If you listen to one thing…

podcast

All these years I’ve been a committed radio lover, I’ve been dedicated to whatever is playing live at the moment that I press the switch. I enjoy the random prize of whatever is on, so I’ve always rejected the idea of podcasts: I don’t have the time / the inclination / the bandwidth / etc.

Then Tom persuaded me to listen to Serial. Seriously, you guys, have you heard? If you haven’t downloaded this and been listening on your commute / night run / supermarket sweep / etc then you have definitely been missing out.

But, it made me realise I’ve been missing out on so much more! I know, I’m late to the party. So now I’ve been binge-listening to Short Cuts, The Digital Human, and This American Life. I’m looking forward to finding out all the other things I’ve been missing out on.

Rekindling the Knitting

knitted_mitt

About a month ago I mentioned plans to knit Tom a jumper. If that were to happen it might be ready in time for Christmas 2015. I’ve been completely stumped by the tubular cast on so haven’t even managed one row of this big project. Every time I thought of knitting I’d remember I couldn’t do the first step and so I’d put it off. Again and again.

So, in an effort to find my knitting mojo, I’ve gone back to what I know and love: mitts – one of my top favourite knitting patterns. It satisfies my need for quick gratification and I’m hoping it’ll boost me enough to tackle that tubular cast on again pretty soon. Any hints or tips most welcome!

And if you liked this…
More mitts for winter.
A cosy winter snapshot.

How to Ready Your Bike for Winter

winterbike

Rainy days are here again, with dark afternoons and stormy winds thrown in for good measure. It’s tempting to leave the bike in the shed and travel everywhere in the warm dry car. But there’s something pretty fantastic about sailing around on two wheels, no matter the weather.

That classic phrase ‘no bad weather, just bad gear’ certainly applies to bike riding. Here’s my 5 Top Tips to keep you pedalling through the puddles.

workbench

1- Check your brakes
Look at your brake blocks. Are they still nice and fat, or warn to a thin bit of black paper? Do they line up nicely with your rims? New brake blocks are affordable and essential, and your local bike shop can fit them quick. Wheel rims can get gunked up, so it’s worth rubbing these down with a bit of steel wool. You don’t want anything to slow down your stopping.

2- Grease is your friend
I’m always surprised by how often I need to oil my chain. This is particularly the case if your bike lives outside. Dribble the chain lube (no sniggering please) on to the main cassette (the stack of cogs on your back wheel) as you pedal backwards.

It’s not just the chain that needs oiling. Buy a can of GT85 to spray your pedals, bike lock, and any other exposed mechanics (but keep clear of those wheel rims!)

Bike Bits

3- Love your wheels
Wheels need the occasional bit of tlc. They can become bent by barrelling through potholes or hopping up and down pavements. Your bike shop can true your wheels for a small fee, and you’ll notice it helps your bike roll much better.

If you want to spend a bit more, consider buying some new tyres, preferably with kevlar or puncture-proof inserts. Consider how much tread you need, depending on whether you stick to the road or venture in to the mud. Remember that nobbly tyres will make riding on the roads much harder work.

4- Light up the sky
I hate neon. I don’t care if it’s had a fashion resurgence, it still makes me cringe. But, I’ve realised that it makes a huge difference when you’re on a bike. Drivers notice fluorescent yellow, which is particularly appreciated at busy junctions! I also like this helmet band; it doesn’t look too naff, but it is super-visible. And get some lights! Nuff said.

5- It’s gonna rain
You might as well just embrace it. If your fingers and toes are toasty, you can tolerate any amount of wet weather. Add overshoes and gloves to your list. Take a full change of clothes (yes, even pants – noone wants to have a wet bum all day) and plenty of plastic bags. Of course, you want the rest of your belongings to also stay dry. You can get a range of waterproof rucksack covers (choose the neon colours!) or a proper pannier that will keep your stuff clean and dry.

Derek&Tom

Tom and I visited my dad at the weekend who kindly worked on our bikes. If you don’t have such a mechanically-minded family member, then book your bike in for a service at your local shop. Many offer a winter-ready package that includes these basic checks and more. If you can get these things sorted, you’re well on your way to a merry winter of riding.

And if you liked this…
Some tips for cycling in the city.
Why bikers should stick together.

The Best Idea for a Windy Day

Tom Mac

November is such a busy time at work, particularly now we’re both working on extra projects at the weekend. So, it’s often the case that Tom and I are stuck in our respective screens. Tom is good at getting outside to run around and clear his head. I am good at making up excuses and nursing a bag of M&Ms with vague cries of ‘I’ll probably do some yoga later…’

So, after weeks of nothing but the odd down dog, it felt so good to run around a gusty clifftop, battling the winds, slipping through the mud, and just generally having a fabulous time filling up on fresh air.

Culver CliffFalling down

The wind was so strong we really were batted about. Tom fell over, but I think he may just have been goofing around to get me up the steep hill. He did have to resort to chasing me through the Brading Marshes, against the headwind heading home.

Brading Marshes

10k always tires me out, so we enjoyed the last hill at walking pace, hand in hand, planning dinner and enjoying the view. The best kind of days are the ones spent outside.

Last Hill

Just A Wee October Read

JY Tour Diaries

I have been a dedicated lover of James Yorkston’s gentle singing since our long past summers spent in the muddy fields of Green Man Festival, when it was just us and 2000 other stinky revellers.

All heaped together in the Big Top, a fug of smoke, with the rain dripping steadily off the canvas door, relaxing to his gentle humour, circling guitar, and the surprise beatbox accompaniment of a particularly keen soundman.

I defy anyone to not fall in love with JY’s music. His songs have stuck with me all through my fickle musical swings, like a ship’s mast in a storm.

So, this wasn’t to be any ordinary tour diaries. And yet, his ordinary stories were exactly what made it so wonderful. The natural, poetic patter that is so evident in this tune came through in his writing.

Yorkston pulled out delightful details from his touring days – things that weren’t intricate plot devices or building to some greater symbolism, just interesting things that caught his eye. A perfectly lovely read from a not-exactly-rock-star.

For November I’m indulging my love of nature writing with this beautiful recent hardback (awarded the Samuel Johnson prize only yesterday!) My November shall be full of visions of hawks and austringers.

With thanks, as always, to Laura who inspired this year of books.