Monday, September 28

Cyclist heckling

I have been riding a bike since I was about 14, but it is only really since starting to commute on it regularly that I have been subjected to the fine art of cyclist heckling.

It's a strange phenomenum. Unless they are career bullies or subject to road rage, people rarely feel the need to shout out random and often meaningless things at other pedestrians or car drivers. But when an innocent cyclist passes by, often one who is minding their own business and concentrating on the road, some people find themselves yelling out insults, comments, or just a random string of words, as if by some involuntary spasm.

I used to get upset about it, even hurt, but now I just find myself pondering what makes them do it - it's totally mysterious to someone like me who would no more consider yelling 'hey, ugly fuckwit' at a total stranger, than I would consider defecating in the street.

It would be more acceptable if the insults were witty or imaginative, but usually they are just dull and predictable. "You fucking lesbian!" is probably the best example of this. Even if it were true, it's hardly insulting - except perhaps in the world of small-minded imbeciles!

"Fat-bottomed girl" was another recent one. If I had had my wits about me I would have shouted back "who are you calling a girl?"

Once I got "your bike's shit!". So is your power of insult, you stunted pillock.

Today's was a classic. In the tone of someone shouting out "lovely tits!", the bloke called "cock up your arse!" almost as if he had even taken himself by surprise! I checked but didn't find anything and then wondered whether perhaps he meant to add a question mark at the end of his sentence but didn't quite know how. Aw bless.

As for gestures, I have never been able to decide if the three schoolboys mooning at me was insulting or just hopeful. Aside from making me laugh it did remind me to ask about getting some bike racks at work.

Car hecklers are by far the worst; it is usually so sudden and unexpected that it can be at best annoying, at worst dangerous.

But if you are an habitual heckler of cyclists, beware! Sometimes they bite back. Some years ago, on my way home from an early morning swim, I was persistently heckled by the occupants of a white van. As we passed one another going from one set of traffic lights to the next, these morons gurned and catcalled at me out of the open window each time they drove up behind me.

As I approached the van at about the third set of lights, a mischievous spirit took hold of me. Swimming can cause the body to generate more phlegm than usual, and at the time I felt a 'poor man's oyster' rising in my throat. At my side of the van the window was wound right down, all the more convenient for some cycle heckling, and the miscreant had the Sun open on his lap, looking at the pictures no doubt. I could not resist, your honour.

I didn't stop to check if I had hit my target, I could tell from outraged yelling that it must have been pretty near the mark. I sped off down a side street, grinning to myself and did not stop chuckling all day. I'm not ashamed, or sorry that I did it. They deserved it.

Sunday, September 27

Welsh cycling

Well the holiday's over and I for one am NOT looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow morning after two weeks off! I dread to think how many emails await, despite having my colleague check them for me and supposedly delete anything irrelevant!

Last week I spent five more days in Wales, a couple of days exploring the quiet lanes of Pembrokeshire and staying in this fabulous hostel, and the remainder of the time on my bike travelling the Celtic Trail from Swansea to Newport.

In Lawrenny I enjoyed the peace and tranquility of a tiny village tucked away on deserted lanes on the edge of the Cleddau estuary, not far from Pembroke. The weather was rather gloomy but the scenery was delightful, and I visited Blackpool Mill (shown above) where I enjoyed some very welcome homemade soup, tea and cake. The hostel warden Irene was good company of an evening, and very helpful in recommending routes and places to visit, as well as sharing her local historical knowledge.

The Celtic Trail, one of the national cycle routes built by charity Sustrans, extends almost 400 miles from Fishguard to Chepstow. I chose the eastern section, which is from Swansea to Chepstow, although I finished at Newport and caught the train home from there.

It was an addictive mixture of industrial heritage and natural beauty, with some grubby housing estates and a bizarre stretch of route under a motorway viaduct, thrown in for good measure! Much of it was flat going, and even the hilly bits were not too demanding, apart from some rather short, steep sections that might need a push, especially if you have large panniers.

If you plan to try it yourself, I thoroughly recommend buying either the Sustrans map, or a good Explorer map (or two) which show the detail of the route. Although it is fairly well signposted throughout, it can be tricky to follow in some sections (particularly in the back alleys and ginnels of Port Talbot!) and the Sustrans map does have magnified sections of maps for the more tricky bits of the route. The map does actually include a huge amount of information about local services and amenities, includes phone numbers for local tourist information centres, and even gives you a diagram showing the size of hills you can expect to encounter. Despite this I managed to get lost a couple of times - once was totally my own fault when I missed a turning, I think I was just enjoying the fresh air and the sunny outlook and didn't notice for about a mile. Even then I was able to use the map to plot out an alternative that would meet up with the route a little further along.

My one criticism of the Sustrans cycle routes is that they tend to be on old railway tracks and alleyways along the back of houses; while this in itself is not a problem, it does tend to mean that you can't peruse possible lunch options while freewheeling along the route - you tend to have to detour to try and find somewhere to eat or a B&B. A bit more signposting would be useful to help with this; sometimes I found myself having passed villages without even realising it because there was no indication on the route. I suppose these improvements will come with time, and perhaps when local businesses realise the potential custom they are missing. One of the highlights of the trip was getting free entrance to Carew Castle because I had come by bike - can't wait for others to adopt this policy!

Caerphilly Castle - where entrance fees apply, bike or no bike!

Sunday, September 20

Please vote for me!

Dorset Cereals little awards

My dear friend Zaza has nominated me for an award! I'm dead chuffed just to be nominated, but would be even more chuffed if you thought it was worth giving me your vote!

Just click on the button and follow the instructions, and if I get enough votes, I will get a goody bag and an egg cup. As you all know, I DO love a stylish egg cup! I promise to post a photo if I win it!

Ok, that's enough blatant self-promotion for now!

On my way out again....

Llansteffan, near Carmarthen

Back at the homestead for about 36 hours before heading off for a few days' cycling. The holiday was glorious - our lucky weather held out and we sampled the extensive delights of Carmarthenshire and surrounds while basking in fabulous sunshine almost every day.

Highlights were beaches, walks, castles (I never knew there were so many in south Wales!) food (cheese, butter, locally-caught salmon and grouse..Cwrw Ceredig (Ceredig's beer) .. I can hear the waistline expanding as I speak!) and of course, Wales' National Woollen Museum!

Carreg Cennen Castle

National Woollen Museum

Teasel machine for finishing cloth

Tenby beach

By a strange series of coincidences and happenstance, I am back off to the same part of the country again tomorrow, this time with the bike and panniers. I will be picking up the clothes I somehow managed to leave in the cottage (:-/ senility is creeping up fast!) and then heading back eastwards over the following week. I have no plans other than a train there, and a booking for the first night in a little hostel nearby. After that, it's me and the road - quite possibly national cycle route 4 towards Swansea and Cardiff - but if the weather does not cooperate, or if the fancy takes me, anything could happen!

I'll be back next weekend for Deptford X, in particular looking forward to Sally Spinks' work 'Knit or Die'.

Friday, September 11

Wales calls

All being well, I intend to spend the coming week ensconced in a beachside cottage in Wales with the Curse. I will mostly be knitting, both this and another, secret project; visiting here and here among other places; doing a bit of walking, both this kind and this kind, and checking out the Welsh flora and fauna.

There will be lots of local shopping, and of course we will be eating and drinking the local specialities as we kick back, enjoy the September sunshine (fingers crossed) and savour the opportunity to read the paper fully each day and even do the crossword.

See you in a week or so!

Saturday, September 5

Liesl and chutney

I have been meaning to post a proper finished pic of Liesl for ages, since it is now my new Favourite FO and I have been wearing it more or less constantly since completion. The button is one of a set of six I bought from Nichols Buttons a couple of years ago and which suit the colour and style perfectly. I decided not to put three buttons on, despite making three button holes, as I thought it might make the cardi strain in an unseemly manner across my chest.

Meanwhile I spent part of yesterday making some spicy chutney - having noticed that stocks of pickle/chutney were low (only two jars left) and knowing that it takes at least a month of maturation before new jars are ready to eat. I get through a LOT of chutney, and the majority of it is homemade.

This recipe is the one that Sal used for the birthday chutney she gave me last year - I enjoyed it so much that I begged the recipe. It's quite different from the ones I usually make, which tend to involve fruits. This one has onions, peppers, tomatoes and aubergine, garlic, the usual vinegar and sugar as well as cayenne pepper, paprika and lots of crushed coriander seed (which I nominate as one of the best aromas in the world!). So far so good - I suspect it's going to turn out really tasty. Now I just have to work out the recipe for the Spicy Apple Chutney I bought from a WI sale in Tenterden earlier in the year. I am saving the label with the ingredients (which include fenugreek, which I've never used before and which I suspect imparted the unusual taste) so that I can always try and guess it if I can't find anything similar.

I was rather chuffed with my homemade labels, which almost look professional!

Later: here's the recipe

900g tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 red peppers, deseeded and chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 large aubergine, chopped
700g onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
350g granulated sugar
300ml white wine vinegar or distilled malt vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon crushed coriander seeds
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

Put tomatoes, onions, peppers, aubergine and garlic into a heavy-based
pan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for
about an hour, stirring occasionally, until tender.

Tip sugar, vinegar, salt and spices into the pan and bring back to the
boil over a medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.
Continue to boil for approx 30 minutes, stirring as necessary, until the
mixture achieves a chunky consistency and the watery liquid has

Ladle the chutney into sterilised jars and seal while hot. Best left to
mature for at least a month in a cool, dark place before using.