Thaw Point

January 18, 2016

snow on plants

I was expecting a challenging ride down to the papershop today because the forecast was for it to barely lift above freezing. Yesterday was so still and so cold that the snow didn’t melt at all, and the roads were just packed snow by the end of the day, with no sign of the tarmac underneath.

snow on trees

But this morning it was a little warmer and there was a fine misting drizzle and by the time I got out on the bike the road was more slush than anything. The thaw has already reached that nasty gloomy drippy squelchy stage, like the snotty part of a cold, and while I welcome the signs of impending improvement, I can’t say it’s all that attractive.

snowy track

So you’ll just have to vicariously enjoy our walk through the woods yesterday, which was a perfectly gorgeous winter’s day. What with the roads and the snow, we weren’t going anywhere, and neither, it seemed, was anybody else.

snow_woods snow_woods_2

We forget, sometimes, how beautiful a place it is that we live in, and how privileged we are to have it mostly to ourselves.

snow, trees and gate

In other news, I think the garlic may be getting cold enough now

garlic under snow

There are some garlic bulbs somewhere underneath all that…


Viking Biking*

January 16, 2016

As we woke to another freezing morning, the other half offered to pick up the paper as he was heading into Bigtown, but I decided against. Not only have I not had a decent bike ride since Tuesday – and not to mention gone to some effort to change my bike’s tyres – but a comment yesterday had led me to this blog, being the seriously challenging winter cycling adventures of an indomitable lass in upstate New York, who appears to think nothing of cycling to work through sub-zero (that’s sub-zero Fahrenheit) temperatures at 4:30 in the morning and who feels positively cheated if the snow plough gets there before she has had a chance to break through the virgin snow herself.* So merely avoiding going out because it was a bit nippy seemed a bit feeble, and even when I started to get ready to head out and saw that it was snowing lightly I wasn’t going to be put off by a dusting of snow.

way out

Heading out to Bigtown, with just a light accumulation of snow at that point

more snow on the way back

At the same point on the way back, there was rather more…

Fans of the Weather Gods will know what happened next: it started snowing in earnest. Still, clad in lobster gloves, scarf, fleece, boots, ear warmers and, of course, my tweed cap, (I imagine cyclists in New York would laugh to hear it was just a couple of degrees below zero) I was warm enough. I’d chosen the fleece, which is green, thinking it might make me a bit more visible than my brown waxed coat, but that was a bit of a tactical error because it (and the cap) just got immediately coated in snow so I ended up nicely camouflaged. Still, anyone cycling in this weather automatically comes with a giant sign saying ‘NUTTER’ which hovers like a fifteen foot fluorescent flag over their head, so the few cars I did encounter could see me anyway, and rather better than when it’s raining when I apparently disappear. The tyres did their job, the bike performed fine (with the odd ‘interesting’ gear change once the snow had built up on the derailleur) and I got into Bigtown and back feeling just a tiny bit pleased with myself, even if it had taken me an hour and a half to cover ten miles.

snow-covered bike

Viking bike?

Of course, some of that time might have been spent stopping to take photos…

snowy river

The snow has continued ever since and is still falling. Tomorrow might be interesting.

* Copenhagenize’s coinage for the winter cyclists of Copenhagen, who at least have the luxury of their own cycle tracks which are actually ploughed and gritted. Perhaps we need another term for those of us who plug on regardless without such luxuries. #SaxonCycling has been suggested on Twitter but I think the UK equivalent should be #StiffUpperLipCycling

** Or as the other half put it, seriously impressed, ‘there’s someone even madder than you on a bike’.


More Maintenance

January 15, 2016

bike repair tools

For someone who loves her magical ice tyres as much as I do, you might think I was curiously reluctant to actually put them on my bike because – even with yellow warnings of ice from the BBC Terror Centre and actual snow falling out of the actual sky on Wednesday, I was still holding off, thinking that things might clear up a bit in the morning. It was only when we woke to discover that not only was it a bit nippy out, but that the car door had actually frozen shut, that I decided that, maybe I did want my ice tyres on after all and did the other half have time to do it?

But that seemed a tad feeble and, the other half being in a bit of a rush, I thought I’d at least speed the process by getting as much of it done as possible myself. To make the whole thing easier, the tyres are on a pair of spare wheels so I don’t have to wrestle with the spiky things myself but that was where the easy part ends.

The thing is, I’m just not a handy person. I already had the bike turned over (we don’t have a repair stand), when I remembered that all the tools I need to take the wheel off were in the saddlebag which was still attached to the bike. And then the brakes don’t have that handy lever thing (if you’ll excuse the technical terminology) that opens them out to get the tyre past them, so I had to remove a brake pad before the front wheel would come off. And it didn’t help that the spare back wheel is wider than the regular back wheel, nor that the mudguards were full of accumulated crud – and nor indeed that every time I put a tool down it froze to the bench.

tool impressions

‘shadows’ left by the spanner which kept melting into the layer of ice on the bench and then freezing there.

In the end, the other half came out in time to tighten up the wheel nuts and then escaped, having thawed out the car, so in the end I did actually manage to do most of it myself and it only took an hour.* This might actually represent the pinnacle of my bike maintaining activities to date as it included not only working out how to adjust my brakes but also how to remedy the fact that I almost unscrewed the whole brake cable from the front brake thereby rendering the whole magical ice tyres completely pointless.

By the time I had finished, the sun was warming up (not, I was glad to note after all that work, entirely melting all the ice on the road) and I barely had time for a quick test spin to check that everything still worked and briefly enjoy the sparkly frosty weather before chaining myself back to my laptop. I would post a photo, but it was only when I reached into my pocket for my phone to take a view of the snow covered hills that I realised it had fallen out of my pocket on the way (and was at that moment being retrieved by a concerned neighbour). Truly, I sometimes wonder why I am allowed out on my own.

* not counting the half hour of remedial percussive maintenance from the other half this evening to get the mudguards properly clear of the tyres…


Meanwhile, in Weather God Land…

January 8, 2016

‘what’s that she’s whinging on about now? There’s been too much rain recently?’

‘not only that, but it’s too mild

‘I think we can do something about that …’

And so they did

snow faling

It was just fat comedy flakes at first, so I set off for the paper anyway, without bothering to change to my winter wheels with their magical ice tyres. It wasn’t actually all that cold and my main problem initially was the snow melting into my trousers – I’ve never had to ride along brushing the accumulation of snow off my thighs before.

car tracks on snowy road

Having stopped in nearest village for a chat (‘it’s no weather for cycling’ ‘I thought I’d get out before it gets any worse’) and set off again in snow that was now steadily settling I was beginning to regret not having the spikes. It wasn’t too slippery on the fresh snow, but it was getting thick enough that it was quite hard going – and where the few cars had passed the snow was distinctly squirrelly underfoot.

So I stuck to the middle of the road and concentrated on pedalling steadily and smoothly uphill and not gathering too much speed downhill.

snow on trees

And enjoying it.

snow on gate

I was quite pleased to find it was mostly melting on the way back. The night is forecast to be cold, however, so I think the magical ice tyres will be going on …


Squelching Through

January 7, 2016
wet cow

George Monbiot said what??

There’s been a lot of talk recently about flood defences and the perils of over-zealous drainage of uplands, and how we might save our towns and cities from flooding if only the river catchments could hold more water. It’s an attractive idea, and I’m all for working with nature, planting more trees, not building massive flood barriers (Bigtown is planning to build a massive bund along its river front which, while practical and undoubtedly cost-effective, doesn’t exactly gladden the heart as a prospect) and definitely all for reintroducing beavers to help slow river flows – not because I think that they will necessarily do much for our flood defences but mostly because I just think it would be really cool to have beavers in Scotland again.

saturated field

The sad part is, this field actually had extensive drainage put in this autumn…

There is one tiny problem though. I don’t know about the rest of the country, and I’m sure that elsewhere there is more that could be done – but speaking as someone who lives in one of the catchment areas that is supposed to be holding all this surplus water, I really am not sure where exactly it is supposed to go

swollen river and waterfall

Or how the land could hold any more of it.

cows seek the higher ground

The cows don’t, either

So I expect we’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that, as most things are.

Speaking of flood defences, I was finally able to get the story of our own impromptu ones from the horse’s mouth. It turns out one of the junior landlords, up from London for the holidays, was responsible for the major works. ‘Well, we’re very grateful, and thank him for his efforts’ I said. ‘Oh don’t worry, he had the most wonderful time,’ was the breezy reply.

To be honest, I’m a bit jealous, because I love mucking around and damming things. Maybe that’s why I’m so keen on them bringing back the beavers…


I Promised you Interesting Drainage News

January 4, 2016

… and I realise now I might have oversold it somewhat

But, for what it’s worth, we came back to find that our yard had mysteriously developed a small dyke on one side and a dam in the gate leading to the back – while our neighbour (who was away having a baby at the time) found that all of her stuff had been piled up at the back of the garage, presumably to get it out of the way of flooding in the yard. It means that when the burn at the side of the house bursts out of the confines of the ditch it runs through, it heads straight for the road rather than half of it pooling in our yard We can only assume that the landlords were busy over the break, for which we’re very grateful, or else someone has gone ahead and introduced some extremely resourceful beavers. It makes cycling home in the dark a little hazardous but into every life, a little* rain must fall.

flood_defences_1 flood_defences_2

Anyway, I’ve now more or less caught up with the local gossip in the village having cycled through it for the paper on Friday and bumped into various neighbours out and about, as well as attending the community council meeting. I was happy to meet the neighbour’s new baby, delivered safe and well, and saddened to hear that one of the people I regularly met out on the road had died over Christmas. He owned a mad sheep dog of the kind that would have your throat out if you looked at it wrong, and I think he was on a mission to walk it into submission because I’d see him out on the roads with it, often miles away from the village. He always had a cheery word for me when I cycled past him. In latter years we had stopped to chat on occasion, although it was always a bit strained as he would be occupied trying to stop the dog from chewing my leg off. As is so often the case, it was a few months before I realised I hadn’t seen him for a while, and by the time I found out the reason (and, indeed, his name) he was gone.

In other news, we heard at the community council that someone in the coonsil had finally taken decisive action over a spot of subsidence on the road that leads up to the village from Big A Road. Year after year, this has sunk down, and year after year it has been patched up by the addition of another layer of tar, in what must by now be a rich geological record. But this year, at long last, someone decided to stop papering over the cracks and sort this out for good and for all. So they have put up a sign. It says ‘dip’. So that’s all right then.

*little, please note, Weather Gods little


Sprouting Times

January 3, 2016

There is interesting drainage news but that will have to wait, for I know you have been left on the edge of your seats, wondering what has happened to my garlic. Previously on Town Mouse your heroine had planted out her review garlic in the teeth of weather warnings and the warmest December on record, and had opted to hedge her bets by planting one third in the greenhouse, and one third outside, keeping the rest until it looked like slightly more propitious weather for planting garlic…

Since all of the garlic looked like it had got started before we left for the US, I then moved the greenhouse garlic outside so it could benefit from any cold weather that might be coming its way. All through our trip to Colorado I was watching the weather forecasts and imagining the pots being blown around the walled garden while the garlic in the ground just sadly rotted away or was washed out altogether. So I headed up to the plot with some trepidation to check what had happened in my neglectful absence

The good news was: the ex-greenhouse garlic, having got off to an excellent start, and being in a somewhat sheltered spot was doing fine.

greenhouse garlic

Ex greenhouse garlic. I’m aware you’re supposed to bury the clove when you plant it but these ones put out such ferocious roots they managed to unbury themselves…

As was the garlic which had been planted straight into the soil, underneath bottle cloches

garlic in vegetable bed

As, indeed, was the garlic in the kitchen waiting to be turned into supper

garlic in kitchen

And, er, the garlic I’d stored in the shed for safe keeping.

garlic stored in shed

So the moral of the story is, it’s not getting garlic going which is difficult … it’s stopping it.

Looks like I’d better go and find some non-waterlogged soil to plant the spares in, and pronto …


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