Ambassadorial

July 17, 2019

side by side cycling

I’m in danger of becoming one of those bloggers who post at increasingly infrequent intervals, mainly with a litany of excuses for not having blogged more frequently, yet somehow here it is a week since I last posted and unless you want photos of compost* and some not-very-thrilling garden updates (the asparagus is looking a little more chipper, the beetroot is coming through, we’re still on a three-line lettuce-eating whip) there’s not much to say at the moment or at least I’m not feeling all that inspired to say it.

Life should get a little more exciting in coming days as I’m about to embark on a couple of weeks of unaccustomed sociability: the Cycling Embassy AGM in Cardiff, an old school friend visiting, another all-ability cycling day of chaos in Bigtown and then a dash up to Fife to visit more old school friends from a different school. All of which would be much more enticing if the major editing job which was supposed to be finishing this week hadn’t been extended for the next fortnight – hello freelancing life and the freedom to work to your own schedule as long as that schedule involves spending half your supposed holiday time hunched over a laptop.

'can you see me now asshole' vest

Some things haven’t changed since 2011

In preparing to write this, I did dig out this ancient history from 2011, just at the start of the Cycling Embassy – the first cycle campaign I ever started. Scrolling through the comments reminds me of how far we’ve come – there are few cycle campaigns in the UK now that don’t recognise the importance of proper cycling infrastructure – and also how far we have to go – some cities are cracking on with building a cycle network but even the best are making painfully slow progress, while other places are doing nothing. It seems everywhere in the UK, from the government downwards, is happy to declare a ‘climate emergency’ but whether that will translate into accelerating progress over the next few years is anyone’s guess.

That said, Wales has been quietly getting on with things (implementing the 20mph limits Scotland was too feeble to support, cancelling a motorway, drawing up decent design guidance for cycling infrastructure instead of kicking it into the long grass) so the Brompton and I will be curious to see what cycling in Cardiff will be like. Assuming I get to unchain myself from the laptop for long enough to find out …

* Don’t worry if you do, you will still get them, but all in good time.

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Uncrowned

July 10, 2019

Yesterday’s roundup of my vegetable blues failed to include the asparagus bed – not because it’s all ticking along nicely, but because it had got so weed-ridden the one photo I took of it didn’t really look like an asparagus bed at all.

weed-ridden asparagus bed

This may go part of the way to explaining why it’s not doing so well, although to be fair the not going well part preceded the weed-ridden part. The fact is, only one or two of the crowns I’ve planted have produced even one decent looking shoot. The rest have tended to shrivel away as soon as they’ve emerged, although more are still coming up in places.

small asparagus shoot

I’m not sure what the problem is (I can’t blame the pheasants this time). I did think it might be the dry weather we have had (regular readers of the blog may be surprised to read this but we have actually had some longish spells of no rain). It’s all a bit unsatisfactory given I spent actual money on these plants from an actual garden centre rather than sourcing them in my usual fashion, a mixture of scrounging, growing from seed* and village plant sales.

cow watching

“I wouldn’t do it like that, if I were you”

Anyway, under the watchful eyes of Moo-I-5 I have now given them a good soaking – and the weather gods are busy rectifying the ‘too little rain’ part as I speak – and mulched the survivors with a good layer of compost, which felt like the sort of thing a proper gardener might do. Hopefully that will do the trick but either way it looks as if my hopes for an abundant asparagus bounty will have to wait a few more years. I’m beginning to understand why the main reaction to my asparagus-growing plans has been shaken heads, cynical laughter, and reminiscences about sitting down to an asparagus spear each after four years of anxious care.

mulched asparagus bed

Any tips from the more successful? Other than ‘move out of Scotland’, of course …

* I did actually, many moons ago, grow some asparagus from seed in our first ever vegetable garden. By the time we sold the house, several years later, the tiny little fronds were just about visible to the naked eye, but only if you looked very closely.


Camera-Ready

July 9, 2019

‘Looking on the bright side’, the other half said as I surveyed the ruin of what had been only the day before, a bed of French beans, ‘at least you now have a camera so you can blog about it.’

chewed beans

‘I wonder how my beans are getting … oh’

This is true – due to the kindness (and awesome organisedness) of a local cyclist on Twitter I am now the proud custodian of an actual camera for the first time in about five years. Despite being over 10 years old, it’s in immaculate condition and came complete with box, cables, spare battery and manual (ah, remember the old days when things came with instruction manuals instead of a sheet of paper saying ‘Do not stick this in your eyes or feed the batteries to your children. Google everything else’ in every known European language?).

It’s nice to be able to take a proper closeup again, even if it is of the devastation a peckish hare can wreak when it puts its mind to it.

close up of beans

Otherwise, the veg patch is the usual mixed bag of things which are dying in new and horrible ways (potatoes: liable to die at a moment’s notice when you plant them deliberately, but completely impossible to eradicate from the bed where they were once grown three years before)

dying plants in potato bed

and things which have grown in overwhelmingly enormous quantities (it is apparently a myth that rabbits – and, indeed hares – eat lettuce).

giant lettuce plants

The garden remains a work in progress and I suspect it always will be – I shall never be the owner of the equivalent of a garden that still has its box, cables, spare battery and manual. But on a sunny Sunday afternoon when you’ve got visitors coming – it does occasionally scrub up rather well.

garden with parasol

I’m mostly joking when I call this corner ‘the Mediterranean garden’ but occasionally it comes close …


A Nation of Shopkeepers

July 5, 2019

I remain, frustratingly, cameraless after one repair attempt failed leaving me with a phone that will now not focus at all unless I use it in selfie mode. This is particularly annoying as Moo-I-5 have made an unexpectedly early return and I’m sure will be providing entertaining* blogging material as soon as they have got over the ‘Nooo!! Scary humans!’ stage of their visit (meanwhile the cows in the other two fields near our house have discovered each other and have spent the last two days mooing yearningly at eachother across the front corner of our garden).

Bike hub shopfront

So I’ve been trawling back through earlier photos and realised I forgot to announce that I have taken up shopkeeping – or, more accurately, voluntarily minding the Buddies accessible bike hub one day a week. It’s fair to say I’m not rushed off my feet just yet, although I have rented out one bike, shown a couple of prospective punters round, directed numerous confused people towards the ‘real’ bike shops in the town, and spent much of the rest of the time in an undeclared war with the illegal parkers of the supposedly pedestrianised street the shop is on. If a space does open up outside the shop, my job then is to dash round as fast as possible (which is not particularly fast) with the rickshaw bike or other contraptions to fill the space before the spot is nabbed by someone else who’s ‘just dropping something off’ to one of the other shops, a task which apparently takes all day. I can then amuse myself by watching through the window as drivers think they’ve scored a spot and then discover they’ve been gazumped by a bicycle. Or, when I fail to get to the space first, then at least I can enjoy counting the number of direct hits Bigtown’s seagulls score on the scofflaw parkers (there’s a reason all those bikes are sporting saddle covers, and it’s not just to advertise the Bigtown Cycle Campaign.

If nothing else, I’ve found myself a quiet (and internet-free) spot in town to get on with some work and/or knitting while I wait for the good folk of Bigtown to come in for a nosey, so it’s win-win as far as I’m concerned. Watch this space for exciting tales of retailing or parking war triumphs – or at the very least, some progress on my latest knitting project

* adjusted for the peculiarly low standards of this blog.


A Thousand Words

June 30, 2019

I am currently, annoyingly, cameraless having cracked the lens on my shiny new-to-me phone (technically, I can still take photos using the front camera but anyone who has seen my selfie face will know that’s a non-starter). This is frustrating for the blog, because I do like to illustrate my posts if I can – but also when I’m in the garden, because I like photographing the progress of the garden – or at least take before and after shots to get some idea of whether I’m actually making any progress or just treading water…

Fortunately although my phone is apparently very old (despite being new to me) the parts to replace the lens are still available so hopefully I’ll soon be regaling you once more with my photos (and yay! for getting things fixed). Meanwhile, a dashed-off tweet about a rush-hour ride down Princes Street in the rain on the Brompton (to retrieve my phone, ironically enough) resulted in something far better than my usual wonky-horizoned dubiously composed photographic efforts:

It’s fair to say I hadn’t enjoyed the experience, particularly the bit where Princes Street is just two lanes of stationary buses with a cyclist-sized gap between them, but then again, it’s not often you get to (partially) inspire a cartoonist

The result appeared online in the Guardian a few days ago and I felt a sort of parental pride, particularly at this panel which I feel captures my Edinburgh experience perfectly. Honestly, who needs a camera when you’ve got your own cartoonist?


Ain’t no Cure for the Summertime Blues

June 26, 2019

“These are the days we dream about all winter” I said as I pedalled homewards with a pal from the last day of Buddies’ bike extravaganza. For the sun had come out, the wind had dropped, and I was light of heart, if not exactly of bike

(look, when it comes to charity-shop shopping, she who hesitates is lost).

“Never mind all that,” my companion replied, for she is truly a person after my own heart – “can we just stop and take a photograph of where the pipeline went in?”

flowers along pipeline route

The grass may long since have grown up over the pipeline route, but the flowers give it away…

I had stuff to do after a day spent gallivanting around the roads with our cavalcade of curious cycles, and I will likely regret not spending this afternoon and evening doing it, but when I got home it was sandals weather for the first time all year, and the other half had fired up the barbecue. If we can’t down tools on occasion and waste a few hours just enjoying the garden, why do we bother having one?

daisies in garden

For these really are the days we dream about all winter and we need to make the most of them when they arrive.


Hitting the Road

June 24, 2019

When you’re heading out on the bike for a day of adventure, it helps to have the weather on your side

(photo does not show the epic thunderstorm that – from the sound of it – passed directly overhead shortly afterwards)

Luckily it wasn’t really my adventure today, but Buddies who are holding a three-day sponsored bike ride on the flatter roads around Bigtown, and by the time they had assembled (held up, ironically enough, in traffic on the bypass) the rain had stopped and stayed more or less stopped for the rest of the day (my socks, on the other hand, were still soaking wet when I got home six hours later).

Cycling event sign

Twenty-one miles over three days on back roads may not seem like a lot for most cyclists, but it’s big jump when your cycling up to now has been mostly round the local park and you’ve never really ridden on anything but the quietest residential street. Fortunately, our motley crew of two- and three-wheelers – plus the wheelchair transporter trike – were also accompanied by two motorbikes and a following car, courtesy of our local Blood Bikes.

Obviously, this being a bike ride, we needed a cafe stop and fortunately a local farm runs a delicious ice-cream parlour – we even got free ice creams. This was exactly a mile into our ride but you take your cafe stops where you find them around here.

Ice cream parlour

From there, the six further miles to the pub where we ended the first day went remarkably quickly, even with one rider stopping dead every time she came to a hill she didn’t like, which was most of them. The drivers were pretty patient, nobody fell off, and we arrived with the same number of people as we left with,* which always counts as a success for a group ride. In fact, once you’d got over the unusual bikes and the need to allow for various additional needs, it felt pretty much like any other group ride – riding along through beautiful countryside chatting with the other riders, saying hello to the cows (you all do say hello to cows as you pass them, right?), speculating about how much further there is to go, rejoicing in a downhill stretch or a tailwind – and above all the sense of achievement as you sail into the pub car park, certain that you have earned your lunch.

Arriving at the pub

There has been a massive amount of logistics involved, of course, in getting to that point safely – these guys are a long way from being able to enjoy the real freedom a bike brings, and maybe they never will. But at least they’ve got a taste of what’s possible – and from there, who knows?

PS – for those wondering – Stephen came too, but on a trike and he had an absolute whale of a time.

* Actually we gained one, as we managed to rendezvous with the passenger for the wheelchair transporter en route. I think the community transport guys were a bit bemused to find themselves taking a wheelchair user out into the middle of nowhere to track down a bunch of cyclists and then load her up onto a cargo bike, but they did it with good grace.