively got behind Hare House, making it their Scottish Book of the Month. The best part of this is having my twitter timeline punctuated with the odd moment of joy as different shops around Scotland have used my book to exercise their marketing and display talents. I think we can all agree that these are better than yet another howl of despair at the state of the nation:

I hope that people find the words inside as compelling as the very pretty paperback, but at this stage in the game I’m just happy to see it out there getting some love. It’s also, anecdotally, selling quite well – when I did my event at Wigtown, there were only four copies of the paperback left as it turns out that when you put a lot of bookish people into a small town in Scotland and then make it rain all morning, they descend on the festival bookshop like so many page-starved locusts and buy everything that isn’t nailed down.

Board showing event at Waterstones 6pm Thursday 13th October

I’m even (finally) having something like a launch in my home Waterstones, with an event tomorrow evening complete with wine and nibbles. Sadly, a planned reading and discussion next week in Edinburgh has been cancelled after it turned out the that the good people of Embra would rather buy the book and find out what it’s about by reading it, than slog out in the dark of an evening to have the author tell them directly (book sales have been pretty good, but ticket sales not so much). On the whole, as someone who would certainly rather read a book of an evening than go out, I think I approve of this approach.

So there you go. Plugging over. For those who are only here for the actual hares, rather than the literary ones, I can only apologise and assure you that normal service will resume shortly.

Lolling hare

At least, I hope so.

Paperback Writer

September 8, 2022

This was a pleasant surprise yesterday afternoon.

Paperback edition of Hare House

If you’ll forgive me a little self-promotion, the paperback edition of Hare House is coming out officially on the 29th of September, just in time for anyone looking for a spooky read around Halloween. And the very next day I’ll be at the Wigtown Book Festival talking about it to anyone who is interested enough to turn up and listen (and pay their £7.50 entry fee). This will be a new experience for me. It’s our ‘local’ festival (but still a good 50-odd miles away) and after toying with cycling there I’ve decided to take the bus most of the way and let the Brompton fill in the gaps.

Bromptons in Paris

Indeed, this will be just one of a few adventures the Brompton will have coming up this month as we get ready for another #5GoMad adventure… Watch this space.

What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been

July 25, 2022

And we’re back, after not quite 24 hours of travel back from the US, mildly surprised to have made it almost without a hitch AND with our luggage to boot. TransPennine Express had laid on a little mild travel chaos in the form of a broken train door for our journey home, and it was sobering to walk past the massive queue to get into Manchester Airport as we made our way out, but on the whole the return trip went about as well as anything involving two planes, three trains and a drive home could be expected to go.

Swimming in the lake

As holidays go, it’s fair to say, we’ve had better ones. Fortunately we were staying with family and could isolate ourselves effectively enough on the screened back porch, enjoying the hot weather and trying not to snack too much. The sole upside of getting Covid while on vacation is that you really are forced to kick back and relax (despite, in my case, having a bit of work to do, because being on holiday and contracting coronavirus don’t stop the joys of the freelance life…). And now we are recovered and we are rested, jetlag excepted, and we even managed a bit of holiday-type activities towards the end once the Covid had relented.

Man 'hovering' on two jets of water

(We didn’t actually do the hoverboard thing, just admired the guy attempting to look nonchalant while being held up several metres in the air by two jets of water)

I even got a bit of cycling in towards the end. The rides were all pretty short and gentle and on the flat, but didn’t leave me feeling out of breath or too exhausted. I’ve heard from lots of cycling people that Covid can leave you pretty wiped out, even (or especially) if you were pretty fit to begin with. This afternoon I’ll be heading down into town and the ride back up our hill will be the moment of truth. Although, if I do struggle, it may just be three weeks of largely lounging around and eating that are at fault. Wish me luck.

Bike trail through the woods

Be Careful What you Wish For

July 18, 2022

Did I say I expected to be spending a bit more time sitting down this week after the exertions of our weekend in New York?

I’ll be honest, I was expecting to be spending at least some of it sitting on this

But instead of tooling around on my sister-in-law’s sweet little titanium road bike, checking out the best swimming beaches (and Dairy Queens) and learning not to be afraid of drop handlebars,* we have instead been sitting around on my brother-in-law’s back porch with Covid.

What can I say, it’s not a fun disease. The symptoms appear to be completely random, and change by the hour, although the ‘throat that feels like swallowing ground glass’ has hung about for longer than I’d like, along with sneezing, headaches, earache, eyeball ache (a new one for me) and – most random of all – having absolutely no desire whatsoever to go for a bike ride.

Today did feel as if we’ve turned the corner, so hopefully we are on the mend. Fingers crossed we may even get to meet up with the rest of the family before our holiday is over.

I might even manage to get back on the bike.

* The last time I rode my sister-in-law’s bike (about 20 years ago) I went straight over the handlebars, having failed to factor in the fact that some people actually maintain their brakes so that they stop the bike quite suddenly, rather than giving off an advisory squeal as mine mostly did at the time.

Take the A Train

July 12, 2022
Brooklyn Bridge

So we made it to New York and it’s been a full on few days of walking for miles, getting confused by the subway (the trick, I’ve discovered, is to forget everything you know about taking the tube or reading the tube map and instead treat it as a system for trapping unwary tourists into heading the wrong way on the wrong line and that will be $2.75 to turn around and go the other way, thank you very much), and taking pretty much every form of transport available (ferry, the dreaded Uber) except bikes.

the 'A train' pulling in to a Subway station

What’s that, you cry? Not cycling? Isn’t there a bike share scheme? Well, yes there is, but it’s expensive compared to the subway ($15 for a day pass, and then you have to keep under the 30 minute limit or its another $4 per ride, versus $2.75 a trip on the subway), and even with lots of wide and mostly well-protected bike lanes it did all look a bit scary. Had I had a native guide, or been on my own, I might have given it a go, but as it is, of the two people I met up with (other than the other half’s family), one was from Edinburgh

And the only native New Yorker (the lovely Ellen who mans (or womans – and she’s the person to ask if that’s correct) the Grammar Table) admitted she was too scared to ride a bike in the city either, though she does walk everywhere.

Brooklyn Bridge bike lane

That said, it’s clear that the city has done a lot to try and make cycling more attractive. It was impressive to see wide, protected, bike lanes along the main north-south avenues (at least on the west side of Manhattan) and also on some of the cross streets.

Parking protected bike lane

There was enough parking in the unprotected bike lanes to make it a bit hit-or-miss otherwise and the general sense that New Yorkers take no prisoners, whatever their mode of transport, might make for some high stakes mistakes. Even so, had we had a few more days in the city, I might have given it a go once I’d got my bearings a bit more (trying to ride a bike on unfamiliar infrastructure with everything on the wrong side of the road is bad enough, combining it with navigating is almost impossible), if only to give my poor aching feet a break.

High Line Park

What was really nice was the clear commitment to taking space away from cars. I enjoyed the High Line Park, as a nice place to visit, but what I really liked was where they’d turned Broadway into a pedestrian plaza.

Broadway closed off from traffic to make a pedestrian space

There were loads of parklets, some more finished looking than others (New York infrastructure is pretty rough and ready looking – if a large concrete block will do the job, then that’s what they use and you have to admit it’s effective). The little on-street cabins that all the restaurants had been allowed to open during Covid were also a boon. I think at times my companions might have preferred to sit indoors in the actual air conditioning but I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to sit and have a meal in what had used to be a parking space. Apparently there is a debate over whether they will continue, but they seem like a straightforward win to me. Add in the weekly ‘Open Streets’ events further closing off streets to traffic every Sunday, and there’s a clear commitment towards rebalancing the city’s streets towards pedestrians and cyclists.

Parklet in Brooklyn

However, after four days in what to us felt like baking heat (and Ellen described as ‘the last of the cool weather’), the main takeaway for me was the importance of street trees in making a hot and humid city bearable. New York has a surprising amount of them, along with lots of shady little parks with playgrounds and fountains. I note that there are heat warnings again in the UK. If we can’t put bike lanes everywhere – or even if we can – can we at least start planting trees?

shady tree-lined street

And the ferry is an absolute bargain, especially on a hot day. The same price as the subway, but with spectacular views. We’ll draw a veil over the fact that some sort of transport chaos meant we had to wait an hour in the queue (standing on aching feet after walking all the way from Central Park to get to the ferry stop). It still felt a worthy way to end our trip.

view of Manhattan from the ferry

And now we’re in Minnesota in the suburbs, where the driving (and actually the cycling) are a lot easier. Stand by for more adventures of a gentler kind…