We’ve moved in! it’s all very exciting and we’ll fill you in on the details soon but first I have to tell you about Doodle the new trailer and her would-be contents.
We’ve been talking for months, if not years, about the very 21st Century problem of having too much stuff. We tackled it in our home life by downsizing from a four bedroom detached house to a two bedroom apartment and a 50% cull of our belongings. In the motorhome, it was not so easy. We’ve decided to keep ours, rather than upgrade to a bigger model with a garage because we’ve spent money on her, everything is working (more or less), she’s comfy to drive and live in and frankly it really is better the devil you know than the one someone else has traded in. With our bikes on the tow ball bike-rack she was slightly overweight on her back axle. People who are overweight on the back end deal with it by eating less and so we tried very hard to carry less in the rear underbed locker, move some stuff to the front and leave some at home. This was only partially successful and it didn’t solve another problem. We wanted to get electric bikes. We can’t deny that we’re getting older. We’re pretty fit and active for our age but we’ve noticed that cycling up hills is getting harder and harder – okay I’ll tell the truth – if we notice a steep hill on our route, we don’t even get the bikes off the back. There has been a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of electric bikes and whether you get proper exercise from using them. There’s only one sensible answer to this. You get more exercise from an electric bike that you actually ride than from a traditional one that you leave in a shed or on the back of your van. Electric bikes are a lot heavier than traditional bikes so we decided to bite the bullet and buy a trailer to carry them in along with other stuff normally carried in the under bed locker when we’re on a long trip. Given that we were moving into an apartment we realised that it would also make a useful outside storage space when we’re at home.
Our choice was a Debon Cargo 1300 trailer with a rear door that can be either a ramp or a normal door and a front side door for all the little things you want to regularly access. We decided to buy it from JSW a company in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. The service we received from this fine company was second to none. We stayed overnight in their yard, after our long drive from home and then, first thing in the morning we were given a thorough introduction to the trailer and a final check after it was hitched up. This led to some head scratching and a rapid solution to an electrical problem when the rear lights wouldn’t work because of a limiter on our tow bar electrics. The staff were knowledgeable, efficient and had us fixed and ready to go in no time.
Doodle the trailer is now parked up near our new apartment with a random selection of objects inside. So much for decluttering…
On July 5th we got the keys to our new apartment. We had waited eight weeks from having our offer accepted to finalising the purchase and we were beyond excited by the time we got the call to say we could move in. Our apartment is on the fringes of the lovely Borders town of Melrose. It is on the ground floor, has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a huge open plan living room, kitchen and dining area and it looks out over grass and magnificent old trees. We love it. There were numerous times on our last long trip that we wondered whether we really needed a house and whether it would make more sense to get somewhere and rent it out while we wandered, free as birds around Europe and beyond. Eventually, after nine months of living in the van, we became certain that we wanted a place to call home and still have the freedom to travel. This apartment fits the bill exactly as it is in a secure complex and we can lock it up and leave it without worrying about safety.
Unpacking stuff that has been in boxes for nine months is quite a revelation. We had things we’d forgotten we owned and we didn’t have things that we thought we still owned – obviously having dumped them at the charity shop in the last few crazy days before we sold our old house. After living the simple life for so long we felt a bit overwhelmed when we discovered about forty assorted glasses packed neatly away in a box. Clearly, we were expecting to do some partying.
Bike Wrestling for Beginners
A few days before moving in, we went to Edinburgh Bicycles to order our new electric bikes. Shirley chose a Kalkhoff that is a traditional Dutch style bike with big tyres and a seat like a sofa. I chose a sleek white Specialized Como that is a little more like a hybrid but still has the big comfy seat. Two weeks later we went back to pick them up.
Edinburgh Bicycles is in the city of Edinburgh, close to the Meadows area. We thought long and hard about how we would get the bikes back to Melrose and decided, eventually, that we should get on the train from nearby Tweedbank, jump on a bus to the Meadows then ride the bikes back to Waverley station to return on the Borders Railway. It all sounded so simple in principle. There were a number of things we hadn’t taken into account, however. First of all, it is high tourist season in Edinburgh. Locals greet this time of year with distinctly mixed feelings. The crowds are good for the economy but bad for any kind of normal movement around the city. Huge bunches of people stand staring up at the many ancient buildings, oblivious to anyone who might be trying to go about their normal business. They fill up the pavements and spill out onto the roads, causing buses and delivery trucks to swerve suddenly and dangerously. The short cycle to the station took on nightmarish qualities and eventually we got off the bikes and walked for a good part of the way – not that this improved our chances of getting to the station in any reasonable time but we had a fair possibility of getting there alive and in one piece. Once we got into the station we experienced some very premature relief. There was a train standing on a platform at the bottom end of the station and all we had to do was make our way through the crowds and get on board. Arriving not a little pink and sweaty we discovered that there was only one place for a bike on this train as it was a two carriage, elderly model put on for the quiet lunchtime hours. The guard persuaded me to try to get my bike into the small cubicle for bikes before pronouncing that there was no room for Shirley’s and we would have to wait for the next train. Unfortunately, mine was now stuck in the cubicle and I needed help from two strong men to get it out and back on the platform. Not only are these babies heavier than the usual bikes but they’re bigger too. A man wearing a Scotrail uniform kindly informed us that there was no point waiting for the next train as it was another tiny one and we would need to wait an hour, go to Platform One and there would be a full size, modern train ready to whisk us home to the Borders. We were hungry and a bit frazzled so we found a bench next to Platform Two where we could park ourselves and the bikes and Shirley went off to buy us the modern equivalent of a British Rail sandwich. The wraps she bought were beautiful but very nearly required an overdraft to pay for them. Fifty minutes later, feeling rested and replete, we set off towards Platform One – a place we had assumed would be next to Platform Two. How foolish we were. Platform One was up a lift, over a bridge, down another lift and a brisk walk away. We got into the first lift together carrying bike helmets, rucksacks containing all the necessary gubbins that go with an electric bike, such as chargers, two tomes with instructions in all known modern languages and the fancy new locks we had been required to buy for insurance purposes. Gold secure locks are very secure … and very heavy. I was also carrying a small paper carrier bag with two coffees that we had failed to finish drinking because they were boiling hot and served in paper cups designed to keep them hot until the next century. Over the bridge we staggered only to discover that the lift going down to Platform One said “Out of Order”. Did I mention that electric bikes are heavy? There was no way we could carry them down the stairs so I approached two likely looking strong men in yellow jackets and asked for help. Just as they were about to pick up the bikes and trot down the stairs with them we noticed that the lift had magically begun to work again. We only knew this because it disappeared out of sight down towards the platform. Poking the button maniacally we persuaded it to return to our level whilst thanking the two strong men profusely. Once the lift grumbled to a halt in front of us we realised that it wouldn’t take both bikes so I went down first. As I got out at the bottom, still manhandling rucksack, helmet and paper bag with coffees I saw the train pull away. Not seconds later Shirley spilled out of the lift and took in the scene. I will not repeat her comments here but you can guess I’m sure. Another Scotrail member of staff was standing there witnessing our distress and she advised us that the next train from Platform Ten was already there and we could go up in the lift, walk along a very long corridor, get another lift down onto the platform and put our bikes on the next train with no worries at all. “I’d get a move on though”, she advised, “in case other cyclists come along as there is only room for two.”
Off we went again, one at a time up in the lift, along the long bridge and corridor to the lift above platform Ten. Shirley went in the lift first this time and moments later, to my amazement, she reappeared still in the lift. The doors opened at one side and then at the bottom opened at the other. Because it was a very small lift she had had to go in diagonally and therefore couldn’t get out at the bottom, being stuck behind the bike at a jaunty angle and unable to lift it vertically to get it out. The air by now was beyond blue so I looked out for another two likely characters to lift the bikes down another flight of stairs, this time choosing a pair who very clearly worked for NER rather than Scotrail, judging by the badges strategically placed at eye level on their uniforms. This is where being of a certain age pays off. I walked up and asked for help, asking them first if they worked for Scotrail and adopting a very convincing crestfallen look when they said they didn’t. Like true gentlemen they hoisted the bikes up and took them down the stairs for us and wished us a good journey as they left. How I wish I could say that their wishes came to pass. Shirley got on first, hoisting her bike, rucksack and helmet up a high step and into a carriage that had a big space in it. Unfortunately, it was the space for wheelchairs and not bikes and her bike wouldn’t fit in. I stood my bike on its rather fancy stand and prepared to hop in to see what we could do when another lady of a certain age popped her head out of the next door carriage and called out that the bike racks were in there. She waved me in and told me that Shirley was making her way along the very narrow and sharp bends of the inside corridor. By the time I had put down my rucksack, helmet and carrier bag with hot coffee on the floor of the corridor, well out of the way of moving bikes, Shirley had discovered that she was pointing the wrong way to get her bike onto the stand. The aforesaid lady was joined by another lady of similar vintage and together they shoved and pushed Shirley’s bike into position, unwittingly kicking the coffee over as they did so. By now the corridor was full of bikes, sweaty ladies of a certain age, a pool of coffee and a mixture of hysterical laughter and some residual swear words. The kindness of these ladies was immense, given that they were clearly dressed for a genteel jaunt into the city rather than a wrestling match with two bikes and two sweating, feverish and frustrated women. Finally, we got into our seats, having locked the bikes in place with the heavy duty gold secure locks to stop them flying off the raised bike stand provided. This may have been an unnecessary precaution but given the events of the last hour, we felt that anything could happen. The cycle up the steep hill from Tweedbank Station to our new home was an uneventful and blessed relief. The bikes had enough power to keep us going up the steepest of inclines and we arrived back at the flat trembling from nervous exhaustion but still able to walk and sit down. Which we did for about thirty seconds until the dogs reminded us that they had been left at home for six hours and they needed a pee. At the end of the day, Shirley made a pronouncement. “We are not taking the bikes on that xxxxx train ever again. Not ever. Never. No. Don’t even think of suggesting it. I AM NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN!” And then she fell instantly to sleep.
Various friends and family have tried our new bikes and judging by the screams of surprise and delight as they whizz around the grounds of the apartments they like them as much as we do.