Exciting Headwear News

August 26, 2022

A mere almost-three-months after I first decided I needed one, I have a new bunnet:

This represents something of a land-speed record for me when it comes to buying things, which just goes to show how important my tweed cap is to my general well being. I have actually had the relevant page open in a tab in my browser since I wrote the original blog post, but it took a combination of my mislaying my temporary replacement bunnet, and the return of tweed weather after the brief joys of the heatwave, for me to actually press the button and do the deed (normally I would spend the intervening months truffling through charity shops for a potential alternative first, but there are a few things I draw the line at buying secondhand, and it turns out hats are one of them).

It’s already had its first baptism, a sprinkling of rain as I headed down to the Pepperpots this morning, but I suspect its real test is yet to come. So far, all I can report is that for a hat designed for a small child, it’s still actually a bit roomy on my tiny head but I do like the elasticated back which makes it feel a bit more secure without having to be jammed on headache tight in a headwind. As to whether it will equal its predecessor in warmth, rain-proofness and its ability to give the wearer a feeling of general invincibility, only time will tell.

I know you can barely wait to find out.

Normal Weather Service Resumes …

August 16, 2022
Japanese anemones against a grey sky

As I pulled on my waterproof trousers, wellies, rain jacket, gloves and cap yesterday morning – after a week in which the only sartorial decision I needed to make was which POP t-shirt to wear – I did send up faint curses on the heads of everyone who’s been loudly longing for rain over the past week. Glasgow cyclists, bless their little Stockholm-syndromed heads, may welcome summer for its slightly warmer rain, but I love a heatwave and the drier and sunnier the better. However much my garden may be suffering, I’ll never pray for rain – after all, round here, the Weather Gods will generally provide it, in great quantities, entirely unprompted.

All that said, one inhabitant of the garden is probably welcoming the resumption of wet weather. Five years ago we planted six trees (three silver birches and three paper birches) to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Of the paper birches, one didn’t take at all, one seemed to disappear but finally stuck its head over the top of the tree tube after about 4 years) and one was apparently flourishing like the green bay tree until it decided to fall over a couple of days ago.

It turns out that it had been flourishing so much its trunk had thickened enough to grow into the zip tie that was holding the tree tube onto the stake. That had weakened it to the point where it just snapped. We’d kept the tubes on so long to protect them all against the attentions of Moo I 5, but we hadn’t been diligent at checking for other perils, and for that I can only say I’m very sorry.

Propped up birch tree

Anyway, after consulting Twitter, the tree has been duly propped up, lopped by about half, and held in place with (what else) a bicycle inner tube. The guards have come off most of the other trees (except the late developer, which is just too close to the fence and too temptingly in reach of any coos). So far, the patient appears to be fine so fingers crossed it will remain so, and strengthen to the point where it can stand up on its own. And yes, perhaps a little rain at this point wouldn’t go amiss … although I’m not, repeat not, asking for it.

Caution! I Brake for Fledglings

June 20, 2022

I’ve been dipping in and out of Lev Parikian’s exploration of the microseasons, Light Rains Sometimes Fall – something of a consolation in these fretful times. It’s refreshing to find a writer who doesn’t need to go to the ends of the earth to find solace in nature and is happy to share the delight to be had in watching a pied wagtail outside a vape shop in South London or the weeds in the cracks in the pavements. There’s also something pleasing about the idea of subdividing the seasons into incremental changes – even if the South East’s microseasons are not the same as ours up here.

This week, for instance, is definitely the season of ‘learner birds flirt with danger’. As the first fledgelings have left their nests and are negotiating the unfamiliar hazards of an approaching bicycle, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to brake hard while heading down our hill to avoid running over a bird that’s clearly only just shed its L-plates. The other day, one sparrow mistimed its launch from the hedgerow so badly that it only narrowly avoided being julienned by my spokes as it shot between my front and back wheels. It’s bad enough on our quiet road, when I can screech down to walking pace if need be, but out on the B road I’ve a little less room to manoeuvre and I can only hope the baby birds find their wings before we both find out the hard way what happens when pushbike and passerine collide.

It’s also got me wondering how best to sum up other times of the year as the seasons turn. The first week of July (when the schools let out and the rain usually restarts) would have to be ‘Come in, you’ll have had your summer’. Midway through August (when autumn starts up here, to the surprise of every English visitor we’ve ever had) would be ‘I told you to bring a coat’. The glorious golden week in September that catches you by surprise just as you’ve resigned yourself to October is ‘And here’s what you’ve been missing’. And November, which in my experience does relentless better than any other month, probably doesn’t have microseasons at all, unless you count multiple variations on ‘Rain falls sideways’, ‘Birds fly sideways’, and (my personal favourite) ‘Icy particles are blown sideways into your ear with some force’.

But that’s all yet to come, and for now we’ve got actual nice weather which means it’s no skin off my nose to wobble down the road at walking pace as a ball of feathers flaps frantically in front of me without quite working out how to get out of the way. Time to be like Lev and savour these moments as they happen, as we await the microseason that comprises the one fine week of the summer: ‘Aye but it’ll no last, mind.’

Let the Record Show

June 12, 2022

So, I got my day off.

And even though there was a stiffish headwind all the way there …

Word 'Slow' written on road

It was one of those juicy June days that just about remembers it is supposed to be summer.

Bike parked at picnic spot

And, AND, when I had delivered the books I’d set out to bring and turned for home, the wind had picked up and it stayed at my back and it blew me home the whole way.

Empty road home

And that never happens.

Blue skies and clouds over hill

But when it does, it’s glorious.

The Road Calling

June 9, 2022

I know I spend a lot of time complaining about being busy on this blog, but over the past couple of months it has increasingly felt as if my time has been completely parcelled out, with never more than an hour or two here or there to call my own. What with work, and family, and local cycle campaigning issues to deal with – not to mention the dull but important round of keeping the stuff of daily life more or less under control – I’ve been wondering just when, exactly, I was going to have the time to get some longer rides in, or if I was just going to attempt the whole Ride to the Sun on a training regime of daily trips to Bigtown and back, sometimes twice in a day.*

But tomorrow, finally, the stars, my schedule and the (slightly manufactured) need to deliver something to a town about 20 miles away, have aligned, and I have the prospect of a whole day(ish) to myself, out on the bike, with no real time pressure and nothing to worry about but the forecast (which is looking a bit too interesting to my tastes, but at least not the sort of block headwind I encountered last time I did this particular ride). It’s not perhaps the ‘day off’ most people might choose, but I’m looking forward to it with some relish.

Empty road looking towards the hills

First, though, I had to deal with the small matter of my handlebars being somewhat at odds with the bike’s general direction of travel:

Bike with wonky handlebars

I have no idea how long they’ve been like that, but it’s amazing how little difference it makes to the steering, and indeed the bike’s handling in general.

* I made the mistake of looking up the recommended training programme for a century ride and was mildly worried to learn that as well as interval training and tempo rides, I’m supposed to be going out every week on longer and longer rides – 60, 70 and finally 80 miles at a go. Where do people find the time?

To Cap it All

June 3, 2022

To anyone who knows me in person, a warning that I’m about to become unrecognisable.

My tweed cap – or bunnet, as it is more properly known around here – worn in all weathers (we have very few days around here in which you would not benefit from something warm and waterproof on your head), is beginning to look more than a little worse for wear.

Frayed tweed hat

I’m disappointed, to be honest. This is a proper Harris Tweed cap and it gave every impression of being invulnerable, at least to anything the weather gods could throw at it. I’ve lost count of the number of rides where I’ve come home and the sole part of me that was still dry was the top of my head. I had hoped it would last a little longer than nine years, which appears to be when I got it (thank goodness for a blog which details the minutiae of your life, eh?) Nine years is barely broken in; I’ve only just stopped thinking of it as my ‘new’ cap. I suspect that it has been caught in one thorn bush too many while gardening the wilder reaches of our plot, either that or a dog got it at some point. Or possibly the moths…

Some people have suggested mending it, but I doubt whether my darning efforts, visible or otherwise, would render it properly waterproof, or even wearable in public. So this means buying a replacement, and of course it’s never that simple. The main issue is that I have a tiny head, and I need a cap that’s properly snug if it’s to stay on while cycling. There are innumerable tweed bunnets on sale locally and online (every male inhabitant of Bigtown appears to be issued with one on his 60th birthday, apart from anything else). But the men’s hats don’t go down to size pinhead, and the women’s hats … look like this.

Fancy looking tweed hats

Don’t get me wrong – I know many women and not a few men who’d absolutely rock that sort of head gear but they are NOT BUNNETS (and to add insult to injury, they cost £10 more than the men’s hats).

Fortunately, I have found a site that sells proper Harris tweed caps for kids, complete with an elasticated bit at the back to help keep it on. I’ve measured my head, and it looks as if I will be able to wear the kids’ size large, which they reckon is suitable for 4-7 year olds. Let’s just say this means I’m young at heart, eh?

Meanwhile I have a slightly inferior emergency cap so if you’re approached by a strange woman who looks vaguely familiar but doesn’t appear to be me, I now look a bit like this.

Evening All

May 8, 2022

We talk a lot about the lovely long summer days we have up here in Scotland, mostly during the rather less lovely short winter ones, but in my experience once they actually arrive, we (by which I mean ‘I’ of course) aren’t that brilliant at actually making use of them. Yes, it’s now light enough to garden (or insert the outdoor activity of your choice) well after 9pm, but in practice by that time the sofa has called and I have answered and – our post supper stroll to the top of the hill aside – I spend my evenings doing much the same things in May as I did in the dark days of November, just with the curtains open.

However, my plan to do Ride to the Sun at the end of the next month (ulp) may put paid to that. Not only will I be spending one of the very shortest nights of the year joining in this eccentric overnight adventure, but the need to get some more miles in my legs first has meant making the most of the extended daylight. My near daily trips to Bigtown to help the Pepperpots settle in have upped my weekly mileage a bit, but I feel that if I’m going to pull off another century ride, I need to be doing at least 100 miles a week and I’m not quite hitting that yet. Time is at a premium, as it always is, but with the cycle campaigning easing off, my evenings are more my own. And so yesterday, with a fine evening in prospect, I took off by myself for a couple of hours round the hills to top up the weekly mileage.

View from top of hill with overcast sky.

I still struggle with the idea of going out for a bike ride without either a destination in mind or a companion to enjoy it with but the other half was firm in his decision to stay at home and tend the fire and keep an eye on the hares, so I had to make do with my own company. Well me, and the cuckoo calling at the top of the biggest climb as I stopped to take in the view. It wasn’t the sort of evening for spectacular sunsets, just a gradual fading of the light as I turned for home, trying not to curse the yarnbomber who had decorated a post box in a way that felt positively cruel to this doughnutless cyclist with another couple of hills yet to climb (it did at least remind me that I had Chelsea buns ready to bake in the freezer so I got some delayed gratification this morning once they’d defrosted).

Post box decorated with crocheted tea cup and iced doughnuts

In the end, once I’d shaken off the sensation that this was all a bit pointless, I settled into the idea of it and started to enjoy being out on the bike, just for its own sake. Our roads, never busy, are more or less deserted after 7 or 8pm, so I got to enjoy our B road, and the descent down from Nearest Village, without having to worry about thinking for the drivers behind me as well as myself (no, seriously, overtaking even the slow lady cyclist on that bend when there is a tractor coming the other way is a Really Bad Idea and you should maybe not do it). It wasn’t the longest or fastest or hardest of rides, but I got home after two hours and 20 miles feeling refreshed from an evening away from the dreaded phone, and somewhat more prepared for the coming adventure. And I also slept like a log, which is a bit of a bonus. All in all, I think, an evening well spent.

Hello Headwind My Old Friend

April 27, 2022
Two bikes climbing up a long road

What can I say, when you’re grinding up a climb into a stiff breeze on day two of a ninety mile ride, during which said stiff breeze has been in your face the whole way, there’s a lot of time to think up stupid tweets for when you finally get to the top

So, we made it to POP although it was touch and go for my friend on her e-bike on the first day – 60 miles and lots of climbing, and did I mention there was a headwind?* takes it out of everyone, even a Bosch motor. In the end, we had to drop our usual commitment to riding in sociable formation, and just put our heads down and ride in close formation for as long as everyone could hang on, and then when the elastic snapped, just do individual battle with the hills as best we could, regrouping at the top.

Bike crossing into the Scottish Borders

This was my first long ride on the new-old bike and it definitely passed the test – there are a few minor details with the setup I’d like to tweak before I get it to level of all-day comfort I enjoyed on the old-old bike, but as we rolled into Innerleithen at the end of day one (with my friend’s ebike battery giving up the ghost just as we pulled up at the hotel) it was my legs that were feeling it, not anything else.

Bikes on the road through empty countryside

It was a bit of a shock to the system on Saturday morning as we crossed the bypass into the Edinburgh traffic and swapped potholes and scenery for even worse potholes and buses and vans and cars and if we were ever in doubt of the need for better conditions for cycling when we left Bigtown, there was none in our minds as we finally made it to the start. The Spaces for People protected lane gave us a short period of respite along one stretch of road (don’t ask me which; there were slight navigational issues with the route and we ended up just pointing ourselves in the right direction, putting on our big boy and girl pants, and riding in tight formation until we reached the safety of the Meadows) but that still left a heck of a lot of Edinburgh to ride through unprotected and we felt every mile.

Crowd waiting for the start of POP

But still, we made it. And so it seems did a couple of thousand others, despite a three year gap since we last filled the streets of Edinburgh with bikes of all shapes and sizes. With no formal organisational duties this year, other than riding at the front with the real organisers, I declared myself the Dowager Duchess of PoP, in which ceremonial role I had a marvellous time. I didn’t even have to listen to the speeches.

And then, despite the theoretical attraction of a tailwind home, I very much took the train back.

Bike hanging up on train

* I think I may have overdone the mentioning on Twitter on our way there, as everyone I met at POP asked me how the headwind had been.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Purple

February 5, 2022

Meet the new bike, just (a bit) like the old bike:

New bike

As those of you who follow me in Twitter will know, yesterday I headed up to Glasgow to pick up my new-old bike from the lovely folks at Common Wheel. Alarmingly, it was snowing on the way up, which made for a chilly trip as the train I was on appeared to have no heating and half the windows, but fortunately it had stopped by the time the train got into Glasgow (and stayed stopped until I got home).

The bike was undergoing last minute fettling when I arrived, but it was quickly off the stand and ready for me to try out and make the final adjustments to the saddle and handlebars. It felt deeply weird after two months of a very upright e-bike (and occasional forays on the Brompton) to be back on my familiar saddle, in more or less the riding position I had been used to before. The brakes are new (probably a good thing), and the handlebars have been replaced but the wheels, rack, dynamo, drivetrain and, importantly, POP This Machine Fights Climate Change sticker had all made it safely across. The guys in the workshop were a little sad to see it go – it seems that the Marin frame had some admirers. Before I could take it away, I had to promise them two things: that I would always have something purple on the frame, and that I would take it on some nice adventures.

Then it was just a matter of getting it home. I’d swithered over getting picked up from the station as the train got in at 6pm and it meant my first proper ride would be in the dark, but as the weather wasn’t bad and I was itching to find out what the bike was really like, I decided to cycle, and I’m glad I did. I do like night riding around here – even when it’s not that late, as soon as it gets dark it feels like you’ve got the place to yourself. The sky was clear and the new moon was up and the stars were coming out, and (more prosaically) it gave me a chance to adjust the headlight and make sure the dynamo was working as it should.

As for the climb home – it’s early days, and hills are always easier in the dark, but it feels like it will make easy work of most of the climbing I’m going to want to do on it. I can’t exactly explain why – no doubt some mixture of weight and geometry and rider position that I’ll never fully understand – there was just an effortlessness about it that I wasn’t expecting. My legs were feeling it once I got home – two months of ebike riding has taken its toll – but I’m already itching to take it on some longer distances, with no need to worry about range and recharging points. That promise of taking it on some adventures will be easily kept (indeed, I’ve already got one idea in the works, so watch this space).

Today wasn’t the day to start spreading our wings though. There’s no amount of new bike that will make stinging horizontal icy rain anything but type two fun. Especially when your chain falls off after an unwary attempt to see if the granny ring works on the climb. A little more bedding in may be needed before the adventures begin.

Wet dull weather

Thoroughly Spoiled

January 31, 2022

I’m not going to lie, I’ve rather enjoyed having a taste of the good life on my one-stop book tour. Being booked into a properly nice hotel, my own personalised itinerary, having people actually pay in order to hear me talk about my writing (top tip: don’t ask the person who takes 12 years to write her second novel for tips about writing) – it was all extremely head turning and it’s probably a good thing it was only the one event so far (but watch this space, because there may be other events coming up soon!)

(as you can see from the photos, I managed to match my socks to each other but not quite the outfit)

Anyway, having got home on Friday, the weekend was very much back to reality, with Storm Malik (even the Danes are naming the storms now – you’d think they’d be above that sort of thing being Vikings and everything but apparently not) making its presence felt on Saturday’s ride down for the paper. I have to say e-bikes definitely come into their own in a mahoosive headwind – even if I still all but came to a standstill on one particularly wind-tunnelly stretch of road. Indeed, I decided the occasion called for whacking up the e-assist a notch on the ride home because clearly, I’m worth it. It’s probably fortunate that I’ve just heard that my new-to-me bike will be ready to pick up on Friday. Another few weeks of having the e-assist on tap might just have ruined me for unassisted riding …

Let’s see how I fare coming up the hill next weekend, eh?