A Nation of Shopkeepers

July 5, 2019

I remain, frustratingly, cameraless after one repair attempt failed leaving me with a phone that will now not focus at all unless I use it in selfie mode. This is particularly annoying as Moo-I-5 have made an unexpectedly early return and I’m sure will be providing entertaining* blogging material as soon as they have got over the ‘Nooo!! Scary humans!’ stage of their visit (meanwhile the cows in the other two fields near our house have discovered each other and have spent the last two days mooing yearningly at eachother across the front corner of our garden).

Bike hub shopfront

So I’ve been trawling back through earlier photos and realised I forgot to announce that I have taken up shopkeeping – or, more accurately, voluntarily minding the Buddies accessible bike hub one day a week. It’s fair to say I’m not rushed off my feet just yet, although I have rented out one bike, shown a couple of prospective punters round, directed numerous confused people towards the ‘real’ bike shops in the town, and spent much of the rest of the time in an undeclared war with the illegal parkers of the supposedly pedestrianised street the shop is on. If a space does open up outside the shop, my job then is to dash round as fast as possible (which is not particularly fast) with the rickshaw bike or other contraptions to fill the space before the spot is nabbed by someone else who’s ‘just dropping something off’ to one of the other shops, a task which apparently takes all day. I can then amuse myself by watching through the window as drivers think they’ve scored a spot and then discover they’ve been gazumped by a bicycle. Or, when I fail to get to the space first, then at least I can enjoy counting the number of direct hits Bigtown’s seagulls score on the scofflaw parkers (there’s a reason all those bikes are sporting saddle covers, and it’s not just to advertise the Bigtown Cycle Campaign.

If nothing else, I’ve found myself a quiet (and internet-free) spot in town to get on with some work and/or knitting while I wait for the good folk of Bigtown to come in for a nosey, so it’s win-win as far as I’m concerned. Watch this space for exciting tales of retailing or parking war triumphs – or at the very least, some progress on my latest knitting project

* adjusted for the peculiarly low standards of this blog.

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Hitting the Road

June 24, 2019

When you’re heading out on the bike for a day of adventure, it helps to have the weather on your side

(photo does not show the epic thunderstorm that – from the sound of it – passed directly overhead shortly afterwards)

Luckily it wasn’t really my adventure today, but Buddies who are holding a three-day sponsored bike ride on the flatter roads around Bigtown, and by the time they had assembled (held up, ironically enough, in traffic on the bypass) the rain had stopped and stayed more or less stopped for the rest of the day (my socks, on the other hand, were still soaking wet when I got home six hours later).

Cycling event sign

Twenty-one miles over three days on back roads may not seem like a lot for most cyclists, but it’s big jump when your cycling up to now has been mostly round the local park and you’ve never really ridden on anything but the quietest residential street. Fortunately, our motley crew of two- and three-wheelers – plus the wheelchair transporter trike – were also accompanied by two motorbikes and a following car, courtesy of our local Blood Bikes.

Obviously, this being a bike ride, we needed a cafe stop and fortunately a local farm runs a delicious ice-cream parlour – we even got free ice creams. This was exactly a mile into our ride but you take your cafe stops where you find them around here.

Ice cream parlour

From there, the six further miles to the pub where we ended the first day went remarkably quickly, even with one rider stopping dead every time she came to a hill she didn’t like, which was most of them. The drivers were pretty patient, nobody fell off, and we arrived with the same number of people as we left with,* which always counts as a success for a group ride. In fact, once you’d got over the unusual bikes and the need to allow for various additional needs, it felt pretty much like any other group ride – riding along through beautiful countryside chatting with the other riders, saying hello to the cows (you all do say hello to cows as you pass them, right?), speculating about how much further there is to go, rejoicing in a downhill stretch or a tailwind – and above all the sense of achievement as you sail into the pub car park, certain that you have earned your lunch.

Arriving at the pub

There has been a massive amount of logistics involved, of course, in getting to that point safely – these guys are a long way from being able to enjoy the real freedom a bike brings, and maybe they never will. But at least they’ve got a taste of what’s possible – and from there, who knows?

PS – for those wondering – Stephen came too, but on a trike and he had an absolute whale of a time.

* Actually we gained one, as we managed to rendezvous with the passenger for the wheelchair transporter en route. I think the community transport guys were a bit bemused to find themselves taking a wheelchair user out into the middle of nowhere to track down a bunch of cyclists and then load her up onto a cargo bike, but they did it with good grace.


Exciting Trench Digging News

June 7, 2019

I suppose I should be grateful to my phone for choosing the morning after I had just met a series of unfeasibly tight deadlines to die on me. It has been proving erratic for a while, but I like to get as much life out of my stuff as I can before replacing anything, so I was resolutely ignoring it until finally I couldn’t. Rebooting, cache wiping and a factory reset all failed, the phone repair shop admitted that they’d just be googling it the same way I was, so it looks as if it’s time for a new phone (or new-to-me, anyway). Fortunately I have enough offers of people’s cast offs that I probably won’t be left stranded for too long – but today at least I have been phoneless, which also means cameraless.

Which is why you’re not being treated to the exciting (in the very specialised meaning of the word used in this blog) sight of two men digging a trench along the side of our tiny dead-end road (it was quite sweet that they’d even put out roadworks signs, even though it would probably have been less effort to just come round and warn us individually). Screeching to a halt on my bike I said the words that most rural householders can only dream of uttering:

… are you … putting in … fibre … by any remote chance?

Readers, they were. This was exciting enough news that I had to cycle back up the hill to tell the other half (OK, I had also forgotten the Guardian voucher but to be honest, such is our hill, that I normally just donate the Guardian the cost of the voucher if I realise I’ve forgotten it by the time I’ve descended). I leave it to you to calculate the bandwidth* of a slow cyclist on a steel tourer pedalling up a Category 3 climb, but believe me it won’t be the lowest we’ve experienced since moving to the country so this is exciting news

Looked at objectively,I would have to agree with the guy on the digger when he declared it mad to be running fibre up a road that serves a grand total of six houses, but it seems the Scottish Government is committed to rolling out superfast broadband to every house and business in Scotland and amazingly that appears to be what it’s doing. Colour me amazed.

Now we just have to hold them to turning their climate emergency promises into actual policies and we may just be getting somewhere. I might suggest 20mph limits as a good place to start.

* as the lecturer on my IT degree used to say back in the last century, ‘never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of floppy disks** heading down the freeway.’

** younger readers – ask your parents.


Garden Visiting

May 12, 2019

Bike parked by garden

Sometimes everything just comes together and this afternoon was one of those times: glorious May weather, a gap (of sorts; there’s always something I could usefully be doing) in the schedule and not one but two open gardens to visit, both of them, crucially, offering teas.

Sunny view

Of course, this being May, you don’t have to go far to be struck by the beauty of late spring – this is the wood along our road at the moment.

spring woods alongside road

And you don’t have to go far to find bluebells either – even on the short ride down to the first garden, famous for its bluebell wood, I was assailed on all sides by the heady smell of them and shimmers of blue beneath the fresh spring green, but it was worth the visit, and not just because of the chance to catch up with Old Nearest Village gossip (the oldest inhabitant, who sweeps the board at the village show each year, lost her greenhouse over the winter so it’s all to play for in the tomato classes) and the ample tea.

bluebell wood

(We’ll draw a veil over one chap who managed to go from ‘why don’t you wear a helmet?’ to ‘I just drive them off the road anyway, they get in my way and slow me down’ in just three moves, a record, I believe).

Then it was off down more quiet rural roads to the next garden.

road with overhanging trees

(Potholes not shown; some of them were truly spectacular. I particularly liked the stretch where just one of them had been outlined in red, presumably for mending, while the dozen other equally hazardous ones around it had been ignored).

The second garden was also spectacular but more of the ‘just shows what you can do if you’ve got staff’ variety (as observed by the only other cyclist there). Also you had to pay separately for your tea, so I was glad I’d made good at the first. I am gradually learning that the posher the garden, the less generous the tea arrangements.

formal garden

All in all a very splendid day. Although our morning coffee on the bench, enjoying the view, (and my homemade chelsea buns) was possibly just as enjoyable …

coffee and chelsea buns

… Especially as it didn’t come with a side order of cyclist-baiting remarks.


To Heck and Back

May 5, 2019

Hmm. Yesterday morning saw me settled on the bus, feeling that – rail replacement bus services notwithstanding – I had things well in hand. I had a lunch packed, my knitting to keep me busy on the coach to Edinburgh, and would be arriving well in time for our Pop pub session. I’d even had a stern word with myself about being over cautious with my bus times and decided that half an hour was plenty of slack between the bus’s scheduled arrival in Lockerbie and the rail replacement service departure. It was a Saturday, the bus had arrived well on time, and all was going to plan.

knitting work in progress

From my mouth to God’s ear, of course: for the next thing that happened was we happened upon a police road block. The main road to Lockerbie was closed and would be for some time, so the bus was going to have to find another way. Off we set, into unchartered territory, down a winding lane and then another, past the hamlet of (I swear I am not making this up) Heck, which appears to be less a place and more an excuse to put up a comedy road sign, and back up to the main Lockerbie road after a five minute or so detour – still plenty of time to catch my train. Phew.

Except that the road was still closed ahead, so round we went again, back to the original road block, back down the winding lane, skipping Heck this time and heading into even more unchartered territory, on what turned out to be about a 10 mile detour along increasingly narrow (and now quite congested with detouring traffic) roads. After a pause while a volunteer was found to help the bus back out of a wrong turning, always an exciting procedure, the driver confessed he wasn’t entirely sure where he was going and a navigational committee of passengers formed to get us finally into Lockerbie ten minutes after my Edinburgh service was due to have left.

All was potentially not lost though – the coach might have been delayed so I still had a chance, except that, as the bus stopped at the stop before the station, the chair of the Passenger Navigation Committee paused as she alighted to give the driver some further advice, a process which seemed like it might take forever. At that point, a bus stop worth of people who had been waiting 20 minutes for the Bigtown bus crossed the road to enquire about when their service might arrive, at which point the Brompton and I bailed out and sped off to the station just in time to witness the Rail Replacement coach sail out of the forecourt without me, despite frantically waving to get the driver’s attention. He’s probably wondering even now what he’d done to get the middle-aged lady on the clown bike so worked up …

Still, I made it and, while I was more than ready for my post-Pop beer by the time I arrived, in the end it was just an hour’s delay and a funny story to tell. Sadly, I found out later that the road was closed because of a fatal collision – it’s a notoriously dangerous road, and not just for cyclists (indeed I know of very few cyclists locally who would ride on it). That puts my petty problems into perspective and reminds me to be grateful that I made it home unscathed.


Welcoming our Compost Overlord

March 29, 2019

I mentioned we had exciting composting news and I can now reveal that the Dalek mothership has landed.

We’ve been curious about compost tumblers ever since visiting my friend’s parents’ amazingly productive plot. It’s fair to say that our own adventures in composting haven’t really been more than partially successful so far.

Enter the compost tumbler (or technically speaking the ComposTumbler), which cost How Much!? and promises speedy compost (as long as your average temperatures are high enough), or at least the opportunity to spend less time emptying and refilling an ever-growing platoon of daleks.

In between shelling out for this behemoth and it arriving, the subject of compost tumblers came up on Gardeners’ Question Time where they were roundly dismissed. All we needed to make compost, Bob Flowerdew opined airily, was four pallets joined together – and to turn it regularly. As it happens we do have four pallets but I also have A Shoulder and that has made turning the compost a bit painful, and probably unwise. And besides – while I’m all for frugal gardening and the creative use of pallets – there’s something about having a great big steampunkish metal contraption that is equally appealing.

The other half assembled it in the garage, and yesterday we carried it out onto its stand in composting corner where we filled it up with a starter load of stuff that had been festering (or, more properly, failing to fester) in one of the daleks all winter. According to the very detailed instructions that came with the beast, we should be taking its temperature daily (disappointingly it did not come with a spreadsheet for recording it, although it did include a few graphs) to ensure the magic is happening, and turning it at least four times a week.

You would think that would be enough, but I’m slowly realising that composting is an exacting science and we are also going to need a decent shredder. Plus, in order to get the right balance of carbon and nitrogen, separate holding areas for things like grass clippings and wood chippings. Not to mention somewhere for kitchen and garden waste while we wait for the tumbler to do its work and somewhere to store the finished compost once it’s completed it. Compost Corner clearly still has a way to go.

I have long suspected that gardening largely comes down to the accumulation of stuff to go into the compost. Now, I am sure of it.


Getting Away from it All

March 25, 2019

Apologies for the lack of posting in recent days – with my usual excellent timing, I managed to organise my relaxing birthday week away in Northern Ireland to coincide with an extremely unrelaxing editing job (hello 120-page international tax policy document) and POP planning suddenly stepping up a gear. So in the interests of full disclosure, for every relaxing barefoot* stroll on the beach, there has been an equal and opposite period spent chained to the laptop in a position that would make my physio wince.

beach footprints

We also learned that, at least in the UK, if you’re looking for a nice seafood lunch, a proper working fishing harbour is probably the last place you should look, but the cafe on the harbour front will do you a very good value fry up. I suppose if you work with fish all day, the last thing you want to do is eat the stuff. Presumably it all goes straight back out to Europe to be eaten by people who don’t consider seafood to be some sort of an aberration.

kilkeel harbour

Or it did, anyway. For the other thing we seem to have been doing – like approximately 90% of my social media timeline – is watching the numbers tick up on the Revoke Article 50 petition (you have signed it, right?), while the government, opposition, and apparently the entire political system falls apart around us. Not that you’d know about it around here, despite the fact that we’re in the region that will likely feel it the most. Perhaps it’s because it’s the sort of place where you go to get away from that sort of thing (we came here on holiday right through the 80s and 90s and the Troubles barely seemed to touch it either) but nobody’s said a word about it and everything is apparently just carrying on as normal. As long as there’s ice cream to be had, and mountains to climb and the harbour wall to be inspected, and black guillemots sitting in pairs on the sea wall, we might just find a way through this madness and come out the other side.

That in itself has got to have made this week’s visit worth our while.

*OK, I wasn’t the one who was brave enough to go barefoot. The weather’s been nice, but it is still March