Pedal, Bus and Train on Parliament

October 24, 2018

One of the unexpected side effects of being a leading* cycle campaigner is that you get invitations out of the blue to attend the Scottish Parliament for a round table discussion on the Transport bill. I wasn’t sure entirely what this entailed, although the invitation pretty much had me at “light buffet beforehand”, but I’ll never turn down an opportunity to bend important people’s ears about cycling, however tangentially. So today saw me getting into my one remaining respectable outfit, dusting off the saddle of my Brompton, setting off down the hill, noticing the front tyre was rather flat, pedalling furiously back up the hill, retrieving my bike pump, filling the tyre, and setting off again for the bus stop and an exemplarily multi-modal trip to Edinburgh.

Brompton on Parliament

I think the Brompton was a little put out to discover that, one day of the year aside, it has to share the route to Parliament with something other than thousands of bikes, but we got there safely enough, and more to the point it was still there safely waiting for me when I came out again having bent as many ears as I could get hold of. However, if it spent the intervening time dreaming of its next visit in April, I have news for it …

#POP2018 (5 of 230)

For, in an exciting development, I can announce that next year, it – and thousands of its colleagues – will not, for once, be pedalling on Parliament. Instead, we’re taking POP local, hopefully right around Scotland, with simultaneous events that take the battle to the local authorities. Theoretically, this is a genius way to spread the load, and widen the message, and bring cycling to every corner of Scotland. In practice, I suspect it will also mean a cubing of the complexity of actually organising it, so watch this space in April when I fully intend to be a nervous wreck…

If nothing else, it will be a chance to get out around Scotland in search of enough fellow nutters to get this mad scheme off the ground. So, although it might not be pedalling on Parliament for a wee while, the Brompton will not be gathering too much dust.

*Although I note that my little sister has just won another award and is ahead of me on points

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Harvest Festival

October 20, 2018

The other half has been busy harvesting in the greenhouse …

jalapeno chillies

He’s also been busy with a needle and thread, making these jalapenos into a ristra. Handily, we only just used the last of our last dried jalapenos a few weeks ago. Each snipped-off chilli left a stem behind, like a tally of spicy meals. I was quite sad to see it go so we’re giving this one a little helping hand by hanging it next to the woodburner, in the absence of the Rayburn.

chilli ristra

Anyway, what with the drying walnuts (how long do walnuts take to dry, anyone?), our hearth now looks as if we’re ready for Santa, assuming Santa is up for a little Mexican cuisine alongside the more traditional offerings.

woodburner with drying chillies

The jalapenos were actually mostly not that hot, although every so often you’d get a zinger. I’d got into the habit of chewing on a seed whenever I chopped one up, to gauge whether or not to add the seeds to whatever I was cooking. But the Fresno chillies are another matter as I discovered when I tried the same trick and almost had to dunk my head in the water butt. There’s lots of those too …

Fresno chillies

Fresno chillies. Do not muddle up with jalapenos

And, after a slow start, the tomatillos are going strong. Not so strong as the first year we grew them, when I ended up leaving bags of them on people’s doorsteps, but strong enough. They’re pretty tasty and tangy but not the most versatile of ingredients – it’s no coincidence that when you start to google tomatillo recipes, the fourth suggestion is ‘tomatillo recipes not salsa’ (the first hit is a recipe for salsa…)

tomatillos in fridge drawer

Time to make some salsa verde, then.


Many Flies on Me

October 17, 2018

We’ve had good luck this summer with windowsill herbs in pots – some grown from seed, others rescued battery supermarket herb pots (top tip if you buy those herbs in pots – they’re always massively overcrowded so if you take out whole plants initially until the pot is more sensibly spaced out, the remaining plants should last the whole season). However, I noticed this morning that they had become somewhat infested with aphids so I stuck them all outside in a kill-or-cure measure.

A few hours later, I noticed that the plants were now buzzing with life – not bees, but flies, all apparently feasting on the honeydew* exuded by the aphids. I’d noticed the same flies flocking all over the flowering ivy and a spot of googling (I asked Twitter but it turns out that Twitter is better at ladybirds and fungi than flies) and this amazingly comprehensive site suggests it’s the charmingly named yellow dung fly.  Apparently they eat insects as well as nectar, when they’re not hanging out in cow pats, so hopefully they will deal with the aphids if the cold night doesn’t get to the basil first. I’d never heard of these creatures, which is a little odd considering they’re one of our commonest flies, but then again we’re all about the charismatic mega- and micro fauna round here, and flies just don’t have the same cachet (and besides, there’s zillions of them).

yellow dung fly

As an aside, how amazing is it that I could take this photo with the camera in my phone? We take for granted just how good the technology is these days … Also it helps when you work out how to turn the macro setting on.

Just in case the flies don’t do the job we also recruited a couple of ladybirds to the cause (I had originally picked a couple up in the woods, but it turns out that sluggish ladybirds wake up pretty quickly if you warm them up by holding them in your hands and that it is quite difficult to keep a lively ladybird trapped in your hands if you’re of a ticklish disposition. Fortunately there were more nearer to hand).

ladybird

Given all we read about the countryside becoming a ‘green desert’, I suppose it’s good to know that even in October our garden is still teeming with invertebrate life, even if they’re rather common and unglamourous flies, not to mention aphids. Good news for the birds and the other wildlife anyway, even if it ends up being curtains for the basil.

*I was slightly disturbed to learn that forest honey is in fact made from aphid honeydew rather than nectar, although I don’t really know why that should make it so much less appetising than the regular stuff.


Squeaky Wheel

October 15, 2018

So, one of my aspirations for this year was to get better at bike maintenance, which – unlike my other aspiration of regularly baking sourdough bread which is going swimmingly – has not progressed markedly beyond some vague and, as it turned out, unfulfilled plans to get some practice at taking my Marathon Pluses on and off my wheels. Today though, which was as fine and still and sunny a day as anyone could hope for in October, I took advantage of a gap in the work schedule and the nice weather to at least clean and re-oil my chain prior to riding down to fetch the paper.* This, I hoped, would sort out the intermittent squeak which had developed when I was pedalling with any sort of determination, and hopefully also the fact that the last time I’ve been out with the other half I’ve been badly dropped on all the hills.

Oiling done, I set off with the the light heart of one who has done a necessary chore and, more importantly Not Ignored a New Noise and who will shortly be enjoying the silkiness of a smoothly running drivetrain on her bike. Whereupon the bike started squeaking again, and now not just when pedalling hard. By the time I’d got to the bottom of the hill, it was now squeaking more or less all the time, so I got off and investigated a bit more thoroughly. Front wheel spinning fine and silently, back wheel spinning fine and silently, brakes clear of the rims, no sticks (or kittens) stuck in any of the spokes. Weird. Back on the bike, squeaking resumes. Eventually, I look again at my back wheel and discover that it is in fact skewiff and almost resting against the chain guard. With the bike unloaded, the wheel was spinning fine, but once I was on it and pedalling it was pressing against the frame, hence the squeaking. This, in retrospect, might go some way to explain my speed wobble the other day, which is also a little reassuring.

Now this is an easy problem to fix, one even I can do – but that’s when I also discovered that I have lost the allen key I need to loosen the wheel and reseat it. After a brief tussle between laziness (top tip: when your bike develops a New Noise, investigate at the top of the descent not the bottom) and common sense (the only thing worse than a New Noise is a Worsening New Noise), I have a stern word with myself and turn around and pedal, squeakily, back up the hill, raid the other half’s allen key collection and straighten the wheel.

sunshine in October

Still – there were worse days to have to add an extra 3 miles or so onto your ride down for the paper. And, in related news, I have discovered that a bike gets one hell of a lot easier to pedal when its back wheel is on straight. More findings from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious as they emerge.

sunny road

* and, er, lunch, as the sourdough bread baking schedule had broken down somewhat after a weekend away in Duns.


A Short Walk in a Small Wood

October 10, 2018

Sod’s law dictates that today’s uncannily fine and warm weather would come when I was labouring under both a work deadline AND a stinking cold, so I was largely confined to sitting in the sunniest part of the house, labouring over the laptop. But days like this are rare enough – and even rarer in October – so after lunch, when I can never really get anything sensible done anyway, I ventured out for a walk in the woods.

half obscured path in woods

Ordinarily, if I need a walk in the company of trees, I head up to where our road ends in a forestry track, but I have been reading the Hidden Life of Trees and I felt the need for something a little less regimented than a forestry plantation.

The other wood is not really a forest, just a scrap of wooded valley too steep and marshy to be of any real use which has been allowed to just get on with it.

steep valley sides

There’s only one path through it, and that’s one that increasingly only makes sense to badgers, so it’s only an out-and-back walk and a bit of a scramble in places. But I like how the fallen trees are just left to fend for themselves.

tilted birch tree

Or become homes for other things.

birch stump with hole

And the only real sign of man’s hand is this mysterious shed with its lucky horseshoe.

mystery shed

It’s not a long walk, and you never quite escape the sound of the road, but having read the book and realised just how much is going on in the apparently placid world of trees (you will never look at a beech tree in quite the same way again) it’s refreshing to be in a place, however small, which feels as if it’s there for itself, not for us. beech in the wood

Given what we’re doing to our poor planet, we need more places like this in the world.


Going Nuts

October 9, 2018

I’ve been a bit rubbish at foraging this year – not only did I completely miss the moment for gathering gooseberries from the travelling gooseberry bush, but I’ve barely had any wild raspberries – or even any blackberries. The neighbour has given us permission to pick the plums in the field below our house by ruined cottage, but after going down too early and finding only unripe ones, that too had slipped my mind, despite grand plans for jam and all sorts.

But a chance encounter with a friend on the cycle path this morning tipped me off about a slightly more exotic foraging option. Her neighbour’s walnut tree is not only generous with its bounty in all the surrounding gardens, including hers, it’s also spreading the love onto the road as well. A sneaky detour was in order.

The tree was easily spotted by the mess of walnut hulls on the pavement, and the sound of walnuts bouncing into the road. I’m not 100% sure of the legality of picking walnuts off the pavement by someone’s house, but as they were mostly just getting run over, I decided I wasn’t robbing anyone but perhaps the jackdaws, so a pocketful was gathered and taken home.

fallen walnuts

Of course, like most things you get for free, it’s not quite as simple as picking them up and enjoying a delicious walnut treat. For a start, I may have been too late – you’re supposed to pick them when they’re still in their green hulls, rather than when the nuts are raining off the tree so they might be a bit tainted. And then they need to be dried, which either means putting them in an oven for an unspecified amount of time (‘until they’re dry’ – thanks, RHS website) or hanging them up somewhere fairly warm, squirrel-free and with good air circulation to dry naturally. This would have been a marvellous job for the Rayburn* but in its absence, the woodburner and an old clementine bag have been pressed into use, giving our hearth an unseasonably festive air.

drying walnuts

Hopefully that will work because we may end up with plenty more (in the fullness of time). because, as an added bonus, the jackdaws inadvertently plant walnut trees all round my friend’s garden in their attempts to open the nuts by bouncing them off her patio. Did we want a tree? Yes indeed we did. As soon as it has dropped its leaves and we have worked out how to get a young but tallish tree into a smallish hatchback it will be ours, as long as we promise to look after it better than the olive tree

Oh, and flushed with success from my walnut scrumping, I nipped down to the old ruin to see if any plums might still be waiting for me…

plum harvest

That plum harvest in full

I think I won’t be making jam this year.

* The other night I met the most recent inhabitant of our old house who – shockingly – never bothered to get the Rayburn lit. Admittedly, it does use so much fuel I did think we had a leak in our oil tank at first, but this seems to be missing the point entirely of living in that house.


Dirty Plot Letter

October 5, 2018

A knock on the front door this morning alerted me to a visit from the garden inspector – actually my pal from Old Nearest Village who likes to drop by when he’s passing to see how the garden is getting on. I knew it was him because when I went to the door, there was nobody there – he was already in the back garden checking on the raised beds.

Fortunately, Wednesday’s work had not gone to waste and I think I passed, just, with the help of the other half’s professional greenhouse set up. Points were deducted for my leeks being planted too close together again (given they’re already enormous, we agreed that was just a style point, and I escaped serious censure), and the undue fanciness of my veg selection (cavolo nero and rainbow chard are very much not categories in the village show) but were gained by the colour of my purple sprouting broccoli, and the well-rotted horse manure on the old pea bed. Phew. We both agreed that fretting about cabbage white caterpillars was a waste of time and that it had been a good year for potatoes and then, having exchanged a bit of village gossip, he went on his way. No doubt he’ll be popping in again when I least expect it, just to keep me on my toes …

I joke (well, sort of) but there’s actually nothing like having fellow gardeners come around to have a nosey and exchange ideas, and the opportunity have a nosey back. I didn’t get to any proper open gardens this summer (and besides, they’re always a bit too primped and unobtainable to be really informative), but I feel some sort of peer-to-peer garden noseying exchange system should be worked out for those of us unlucky enough not to have an allotment. Or a regular irregular inspection regime…