Paddle on Parliament

April 29, 2012

I’ve been trying to sum up Pedal on Parliament for the last couple of hours now, and I’m still struggling for the right words. For the last few days we’ve tentatively been saying we were hoping for a thousand people to turn out on their bikes, based on nothing more concrete than a bit of a buzz on the internets and a general sense that doing all that work for anything less would be a disappointment.


On the day itself, our nerves were beginning to shred. Would anyone come? Would enough people come? The first cyclists – including round-the-world cyclist Mark Beaumont – began to assemble on the Meadows in the spring sunshine and a keen east wind and we started to hope. And then more came. And more. And more. When we started to line the bikes up for the off we filled the bike path all the way across the meadows and round the corner and beyond and still the bikes were everywhere and still coming.

Setting out

I was towards the head of the ride,* so it was hard for me to appreciate the scale of it until I got to Parliament and was standing directing cyclists onto the grassy area, keeping them moving forward so that the bikes could get off the road. After 10 minutes shouting myself hoarse, the bikes were STILL coming and the police directed the bikes around a corner to keep it flowing. I went up to see how many more were expected, 40 minutes after we’d all set off

‘The last bikes are only just leaving the meadows now’, the policeman said. If you want to know what 3000 cyclists looks like (that’s THREE THOUSAND CYCLISTS, people), then imagine a mass of them stretching a mile and a half through Edinburgh’s cobbled streets. It’s a lot…


There were the usual sorts of ‘characters’ there you would expect on a bike protest: a unicyclist concentrating fiercely going uphill on cobbles at a slow walking pace, a man with a chicken on his head, a dapper gent in tweed, a recumbent tandem complete with guitar player, cargo bikes, racing bike, the lycra-clad and the scary yellow jacket crowd. But there were also massed families out and that was what made the day for me. A girl who’d dressed up as a lobster because, well, why wouldn’t you? A tiny boy who did the whole ride on his balance bike. They’d come in their hundreds to say they wanted to cycle too, and not just when they had a police escort.


And then, when the speeches started, and the adults listened, the kids (some bigger than others) cut loose and headed for the parliamentary fountains for the real business of a sunny April day: to paddle on parliament
To everyone who came: thank you from the bottom of my heart. You made the day amazing. There will be a long road ahead before that wee boy on his balance bike can safely cycle every day – he may be on his first full size bike by then – but for now I’m just going to wallow in our astounding success and worry about the next battle when it comes.


*As I came up to Holyrood I WAS the head of the ride, and that was when I realised I hadn’t quite worked out which way the procession was going. Fortunately the police had it all under control at that point. Oops.

Shiny New Toy

April 26, 2012

Regular readers will be aware that my relationship with mobile phones has been somewhat complicated. Phones get bought for some ridiculously cheap price, and last a few months before deciding being regularly dropped out of my pocket from my bike and doused in a puddle overnight is not for them and they run away, disappear, get stolen or simply give up the ghost. Since January, my phone has been the last survivor of this sorry crew, an ancient nokia with a partially non-functioning keypad (I could basically only send one text message – ‘OK, thx’ – which actually covers a surprisingly large number of eventualities) which meant I could only ring numbers which had rung me or if I got someone else to text them to me.

All this was marvellous for my call credit but was getting a tiny bit impractical given I was about to go up to Edinburgh to help organise a giant mass rally of cyclists. So yesterday, being in Bigtown, I nipped into the phone shop to pick up another doomed cheapie. Unfortunately, the one I’d bought the last time (which at least had a radio so I could listen to something on the bike) was no longer there, but on the pay as you go racks I noticed that I could get a touch screen Android phone for – well, not all that much money, although not quite dropping-in-puddles money either. I had a vision. I could tweet on it! I could check my email! I could blog on it and take fancy pictures and be just like one of the cool kids. And maybe, if it was useful enough, I might just hang on to it and not leave it behind somewhere random, or drop it, or generally mistreat it long enough for it to be worth it.

So I bought it. I even got ten quid off because I was ‘upgrading’ my mobile – although the salesman’s face when I explained to him how he needed to go about making a call from my old phone to activate the upgrade offer was a picture. He very kindly set up the date and time for me and I took it off to a cafe to try and work out how to use it. I discovered that a tiny little touchscreen keyboard is no good for anyone with fingers bigger than a five year old, and that I suffer from age-related gadget-learning degeneration. I’m still not entirely sure what my phone is actually doing half the time – it’s taken to wolf whistling at me at random intervals – and I’m fairly sure that I’m going to need a different tarrif if I’m actually going to use the thing for tweet. After spending more time backspacing than typing I gave up on the keyboard and went back to the texting numberpad instead (there is a voice entry module but given the amount of swearing involved when a piece of technology doesn’t do what I want, I think I’ll pass on that one). I’d love to claim that this blog post was written on the phone but that would be a lie as you can tell because it’s more than three words long and is spelt more or less correctly. However I have managed to send a couple of tweets from it with only a minimum of swearing. And I count that as being hip or hop or whatever the word is with the modern young people of today.

Wake Up Call

April 24, 2012

Hmmm. I kind of knew I’d pay somehow for yesterday’s post, but I didn’t think it would come quite so quickly. And I certainly didn’t think it would mean that I’d wake up this morning – all bleary eyed and pre-coffee – and go to inspect my seedlings which are on the kitchen windowsill only to find a GINORMOUS SLUG in the kitchen sliming across the trays where I’d planted my peas en route for my poor Romanesco seedlings.

Will these dastardly molluscs stop at nothing?

How Does your Garden Grow?

April 23, 2012

These past few weeks – despite a deluge of emails as I try and help organise this (oh and if you haven’t signed the petition yet and you think it’s not for you because you’re not a ‘cyclist’ or you’re not in Scotland, please do so, if only because you know at least one person who cycles in Scotland, namely me, and I’m sure you don’t want me squashed under a lorry, even though it would make for some more interesting blogging should I survive) – I have actually been managing to get out into the veg plot and have, more or less, caught up with where I ought to be at this time of the year.

It’s actually that lovely moment – likely to be the last one for a long long time – where it all feels as if it’s under control. I KNOW that even as I type this, armies of slugs are marshalling around the edges of the beds, the beetroot-eating mice are sharpening their teeth in expectation and the bindweed roots are worming their way through the deepest recesses of the soil to spring up the minute there’s something out there worth strangling, but for now, just look!

Broad beans



Brassicas, leeks and lettuces getting started in the shed

And, I’d love to say these were my seed potatoes, but actually they’re the remnants of last year’s crop which have survived being dug over several times

The weeding starts here…

Fetch me my Apocalypse-Proof Jacket…

April 21, 2012

It’s not exactly encouraging – when you’ve got a number of politicians of various stripes lined up for a cycle tour of Bigtown on Friday – to be driving down the M74 motorway the day before and see the dot matrix signs all warning of ‘heavy rain’ on Friday. Given that this was in the west of Scotland, where heavy rain is more or less the default setting, the sort of rain that they felt was worth warning people about was likely to be very heavy indeed. As in send gopherwood heavy.

Anyway, yesterday morning, going to check the Met Office forecast I remembered that they’d managed to bollocks up their previously perfectly functional* website and replace the simple five day forcast table with some sort of flash-based, doesn’t-work-on-rural-broadband, great-if-you-like-clicking-a-million-times abomination (It’s slightly by the by, but setting aside the fact that sometimes it doesn’t work at all, I can’t be the only one who goes to the Met Office site to answer questions like ‘what day next week won’t be raining so I can arrange to meet someone in town on my bike?’ or ‘is it likely to be frosty in the next few days or should I plant out those potatoes’? So having a ‘five day’ forecast which only shows you one day at a time is not just a misnomer but verging on the bloody useless, is it not? Or is that just me?). So I decided instead to go and have a look at MetCheck instead, only to be confronted with this:

Looks like it’s a good thing I got that jacket after all.

As it happened – and despite there being snow between us and Notso Bigtown – the weather for the event itself was extremely pleasant, culminating in a perfect spring evening and a glorious sunset for my ride home. This may just be the calm before the storm, though, especially given how many people told me hell would freeze over before I got a Bigtown Councillor on a bike. As it was, we got eight of them … that’s got to cause a disturbance in the fabric of the universe.

*I mean, apart from the forecasts themselves, of course


April 19, 2012

We’re back, after a welcome short break in Killin. This morning we were walking here:

an interesting demonstration of what happens when you exclude what my uncle calls the ‘woolly locusts’ (and the deer) from a stretch of hillside for 20-odd years. Those ickle lambs are cute and all, but they don’t half eat…

Anyway, we got home to find some of our swallows were back! They’re late, but we forgive them as long as they hurry up and start hoovering up the midgies. We’d seen a single swallow a few days back, but these ones appear to be ‘ours’ as they were busy checking out their old nesting spots.

And they weren’t the only ones. Lambs aren’t the only things which are cute but have unfortunate eating habits…

Not Grousing

April 18, 2012

It’s April and that seems to mean a regular trip up to Loch Tay to see if we can help survey Black Grouse leks. Two years ago we had done rather well, despite X marking the wrong spot, and found a whole new grouse lek all by ourselves, so this year we were confident we’d be in for a treat, especially as we now knew where the party was to be held.

Four am came and we stumbled blearily out of bed, drove up to near the appointed spot, walked the rest of the way and scrambled up to a handy grassy knoll overlooking the lek and waited in the cold for the fun to begin. And waited. And waited. The day dawned, sort of, adjusted for the cloud being well below the mountain tops and sweeping almost level with us up the loch. Just as it became light we heard a bubbling sort of noise … just where the lek was meant to have been two years ago. Back down the hill we went, around the deer fence, back up the hill, through several boggy bits, listening out for the sound of grouse, and nothing. Waited. Nothing. Waited some more, the north wind now whipping round and occasionally through us. A faint bubbling over another hill. More scrambling. More waiting. More silence, broken occasionally by the sound of a lone male grouse who also hadn’t got the memo about the new lek site and was wondering where everyone else was. At 6:15 he flew off, having given up. At 6:30, toes frozen, we gave up to and went back to my aunt and uncle’s house to thaw ourselves out.

It was only after breakfast that we thought to check the footage from my uncle’s nifty infrared video camera trap of what had been going on in the feeder while we’d been out freezing our bits off on the hillside. And there on the feeder – the feeder which, I might add, you can see rather easily from inside a nice warm house without having to yomp through any peat bogs with a map where X doesn’t mark the spot – was a pine marten sitting stuffing itself with peanuts (there is a video here and here but flickr seems to have mangled it in some way)

Oh and all the other grouse leks that were surveyed? Absolutely hopping with grouse. We’ll just have to come back next year.

Suited and Booted

April 16, 2012

Cycling down for the paper this morning on a day the Met office had cheerfully described as offering the ‘best weather for the week’, so only hailing a little bit, I couldn’t help but notice some of the lambs in one field were wearing what I can only describe as a tiny see-through lamb pac-a-mac.

I am certain that those of you out there who know about such things will be quick to tell me that it’s no such thing and that there are sound animal husbandry reasons why a lamb would have a clear plastic raincover on, but until that time I shall rejoice in the fact that there’s a farmer out there who’s even more soft hearted than I am.

Although, frankly, if it’s going to keep hailing, they’ll need something a little more robust. Maybe a fleece?

Herd Instinct

April 13, 2012

Just as I was wheeling my last barrowload of muck down towards the veg plot I had the distinct impression I was being watched…

Mostly the cows ignore the humans, but a human with a barrow is potentially interesting in case the barrow might possibly contain food. I thought I’d have a go with a handful of fresh grass to see if I could tempt them to come and say hello …

And after a few minutes and much nudging of each other to make someone else go first they came pretty close – close enough to see the whites of their eyes…

But nobody was brave enough to taste the grass and when I made a wrong move (cows don’t respond to clicking like horses do) the all turned tail and fled.

Cows are really very simple creatures, I thought to myself as I wheeled my barrow away. And it was only later that it occurred to me that – given I’d just amused myself for the last ten minutes trying to make friends with them – so was I.

Another. World.

April 12, 2012

Locking up my bike the other day in Bigtown, I overheard one of Bigtown’s formidable old ladies muttering something that sounded like ‘disgraceful’. With some trepidation I asked her what she meant – expecting a tirade about scofflaw pavement cyclists, red light jumpers, you know, the usual.

‘Having to lock your bike up so it disnae get stolen! It’s terrible what we’re coming to, in this day and age!’

It is indeed. I still locked it, though…