As I Mean to Go On

January 1, 2017

There are worse ways to start a year than to set off into the low winter’s sun to Bigtown

slanting January sunshine

To unexpectedly find that 26 other people fancy joining you for a bike ride and some warming soup on a fine New Year’s Day

gathering for a ride

And to ride home again with weary legs after 34 miles with the last of the afternoon’s sun at your back*

sunshine and shadow

Happy New Year

*We’ll draw a veil over the accompanying headwind

Cold Snap

November 21, 2016

frozen puddle

I don’t know why I should be surprised – cold weather in Scotland in November,* shock horror – but even given the fact it has already snowed this month, I wasn’t expecting to wake up to temperatures of -5C this morning and neither was the poor olive tree which I still hadn’t got around to moving to the warmer climes of our porch last night. Hopefully the olive tree will wake up from its cryogenic adventure – apparently they are tougher than you might think, especially if they have been watered before they get frozen which is not a problem around here. And nor have I put the ice tyres on my bike yet, so stop asking.**

This lunchtime, once the road had safely thawed out, I headed off for the paper to discover the OTHER big disadvantage of living two-thirds of the way up a long hill, which is that when you don’t need to turn a pedal for the first ten minutes of your ride, you get very, very cold. As in cold enough to make your eyeballs ache, which is a new one on me. Looking on the bright side, I also arrived home considerably less sweaty than I usually am after tackling the chief disadvantage of living two-thirds of the way up a long hill.

olive treeI do remind myself every morning to take a moment to appreciate the views (when we can see them) because I suspect that this winter I will be regularly paying the price for our wonderfully exposed position. Even as I write, the latest weather warning is rattling the windows, but the woodburner is doing its stuff and the olive tree is safely tucked up in its winter quarters and so, for now, am I.

*especially as the Met Office has already predicted a colder than average three months, in this genuinely interesting if somewhat cagey article – I’d heard of El Nino and La Nina, and the polar vortex, but the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation was a new one on me. No mention of the weather gods, though, for some reason

** Although come to think of it, that may be the very thing we need to reverse polar vortex and unleash the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation, and return us to milder winter weather.

Choose your own Adventure

November 12, 2016

I had two thoughts as I contemplated the hard frost outside the window yesterday morning just as I was preparing to cycle down to the station to Glasgow: 1) now would have been an excellent time to have already put the ice tyres on the bike, and 2) on the whole, brand new brake pads work better when you’ve put them on your bike than when they’re still sitting in your bike bag. Added to that a third thought, as I set off, carefully, down the hill with the sun rising almost directly into my eyes: that I also need my bright dynamo lights during the winter days if I’ve a hope of being seen by drivers coming up behind me. If this winter is to go on as it has begun, then I may need to install the ice tyres on my current dynamo wheel rather than just swap my winter wheels back and forth, if I can figure out how to do that without tearing my hands to shreds on the spikes

Still, such considerations pale into insignificance when you’re on you way to Glasgow to hear from women who think nothing of cycling across America, or 500 miles around the north coast of Scotland in 36 hours or – in Kate Rawles’ case – cycling the length of South America on a bamboo bike she has built herself to raise awareness about conservation and biodiversity.

bamboo bike

As someone who prefers her peril mild, and her bike rides at the speed of chat, I can’t compete with either feat, but after we had finished a good morning session of bike-related plotting, my partner in crime and I did head out for an adventure of our own entitled “what happens if you attempt to follow the bike signs on part of the National Cycle Network when you have no idea where you are going?” We do it to raise awareness about the hard of navigating…

Exploring Glasgow

Now where??

We got there in the end.

Kelvingrove walkway

House Warming

November 10, 2016

You know you’re a gardener when you’re delighted if someone leaves a bag of poo (several bags actually) on your doorstep (oh all right, by the side of the garage). It helps if the poo in question is well matured horse manure, and is in fact a housewarming gift from a horsy friend rather than some sort of a rural warning off. It’s all part of my grand plan for raised beds for vegetable gardening, which so far hasn’t got much further than choosing a potential site and asking around for ‘matters arising‘, as Buckingham Palace once delicately chose to describe it.

olive tree

The olive tree might appreciate a bit of warmth from somewhere …

Of course, given the speed with which I normally progress my plans, there is a danger that the poo in question will be very much more mature than it already is by the time I get around to using it. But then again, if this winter decides to go on as it has begun, we might actually be pleased to have a steaming heap of manure on the premises. After all, if you can heat your house from the energy released by composting woodchips, some sort of poo-source heat pump arrangement mightn’t be too far fetched an idea.

Pathetic Fallacy

November 9, 2016

You know, if anyone on my creative writing course had turned in a plot like the last few months we’ve had, they’d have been jumped on:

‘OK, I see what you’re doing with the narrator waking on the morning of the election and there’s snow everywhere, but I think you’re over-egging it. And besides, it’s November. It’s hardly going to snow in November.’

‘Besides, you know there are just too many elections in the book. I mean, it’s getting a bit samey: the Scottish one, and then the general election, and then Britain going out of the EU …’

‘… which was kind of testing our suspension of disbelief anyway …’

‘… and then having someone like Trump running for president, I mean I know it’s satire, but you’ve got to keep it within the realms of the possible …’

‘… but I just keep coming back to the snow. Even if you accept that people would actually be that stupid as to vote for the guy, having it snow in November is too much. I mean, come on…’

Still, in my experience, the Weather Gods can be relied on never to miss the opportunity to overdo things…

hazel bush weighed down by snow

Hazel bush bowed down by the weight of snow. Just too bloody perfect a metaphor

I have nothing to add to all that has been written and said and all that will be written and said about the American election. They say the darkest hour is just before dawn, so perhaps some good will come out of it. Or perhaps things will just go on getting darker. Ever since Brexit my inclination has been to turn inwards: to concentrate on the things that I can do something about and let the rest of the world go to hang. Cycle campaigning I can do. Saving the world is beyond my paygrade. And I’ll take what comfort where I can…

So today has been a day for knitting, hanging curtains and installing smoke alarms. The latter feels especially necessary.

egg cosy

Uh Oh

November 8, 2016

There is much I have been meaning to blog about, when I got the time, but I have been gadding about again, to Perth this time for a cycling conference where unusually I didn’t come away completely depressed about the future, even though there was an actual government transport minister there, which is usually enough to pour a dose of cold water on everyone’s enthusiasm.* Of course, this may have been because someone was foolish enough to fit me up with a microphone and let me loose on the closing panel (after someone more important pulled out at the last minute

But never mind all that. Because, while I noticed ice on the puddles yesterday as I cycled down to catch the bus on my way to Perth, I really wasn’t expecting to come back this evening in increasingly heavy snow (fortunately, the other half had driven to pick me up, so I was witnessing this from inside the car. There are limits to my devotion to active travel…). We have inherited a rather sorry looking olive tree in a round-bottomed pot from the previous owners of the house, which we have spent most of the autumn picking up after it has blown over in the wind (top tip for gardeners: don’t put trees in round bottomed pots. I mean seriously, what were they thinking?) I had been meaning to find out whether to bring it indoors to our entrance way to the winter but hadn’t got round to it because it’s only the first week of November, for crying out loud. Hopefully it is not too late already…

I say nothing about the election over the water, but I do hope that when I wake up tomorrow, sorry-looking olive trees and Scottish cycling policy will still be top of my list of worries…

*Although it’s even worse when they don’t bother to turn up but post in a video presentation because there’s a much more important meeting about trains they want to be at instead

Freezing Scot

November 1, 2016

OK, so it’s not quite Colorado weather but as far as the blue skies and sunshine go, it was a fairly good effort on the whole, seasonally adjusted

blue sky and reflections

A nice day to cycle into town for lunch with the other half, followed by choosing my own housewarming gift from a talented friend – not a bad swap for some chilli plants and tomatillos earlier in the year.

Flying Scot prints

Flying Scot linocuts by Hugh Bryden – the hard part was choosing just two.

The problem with this time of the year is that even on the nicest days the sun is so fleeting  – turn your back on it for a second and it has slipped down behind a hill and the clear skies mean it’s all the chillier once it’s gone.

autumn colour

Time to get cracking on sorting out the insulation …