Low Flying

December 2, 2015

Afternoon light through the trees

There was a gap between weather warnings again today, as the rain cleared and the wind dropped and I nipped up to the garden to take advantage of the lull. The photo looks peaceful, but what you can’t hear are the fighter planes that were carving up the sky – impossible to capture in a photo because they’re so fast and they’re never quite where you think they’re going to be from the sound. We’re used to them using our relatively empty corner of the world for training flights, but it reminded me of the debate going on in Parliament as I write; no escape even here from the drumbeat of war.

Coming out of the gate with the wheelbarrow for another load of muck, I was lucky enough to glimpse another low-flying engine of death: a sparrowhack flashing past barely at knee height, intent on the hunt. Seen close to like that, in flight, it’s a brutal and powerful-looking bird and everything in the woods falls silent at its approach. Everything except our own death-dealing flying machines.

Does it make me a terrorist sympathiser to wish that we could not go to war?

Holiday Snaps

October 28, 2015

An email from a friend mentioning the blue skies of Ulster made me realise that I’d possibly left people with a slightly misleading picture of our week’s holiday – the weather gods did track us down eventually.

Max Depth 2M

Max Depth 2M – it was a bit deeper by the time the sea had finished with it

When we were growing up, Newcastle was were we went on holiday in the UK (we mostly lived in sunnier climes), and October half term was when we went, so as far as I’m concerned you’re not properly at the seaside unless the sea is crashing over the walls onto the front

Tollymore forest and river

And Tollymore Forest is the first forest I can properly remember; everything else is but a pale imitation. Sadly, their excellent system of guided walks following a multiplicity of coloured arrows has been somewhat scaled back to just three. Oh how the mighty have fallen

Tree in Tollymore forest

And a mystery. How is it that Newcastle manages to be a seaside town where the gulls behave like seabirds rather than a gang of feathered thugs waiting to mug you for your last chip? Bigtown, take note.


Seagulls inexplicably fighting over something that is actually in the sea. Mountains of Mourne disappearing in the background

And now we’re home again and happy to be reunited with the Rayburn and our respective sofas. As holidays went, it wasn’t everyone’s idea of a seaside break, but it’s always nice to be be able to return to a slice of one’s childhood, however briefly.

Tollymore forest

Standing Sentinel

October 24, 2015


distant Newcastle

Walking along the beach from Newcastle today, I was struck by the way the wooden stakes (I think put in to stop the Germans from landing gliders on the beach) had weathered over the years.

weathered stakes on the beach

I don’t know why the ones closer to the sea might have lasted better than the ones higher up the beach; perhaps the sand and wind abrade wood faster than the waves (or perhaps they just treated the ones that were going to be in the sea, as the other half suggested)

weathered stakes

Either way, they look less like coastal defences now and more like something an artist might have made.

weathered stakes

Mixed medium, wind and sand and time on wood.

weathered stake with hole


Looking for Trouble

October 22, 2015

Newcastle harbour

Anyone visiting this blog for ford updates, pesky wildlife and rides down to Papershop Village must be sorely disappointed, for the gadding about continues and we are now in Northern Ireland for what was supposed to be a quiet week of walking and seaside pottering. Things aren’t 100% going to plan, mainly due to my out of control cycle-campaigning habit (just say no, kids) combined with some poorly timed freelance work but we made it over okay yesterday afternoon, and today I managed to drag myself away from my laptop for a short period of time because the Brompton and I had SCIENCE to be done

Last year, I missed out taking part in the Near Miss project because I was recovering from my hernia operation and barred from cycling, so this year when I heard it was running again, I signed up like a shot – picking a date this week because they were apparently short of data from Northern Ireland. We had planned a longer ride today, to maximise our input, but the other half was indisposed so in the end my contribution to research had to consist of me and the Brompton pottering between various shops. I had high hopes of at least one exciting near-death experience on the streets of Newcastle, because in my experience the drivers here tend to give you room if there’s room to be given, but just go ahead and pass you anyway if there isn’t, which always makes for a fun ride. Add in the fact that the high street is a snarl of double parked vans, darting pedestrians, and people pulling out of parking spaces, and the prom is full of meandering pedestrians and dogs on expandileads – not to mention a killer one-way system that funnels all traffic onto the kidney-bout on the edge of town whether it wants to go that way or not, and I was sure that this would provide far more food for research than my normal run down to the papershop where I can generally count the number of other cars I encounter on the fingers of one hand.

Obviously, despite the title of this post, I didn’t want to distort the research by changing my own behaviour, so I didn’t really go looking for trouble, although it’s possible my decision to cycle out to the Tesco on the edge of town instead of contenting myself with Lidl wasn’t entirely down to the fact that going into Lidl makes me want to shoot myself. Even so, despite even braving the one-way system and the Castlewellan Road, I encountered nothing but courtesy and consideration, including one driver who stopped to let me cross the road, another who started to pull out of a parking space and stopped when they saw me coming, and a third who hung back all the way round a blind bend until it was safe to pass. If it wasn’t for a white van man with a trailer who managed to squeeze past me on the way into town, I’d have had nothing to report at all. Still, no data is still data, right? And yes, I am aware that of all the things a cyclist can whinge about ‘hardly anyone trying to kill me’ doesn’t really rank up there among the most urgent.

Brompton in Newcastle

101 uses for a Brompton: taking part in research

And sadly, you can only sign up for one day to submit your near miss diary so I can’t spend the rest of the fortnight being miraculously protected from impatient drivers by the magical powers of Sod’s Law. I shall just have to find other ways of amusing myself instead.

What Was the Question?

September 18, 2015

One year on, just in case you were wondering, Nearest Village – or at least the tree outside it – still says No (or ‘nothanksImallright’ as people say when you try and hand them a flyer inviting them to a free bike breakfast. Honestly, some people don’t know what they’re missing in their eagerness to show that they’re too shrewd to be taken in by anything)

no thanks sign

Still, say what you like about the No campaign, they made those signs to last…

Apologies for the quality of the photo, by the way. The sun was setting and the light was dying. At 7:30 in the evening. What is the world coming to?


Don’t You Want Me Baby?

July 29, 2015

You may have noticed blogging has been a bit light around here – it’s partly because I’ve been busy but also because our broadband has been extremely rural in recent days – as in, a couple of tin cans and a piece of string would be more effective. Not only does this make blogging painful, but it also makes working very slow as I need to use the internet a lot to check things and it can take a minute to load even a Google search, let alone the results. Add in some tight deadlines, and the fact that I’ve been working flat out for ages and would like to get stuff finished so I can have a break and you can imagine I’m not in the best of moods.

Finally, this evening, I broke down and called our internet provider, who we shall call TenSulp to spare their blushes. As it was warning me that it would take 30 minutes to get through to an adviser, I also loaded up their help pages (having rebooted the router) only to find that – and I’m not making this up – they suggested you watch a video to tell you how to troubleshoot your broadband speed. I tried their online chat but couldn’t connect, so I resigned myself to half an hour listening to blasts from my teenage past (when did I last hear any Human League?) which would have gone better if they’d had the sense to put their annoying ‘sorry you’re having to wait’ message *in between* songs, rather than interrupting just as you were joining in with the harmony bits in the chorus (Don’t you want me whoa-whoa-whooo-oh). Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, half an hour later, I get through to an actual human being, praise the Lord. I give our account username, which is in the other half’s name, and the password, and then he asks me to confirm my name, which I do. And then he tells me that having had to sit through half an hour of Eighties hits notwithstanding, he can’t talk to me about our account because it is not my account, it’s the other half’s account. And when I protest as mildly as I can manage that this is insane, he plays his trump card

‘It’s the data protection act. If I talked to you about this account and your name’s not on it I could end up in prison’

Oh, really.

It appears that the state or otherwise of our router, any fault on our line, or any technical issues affecting the exchange which might be making our internet pigging slow are now considered the other half’s private business and anyone else living in the house, including the person who has spent the last 48 hours grinding her teeth as the little thing on the browser goes round and round and round for the better part of an afternoon, must not be told anything about such intimate matters.

Either that or the Data Protection Act, like ‘Health and Safety’ and, indeed, the Human Rights Act, has become the catch all reason why nobody can do anything at all that they don’t particularly feel like doing. Any lawyers out there care to give me a second opinion on that?

At the very least, I do think that TenSulp should think to mention this little fact every time they interrupt their music, so that I don’t waste half an hour of my life getting a nasty earworm (You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry … ) to no purpose.

As it is, if it wasn’t for the fact that TenSulp and their sister company TB are the only broadband providers on our exchange apart from KlatKlat (who merrily overcharged us for months when they took over our previous providers), I’d be cancelling our account as soon as I could and taking our custom elsewhere. And then I’d take great pleasure in ringing them up by explanation and giving them the whole extended Human League remix down the line. With harmonies. (But now I think it’s time I lived my life on my own… I guess it’s just what I must do)

And if that’s not a violation of all sorts of Health and Safety at work directives then it’s definitely in breach of their human rights.

But oh it would feel good.

Head for the Hills

July 25, 2015

Apologies for what will be an entirely off-topic rant – and on a Saturday morning too – but I woke up with this going more-or-less fully formed around my head at some ungodly hour and I thought I might as well inflict it on everyone else.

Last night I caught a snippet of Amber Rudd’s speech about the government’s climate change policy and it left me feeling a bit sick. She dressed it up in lots of rhetoric about green growth – no climate-change denier she – but that makes it no better, frankly. According to this government, the cost of green policies has got out of hand and they’re just rebalancing things because the UK is doing too much and the rest of the world isn’t doing enough.

This is crap. It’s fundamentally economically illiterate too. Choosing your climate change policy isn’t like choosing between fairtrade and non-fairtrade bananas in the supermarket and deciding that, while it would be nice to help the poor farmers and all, in the end the household budget can’t afford that extra 20p. It’s like choosing whether you’ll pay the bare minimum of your credit card bill now, or enough that it doesn’t get out of hand later. As the Stern report made clear years and years ago, climate change charges compound interest and it charges it at loan shark rates. And when it finally comes for its bill, it won’t come with a court order for bankruptcy, but a baseball bat, the kind with nails hammered through it.

Think about steel mills. They’ve been complaining that energy costs are too high in the UK. So they can do two things – they can go running to the government and threaten to move elsewhere and get their bills down – or they can start to invest in things like more efficient steel-prduction, or even start generating their own electricity (perhaps recycling some of the heat generated in making steel). Lobbying for lower energy costs means we can all carry on as normal pretending we’re not doomed until suddenly we are. Learning to live with them, ahead of the competition, means we might just still be able to produce steel when things get really tough. You can bet that the German steel producers are doing just that. Meanwhile UK producers have probably got the message that only a fool would invest in that sort of thing because the government is quite open to being lobbied over energy prices.

What bugs me is that Amber Rudd dresses all this in the language of caring. Take fuel bills. Amber Rudd wants green policies but not at the expense of high fuel bills for households. But if this government really cared about household bills, they wouldn’t have quietly scrapped the requirements for new houses to be energy neutral or scrapping their (admittedly not very effective) Green Deal without replacing it with something that actually worked. You don’t help people by knocking off a few pounds from their bill now – at the cost of strangling investment in sustainable energy – but condemning them to live in damp draughty houses for ever more, oh and their fuel bills are still high because we didn’t invest in sustainable generation before it was too late. You lay out the cash to get existing houses insulated, and build the new ones right from the start so that we’re not adding to the problem in the future. Compound interest, remember?

No, actually, what really bugs me (apart from the fact that we’re all doomed) is that it’s not even us who will properly pay the price in our lifetimes. Yes, London will get a bit hot and there will be a bit of flooding, and crops will fail, but frankly we live on a cool wet island and if any country will be able to weather a bit of climate change, it’s the UK. The people who will pay are the people who are already paying and who have no resources to weather the coming storm. And if you think a few thousand refugees at Calais is a problem now, you’ve not seen anything yet. It’s only when the planet starts to properly cook that we’ll start to suffer. And by then it will be too late.

I do try to live my life as if riding a bicycle, growing my own vegetables and putting on a jumper instead of turning up the heat might actually save the planet. It makes me feel better and it’s hardly a sacrifice, apart from when I can’t get any more jumpers on and it’s still freezing. But occasionally the background drumbeat of coming disaster breaks through and I can’t ignore the fact that we’re on a road that will lead us all to perdition, and it’s going to take a bit more than a few cycle paths to change that. In the last few years, it has seemed as if governments recognised this and were going to act – if not enough to prevent the temperature rising by a few degrees, then at least enough to stop the earth from turning into Venus. China, for instance, and maybe even the US. Not this government though. It seems determined to join in a race for the bottom instead – and why then should countries like China do anything different. It was almost better when they were climate change deniers, because that made a sort of sense. This is just pure madness. It makes me want to go and stand in Oxford St with a placard saying The End of the World is Nigh. Because what else can anyone do?


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