Working Girl

February 11, 2016

After a slightly soggy start, I’ve finally got myself settled into my new office regime – culminating today in my finally remembering to take in my Aeropress AND all the bits I need to make it work so I can make properly strong* coffee. It’s handy to have a base in town – especially today when I had a couple of awkwardly timed meetings – and there are other intangible benefits too to being among people instead of sheep. I’m particularly enjoying the occasional bursts of incredibly inventive high-density swearing that float up from Bigtown’s High Street from time to time, although I could have done without this morning’s terrible busker.

There’s another bonus on the commute in too – twice in a row now, I have found myself sharing the road with a sparrowhawk which overhauls me with insulting ease and then hedgehops on and off the road ahead of me before perching up long enough for me to admire it and then disappearing off across the fields. As raptor encounters go, it beats the hell out of ASBO buzzard although I probably wouldn’t say that if I were a sparrow…

* Possibly too strong; two cups of that a day is definitely my limit especially when followed shortly afterwards by the ride home. The caffeine buzz combined with the adrenaline rush of meeting someone in a largeish lorry who had decided he didn’t need to give the approaching cyclist any room ON THE CYCLIST’S SIDE OF THE ROAD and instead could just drive straight at me (with plenty of space to his left had he wanted to use it) and expect me to give way left my heart thudding away madly for quite a while afterwards


Another Country

August 9, 2014

Our writers’ anarchist collective conducted a cross-border raid yesterday – down to Carlisle to recce the latest incarnation of our pop-up bookshop at the city’s newly hatched literary festival in September. Following a local recommendation we pitched up at Coffee Genius for coffee and further plotting, where my ‘slow brew’ coffee (aka a cafetiere to you and me) came with this to ensure that my selected beans were brewed for the optimum time (four minutes was recommended but, reckless scofflaw that I am, I went for five, partly because I was too busy taking a photo of my coffee timer to press down the plunger at the operative moment). coffee timer We have nice cafes in Bigtown but I gather we’re a little behind the times (‘oh, menus in Ladybird books, those were really trendy a few years ago’, someone exclaimed on being taken to our newest and nicest). They rather tend to concentrate on the cake side of things, which makes sense given the rural economy is about 50:50 farming and baking (if you want to dine really well in Bigtown, order a bacon roll, followed by a tray bake. If feeling adventurous, try a haggis pannini, and yes I know that’s the plural in Italian, but once you’ve put haggis in it, it’s been fully assimilated and we can pluralify it how we like. You can do your own joke about deep frying it in batter in the comments.)

So where was I going with this? Oh yes, regardless of the outcome of September’s vote, England already feels a little like a different country. But then again, so does Edinburgh.

And my coffee? Very nice, if a trifle over-brewed, but I’ve nobody to blame for that but myself.

Coffeeneuring: the Final Frontier

November 10, 2013
giant coffee mug

Now THAT’S a large coffee

This Saturday saw not one but two coffeeneuring opportunities, allowing me to complete my challenge on a high – assuming they’re allowed because both weren’t actual permanent coffee shops but pop ups in a good cause.

The first was Nearest Village’s Big Breakfast which is in aid of the local church. We’re not church people exactly but we are ‘village’ people, as it were, and besides there was the promise of bacon so the other half was even tempted out onto the bike for the mile and a half down to the village (helped by a lovely sparkly November morning). The village hall was absolutely packed and we were glad we’d got down early as we have it on good authority that they’d run out of food before it ended at 11. We’ve learnt the hard way that you can’t hang about when it comes to village events – the concept of being ‘fashionably late’ just doesn’t compute in these parts.

village breakfast

Bacon, eggs, sausage, two kinds of tattie scone and tea dispatched (I steer clear of the village hall coffee as it’s generally instant), we parted ways and I cycled down to Bigtown for the Fairer World Fair, which was showcasing fair trade products, including a pop up cafe with home made cakes (from fair trade ingredients of course) and fair trade coffee. I did some early Christmas shopping which is possibly a tactical error because I’ll now collapse in a virtuous heap and not do any more until the absolute last minute. Rather disconcertingly, because the things I liked were on sale, it all worked out rather cheap as well. I’m pretty sure that’s not how fair trade is supposed to work.

fairtrade coffee and cake

I then bought Friday’s rescuer coffee and cake while we explained to our baffled table companions why we were photographing our food. I’d feel I’d paid her back more thoroughly if the whole thing hadn’t come to the princely sum of £3…

I headed back in the last of the sunshine, having dealt my small blow against global capitalism and feeling good about humanity, a feeling which lasted until I passed the fly-tipped washing machine, bin bags and car tyres dumped in a lay by near the river. After a morning spent with people who are all in their own ways working to make the world a better place, I suppose it served as a salutary reminder that there are also people who go around making the world a worse one too. I do wonder how they live with themselves though.

two bikes

So that’s the coffeeneuring challenge over (pending final adjudication). It’s been fun – I’m not sure it’s done much to get me out on the bike any more than I would have done, but it has extended my range of local coffee shops, encouraged me to be more sociable, and sometimes tempted me off my normal beaten track, which is all to the good. Assuming my fellow coffeenaut completes her challenge today (she was cutting it a bit fine) we shall also have firmly put Bigtown on the coffeeneuring map.

Mileage: 17 miles, or not nearly enough to burn off all the extra calories…

The Better Part of Valour

October 31, 2013

clothes drying outI can’t help but feel it was a teeny bit unfair of the Weather Gods to wreak their revenge on me just as I was cycling home from a climate change demonstration – but then again, perhaps the Weather Gods are all for climate change as it gives them the chance to create even more havoc than usual. As it was, they did at least hold back on the hailstorms, freak blizzards and plagues of frogs and confined themselves to ensuring that I was thoroughly soaked from stem to stern, paying extra attention to making sure that my shoes filled up with water so that my socks had to be wrung out before being hung along with pretty much everything else I was wearing on the Rayburn.

At that point, with the rain still blattering down, and realising that I was going to have to go out in it all again to get to choir, I gave in and texted a fellow choir member for a lift. I can increasingly put up with worse and worse weather on the bike these days – but I draw the line at going out and getting soaked again when I had only just got myself into warm and dry clothes.

Today was better – dry enough to wash, re-apocalypse-proof, and dry my jacket and venture out again to help lead 24 11-year-olds through the streets of Bigtown (we walked the bikes for the horrendously hostile first 100 yards outside their school) and up to the local campus where they could cycle in relative comfort and safety while loudly disputing whether or not doing a wheely while riding down the middle of the (fortunately empty) road counted as riding single file in the strictest sense of the term. Having clarified my instructions (single file, with both wheels on the ground, and over to the left, and no, doing skids on the leaves is neither big nor clever and does not count as a controlled descent down a steep hill) we got everyone back to school in one piece and with only a few extra grey hairs on the part of the ride leaders.

coffee and cake

That left only one piece of unfinished business: my fifth coffeeneuring stop, this time at the Polka Dot Vintage Tea room where the coffee may not be that fancy but the china is exceedingly pretty (and no, I’ve no idea why the tearoom is described as vintage; the coffee seemed pretty fresh). A well-earned slice of cake and a good hour of gossip masquerading as discussing cycle campaign matters soon restored me for the ride home, where I was further rewarded for my efforts by the opportunity to test out the re-proofing of my jacket…

So now I’ve decided to simplify things and just have two outfits on the go: the one I’m wearing and the one drying out on by the Rayburn. All I ask is that I manage to go long enough between soakings that the last lot have dried out before I have to change again. That doesn’t seem too much to hope for, does it?

afternoon sky

This was supposed to be a photo of some geese flying overhead but by the time I’d got the camera working they had almost gone

Total distance cycled: 18 miles.

Taking it to the Next Level

July 6, 2011

I’ve done it! Yep, after three years – well, actually, it must be longer than three years now I come to think of it – I have managed to gather nine stamps on my Caffe Nero loyalty card AND find a Caffe Nero to go and get my free coffee in. Wahey. This would have been easier if the nearest branch wasn’t in England, and if I ever actually went out for coffee anywhere anyway, but I feel absurdly pleased that I – who can lose anything – have managed not only to hang on to such an easily mislaid little card but also remembered to get it out and use it nine times in a row.

Well, actually, make that eight. Because I do remember an incident at Euston on one of my trips when, hot and bothered and laden with stuff, I nipped into the branch there for a frappe-wotsit (normally I’m a strict ‘just a coffee’ sort of customer but it was stinking hot) and managed to pick up the flimsy plastic cup it came in, squeeze too hard, shoot ice-cold coffee all over myself, the counter and the floor and then somehow fail to find a hole to open up in the earth to hide in afterwards. The girl behind the counter, bless her, not only made me another one but stamped my card twice in sympathy. It’s service like that, not buy-nine-and-get-the-tenth-one-free schemes that really build loyalty at the end of the day.

That said, I’ve already got my second card and my first stamp so in a year or seven, I may be in line for my next free coffee.

I can hardly wait.

Coffee, Cakes and Cycling

June 24, 2011

A bit of filler here (quite literally), but I have to flag it up. The world of cycling can be quite tribal, with the roadies not talking to the mountain bikers and the cycle-chicstas not talking to the lycra-clad ones – and that’s before we’ve even started on the H word. But there’s one thing that I think all cyclists can agree on and that’s the importance of cake. Whether you eat cake in order to cycle, or whether you cycle in order to make room for more cake, whether you’re a member or not of the CTC*, there’s no doubt that cake and bicycles are made for each other.

Which is why Patisserie Cyclisme fills such an important niche in the cycling blogosphere. Cafe reviews by cyclists and for cyclists – what’s not to like? With so much out there that divides us, it’s time to celebrate what it is that unites us. What better excuse can there be this ‘summer’ than to get out on your bike and find a cafe to review? And remember, (for those of us who care): cake (or bacon) fetched by bike has zero calories, as every schoolgirl knows.


Lost in Translation

June 2, 2009

‘Can I have a filter coffee?’

‘That stuff’s not fresh. You can have some of the other coffee.’

‘What kind of coffee is that?’

‘It’s bean coffee.’

‘Oh, OK, I’ll have some of that then, thanks.’

At least, I thought he had said ‘bean coffee’, which sounded rather nice, until I tasted it. Then I realised what he must have said was ‘It’s been coffee’ – way back in the distant past, before it had turned into tar.

There are some places where Starbucks and its kin come in and trample over a whole unique local coffee-drinking culture with their homogenised American product. And there are places where that would be a welcome relief…