Sunday, 31 August 2014

Bicycles: the dénouement


It need hardly be repeated that, on the weekend of 5th-6th July, the Tour de France temporarily became the Tour de Yorkshire (including such linguistic delights as "le Cote du Jenkin").

It all made for a great weekend. Day 1: accidental choice, in deepest Wensleydale, of one of the best vantage-points ever (because it happened to lie just after a watering-point, so we got to keep team logo water-bottles as souvenirs). Day 2, riding four miles along the river path to catch the Peloton as they leave town and start the race proper, serenaded by (among other things) the strains of "Riders on the Storm" (it had been raining heavily earlier on) from a local resident's garden, then our delightful glide afterwards along completely car-free roads all the way home.

But I could never quite stop myself from looking twice at each yellow-painted bicycle that the Great Yorkshire Public had put up all along the route just to check: was it my missing bike?..


It was some consolation to read the following week in the local paper that an aid charity had offered to take all the yellow bikes, recondition them, and ferry them to villages in Africa. There they would enable people to launch small businesses, go on health visits, or otherwise improve quality of life at a tiny cost.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Cool Space





A dilemma occurs over lunch: the weather is hot enough that any butter left in the butter-dish on the kitchen counter turns, in short order, into unpalatable goo. And yet, if we were to put the same butter in the fridge, it would be too rock-solid to make ham-and-raspberry sandwiches*. 

I found myself wishing we had a Beurrier-a-l'eau,one of those useful little devices that no self-respecting French kitchen would be seen without. And this got me thinking about France. 

Americans like to sneer that the French have yet to discover the delights of air conditioning. But have you ever noticed, on a hot day, how cool it is inside, for example, Chartres Cathedral? Heat energy soaks into the walls. When it gets there, instead of heating them up, it goes to work on evaporating years'-worth of accumulated dampness from them.

An air conditioning unit uses the same idea, but with an ugly twist. Instead of leaving the dampness floating around in the open air, only condensing once it has found a place (or a time, like 4:00 a.m.) cool enough to do so, the unit expends a lot of energy compressing the vapour it creates, so as to retrieve and re-use the liquid. The compression process produces heat, which is then dumped unceremoniously on to passers-by of the car or other space in which our transatlantic punter wishes to remain, well, cool.

In other words, the thick walls of Chartres Cathedral, and the entire French fleet of beurriers-a-l'eau, are quietly doing their job in a much more considerate and public-spirited way than typical air conditioning. As befits French dirigisme rather than American laissez-faire, in fact. They also give much less of a shock to a body as one moves from one space into another. 

After all this existential musing, I now recall that there is a
beurrier-a-l'eau lurking in a high-up cupboard here at Space: it was bought as a souvenir in, where else, France.









Looks as if it's time for lunch...


*At 32oC it is a touch too hot for Wensleydale-and-honey

Monday, 9 June 2014

Schrodinger's Bicycles

Wedged between the frame and brake cable of the bicycle that wasn't mine was my original note, now very faded after all the rain. Without thinking, I pulled it out and stuffed it in my coat pocket.

There were two reasons I could not bring myself to lay instant claim to the bicycle that wasn't mine: firstly, shifting it would require quite some physical force and I was on my way to a concert, and thus dressed in clothes which I wished to preserve free of rips, mud smears and oil stains; and secondly (and rather obviously) it wasn't my bicycle. I found the nearest person with a phone (to protect other people from the consequences of my absent-mindedness, I don't take phones to concerts) and called Rozzer Central once again. Having taken the details, they assured me they would deal with it.

Then, nothing happened. When nothing had continued to happen for two more days, I emailed Rozzer Central to enquire if they had at least re-united the bike with its owner. Their reply came as a bit of a shock.

It transpires that, at least here in Viking city (which, I might add, has somehow awarded itself the strapline "cycle-friendly"), the Police don't recover stray bicycles: that job is delegated to the Council. And the Council, in their turn, don't treat bicycles as objects of value, but as items of fly-tipping, to be got rid of pronto.

Which leaves me in the horrible position of not knowing whether my bike, or indeed the one that wasn't mine, are still in existence at all: they may by now have been melted down as scrap (probably in Sheffield).

The theory of continuity of bicycles may therefore have to be abandonned. The saddest thing of all is that, as I smoothed out the note to take a photograph for this blog, I noticed an addition in neat, pale pencil along one edge:

"This bike just arrived on my doorstep _ please keep!"

Friday, 30 May 2014

Probability Cloud


So I finished a turn of heavy digging at the Plot one Wednesday morning earlier this month. Tired, aching and frankly filthy, I staggered out of the gate. And there, where my trusty bike usually waits for me so that I can get home quickly and have a wash before lunch, was just an empty space!

I had to admit, on reporting the sorry tale to Rozzer Central, that I had never bothered to lock my bike. Nobody else does at the Plots, and my machine is plenty the worse for wear, unfashionable, and old enough to vote. It also happened to be covered in mud after a recent minor prang. Plus, it's so unusual that random people have recognised me just by seeing it in town.

An impromptu gathering of fellow Plotters decided that whoever took it was just having a laugh and would soon get bored and abandon it somewhere. Someone had the idea of putting up a notice simply saying that I missed it and it would be nice to see it back. I even found a picture of it, and put it up with my plea.

I happen to believe in the Theory of Continuity of Bicycles, which posits that the said machines don't, as a rule, simply vanish into thin air or change into, for example, lampshades or iguanas. And a bike like mine would not have been "stolen to order" and whisked off to Leeds, Manchester or the Continent. So for the next few days I went walkabout. Just, anywhere I could think of where a bike might be abandonned. The river path, the park, round the edges of playing fields, the local car-boot sale.

It was only after this last that the thought occurred to me: a bike has a "probability cloud" of all the places it's likely to be found. Without realising it, I'd been gravitating to the places where my bike's cloud had been at its densest before it went missing. I'd missed out a whole semicircle of town, including the University, the nature reserve and the winemakers' kit shop. It was a long walk, but I was on to something. People I met on the hidden footpaths said things like "you often find bikes just left here, sometimes quite nice ones..."

Then it rained so much that I didn't go back to the Plot for over a week. And even that was only because I happened to notice the words "cycling music" on a flyer in the health food shop, and that it was happening just down the road, that very evening! So off I went. On the house's spare bike. And as I passed the Plot what should I spy embedded in the fence but...a bicycle? Which, to complicate matters further, wasn't mine?...

Thursday, 27 February 2014

A crisis in Space

Lately, backstage at the Erudite Space has turned into something of an obstacle course. Our crates of donations perch even higher and more precariously than usual, with bags more sitting in corners, under desks and even lurking in the dumb waiter. And still donated wares come. I start recalling the pictures in Dr Seuss books. No matter how rapidly we sort them, label them, sneak a quick peak at some of them (yes we've all been tempted...well, mostly me, actually), and then put them out on display...and indeed, no matter how enthusiastically our punters buy them, the piles still grow and the room for manoevre becomes ever more thin, divided and frankly triangular.

And then the lad who brings donations from the city's various drop-off points turns up with an entire carload of books. As I help unload, I notice what interesting tomes they are, and in what excellent condition compared with the usual fare from that quarter. It transpires they come, not from the drop-off points, but from a Canadian family, who are quitting Blighty and returning to the Great White Space.

"I can't blame them, with the weather we've been having..." and therein lies, apparently, the cause of the Erudite Space's predicament. Our sister shop on the coast, who usually take our surplus if we think it'll appeal to the Holiday Reader, are presently flooded out. There is no alternative route for excess donations that will still sell, and so here they all sit with us, patiently waiting 'til the coast is clear.


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Instant Political Slogan Generator

We thought we'd get this one in first, here at Space, because it's best to get the campaign launched in good time. All that's needed to use it is a Birthday and a Surname, then simply look up the words in the table below.



Friday, 17 January 2014

Street corner gang


This may (or may not) be the World's Smallest Forest Garden. It measures about 2 metres by 2 metres and, to cap it all, the high wall to the left is shielding most of it from the sun, most of the time. So it is effectively North-facing.

The cast of characters, in order of altitude, includes:

1 Bramley apple tree (producer of prizewinning apples)
3 Redcurrant bushes (producers, with the help of some local strawbs, of prizewinning wine)
1 Blackcurrant bush
1 Gooseberry bush
Lemon-balm
Lavender
Sorrel
Alpine strawberry ground-cover
1 Bramble (rather drastically cut-back, so not really visible)
3 Garlics (subterranean, ditto)

In five years I think I have had to pull up a total of 1 (one) weed.

The wall behind it protects it from the road and its many users. Including a Tesco van which recently (and very audibly) reversed into it.