Crowning Glory

November 16, 2018

It’s been a funny old day, and not just the way the government appears to be disintegrating before our eyes. After alternating days of apocalyptic rain and bright sunshine we had a strangely mild, still, murky sort of a day, with rather tasty pearly light breaking through the clouds.

November light

Perfect for riding down for the paper (despite the fact that by the time I had bought it, it was already wildly out of date. A week is no longer a long time in politics, frankly; six hours is) although it was positively sweaty riding back.

I have loads of stuff that should be keeping me chained to the laptop, but this mild spell was also too good an opportunity to miss in the garden so I took a short break to get on with the next phase of the veg plot – the rhubarb bed. I’d already dug out the bed and sourced some rhubarb via the very splendid New Nearest Village freecycle list but I wasn’t entirely sure I’d planted them right. The rhubarb had outstayed its welcome in a garden up the road and had been dug out with a mattock. It didn’t look particularly convincing (are rhubarb crowns supposed to have roots attached?) and I’d shoved it in the new bed in a bit of a hurry. After a bit of googling (always good to check how to plant something AFTER you’ve planted it …) I decided to hoick it out and plant it a little deeper before the hard frosts came. This may or may not be a good idea as Google also suggests rhubarb hates to be disturbed, but then again, it probably hates being dug up and dismembered with a mattock – well don’t we all – and that doesn’t seem to stop it.

Either way, it’s showing signs of life already. Hopefully not to be cruelly cut down by the first frosts.

rhubarb shoots

Next step will be the asparagus bed, which I’m expecting will require a little more care and attention, if only because I’ll probably have to actually pay for asparagus crowns, unlike the rhubarb. Unfortunately, the googling I’ve done so far suggests we may simply end up expensively feeding the hares. I may have to reinstate my hare defences …

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Orange is the Warmest Colour

November 2, 2018

Gosh, it’s been a bit quiet here, hasn’t it? Somehow the week ran away with me without anything too blogworthy happening, although I did witness a sheep-related miracle

Winter has also firmly arrived, forcing us to turn on the heating properly and also finally get around to installing some foil behind the radiators that are sitting on outside walls. This is probably of marginal benefit, but comes under the heading of ‘might as well’ – especially when I realised it gave me the chance to use that fabled substance from my Blue-Peter watching youth, double-sided sticky tape.*

morning sunshine

So far the weather has been erring on the cold and sparkly side, which is how I like my winters. This has led to another revelation. It turns out that cork-lining your study (and possibly also painting it orange – the brain is a funny thing) does seem to have an appreciable affect on how warm it is, or at least feels. There have been mornings when the sun has been pouring in and I have actually had to not only remove my woolly freelancer hat but also my outermost jumper and I was still Too Warm.

This is marvellous.

This afternoon I’m off to Edinburgh and then Dundee, before briefly returning home and then heading out to Stirling again, all in the name of stirring up trouble. This could mean much more frequent updates or it could mean more radio silence – keep tuning in to find out which.

* Sadly, in practice, this comes firmly under the heading of ‘never meet your childhood idols’ as it turns out that it’s fiddly and annoying to use, and not particularly brilliant at sticking things to other things, at least the brands we used.


Who’s Afraid of the Dark?

October 28, 2018

Afternoon sunshine

As I ran through the unusually detailed pre-ride briefing for our Halloween ride this afternoon, it did occur to me to wonder why we (I) decided that the best route for an after-dark ride would be one that involved a mad, twisting, endless descent on frankly pretty crappy surfaces, when something flatter would probably be a whole lot safer. I *think* the original logic was that it was a good spot for bats and it’s away from the lights of Bigtown, so a chance to enjoy the stars. Either way, after three years, it doesn’t matter because it is rapidly becoming the traditional start to our winter ride programme and – the odd safety-related qualm aside, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

cyclists in the dusk

There’s just something about riding in the fading light, with the tail lights of your companions (hey, I’ve been doing a lot of digging and lifting over the last few days, and someone needs to be at the back … besides, I was carrying approximately a kilo of gingerbread as a warming mid-ride treat) twinkling ahead of you like a string of animated fairy lights.

bike lights in the dark

And there’s also something else about navigating that mad, twisting, endless descent with no sense of where you are or how far down you’ve got – just keeping going round each bend, and concentrating on keeping the bike rubber side down.

And then there’s the stars, which were fully out by the time we were on our way home, and just filled the dark sky, a sight which never fails to amaze (best not to look up at them for too long though – the potholes on the road back were something else again, indeed I may need to check my wheels tomorrow to see if they’re still round).

Perhaps best of all is the fact that eight bikes with serious lights on them on a dark country road must look like an alien landing to anyone not expecting them. At least that might explain why the tiny handful of drivers we encountered mostly came to a complete stop to let us pass.

So it was another successful outing, cementing its place in local cycling tradition, and I can only apologise to future ride leaders for foisting the mad venture on them in perpetuity.

wheel shadows in the dark


Squeaky Wheel

October 15, 2018

So, one of my aspirations for this year was to get better at bike maintenance, which – unlike my other aspiration of regularly baking sourdough bread which is going swimmingly – has not progressed markedly beyond some vague and, as it turned out, unfulfilled plans to get some practice at taking my Marathon Pluses on and off my wheels. Today though, which was as fine and still and sunny a day as anyone could hope for in October, I took advantage of a gap in the work schedule and the nice weather to at least clean and re-oil my chain prior to riding down to fetch the paper.* This, I hoped, would sort out the intermittent squeak which had developed when I was pedalling with any sort of determination, and hopefully also the fact that the last time I’ve been out with the other half I’ve been badly dropped on all the hills.

Oiling done, I set off with the the light heart of one who has done a necessary chore and, more importantly Not Ignored a New Noise and who will shortly be enjoying the silkiness of a smoothly running drivetrain on her bike. Whereupon the bike started squeaking again, and now not just when pedalling hard. By the time I’d got to the bottom of the hill, it was now squeaking more or less all the time, so I got off and investigated a bit more thoroughly. Front wheel spinning fine and silently, back wheel spinning fine and silently, brakes clear of the rims, no sticks (or kittens) stuck in any of the spokes. Weird. Back on the bike, squeaking resumes. Eventually, I look again at my back wheel and discover that it is in fact skewiff and almost resting against the chain guard. With the bike unloaded, the wheel was spinning fine, but once I was on it and pedalling it was pressing against the frame, hence the squeaking. This, in retrospect, might go some way to explain my speed wobble the other day, which is also a little reassuring.

Now this is an easy problem to fix, one even I can do – but that’s when I also discovered that I have lost the allen key I need to loosen the wheel and reseat it. After a brief tussle between laziness (top tip: when your bike develops a New Noise, investigate at the top of the descent not the bottom) and common sense (the only thing worse than a New Noise is a Worsening New Noise), I have a stern word with myself and turn around and pedal, squeakily, back up the hill, raid the other half’s allen key collection and straighten the wheel.

sunshine in October

Still – there were worse days to have to add an extra 3 miles or so onto your ride down for the paper. And, in related news, I have discovered that a bike gets one hell of a lot easier to pedal when its back wheel is on straight. More findings from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious as they emerge.

sunny road

* and, er, lunch, as the sourdough bread baking schedule had broken down somewhat after a weekend away in Duns.


That Storm Damage in Full

September 21, 2018

downed tree

While I still maintain that giving storms names is a bad idea on the grounds that it only encourages them, it turns out that sarcastically putting their names in quotes just makes things worse. Certainly, Storm Ali did live up to its amber warning on Wednesday, took out our power halfway through the morning (which wasn’t then restored until Thursday morning) and downing enough trees on the roads around us to make going to my dental appointment in Notso Bigtown a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure as we had to backtrack several times to find a route that didn’t have a large amount of interesting looking firewood blocking the way.

dead olive tree

But what the Weather Gods taketh away, the Weather Gods also giveth. For a while I’ve been looking at our poor dead olive tree and thinking I really should replace with something that was less of a sad reminder of my neglect. It was as we were sitting there watching it being rocked wildly in its pot by the storm (what can I say, when the internet is down you have to make your own entertainment – indeed I ended up forced to complete this year’s tax return, so every cloud and all that), that I noticed something strange at the foot of the trunk:

resprouting olive tree

Yup. It’s aliiiiiive. Really, you can’t keep a good tree down.


Flyers’ Remorse

September 18, 2018

Normally, September’s habit of delivering a settled spell of sunny mild weather just as you’ve given up on seeing the sun in any meaningful sense before April is the only compensation we get after a rubbish summer. So this year, having had an actual summer for once, it seems a bit churlish to complain of this September’s endless succession of wind, rain, unforecasted showers and now an amber weather warning courtesy of the impending Storm ‘Ali’. The problem is, we’ve taken to planning around these Indian summers, and this week sees us hosting the Bigtown Bike Breakfast, so I’m complaining anyway, churlish or not.

September skies

Today, after a miserable start, we had enough of a break in the weather for me to spend a little time out flyering Bigtown’s hardy cycle commuters to let them know there were free bacon rolls in the offing just for the pleasure of riding to work by bike – and by ‘flyering’ I mostly mean ‘standing in one part of the cycle path watching all the cyclists whizz by unflyered on a different section of the path and then, when I have relocated to the place where all the cyclists were before, watching them zip past the spot where I was standing originally’.

empty cycle path

Empty cycle path

Even when I did track down a few cyclists, there was the challenge of getting them to take a flyer without physically impeding their progress. My technique for this is to smile, stand off to one side, and hold the flyer out for an easy passing grab. Mostly they were happy enough to either take one on the fly (kudos to chap cycling along no handed making a phone call who spotted me, switched his phone to the other hand, grabbed the flyer with a brief thumbs up, and continued on his way without even breaking cadence), or slow or even stop for a brief chat. But there’s always one or two who have to swerve past me unnecessarily with a look that suggests I was attempting to hand them a bag of dog poo or a fizzing stick of dynamite marked ACME. Your loss, miserable cycling people, that’s all I can say. May all your winds be headwinds, and your roads scattered with blackthorn…

On the plus side, one cyclist actually caught me: he was on his e-bike and I think had chased me down on the road in for the express pleasure of telling me all about it, so delighted was he with his new machine. (If you are a cycle campaigner in need of cheering up, I suggest you find your nearest e-bike and ask its owner what they think of it. You’re almost guaranteed to get a ‘cycling has transformed my life’ story which can keep you going through the next three meetings where the coonsil explain why they can’t put a decent cycle track in somewhere because they need a redundantly wide road to stay that way ‘as a spare‘). It was a pleasure to reward him with the news of a free breakfast, although as he was already the happiest cyclist in Bigtown, I’m not sure he needed the boost. Still, to those that have shall be given …


To Market, to Market

September 2, 2018

The good thing about having Bigtown farmers’ market move to the train station, where it is easily accessible by bike (instead of out on the bypass where it was only accessible by bike if you were completely fearless) is that on a pleasant Sunday morning it’s a real joy to pootle down to fill your boots (and your panniers) with good things.

The downside is that when the weather decides it’s going to be one of those days when the forecast says it won’t rain, and the rain radar says it isn’t raining, and yet wet stuff is unmistakably coming out of the sky and continues to do so all day – you* still feel obliged to go down there by bike.

Dreich September

Looking on the bright side (if you squint a bit, anyway) I do at least now know that the raingear I reproofed on Friday in an unusually far-sighted move, is still Waterproof in Scotland. Plus, of course, the small matter of coming home with a bike pannier full of pies.

However, I really hope that September is not starting as it means to go on, because in the course of the month, I seem to have planned two epic rides for cake, one accessible bike open day and a bike breakfast. Here’s hoping the raingear won’t be too severely tested over the coming weeks…

* And by ‘you’ obviously I mean ‘I’ because the other half sensibly felt absolutely no compunction at spending the morning on a nice dry sofa.