Birds of a Feather

September 23, 2019

After a week of gorgeous last-gasp-of-summer weather, naturally the Weather Gods chose Sunday as the day to catch up with all that raining they’d meant to get done during September, as that was the appointed day for the Fancy Women Bike Ride. So, after a three-hour bus ride in the rain (and a lift down to the bus stop in the car, because nothing says ‘fierce, fabulous and fun’ quite so much as dry shoes) and a quick fire change into the nearest thing approaching ‘fancy’ that I was going to get, we headed to the Scottish Parliament in our dresses and on our bikes to see if anyone was going to turn up.

Amazingly, they did – and they were far more glamorous than us.

fancy women

And so the fun began.

group photo

I knew the organisers of the Fancy Women Bike Ride were onto something from the start when a black Range Rover stopped to let us all out onto the road. There’s the visibility that comes from dayglo yellow jackets and flashing lights – and then there’s the extra strength visibility that comes from being with a group of women dressed up to the nines (or perhaps the sevens in my case), flowers and all, and who are just having a good time on their bikes without worrying about what anyone else might think. A chasing pack of photographers (well, two) helps a bit too. Even when we’d left Holyrood Park and headed out en masse onto Edinburgh’s epically potholed streets, it was all a bit … well, joyful.

There are many serious points being made the Fancy Women Bike Ride – from the need to make our streets fit for everyone, to the fact that women in Tehran can’t even ride a bike in public however they’re dressed – but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Especially when you head back for cake and fizz and a session spent putting the (cycling) world to rights as the rain continued to hammer down outside.

It was still a relief to be back in my normal clothes this morning – especially as my chosen dress had NO POCKETS – but in a world of doom and gloom that’s getting doomier and gloomier by the minute, it was nice to have had the chance to add to the gaiety of the nation for once (and feature in the Guardian – online at least – in my sparkly trainers) – and all in a good cause.

Better photos than mine can be found here.


A Nice Day for a Climate Demo

September 20, 2019

If a freelancer goes on strike, does anyone notice? Apart from the freelancer, who then ends up having to work the missing hours at another time to catch up.That didn’t stop me heading down the hill into the clearing mist to attend Bigtown’s second youth strike, we old people having been invited to join in.

misty morning

I even made a sign this time, having failed the last time.

bikes not bypasses

This wasn’t on the scale or Edinburgh or Glasgow (or even Kirkcudbright, if the photos on Facebook were anything to go by) but it is an encouraging move and was mostly well received by the passing shoppers of Bigtown. It even turned into something of an ‘open mike’ demo with everyone who had anything to say invited to take a turn at the megaphone. The kids, I have to say, were better at this than the adults, not being given to anything like as much rambling.

No politicians bothered to attend, but after someone pointed out that the Secretary of State for Scotland’s offices were just round the corner, a couple of us did venture round afterwards to see if our MP fancied a word. He wasn’t in (and apparently almost never is – his consituency hours haven’t been upated since May), so we left our signs on his door instead.

And then we sat in the sun and put the world to rights for an hour or so. I suppose I should worry more that we’re able to do this in September at all …

Hopefully the weather will last until Sunday when we’ll be demoing again, in a far more fabulous way (for a certain value of fabulous, at least as far as I’m concerned).

Fancy Women Bike Ride

August Gathering

August 13, 2019

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but August is not my favourite month, in fact it’s one of my least favourite – mainly because it promises so much (at least for those of us raised in the part of the country where autumn doesn’t start until September) and delivers very little, other than torrential rain and the existential dread that comes with the words ‘Back to School’ in every shop. Since my last post, I have endured two more soakings on the bike (and only escaped another one by getting a lift to the station) and our utility room was home to enough pairs of soggy socks and gloves to make it smell as if the Swamp Thing had taken up residence there, or was at least using it as a laundry.

swallow on fence

This week, though, we’ve had a pause in the weather and that has been enough to trigger the best bit of August: the point when all the young swallows seem to emerge at once and start practising their flying. My photos cannot even start to do it justice but yesterday and today the air has been filled with trainee swallows and it’s just glorious (except for the one that learned the hard way about windows just outside my study). Every so often a gang of them will come pouring past the window, or start gathering on the wires, and they seem to be chasing each other around as much as the insects they’re supposed to be eating. Today they mastered landing in the very tips of the birch tree branches, where they bounce gently up and down until another swallow comes along and bounces them off to go zooming round the garden once more.

swallows on birch

It’s not just the swallows, either. At this time of year the hedgerows are full of learner birds and I’m often having to brake as I head down the hill on my bike to let a flustered blackbird or thrush get headway in front of me. We’ve got tiny little willow warblers, gangs of swallows, great tits and coal tits, and a juvenile wagtail that was stamping around outside our front door looking for insects. It’s a time to celebrate all of them, but especially swallows because it won’t be long before they’re gone for the winter and then summer really will have fled.

swallow on wire

Warm Showers

August 6, 2019

It’s not often that I’ll chase after a miscreant driver on my bike – not so much because it’s largely pointless remonstrating with them, but mainly because I’m generally too slow to catch them. But there I was riding into Bigtown in the rain this morning having almost reached the state where I couldn’t get any wetter, when a driver decided to finish the job by accelerating through a puddle as he passed me. Fortunately I was on the cycle path so being engulfed by a wall of water was unpleasant rather than dangerous but I was sufficiently ticked off by the indignity of it, if nothing else, that I made the effort to catch up with him at the end of the road and have a word.

To be honest, I was expecting the driver to be a young lad who thinks that kind of thing is funny but in the end it was an older man who was simply oblivious – and pretty apologetic – leaving me somewhat mollified but still dripping and (once off the bike) audibly squelching in my shoes. My trousers are reasonably quick drying, and my waterproof jacket had largely proved Waterproof in Scotland, but I know from bitter experience that once my socks and shoes are wet, then they stay that way. This was a problem because I had a whole day to spend in town and although Scottish summers might be characterised by – as the Glasgow cyclists say – slightly warmer rain it’s not warm enough that spending the whole day in wet socks was going to be any good for my health.

So for the avoidance of trench foot I had to make a couple of emergency purchases – hiking socks (because why-oh-why can you no longer find any other kind of sock in mostly natural fibres? Even running socks are mostly polyester these days and it’s just … don’t) and a pair of sparkly plimsolls because if you’ve been forced to buy emergency shoes then why not get something that might also serve for a Fancy occasion? Especially as they cost less than the socks, so topsy turvy has our world become.

I wonder if Back On My Bike will consider these fancy enough to go with a frock?

Heat Treatment

July 26, 2019

In this week’s edition of ‘be careful what you wish for’ – after a day spent energetically trolling the weather gods on Twitter, I was rewarded with the arrival of the heatwave in Bigtown yesterday, about 48 hours after everyone else had been forced to freeze their bedlinen to get a decent night’s sleep.

It was so hot, I even abandoned my tweed cap and gloves for the cycle down to Bigtown, where the drivers were extra grumpy (hello actually swerving at the cyclist for the temerity of existing) and the tar was melting on the roads. A few chips of stone stuck to my tyres aside, there’s little a heatwave can do (beyond heatstroke) to hamper my cycling – I just cycled even slower than I normally do and enjoyed the experience of being warm.

No such luck for my visiting friend who had hoped to escape London’s heat with a weekend in Scotland and instead got to spend 3 hours on a sweltering train outside Euston while our rail infrastructure went into meltdown. By the time she was rescued and taken back to Euston, even the Virgin rail staff weren’t recommending she get onto any of their trains so she is trying again today.

It did mean she missed our evening’s entertainment: the heat had brought thunderstorms to Bigtown below us so we switched off the internet (we’ve lost 2 routers since we moved to a house on the top of a hill …), and sat on the bench with a beer in the evening sunshine, watching it pass by us safely by.

approaching storm

According to the forecast, this now pretty much concludes our summer. If anyone’s feeling a bit hot still in London, bear that in mind as we put our jumpers back on and wonder how soon before we can start lighting the fire. Or come up and join us, always assuming you can find a working train.


July 10, 2019

Yesterday’s roundup of my vegetable blues failed to include the asparagus bed – not because it’s all ticking along nicely, but because it had got so weed-ridden the one photo I took of it didn’t really look like an asparagus bed at all.

weed-ridden asparagus bed

This may go part of the way to explaining why it’s not doing so well, although to be fair the not going well part preceded the weed-ridden part. The fact is, only one or two of the crowns I’ve planted have produced even one decent looking shoot. The rest have tended to shrivel away as soon as they’ve emerged, although more are still coming up in places.

small asparagus shoot

I’m not sure what the problem is (I can’t blame the pheasants this time). I did think it might be the dry weather we have had (regular readers of the blog may be surprised to read this but we have actually had some longish spells of no rain). It’s all a bit unsatisfactory given I spent actual money on these plants from an actual garden centre rather than sourcing them in my usual fashion, a mixture of scrounging, growing from seed* and village plant sales.

cow watching

“I wouldn’t do it like that, if I were you”

Anyway, under the watchful eyes of Moo-I-5 I have now given them a good soaking – and the weather gods are busy rectifying the ‘too little rain’ part as I speak – and mulched the survivors with a good layer of compost, which felt like the sort of thing a proper gardener might do. Hopefully that will do the trick but either way it looks as if my hopes for an abundant asparagus bounty will have to wait a few more years. I’m beginning to understand why the main reaction to my asparagus-growing plans has been shaken heads, cynical laughter, and reminiscences about sitting down to an asparagus spear each after four years of anxious care.

mulched asparagus bed

Any tips from the more successful? Other than ‘move out of Scotland’, of course …

* I did actually, many moons ago, grow some asparagus from seed in our first ever vegetable garden. By the time we sold the house, several years later, the tiny little fronds were just about visible to the naked eye, but only if you looked very closely.

Ain’t no Cure for the Summertime Blues

June 26, 2019

“These are the days we dream about all winter” I said as I pedalled homewards with a pal from the last day of Buddies’ bike extravaganza. For the sun had come out, the wind had dropped, and I was light of heart, if not exactly of bike

(look, when it comes to charity-shop shopping, she who hesitates is lost).

“Never mind all that,” my companion replied, for she is truly a person after my own heart – “can we just stop and take a photograph of where the pipeline went in?”

flowers along pipeline route

The grass may long since have grown up over the pipeline route, but the flowers give it away…

I had stuff to do after a day spent gallivanting around the roads with our cavalcade of curious cycles, and I will likely regret not spending this afternoon and evening doing it, but when I got home it was sandals weather for the first time all year, and the other half had fired up the barbecue. If we can’t down tools on occasion and waste a few hours just enjoying the garden, why do we bother having one?

daisies in garden

For these really are the days we dream about all winter and we need to make the most of them when they arrive.