August 26th - It is time again for the annual warning: there’s a killer in the hedgerows right now. These stalks of bright orange-red berries grow in hedges, woodlands and other scrub, and grow 6-10 inches tall. Very distinctive, Lords and Ladies is very attractive, particularly to kids, but is one of the most toxic plants in the British Isles. These examples were growing in the hedgerows of Hamstall Ridware and Hoar Cross.
The berries of Arum Maculatum, also known as Devils and Angels, Cuckoo Pint or Wild Arum contain a poison that causes swelling of the mouth and throat and sickness. Fatality is rare, as the berries are very acid and consuming enough to kill would be a challenge, but the plant causes most admissions to A&E for plant poisoning in the UK.
It’s a gorgeous thing to look at, just don’t touch it. This one worries me, as it grows at a height such that small kids spot straight away, and the beautiful colour is very attractive to them. Be careful.
January 31st - Someone asserted yesterday that I should be glad of increased cycling facilities in the UK. I am, and I’m not. Here’s why.
On the Coventry Road, Birmingham, near the St. Andrews ground, there are lights to control a ‘y’ junction. Prior to the junction, there is a green tarmac filter lane leading to an advance stop line (ASL). The idea is that cyclists use the green lane up the inside of the traffic to access the green ASL box to place themselves safely at the head of the queue. This rarely works in practice, and to me, is actively encouraging dangerous cycling behaviour.
If I were to take the lane up the side of the traffic, as the skip lorry is occupying the ASL, I’d likely stop next to him. Right in his blind spot. Cyclists tend to be quicker off the mark at lights than lorries and chances are we’d interact at the pinch point a few yards ahead. If the lorry goes down left fork here (which he did, without indicating the intention), he would not see the cyclist and possibly lead to the cyclist being crushed at the pinch point between the railings and the lorry.
This road position kills the vast majority of adult cyclists mortally injured on the roads in the UK. It’s bloody stupid to get up the inside left of a line of traffic, as drivers don’t expect it and often, physically can’t see you. Between the ‘safety’ railings and the lorry wheels, you’re toast. Or rather, puree.
This cycling ‘facility’ encourages dangerous road positioning, and in my view, makes this junction more dangerous to the inexperienced cyclist.
I’ll celebrate cycling facilities when they’re safe, and designed properly. Not ill-thought out lip service like this.
January 13th - It was cold, winter at last. I could smell snow in the air as I left home on a day that was so chilly, it caused my sinuses to and forehead to burn. I pottered up to Chasewater, delighting in riding over the icy puddles, and then over to Hammerwich, which is always nice at dusk. On the way up Meerash Lane, I pulled up short; the ice here - caused by water raining from the still-saturated fields, was thick and treacherous. Staffordshire Council never seem to grit up here, and I advise anyone without ice tyres not to bother. Under a fresh coat of snow, this could be an unpleasant start to the week in the morning for someone…
November 14th - Commuting in the darkness hours. For the first few weeks after the autumn clock change, drivers go a bit loopy. I don’t know if stats back this up, but it feels like everything gets a bit unhinged until normality returns at around the beginning of December. In the last few weeks on my way home I’ve been pulled out on, undertaken, cut up and lefthooked. This is with huge bright lights and hi-viz.
This collective madness is heightened when I hear the spine-chilling siren and see the blue flashes. When emergency vehicles appear, I always make sure I’m well out of the way, as folk never seem quite sure what to do. Tonight, in the queue at Shelfield, I was safe as the paramedic shot past in the other direction. On their way to someone desperately in need, no doubt. Maybe a traffic accident. My blood ran cold.
I hate this time of year.
June 28th - Time for a bit of cycling knowledge. After heavy rains - like we had today - the roads are way more hazardous than usual. If it’s the first rain after a dry spell, the surface water becomes greasy and slippery, due to tyre rubber detritus and diesel being washed into the sludge. This makes white lines, ironworks and junctions really nasty. After heavy rain, silt washes of fields and gardens, bring with it loose gravel. This gathers in bands, hollows and dips, often just where cyclists cross junctions. The silt when wet is slippery, but when dry, will steal your wheels from beneath you. The gravel - known as ‘marbles’ to motorcyclists - gets progressively polished by vehicle wheels, and is like cycling on ball bearings. Take care - the hazard continues in the dry, too, and can last for weeks after a storm.
Councils don’t really understand the menace of this stuff to folk on two wheels. I wish they did.