Going Ill-Equipped

January 28, 2015

Note: Mum, if you’re reading this, obviously what follows is a fictional imagining of what might have happened had I been completely intrepid enough to cycle to Bigtown for the evening in the middle of an amber weather warning for snow. Which, obviously, I’m not.

‘I’ll be along unless there’s a blizzard,*’ I said to my friend and literary co-conspirator about his planned book launch this evening. Sure, the forecast looked pretty dreadful, but the forecasts have been so wrong recently and you tend to get a bit blase about weather warnings when there’s been one pretty much every day this year so far. And in fairness to me, it wasn’t a blizzard when I set off on my bike, although it had started to snow a bit. When I was half a mile down the road it started snowing harder and, realising I had forgotten my lock, I began to reconsider the whole enterprise as being on the wrong side of intrepid. But as always happens when you decide to bail out, the snow lightened up, so I retrieved my lock and set off again a little faster, relieved to note that the snow had almost stopped.

I was a good three miles in when I realised that the worst thing that could happen was for the snow to stop completely because it might then freeze hard and I’d be riding back on black ice. ‘But what’s the problem?’ I hear you cry, ‘don’t you have magical ice tyres?’ Well, yes I do, and they were magically on my spare wheels which were sitting in the shed at home, not on my bike, because I had got the other half to swap them out on Monday and I had been too embarrassed to ask him to switch them back again – I really must get the hang of changing my wheels myself. And besides, I had wanted to keep my new wheel with its magical hub dynamo so that I would have a decent light to ride back by. So all I could hope for was that it would keep snowing enough to provide a surface I could ride on, but not so much that I might end up in a snow drift, and so I pedalled on.

I arrived to cries of amazement that I had come on a bike, peeled off a mountain of kit, heard some excellent poems, had some gingerbread** and a warming cup of tea, learned how to do a monoprint, heard more excellent poems, had a go at monoprinting myself, and then headed back out into the resumed snow – fortunately just the right amount of snow – to brush off my bike and pedal home. This was slightly complicated by the fact that my rear light, which has long needed a new battery, was now giving off the feeblest of flashes.

Snowy high street

Just the right amount of snow

I rang the other half to let him know I was on my way, and set off feeling uneasily as if I was in the opening credits of an episode of Casualty. The snow was settling by now, and getting heavier, and also blowing directly into my face and I realised that sacrificing grip for lighting was a bit of a false economy because once the snow has started to accumulate on your glasses, you can’t see a damn thing anyway. Once out of Bigtown and onto the road home, I ended up following the wheel marks of the few cars that had passed – mercifully clear black tarmac standing out against the white of the snow. And I amused myself as I plugged on into the wind and the swirling flakes by enumerating my many failings on this potentially doomed expedition: no overshoes, no working rear light, didn’t stop off at the last shop before I left Bigtown for new batteries, no dynamo rear light, a rear reflector which would me more effective if it wasn’t dangling sideways off my rack, no magical ice tyres, and now that I came to think of it, I was missing a couple of pedal reflectors too. Oh and no defogging spray on my glasses, and following wheel tracks is all very well but what do you do when the wheel tracks turn off into a farm yard (that’s funny, I thought, I didn’t think there was a bend in the road like that…) and you’re left with the last mile to cover on unbroken snow…

Reader, I survived. In fact, I probably wasn’t even in mild peril, realistically. The three whole vehicles I encountered gave me ‘dangerous lunatic’ amounts of space as they passed – in fact I had to wave the white van driver to overtake. The road stayed mostly unfrozen, the bike stayed rubber side down, and my back light was still giving off a last firefly glimmer as I wheeled it into the shed. I was greeted by a glowing woodburner and the smell of the other half’s pot roast and never have either seemed quite so marvellous as they did tonight.

Still, I think that next time there’s an amber weather warning, I shall pay a little more attention.



My attempt at a monoprint.

Well, unless there’s art to be done.

* Note to North American readers: the word ‘blizzard’ is being used here in its British English sense of ‘snowing a bit’, not the sort of white-out conditions that you might imagine. The other half, who is Minnesotan, still hasn’t quite recovered from his encounter with the English headline ‘Blizzard dumps centimetre of snow on Kent’ during his first winter here.

** Technically not cake

I Scream, You Scream

May 26, 2008

So, an is-it-or-isn’t-it Bank Holiday Weekend (I never know, in Scotland) & the other half and I have been visiting various workshops and studios for the local open house arts’n’crafts weekend. This has left the other half with a serious case of shed envy – which can be fatal if left untreated – with not just ample sheds and outhouses on display but all manner of funky machinery to be admired and the introduction of the word ‘tooloholic’ into our vocabulary.

And it’s given me the chance to scope out some places far more remote and empty than where we are. Yesterday we were up in the high moorlands in a landscape empty of almost everything but sheep and conifer plantations, visiting a workshop where a young furniture designer was just starting out. We discussed the various inconveniences of rural living. ‘It’s not so bad,’ his wife pointed out. ‘We get a milk delivery every few days.’ ‘And,’ he added, ‘there’s an ice cream van.’

We expressed our disbelief. But no, every Tuesday at 4pm (you sense this might be the highlight of their week), Mr Whippy comes chugging over the hill and stops and puts on his chimes. It can hardly be worth the diesel, you’d think, but the whole village queues up for their 99’s and if anyone’s away, someone else will buy their ice-cream for them and puts it in the freezer.

We could have done with him today. Still hunting art, we ended up at a tiny seaside spot where the signs resolutely point out that there is no parking in the village (a lie, as it turned out) and the double-yellows start well outside the 30mph signs. The is-it-or-isn’t-it Bank Holiday crowd played on the sandy beach, trudged up and down the spectacularly badly signposted jubilee walk, and turned pink in the sun. But there was no ice cream to be had, and the only cafe (teas, coffees, light lunches, home baking) was firmly closed. Where was Mr. Whippy when we needed him? Over the hills, no doubt, bringing solace and frozen vegetable oil to furniture makers, potters, painters, glass-blowers and hand weavers everywhere.