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.


On the Fly

December 4, 2020

I’ve been noticing on my bike travels (if going to the shop and back to buy a paper counts as ‘travels’ in these restricted times) a patch of bright red flowers blooming by the side of the road, an unusual sight at this time of year. One of those sights that I’ve been meaning to stop and investigate, one of these days, but never quite having the time on the way out, and then forgetting all about it on the way back. So long have they been blooming, indeed, that I began to wonder if they were real at all – sometimes people leave wreaths at special spots by the river, and sometimes they are artificial ones.

Anyway, yesterday I finally took the time to check it out and found they were real, but they weren’t wildflowers – someone had fly tipped the contents of their summer hanging baskets by the side of the road and there were pelargoniums and a few lobelias still valiantly blooming away, in some cases upside down.

Discarded hanging baskets

As flytipping goes, it’s not the worst I’ve seen, nor is it the most useful (I’m still using the plant modules I found dumped in the river many moons ago) , nor even the most bizarre, which has to go to the pair of crutches I saw last month (or perhaps the full-sized vending machine that cropped up in the same layby a couple of years ago)

But even garden waste is still flytipping and it’s still annoying that people just dump stuff on the side of the road – one of the worst things about cycling is that you can’t help but notice the flytipping and litter pretty much everywhere you go. And besides, there was something very poignant about these poor discarded plants, still doing their thing unregarded by the side of the road.

bright pelargonium blooming

Soft hearted a gardener as I am, I felt I did very well not to try and rescue them for another season (I have to admit, I did consider it) – and given that we woke to snow this morning, I’m guessing that they’ll have flowered their last by the time I next go past.

Although if they are still going when I next see them, I’ll be hard pressed not to scoop at least some of them up and take them home …


The Cyclist’s Full-Body Workout

October 27, 2020

Warm up: Go to get your bike to head down for the paper, and remember about the slow puncture that showed up on Sunday. No problem, it’s a thorn in the tyre, it will probably stay pretty stable for a few days before you get a chance to fix it. Pump up the tyre fully with the track pump and set off with a song in your heart and not a care in the world.

First interval: Three miles down the road, realise that the tyre is now flat again. Contemplate turning round. But it is only another three miles to the shop and surely you can get there and back if you pump it up a few times. Get out the little bike pump and refill the tyre. Pedal as fast as you can, in case that will help

Second interval: Two miles later, with the shop almost in your sights, admit the tyre needs pumping again. Refill tyre, sprint for the shop. By the time you have bought your paper, realise that you tyre needs pumping again.

Main workout: repeat the pedal, stop, pump, full gas sprint for the next five and a half miles, with decreasing intervals between them. For extra points, be wearing full rain gear so you can sweat off any additional weight.

Tip: Remember to breathe! Sometimes an audible breath can help you manage the stress of a workout like this. You can use an ‘ujjayi’ or ocean breath – or you can scream ‘f*** off you stupid machine’ at your bike as it falls off its kick stand for the umpteenth time. Whichever works for you.

Cool down: Do the walk of shame for the last half mile home.

If I’ve learned anything cycling here for the last 12 years, it’s that the puncture fairy always wins. And clearly, I’ve not learned anything …


Actually Quite Interesting Traffic Signal News

October 21, 2020

‘Oh that’s nice, Papershop Village has a proper pedestrian crossing’ the other half remarked as we drove through it on a rare outing this morning. Long overdue, as the village is bisected by Big A-Road and is scary enough that the only person I’ve ever seen crossing it before was the postman, and then always at a sprint.

Anyway, I don’t know how long Papershop village has had its pelican crossing – it wasn’t there earlier this year the last time I went through it – but I hope the postman enjoyed it. Because in the time it took us to drive to the coast, have a lovely walk through woodlands by the sea, discover the famous local fish and chip shop was shut on Wednesdays, source a couple of pies for lunch instead, stop off at Notso Bigtown for supplies and head back home …

… someone had managed to take it out with their Jag.

(no photos because that would be a bit tacky so have some lovely woodland scenes instead)

Looking back through the blog archives, I recall that, whether due to the postman’s sprinting prowess, or the fact that nobody else dared cross the road, the village missed out on a trial 20mph limit because not enough vulnerable road users had been injured there, in the dismal calculus they use to justify not spending anything on road safety. I don’t know if pedestrian crossings count as vulnerable road users (perhaps they ought to) but maybe this will be enough to get Papershop Village a stoplight of shame and really slow the drivers down.


Old Friends

August 30, 2020

In today’s exciting news, our ford correspondent sent me a text that began

“Thought it might cheer you to know that ASBO buzzard has been located …”

Apparently the nice young man who now lives in our old house has also inherited my mantle of chief buzzard victim, after three buzzard attacks in a row. If it is indeed our old friend, she’s moved her location from her old cyclist hunting grounds but I like to think that she’s up to her old tricks in a new spot – at least as long as she keeps hassling my successor rather than me.*

Felled forest

ASBO Buzzard’s old home, now sadly demolished

In other news, Moo-I-5 are back, but proving rather elusive at the moment. Poor weather and too much work have kept me out of the garden, so I haven’t yet found myself the centre of attention of a crowd of cows. Or perhaps they too are getting to grips with social distancing.

cows listening in
* My close raptor encounter of the day was a sparrowhawk shooting across the road in front of me as I laboured up the hill homewards; birds of prey are always cool and never cooler than when they’re hunting something that isn’t you.