Birthday Treat

March 20, 2019

We’re in Northern Ireland for my impending birthday and today, with the weather looking nicer than expected, we decided to spend the last day of my 40s climbing Slieve Donard (I had vaguely planned to do it actually on my birthday, but you take your windows in the weather where you can find them in March).


As we climbed up out of the town, it was sunny enough for us to almost regret dressing for hillwalking in March, with the sun turning Dundrum Bay an almost tropical shade of green.

sunshine on Dundrum Bay

As we turned the corner and looked up, however, it was clear that the blue skies were not going to last and that the clouds were gathering over our destination.

clouds gathering

Normally I’d never attempt any sort of climbing when the clouds were coming down, but the advantage of Donard is that you really cannot get lost even in the fog as there’s a well made path pretty much right to the summit (there was even a band of hardy volunteers out maintaining it today), as well as a steady stream of other people out tackling the highest climb in Ireland.*

climbing into the cloud

So on we went, re-donning the layers we’d shed on the lower slopes, and made it to the top in two hours to precisely no views but a sense of achievement all the same. A nice young Frenchman offered to take our photo at the top and managed to capture two frames of me with my hands over my eyes trying to defog my glasses, and then a further three frames of me looking down and trying to clear them properly, so I’ll spare you our triumphant summit photo. Instead, we were rewarded with the sight of the sun still shining down on Newcastle as we emerged out of the cloud on the way down.

sunshine on Newcastle

We’ve probably both now reached an age where coming down a mountain is at least as tough (and potentially injurious) as going up it, but we made it down with no more than the expected quota of grumbling hips, knees and backs.

And at least tomorrow, even though I will be 50 I know I won’t be feeling my age – because if this evening is anything to go by, I’ll be feeling at least 80 instead.

*It’s not the highest mountain on the island of Ireland, but it makes up for it by starting at sea level.


Winds of Change

March 16, 2019

So yesterday, to my great excitement, the Climate Strikes came to Bigtown which meant a) I got to go on a demo I hadn’t organised and b) I got to watch a group of young people figure out in real time how to run an effective protest – they learn fast, these kids. Even if they probably need to work a little on their chanting (and they definitely need waterproof paint for their signs if they’re going to keep protesting in South West Scotland) I’m pretty confident that by next month they’ll be a well-oiled machine, or at least they’ll manage to look that way.*

climate strikers

In a way, that might even be a shame, because the best bit for me was when we all spontaneously decided to take the protest through the streets of Bigtown without so much as a risk assessment, event management plan, or meeting with the police to agree a suitable route. Sometimes it truly is better to ask permission than forgiveness.

burns statue

Taking the strike to the people, including Robert Burns

I’ll be back, and this time I might even make my own (impeccably punctuated) sign, instead of borrowing one from a generous Young Person.

oldies against climate change

You’d think the planet would be grateful for my concern over its climate and perhaps reward me for my efforts by providing a nice tailwind the next time I had an epic (for me, I appreciate that for some people 5 miles on a bike is epic and for some people 54 miles is a nice lunchtime pootle) ride to a not-that-nearby town for a meeting. Indeed, the weather forecast suggested that that was exactly what we would get – a nice Northeasterly as we headed 18 miles south west, swinging back round to the west as we headed home (accompanied by persistent heavy rain and/or sleet, but we’ll draw a veil). Clearly this was never going to happen, but I hadn’t appreciated just how much it wasn’t going to happen until we turned onto the cycle path half a mile in and were nearly blown backwards. For the next 2 and a quarter hours we had the wind in our faces the whole way, gusting up to 40 mph. Let’s just say that we got to our meeting with barely 5 minutes to spare, looking more than windswept, and (on my part at least) unable to string a sentence together for the next 10 minutes.

Some people might call that a result …

* People keep telling me Pedal on Parliament looks like a well-oiled machine, which is enough to make a cat laugh, so I’m aware that there’s a difference.

In Like a Sea Lion

March 13, 2019

I suppose people who install solar panels shouldn’t really be surprised when the result is unrelenting rain, interspersed with occasional sleet and snow.

sleet in march

“February fill-the-dykes”, our neighbour the oldest inhabitant is fond of saying, but as February didn’t really oblige this year, March has stepped in instead. We’ve had two nights of heavy rain blattering against the skylight in our bedroom which – when combined with high winds and thunder and lightning right overhead – tends to cross the fine line between ‘lovely and cosy to listen to when tucked up in bed’ and ‘lying awake worrying whether the solar panels are still attached.’

full river

We woke this morning to no power – fortunately just a tripped circuit breaker so I did not have to face the prospect of getting up without coffee – and no internet – less fortunately, a dead router – suggesting one of the lightning bolts came a bit close for comfort but we were back up and in time for me to head off, suitably caffeinated,* for a meeting about trains which was marginally more exciting than it sounds.**

Riding back I was pleased to notice that the brand new lambs were wearing their little plastic cagoules as the Met Office is predicting another night of double-dot rain. I might grumble at having it hammering on the skylight overhead, but at least I’m not out in it in nothing but a woolly jumper and a plastic bag…

lamb in waterproof coat

* The current coonsil austerity drive has extended from No Biscuits at meetings, which was bad enough, to No Tea and Coffee which I believe is banned under European human rights legislation, especially if it’s going to be conducted entirely in technical terms.

** top tip when in a meeting full of Serious Transport Men: don’t refer to the stopping service between Bigtown and Glasgow as ‘the chuffer’ as apparently that is not the correct technical term.

It Might Seem Odd …

March 9, 2019

… that someone who’s just installed solar panels (and been ranting about global warming) would spend the very next day wantonly uprooting baby trees.

pine sapling

But there you go, conservation is complicated and pine trees on peat bogs are a problem. It’s been ages since I went out doing any sort of conservation volunteering, mainly because I got busy saving the planet in other ways, and I was anyway a bit conflicted about driving somewhere to spend a few hours saving the planet.

However, I happened to spot that there was a work party planned in a particular favourite spot of mine – a remnant of peat bog surrounded by pines that manages to feel incredibly isolated and entirely in a world of its own. Perhaps because it’s not an easy place to walk, it’s not a well-known spot and it’s a little neglected even by those who are managing it, and so I felt we could not pass up the opportunity to show it some love.*

Kirkconnell Flow

Encouragingly, more than a dozen people thought so too, despite it being a grey and drizzly morning that was more old-school February than March. Fortunately, the sun came out for most of the day (we’ll draw a veil over the passing hailstorm that hit us in the afternoon) and we made good inroads into the encroaching trees.

One advantage of working in a very wet bog – apart from the fact that you can just pull the smaller trees out by their roots – is all the weird and wonderful plants (and lichens, which are only half plants) that live there, and when you’re spending all day bent down pulling up trees alongside some knowledgeable people, you can find out what they are. Plus the fact that the little red berries that looked almost like cranberries turned out to actually be cranberries (who knew?) and very tasty – in a zingy sort of way – they were too.


I spent many weekends in my 20s doing this sort of thing, and I was pleased that most of my tree-destroying skills were still intact (conservation work is about 10% planting trees and 90% chopping them down, sometimes trees which earlier volunteers had planted). My tree-destroying muscles, on the other hand, are strongly reminding me that I am no longer in my 20s. So now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for an ibuprofen nightcap and an early night.

* I’d love to say that I overcame my qualms about the driving part going down on the bike but the other half suggested we drove and, much as I love cycling, I was very happy to collapse into a warm, dry, and self-propelling car for the journey home.

Generation Game

March 8, 2019

To anyone in the vicinity hoping for a nice summer this year or any time for the next 20 years …

solar panels

Our apologies.

On what must have been the dreichest day yet of the year, some hardy workmen have been on our roof beavering away at what currently looks like an act of insane optimism on our part. Rain-power panels not being a thing, we’ll just have to hope we haven’t brought the Weather Gods’ wrath down on our heads completely, but let’s just say this might put the summer we rashly bought a barbecue into the shade.

We’ve been racing against the end-of-March deadline to get these in because, green as I am, even I am not prepared to install solar panels and then give away the electricity to our supplier for free. There’s a whole rant I could write about the ecological vandalism of this current government, but I’m not sure any of us can face that right now, so just assemble the following into some sort of coherent order and imagine me shouting it at you: “greenest government ever” “12 years to avert catastrophe” “economically and ecologically illiterate” “rising sea levels” “catastrophic climate feedback loops” “grrrr” “aargh” “FFS” “Christ we’re doomed, aren’t we” and “Sod it, I’m going out on my bike”.

George Monbiot, eat your heart out.

So far, the gloom being meteorological as well as metaphorical, our panels have generated precisely 0 units of electricity to combat the coming disaster, but perhaps we might see the sun again in time, before the waters close completely over our heads.

Fedgeing My Bets

February 23, 2019

Among the many reasons why I’d like spring not to career onwards too quickly (Brexit, my own imminent half century, POP preparations or the lack thereof) one was that I am as usual somewhat behind in my gardening. In particular, I’ve been conscious that when you’re planning to plant a fedge, the willow is best cut ‘just before it buds out’ which, for those not possessing a time machine, tends to mean ‘about a week ago would have been perfect’.

ready to plant

Stakes in, ground prepared, it almost looks as if I know what I’m doing here.

Still, working on the assumption that willow is well-nigh impossible to kill, and with the mild spell looking to continue for a while, I decided to crack on this weekend. I had, unusually actually finished the ground preparation a week or so ago, and in the course of re-pollarding a willow at the top of the garden, we had produced some suitable stakes as well as loads of withies of about one or two year’s growth – perfect (according to a random page I found on the internet) for striking cuttings.

first willow in

First sticks in. There’s something liberating in a task where you’re actually aiming NOT to get everything in straight

This will no doubt come back to bite me in some way, but the whole thing actually went unprecedentedly smoothly, which is giving me faint premonitions of disaster.

criss crossed willow

Weaving in the sticks the other way

On the other hand, the whole enterprise has cost me precisely nothing apart from our time – from the stakes to the willow, to the old shirt turned into ties, it was all sourced from stuff we had lying around.

fedge finished

All tied up and finished in record time. Something must be wrong here…

So, whether none of it sprouts, all of it sprouts and we end up living in a willow thicket, or Moo-I-5 lean over the fence in a few months time and scoff the lot in fifteen minutes – I’ll still feel somewhat ahead of the game.

And that’s got to be worth something in these uncertain times.

Slow, Slow, Quick Quick, Slow

February 22, 2019

A Public Service Announcement for All* Cyclists:

There is no such thing as a self-healing puncture. Nor, realistically, is there such a thing as a slow puncture: a slow puncture is a fast puncture that’s had the decency to warn you it’s coming. The correct response to such a courtesy from the P****** fairy, is to fix the puncture as soon as you notice it – or at least on the day after, when you don’t have to go anywhere. The incorrect response is to keep pumping up the tyre every morning in the hope that it will magically go away, until it chooses the most inconvenient time possible to become a full blown flat tyre. It seems obvious written down, so clearly this is absolutely not what I’ve been doing this week.

In other news, this is happening, almost a month earlier than last year.

daffodil blooming

I don’t wish to appear ungrateful at the current mild weather, but at this time of the year, the last thing I need is for spring to start speeding up on us.

* Or possibly just me