I’m not Superstitious

November 11, 2022
Road strewn with hedgecutting debris

‘With all this on the road it’s a miracle you haven’t had a flat tyre yet,’ the other half remarked before I could stop him on one of our state-sanctioned daily walks this week (yes, we’re still doing them; judge away). Obviously, I don’t believe in the puncture fairy, but why would you risk deliberately invoking her? Either way, whether due to confirmation bias, regression to the mean or, more likely, the fact that our local farmers have spent the past few weeks energetically coating our roads with Bastard Big Thorns, the next day my bike had a flat back tyre.

So far the puncture is only a slow one so I’m nursing it along by pumping the tyre up every morning and hoping for the best (I may not believe in the puncture fairy but I can’t shake the belief that you only get one puncture at a time, so it’s safer not to fix a slow leak that gets you to town and back until you absolutely have to, or you’ll only end up with a worse one). But I believe the time has come to look into upgraded puncture protection (standard disclaimer: I already have Marathon Plus tyres, slime made absolutely no difference, and no I’m not going tubeless, but thank you for your suggestions). Last year I tried out supposedly puncture-proof inner tubes, which shall remain nameless as front and rear wheels both went flat within two weeks of being put on the bike). So now I’m considering inserts, possibly instead of the Marathons or perhaps as well as, considering the density of blackthorn around here. My hesitation – as with all of these solutions – is that they tend to make fixing a flat even harder in the event that they fail. But if it saves me another walk of shame (or cyclist’s full-body workout) then it will be worth the risk.

Even better would be if the local farmers could somehow find a way not to coat the roads with the local equivalent of caltrops. I am reliably informed that the Germans have special hedge cutting machines which blow the debris into the field rather than spreading it along the road, but that’s the Germans for you (they also apparently have special slurry spreaders that just directly dribble it onto the ground rather than spraying it everywhere, which lessens the stink). I had hoped that the past few weeks of rain might have at least rinsed off the worst of the debris, but no such luck. Meanwhile, I might have to resort to sweeping the road again myself. So perhaps I will get that full body workout after all …


Derailed

November 2, 2022

Previously on Townmouse, your heroine had resolved to tackle her existential despair by heading up to Edinburgh make her puny voice heard at the Climate Day of Action – it’s not much but the mere threat of it seems to have been enough to persuade Rishi Sunak to change his mind and head to COP27 after all.*

So that just leaves the small matter of getting there. The march kicks off at 12 noon and as it turns out there’s a train from Lockerbie that arrives just after 11:30 – perfect. There’s a bus that connects (with a half hour wait, granted) from Bigtown. All about as seamless and convenient as you can expect when you live in a rural forgotten corner of Scotland, and a journey I’ve done a dozen times without a single second thought in the past.

But that was back in the before times. I’ve not taken that train to Edinburgh since Covid changed lots of things, including any sense that a TransPennine Express service might actually get you somewhere as advertised. The last time I had to take the train back from Edinburgh the last one of the evening was abruptly cancelled about 5 minutes after the preceding one had departed and I was left with the replacement bus (actually a taxi) and a long and overly stressful wait at Waverley while the station staff attempted to work out where this might be departing from (the train company has at least put an end to this particular fun by simply removing the – by now largely mythical – later service from its timetable). The mid morning service to Edinburgh is a little more reliable, but when you’ve got two hours to wait for the one after that, it only takes one cancellation to throw your entire day’s plans out of the water.

cyclist crossing into the Scottish Borders

It’s no wonder that the last three times I’ve headed to Edinburgh it has been by bike or, slightly less epically, by bus. Indeed if the bus weren’t scheduled to arrive 20 minutes after the march has departed, I might have opted for it again, as it may be slow and uncomfortable but it does have the reputation of actually turning up and getting people to Edinburgh. The Lockerbie trains, not so much (there is also the option of taking the slow train to Glasgow and heading across from there, but that will require leaving at silly o’clock).

View of the hills from inside the bus

I think the real stress in all this, is that there’s no real plan B. If the train is cancelled, that’s it. The only option might be to have found out in good enough time to take the bus instead and hope the march sets off late enough that I can catch it. Or to aim for a much earlier train in the hope that they aren’t BOTH cancelled. I suppose I’ll just have to go as planned and hope for the best. But is it any wonder people drive?

I suppose that’s why we march …

* Other explanations are available.


The Dying of the Light

October 5, 2022

Riding back from the Bigtown Cycle Campaign AGM last night, I found myself wondering how I could have been extolling the joys of night riding barely more than six months ago. As the nights draw in, I’ve twice had to ride back in the dark from various events recently and I’m finding the experience increasingly testing. In particular, for whatever reason, I no longer feel confident that I’m able to read the road surface in time to avoid the worst of the potholes. Mostly this doesn’t matter, because I have ridden the road home so often I know where they all are, but in places I’ve found myself forced to brake going downhill to stay safe (a crime against momentum) and even lost track of where I was on the road on some of the twistier bits. It’s taken me back to the days before I got my lights properly sorted out and riding home in the dark meant gambling on there being a full moon.

The problem may be due to my light set up – the way the bracket is mounted, the front mudguard casts an unfortunately phallic shadow onto the road ahead which certainly doesn’t help matters. I’m also wondering whether the light itself – which is, after all, 10 years old – might simply be dimmer (do LED lights fade with age?). And then there’s the worry that the problem is my end – that I’m seeing less well in the dark. I’ve always had terrible eyesight, and I know that your night vision can deteriorate with age, although I had hoped it wouldn’t be happening quite yet. I’ve noticed that the issue is actually worse at dusk or as I’m leaving the bright lights of Bigtown, rather than when it’s fully dark, which suggests my eyes might be taking longer to adjust. Either way something to get checked out at my next eye test which is due in a month.

Matters aren’t helped by the fact that I’m currently nursing a sore knee – possibly due to tripping over my Brompton on an escalator in our haste to catch a train in Brussels (in fact, now I come to think of it, almost all of the injuries I’ve had in recent years seem to have been Brompton related; it’s possible the bike is out to get me).

General decrepitude is one thing, and probably to be expected as I advance further into my fifties. But when it starts affecting my ability to cycle, then it’s a bit of a problem. Hopefully the knee will sort itself out, and a new light will restore me to happy night cycling. But if not, perhaps my e-bike – and varifocal – years are coming sooner than I’d hoped.


Lockdown …

April 6, 2022

At the risk of this becoming an ‘all hare content, all the time’ blog, we were just heading out for a walk this evening and on checking the back door was locked, discovered that our resident wee hare was behaving adorably, so obviously we had to stop and watch that.

Just as we were about to head out the front, it scampered round and settled down for the evening by the plant pot just beside the door.

Walks are over-rated, I guess. I expect we’ll manage to leave the house eventually.


Kicking the Can Down the Road

November 18, 2021

Life’s been gradually returning back to normal after all the excitement of COP26 and Glasgow and I seem to have finally cleared most of the outstanding post-event tasks, and even begun to catch up with the huge list of things that had been put on the pile marked ‘After COP’, some more glamorous than others …

Although as it happens, our septic tank is fine, despite not having been emptied, or even looked at, since we bought the house – it didn’t even smell too bad, which is a sign that its bacteria are working away nicely. And there’s something very satisfying about ticking something off your to do list that’s been nagging away at the back of your mind as something that ought to be sorted for over five years.

No such sense of satisfaction is looming for the Scottish Government, sadly, at least when it comes to its long awaited and now once more delayed deposit return scheme. This is incredibly disappointing, especially as they set up one of their shiny new Green ministers to announce it. It’s not just about litter and unsightliness of drinks cans (and broken bottles) along the hedgerows – each unrecycled aluminium can means an extra 8 times its weight in additional carbon emissions.

can caught in hedgerow

I’m still picking up cans when I’m out on the bike and every single time I go into town I easily find at least four – and that’s on just 5 miles of not very busy rural roads. Indeed, today I’d met my ‘quota’ before I’d even got half way into town. I’ve been looking forward to finding fewer of them once the deposit scheme kicked in (or failing that, having developed a lucrative new sideline). But now it seems I’ll have to keep on picking them up pro bono for the indefinite future. Which is bad news for the planet, as the scheme was expected to cut emissions by 160,000 tonnes a year, meaning every day this scheme is delayed, will cause over 400 tonnes of extra emissions.

After all the talk of the urgency of tackling climate change, and the need to get emissions down now, not at some time in the future, it’s beyond dispiriting to hear that this most anodyne and undisruptive of measures is being held up – and that by a government which fancies itself as a climate leader. What’s going to happen once they try and implement something properly difficult? They’ve announced that they’re aiming to cut car kilometres by 20% by 2030 for instance. Now that really will be interesting to watch …

old moss covered hawthorn bush


When Bin Day Bites Back

September 29, 2021

We’ve almost got to grips with the excitement of having actual doorstep recycling (if by ‘doorstep’ you mean ‘half a mile away at the road end’) these days – although the thrill of lugging four weeks’ worth of Guardian’s half a mile down the road once a month will never quite pall for me. So far we’ve only had to resort to the car once (executive decision from the other half as it was absolutely weeing it down on a blue bag day, the blue bag being the paper and card one, please do try and keep up at the back).

Occasionally our neighbour takes our recycling down for us on his way, and occasionally he will bring the empty bags back, but mostly we save that excitement for our lunchtime walk. Yesterday, though, I had headed out early to get the paper because the forecast was looking pretty dreadful, and I decided to save us a walk in the rain, by picking up our emptied bag and cycling it back to the house.

Obviously the sensible way to do this would have been to fold it up and bungee it to my rack, so equally obviously I decided what I’d actually do would be just to grab it and cycle with it in one hand. It was pretty clear after about 200 yards that this wasn’t really going to work because the bags are weighted at the bottom, and rather large, so I was effectively cycling with an unruly pendulum in one hand that quickly got into a sync with the movement of the bike so that every pedal stroke sent it gyrating ever more wildly next to my wheel. And yet, somehow, I didn’t just get off and fold it up like I should have in the first place because if it had seemed like a faff to do this at the road end, it seemed even more like a faff half way up the hill to our house when I was so close to home. What could possibly go wrong?

Yeah, maybe don’t answer that question. I’m still not entirely sure exactly what combination of swinging bag, pedals, spokes and feet left me sprawling on the road literally three feet from our gate, but it would have been embarrassing if there had been anyone to witness it, other than Moo-I-5.

I should have got away with it as long as no idiot shares it with the world by posting it all over the Internet …

(edited to add: now here’s a *really* exciting bin day)


By Air, Land and Sea

August 20, 2021

It’s a sad side effect of being heavily involved in various cycle campaigns, that I have to spend more time than is healthy on social media, and particularly Facebook.*

This does at least keep me tuned into the local zeitgeist which is probably helpful in keeping me real and breaking my cycling-green-generally wishy washy liberal bubble. In particular it has alerted me to the fact that Bigtown is under siege by a force more deadly than any mere pandemic:

Seagulls.

It seems that nobody can so much as eat a chip in the town centre without being swooped on and the food snatched out of their mouths (really?). Children scream and flee in terror, people are trapped in their houses, and the gulls have now actually taken control of the town centre, without a shot fired by the fleeing forces of the cowardly Coonsil (well, what are you going to do without any air power?)

I read this with particular interest having sat in the town centre for two hours last Saturday, contentedly eating my lunch and watching the gulls as they mostly politely waited for people to feed them, which they quite frequently did. Clearly the terrorised populace have been reduced to paying tribute to our squawking overlords. So cowed are they, that they even do it with a smile. A proud populace, brought to heel.

Fortunately the fightback has begun: Someone’s started a petition.

Meanwhile, during the same two hours, about a dozen cars and vans drove onto the pedestrianised High Street which has become an unofficial short cut and short stay car park – even when there was a market festival filling most of the street.

Call me daft, but I don’t think it’s the gulls that are the real menace here.

Local news post with amended headline - The Gulls are actually controlling the town centre' (with gulls crossed out and cars written in)

* Special love here to all my fellow campaigners who loftily eschew the site, which is great for them but given (at least as far as Bigtown is concerned) Facebook IS the internet, simply means that others have to sully their hands with it…


Life Histories

May 9, 2021

So, I went out for a 40-mile solo ride this afternoon, as you apparently do when you’re breaking the habit of a lifetime and semi seriously training for something. And I have to admit, given the brisk wind and the random showers (which at least weren’t hailstorms or snow showers, I suppose – it’s come to something when the Weather Gods have managed our expectations to the point that liquid precipitation in May is considered an improvement) that I wasn’t exactly feeling the whole cycling love as I set out.

empty road and gloomy skies

But I’d wanted to make sure I could stand my own company and keep my speed respectable (as well as navigate …) on longer rides, and as I powered up one of the last hills, I was feeling pretty good, despite the fact that I was doing so into a serious headwind. I was on course to manage 40 miles (including a 25 minute cafe stop and a short pause while a man on a quad bike attempted to round up an escaping cow that was galloping along on the road) in four hours, I hadn’t seriously fallen with myself and I was replete with coffee and cake, neither of which I’d had to make myself.

Looking down over a river valley

As is traditional round here, I paused to exchange pleasantries with an older man who was standing by the side of the road looking a bit amused at my slow progress up the hill, and we got to chatting, during which I learned that he used to deliver bin lorries (‘and Postman Pat vans’) all around the country (it is only as I type this that I realise I have many questions about bin lorry delivering), and that he currently makes walking sticks with rams’ horn handles, some of which were rather amazingly cool – he dug out an actual packet of actual photos (as you might pick up from an actual chemist, circa 1994) to show me and I’m now wondering who in my life might appreciate such a thing. And then, he having given me his card, we parted ways and I cycled home feeling that the whole outing had been made worthwhile.

single track road with passing place sign

One of the things I love about living here is the way random strangers will occasionally just tell me their life story in the course of a bus journey, a cycle ride, or a roadside chat. As a Londoner it’s always a little startling, but I always appreciate it when it happens. Lockdown has meant those moments have been rather few and far between, but if getting out further and more often on the bike means more of them then that alone will have made it all worthwhile.

empty road through forest

Jabbed

March 23, 2021

Well, a day of excitement for us today – not only was it Bin Day (one of the few remaining Binday Classics as we count down to the new recycling system) but it was also V-Day as we had our appointment to get our first shot of the vaccine (Astra Zeneca, thanks for asking).

I was kind of hoping for a badge, sticker, or even just the little card you get saying which vaccine you got so I could do my requisite ‘vaccination selfie’ across all my many social media platforms, but sadly they’re above such things here in Bigtownshire so we just got a leaflet about side effects, which isn’t really the same. So far I haven’t had any side effects either, apart from the commonest one of being unable to shut up about having had the vaccine. That’s probably why they don’t bother giving out a sticker, come to think of it.

In lieu of a vaccine selfie, you’ll have to make do with this incredibly accurate recreation of the attack of ASBO buzzard, courtesy of my talented friend Vicki (although if I’m honest, I’m actually much less insouciant when under attack than I appear in the picture).

Cartoon image of me on a bike being attacked by a buzzard

And now I’ll go back to what has become normality – living in our rural fastness on the top of the hill, making the occasional foray into town for the paper, and riding my bike. The only difference will be if some unwary stranger should stumble into within hailing distance, when I can waylay them and (socially distanced of course) inform them that I’ve had my vaccine…

… did I mention that we’d had our vaccines, at all?


Is your Journey Really Necessary?

January 7, 2021

Since I last posted we’ve gone back into full lockdown meaning we’re only allowed out for essential purposes, which includes exercise and shopping for food but not, as far as I can tell, going to buy a paper* (and you never quite know who’s watching, either …)

cows watching from a barn

The ice and cold have also given way to snow – not more than a dusting really, but enough to make things very pretty and keeping it local today was not a hardship.

Snowy trees and burn

When all this started back in March, and thought it would all soon be over, I started a little timelapse of the arrival of the spring leaves during our daily walks. I don’t think I had any inkling I’d be doing the same thing by the time the snow arrived.

Tonight and tomorrow we’ve got hard overnight frosts forecast, which was excuse enough for me to pursue my new favourite hobby: gritting the road, much to the eager anticipation and ultimate disappointment of the neighbouring sheep:

It turns out sheep really really like road salt and have been known to knock open grit bins to get at the contents. This may explain why they’ve been keeping such a close eye on the bin that’s by our gate (so far, still unraided) although the absence of little sheep hoofprints and the presence of large bootprints beside the emptied grit bin at the road end suggests that if they are behind the Great Grit Bin Heist of 2021, then they’re cleverer than we thought.

* If I understand the regulations right, I can quite legally cycle down to the shop, as that’s exercise, but I can’t then go in and buy just a paper, as that would be inessential shopping. However, if I also bought a bar of chocolate that would be food shopping, which would be fine. Or perhaps a scotch egg, just to be on the safe side.