Getting Somewhere

September 7, 2017

So, some time last weekend, in between the cake and the cycling and the chat on other topics (we do occasionally talk about subjects other than cycling), the conversation turned to future campaigning plans. I have now been involved in cycle campaigning in one form or another for over six years and there are times when it feels like pushing a peanut uphill with your nose. We have now covered the entire electoral cycle from one Holyrood parliament to another, plus assorted referenda as well as local, European, general and snap elections. While things have undoubtedly moved on, there has always been a feeling that we were ‘the cyclists’ who speak for the tiny minority of hairy-arsed outsiders who ride bikes instead of driving cars like normal people, and who endlessly bang on about things that nobody really cares about except other cycling nutters.

This despite the fact that we have in fact been endlessly been banging on about things like public health and congestion and pollution and climate change and childhood freedom and happiness: things that we kind of hoped that everyone cares about. And maybe they do, but they haven’t connected it with the ability for people to get about, for short journeys, using the most efficient means known to man, woman or, indeed, salmon.* And yet, these things continue to matter and we continue to believe that we have the answer, or part of the answer, to many of the problems that plague Scotland today, with the exception of the midgies.

And then our First Minister stood up in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday and made the explicit connection between public health and active travel – and then put (some of) her money where her mouth was to boot

Now I know (because I’ve been told by many people online) that this isn’t enough, that it could be wasted on the wrong things, that it’s not worth celebrating until we see it happen, etc, etc. And I know that people are cynical and possibly even rightly so. But you know what? I’ve campaigned six hard years for any kind of announcement even half as positive as this and so I say sod it, I’m going to celebrate anyway.

If anyone feels that is premature, then they are very welcome to join me in the next round of nasal uphill peanut pushing, which will resume in a week or so after we’ve recovered our senses. I should warn you, though, that it’s a hell of a lot harder than going on Twitter and having a whinge. Although there is a certain element of that…

* and certainly vastly more efficient than pushing a peanut uphill with your nose

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Entrapment

September 4, 2017

Regular readers will know, I’m all for a bit of citizen science, so when I heard about the Big Wasp Survey I thought I might as well sign up. It ticked all the right boxes: a little bit of diy trap building (but nothing so complicated I couldn’t manage – although possibly my effort could stand to be a little less wonky), learning new things about wasps, and beer (not quite as good as cake, but maybe they’ll do an ant survey next year …)

wasp trap with beer

The only problem was the beer part – you don’t need very much beer, and obviously throwing beer away would be a terrible shame. As it happened, nobody who came over the weekend fancied a beer, so there were no open bottles I could pinch a few millilitres from for my trap. So, once the dust had settled and everyone had left on Sunday, I was forced to drag myself off the sofa and have myself a beer.

It’s amazing the sacrifices we all have to make for the advancement of knowledge…


Turning Left in September

September 3, 2017

Alert readers may have noticed that I have not so far held my Anniversaire this year. This was not because I had given up in the face of the ever-increasing distance, but because this year I decided to join forces with my cycling partner in crime, and as both she and I are busy women, it took us a little time to actually schedule a date that we could both make. This weekend was that date – and fortunately St Swithin relented (almost) long enough for a few days of determinedly non-epic cycling, epic amounts of cake, and what must be the least epic camping possible.

Never ones to do things by halves, Suzanne and Lizzie arrived on the Friday evening by train, cycled with me to the house, and pitched their tents on our front lawn.* On Saturday, we cycled back down to Bigtown to pick up three more nutters who think that riding 48 miles for no reason other than to celebrate it not being my birthday was a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

group at the station, ready to set off

In order to fulfil my own daft microadventure rules, we also had to ride a new-to-me route – starting out along the route of my last adventure, but then turning left. Fortunately, the weather was much improved – I’m not sure I could have handled another day in the pouring rain, however good the company. Other than a new route the rest of it followed established protocol:

A stop at a cafe to refuel

cafe open

Enjoying the incredibly empty and picturesque backroads of Bigtownshire, something I never tire of sharing with people who haven’t cycled them yet

empty roads

Riding at the speed of chat (you know that the pace has gone awry when you can’t hear everyone yacking away as we pedal along), with plenty of stops along the way to admire the view, take off or put on layers as the sun went in and out, and check the map.

anniversaire

And most importantly, stuffing ourselves with tea and cake once we got home, before a final loop to mop up the crucial last mile.**

Apart from one short stretch of road, it was extremely pleasant all round – including an amazing 3-mile descent with just the right combination of steepness, bendiness, and lack-of-carness to make it a pure joy. It was perhaps a little bit too up-and-down to be completely chilled, and my legs are making sure to tell me all about it today whenever I need to go upstairs (or indeed get off the sofa), but I still feel that this is by far the most civilised way to mark the passing of the years, and I hope one that I will continue for as long as the years mount up.

anniversaire final figures

The final tally

Thank you to those who came and all who continue to indulge me in this endeavour …

* they were offered actual beds inside the actual house, but apparently they preferred sleeping outside in all their clothes to ward of hypothermia, because – okay, I never quite fathomed that part, but hey ho, takes all sorts and all that

** I had slightly miscalculated the distance, so we ended up with a final bit of off-road madness up the track behind our house to get the last 0.67 miles in. If I’d realised earlier, we could have made a slight detour to visit the ford. Maybe next year …


Exciting Tree Survival News

August 31, 2017

So, I thought that the cow vs tree saga might have come to a premature end when the local farmer moved a bunch of beasts* down the road, and I assumed that included our neighbours. But no sooner had I gone out to dig up some potatoes for our supper this evening, when I realised I had drawn an audience.

drawing a crowd

They soon resumed their assault on the tree, and although they looked as if they were more interested in the tree tube than the tree inside it, they were managing to bend it over to the point that I worried for the top of the tree. I clearly hadn’t attached it solidly enough to the fence. Nothing a zip tie couldn’t fix…

cow vs tree

Except that is easier said than done

cow closeup

When you are being licked to death.

cow nose

In the end I had to call the other half out so one of us could secure the tree and the other fended off our new best friends. Then, with a feeling of a job well done, we settled down to enjoy a drink in the last of the evening sunshine.

cow audience

Just have to shake off that sensation that we were being watched, that’s all …

* That’s what they call livestock around here. It makes farming sound a hell of a lot more exciting than I expect it really is.


Selfie-Respeck

August 30, 2017

So, as those who follow me on Twitter will know, I have got some new glasses.

To be strictly accurate, these are my spare glasses – I need two pairs because I can’t function without my specs and so I need some to wear while my other ones are being reglazed with the new prescription. However, it did occur to me that I’ve been wearing the same (increasingly hard-to-obtain) style of glasses for about 20 years now and it might be time to experiment with a different look.

I’m still not 100% convinced, although the reaction has largely been positive (at least nobody has openly laughed at them, but then again they could just be being polite). They’re quite heavy compared to my old frames, and even though they are apparently what all the cool kids are wearing these days, to someone my age they still look irrevocably like NHS specs… Plus I have the sneaking suspicion that they would not handle being run over by a tractor.

But we must move with the times, even if it does mean learning to do a selfie without adopting an expression that is a cross between ‘how does this phone thing work?’ and ‘who is that middle-aged woman on my phone screen and why is she wearing my hat?’

More on the latter this weekend. And possibly also the former.


The Return of Moo-I-5

August 28, 2017

Just after we moved in, now over a year ago, we were pleased to wake one morning to discover we had some new neighbours – the cows, soon dubbed Moo-I-5 for their habit of watching our every move.

cow next to ash sapling

Our first sight of the cows next door …

The downside of cows-for-neighbours, we were soon to discover was that everything withing cow-reach promptly became cow-lunch. This included a little ash sapling that had established itself right on the fence.

ash and cow annotated

That first picture wasn’t very clear, so I have annotated it

And was shortly reduced to a stick.

ash stick

And if you’re thinking, well at least its got a few leaves left, they went the next day

That, we thought, was the end of that, which is a shame because we like trees and ash are great for firewood and it might have provided a bit of shelter from the prevailing westerly winds. Anyway, time passed and the cows went off to pastures new, and we noticed that the ash sapling was not actually dead (why this should come as a surprise I’m not quite sure as all the other ash saplings which weren’t in quite such a suitable location and had been cut down were also resprouting, but the cows had done a pretty thorough job of chewing it down)

ash resprouting

I’m afraid, I’m a sucker for anything that survives against the odds, even an ash tree that is technically a weed, so I stuck a tree tube on it and awaited the return of the cows …

ash in tree tube

They were a bit later this year than last but pretty soon we had a black and white audience watching over the fence when we ventured outside …

cow attacking tree tube

… and having a good go at the tree when they figured we weren’t looking

So far, the tree tube has held out against a fairly determined onslaught (they appear to be attempting to lick it to death) but watch this space.

OK, so it’s not exactly the ford, but it will have to do.

 


There Once Was a Bike from Devizes

August 27, 2017

I think I may have mentioned in the past that I have mixed feelings about bike maintenance. I understand the attraction  in today’s modern throwaway society of something that not only can be fixed, but which positively demands to be – and indeed maintained, cleaned, oiled, improved and generally tinkered with. How many other objects do you have in daily use that you can say that about?

I can also, in theory, see how satisfying it would be to be able to competently tinker with my own bike (especially if it means confounding the expectations of those who might assume by my gender and general unhandiness that I can’t). And over the years I have gradually picked up a few things, like how to use a pump to get air into a tyre rather than removing all the remaining air out of it (look, I started from a low base), how to get the wheels on and off, how to clean and re-oil a chain, how to replace the brake pads, and how to sort out a wheel that has suddenly gone skewiff because when I say I know how to get the wheels on and off I mean I still never manage to tighten them sufficiently the first time around. And I would estimate that, given enough time and a warm day and no helpful competent person around to do it for me, I can repair a puncture at least 50% of the time without wanting to burst into tears.

However, that’s just the start of it. And if I’ve learned anything about bike maintenance, especially if your bike is more than a few years old, it’s that, whatever the thing is that you’re trying to do, the answer is always going to be that it’s a bit more complicated by that. Because bikes might look like simple and easily understood machines but they have evolved over time and nothing seems to be compatible with anything else, and all bike mechanics will tell you (with a sorrowful shake of the head) that whoever did something to your bike last was a dreadful bodger and it’s amazing you’ve got away with it without coming a nasty cropper.

So when the other half mentioned in passing yesterday evening that my back tyre had gone flat, I knew I was in for a bit of a nightmare. And I wasn’t wrong. What should have been a simple fix of a tiny hole turned into a two-patch job that promptly didn’t take (patches go off, who knew?), the discovery that the thing that makes my back brake spring away from the wheel when I release the brakes had gone sproing and needed to be bent back, the related discovery that my brake pads had worn themselves crooked, the further revelation that my spare inner tube doesn’t fit my back wheel because my back wheel is narrower than my front wheel because a long time ago when I didn’t realise that you change anything on your bike at your peril that had seemed like a good idea, and the subsequent knock-on revelation that my back tyre is the wrong size for the rim. Oh, and my tyre irons are worse than useless but that the cheap hippo-shaped bottle opener I got in a Christmas cracker in 2009 makes a reasonable substitute.

Anyway. I have now purchased a slime-filled inner tube of the right, but also wrong, size which will likely solve none of these problems but just might get me through hedgecutting season if the P****** Fairy isn’t listening, and I have just had a lot of practice at getting my back wheel and tyre on and off, which will stand me in good stead if she is.

Remind me tomorrow to tighten up the back wheel one extra turn before it goes skewiff on me when I set off.

Always assuming there’s actually still any air in the tyre …