101 Uses for a Brompton: Going Singing

January 31, 2018

As I mentioned, I’ve been trying out a new choir (if it was the sort of choir where it was the other way round, I’d probably not have got very far, but they claim to be able to work with ‘the voice you have’ …). The main reason for choosing this choir, which is in Notso Bigtown (there are others which are nearer) is because a pal and ex choir member from Old Nearest Village found out about it and offered to give me a lift there and back. But this means her first driving five miles in the wrong direction to our house and then turning around to go back past her house on our way out. Clearly this is just dispiriting, even in a car, so after trying a few cunning alternative routes which turned out to be slower, I decided the easiest thing would be to ride the Brompton down to hers, at least on evenings when it isn’t snowing, pissing down or hailing frogs, all of which seem equally likely given the weather we’ve had recently (snowing again today, thank you, although none of it seems to have stuck around). It cuts out at least one of the unnecessary journeys, and crucially it’s almost all downhill, so it doesn’t feel like anything but a pleasure on my part.

So last night, I zoomed happily down the hill, blessing my new C&B Seen lights (which I should probably review one of these days), and arriving feeling refreshed and ready to head off for a happy evening of singing, and learning, and generally not looking at a screen, which is all good.

Even better is the fact that we pass through the village on the Big A Road that has recently had two Stoplights of Shame installed. These are amazing. If you’re detected doing more than 30 as you get into the village outskirts, they turn red on you and you have to sit there for all to see, having saved precisely no time. Instant karma. There was of course an almighty fuss when they were first installed and they were taken down to be tweaked after people complained they were stopping people who weren’t speeding, but they’re now back up again and working a treat. I have to admit I love the wonderfully sedate pace everyone now adopts through the village (there might even have been some unholy cackling), at least until the last SoS is negotiated. Why we don’t have these installed everywhere I have no idea. They’re bloody brilliant.

And the choir? Well they seem to be coping with the voice I have, which is only really an alto in the sense that I can’t hit any of the higher notes, rather than being particularly comfortable in the lower ranges. We’re learning some quite challenging-to-me stuff, but so far we have always managed to pass through the ‘God we’ll never get this’ stage, to the ‘hang on, that sort of makes sense’ stage to the ‘oh wow actually that managed to sound quite good’ part, at least for a line or two. And no being singled out or shamed, at least unless my pal puts her foot down on our way home.


Health Checkup, Rural Style

June 19, 2017

To the clinic for my annual checkup, where my weight and blood pressure are measured (no signs of damage from my cake-based lifestyle), and then the usual three questions:

“Do you smoke at all, and if so how much?”

“Do you drink at all, and if so how much?”


“No need to ask you that question, you’re out on your bike all the time.”

It’s nice to know someone’s noticed…

Someday my Bus will Come

March 4, 2017

So today I had to make it out to the Wild West which meant just your average multi-modal rural journey: six miles by bike (with a small portion of a popup bookshop in my Brompton’s basket) down to Big A Road, bus to Notso Bigtown, and then a lift onwards. After extensive consultation of the bus timetables, maps and Google Streetview (to check if there was a bus stop where I was planning to catch the bus – I have seriously no idea why I ever thought Google Streetview was a gimmick; I can’t imagine life without it now), I was fairly certain that I could make it in time although, as the next bus wasn’t for an hour, if I missed the first one it would actually end up being quicker just to cycle to Notso Bigtown, even with half a ton of books in the front basket.

on the road

bus stopThere’s an argument (I’ve made it myself from time to time) that more cycling could be the salvation of the rural bus service because the effective radius of a bike means that you can generally get away with taking just one bus instead of two,* and because buses can then take you further more quickly and on much scarier roads than you can comfortably manage on a bike. But then again, once you’re standing at a deserted rural bus stop with no timetable and no shelter and no indication of how you might know if you had missed the bus if you had missed it, then really nothing does seem more unlikely than the arrival of a rural bus.

Which is unfair, because the bus arrived bang on time and I even had time on the way to stop and photograph some sheep (I really will keep on posting photos of sheep here until you tell me that you’ve seen enough…).

reflective sheep

And while it will still never be my preferred mode of transport for any journey where I can feasibly ride a bike, as a writer I probably should try and spend more time on local buses. In London, when I was writing my old blog, I was continually confronted by people and little glimpses of their stories, intriguing enough at times to spark an idea or bring a character to life. This morning as we passed through one of the intervening villages, the bus picked up a cheery middle-aged woman who explained her leather jacket, eyeliner and semi-punk hairdo to the driver as she got on (I am guessing this was not her normal get up): “We all had to dress up as someone from the eighties and this was the nearest I could get to Siousxie and the Banshees. Or Siousxie and the Banshees with a shopping trolley in my case.”

You never get that kind of quality comment from a sheep.

* having to co-ordinate two rural buses turns a not-madly-convenient-but-doable journey into the sort of epic travelogue people write books about – the publishers surely only turned down Dervla Murphy’s ‘Across Galloway by Public Transport’ idea down on the grounds that it was clearly impossible and they couldn’t be responsible for sending someone off on such a fool’s errand.

Pull the Udder One

September 21, 2016
bovine audience

“What’s she doing? Doesn’t she know to check the train timetables before scheduling anything?

You might ask yourself, had you seen me yesterday opening the garage to the usual fascinated audience of cows and heading off on my Brompton for a couple of meetings in Edinburgh, why I was leaving at 8am to get to a 3 o’clock meeting. Sure, cycling to Bigtown to catch the bus to Lockerbie to catch the train to Embra takes an or three, but I was still in Waverley by just after 11.

Indeed, I was asking myself the very same question. I had blithely agreed to meet at three, thinking that surely there would be a lunchtime train that would get me in for then. After all, Lockerbie is on the main(ish) line to Edinburgh, it’s only an hour’s journey, we’re trying to cut carbon emissions … why wouldn’t there be a service at least every couple of hours?

But if you think that, you would be wrong. If you want to go to Edinburgh from here and you don’t want to go via Glasgow on the chuffer, or Carlisle, which is in totally the wrong direction, then you have to make a day of it. You can get in at 11 or you can get in at 3:40. But don’t get too comfy because the last train is just after 8. Is it any wonder people drive?

Still, at least it gave the cows something to talk about all day.

Ready or Not

September 19, 2016

It was a beautiful start to the day this morning with the blue skies over our garden full of darting swallows, but we’re not fooled – the dew was heavy on the grass and the nights are drawing in.

first autumn leaves

We’re getting ready though. The chimney sweep came and gave the woodburner a clean bill of health. It’s a Clearview (the ‘Rolls Royce of stoves’, apparently) and it does seem to have kept the glass remarkably clear so far. It makes it slightly hypnotic to watch

clearview stove

It has a back boiler, so we’re hoping it will cut a little bit off our electricity bills by heating some of the water tank, which is also ready for winter now:

lagged hot water tank

Most of the DIY on the house has left me struggling – I’m neither patient enough to stick with the preparation and finishing required, nor handy enough to do a decent job, but fitting a jacket to a hot-water tank is much more up my street. It’s closer to knitting than anything really technical, and if it isn’t exactly a tailored fit, the tank isn’t going to complain.

And speaking of knitting…

latest socks

I think I might be getting faster as this only took three and half months …

Chop and Change

September 11, 2016

There ought to be a word – German, maybe or perhaps French – for the nostalgia you get travelling along what used to be the road to your home, noting the changes that persist in going ahead without you.

Cycling to the ‘allotment’ today to water the greenhouse (which would have been less stressful if there wasn’t a robin in there that reacted to my presence by ignoring the open door and attempting to fly out through various panes of glass instead) I noted that a tree I had long admired had partially fallen victim to the recent winds.

damaged tree

It has always been a landmark on my route home. It’s easy with these things you can cycle past them every day admiring them, but never get around to recording them until they’re gone, but I was pretty certain I had actually stopped to take a photo and sure enough, a quick rummage through my image files found it, albeit not in leaf.

Tree in March last year

It’s now half the tree it was.

half a tree

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too regretful about the removal of the trees around our new house after all …

Nosy Neighbours

August 16, 2016

No, not the human ones, although most of the folk in the houses round about have dropped by to introduce themselves since we’ve moved in. It’s our other neighbours who cannot contain themselves from watching our every move, the ones we’ve dubbed Moo-I5

nosy cows

‘Left hand down a bit’

Particularly this morning when we had electricians round who made a bit of a production of backing their various vans into our drive – possibly not helped by having an audience of fascinated bovines.

nosy cows

‘He’s going to hit that gatepost …’

Cows suffer from FOMO too, so the ones in the other field had to come over and have a look.

With the house full of workmen indoors, and a gloriously sunny day outdoors, I cut my losses and decided to take gardening leave for the morning, so of course the cows had to just happen to be over on our side of the field.*

nosy cows

And a brazen few overcame their nervousness and came over and said hello. They have surprisingly rough tongues, cows.

nosy cows

And then, after about half an hour of gardening with several pairs of big brown eyes fixed on me, they all got bored again and wandered off, leaving me wondering if it was something I did…

*when we got all the paperwork pertaining to the house, there was a fairly long clause explaining how we had joint responsibility with the farmer over the fences around our garden, which boiled down to the fact that they were responsible for keeping the cows’ feet off our property, but if we wanted a fence that would prevent their heads from coming over and eating everything within cow reach, that was our responsibility. We now understand the full force of that …