Turning Left in Aberdeen

February 25, 2017

The problem with going off to Aberdeen to talk about cycling and listen to the stories of way more adventurous cyclists than me, is that it then seems a bit feeble to have almost reached the end of February and not even managed my one modest adventuring ambition for the month. But fortunately Back on my Bike & I had a spare* morning before our train home, and we both had bikes, so, although her idea of an adventure is also much more adventurous than mine (frankly, everyone’s idea of an adventure is more adventurous than mine) she humoured me in my suggestion that we do a little routefinding of our own today.

start of the Deeside way

Without an Ordnance Survey map, we chose a route that only we could manage to get lost on – the Deeside way (despite the sign, turning left did not get you to Peterculter…).

Deeside way

That slight hiccup aside, it was all very pleasant, and the weather was kind.

blue skies

It’s rare to see other modes asked to dismount …

I’m beginning to gain the erroneous impression that it’s always sunny in Aberdeen. Don’t disillusion me.

ex station building

The only fly in the ointment was that nobody had turned one of the many little stations still dotted along the route into a cafe serving coffee and cake. Honestly, what were they thinking?

sign about the end of the Deeside wayAlso the end of the path seems to be being turned into the Aberdeen bypass, so we never did reach Peterculter, wherever or whatever Peterculter is. We could have followed the diversion, but by this time the lack of coffee shops was beginning to tell so we headed back for the station where Aberdeen almost passed the ‘can Sally and Suzanne navigate its cycle routes by following the signs’ test – foiled only by the fact that the cycle route to the station meant going through a door into the multi storey car park. I’ve seen all sorts of barriers on cycle routes before, but a door is a new one on me (apart from the lift to the Tay Bridge, I suppose).

bucket of coffee

You know your coffee is large when it requires both hands to lift it…

After extensively recaffienating (yes, I know, Costa; we would have visited a lovely independent coffee shop had one obligingly presented itself along the way but it didn’t) it was time to get back on the train

bikes on the train

And ignore some of the loveliest views from a train window as we caught up with all the things we should have been doing instead of gadding about on our bikes.

view from the train

So that’s January and February done – just got to find time and pick a route for March…

* As in there were a billion things we could both productively be doing instead but we had examined our schedules and our consciences and decided that as long as we both worked solidly 24 hours a day for the next two months, we could spare a couple of hours to go for a bike ride.


Time and Motion

February 23, 2017

So I’m gadding about again tomorrow, back to Aberdeen to talk about the Women’s Cycle Forum  so naturally I was still writing my presentation at the last minute. Well, I say writing, but my tactic with giving presentations is to throw together a lot of slides with images that illustrate what I want to say, and then stand in front of them and just wing it, because I’ve spent way too many hours of my life listening to a man in a suit reading his Powerpoint slides to us. It generally makes for an amusing,* if occasionally a bit random, presentation but it does take forever to create the slides, as I worked out this evening

pie_chart
Anyway, if you want to find out whether I ever did track down that image of a princess doll in a ball dress on a toy bike with a cup holder** that I thought was a celebration of cycle chic and everyone else on Twitter thought was the worst case of pinking it and shrinking it they’d seen in ages, then get yourselves along to Aberdeen to hear from a couple of awesome cycling women, and me.

* At least I hope it’s amusing. People laugh, anyway, and you don’t always get that in road safety conferences.

** Spoiler alert: I didn’t


A Little Water Otter

February 21, 2017

Cycling home from Bigtown this lunchtime with a bit of a case of the grumps because it was miserable and raining (I know, I know, it’s February in Scotland so what did I expect, but I got a bit over optimistic about this Caribbean air that was supposed to be arriving) and I’d been in too much of a hurry when I left to bring in the laundry (ditto), so not only was I going to be pretty soggy when I got home, but so would be most of my clothes.

And then as I turned across the bridge I caught a pattern of ripples on the water just out of the corner of my eye, and stopped in time to see an otter surface, dive, resurface again, then seem to catch my eye before it dove again and vanish under the bridge. I spent a hopeful few minutes darting from side to side of the bridge hoping for it to reappear long enough to be photographed, but it was too fly for me, and I cycled off again into the rain.

There are so many reasons why I ride a bike: the environment, saving money, maintaining my cake-based lifestyle – but it’s encounters like that make me happy that I cycle even on the grimmest days.

The laundry was still soaking when I got in, mind. And so was I.


Hope Springs

February 20, 2017

As the world still determinedly heads hellwards, handbasket-wise, who’s for a small amount of good news? I was cheered to learn yesterday that pine martens had been spotted fairly locally. Pine martens, as well as being desperately cute, also prey on grey squirrels (red squirrels can evade them being lighter and quicker) and have been credited with helping keep the reds going up in the Highlands where they are still reasonably numerous. Given that we have seen grey squirrels twice in our garden since we moved in, we’re clearly on the frontline here, and having a little cute furry help* to beat back the greys would be welcome. As well as pretty damn cool.

Although we have managed to get some video footage of pine martens before, they’re a bit too fly to be photographed easily even by the super-skilled photographer friend who spotted them, so you’ll have to make do with the equally hopeful but quite a bit more stationary daffodils which appear to be coming up in the garden.

emerging daffodils

Watch this space

*I assume that all of you who got a bit squeamish about us doing away with the greys last time don’t mind them being done in by other animals … nature red in tooth and claw, and all that.


A Vision Thing

February 17, 2017

Fog ahead

On a foggy cycle ride back from my second Coonsil meeting in two days, I was feeling the usual frustration: they’re planning some route changes which will be an improvement on what is there now, but still nothing like what they could be. The problem is that bikes are squeezed to the margins: once the cars have got all the space they need, then if there’s anything left over, the cyclists can have what’s left. I do understand that the coonsil are constrained by the realities of Bigtown life – even reprioritising a single road is causing people to be up in arms because it will be slightly harder for them to turn right even though it means the road they live on will see slightly less traffic (personally I’d close the road to traffic at one end to make it a lovely quiet bikeable street – after all if they’re going to be incandescent at a priority change, they can’t actually get any crosser, so might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb and create a route worth detouring for, seeing as that is what the bikes are going to have to do anyway. This is undoubtedly why I’m not running the coonsil in Bigtown)

Anyway, I got home to find that we had the dates confirmed for not one but three Pedal on Parliament rides this year (or should that be Pedals on Parliaments?). This time, we’re targeting the local elections (so yes, technically, they’re Pedals on Councils) in the hope that, at least in some parts of Scotland, cycle campaigners don’t have to keep banging on and on and on just to get a slightly more sensibly positioned crossing – but can actually start to work towards the sort of wide, smooth, safe, joined up routes that would make a real difference. It will be a long time before that trickles down to Bigtown, perhaps, but it will come. I hope.

Meanwhile mark your diaries for the 22nd April (Edinburgh or Aberdeen) or the 23rd (Glasgow) and help to bring about that change. Bring a bike and a banner and all of your friends. It won’t make the wider world much less of a scary place, but it could at least make Scotland a little bit more cycle friendly. And we need all the good news we can get, these days.


A Mini Infrastructure Safari

February 15, 2017

 

So it turns out that, even if you leave your Brompton at home, when you’re staying with London’s premier cycle campaigner* that doesn’t let you off the hook of going and inspecting the first actual spade-in-the-ground development of her local Mini Holland. Which is how I found myself on a borrowed bike heading for a mini Mini Holland infrastructure safari along Green Lanes, possibly the least accurately named road in London, following the ghostly turn of her tandem’s rear pedals,** remembering how foul London’s air tastes and how fond London drivers are of just nuuuuudging out of a junction to make a turn with little consideration for anyone who might technically have right of way.

flowers in remembrance

We passed a sad little bundle of flowers on a lamppost and the garage where my sister witnessed a pedestrian being stretchered away (and where on our return trip I almost got stretchered away myself after a driver decided that her need to turn right onto the road completely overrode, almost literally, my actual right of way on the particular bit of road she wanted to turn onto).

Mini Holland roadworks on Green Lanes

Defending this work against a nasty backlash has been something my sister has put her heart and soul into in recent years, and so it was nice to go and witness the things she has been fighting for start to take shape on the ground. From a British (if not a Dutch) perspective, the first few bits are promising, if not perfect – it’s nice to finally see a parking-protected bike lane, albeit one that’s just a shade too narrow for easy sociable cycling. Orcas and wands will hopefully reinforce the idea that the parking isn’t over the top of the bike lane, as is more or less standard in this country, but as a shield between cyclists and the traffic.

parking protected bike lane

It took a little puzzling to work out what this was – it’s enabling cyclist to more comfortably turn right out of this side road. Perhaps a spot of sign-make-it-better might be in order here.

right turn lane

There are other quibbles I can make, like the bus stop boarders that double as mini roller coasters (although they are quite fun, in their way). But even so, the signs are that Green Lanes will be transformed into something that is still neither green, nor a lane, but where my nieces will at least be able to cycle safely (if not comfortably side by side).

And – given how cycling infrastructure like this makes roads safer for everyone, not just cyclists – we can hope that one day the only flowers we find on the streets are old Christmas wreaths left puckishly decorating a plastic wand, rather than memorialising yet another needless death on the road.

Christmas Wreath

Oh and – entirely off topic, but top marks to the anonymous Londoner who had decorated a gleaming black Porsche all over with post-it notes casting aspersions on the owner’s parentage, personality and general road manners – whether because of something they did or simply because they own a Porsche I don’t know, but it did make me giggle the rest of the way home.

* who happens be my little sister. I tell you, I taught her everything she knows

** there was no way on God’s green earth I was actually going to get on the back of it; I might acknowledge her success as a campaigner but she is still my little sister and there are limits


Get a Mac. Or, you know, Don’t

February 14, 2017

It seems to be an iron law of freelancing that whenever you think you might, just, if everything goes to plan, get everything done that you need to do by the time you need to do it – that that is when fate will throw a massive spanner in the works. Or rather, fate doesn’t need to throw anything, it just needs to sit back with its feet up and watch as I leave my laptop power cable on a desk in an office in Guildford, travel blithely up to Palmer’s Green, spend forty minutes or so using the laptop unplugged in, realise I’d better feed it and only then work out what I’d done.

Thanks to the magic of Dropbox, my files were all fortunately available online. All I had to do was borrow my sister’s laptop and I could still get the work I needed to do done, until I was reunited with my own laptop’s power cable. And this is where Fate twists the dial slightly for extra sadism, as my sister’s laptop is a Mac, a wonderful sleek, shiny, MacBook Air that the whole of Twitter suggests I should switch to whenever I moan about my Windows laptop. So wonderfully sleek and shiny that it hides distressingly ugly unglamorous things like scroll bars from you until you give it the right esoteric gesture on the touch pad (two fingers, appropriately enough). So slim and minimalist that it doesn’t have a delete key, only a backspace key and it doesn’t have a page down key because that’s what the scroll bars are for only YOU CAN’T FIND THE SODDING SCROLL BAR because it has hidden it from you when you stopped using it for a second.

Having spent an hour or two last night resisting the temptation to turn my sister’s laptop into a sleek, aerodynamic, shiny frisbee, I thought I’d better get up early this morning to give myself time to get on with some work, adjusting for all the time I was going to have to spend hunting for the disappearing scroll bar. Which was when I remembered she had a password on her mac and I had forgotten it, and the guest account had parental controls on it, and apparently one of the websites that had been banned was one that Word wanted to visit every single time I clicked on it. Who knows what naughty things Word wanted to look at (illicit scroll bars, probably, the dirty tart) because there wasn’t any way of telling it not to bother and it wouldn’t do anything until it had done so so I was stymied until someone in the household got up and could remember the password.

Anyway, thanks to Backonmybike, and an afternoon spent travelling around approximately two-thirds of the Southwest Trains network (it’s always nice to get the full use out of your Oyster card…) I have been reunited with my laptop’s power cable and my laptop is once again in use. After a brief pause to play ‘guess where the Mac has moved your file to mysteriously without being asked’, I have transferred my work back onto the undoubtedly clunky arms of my own computer and all is more or less all right with the world again, for, slow and annoying though it most certainly is, it is my slow and annoying computer and I am used to its little ways.

And now, as a bonus, I have a post I can point people to on Twitter the next time they smugly suggest that I get a Mac. Now all I have to do is spend a pointless day fruitlessly trying to make a linux installation work without having to hand edit a config file, and my life will be complete.