Secret Squirrel

March 29, 2016

So, one of the reasons why I’ve been so busy recently has finally gone live – an interactive bit on the We Walk We Cycle We Vote website where (for viewers in Scotland) you can enter your postcode or constituency and find out where your candidates stand on active travel, and then tell them what you think about it. The other half did the clever bit, that actually makes it work* while I did what should have been the easy bit of gathering information on all the candidates standing for election and their contact details and getting them into a database.

Oddly enough, this proved quite tricky. You’d think, if you were running for election, that fairly high up on your agenda would be simple things like announcing you were running for election, and providing people with the means to contact you. And yet, a few weeks ago hardly any of the party websites had lists of candidates and those that did disdained to provide any way of contacting them beyond those annoying web forms that don’t give you any real sense of confidence that the email it supposedly generates will go anywhere but straight in the bin. Even now, with nominations closing on Friday, there are still gaps – some some parties haven’t included all their list candidates, some still treat their candidates’ email addresses like state secrets, some provide email addresses half if which ended up bouncing (naming no names, but it was the Lib Dems), and almost all of them make sure you have to click on each candidate individually to find out if there’s an email address for them at all – which is all good fun when your broadband is a rural as ours. Add in Gmail deciding this afternoon that I was a spammer because I was sending out too many emails – to be fair, it had a point – and as you can probably tell it’s been a frustrating exercise.

However, I have persevered, and with a mixture of googling and rummaging around in various Facebook ‘about’ pages, and just plain guessing (if a candidate called Firstname.Surname ever runs for office they’ll be a shoo-in) – I have managed to contact about three-fifths of the people who allegedly want to represent us in the Scottish Parliament. The rest clearly feel that not getting inundated with adverts for penis enlargements – or, indeed, requests for their policy positions on active travel – is more important than being reachable by their electorate.

Now comes the really hard part – which is deciphering the replies that have come in from the more practised candidates and trying to determine if they’re actually promising something or just writing something which semantically looks like a promise but has a way of wriggling out of your grasp like a double jointed eel when you try and pin it down. But that part, I’ll leave up to the voters to decide. If you want to play along go here and put in your postcode and see what comes up for your constituency. Bonus points to the first person who extracts an actual measurable promise out of a politician …

* And yes, I did use to be a computer programmer who managed web-based database developments in a previous life, but I have thoroughly de-skilled myself in the intervening years. Possibly the ‘managing’ bit was part of that process…

Pass the Spanner

January 13, 2016

It’s beginning to dawn on me (I’m slow that way) that life in one’s forties consists largely of tedious maintenance tasks if your body is not going to gradually fall apart or, more likely, seize up. If I added up all of the things which ‘just take five minutes’ which various health-related professionals have advised me to do on a daily or (worse) twice daily basis, I’d never actually leave the house, except to take my recommended 30 minutes of exercise. It all seems perfectly reasonable as the optician explains why I should be regularly gently steaming my eyelids to keep the glands open, the yoga teacher recommends 10 minutes of poses to start the day, the dentist wants me to add using the poky wee brush between my teeth on top of the statutory 2 minutes regular brushing* – but usually after a week or so, I revert to my normal low-maintenance routine, promising myself I’ll make up for it when I have time.

Still, it’s the time of year for turning over a new leaf and while my half-hearted attempts to at least do a few yoga stretches every day have fallen by the wayside, I could at least return to regularly attending yoga once a week, and hope that would be a start. Sure, I was very busy but I’m always very busy and what could be more important and productive than an hour or so of mindful exercise followed by a nice 20 minute nap.** So yesterday morning – running rather late because I had been trying to get some of the backlog of work done, I threw my kit together and sprinted off on the bike, conscious of the fact that I needed to get there early because the yoga class has moved to a new smaller studio and I wanted to beat all the other resolutioners …

Unfortunately, I take a similarly neglectful approach to maintaining my bike – I always mean to regularly wipe off and oil the chain, clean it occasionally, tighten those various nuts, investigate that odd new noise coming from the back wheel – and then get home and forget all about it in my haste to get inside and out of the weather. Which is why I got halfway up the road before I remembered that, oh yes, I was going to look at why that brake was rubbing. And tighten up my front light before it detached itself and launched a suicide mission into my wheel.

In the end, I decided that I would acheive more in the way of zen calmness and inner peace if I turned around and actually sorted out the front light and the back brake and then got some work done, than if I pressed on, especially if it turned out that Yoga Bunny had nicked the last remaining spot

But I’m definitely, definitely, making it to yoga next week. And I will certainly be keeping on top of the bike maintenance. And taking the time to steam my eyes. And running more often. And moisturising regularly, and eating my five a day…

Ah sod it. Perhaps I should just resolve to keep riding my bike because I’m going to do that anyway.

* actually I do that one because the dentist is the only one who backs up his requests with a rather robust approach to pain relief…

** I also regularly resolve to stay awake through the breathing and relaxation but the minute I close my eyes and start visualising whatever mad thing it is we’re supposed to be visualising, that’s it, I’m gone. I wake enormously refreshed though.

Merry Christmas

December 25, 2015

May your day be merry and bright …

white trees blue sky

… even if your Christmas isn’t white

Walking with a Purpose

December 24, 2015

If you think cycling to the shops is doing it wrong around here, walking to buy something is even more outlandish (unless you’re at the mall, of course). Much as I like going for a walk, I also like walking to get somewhere, especially if that somewhere has some sort of a reward attached. Here you can just about walk to the nearest garage, if you were really desperate for some sort of corn-based cheese-food-flavoured snack products, but otherwise if you wanted to get your treats on foot, we thought we were out of luck. But then we learned that the best donuts in town were actually sold at the nearby Chinese restaurant, which is just over the road:

Although by ‘over the road’ we mean ‘Highway 50’ …

donut shop

here be donuts

Still, when the other half jokingly suggested that if I was going to go for a walk I should pick up some donuts while I was at it, I decided to take him at his word. I did take the slightly more scenic route though – up via the University, past the golf course, through the tumbleweed on the sidewalk …


(that’s slightly unfair – the road in question is a dead end so the tumbleweed has piled up everywhere, not just on the pavements. But you’ve got to love how even a dead end has about 3 lanes in each direction)

dead end road

Anyway, 50 minutes later (I took the more direct route back) I reckoned that the box had it right.

you deserve a donut

And then we went for a proper walk so we could deserve a couple more

Nature Centre, Pueblo

Old Fashioned Courtesy

December 19, 2015

vintage pickup

I must admit – and I’m not complaining in any way shape or form – that the extremely courteous attitude of drivers around here to pedstrians is beginning to freak us out. There you are, ambling through a car park to a shop, minding your own business, when you realise that the car which has randomly come to a halt several yards in front of you is not just sitting there for the fun of it – its driver has anticipated the fact that you were going to be crossing their path and is now waiting with no sign of impatience whatsoever for us to mosey along and get past it so they can be on their way. Still, given I’m still habitually looking the wrong way when attempting to cross the road, and the roads are very very wide, it’s probably no bad thing. It’s still weird though*

more blue skies

This picture doesn’t illustrate anything particularly to do with the text. It’s just there to make you jealous

Twitter suggested it might be something to do with the gun laws (the other half thinks it’s more to do with the recreational marijuana laws – and you have to enjoy the fact that the local police are currently investigating a break in at a cannabis growing facility …). I’m not so sure about that, but I was pleased to stumble upon the secret motherlode of Trousers That Fit, in Big R (Carhartt relaxed fit heavy duty work khakis, if you’re interested), a store whose customer demographic must surely contain a large proportion of women who come armed with a gun. Given that Hoggs of Fife have recently been – worryingly – talking about their ‘new fashion cut’ for their ladies’ moleskin trousers, I shall have to stock up before we leave…

me and my shadow

* and yes, I know it’s the law, but so is giving way to pedestrians at zebra crossings in the UK and that never happens unless you make it happen. It makes me feel even sorrier for any Americans who visit Britain than I do when I contemplate the difference between what they consider a ham sandwich to be and what passes for a ham sandwich in the UK. Sorry, guys. We have other fine qualities, honest …

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