The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

The weather is overcast but still and dry so should be able to put in a few miles today, distance does not matter, it is all about getting out in the fresh air.

It has been 14 days since the manager was diagnosed with coronavirus and we are all still here, so that’s good news. As I suspected many went off and had a test, peace of mine, I suppose. It transpires that the manager had been visiting her husband in hospital – he was admitted with coronavirus, this has not gone down well with the girls in here. However, we do know that many in the country are so dependent on the next wage and find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea when it comes to self isolation and since I do not know all the circumstances I shall not judge.

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours working on my cart here is my progress report.

Monday

threewheelsonmywaggon

Another dreich looking day, but seems to be lifting. Returned from Aldi with pannier bag laden with food, you think they would have come up with a pill that had all the nutrients required and you simply popped one a day – then again it would put an awful lot of people out of work.

Washing out of the machine and into the dryer, a girls work is never done, must be breakfast time by now. So many goodies, decisions, decisions.

Yesterday the morning, like this morning was unbelievably dreich, and as the day progress into the afternoon it turned to heavy rain, so poor was the light that by one o’clock in the afternoon I was putting lights on. Still, it was a good day, pottering in the workshop, cleaning and making the adjusting required on my bike, and generally just chilling out. Does anyone know how to get oil stains out of a carpet? Went right through the dust cover. I know don’t get it on the carpet In the first place.

The big highlight and joy of the day came with the opera Turandot, shown on Sky Arts and being performed at Sidney Harbour. I have seen other opera performances from the harbour and like the Met, not only are the artists outstanding but the scenery is over the top.

In the Sidney Opera House production of Traviata, performed in the harbour, a stage 32 metres by 24 metres was built and secured in place by 16 pylons into the seabed, (no sea creatures, we are assured, were harmed in the production of this opera).

The glittering chandelier that hung over the stage (and performers) weighed in a 3.5 tonnes, and at one point Violetta was inside the chandelier whilst it was swung around like a chair-o-plane at the shows.

It is the only production of Traviata that I know of where the guests arrived by water taxi.    

Of course, we only see those performing on stage, but backstage it is a hive of industry. In this production, there was a chorus of 70 along with 40 musicians in the pit below. Backstage it all happens on cue from four of the coolest stage managers in the business. There are 176 sets of costumes which have taken five cutters and twenty stitchers over eight thousand hours to make. The matador’s outfit was custom-beaded in India; while four people spent six months hand-knotting wigs. Suddenly the cost of my DVD or my ticket to Opera Met at the Byre Theatre, feels like a steal.

When you see some of the stage sets, that are larger than life, from the Met you have to wonder at how fearless the artists must be to perform at such heights and in such precarious positions, and not forgetting they could be in shadow or poor light. When casting around for artists, they will no only be artists at the top of their game, but have a head for heights and not of a nervous indisposition. I believe the health and safety man would have all the artists in harness and the set surrounded by scaffolding if they were ever to use such stage sets here in the UK.

The stage set in today performance was just as fearsome, the tower (reaching up into the heaven and home of the gods), must have been 17 M up to the platform where the leading lady was performing. Not only was she performing from on high but on a platform that moved out into nothingness, brave girl. Most enjoyable and so different from the normal Sunday afternoon television. The big snore.

The not so good news

I was listening to a professor from Bristol University the other day, he was telling us about coronavirus, he said something that makes me sit up, “pay attention at the back there”. He said that at Halls of Residence they could take a sample of wastewater (I presume he meant sewerage) and test it to see if anyone inside had coronavirus.

Now a few months ago I heard another eminently qualifiedly person say that we had polluted the very oceans with antibiotics and that they were now in the food chain, they were finding them in fish. Now I don’t know about you but this all sounds very scary to me. We are peeing in the pan and although the sewerage is treated, in that it is separated and filtered before being passed on back into the streams, rivers and water-table, it is not being treated for virus or antibiotics and possibly all sorts of harmful chemicals now used by man. Once it is in the sea it is there for life, you can’t get it back, we see that with plastic in the few short years we have been producing plastics we have managed to pollute the world’s seas and lands. Plastic that has broken down over decades is now found in the food change, bad enough but is viruses not much more harmful to every living creature on the planet? How stupid are we to ignore such warnings? I ask myself.

My washing will be dry by now so time to stop my blethering and get on with my day, washing out, bike out and hit the road, not literally I hope. Keep well and keep the pedals turning.

Thank Gawd it is all over, that bloody US election of their president, it has been wall to wall coverage on the British media for months, we are all sick to the back teeth with Trump, will this be repeated with Biden? They use to say that when the US sneezed the UK caught a cold, but I’m not so sure that the US carries the same clout around the world as it once did.

If I had to pick between the two candidates I would have picked Biden as the best of the bunch. Biden will take this pandemic more seriously than his predecessor ever did. He said he will rejoin the WHO and start to take climate change, the biggest threat to our world, much more seriously too. He may lift many of these stupid sanctions and tariffs, Trump imposed on countries around the world, including Scotland. And last but by no means least, clips the wings of Boris Johnston over Brexit and how it will play out in Northern Ireland and Johnston’s threat to international law and the peace processes.

Biden at 77 years of age (I believe), is getting on and may not make it thought the next, what will be a tough four years, but we certainly wish him well in his new job, will he stand for a second term? It pleased me that he has a strong young woman by his side who could herself be president. The first woman president may not be that far off. Mostly I like that she does not carry all the baggage that Biden still brings with him from his past. You may remember he was very much a supporter of Margaret Thatcher (the then PM in the UK) over the Falklands War.

The Falklands War had nothing to do with the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands and everything to do with Thatcher’s little war to win back her waning power at home. On this Remembrance Sunday let us not forget the loss of life on both sides, of every conflict, not only British forces. Argentine too lost many young men in that war and in particular the unnecessary sinking of the Belgrano, a ship that was sailing away from the Falklands, so no danger to the Royal Naval vessels in the area and let us not forget the innocent bystanders, in all wars.

Biden has always been very much Wall Street rather than Main Street, we can only hope that he is mellowing in his old age. What the world needs more than anything else in an American president is one that will start to beat swords, if not into ploughshares, possibly into wind turbines, and move America away from global warming fuels and capitalism to industrial growth, the way to grow your economy and have a happy and healthy nation is to give them well-paid work, not austerity with one per cent of the population holding ninety-five per cent of the world’s wealth, with food stamps to the rest. Corporations that have more wealth than the economy of a small nation, and use that power to influence and change policy away from people power to corporate power, serving their own ends. A president that once and for all take on the gun lobby in America and stop the slaughter on their streets and in their schools. He has a big job ahead of him but cometh the hour, cometh the man, let us pray that Biden is that man.     

Today was a bit special, certainly the wind turbines around Fife were not earning their keep, ideally standing silently, like sleeping soldiers, awaiting the call too battle, against a wind that will surely come. I took the A915 on the most pleasant of cycling days. Climbing up out of St Andrews onto what would have been moorland when the young James, the future king of Scotland, made this journey all those years ago in a vain hope of escaping to France and out of the clutches of his uncle. Skirting Largo Law, and on into Upper Largo. Here I would part company with my young prince, he would to Lower Largo go and passage across the Forth, me to Lundin Links.

Over the years I have seen the top of the tower at Lundin Wood, I thought it was about time to pay it a visit. Like the A915 the road into the tower was newly repaired, not the smooth black-top as the A915 but the pot holes had all been expertly filled with hardcore and rolled flat.

The house, incorporating the tower had been extensively modernized and looking pristine, the lady of the house did ask why I was taking pictures.

“Travel snaps” I assure her, “Just out for a day on my bike”.

She said, “I will let you off this time”.

The area had all the trapping of what would have been once a great estate. Iron fencing along each side of the drive,

much of this was installed during the depression, giving employment to men during that time and subsidised by the government. If you go hillwalking you are sure to come across the remains of fencing installed along bounders, with no real purpose other than keeping men out of the poor house. They would live in the hills, building big fires to keep then warm throughout the night. Sounds rough but I suppose no worse than life in the city during such times.

As you approach on your right a large field contained within a wall must once have been the walled garden that served the castle and in the field above this was what appears to be a mock chapel dovecote. I have seen a similar one at Kelly Castle. I looked up Largo Tower in G.A.G.Peterkin’s book that lists Scottish dovecotes and there is one listed for Largo Tower (not Lundin Tower) that states, doocot in top storey of defence tower; conical slated roof deteriorating. clearly not Lundin doocot. However many ornamental dovecots were built in the 19th century purely for that, decoration, a garden ornament on a grand scale, a status symbol.

This certainly is the best time to visit such building, old dovecots, standing stones and ruined castles, for the harvest is in and the stubble fields still to be ploughed, so access is assured.  

Rather than retrace my wheel tracks to the A915 I followed the path that led into Lundin Wood, getting better at this off-road riding, but not much. It was only a short distance to a farm road down into Silverburn and the main road for Leven.

I wanted to visit the Motte at Kennoway, and with a good cycle path all along the main road I was soon passing the whisky bottling plant and out to the roundabout at Durie Vale, and quite by accident onto the cycle track that followed the old dismantled railway track to the foot of the Motte, Kennoway’s best-kept secrets.

Most everywhere you go in Scotland you will see signs telling you that this, that or the other was funded by the local council in conjunction with EU funding, all be it that we are content with Shallot’s, the Westminster Treasury, that takes its whack before passing on what they deem we are worthy of. The top of the mound is all but impossible to reach, it’s steep, it’s muddy and completely overgrown, I literally had to pull myself up with the low hanging branches. There is little to see on top other than, it is flat and less dense, but I am pleased to be here, another ticked off my list. I will try to find out more about in on the internet.

Homeward bound. I continued on the A916 into Kennoway and all the way to Craigrothie where I took the B939 for Ceres, down into Pitscottie and home. Without a doubt the best day’s ride this week. The highlight was coming over the top at Wester Newburn and looking down on Largo Bay, and the Forth. It sparked like quicksilver in the morning sun, the Forth never fails to impress.

The bike (and I) are still holding together but it needs a service now, cables stretching so that the changed don’t always index, or will take it upon itself to change gear, without a by your leave. Well, it possibly knows better what gear is best, than the silly old bugger riding it.

I am still amazed the endurance of the battery, even over some tough terrain and seeing the Wattage used well into three figures, it still has plenty in reserve when I return home, where it is plugged it into the mains and by morning it is ready for a new day, that’s what I need, plugged into the mains and an overnight recharge.

Thursday

loved my ride today, I deliberately stayed away from the main roads where possible, heading out of St Andrews on the road up past the Grange Farm. At the Gilmerton crossroad I turned right and joined the A915 then at the crossroads turned onto the B940 and carried on this road until I reached Lochty then right again for Carnbee. The day was cold, the skies clear with only a low watery sun to brighten my day. Still it was swell, riding on roads totally devoid of traffic. This is fun. I followed the road all the way down to join the B9171 and at the cross roads it was ‘make your mind up time’, I carried straight on for Crail and joined the A917 for Kingsbarns and St Andrews, although this is an A road it is less used than the B9131 out of Anstruther for St Andrews and the A917 is much less of a climb.

The sun was well past its meridian by the time I returned home, a quick cuppa and out with the tools. All the hard work was done yesterday so it did not take me long to cut up the board. Just when you have it sussed it all goes wrong. The tabletops were badly warped across their width, but once cut this seems less of a problem. Alas, the floor section needed some bearers to hold it flat, even with glue, screws and clamps it was reluctant to lay flat, ho-hum. More screws more bearers, more frustration, I had run out of clamps. It will be tomorrow before I know if all my endeavours have brought me victory or – don’t want to contemplate the alternative. Word of warning, don’t get glue on your trousers, it sticks like the proverbial to a hairy blanket.

Still some other bits and pieces to work on so I shan’t weary for something to do.

Does not look much for over two hours of work, still, that is not the object of the exercise. Building a chassis tomorrow.

Strange I thought with all that fresh air I would be ready for my dinner, but I don’t feel that hungry, or at least, not for dinner, more something nice, but I don’t know what, ho-hum. Keep well and keep safe.

 Wednesday

the weather has improved dramatically with the strong winds abating, so I was once more out on my bike. Nowhere in particular but being out is a blessing long hours indoors can be a drag in these short autumn days. Dark when you wake up dark by four in the afternoon, no wonder we Scots are a dour race of people.

Home from today’s run and out to the van and dragged two more tabletops out and set about dismantling the runners ready for sanding, I am finding it easier to do the whole top rather the sum of the parts that make up a particular project, lessons learned.

The thick coat of old varnish is a bugger to get off, even with the big 6-inch sander and I have managed to go through four sanding discs, even with 80 grit the discs clogged up fair fast, still more fun and games.

Spent a pleasant evening yesterday with my sketchbook and pencil, deciding what to make with the now transformed timber. In the end, I settled on a toy. Kids love anything with wheels that they can pull around. With all this wood I could make it big, for older children, who love to help their parents in the garden, by digging holes in mums prise flower beds, filling their carts with soil and transporting it off to build a castle on the front lawn, or someplace just as inappropriate.

So an articulated sort of cart come hay wain. This is my artist’s impression but of course, it will look nothing like that when finished, they never do they evolve as they go.

I will mark out the boards this evening and if the weather play’s ball tomorrow and after my run I will start cutting out, once assembled I will put it in the common room for anyone with a great-grandchild, needing a toy for Christmas. If no one wants it then the Men’s Shed can put it on their web site and made a couple of bob for their kitty. I hear through the grapevine that they are looking at a piece of ground at Pipeline but of course, it will take money, still, there are enough clever clogs and in the know people down there to sent begging letters to the likes of the National Lottery. Then again with this virus doing the rounds all the charities are suffering cash flow, so not so easy these days.

7 am strip bed and head for the laundry, stuff the machine and set it to work, is there no end to this man’s talents?

The weather, cold but dry, so it was outside with the two Christmas trees, I can make as much noise as I like out here, so nailed the spines on the back of the two trees. Back indoors, made four feet to make them free standing, another find job.

Make breakfast, Ding-Dong – doorbell, it was the postman with the filters I had ordered to service the van. Off to the filling station to buy 5 L oil, did you see the price of this stuff, ho-hum.

Clothes out of the washing machine and into the drier, it’s all go today.

Drained oil, changed fuel filter, air filter, then oil filter, you need to give time for the oil to drain. Re-cycling centre closed today, thankfully I had planned ahead and kept all those old 1 L milk bottles for the wast oil. These single-use gloves are a godsend. Wash-a-handy-time, coronavirus and all that, and you would not wish to get all those nice clean clothes dirty, would you?

Clothes out of drier.

With bathroom cleaner and a loo brush I set about cleaning the engine down, good job.

May as well wash the van, since I am out here, all that sticky stuff from the tree is a bugger to get off the roof. Van washed and rinsed, stepladder returned to the storeroom, another fine job.

Make a cup of tea and a sandwich of potato crisps, they’re gid tell yer ma’.

Hover out and clean up workshop, may as well do the rest of the house. Clean bathroom including the floor, I love the smell of that spray cleaner, my wee flat now looking fair braw.

Make the bed, I do love freshly laundered sheets.

3 pm settled down in front of the television, with a cup of tea to find out what is going on in the world.

4 pm wake up, that’s something new, is this part of growing old? Ouch, ma’ tea’s cold.

Already dark O’clock, where did the day go?

Peel the potatoes and put them on for dinner, mince and tatties again today, that mince, on special offer, was a good buy.

Keep well and safe.  

Sunday and another day of wind and rain, October has become a bit of a pain. The morning did not start off well, I switched on the news only to hear that chinless wonder Gove, (a man the Irish would call, “A stranger to the truth”) there he was telling the gullible that, the catastrophic mess, in the way they have handled coronavirus, is all part of some great plan is there anyone out there that can stand to listening to this man for more than 10 seconds without boaking? Boris is fine he has a ‘get out of jail card’ he will ask the MPs it the Commons to vote for his plan, sharing the blame. You could not make it up folks.

The good news, Christmas has been cancelled, hip, hip hooray, no Santa Bloody Clause.

My Christmas message.

The adobe shed,

Her only shelter,

A young girl,

Her hours of labour spent.

And on that very special night,

Three wise men to Palatine, came,

Guided there by a comet’s light,

Illuminating below a wondrousness sight.

Angels of the heavenly host,

Proclaim, tiding of great joy,

“It’s a boy”, who will carry all our hopes,

Of Peace, for all the world’s folks.

That was then,

Now is now,

The marketing men,

Have slain the sacred cow.

No longer are wide eyed children told,

The Christmas story of promised joy,

Christ’s precious gift now behold,

For a “Made in China” plastic toy.

The cradle of this once great hope,

They fight and squabble over every stone,

Promised joy, now a schism,

Annexe lands and an open prison.

I went over to the supermarket first thing this morning, for a paper and picked up some mince for the dinner, (and a 6 pack of crisps, naughty boy). So for today a walk down to the harbour, paper to read, then back to Christmas trees ‘Mark 2’ I think they look better tapered. No green paint but then again they are spruce, which in a way is in line with the Christmas tree concept.

Keep safe and well.

 Friday, the wind was blowing up a bit, but I had seen enough of sawdust for a while so I took off to Guess where?

The climb up today was not a problem I am learning the ropes with this e-bike. Leaving the bike at the bottom of the farm track,

the gate was padlocked against me, so I was not a surprise on reaching the top of the track to find these ponies. Well, some Numpty would come along and leave a gate open into a field, stands to reason, sod’s law.

It was a bit of a scramble up some treacherous VS (very severe) wet grass, not recommended for anyone under 7 or over 70 years of age.

The picture clearly shows the outer line of the Broach and it’s big, I stepped out nearly 30 feet.

The door and the lintel is also clear enough to make out and positioned away from the prevailing winds, which up here today was a bit wild, then again there is nothing to stop them from here all the way to Ben Lomond.

If getting up was bad enough, getting down for me these days would be no better, so I looked for an alternative route. I followed a less steep path down, and here I met another group of ponies, fenced off from the others.

Back at the road, and since I had made the effort to get up here, to the top of the world, I pressed on to Peat Inn, then onto the road for Crail, with the wind now on my back I was flying along at 40 kph until I reached the B9131, where I turned left for St Andrews.

Not a great distance in the grand scheme of things, but it was good to get out of the house for a bit and gulp down some fresh air, for it the weatherman is right, I will be locked indoors tomorrow.

That was the good news, the bad news, the manager who is periodical on-site at City Park, having just returned from holiday, spent 4 hours on-site on Tuesday 26th October has now tested positive for Covid 19. I suppose it was inevitable that this would happen, someone from outside would bring it to our door. The housing association have tried to assure us and that Jane’s office will be deep cleaned. I have a feeling that most of my neighbours will be wanting tests done despite Viewpoint’s reassurances. The incubation period, I believe, is somewhere between 2 to 14 days so a few anxious days ahead for many of my neighbours. For me, spilt milk, no point worrying over it.   

 Woke up this morning with Christmas trees on my mind. The weather seemed to be holding so it was outside with my bench, two salvaged table tops and a rip-snorter saw I was now able to start cutting the tops into 2-inch strips then, the chop saw to cut the ends at 45% halfway through, sod’s law, the rain came on, fine constant drizzle, the worst kind. Still, I got the job done, but no Santa’s little helpers to clean up after me, so I tided up the lawn and dumped all the cuttings.

Back indoors, I managed to paint the centrepiece, it now looks like this,

“Hush, hush, whisper who dares, Christopher Robin is saying his prayers”. More stoor collectors around the house.

The Christmas tree, I decided to put it on a hinged leg so that it can be folded flat for storage after Christmas. The designed allows for them to be made any height, however, much higher and I think I will have to taper it more like a real tree. I though around three feet high would be fine for indoors. When the first one is finished I will take it down to the St Andrews brewery, and offer it to them as a thank you for the timber.

Well it is finished and here is the result.

Sadly mileage this week has been dismal, just over 50 miles total, bad weather, my excuse, as for the weekend, it is forecast to be storms, wind speeds of 45 mph try pedalling against that, and not to be outdone heavy rain. They tell us that the weather is due to improve on Monday with high pressure in command, we travel hopefully.

City Park is very quiet, everyone keeping their head below the parapet, you would not blame them when you see how quickly coronavirus is spreading in the country. Clearly tinkering at the edges is not the way forward, they should have followed the WHO instructions from the start Test, Trace, Isolate. England is still struggling with the concept, the main reason seems to be they have contracted the testing and tracing out to a private company, that have no experience in this field, might have been better putting the money into the NHS, then what do I know? The devolved governments are starting to understand the folly of depending on the Lighthouse testing facilities and are now developing their own systems, sadly too late for too many. I never leave my flat without my mask on (even within the building) and use the hand gel machine every time I pass it, I need coronavirus like I need a hole in my head.  

“The sun is out, the skies are blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view” but unlike the lyrics, ‘raining in my heart’ it’s time to dust off the bike. Keep well and safe.