The earwig and the bidon

Today started badly, with a half crushed earwig in the spout of my breakfast bidon. The earwig and the day never recovered. Insects are a fact of camping life, and spiders and slugs invariably find their way into our tent each night, which probably explains the toads too. I can’t bear earwigs though, and they are not welcome here, creeping as they do into tight crevices such as the tent pole sleeves, tumbling out when I pack up, with their ridiculous rear claws and flat slinking around. Ugh.
This one today must have climbed through the hole in the top of the spout in the night and then got crushed in the crude plastic valve inside when I closed it after a drink. Since I didn’t discover its presence, head squashed into the valve whilst the rear still wiggled, until I went to refill it, I must have drunk the entire bottle’s worth through an earwiggy filter.
Raisin then started hopping and sitting plaintively before me with her front foot lifted, until she was satisfied that I understood it hurt. The plan was to ride to Alcester and try to see the vet there tomorrow. I hoped she could last another day but I thought I had better bathe the dew claw area in warm salty water before we left. I didn’t begrudge Raisin the fuel for the stove to heat the water or the time it would take, nor the salt from my small rations, but the prospect of doing the actual bathing in my plastic mug – the only suitable receptacle available – did not appeal.
However, we did the deed and she settled down in the trailer whilst I packed up the tent and all our stuff, and made up some rolls for lunch. It was already hot, and we would be climbing for most of the way, so I was careful to load up plenty of water, and cover the trailer with a shade so Raisin would be as cool as possible for the hours to come. It took ages.
At last we were ready, and set off with a cheery wave goodbye to the other campers on site. Then I noticed the front wheel on the bike was flat. Annoying. I replaced it with a spare, packed up the tools and stowed them in their awkward-to-fasten place under the trailer roof, and saw the tyre was flat again.
By now it was past noon and baking hot. The first tube was leaking air from the valve collar, the second from a join in the rubber. I’d need to mend at least one. I dreaded now attempting all the climbing ahead in the hottest part of the day, and decided to wimp out and stay put.

So we are still in the middle of nowhere, with the rhubarb and jay feathers and fishing pool and views of the Malverns. I fixed both punctures thanks to my rubber vulcanising solution and washed some clothes in the outside cold water sink here. I know a washing machine would be better, but the water turned murky brown in no time once I put the clothes in, so they must be a bit cleaner now.
The sun was too mighty to do much else but a 4 mile walk over the fields with no hopping, to a petrol station shop for a tin of dog food. The farm here has a threadbare feel to it as the owners wind down to retirement. An ex army Austin lorry decaying gently on the track to camping field retired long ago by the looks of it.
So, smashing weather for the August Bank Holiday, less good for cycle touring with a dog.

Groovy crow

Today we rested. We explored a bit on foot and did some chores and sat in the sun and it was lovely. The only problem was that Raisin started hopping again, but with a sore front foot this time. It looks as though she has torn a dew claw. After an initial panic about how to get her treated on a Bank Holiday Sunday, I spoke to my uncle David, a retired vet, and I’m going to keep an eye on it till we can more easily see a vet after the weekend. Raisin doesn’t seem bothered – she soon stopped hopping and hasn’t been licking it much. She can still hold sticks for chewing.
So once again on this trip we couldn’t walk as far afield as I wanted, which was disappointing as the countryside looks very inviting. Right next to the camping field here is a small fishing lake – or pool, as they are called in these parts. This morning Raisin spent ages sniffing round every peg – the points round the pool edge where the fishermen sit – while I watched dark fat fish, 18″ long, circling close to the surface with slow tail flicks, limbering up for a fishing contest due to start at noon.
Next to the pool is a small wood managed by the Woodland Trust and here I heard, and then saw, a lesser spotted woodpecker doing some exploratory hammering: tock tock (pause) tocktocktock (pause) tock (pause) etc.  I found a small blue and black stripey feather nearby and could not think what bird it came from, assuming it’s from a blue and black striped bird rather than a groovy crow or something with a fancy lining we don’t normally see.

Beyond the wood I was surprised to see a field of rhubarb, which I’ve only ever known to grow in allotments and scrubby bits of garden, usually near the compost heap. Next to that was a field of runner beans, again a new one on me, and brassicas of every description, all sprputing from rust-red soil.
Back at base I set about mending the punctured tube from yesterday, enjoying the ritual of laying out tyre levers, repair kit, pump, special place for the dust cap which would otherwise vanish however carefully I put it down. I took my time applying the ‘Rubber Vulcanising Solution’ glue, letting it get nice and tacky before applying the patch and feeling disappointed, as ever, that the tube didn’t sprout little pointy ears and start saying ‘illogical, captain’.  Then I lashed up the Vulcan-esque plastic bit on the stricken rodrest with gorilla tape, and will just have to hope that works.
In the afternoon Raisin and I went to see how the fishing contest was going. “Disastrous” said the first competitor we spoke to, “haven’t caught a thing”. “But what about those?” I said, pointing to the dark fat fish clearly visible thumbing their noses in the middle of the pool. “Oh there’s plenty of fish in here alright. Those carp are just taking the mick”. A toothless old man standing next to him said “Pike, perch, carp, there’s 14 rudd in there”. I wondered how he could know that about the rudd but did not ask. When the unhappy fisherman said “there’s more fishing tackle in here than fish”, I realised toothless had said rods, not rudd.
We returned for a stroll round the pool this evening, and to look for bats. Whilst I watched pipistrelles darting between the trees as the sun set behind the Shropshire hills Raisin did a thorough tour of the pegs, hoovering up tasty pieces of discarded bait. What would that be? Some of it looked like kibble/dry dog food. I suspect this will end badly; the tent is already full of noxious fumes and the night is young. Fingers crossed the dew claw will be OK till Tuesday, by which time we should be Alcester, sunkissed and with refreshed legs.
Ps the feather is from a jay’s wing  I reckon, so groovy crow was sort of a good call.

Noisy neighbours

We might have stayed at Wolverley for a rest day but it was so noisy last night that I couldn’t get to sleep till 3am. Children skwarked and shouted till well after dark whilst an endless stream of feet scrunched along the gravel footpath 6′ from our tent, to and from the toilet block. Meanwhile four adults, clearly good friends, chewed the fat over a bottle or two close by, their volume controls disabled by alcohol.  What twattery makes people forget there is a just thin piece of material between them and the outside world?  Snore in a quiet campsite and your 20 nearest neighbours will hear. Farting also.
Once the four friends stopped talking, about midnight, there was just owl hooting and occasional crunching until two women could be heard, apparently walking round the site, one distressed and the other trying to mollify her. After a few circuits they settled down in their tent, perhaps 80 feet away from me and Raisin, and continued loudly from there. The distressed one seemed to be relaying a litany of betrayals and disappointments by a loved one, the pitch of her voice rising as she tried to talk and cry at once.  I had earplugs in by that time and the noise reaching my brain was very like a Clanger speaking. The mollifier must have been a saint or drunk to have had the patience to listen to that and to keep up with the soothing responses. On and on it went; Clanger had so very many things to get off her chest. Suddenly, about 3am, they stopped talking, as if the site’s Antisocial Behaviour Unit sniper had got one or both of them with a tranquiliser dart.
So I was tired and grumpy this morning as we headed south along the canal towpath, with Raisin trotting alongside the bike. Towpaths make me a bit edgy since I fell into the Regents Canal in London whilst cycling to work. (I met a bike coming the other way under a bridge, where the path narrows, and there wasn’t room for both of us.) Anyway, my mood today wasn’t helped by a puncture at Kidderminster Lock. This is hostile territory as the leader of the faction that opposed mine in the Battle for Gresley’s Duck a couple of years ago lives in Kidderminster, and I wouldn’t put it past him to push me in the canal should he happen to waddle past.
With the puncture, and Kidderminster, behind us things improved and the tow path was very pleasant. It runs between the canal and the fast-flowing Stour, where Raisin had a swim to cool off. We saw a kingfisher, some fish and a frog.
Leaving the waterway at Stourport we stopped to eat lunch and play balley at Hartlebury Heath, whose sand, heather, gorse and dogshit reminded me of the King’s Forest at home, although here were hills too.
We climbed out of Stourport up and up to the northern tip of Worcester where our campsite is on a farm surrounded by fields and a lovely view of the Shropshire Hills and the start of the Malverns. There are only three or four others staying here. There’s one toilet in an unlit shed and an outside basin with no hot water. My kind of place.