Could it Be that the Best Laid Plans of Town Mice and Men …

August 23, 2021

….Might actually sometimes NOT go agley?

It’s hard to believe it because the last 18 months have been nothing but cancellations and disappointments, but a plan first mooted in March 2020, that we actually dared to start organising in June this year, looks as if it might come off . I’ve put off posting about this for fear of jinxing my first Actual Holiday for almost two years (and more importantly a chance to spend time in person with some good pals) but – last minute ferry cancellations and ill-timed pings permitting – it looks as if tomorrow will see me setting off for a few days cycling and ferry-going as the ‘five go mad’ team take our hashtag to explore the delights (and very patchy cycling infrastructure) of Islay (via Ardrossan, Arran and Kennacraig because apparently it’s too much to ask that the last train from Oban might not leave three minutes before the only ferry from Islay so we have to do some serious cycling and ferry hopping just to get there without using a car).

Ordnance Survey maps of Islay and Ayr

There are cough serious reasons for choosing this particular destination to do with the promotion of sustainable rural tourism and yadda yadda yadda. But mainly it’s just a chance to take a break somewhere that isn’t our respective homes, sample some of the whiskies, and pump some serious money into the local economy as we eat our way around the island.

If you’re of the tweeting persuasion you can follow us via #5GoMadOnWhisky* Otherwise, watch this space for a full debrief on my return.

* Yes, we’re aware there are only four of us, please don’t write in. We also, as one of us has pointed out, don’t go particularly mad. And one of us doesn’t even like whisky.


December 19, 2018

We’re heading off to Northern Ireland tomorrow for our Christmas sunshine break (from the perspective of those of us who live in Southwest Scotland) so this week I baked what will probably be my last sourdough loaf of 2018 (I did for one mad moment consider taking Jimmy-the-starter on holiday with us, but then I remembered how much I love the wheaten loaf we can buy at the baker there and I came to my senses).

sourdough loaf

This marks an unusually successful new year’s resolution for me – I thought I’d posted more regularly about my sourdough adventures but actually, even by the low standards of this blog, after I’d got the hang of it there was genuinely nothing interesting to say about it. I could probably have made life a bit more complicated for myself by experimenting more but once I found a recipe that worked, I didn’t really want to complicate things.

Instead I’ve just got on and have been baking a loaf of bread approximately every five or six days for the whole year, holidays excepted – we’ve only had to buy two loaves at the supermarket since the project started and that was only because we’d been away – the only real complication in baking sourdough comes from the lead time involved. I did a little calculating and – allowing for the cost of the flour and the electricity for the oven – we’ve saved somewhere between £20 and £45 (depending on the type of bread we would otherwise have bought) as a result. This is definitely a habit I will be maintaining and, who knows, I might even get a bit experimental in 2019.

So that leaves my other resolution, which was to get better at bike maintenance. To be honest – despite one or two minor successes – hasn’t gone so well. Indeed, I have to confess that a couple of weekends ago, when I got a puncture in town, I just took the bike to a shop and paid to get a new inner tube fitted. I go back and forth on this one. While I can perfectly well rationalise not needing to be handy with my bike, it’s still slightly annoying that I have taken to doing the stereotypically female thing* like a duck to water whereas it’s clear I’m never going to subvert expectations and become an excellent bike mechanic.

Having thought about it a bit more, though, I’ve decided that – while I have no ambition to learn how to do anything complicate – it’s still a bit feeble not to be able to do the absolute basics and, specifically, to view the prospect of fixing a puncture with dread. Like it or lump it, Bastard Big Thorns scatter the land around here, so one day I’m going to have to deal with it on my own, and I should be prepared. And besides – that expensively fitted inner tube I got last week? It’s developed a slow puncture.

old blackthorn bush

When hedges like these line your road, punctures are only a matter of time

* although if my twitter feed is anything to go by, making sourdough (or at least tweeting about it) is a largely male pursuit.


October 20, 2017

It’s fair to say that the weather has been pretty mixed on our Irish sunshine break so far, but today the stars aligned: a morning of sunshine and light winds, I’d finished the work I had (inevitably) brought with me and our bikes were calling us…

Newcastle sea front

Besides, we had a mission – to find a washed-up coke bottle cap.

We didn’t ride far – just to Murlough nature reserve where we parked the bikes and wandered through the dunes for a while before ending up on the beach.

Mournes seen from Murlough

Sadly, it didn’t take long to achieve our goal (in fact I found two – and any number of other pieces of plastic among the seaweed).

coca cola bottle cap

This was the strangest. A plastic float of some kind, possibly, thoroughly colonised by barnacles and what might be sea anemones (or possibly aliens).

sea creatures washed up

We took the caps and left the rest (maybe I’ll bring a bag next time) and cycled back home into what had become a freshening headwind.

cake station cafe

All the better for working up an appetite.


January 10, 2017

lumpy grass

In a lumpy-looking corner of the garden, I unearth a bit of buried treasure…

old railway sleeper

… oh, okay, only a few lengths of what look like railway sleepers, but they’re always handy to have in the garden, especially if your aesthetic tends towards ‘allotment chic’.

piles of stuff

After a bit more investigating, I discover that the other lumps aren’t quite so useful – a bunch of old stumps and some landscaping fabric which now has rather a lot of the actual landscape attached to it (anyone who believes in the long-term weed suppressing properties of landscaping fabric – or, indeed, anything up to and including concrete – hasn’t met a proper weed, in my opinion).

pile of landscaping fabric

So I did what presumably the previous owners had done, and made a pile until I could deal with things properly. Unlike them, I will hopefully manage to deal with it before it merges back into the landscape again. Although having gone through my emails and looked at my rapidly filling calendar, I am not counting on it.

In other news, I’m off on my travels again – anyone here of the female cycling persuasion who fancies meeting up in Perth?


July 12, 2016

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Bigtown Cycle Campaign. We had our Bike Message challenge, with a Bike Curious family cycling day following hard on its heels. With that out of the way, it was just the small matter of our weekly summer rides, which have grown and grown over the four years we’ve been running them and can often muster a couple dozen adults and kids, which makes quite a sight massed along the cycle paths of Bigtown.*

Over time, the summer rides have become, if not a well-oiled machine, then at least a machine whose chain is not bright orange with rust (unlike some of our participants’). The routes are all tried and tested ones that it’s possible to take a five-year-old on a bike along without the ride leader suffering palpitations. Starting at a local park, they almost all run along the river, over a nice foot and cycle bridge, which connects us via a quiet residential street to a choice of traffic-free or almost traffic-free routes north, west and northeast. The bridge is the only one which crosses the river in town that doesn’t have cars, a flight of steps, or a cyclist dismount sign on it. It is, in short, essential to making our summer rides the enjoyable, unstressed experience that we hope will encourage more families to get active, which just happens to be one of the coonsil’s stated goals too.

So guess which bridge the coonsil has decided to close for the duration of the summer, starting yesterday, without warning us?

I give up, I really do. As a cycle campaign, we’ve tried not to be too much of a giant pain in the backside of the coonsil although the coonsil might differ on that point. We’ve tried to keep our powder dry for the big battles while trying to cooperate over matters of joint interest. Running family-friendly rides, for instance, or our annual bike breakfast to bring together cycle commuters, councillors and officials in a celebration of cycle commting. In return we receive precisely zero cooperation from them. The only time we’re ever consulted about anything is when they need to show community support for a funding application in which case we’re shown the completed drawings with a week to go and asked to give our approval. The rest of the time, if we want any warning about anything happening (good or bad) we have to keep an eye on a website which, while not exactly on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’ (to shamelessly steal from Douglas Adams), isn’t exactly anywhere obvious either. Like the coonsil’s own website, for instance.

I’ll tell you this. In five years as a local campaigner, the biggest victory we ever won was after some anonymous nutters covered the town in colourful reflective knitting which got us into the ‘and finally’ slot on Reporting Scotland and resulted in the quiet removal of several barriers and chicanes after a decent interval had passed. Nothing else – not polite emails, not letters to councils, not meetings with officials, not quiet behind-the-scenes lobbying with national organisations, not trying to work in partnership, not anything – has been anything like as effective as holding them up to ridicule on the evening news.

They should consider themselves warned …

* Although we rarely are massed because we’ve had quite a decent success in getting novice cycling families to join us which is great but means that they are usually on bikes that have spend the preceding 12 months in the shed, and so after about 15 minutes the ride has usually split up while one mechanical issue or another is sorted.

For Those in Peril from the Air

May 23, 2016

Bluebell wood
We had a somewhat unexpectedly nice day today (especially after yesterday degenerated into thunder and sudden hailstorms, when the Met Office had confidently predicted ‘light showers’) and the ride down to the papershop was pretty perfect – the bluebells are still going so the air was full of their scent, I bumped into a couple of friends for a chat on the way, and best of all there was no wind, for the first time in ages. By the time I had got to the shop I had peeled off my gloves and jacket, which means it was seriously warm (I have been known to cycle the whole summer in gloves). But I was still doggedly wearing my tweed cap, even though my head was boiling, and no chance to take it off until I was at least half way home.

The reason? We’re getting perilously close to buzzard season. Every shadow that passed over me as I approached Buzzard Alley made me duck ever so slightly, anticipating the rush of talons at my back. A buzzard suddenly appearing in the trees beside the road as I pedalled out of Papershop Village made me jump, but it wasn’t interested. Further up, at the top of the climb where ASBO Buzzard likes to ambush me from the forest, I did hear the peevish calling of a pissed off buzzard, but if it was my nemesis it was too busy being hassled by a crow to take a swipe.

Last year I was caught by surprise and I’m determined it won’t happen again – although I’m now wondering whether it wouldn’t be less stressful not to anticipate its attack, especially as I can’t really do anything about it other than keep wearing my hat and hoping for the best. Ideally I’d get myself a video camera and try and catch it in the act but it would be difficult to point it in the right direction given that it likes to keep me guessing. I may just have to invite Magnatom and his fancy 3D camera down to see if we can’t capture it whichever angle it approaches from

Either way, this is definitely one of the things I’m not going to miss when we move.

101 Uses for a Brompton continued…

September 13, 2014

The Poet is IN

The Poet is IN

No room at your popup bookstall for your live poetry-happening type thing? A Brompton makes a handy stand…

A word of warning though: a Brompton can and will fall over whenever it’s least convenient for it to do so. I can caution against attempting to catch it while wielding a pair of open and, as it turns out, surprisingly sharp, scissors.

Our cycling group had eight incident-free family bike rides over the summer – and I end up having to raid the first-aid kit after a pop-up bookshop.

(and no, I wasn’t wearing a helmet)

Been There, Done That, Gave a Cycling Legend my T-shirt

May 20, 2013

Phew. We did it. If there’s been one thought that’s been secretly gnawing away at me for the last four months, it’s ‘what if we held a cycle protest and nobody came?’ What if the rain, engineering works, half-term holidays, general apathy, everything conspired to keep everyone at home? As I woke in Edinburgh to fog which then resolved itself to a steady mizzle* I felt certain we were doomed. It was going to be us, a bunch of bored marshals, some amused policemen and Graeme Obree. We’d closed off the centre of Edinburgh, and all for nothing… As I pedalled a borrowed monster cargo bike laden with panda t-shirts down to the Meadows in Edinburgh I was glad that its wonky steering and tendency to put its parking brakes on all by itself distracted me from worrying about anything else.

Of course, it didn’t happen. There was one point when I looked round the Meadows and saw that the line of people stretching out waiting to start the ride not only went round the corner as it had done last year, but disappeared right out of sight. One feeder ride from an Edinburgh suburb had 160 people on it. And our t-shirts – our only real fundraiser, apart from two generous donations from CTC Scotland and Andrew Cyclist – went so quickly that when one of the marshalls dashed over to pick up a t-shirt for Graeme Obree there were none left. There was only one thing for it. Thankful that it had been cold enough for me to have a nice merino baselayer underneath – and that it wasn’t one of the ones the moths had got at – I sacrificed mine. It’s not often you get to share clothes with a genuine legend of cycling.

Last year, I was at the front of the ride, leading the charge down the cobbles of the royal Mile. This time I was right at the back with an empty cargo bike, a very relieved deputy chief marshal, a marshal dressed as a panda and the last of the riders: a woman, and her little girl who was determinedly pedalling her tiny bike as fast as her legs would go, an expression of fierce concentration on her face. I asked her if she was having fun and she gave a huge nod that almost unseated her, still concentrating hard. I saw later on twitter that the police escorted her safely the whole way before finally opening the roads back up to the cars. I expect that yesterday was a day she will remember her entire life.

I hope that when she does look back at it, she can tell her grandchildren that she was there at the moment when cycling changed in Scotland for the better.

*’this isn’t rain it’s just haar’, someone said. People of Edinburgh, if there is water falling out of the sky it is raining. Rain isn’t just something we have on the west coast you know.

Just Be Grateful There Are No Pictures on this Post

July 12, 2012

Any of you looking at the last post and thinking ‘awww wook at de widdle kitty’ should be aware that more than once, when weeding the cobbles, I have come across a patch of moss that’s a little flatter and greyer and, well, furrier, than moss normally is and realised that what I have just weeded up is in fact what is left of a mouse once the widdle kitty has finished playing with it and has left it lying around for the elements to do their worst: think flattened mummified mouse suit, if that helps.

I am grateful to Belgian Waffle for pointing me towards this helpful resource in cat deciperhing

Lost and Found

June 11, 2012

You know you’ve been neglecting the weeding when you discover a beetroot plant has managed to establish itself right in the middle of the paths between the beds

I have absolutely no idea how it got there, unless I dropped it when I was planting them out. It’s done better than the beetroot plants that have been living a pampered existence in the actual bed which have mostly gone awol so I’m rather reluctant to move it. Hopefully this little dyke of stones will keep it from being trodden on…

Also missing in action: some of my parsnips. I think I got a bit cocky with parsnips. After the monster parsnips of 2010, 2011 saw a fine crop of ‘disappointingly normal’ parsnips so I didn’t really pay too much attention to them this year, thinking I’d got the whole parsnip thing cracked. I chitted them but just put the chitted seed out when it was convenient rather than when they really needed to go out so germination was patchy. I then re-sowed and even got around to weeding them a couple of days ago but when I went up to check yesterday some of the new seedlings had vanished. No mystery about the culprits there though:

Slugs ‘found’ (and promptly ‘lost’ in the chicken run) thanks to the latest weapon in my anti-slug arsenal, the half-orange:

Works a treat. Although the slugs are still probably ahead on points.