27 May 2011

Men on bikes

Lan in Flight Struggling up the nasty ascent out of Alfriston, there were three of us: Three middle-aged men travelling the South Downs Way on mountain bikes.

Monty and I were a little ahead when Tweeter, bringing up the rear, was severely displeased to be overtaken by ancient, hunch-backed hiker in shorts and wife-beater vest yomping up the hillside at quite a startling pace.

The grey-stubbled loony evidently stoppeth one in three for as he drew level with my hard-pedalling, hard-suffering friend he held him with his glittering eye and muttered succinctly "You know what your problem is? your saddle's too low, you need cleats on your shoes and you're in the wrong gear".

"So, did he say anything to you two?" Tweeter asked when he related the strange ecounter to us a few minutes later, lying in the sunshine on the iron age fort at the top of the Down (just a few metres above the Long Man of Wilmington, had we but known it )

Monty and I exchanged glances "Well yes - he said we looked... weary...  he said he felt ... weary". And just at that moment a shadow flashed across us and we looked up in the sky "A buzzard?" I asked "some bird that's bigger?"

We were on the South Downs Way, some 80 undulating miles of it. Well, "undulating" is one way of looking at it. "back-breakingly steep" would be another way. But another way again would "astonishingly beautiful"

Fifty miles of bridleway we covered on the first day, then B&B in a country pub where, oddly, we met a wedding party, then thirty more miles the next day until after the hair-raising descent into Eastbourne that concludes the path we cycled another 30 miles along the coast to Rye and home. 115 miles altogether, four punctures, five new inner-tubes, one hair-raising double brake failure and a trip home for one of us to fetch a replacement bike.

And just one crash: myself, on day two, painfully and irritatingly: no blood to show for it! What's the point of falling off your mountain bike onto the hard flinty downs but having no heroic trickle of dried blood from elbow to wrist? Oil-stained calves alone don't make you a real biker.

The sun went behind a cloud and, re-energised by the view, and our rest on the ramparts, we got back on our bikes and pedalled away; it wasn't long before we caught up with the old man again, he was barracking a hapless inner-city group of kids on Duke of Edinburgh who were carrying insufficient fresh water.

We ignored him and pedalled on, like one, that on a lonesome road doth walk in fear and dread, and having once turned round walks on, and turns no more his head; because he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread

26 May 2011

Miscellaneous Diversions

  • Fans of Question Time might enjoy the regular QT competition on the Capitalists @ Work blog:  Each week diverse group of cyber-people with nothing better to do with their time  compete to predict what questions will be asked by the audience. The new season started last week, so it's not too late to join in this week - there'll be post for your predictions on front page at some time today
  • five cute new ways to view Greenideas
  • when surfing the web from time to time I mark interesting pages -- you can see them right here on the sidebar here or on delicious (where there is an RSS feed)
  • the picture.. well you can never have too much Kandinsky, can you

19 May 2011

When reading habits take a hold

BooksI must be over the hill: while Seamus McCauley has the ability to keep track in his head of which page he has reached in his current book. I find I have trouble keeping track of which book it even was.

To be honest: marking-the-right-book is the real purpose of my Kandinsky postcard sticking out from behind the cover, because it never marks the right page (how can it when I have fallen alseep the previous evening, slumped drunk exhausted in my armchair, the book sliding to the floor ?)

With nothing to mark my place, my page-finding strategy, each evening when I resume duty, is to locate where the book naturally falls open (I admit it: I am a creaser and spine breaker) and then turn back a few pages until I find something I can remember and then re-commence from there.

Alas, this strategy is flawed and can prevent me from ever reaching the end of a dullish book - indeed I habitually go backwards as with half a book completed and enthusiasm waning, I turn eight-or-ten pages back hunting for the familiar before re-reading just six-or-seven pages forward and then falling asleep all over again.

I must possess at least a dozen books where I have read chapters 1-7 quite quickly, then most of chapter 8 five times before abandoning the book when re-encountering chapter 7 a second time from the opposite direction.

Perhaps I should get a Kindle.

But I worry that the systematic, ungamable organisation of a Kindle might shame me out of ever abandoning a book again: Do I want waste my life plodding through all those dreadful chapters 9 to 15?

17 May 2011

The Garden Designer

We've had our garden designed.

off the wall
Off the Wall, by Herr Saush
"Well, you are lucky", said Emma (the garden designer) "because the structure of your garden is actually good! It's just the, um, plants that we'll work on".
I asked Emma what she meant by structure. It means we already have a sunken sitting area; and brick walls.
So I asked what was so wrong with the plants then? And Emma took out some photographs she had taken in our garden in March and spread them out, gingerly, on the kitchen table. I noticed that the picture was taken from a folder labelled 'befores'.  

In her photographs our plants looked strangely random, and mainly brown. I glanced outside the window; she hadn't been enirely unfair. Mrs Botogol and I studied the pictures gravely, trying not to feel defensive.  
Then Emma dived into a folder labelled 'afters' and then alongside her monochromatic snaps of of our drab beds she laid some photographs of gardens. Gardens of beauty and elegance; Flower-beds of exquisite colour and texture; Desirable havens of scent and pleasure, of sunshine and warmth.  Mrs Botogol sighed approvingly, while I looked desperately from one side of the table to the other with a gowing realisation that I had been out-manoeuvred, this Emma was good, she was very, very good and this was set-up
And like Steve Martin before me I had no alternative. I hands-upped to overwhelming force, agreed with everything, and made just two demands to salve my self respect: I'd decided we'd keep the coloured paint on the walls at least, and as part of the general clearing out the overgrown Bay Tree on the patio had to go.
It turns out that white walls are an intrinsic and important feature of Emma's design: white walls, removal of manky old pieces of trellis to be replaced with vine eyes and wire.. and a selection of plants that would give our beds some structure.
"Yes, you mean brick walls and somewhere to sit?"
"Don't be silly, dear", said Mrs Botogol, and Emma explained that with plants structure doesn't refer to seating areas: it means using fewer colours and, especially, repetition.  
"So did you get a job lot or something, then?", said Mr Botogol Snr when he came round for lunch two weeks later.
- "Yes, Dad, something like that, do you like them?"  
- "Well, could it do with more variety?" 
I resisted the urge to smack him round the back of head and muttered instead about structure, and patterns and repitition.. "Well, I expect so, son", he said, when I had finished, "Yes in fact I am sure you are right", and he surveyed the garden carefully. "Indeed", he said, "it's lovely ... but while they were doing all that - couldn't you have got them to cut down that giant Bay tree?"