The Wrong Kind of Leaves on the Path

January 10, 2020

This January is shaping up to be a month for slipping out in between weather warnings; today’s adventure involved heading down to Bigtown with a shovel for a cross bar because the coonsil are apparently incapable of getting some leaves off a cycle path.

shovel on a bike

Have shovel, will travel

This has been a long-running saga: two months ago, noting that the leaves were falling off the trees – again! in autumn! just like last year! – I reported several stretches of cycle path that were getting dangerously choked. I did this through the official channel, plus two separate coonsil officers, who both assured me that something would be done. Time passed, more leaves fell, armies of coonsil employees spend hours with leaf blowers tidying other leaves into nice piles in the parks, and nothing was done about the leaves on the cycle paths. I chased again (every time I do this I get an automatic email saying that my email will be responded to within 20 days and then … silence). I emailed my councillors. I emailed our climate champion (‘every council policy will be looked at through a climate emergency lens’). More silence. Christmas came and went and new year and when everyone was back at their desks, I chased again. This time I got a reply telling me that it was difficult because they didn’t have a machine that was capable of cleaning up the resulting leaf mulch. The leaf mulch that would have been nice leaf-blowable leaves had they actually tackled them when they were first reported.

path covered in leaves

At this point, we cracked and just did it ourselves, using that bleeding edge piece of technology, the shovel. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a busy woman at the other end of it (we had one camera shy man) but some level of willingness to get out of your wee machine and put your back into it does seem to help. Four volunteers, two hours, and several slices of gingerbread later, we had cleared one of the paths entirely (just another half dozen trouble spots to go).

working on the cycle path

Riding home, I pondered on the way that every interaction with the coonsil – at least when it comes to any form of transport that isn’t in a car – ultimately leaves me questioning either their sanity or my own.* Especially after the coonsil responded to our tweet about the whole thing by helpfully asking if we wanted any bags of leaves uplifted (I’m still now undecided if this represents extreme cluelessness or extremely clever trolling). I know that when I speak to individual officers and politicians that they often seem to get it and are simply trying their best to get things done in difficult circumstances. But somehow the end result is often still indistinguishable to what an evil genius would come up with if they wanted to discourage cycling without actively banning it.

Even so, while it would be nice if if we didn’t have to do the coonsil’s job for them, we still got the better end of the bargain. We were the ones who had a morning in the fresh air and the winter sunshine getting some healthy exercise in good company – and the satisfaction of a job well done, something I suspect is rare if you work for Bigtownshire Coonsil.

And I got home while it was still dry. With 24 hours of rain forecast, that counts as a win these days.

* It’s not just me – I’d stopped to chat with a friend who is attempting to get some sort of traffic calming on her rat-run road so she can safely take her autistic son to school, and has been told that nothing can be done because not enough people have been knocked down there yet.


For Those in Peril Up a Pole

January 7, 2020

So, I’d like to say that it was a hardship today being the one who had to wait in for the Openreach engineer to come and sort out the fact that we’ve had no landline since before the new year and crappy internet since the last deluge – but given today’s forecast was similarly grim, it would be a complete lie. True, I had to cancel a regular appointment and I would be missing out on a bike ride but I probably would have done that anyway, frankly, given the weather.

Instead, after the engineer had been, pronounced there was indeed a fault on the line, and headed off in search of it, I had a moderately pleasant and productive morning sitting in my nice dry study watching the rain being whipped sideways across the fields and working around our on-again, off-again connectivity. Our intermittent internet has been pretty annoying over the past few weeks, especially as I work from home and do actually need a decent connection for much of my activities (but also, if I’m honest, because I like to waste far too much time on social media). However, I have been gradually learning how to spend the down time doing productive work where that is possible, which it mostly is, and when that fails, turning to things which might actually be a bit better for my general wellbeing than arguing with people on Twitter about why it’s counterproductive to argue with people on Twitter (Reading books! Actually reading the newspaper! catching up with my knitting!).

Despite this, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t want reliable broadband back – although I do have to admit feeling a mild twinge of guilt when I looked out the kitchen window as I made myself a coffee and watched the engineer battling with his ladder in the wind to climb up poles in the rain all so I could watch cat videos and argue about cycling with total strangers. Remind me next time I’m moaning about the freelancing life, or getting a bit damp on the bike, that at least I’m not a telecoms engineer…

openreach engineer

I love work, I could watch it for hours

Oh, and nothing to do with the rest of the post – but if you live in Scotland and would like to see the government investing in transport infrastructure that isn’t just ever more roads then could you please head over here before Friday and let them know?


Never Mind Self-Care …

January 6, 2020

dirty bike
… time for some bike care.

I had absolutely no plans to go anywhere by bike today but I did have some bike-related business to take care of. It’s been a wet and muddy autumn and winter so far and in recent weeks my bike had crossed the border from ‘showing that I’m not a fair weather cyclist’ to ‘active bike neglect’. This is not just the superficial matter of surface muck – I’m not that fussed whether you can tell what colour my bike is or not, but I do know that a little bit of attention to the drive train would undoubtedly make the bike work better and probably reduce my maintenance bills to boot.* I did go through a phase of at least running a wet wipe round the chain and re-oiling it every so often (and yes, I know about wet wipes but I put them in the bin, not down the drain) but somehow that has fallen by the wayside as I come home wet and tired and decide that the bike can probably wait. I know, it’s a terrible way to treat the one you love …

Anyway, yesterday my comeuppance came as I realised that not only was my chain looking a bit neglected, but that it had actively started to seize up making it almost impossible to oil the damn thing without three hands – it wouldn’t let me turn the cranks backwards to run the chain around the mechanism so I was reduced to holding the bike saddle with one hand, pressing down the pedal with the other, and wheeling the bike round in a big circle to get the chain back onto the ring. Naturally, having got enough oil on to get the bike going again, I took it out in the rain and the muck and then chucked it back in the garage unwashed. So today, I made amends, and in a gap in the rain, gave it a good wash and properly cleaned and oiled the chain.

cleaned bike

A quick test run suggests it’s still long overdue for its annual service but at least it won’t be embarrassing to take it into the shop. Although given the continuing state of the roads and the forecast, I expect it won’t stay looking respectable for long.

How often do you clean your bikes?

* In another life, I’d be regularly measuring the chain wear – probably during its weekly cleaning and oiling, haha – and replacing the chain so as to avoid wearing out the chainset quite as frequently as I do now but I’m not in that life now and if I’m honest I’m not sure I ever will be.


Tested

November 29, 2019

So, in yesterday’s catalogue of winter cycling woes, I omitted the fact that it is still hedgecutting (and hence puncture) season. This was something of an oversight as I had sat at my desk for most of the afternoon and watched the neighbouring farmer in his tractor giving the hedge along our road a thorough short back and sides. Unfortunately, I had then completely forgotten this until the other half reminded me of it just as I was heading out on the Brompton, and wished me luck.

By that point, it was fully dark but I could see in my front light that there was a fair amount of hedgecutting debris scattered across the road. But there was nothing for it but to head off anyway and hope that I’d be fine. Yeah, I don’t know why I thought that might work either. I got as far as the river before the thumpety thump of a flat tyre had made itself unignorable and with it being the back wheel – the unholy trinity of a Marathon Plus, a tiny wheel, and a hub gear – there was nothing for it but to ring for help and a lift into town – and get the Brompton dropped off at the bike shop for a new inner tube (and no, I’m not going to fit it myself or even pretend I might want to learn how).

This morning revealed the scale of the problem, with the road completely carpeted with bastard big thorns. I do have some sympathy for the local farmers who seem to have every bit of mechanised kit they need *except* anything that might sweep up their hedgecutting debris; the last time I had a moan, they ended up sweeping the road by hand. But I do need to be able to get around reliably and I know from bitter experience that even Marathon Plus tyres are not proof against hedge cuttings. The answer is probably to just stop flailing the hedges and lay them instead (which has many other benefits, not least for wildlife) but I can’t see that happening any time soon.

hedge cuttings on the road

So, there was nothing for it but to take matters into my own hands.

broom sweeping road

Fortunately it was a sunny, if extremely cold, morning, so I swept myself a somewhat safer passage down as far as the farmyard (it seemed a bit too pointed to keep going right through their yard; maybe next year).

swept strip of roadI don’t fool myself that this will entirely keep the puncture fairy at bay, but it may perhaps have bought me a little time…


One and a Half Feral Hogs

October 26, 2019

Glancing up from my desk this morning, I happened to notice an addition to mammal list for the garden:

Pig in the garden

Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to weaponry – our new neighbours in the farmhouse up the road have a bit of a menagerie (it’s not the first time we’ve had some of their charges in the garden) and this was one of their Tamworth pigs that they’d brought in to do a bit of ground clearing (in this case Japanese knotweed but apparently they love ground elder, although from the sight of their enclosure, it’s a bit of a scorched-earth solution to weed eradication). They’re clearly well treated because its reaction to a couple of strange humans, one armed with a camera in search of blog material, was to come over and try and make friends.

friendly pig

It was easily encouraged back home, happily following the other half up the hill while I followed on behind in case ir decided to make a run for it. Then I kept the pig in place by scratching it behind the ears while the other half hunted around for our neighbours. They were out, but with a little bit more encouragement we did manage to get the pig more or less contained next to its companions, closed it in with a gate that was leaning against a wall (this is a smallholding very much of the Grundy persuasion), and hoped for the best.

pig on verge

And the half a hog part? Well, when I went back up later to let our neighbour know what had happened, he enquired whether we wanted to purchase half a pig for Christmas. This leaves me in something of a dilemma. On the one hand, if you eat meat, which we do, albeit less than we used to, then we’re urged to choose meat from animals that have had a good life and were raised on a small scale, and we know that this one at least is definitely very free range. But on the other hand, and this is nothing but sentimentality, it’s hard to face tucking into an animal whose ears you have recently been scratching.

Maybe if it makes another break for it, we’ll give it asylum instead…

* with thanks to Stroppy Cow on Twitter for the title suggestion


And Back to Reality

October 16, 2019

After a fun-packed trip fuelled by wine, pastries and cycling shenanigans, there’s nothing quite like coming home to a flat front tyre to bring you back down to earth with a vengeance. Back when I worked in IT it was well known that UNIX servers would sense when their primary caregiver was on leave and choose that moment to develop a baffling ailment (‘insufficient entropy’ was always my favourite) and bikes are clearly cut from the same cloth.

This time there was no Bastard Big Thorn, just a genuinely slow puncture which turned out to be a hole tiny enough to require the traditional bucket of water to find it. This at least led to the moderate satisfaction of getting the Marathon Plus off, the inner tube replaced (I have now twice run out of patches in my tyre repair kit, surely a make-do-and-mend achievement worthy of some sort of award – perhaps a leather elbow patch?) and the Marathon Plus back on again in time to head into Bigtown with plenty of time to meet a friend, have lunch with the other half, run a couple of errands, and be back in time for an important work conference call in the afternoon.

What I had not quite accounted for was the possibility of the visit taking several hours so yesterday afternoon saw me time-trialling back up the hill at a speed that was definitely incompatible with looking cool, calm and collected during a call to New York (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but of all the enticing visions of the future the science fiction writers have come up with – benevolent robots, teleportation, space travel, well-fitting jump suits – why on earth does it have to be video calling that actually came to pass?)

Sadly, the work call also heralded the arrival of a delayed piece of work with what is now an almost unfeasibly tight deadline, so it’s back to lugging the laptop round with me at all times, getting behind with the gardening, short changing the rest of my activities, and generally living the freelancing dream…


Outrun

October 5, 2019

Riding back from Park Run this morning, feeling pretty pleased with myself at getting a personal best (out of only two outings, but hey), my mood was ruined by the sight of a dead hare, right at the corner opposite our gate.

roadkilled hare

Seriously, who would get enough speed on this road to run over anything, let alone a hare?

Roadkilled hare isn’t that unusual around here – although generally they have the advantage over, say, rabbits and pheasants through their uncanny ability to run away from a car rather than towards it. But our road is tiny; it’s a dead end that serves six houses and a couple of farms, and you’d be hard pressed to drive faster than the average hare can run even if it’s not trying very hard – mostly they just lope along with no apparent effort at a good 20mph, so very much not like me at Park Run. I can only assume that someone was doing a three-point turn and the hare decided to sit tight on the verge, or else that some piece of farm machinery caught it somehow – the average tractor is a pretty tight fit on most of our roads these days.

Over the three years we’ve been here we’ve seen so many wee hares grow up into bigger hares, and then get replaced by a new wee hare. Some of them have had a distinctive appearance, they appear to have different personalities (being more or less chilled about people in the garden) and they all seem to have different taste in garden plants, and choose different hiding places to hang out (indeed, the latest one has been rather too fond of hiding under our car, so I hope that hasn’t lulled it into a false sense of security when it comes to motor vehicles). Our neighbours report the same – in fact, it was only yesterday that I was chatting to a neighbour about it and we were congratulating ourselves on what a hare-friendly neighbourhood we live in. They come, they stay a while, and then they go, and I’ve always fondly imagined them fanning out across the countryside until they’ve got wee hares of their own and then bringing them back to a place where they remember being safe. It’s gutting to discover one dead, just yards from the safety of our garden, especially in a week when we learned that wildlife numbers are continuing to plummet in the UK. But all we can do is continue to operate our garden primarily as a hare sanctuary and hope that this proves a one-off.

Postscript – just as I was writing this, I was delighted to see not one but two hares come through the garden and pause at the gate before heading off up the road. Here’s hoping they’re off to make more hares …