Two Wheels Good

March 26, 2017

Bike Nation by Peter WalkerWell, as a bike lover and a book addict, there’s really very little to beat being sent a free copy of a book about bikes, and, more particularly a book about how bikes can save the world.

The possibly inaptly named Peter Walker is a Guardian journalist and he also runs the Guardian bike blog (which has hosted me from time to time). He’s generally a reasonable voice on Twitter, too, which is harder than it sounds in the occasionally febrile world where bike politics and 140 characters coincide. And he’s written the book that, as cycle campaigners, we’ve often wanted: a steady canter through the evidence underpinning just how much benefit cycling brings, whether it’s looking at your own health, to childhood happiness, to prosperity. Sure, we’ve been banging on about this for the last decade, but somehow it’s more convincing in an actual book, laid out in measured prose, with a bibliography and everything. Something to give to people to show them that it’s not just bike fanatics and (dread phrase) ‘avid cyclists’, that will benefit from investment in cycling, but everyone, even those who (poor sods) never actually get to ride one.

It’s all here: the evidence that cycling makes us healthier, how bikes can improve social justice, the benefits to the economy, the need to build decent infrastructure. In truth, if you’ve spent a lot of time reading bike blogs – or have ever been backed into a corner by me at a party after you unwisely asked why I was so keen on cycling – then there’s not much here that’s going to be startlingly new. As a good journalist, Walker has dug deeper into the stories behind the well-known facts, like the bereaved family behind the Dutch die-ins that changed the Netherlands’ policy direction away from the disastrous dependence on cars in the 70s that we blindly continued on with. It’s engagingly and sensibly written. It even manages to navigate the choppy waters of the issue of bike helmets without making the reader lose the will to live.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in public health, social justice, green issues, and even cycling. But for me, my main interest in it isn’t so much the information it contains – it’s about getting it into the hands of people who can make a difference on these matters. That’s why, when we were discussing rewards for the Pedal on Parliament crowdfunder I suggested that we include this book as one of them – but with a slight twist. Rather than send it to the PoP supporter themselves, who will likely know much of what it contains, we’re offering to send it to the politician or official of their choice.* So far 16 have been taken, but I think that there could be many more policy makers in Scotland who would benefit from having this brought to their attention

For the rest of you – assuming that no Scottish politicians or policy makers actually read this blog – it’s coming out in April and you’ll have to pay for it yourselves.

* As soon as the crowdfunder closes, we’ll be liaising with the relevant supporters to spread them out a bit, to make sure that they don’t ALL end up outside the Scottish Transport Minister’s door.


What Lies Beneath

March 25, 2017

So, I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to discover how the manky pink carpet experiment has been getting on.

carpet-covered veg bed

Well, as it happens, due to a rare confluence of events that meant I was not required to be in a random Scottish city this weekend, combined with a slight lull in the immediate pressure of POP preparation (but there’s still time to contribute to our crowd funder, just saying), and a day promising sunshine and light winds, gave me the perfect (indeed, possibly the only) opportunity to find out. In fact, I would have been hard pressed not to spend today out in the garden, given the gloriousness of the weather.

potatoes chitting

So far this year, my entire preparation for growing veg has been a half-hour trolley dash through potato day (top tip: label your seed potato bags before you pick your potatoes, and then put them in alphabetical order for maximum efficiency), and chitting my seed potatoes. I knew that the carpet hasn’t been down long enough to properly deal with the weeds or let the organic matter break down, but spring waits for nobody, and I decided to open up the first bed and put my first and second earlies in today.

veg bed uncovered

If I’d been hoping that underneath there had been a magical transformation into wonderful friable rich soil, I would have been disappointed, but if I’ve learned anything in gardening these past few years it’s to manage my expectations, so I was just pleased to discover that the grass it had covered up wasn’t just sitting there unscathed. There are still some clumps hanging in there to deal with, and a lot of the coarser plant material hadn’t broken down yet, but there was also a fairly healthy population of worms. So the carpet has saved me a lot of digging, although I suspect come later in the season when I’m battling the weeds that did survive, I will wish I’d been more patient

Fortunately potatoes have a fierce determination to grow and will do so even in a light-proof plastic bin so I suspect they will manage anyway (that said, I note that last year I was still putting potatoes in at the end of April, which might explain why we had such a rubbish crop – I had forgotten that. Clearly you can push even a seed potato too far.)

Anyway, given that I haven’t even bought any seeds yet, he rest of the bed can remain under the carpet for now, hopefully mulching down into something marvellous. Meanwhile the now-spare carpet has been moved up to where the fruit cage will be, which is currently about 50% nettle roots by volume. I don’t think we’ll be planting our raspberry canes there for a while …

potatoes planted

What with all the digging, lugging about of heavy stuff and general hard labour, I feel a bit broken now, but it does feel good to have got started for the season.


What is this Life …

March 24, 2017

spring trees

… if, full of care / We have no time to stand and stare?

There’s a field I pass on the way into Bigtown which is now full of lambs, still at their maximally cute knobbly-kneed, propeller tail stage. They’ve been sheltering by the trees right by the road, maximising photo-taking opportunities, but every time I’ve been passing I’ve been hurrying to catch a train or bus, or meet someone, or otherwise have not had time to stop. Today was probably another such occasion, but it was also a glorious if somewhat chilly spring moment so I thought I’d better try and seize the moment before they grew more reminiscent of Sunday lunch than spring.

lambs

Of course they all mostly ran away and hid behind their mothers as soon as they saw the bike, so you’ll just have to imagine the cuteness.


The Best* Thing About Having a Birthday

March 21, 2017

… is the resulting stack of to-be-read books by the bed

bedtime reading

I remember as a small child being quizzed about my birthday presents by an adult who didn’t know me very well. After I’d listed all the books I’d been given she asked, ‘but what else did you get? Didn’t you get any dolls?’

It took her about five repetitions to get the question across, because I had no idea what she was talking about (I kept hearing ‘bells’, which was only slightly more baffling to the six-year-old me than ‘dolls’) and had no conception that you might want anything more than books. If only she’d said ‘killer whale vertebra’ I’d have grasped her meaning much faster.

My birthday wishes have widened somewhat over the years, but even now, the prospect of having not just something, but a whole stack of books to read is an unalloyed pleasure, even if I’m not entirely sure when I will have the time to devour them all.

Equally delightful is a replacement apocalypse proof jacket from the other half, although on the whole I’d prefer not to put either its rain proofing or its apocalypse proofing to the test…

*Oh, okay, the best thing is cake for breakfast in bed. But this is the next best.


Another Early Birthday Present

March 20, 2017

Seriously, how cool is this?

killer whale vertebra

I mean it’s only a killer whale vertebra which a friend has passed on. Apparently there was some concern that I might not be that keen on having bits of whale skeleton brought into the house, as this is the sort of thing that wives tend to object to.

boot for scale

Boot for scale

Not this one…


Not Dead Only Sleeping

March 19, 2017

‘Have you given up blogging then?’ the other half inquired rather plaintively this morning (despite the fact that I’m not, and never will be, as funny as I was in 2005).

The fact is, there’s a sweet spot between not doing anything interesting to blog about, and not having enough time to blog about it, and I’m still overshooting it. I may, technically, have become less busy at the end of last week but that doesn’t seem to have translated into my having any more time. Maybe next week …

Part of the problem is that I’m still extricating myself from the clutches of the community council in the parish I no longer live in as even an appeal from the pulpit has not yet produced a willing volunteer to become secretary in my stead. That also means helping distribute the newsletter, which the Brompton and I duly did this afternoon.

newsletter delivery route

Oh okay, so maybe it wasn’t that much of a hardship on an early spring afternoon.

Chionodoxa

Chionodoxa luciliae

In other news, my birthday present to myself has arrived a few days early.


Hares Today …

March 14, 2017

hare outside front doorAs I may have mentioned, we have a resident hare in the garden. It has a few favoured spots where it likes to hang out, and it’s a bit fly to be photographed on a mobile phone, although today I did my best when I went into our entranceway today and found we had a visitor right outside (possibly contemplating nibbling the second of the pair of little bay trees that I had been hoping would frame our doorway; it’s already decapitated the first.)

When I was in Inverness, I also got a text from the other half to tell me that not one but two hares were hanging out on the manky pink carpet, waiting for the rain to stop. As hares are largely solitary, two hares can mean only one thing: that the time has come when a young hare’s fancy turns to, well, other hares (the ‘boxing’ they are famous for in March is generally down to the female hare not yet being similarly inclined and reminding the male hare that hares are largely solitary and she would prefer to keep it that way, thankyouverymuch). So far we’ve seen neither boxing nor any sign that they are doing more than just tolerating each others’ presence, but we live in hope of more hares tomorrow.

hare haring off

Naturally this makes the hare-proof defences for the vegetable patch increasingly urgent, but for now we are just enjoying their presence and trying to work out a means by which we and the hares can continue to share the garden nicely.