If I was a Proper Grown Up Bike Blogger…

September 28, 2012

I’d have a post full of interesting* cycling infrastructure to show you from our recent trip to Northern Ireland (actually on the drive down there were some interesting bike lanes on the Ormeau Road that were on the pavement most of the time and then hopped back onto the road across the junctions so they had right of way. I’ve not seen anything like that in the UK – or anywhere, come to think of it – I wonder what Belfast Bike Lanes or NI Greenways have to say about those) (Update – thanks to the excellent NI Greenways for finding the Google Streetview link to the ones I mean).

I have actually written about cycling in Newcastle (Co Down, that is, not the other Newcastle) – but for the first time we had two bikes at our disposal, so we cycled a lot more, including places I had only ever been to by car before. It’s revealing experiencing somewhere you thought you knew by bike for the first time, if only because you discover where all the hills are. We used to holiday in Newcastle all the time when I was growing up (all through the troubles) and I remember the ‘Ulster salute’: one finger lifted off the steering wheel to greet an oncoming driver. That reflected a different age, when cars were rare. Now the place feels very car dominated, and there’s a new kind of Ulster greeting – the squeeeeeze by of a car that needs to overtake a bike when there’s no actual room to do so because there’s another car coming the other way. There’s a nice curve on a busy road between the cottage and the rest of town that, pretty much every time I cycled it, a car passed me despite being unable to see the oncoming traffic, whether I pulled out to ‘take the lane’ or not. The only car that didn’t had Dublin plates and left the other half slightly unnerved as it tailed him all the way along the seafront. Sometimes you get to the point where you’d rather they’d just hurry up and kill you and get it over with.

Despite all this, we saw quite a few bikes – more than I’ve ever noticed in the town before – of all shapes and sizes, about 95% of which (including all the posties) were on the pavement. Indeed, cycling back along a nice straight 60mph road with not even a strip of paint for a bike lane, that included us. I’m all for being a legal cyclist but I’m not that keen on being a dead one. And the only person we met on the pavement was another cyclist going the other way and a chap on a recumbent handcycle. Nobody seemed to mind, one way or the other.

Anyway, a you’ll be pleased to learn that a new battery has restored my phone into something resembling life and so, in lieu of all those interesting* pictures of bike infrastructure, here are some holiday snaps instead.

Mountains of Mourne

‘Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea’ (it’s compulsory to quote that line in any article about Newcastle btw)

sunny cloudsplantation pines
*insert your own jokes here

Sure Signs of Autumn

September 27, 2012

Ahhh. Back home, to be greeted with the following

  • More than the usual quota of spiders in the bathroom
  • The mist rising gently off the fields in the morning sun
  • The Hyperthermiometer‘s first reading of ‘Danger of Hypothermia ACT NOW’ since March

Time to get the Rayburn up and running again, methinks…


September 24, 2012

Hmmm. The slight problem with my exhilarating ride last night? I failed to notice my shiny new phone falling out of my pocket. Or rather I did notice it – I heard the unmistakable (and to me quite familiar) sound of a piece of technology encased in plastic hitting the tarmac – but for some reason I thought ‘oh, my lights must have come off the bike’ and then when I had checked and found both lights still there, I just shrugged, reasoning I’d hit a plastic bottle or something and pedalled on. It was only this morning that I realised I’d no idea where my phone was that I put two and two together.

Regular readers of this blog will know phones and I have a difficult relationship. I bought my first ever mobile phone in 2003 and I kept it for 5 years by which time its casing was a bit cracked from being repeatedly dropped but it was otherwise still working. A friend then gave me an old one of hers, which I dropped in a puddle and had returned, although it was never quite the same since. Another phone got dropped in a car park, picked up by a gang of scrotes and used to make prank calls to people in my address book which was annoying, and then threatening calls to someone else which ended up with me in the police station explaining why I’d never bothered reporting it at the time. The only bright side of that little episode was that there wasn’t much credit on the phone (I always get pay as you go for obvious reasons) and they were having so much fun with it they actually topped it up so when I got the number cut off I ended up about five pounds better off. Shortly after that my sister lent me a supposedly indestructable Nokia in a little rubber suit which I managed to destroy in short order, and then I got a new phone which got either nicked or dropped in London in January.

For those of you wondering why after all that I’d buy a smart phone, however basic, my reasoning was that if it was something I was using regularly I’d be better about not losing it. And for five months that actually seemed to work. Once I’d got over the whole new interface thing, I was quite pleased with my phone and I was regularly using it to check emails, tweet on the go, take pictures and generally become one of those annoying people who spends all the time poking their phones. Which meant I tended to keep track of it and better still look after it. It was only when I came on holiday and – needing to unwind – decided to spend a bit less time tweeting and emailing and generally staring at a screen that I started forgetting where my phone was. Ah, the relief of not always having to keep in touch with the world 24 hours a day! Who cared if a few tweets escaped me? What did it matter if that email went unanswered for an hour or two? I could simply admire the view without photographing it and then sharing it on instagram. My phone? Oh, well it’s around somewhere.

Where it was, was in my pocket which was not zipped… and then not in my pocket but lying in a puddle overnight. This morning I did the familiar pedal back retracing my steps the night before to where I’d heard it fall, where I found it lying in three bits in the road. The phone bit seems reasonably okay. The back is a bit battered but can be forced back onto the phone with a bit of work. The battery, though, flew out and seems to have been run over several times from the look of it. I’ve no idea if it will work again. I’ve seen plenty of iPhones with cracked screens that seem to work fine but I’m not sure Samsung build their phones to the same spec. It might be back to the broken Nokia for me…

Meanwhile, handy hints for becomming less of a scatterbrain when it comes to my nice things gratefully welcomed. And suggestions for new phones, preferably with some sort of a homing feature built in…


September 23, 2012

There’s a serious blog entry to be done about my experiences of cycling in Northern Ireland, the bike infrastructure and the attitudes of drivers – and who knows, I may even get around to writing it before I leave. But meanwhile, can I just say that powering along the sea front on a Brompton into a freshening gale with the waves rolling in beside me and the fragrance of a basket full of fish and chips luring me on like the carrot dangled in front of a seaside donkey, is the best use of a Sunday evening that I know.

Just remember to lock your Brompton to something solid while waiting for your fish supper, or it could end up blown half way to the Isle of Man before the chips are done.

This Trip I have Mostly…

September 22, 2012

… been cycling down to the shops. Cycling everywhere, actually, but we’re enjoying the novelty of having shops in popping out distance. Of course I’m no stranger to cycling to the shops, but an 11-mile round trip to Papershop Village isn’t exactly poppable and the main weekly shop definitely gets done by car. Here, even the out-of-town supermarket is only about 10 minutes away by bike which means that in the three days we’ve been here we’ve actually visited it twice. The local butcher, greengrocer and baker have also been graced with our custom twice in as many days – there must be some sort of law of conservation of shopping momentum which proves that the time spent travelling to the shops is constant. Oh, and we’ve also done the statutory wander round Lidl to see what mad things they’re selling this week. It was only through the sheer good fortune of them being sold out that we’re not currently the proud owners of an electric chainsaw. How anyone lives within regular reach of a Lidl and doesn’t have a house full of random *stuff* I don’t know. Perhaps they don’t.

Anyway if you read this in time (depending on your time zone) you might want to take part in this. You could even combine it with a trip to the shops, if you’re pressed. In fact, if you hurry, there might still be electric chainsaws on sale in Lidl…

And Breathe…

September 20, 2012

It’s been a hectic few days weeks – make that months. Even my holidays have been a bit hectic, to be honest. I have had too many places to be, things to do, emails to read, and documents to write. Not an unusual problem, I admit, although if any of you are thinking about quitting your jobs and moving to the country in order to have time to smell the roses and watch the grass grow, I would caution you to only get involved in, say, two cycling campaigns at once if you want to have time to actually cut the grass and prune the roses.

As it is my poor old garden will have to remain neglected a bit longer as we have finally dug ourselves out from under a pile of work to get away for a week in Northern Ireland (the South West of Scotland is probably the only place in the world whose inhabitants go to Ireland to enjoy the drier weather). I still have a few things to do, but the busyness appears to be returning to background levels at last. Hopefully it means a chance to unwind, relax, and sit on the sea front watching the rain head its way across the Irish sea to fall on Dumfries and Galloway. Even better, we have brought the Brompton and the other half’s bike, so there will be cycling done. And, no doubt, the odd tale or two to tell for the blog…

Tackling the School Run

September 19, 2012

For the last couple of days I’ve been staying with Babymother who, finding herself related to a non-award-winning (but almost…) cycle campaigner, felt compelled this morning to finally tackle the school run on two wheels.

setting off to school

Cycle chic, North London style

She’s written eloquently before why she’s never cycled to school with her kids – not just the fact that the school is on top of a hill (and this is North London which, unlike the malarial swamplands of South London isn’t all that flat) and the fact that last time she attempted it she had to push the youngest all the way, but because it just doesn’t look all that safe to cycle. It’s not that they don’t cycle, but they cycle in parks and (mostly) along the pavement – it wasn’t until they came up to visit us here that either of them really experienced cycling on an actual road, if you can call them that around us. My sister has even got a tagalong, although she hasn’t yet managed to use it. Today, we decided to do a mixture of on foot and two wheels, with me and my sister walking and the girls pedalling, at least in theory. We also decided to allow a whole hour just in case of disaster, so come 8 am this morning with tyres pumped and book bags assembled and last minute forgotten things remembered we set off in the sunshine on a perfect crisp September morning.

bike to school 3

“Mummy, you’re not pushing!”

Possibly a bit too crisp, as the first thing that happened was the girls realised that cycling without gloves makes your hands really really cold. I had a pair in my pocket for the eldest but the youngest had to make do with wearing my sister’s fleece and pulling the sleeves right down over her hands which she accessorised with a tragic expression. She also basically went on strike at that point and refused to pedal at all, which may put the kibosh on the whole ‘active travel’ thing although my sister did at least get a reasonable workout. I hope she knows a decent chiropractor…

The oldest, on the other hand, was absolutely fine. She was cycling on the pavement, of course, because there was no way she could handle the roads, not without a couple of escorts fore and aft. This is school run time, after all, and the traffic was heavy and drivers distracted, there were parked cars along most of the length of the road which would have meant weaving in and out of the traffic. But she zipped up the hill without much problem despite having to stop at every side road for me to catch up and cross with her. Nobody seemed to mind her being on the pavement despite her rather questionable steering and somewhat cavalier approach to ringing her bell. The only time a driver honked was when a car had stopped at the zebra for us, to let us know we could cross.

bike to school 2

Safe and inviting?

It still wasn’t exactly inviting for cycling. Although there is loose talk of forming a peleton of local mums and kids to tackle it together, you really shouldn’t have to be that organised just to get to school – it’s not exactly the sort of carefree, no brainer, joyful way to travel that it ought to be. It certainly shouldn’t be the sort of thing that has people say ‘oh well done you’ to you in the half-admiring half-bemused way that is reserved for impressive but slightly crack-brained acheivements, like pushing a peanut up Everest with your nose. But at least it was a start and I look forward to hearing how they get on for the rest of the term. One day, maybe, that impressive-looking bike shed will have more than a couple of bikes in it on a sunny September morning. One day, maybe, there will be a proper bike track all the way for them to use. Just probably not before they’ve started secondary school, or even got primary-school age kids of their own.

empty bike shed

At least you don’t have to worry about parking

It’s still worth fighting for all the same.

Travels With(out) My Brompton

September 17, 2012

So I am down in London for a secret undisclosed happening which I can’t tell you about (it’s not that exciting, so don’t get your hopes up) and there was much umming and ahing about whether or not to bring the Brompton. After all, taking the Brompton down to London to be like all the other trendy London cyclists was part of the point in the first place, but I’m only down for a couple of days and don’t have to do much in the way of gadding about and it’s a bit of a pain to bring along just on the off chance that I might need a Brompton, especially with the weather turned distinctly autumnal. In the end I decided to go without and stepped onto the train pleased to be unencumbered.

That feeling lasted until about the next stop when a chap got on with HIS Brompton and tucked it into the luggage rack behind my seat with that air of modest pride that only Brompton owners who travel with their Brompton have. Naturally – for you can no more travel with a Brompton and not get into conversation with strangers than you can with a large boisterous puppy – he was soon happily enthusing to the people sitting opposite him about its convenience, how nippy it was, how his life had been transformed – indeed, had we not been in a Virgin Sardineolino, I’m sure he would have leapt up to demonstrate The Fold, and even given them a go down the corridor of the train. By Wigan North Western he and they were firm friends and I was sitting sadly on my own, Bromptonless, without so much as a secret signal or badge to signify that I too had a Brompton, just as good as his – indeed better, because it was MINE.

And then, of course, as we alighted at London I remembered that summer goes on a bit longer down here so it was looking rather promising for cycling. Not only that but my sister tells me that on Wednesday they will be attempting the assault on the school run by bike and my Brompton would be just the thing…

Bonus Issue

September 14, 2012

Wheeling back in from the shop this morning I was cheered to note that there were still swallows circling around the yard. Indeed, not only were there still swallows, there were tons of them, seemingly a sky full. As they lined themselves up on the telegraph wire and the shed roof, even the gutter, we were able to count them: more than 40 of them, and some pbviously only quite recently fledged. Normally our swallows get in two broods a year but this year they’ve managed to squeeze in a third and the latest recruits have clearly just emerged to join the throng. This surely must be the most swallows we’ve ever mustered in our little patch and it’s a delight to have them, even if one was spotted hovering deliberately over the roof of the car, all the better to poo on it.

I’m particularly pleased because they were so late arriving this year, and so few of them when they did arrive and for a while there it looked as if we might be back to square one with our swallow population after four years of increasing numbers. Miserable as the summer was, it seems at least to have suited the swallows. And I’m hoping they won’t be heading off quite just yet – as I looked out the window just now I caught sight the most enormous dense cloud of midgies right outside the door. There’s plenty of food for the young uns to feast on – and I’m not having them leave until they’ve eaten every last bit up. There are swallows starving in Africa, you know…

Be Afraid…

September 13, 2012

I may have mentioned that after 2010’s giant mutant parsnips, the other half pronounced last year’s crop ‘disappointingly normal’

Something tells me that’s not going to be a problem this year…

half a parsnip

Unfortunately I only managed to extract half of it (and that after a prolonged battle with the thing) so you can’t see its full magnificence. And if this is what they look like now, with a few more weeks of growing season left, lord knows what I’ll be digging up come the winter…

In other news, has anyone seen my camera? My phone isn’t really cutting it as a replacement.