Top Tips for Cycle Campaigners

May 31, 2012

…when you’ve got an hour to write and send a press release after an important meeting with a minister, at least choose a pub with WiFi in it.

The past couple of months have been nothing less than a crash course in campaigning, mostly in the form of ‘how not to do it’. After our triumph at Pedal on Parliament we immediately repaired to the pub to celebrate and it didn’t occur to us that the real work (including writing press releases) had only begun. Since then we’ve been scrambling to catch up with the fact that if you do assemble several thousand people in support of something, then politicians actually listen to what you have to say and you have to act on that while the moment is fresh. Today saw us ushered into the hallowed precincts of Holyrood for a brief meeting with the Transport Minister, something which still feels faintly bizarre given that a few months ago we were nothing more than a group of people with a mad idea.*

We have at least now learned that you have to write press releases, and preferably in time for newspapers’ deadlines (I know, who knew?) so this time when we repaired to the pub we at least had the laptop out and something drafted (it’s hard to craft deathless – or even vaguely coherent – prose when everyone’s talking nineteen to the dozen around you). But we hadn’t learned that relying on your phone to act as a wireless connection with just five minutes before a deadline is unlikely to work. In the end the poor Edinburgh Reporter reporter who had dropped in in the hope of an exclusive had to lend us her dongle so we could send out our press release to the rest of her rivals…

We’ll be updating you with more hot tips as they come in.

*actually a group of people with a mad idea and a dangerous cycle repair kit, which had to be removed from one of our number before we could be let in.

I’m not Saying…

May 30, 2012

… it’s been too hot

But there’s been times last week when I’ve been glad I wasn’t wearing an unremovable thick grey fur coat

Normal weather service has been resumed but not before my poor seedlings – left out on a sunny bench so the neighbour could water them while we were away – got somewhat fried. Let’s just say they didn’t look this perky when we got home and next time I’ll be putting them out somewhere a little more shaded…

Oh and the bees? Gone without a trace. Too hot for ’em, clearly.



May 24, 2012

I did think this afternoon that our house was becoming a little bit more bee-loud than normal, but at first I put it down to the fact that it was a warm day and we had taken advantage of the weather to open all the windows. I ushered a few dopey bees out of the window and thought no more about it until I looked out the back and saw large numbers of bees congregating around one particular spot and going in and out of the air brick at the base of the house. By the time the other half got home, there were bees bumbling about everywhere, dead and dying ones on every windowsill and they were flying in the door faster than I could put them out.

We shut the windows and retreated to the back lawn for toast and (appropriately enough) honey while we considered the problem. By this time it was clear that a swarm had started to set up home underneath the house. I was hoping that the bees themselves would shortly work out that there were lots of flowers and things outside the house and no flowers at all inside the house and concentrate their efforts on the garden rather than battering themselves to death against the windows inside. Meanwhile the bees seemed to have found their way into the walls of the house itself, from the amount of buzzing we could hear under the plasterboard. Which would be fine – if a little loud – were they not also still finding their way into the house. Somehow the sound of bees, lovely and drowsy and calming as it is outdoors, turns into a horrible frantic noise when they’re inside and headbutting the window in some numbers.

A couple of nice chats with friendly bee-keepers later and I have learned a lot more about the life and habits of bees but not much more about how to get them out of your wall without dismantling it. The consensus seems to be that the bees will eventually work out which bits of the world have nectar in them and which bits don’t and settle down to making honey, and we will just have to live with them and they with us. Meanwhile I have discovered how they are getting into the house itself (and you would not believe the tiny crack through which a bee managed to squeeze itself unless you’d seen it do it, complete with comedy speeded-up buzzing noise as it popped free) and sprayed (sorry) that particular bit. We’re going away for the weekend so hopefully when we return it will be to a bee-free if gently humming house, and not one where the bees have changed the locks and started rearranging the furniture to their liking.

Of course, it wasn’t all that long ago that I was lamenting the fact that the lousy summer had meant my peas and beans didn’t get properly pollinated and fretting about whether this was related to the world wide problems of bees disappearing and hives collapsing. So I think we can chalk this one under ‘be careful (or even – let the dreadful puns roll – ‘bee careful’) what you wish for’. And all I can say is, they’d better get up to the veg patch and sort out those beans this year, if we’re to be giving them house room in our walls

Summer Comes but Once a Year

May 23, 2012

It’s just, unlike Christmas, you never know exactly when. Usually – and I stress the *usually* – we get a fine dry week towards the end of May or beginning of June when suddenly the sun comes out and we remember that we couldn’t actually live in a lovelier part of the world. However, you can’t be certain when this week will be – last year we had it in April – and this year, the weather’s been so topsy turvy we were beginning to fear we’d had it in March., so when the hailstorms finally stopped and the rain cleared and the sun came out at last on Sunday we determined to make the most of it for as long as it lasted. After all, there’s no guarantee that once it’s over we’ll see the sun again, at least before September.

Amazingly enough, due to a bit of a scheduling cock-up, instead of being flat-out busy and tied to my laptop as I was expecting to be this week, I’ve actually been more or less free to go out and enjoy myself. I did have a couple of things scheduled yesterday, but that at least gave me an excuse to cycle into town (you couldn’t *pay* me to drive in on a sunny day) and for the rest of the time we’ve been going on epic bike rides for bacon rolls (Sunday) and coffee and lemon drizzle cake (today) as well as some light garden pottering and a fair amount of just sitting on the bench in the sun drinking coffee and reading the paper and stockpiling vitamin D. You know, important stuff. Stuff that needs doing once in a while.

I’m trying not to feel too terribly guilty about all this. There are other things I should be getting on with and I am dashing in every few hours to speed read my emails and try and keep in touch with what’s going on with all the various cycling campaigns I seem to be involved in as well as working in the evenings once the sun has gone. But then again, my life was pretty frantic for the whole of April and a fair bit of May, and it will be frantic again fairly soon I have no doubt. So for now I’m going to do my best to enjoy the summer while it lasts. Which, if the last four years are anything to go by, should be just a couple more days. Especially now I’ve written this…

Bull at a Gate

May 21, 2012

Riding down for the paper today on a picture-perfect late spring morning, I was just approaching the farm whose yard straddles the road. One of the farm workers had just left his quad bike and trailer skewed across the road and as I approached he hopped off and opened one of the field gates, ushering me into it.

Not sure if this was some sort of rural joke I asked him what was going on.

‘You’d be better off in there,’ he said. ‘There’s a bull coming down the road.’ After a quick nervous glance over my shoulder I was reassured that the bull wasn’t out and rampaging after cyclists but being moved in a semi-controlled fashion, but I decided he was right and the field was probably the safest place to be – perhaps only fitting, given I’d spent all of Friday ushering lambs safely back into their fields. I left him arranging an impromptu course of hurdles and tractor bits to try and encourage the bull into the other half of the farm yard and watched from the safety of my field as the bull came down the road accompanied by a smallish man (well, next to the bull, anyway) armed only with a short length of hosepipe.

The bull didn’t have anything like a headcollar on, let alone a ring through its nose, and it looked about as pissed off as you would look if a small man in overalls was whacking you regularly on the bum with a length of hosepipe.* Had it wanted to it could have taken off, obstacles or no obstacles, and there’s nothing they would have been able to do to stop it, but it seemed to have decided to co-operate and bull, farm workers and hosepipes disappeared into the other yard with only a modicum of bellowing and I went on my way only slightly delayed by the adventure.

Spring – or possibly summer, you never know when it’s going to be except once it’s over – arrived with a vengeance yesterday and the other half and I had had a perfect ride over 28 rolling miles on tiny roads, stopping only for a bacon roll and a basket of chips at a pub and seeing barely any motorised traffic for the whole day. It was a salutary reminder that – at least when the sun comes out – we live in an absolutely glorious part of the world and enjoy probably the best cycling conditions of anywhere in the UK. Quite apart from any other consideration, I know that when it comes to traffic hazards, I’d far rather deal with stroppy bulls than stroppy drivers. Although I still contend that, when dealing with heavy livestock as well as HGVs, decent segregated infrastructure – such as a field – is pretty much essential.

*I mean, unless that’s your thing

Springing an Escape

May 18, 2012

Spring continues – not that you’d know it from the weather – and the lambs are getting ever more inventive at getting out of their fields, and no brighter at getting back in. On my way to and from the papershop today I stopped to usher a total of six lambs into three separate fields, two of which had escaped via a drainage culvert. At one point, I was standing there looking at one particularly dim specimen saying ‘under the gate. You’ve got to go under the gate you stupid creature’ as it tried every other combination of non-lamb-sized gaps without working out the obvious huge gap underneath (in fairness to myself, it did keep looking at me as if to say ‘now what?’ and it seem impolite not to stand there offering any advice, even if I don’t speak sheep).

I’d leave them where they were to get on with it but I’d hate to come back and find one I’d left to its own devices lying broken on the road. This morning, just after I’d seen three lively ones back into a field and was heading towards the village, I met a car coming the other way going way too fast for our road. I mean, I know that technically the speed limit on our roads is 60mph but anyone who thinks doing that on a road that’s too narrow to have a white line down the middle has to be an idiot. Quite apart from all the lambs around at the moment, I saw at least one deer on the same road – and it’s not unknown for there to be straying cattle around either, not to mention other cars. You’d think people would have a thought for their bodywork, if nothing else. Most people drive responsibly but every so often you get someone who sees the road widen out a little (and by ‘widen out’ I mean ‘still not wide enough for two cars to pass each other without going on the verge) and just puts their foot down as if the .5 of a second they’ll cut off their journey time is worth running the risk of having Larry the Lamb impaled on their front windscreen wiper.

In fact, I really have no idea why the speed limit is 60 on that road. I’d hate to see loads of new speed limit signs going up, but it surely isn’t beyond the wit of man just to say that if the road’s not wide enough for a white line, it’s not wide enough to go above 40? It wouldn’t cost a penny and it would mean I could spend less time anxiously shepherding juvenile sheep back to their fields. Either that or I have to work out some universally understood hand signal for ‘little woolly bundles of cuteness up ahead, please slow down’. Or possibly just ‘try not to drive like a twat, eh?’


May 17, 2012

Next weekend I’ll be off on my travels again – with a trip down to Bristol to the bike extravaganza that is the Cycling Embassy AGM and weekend bash. As we’ve friends down in Bristol the other half is coming too, complete with his French lovely. All I needed to do was book the trains…

@sallyhinch after paying for her train tickets to the #CEoGBAGM on Twitpic

Ah yes. Well, as it turns out, all I needed to do was build a time machine and travel back in time to a point when it would have been possible to book cheap advance tickets on the trains and then book the trains. Because by the time I actually got around to booking the trains the price came back at an eye watering £280+ for the two of us.

‘We could drive for that,’ the other half pointed out. In fact, given the distance and the economical nature of our car, we could drive there and back about three times. We could buy a bike rack and drive there and still save money, even allowing for the fact that we’d need to get breakdown cover for the car. In fact I could go on the train if I insisted and he could drive and we could still save money, although clearly that would be ludicrous.

So I asked twitter, which was full of useful advice about ticket splitting and tried again. It turned out that by booking two sets of tickets, splitting the journey at Cheltenham, we could save all of £10 but given the amount of faff that would entail – especially given the fact that we’d have to book the bikes too, and deal with Virgin’s elaborate system for getting bikes on and off the trains even if we weren’t actually getting off the train – it didn’t seem worth the bother.

I might still have toughed it out and opted for the train on the grounds that I can work on the train and I had some work to be doing, but then that got postponed so I don’t even have that excuse. Car it is.

I can’t help but feel there’s something wrong with this picture.

Deep in the Corner of the Shed…

May 16, 2012

…lurks the bin where I was storing my potatoes.

Well, I say ‘was storing my potatoes’, when in fact what I probably should have said was ‘was ignoring my potatoes in the hopes that they might magically go away’. Last year I grew way too many potatoes and despite a policy of aggressively giving them away to anyone who didn’t run away fast enough, come spring we still had many potatoes left over. Many many potatoes.* The bin, lined with newspaper, did a pretty good job of keeping them away from the light and the frost but eventually potatoes are going to start sprouting whatever you do and that’s what ours did. Although we kept on eating them longer than was probably a strictly good idea, in the end we had to admit defeat and start buying potatoes again.

Which left the ones in the bin.

I couldn’t put them in the compost, because that would basically amount to planting them. I couldn’t plant them because you’re not supposed to plant out your home grown potatoes. I didn’t really think they were bonfire material and it honestly didn’t occur to me for ages to just put them in the wheely bin like normal people and let the council take them away. So for the last couple of months they’ve been sitting in the corner of the shed, in the dark, giving me a vaguely anxious feeling every time I caught sight of their bin. I had no idea what was going on in there, but I had an idea it wasn’t going to be pretty. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to lift the lid to look in case some desperate light-starved potato tendril grabbed me and dragged me down into the depths to act as a ready supply of nutrients.

Well today, I finally nerved myself up (I asked the other half but he declined: risking life and limb to despider the bath is one thing, apparently, but tackling an army of ravening potatoes is quite another) and lifted the lid prior to tipping the lot into the wheely bin:

I was relieved to find they hadn’t gone all revolting – and none of them managed to grab me – but all those pale yearning shoots did leave me feeling rather sorry for them. I even toyed with the idea of just filling the bin with compost, Bob Flowerdew style, and letting them grow before I remembered that solving the ‘too many potatoes to eat’ problem with ‘growing more potatoes out of them’ wasn’t really going to get me anywhere.

* anyone who suggests growing your own is a way of cutting down on food waste, by the way, is completely insane. You don’t even know what wasting food is until you start growing your own veg. It’s actually one of the most stressful parts of having a veg patch.

Hailing Taxis

May 15, 2012

In retrospect, this afternoon probably wasn’t the best time to pick to put my bean seedlings out to get some fresh air and sunshine:

Hailstones among the seedlings

After I’d sprinted out to rescue them (a little battered but fundamentally unbowed) from the first hail shower it started to really hammer down:

Hailing taxis

Can I just remind the weather gods that it is May, and it is spring? They do seem rather to have forgotten…

Where the fork?

May 12, 2012

and yeah, the cobbles still need clearing

Time spent gardening today: approximately three hours.

Of which spent looking for my fork: most of it.

I have a very nice hand fork. I bought it in John Lewis, back when we lived in London and it was actually easier to go to Oxford Street for gardening supplies than it was to attempt to get to a real garden centre without a car. As befits a fork from John Lewis it is, as well as being solid and well made, extremely tasteful. It has a nice wooden handle, now thoroughly ingrained with earth from several years of hard use, and it has nice matt metal prongs (nothing so vulgar as shiny metal). As a result it is effectively invisible as soon as you put it down. And as it’s my one indispensible gardening tool that means that I have spent far more of my time on this earth looking for the damn thing than is really sensible.

Mostly I find it again fairly promptly but today it just vanished about half way through a monster weeding-and-mulching session. I stumbled on for a bit doing the things that I could do without the fork while hoping that it would turn up, which is my usual looking-for-things technique (when you lose belongings with the frequency I do, it’s the only way to stay sane. You don’t always find the thing you’re looking for, but you often do stumble across something else you lost last week). But weeding without a fork just isn’t very effective so I gave up on that and graduated to the classic four stages of searching: looking for the thing in all the likely places, looking for the thing in all the unlikely places, looking for the thing in the frankly impossible places and then looking for the thing in the likely places again but with added swearing. I’d gone up and checked that it hadn’t ended up in the compost heap, wasn’t sitting on the kitchen table or beside the loo, hadn’t inexplicably migrated to the shed and wasn’t, after all, right where I’d been weeding all along. By the time the other half came home I’d reached stage five: staring at the spot where the fork was supposed to be and wondering if I was going mad. I was just explaining to him what the problem was when I spotted the fork on the gravel drive on the other side of the garden from where I’d been weeding. That’s got to be the slugs at work, right?

Anyway, I did get some weeding done despite all this, which would be a good thing except I’ve just realised that by reclaiming a large chunk of a neglected bed from invading grass and restoring it to garden-ness, I haven’t actually managed to reduce the amount of gardening I need to get done: I’ve actually increased it. Time to get a second, more conspicuous, fork. Or a metal detector. Or both.