Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for April, 2013

Ghost Bikes

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Ghost Bike in Berlin

Ghost bikes are cycles, painted or sprayed white, and then chained at the site of a place where a cyclist has been killed whilst riding.  This is almost always because s/he was hit by a vehicle.

Sometimes the bikes are fully functional but often they are stripped-down, to deter theft.

Local authorities often remove the bikes after a few weeks.  In one such incidence, local residents reacted by chaining twenty-two new ghost bikes to all the lamp-posts in that street.

I recently saw a ghost bike, for the first time other than on-line.  It was chained to a road sign which we passed on our way to take part in a huge cycling Sportive in the New Forest earlier this month.

This cycling event is the New Forest UK Cycling/Wiggle Spring Sportive.  About 2,000 riders take part over two days.  The event has been the subject of some local controversy with a small but vocal minority of local residents objecting to the event, presumably on the grounds of its size and the impact this number of cyclists has on the roads in the Forest.

We’ve been riding this and other Sportives for three years now.   It is true that the cyclists in the event – and the same number again, probably, who are not in the event but just out riding for the day, do have an impact on the ‘flow’ of traffic.  Passing a group of riders – and the cyclists all leave in timed batches of about 20 at a time to avoid mass congestion – may delay a motorist for a minute or two, maybe a little longer.  That’s it.  There is no other impact.

We were due to ride on the Sunday.  On the Saturday, we were in the Forest area anyway as we usually stay for two or three nights in a local B&B. It rained.  All day, very hard.  The show-ground which was the HQ for the event was flooded, the tents were flooded, the fields were mud-baths, cars were being towed off the grass.  Our event, for the next day was, wisely in my view, postponed so we are going back in June to do it then.

Riders on the Saturday had a rough time of it, what with the torrential rain and the road conditions that this created.  Most had a hassle-free ride aside from that, though a few reported that the signage for the event had, here and there, been removed or tampered with. (NB: if you are cycling objector and you did tamper with the signs, this is surely very counter-productive.  At best all you can achieve is further ‘disruption’ as a few cyclists will be momentarily lost, but most have some form of sat-nav or at least a soggy map up the leg of their shorts).  There were a few banner-holding protesters, out-numbered by a few local bobbies.  Slightly further down the menacing spectrum, one group reported tacks being strewn in the road.  And right up there in the Attempted Murder camp, one group were directly driven at by two vehicles, forcing some of the cyclists off the road.

I am sure the heroes who finished the ride in such awful weather felt epic afterwards.  And as I said, I think the protesters are a very small minority – and I can see that it might be a bit irritating to have to carefully pass several groups of cyclists.  Let me assure you, that as cyclist, a walker, a runner and a driver, I know how it feels to use roads in many different ways.  When I’m cycling, I really want the vehicles behind me to pass me safely and get on their way, which is why we never cycle side by side if there are cars, and always stop or slow down to let them pass as soon as possible if the road is narrow.

But just one moment of deliberate hate, with the intent to kill a cyclist, in that event earlier this month, could so easily have led to a ghost bike being placed there, in the New Forest.

Behind every ghost bike is a dead rider and a family and a host of friends and colleagues.

There are quite a lot of sites on the Internet devoted to images and stories about ghost bikes.  Here is a link to one in New York that tells a little bit about some of the riders whose memories are kept alive with a lone white cycle.

I am back – but only briefly

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I have so much to tell you, but not right now due (not to the coyness that so afflicts many blogs, but just time, my old friend, time).

So, here is a summary of the headlines and I will be back this weekend with the full stories for some of these:

1) I am in love with Charles Dickens. So much so that, as you see, I will in future blog in installments, like the great man and his approach to his novels, only far less well written, long, funny or complicated

2) I have been to Poland and I am also in love with Poland. In related news, I am very slowly shedding my travel/holiday phobia. I think

3) I am trying to learn ‘conversational’ Polish

4) I have new designs up soon to buy as single patterns

5) We have been the subject of great kindness concerning a flooded field, a severe head-cold and a cycle race

6) Rupert has a heart murmur. IT’S FINE.  I *may* have had a small panic in the vet’s office (no tears though, you’d have been proud of me) but it really is FINE

7) I am on the horns of a weather dilemma

8) I have 3 new workshop ideas for early 2014 here at Court Cottage to share

9) My half-marathon training is not going so well

10) I have more ballet and theatre trips coming up than I can ever recall before, which makes me very happy. Related:  also slightly anxious about over-commitment, for which I have a solution in mind

11) Cabaret in Bridgwater. Yes, really

12) HOW can it be May next week?  No really, how?

13) Q:  Can you fall in love with someone just because of his voice?  A:  Yes.

 

 

New Workshop Dates in Devon

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Just released here and available to book at Spin-a-Yarn soon, three new workshop dates in Autumn.

There’s an introduction to Kidsilk Haze, a chance to learn the Magical Moebius Cowl technique and knit my simple Moebius design plus a new design for a glamorous beaded stole or scarf for Christmas:

'Elegant'

 

Details are here.  

Contact Spin-a-Yarn here. 

Shatter Cave

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Turns out, Shatter Cave is rather prettier than its name implies.

In a disused quarry in the Mendips, which looks like the location of all the episodes of Dr Who that I watched from behind the childhood sofa, lie the entrances to many caves.  One of these is Fairy, which I visited last year and which, frankly, unnerved me with its rather eerie atmosphere.  I have since also visited some far reaches of the cave that links with Fairy, Hilliers, where there is a series of small squeezes leading to The Red Room.  Guess what colour it is?

Anyway, quite pretty though The Red Room is, it’s actually fairly hard work to get there and back. Quite good fun – but very small and bendy.  By contrast, the cave I visited last week, Shatter Cave, offers virtually no effort at all and yet it rewards you with astounding beauty.

It makes me quite proud that the entrance – a concrete tube, with a padlocked gate  half way along – would have made me uneasy 14 months ago.  Now I scurry along such tubes like a little black and red hamster in knee pads.  I loll about in the tube waiting for the locks to be undone, rather than practicing deep breathing in the quarry as I would have done last year.  I frankly admit that this cave – the bits I did – offers virtually no challenge.  But last year, it would have challenged me quite a lot.  There’s a bit of gentle scrambling, some balancing, mainly to avoid wrecking the beauty, a tiny bit of wriggling through a semi-vertical narrow passage and a minute bit of climbing – that’s it.  Very easy.

At the start, the first chamber is strewn with shattered rocks, blasted by the quarry-men in the 1960s.  This gives the cave its name.  Although a better name would be ‘Amazeballs Cave’.  Gradually this gives way to a growing sense of beauty springing up around you.  It’s not as if you pull back a sparkly curtain in caves to reveal the treasure, you just walk/wriggle/squeeze along and it unfolds as you do.

In Shatter, it starts with very pretty formations, often clearly following fault lines and cracks in the overhead rocks, so that they appear as if strung out for a garden party. NB:  my habit of ‘sharing’ my inner-voice while caving really does have to stop.  I don’t say everything I’m thinking out loud but I did share my theory that maybe elves live in Shatter, so great is its beauty;  likewise, my feeling that a knitted picot cast-off resembles the serrated edges I observed on the calcite curtain formations…

And then quite suddenly, you are just surrounded by pretties.  The cave goes:  Da-Dah! It does jazz-hands at you, its audience; there is a drum roll and there you are, in Wonderland.  I’m not exaggerating.  I know Exaggeration is my middle name – Alison Exaggeration C-S – yes and also Excess – Alison Excess Exaggeration C-S.  But I’m telling you the truth.

There are stals, pillars and curtains, ice-like straws, flow-stone monuments, wriggly calcite growths, crystals on the floor and in every hollow – and actual full-length sparkling walls.

It’s the cave Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen would have designed.  It’s the cave that, had Walt said to his Disney team:  design me a cave of such beauty, it will out-sparkle Never-land, his animation team would have story-boarded to him the next week.  And Walt would have said:  too far-fetched.

We only went as far as the entrance to Pillar Chamber.  Beyond this point, there is yet more cave with more pretties which are being carefully guarded to retain their pristine white beauty.  As it is, the parts we went to are carefully taped to indicate the narrow areas where you may move or walk, and the extensive areas beyond that the tapes are protecting.  Only now and again are cavers permitted to go beyond The Pillar and already you can see that on one side of it, there is a faint brown tinge appearing as even these few clean-suited cavers have inevitably slightly tainted it.

We crouched in the small chamber entrance to the larger chamber which has The Pillar at its far end.  You can’t go on, because the floor of this chamber is inches deep in crystals, so fragile and so precious, even a hand let alone a foot planted in them would be catastrophic.  And then we slowly made our way back out.  Will took some lovely photos, I have added these to this post.  Taking pictures in caves is tricky, but Will is very good at it and also, Jude, the woman who kindly led our trip (there were four of us in all) was so patient as he tried to capture the essence of Shatter.  The trouble with cave pictures is that they’re lit with usually two powerful flashes, not cave helmet lights.  These brief bursts of pure light can give the impression that caves are well lit.  They are not. There is literally not a speck of light, the dark is thick and viscous and weighted.  A cave hat light does not illuminate a chamber as Will’s pictures do, but it will, I hope, give you a taste of this lovely place.

I have said before that some people cave for thrills, some for companionship with like-minded people; some for the geology and history;  and some for the pretties.  I guess many cavers are a mixture of all the above.  I am mainly in the latter camp, though I do like feeling epic as I crest a little climb that once would have made me have a mini-weep.  One problem with being an emotional creature is that beauty can overcome me and I did feel very emotional at several points in this trip.  It’s OK, I didn’t cry, holler, whoop or attempt to high-five anyone.  But I did feel a bit choked up once or twice.  Of course, being so pro and all that, I just contained my remarks to the elf-folk and knitting references.  I couldn’t see Florence’s face but I could feel her ‘shut up’ vibe.

I don’t care.  It’s such a privilege and given that I only started caving 14 months ago and then only to accompany my friend Lou for what I thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a muddy but very nice cave in Devon, it amazes me that I’ve managed to take it this far.  This far, to be fair, is about 2 cm along the 100 m long scale of caving, but still.

Restricting visitors in caves such as this is something I, and all cave club members, support, even if it means I will never go in Shatter again, and I am sure I won’t ever go beyond The Pillar.  I don’t care. I just want to know that it’s still there, still protected and be happy and thankful that I did once go into Shatter Cave.

Pillar Chamber, the floor of which is deep, pure crystals; there is a way through to the left of the pillar but few cavers are permitted.  Will took this zoomed shot from the entrance to the Chamber

Pillar Chamber, the floor of which is deep, pure crystals; there is a way through to the left of the pillar but few cavers are permitted. Will took this zoomed shot from the entrance to the Chamber

 

An area crowded with formations; here are Jude and Florence

An area crowded with formations; here are Jude and Florence

 

This shot is taken by Will standing at the top of Tor Chamber, which we later climbed up, looking down to me and Florence seated at the bottom.  Note the tapes - a narrow area is demarked for us to walk/climb in

This shot is taken by Will standing at the top of Tor Chamber, which we later climbed up, looking down to me and Florence seated at the bottom. Note the tapes – a narrow area is demarked for us to walk/climb in

You enter a chamber and at the top is this form – it’s called The Tor. This is Florence beside it

This is a huge out-pouring of calcite flow-stone, one of several examples in Shatter

This is a huge out-pouring of calcite flow-stone, one of several examples in Shatter

Jude (our leader) in the green hat, with me, looking up at some of the early beauties we encountered

Jude (our leader) in the green hat, with me, looking up at some of the early beauties we encountered

The Angel's Wing is a startlingly white calcite curtain form with a folded shape

The Angel’s Wing is a startlingly white calcite curtain form with a folded shape

 

This was a bonus, on the way home:

Sunset 1
On the way home, Will ran to get this image of the sun, setting so rapidly, we could see it sinking. This is taken from near the top of the Mendip hills, looking south and west over to Brent Knoll, the levels, the Bristol Channel and the Quantock Hills in the far distance