June 23, 2020

It seems we are coming out of lockdown – even here in Scotland where things are proceeding at a more cautious pace than south of the border. Not only can we make the 100-mile round trip drive to see my parents (as soon as the weather relents enough to make sitting in their garden while we socially distance a realistic prospect) but I got a text from my dentist confirming that my checkup will be going ahead on Friday (of all the things I was looking forward to being able to get back to doing, I can’t say this was top of my list)

I’ve also had a bit of a break in the work schedule – as a glance out of the window at the weather would confirm – and a chance to actually get to grips with a couple of those lockdown projects I started back when I thought everything being cancelled for the foreseeable future might actually give me some more free time.

One of these was an attempt at a couple of timelapses from photos taken during our daily state-sanctioned exercise. I’m still wrestling with the technology to make a proper timelapse (including something that can compensate for the difficulty of taking a photo from exactly the same spot at exactly the same angle every day) but for now the WordPress gallery gives a good enough first draft of the arrival of spring at the wood at the end of our road.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sifting through the photos and trying to line them up is something of a thankless task, but I’m glad I made the effort – it seems an appropriate enough response to these timebending days. Weeks, even months can pass in the blink of an eye, while also being measured out in endless days: the same walk, the same spot, and time sneaking up on you all the while without your leave.


June 6, 2020

Back when lockdown started, and we all thought we would have loads of time on our hands, I idly wondered on Twitter what the last thing people would resort to doing

At the time, I had no thought of organising my own books having lived quite happily for most of my life with my books randomly crammed into all the available shelf space and overflowing into a number of piles in various parts of the house. This is fine when mostly what your bookcase is for is storing books you have read (the ones I haven’t read wait enticingly beside my bed) and occasionally ransacking them for something to re-read. It works less when when you wish to track down a particular book that your lockdown bookclub has decided to read and end up in this situation:

Two copies of Transcription

I’m sure there’s some sort of metafictional joke I could make here about having two copies of a book about making a copy of something

(I had thought the original would show up as soon as I ordered a second copy, but in fact it bided its time until the new copy had arrived, and been re-read, and then appeared in a pile I could have sworn I had searched already the morning after our bookclub session)

So as the bookcase needed moving today, I took advantage of the fact to impose a little order on the bookcase in my study, if only in the hopes that one day I will be in a position to attract the gimlet eye of Bookcase Credibility, and pass muster

In the end, I didn’t alphabetise them – that would have involved getting all the other books in the house out of where they’ve been breeding and rearranging everything, which might have been quite satisfying but would probably have taken a week and involved all sorts of complicated decisions about what books to keep and what to pass on, and frankly, lockdown or no lockdown, I just don’t have that sort of time. But I did impose some sort of order that made sense to me and had a lovely afternoon reminding myself about books I had forgotten I owned, and recalling happy times spent with others I remembered very well.

(This book suffered from my habit at the time of stuffing it in the waistband of my trousers to leave both hands free for holding my binoculars. I did see a German birder who had made a handy little carrier for his field guide – a cloth cover that came with two integral handles so he could dangle it from his wrist leaving his hands free. Unfortunately by that time our field guide was well on the way to disintegration but it has our list in it from two years spent in Swaziland and I could never throw it away).

Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys the odd judgemental truffle through someone else’s bookcases, so here is the end result (bear in mind that you’re only seeing the front layer of books – most of the shelves are stacked two deep).

restacked bookcase

Next step: tackling the recipe folder. Or maybe I’ll save that one for when the second wave hits.

* Title courtesy of @MatthewSndeker on Twitter.


May 27, 2020

If all goes to plan, we should be looking at the first real easing of lockdown in Scotland from tomorrow – I know that some friends of mine are very excited about the prospect of garden centres reopening, while I’ve already set up a socially-distanced walk date with a friend for tomorrow.

Cows on top of hill

Perhaps it’s the imminent easing of the lockdown, perhaps it was the weather, or perhaps it was a bit of social media chat about cycling during this crisis (basically, all the new and leisure cyclists are having a wonderful time getting out on the quiet roads, while the bikes belonging to us gnarly old utility cyclists are sitting gathering dust in sheds and garages, wondering what it was they said …) but as I started down the road for my daily walk I suddenly thought ‘sod it, this is too slow, I’m getting the bike.’

And so I did.

bike under trees

When the sun shines in late May around here, it’s just heartbreakingly lovely. The photos are one thing, but they don’t capture the smell which – assuming the slurry spreading has not been too recent – is a gorgeous mix of gorse and hawthorn blossom.

back road

I had to take a side detour in a little loop round Nearest Village because just as I was heading up towards the village and planning to turn round, I had greeted a lady walking down the hill the other way. It took me perhaps a little longer to get past her than she might have anticipated so, we had to repeat a couple of variations on our ‘lovely day’ remarks in order to fill the time. Obviously, I couldn’t then just turn around and cycle back the way I’d come and past her again, so I made a little detour to avoid any more social awkwardness. This is entirely normal behaviour, no?

sunny view

Normally I hate riding this road, because it’s fast, bendy, and I get at least one close pass, sometimes on a blind bend every time I ride it (and incidents like this are sadly all too common). If lockdown easing does start to mean increasing traffic, I shall miss the relative calm of the last couple of months (even though I’ve still encountered far too many dangerous drivers for my liking).

empty b-Road

Perhaps I should be getting out more, while the going is good.

Here I Come, Busy or Not

May 12, 2020

It seems we’re allowed unlimited amounts of exercise now in Scotland, which would be more exciting to me if I had even a limited time to exercise this newfound freedom. But no doubt by the time I’ve dug myself out from beneath my current stack of multiplying deadlines we’ll be back down in lockdown again, so despite not technically having the time to do it, I took the opportunity today to load up the basket of the freshly de-punctured Brompton with another batch of chlli babies and take them down to some friends in return for them not insisting on me taking away any of their spare cucumber, courgette or brussels sprout plants.*

chilli plants

Actually, this was probably allowed under the old rules – after all, I was delivering food, albeit in a very slow way – although I suspect we’re not really supposed to exchange quite so much chat (at a safe distance) in the course of such deliveries.

Either way, it gave me an opportunity to check out the state of the ford, which is bone dry; unsurprising given that the Weather Gods seem to have gone into self-isolation themselves. I don’t remember ever seeing the river so low.

dry ford

In truth, it was good to get out on the bike, whatever the reason. Running twice a week might be keeping me fit and walks in the woods are lovely and all, but they’re not the same as the couple of hours of moderate exercise that I’ve grown used to getting almost every day just in the course of running my regular errands. It might feel like it takes up time I don’t have, but at the end of the day I’m probably more productive (and certainly feel much cheerier) if I’ve been out either on the bike or in the garden.

dry waterfall

I’ll still be following the Scottish Government’s advice to stay at home rather than the UK government’s stay alert message (probably fortunately as I slept terribly last night). But, busy or not, I might have to make more time to ride my bike while stocks last. Or at least until the Weather Gods come out to play again …

bluebell wood

* They also offered a home brewed bottle of beer, but with the Brompton’s tyres at bike shop pressure, and the roads increasingly potholed, I declined the opportunity to cycle back home with what would effectively be a glass fragmentation grenade in my basket.

Ghost Town

May 1, 2020

So I finally made it into Bigtown proper this afternoon, having dropped off the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign’s trailer for use in the volunteer effort. This was of more than idle interest – Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign have actually been invited by the Coonsil to discuss ideas for where temporary space could be made for safe walking and cycling. I know, I’m surprised too and am still slightly wondering if it’s some sort of a trap …

Having spent five weeks of lockdown on a hill overlooking Bigtown, I thought I had better see things a little closer up and so having delivered the trailer (and admired the street’s socially distanced Zumba class which was going on at the time – instructor on one side of the street, and what appeared to be the entire local nana population spread out across the other pavement) I ventured further into town for a quick tour.

I had already observed on Monday’s exciting visit that traffic wasn’t particularly different around Bigtown’s outskirts, but things really are strange in the town centre – the only time I’ve ever seen the carpark on the river this empty is when the river is actually in it (this hasn’t stopped your average Bigtown driver from just abandoning their vehicle wherever they fancy of course, including on our nominally pedestrianised high street).

empty car park

It was actually quite depressing and worrying to see the town so quiet. The traffic around the edges suggests that life, and commerce, continue – but it’s moved to the big supermarkets and the online retailers (and in our bid to limit our interaction with other people we’re no exception – if it can’t be bought during our weekly supermarket shop, or online, it doesn’t get bought at all). Bigtown actually had a reasonable town centre before this, with some nice independent small shops as well as the usual high street retailers, loads of cafes, and what must amount to approximately 60% of the pubs that Burns is known to have drunk in. It’s hard to see how much of that will survive the next few months.

So I was rather sobered by what had originally felt like a jaunt when I set out and was only really cheered as I approached home and realised that I had attracted something of a following. The cows in the field next to our B-road were chasing after me on the other side of the hedge. This never fails to amuse me when it happens, and I can only apologise to the cows for not after all having any tasty cow treats on me when they finally caught up with me at the top of the field.

crowd of cows

Or maybe they’re as bored with the whole lockdown experience as everyone else?

Emerging (or – Exciting Shopping News)

April 28, 2020

one tree in leaf, one not
We’ve reached the point when even the trees can’t agree whether or not to come out of their lockdown and risk bursting into leaf …

As for the humans – well I’m not going to venture an opinion on what we should be doing about it, and I’m very glad I’m not responsible for deciding either, although I was very glad to hear this ministerial announcement which means that when we do start to emerge in greater numbers, there will be space for people to walk and cycle while keeping a nice safe distance from each other and the rest of the traffic.

Lockdown might not have ended yet, but I did manage a little loosening of my own isolation in that I had an unavoidable trip to the post office yesterday so at last I had a chance to do things I haven’t done in five weeks, like cycle into Bigtown and visit an actual shop (the other half has been doing the supermarket run once a week). This was quite exciting to me, adjusted for our new reality of what counts as exciting – especially as I also had a chance to buy a paper, bringing us up to a massive three this week. I mean it’s not the ford, or even a new pipeline, but you’ll just have to take what novelties you can get on this blog these days.

view from the bridge

That said, as far as cycling into town went, I’d have been hard pressed to notice any difference. The post office is just at the edge of town and traffic has never been that heavy there and if I was expecting tumbleweed rolling through the streets then I would have been disappointed. What I did get was all the fun of negotiating the new rules having not had a chance to adapt to them gradually – so yes, I was that person attempting to circumvent the one-way system in the shop (I was deeply apologetic when I was politely but firmly told to follow the rules). To be honest, the strangest thing about it all was the continuing fine weather which meant those standing outside waiting to get in were just enjoying a nice blether in the sun. Regular readers of the blog will know just how strange a phenomenon that is around here.

Anyway, with that excitement over it’s back to my round of work, local walks, and the odd outing on the bike, enjoying the emergence of spring and wondering what the future lies in store.

trees coming into leaf

How is your lockdown going?

Frying Visit

April 18, 2020

Say what you like about the lockdown, it’s certainly making us appreciate the little things in life. Like the fact that one of our neighbours shops on a Tuesday and has been picking up the Guardian for us, so we now get a paper two days a week instead of just on Saturday.

And the excitement of discovering that the mobile fish and chip van was back in business and coming our way …

Today was the day so, having booked our slot via Facebook Messenger (all you people who loftily tell me they’re not on Facebook … how are you surviving? As far as I can see it’s the only place for almost all local information in these pandemic times), we duly set off on a gorgeous spring evening to pick up our order.

The mobile chippy is one of those things we’ve been meaning to try out pretty much as soon as we moved up here, but have never quite got round to doing until three weeks of lockdown made any sort of meal we hadn’t cooked ourselves into an unimaginable luxury. Ordinarily, the community pub opens early for the van’s arrival and your chips can be consumed in comfort in the bar with a pint, but with pubs consigned to the distant era of, ooh, a month ago, there was nothing for it but to cycle back with our order to eat it at home. This made for a bit of a time trial home: three miles, several unnecessary hills and an unexpected headwind versus the rate of cooling of a couple of chip suppers wrapped in insulating newspaper in a bike pannier bag.

fish and chips

I have just paid for the unexpected exertion with a bout of thigh cramp – clearly all this not-cycling is beginning to get to me – but on balance it was still well worth it. The chips were still hot, the beer in the fridge was cold, and the garden was just about pleasant enough for an al fresco supper. Michelin starred restaurants, eat your heart out.

World Turned Upside Down

April 15, 2020

If mutant dandelions weren’t enough to worry about…

There’s a couple of other signs that the world is surely on its final approach towards the end times. First is that it hasn’t properly rained for weeks – yes, here, in South West Scotland. There’s been rain forecast but apart from a tiny spot of drizzle on Sunday morning it’s never materialised. And days that were forecast to be a bit meh have shaped up to be glorious. It’s wonderful, of course, but the gardener in me is trying very hard not to wish it would rain…

ruined tower and blue sky

The other thing is that I haven’t been out on my bike for a week (and I feel fine). This is probably the least cycling I’ve done (apart from a fortnight’s holiday spent on an island that consists mainly of flights of stairs) for years. It turns out that for me, riding a bike is largely an enjoyable way to get somewhere, not an obsession in itself.

caution bicycles sign

That said, when the sun shines and the wind drops and it’s another gorgeous sunny afternoon it would be churlish not to get the bike out and reassure it I haven’t forgotten it. So today’s state-sanctioned exercise was a tidy 12-mile loop around the local back roads, just because we could.

bikes on a bridge

It was good to know I could still get up and down the hills.

open road

If you’ve had enough photos of empty country roads and glorious sunshine (with the other half as a figure giving scale to the image as he disappears into the middle distance) just let me know.

bike and open road

Block Party

April 10, 2020

I have friends who are properly good at knitting (including a finalist at last year’s Heavy Metal Knitting World Championship) so it’s embarrassing how slowly I knit myself. I mean, I started knitting a jumper back in February last year and it’s taken a global pandemic, a national lockdown and the cancellation of everything in my diary to actually complete the thing.

But complete it I did, and as it had taken so long I decided to do things properly and actually block it, mainly because it came out a little shorter and wider than I wanted. You can buy actual mats for blocking out your knitting if you’re serious about things but even if we weren’t in lockdown, I wasn’t about to shell out actual money for something if I could help it. Two loft boards, one towel and some bulldog clips later, and I had myself a home-made knitwear torture device where the errant jumper could be gently encouraged to assume the correct proportions.

Jumper being blocked

This seemed suitable enough for a garment made out of wool purchased at a car boot sale and knitted on needles from the charity shop so the whole thing has cost me a grand total of about £5 unless you count the cost of my time…

The wool turned out to be Shetland wool and, as I discovered when I finally tried the jumper on yesterday, is incredibly warm. So, just what I need as we get to mid April and the approach of summer.* Still, this is Scotland, so I’m hoping I’ll get a lot of use out of it for the rest of the year. Indeed, it’s so warm I might not even need to wear a second one, at least during June and July.

With the jumper finally finished, I’ve realised that I’ve run out of excuses to tackling another slow burning project: hemming the bedroom curtains. With the help of my mother I got them almost completed shortly** after we moved in – and with the help of the other half, a rail was put up and they were hung and have done their job in the bedroom ever since. But I did’t have time to sew the hems while we were at my parents, and besides, it’s easier to pin them up once the curtains are in situ. At the time my mother did warn me that if you leave them pinned up for too long and don’t get around to hemming them, then you get rust marks where the pin holes were. It took me a while to click that there was a reason she had discovered this handy tip, and that was from her own experience. Like mother, like daughter – except I’m going to guess that she didn’t wait three and a half years to discover it …

Coming up next on Town Mouse: sorting out the garage. What undone tasks are you going to be forced to get on to if this all continues?

* The last week of May, for those not paying attention at the back

** four months is nothing, right?

Sunshine while Stocks Last

April 8, 2020

A few days after the southern half of the country was basking (illegally) in sunshine, the spring warmth has reached us here, no doubt due in part to the fact that I have just finished knitting an enormously warm jumper (of which more anon) and some last-minute work has arrived which ought to keep me chained to my desk.

But with mutterings about tightening lockdowns and banning outdoor exercise – and with vitamin D in short supply – we thought we’d better get out on the bikes and do a little stockpiling of our own.

sunny skies and reservoir

I’m almost reluctant to post these photos as I know how incredibly lucky we are to be able to get out and enjoy such scenery with barely a handful of cars and just a few other cyclists and walkers scattered along the route.

tree shadows across the road

This used to be one of my favourite rides when we lived down in the old cottage and it was on our doorstep. We don’t do it so often these days but perhaps we should.

climb up to the top of the hill

The route took us past the ford road but I thought you’d probably be bored of ford updates so I didn’t bother going down …

… just kidding, of course I did.

Ford almost dry

Hope you’re all staying safe and are able to get out and enjoy the spring weather.