There are some days …

March 9, 2018

… especially at this time of year, when if you don’t have any errands to run on the bike, you have to invent some …

snow melting by the road

Now that the snow is mostly gone – for now at least – time to venture out into the garden to see what has survived the onslaught of winter.

My Fromaldi plants – having gamely kept on flowering for ages – are looking a bit sorry for themselves (on a spectrum from ‘battered but unbowed’ to ‘dead on arrival’), but two of the Gaura seedlings I planted out at the beginning of autumn have survived so far, although they are not looking completely convincing.

Gaura plant

The tulips I planted seem to be coming up, stripey leaves and all, which is exciting. The olive tree has completely shed its leaves again, clearly having failed to read that it’s supposed to be evergreen. At least, I hope that that’s the problem, although I’m beginning to think that if you want a Mediterranean garden, the best place to plant one is in the Mediterranean (but where would be the fun in that, the gardeners cry)

tulips emerging

And then there’s the greenhouse, last seen with snow drifting under its door. Ages back, being keen to get going, the other half planted out some mixed lettuce seed in there. Clearly this was a doomed enterprise as we have since had at least two separate weeks of sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow, and our greenhouse is not a heated one so tender little lettuce seedlings stood precisely no chance

lettuce seedlings

Fortunately, they haven’t read the instructions either.


Cabin Fever

March 3, 2018

So, today should have been spent in Glasgow, in the company of approximately 50 active travel campaigners, variously networking, sharing ideas, putting the world to rights and (most likely) worrying that none of our speakers were running to time. But with the ongoing weather chaos (there are still no trains running out of Bigtown station even now) we had to reluctantly cancel. So what with that, and being ill and my Viking biking failure on Wednesday, I’ve not actually been anywhere since Sunday except out for a daily walk.

drifted snow

Today, feeling that this was getting out of hand, I decided I would either attempt to cycle down for the paper or we would dig the car out and drive down to do some recreational panic buying. No sooner had I made this decision than it began to snow again, so we dug out the car while we still could, made liberal use of the contents of the coonsil grit bin which is helpfully left right by our gate (and smells deliciously of treacle – do they mix it with molasses to make it stick or has the salted caramel fad finally jumped the shark?) and successfully made it to the main road.

It was slightly sobering to then come across an upside-down 4×4 a mile or two further down – it wasn’t exactly where I would have been cycling, but it did illustrate the fact that some people are still struggling to drive to the conditions. But, hey, apparently I’m the nutter, attempting to tackle these conditions on a bike …

Capsized vehicles aside, Bigtown was almost disappointingly back to normal – even the KFC is open again – and the supermarket’s shelves looked fairly fully stocked although we did almost end up with half a Guardian (apparently the middle bits fall out too easily and they seem to be dealing with this by bringing them out one magazine insert at a time when customers complain, rather than just sorting them all out in one go).

By the time we were heading home the snow was more or less stopped, the overturned car was being carted away and there was a sense that – the odd yellow weather warning notwithstanding – life might be returning to its normal rhythms soon. It’s been nice to have a bit of enforced downtime, I suppose, especially after a busy start to the year. But I think I’ll be ready to get out on the bike pretty soon. I just hope all the drivers out there concentrate as hard on keeping the rubber side down as I do …

Snow Day

March 1, 2018

Well the ‘beast from the east’ arrived as advertised – and although we have had nothing like as much snow and disruption as a lot of the rest of the country has been suffering, we have had some very cold temperatures and enough snow that we were very glad to have done our weekly shop yesterday morning early, before it all got too hideous. I’ve been ill enough that I haven’t particularly wanted to go anywhere, so yesterday I was happy enough to stick inside by the woodburner and watch the snow fall, monitoring the carnage on Twitter with sympathy as everyone else attempted to get somewhere – or get home again afterwards.

snowy road

Side question: what is the rural etiquette on ploughing the road up to your own property and leaving a nice ridge of snow across your neighbour’s driveway? Asking for a friend

Today actually dawned pretty bright and sunny, with no additional snow overnight. From the state of our road, it would appear the only creatures which had been moving were the hares (who, snow or no snow, have recognised it is March and have been chasing each other madly around the garden all afternoon) and our elderly neighbour who had obviously been out for her normal constitutional, winter be damned (she has yaktracks for her shoes and a spiked attachment for her walking stick and just gets on with it). There was just the question of fetching the paper. The snow didn’t look too bad on the road, and while we didn’t fancy trying to back the car out of the drive, I did think the bike might be possible with a bit of care.

bike in the snow

As a concession to the amber weather warning, I did put the spikes on the front wheel, and even donned a hi-vis orange vest (‘Is that so they can find you when you end up in a snow drift?’ the other half asked) and set off with some trepidation. I walked the bike to the road end, and found that the B-road had been gritted and ploughed, although there was only really one lane clear. The wind was right in my face and the snow was blowing all around me, and I have to admit I was beginning to think this wasn’t the most sensible thing for someone who’s only recently got out of bed with a London lurgy to be doing. So when I got round the first bend and found the snow had drifted back into the road and that – spikes or no – I wasn’t able to hold any sort of a sensible line through the resulting inch of slushy snow – I cut my losses and turned around. Maybe on a mountain bike, maybe if I was fully fit, maybe if it wasn’t such a winding road … not today though.

Indeed, as I stopped at our turning to start wheeling the bike back, the driver of the Land Rover who had been patiently following me up the hill for the last 100 yards actually stopped to check if I was all right before passing me, which is a first. I think he was pretty relieved that I was as close to home as I was. Not as relieved as I was though…

road home

Heading back up the hill to home…

Tomorrow, though. Tomorrow is another day.

Well, that Escalated Quickly

February 26, 2018

So I might have thought I was bestriding London as a returned exile triumphing in her native city – but it turns out that at a microbial level I was but a lamb to slaughter: to the average London virus my poor naive immune system was about as defenceless as a bottle-fed fawn stumbling into a live deer cull.

bare trees and blue skies

Yesterday, despite a continuation of the vague aches and pains I was complaining about before, I managed to lead a 25 mile winter ride on what turned out to be a beautifully sunny but pretty baltic sort of day. But by the time I had got home (having scrounged a lift from one of the ride participants) I was not feeling at all well and today I have spent mostly in bed, dragging myself up only to light the fire and lie on the sofa by way of a change of scene in the evening. Given the increasingly apocalyptic tone to the weather forecasts (Britain colder than the Arctic Circle! Polar Vortex split! Amber warning of the Seventh Seal opening!) this may be no bad thing.

Looking back, this happens pretty much every time I go to London; I really should learn either to avoid the place altogether or at the very least not risk the tube…

Snow Dropping

February 11, 2018

Just before going to bed last night, I was confronted by this simultaneously baffling and yet distinctly terrifying tweet

It didn’t help that the Met Office had been predicting overnight snow last night and all day today – indeed it was snowing as we went to bed last night so I was fully expecting to wake up to …


Well, anything but sunshine and not even a flake of snow. Indeed, the sun mostly shone all day, apart from a few snow flurries, giving me a chance to empty out one of the compost daleks and ponder our composting deficiencies (of which more anon). Then back indoors to light the fire, drink coffee, thaw out, and look out of the window to discover that the Arctic Oscillation had finally gone negative on our ass as threatened

Or something.

In other news, the shop in Papershop Village is under threat. Does anyone want to buy a shop?

Next Time, we’ll Start an Actual Fire…

February 9, 2018

Things people say to you when you tell them you’re planning a pop-up parklet in a few parking spaces in Edinburgh for the Firestarter Festival:

‘Cool! Sounds fun!’

‘Why would you do that?’

‘Don’t you have a proper job?’

‘Have you done a full risk assessment?’

Things people don’t say to you when you tell them you’re planning a pop-up parklet in a few parking spaces in Edinburgh for the Firestarter Festival (but you wish they had):

‘Have you checked the alignment of the sun?’

parking spaces before

Before …

pop up park after

After …

So it turns out, St Andrews House casts a deep and brooding shadow over the road in front of it. And that on a bright, sunny, but baltic February day in Edinburgh, when you are standing deep in that shadow, staring out at the sunshine warming every other corner of the city, with the wind funnelling between the massive somewhat Nazi-esque frontage of the building and Calton Hill, you will be very glad, very glad indeed, that you chose to wear All The Merino in preparation for the day.

Sunshine Calton Hill

Sunshine on Leith and, indeed, everywhere in Edinburgh except us

That said, Scots are a hardy bunch, and also well supplied with thermal layers and turned out to be prepared to play musical instruments, fix bikes, stand around cheerfully chatting and generally making the most of it with only a few yearning glances towards the sunny sheltered patches we could have set up in, had we thought it through. We had some good conversations, made some useful connections and while we’ve clearly got a bit of a learning curve before we perfect our tactical urbanism, we can chalk this one up at the very least as a useful learning experience

hardy musicians

And lesson number one is that next time – even if we don’t actually start a fire – we will be looking for nice sheltered suntrap for our next location. Which means (as someone pointed out, cheerfully) inevitably, it will rain.

Watching Where the Wind Blows

January 29, 2018

One of the advantages of our house on the side of the hill is that you can watch the weather coming out of the windows at the back – and then going away again out the front (assuming normal prevailing winds apply and the weather actually is planning on leaving, which isn’t always a given).

So it was very satisfying to be able to time my trip to Bigtown this afternoon just behind this heavy shower – just moderating my speed enough to stay out of its skirts.

rain falling on Bigtown

Even better to get to the roundabout on my way into town and realise that the queue of cars that has built up is merely stuck behind a working bin lorry, leaving me able to filter past the lot of them and skip onto the roundabout scot free.

It’s little moments like this that make it all worth while.