So yesterday saw me getting up at silly o’clock to catch the train to Glasgow to attend the Cycling Scotland Annual Conference (top tip conference organisers: starting at 9:30 is not good for those of us at the end of a very slow and infrequent train service, which is most of the rural population). Unlike Tuesday, when I had a brilliant and inspiring if completely exhausting day, Friday’s affair was very much the sort of conference where you sit in a room wondering when the coffee break will be while a man in a suit reads information off a powerpoint slide which you could have easily got from the internet (or, in the case of the Scottish government’s cycling plans, the back of a fag packet).* Despite the best efforts of Jon Snow (and Alison Johnstone, Green MSP and very much not a man in a suit), the whole day seemed calculated to remind us that cycling is just cycling, this weird thing done by 2% of the population, whereas the Newcastle conference was full of people – including British politicians – who got that cycling was about everything, and particularly about creating towns and cities and whole countries fit for people, however they choose to get about.
But anyway, you don’t go to these things for the presentations, you go to them for the networking and there I was networking away like mad when I realised that my train was at 16:12 and it was now somehow 15:55, and I was in the middle of a velodrome – which is brilliant and quite cool with the cyclists whizzing in circles all round us although you do wonder how the cyclists feel about being basically the cabaret to a conference full of people in suits – and I had no idea how to get out. Which is how I ended up sprinting round the outside of the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome having gone out the wrong door, then doing the fastest ever unfolding of a Brompton, followed by caning it down Glasgow’s London Road in the rain, trying desperately to remember the most direct route back to Glasgow Central (I believe this will in fact be an event at next year’s Commonwealth Games). I might even have made it, had I not ended up first on a pedestrianised shopping street full of shoppers all in black coats (sometimes I can’t help but feel the UK’s addiction to hi-vis hasn’t gone nearly far enough) with my rain-spattered glasses rendering them all but invisible in the dusk, and then at the wrong end of Glasgow’s inexplicable one-way system. By the time I’d lugged the Brompton up the stairs to the station the Bigtown train had long gone, and with it seemingly all hope of making it on time to perform in Nearest Village’s music night. The next Bigtown train was not for two hours and would take ages, while the next alternative would get me to Lockerbie but then mean a bus ride and an eight mile ride in the dark.
Fortunately, one of the upsides of rural train travel is that you inevitably bump into someone you know on the train and that morning I had travelled up on the fast train from Lockerbie with a friend who had mentioned she would be catching the 5 pm train back. She and her husband then gallantly sped me not just to Bigtown but on to Nearest Village where the the choirmistress had delayed proceedings as long as she possibly could by holding the assembled audience in the bar. I sprinted into the hall and joined in just as the choir were finishing Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho and we were seamlessly into the Eriskay Love Lilt as I caught my breath and got out of my cycling jacket. No doubt lubricated by the extra alcohol, the audience didn’t seem to care, and the evening went swimmingly. We even won something in the raffle, which never happens.
I don’t know quite what lesson to draw from this experience – except that cars do have their uses, and that we need more members in our village choir. And that if anyone had told me five years ago that the success of a musical evening, however amateurish, might stand or fall on the basis of my presence, I would have told them that they were nuts.
* and if you’re wondering where all my tweets were, a) I couldn’t be bothered and b) they hadn’t provided any WiFi except for selected members of the press so I couldn’t anyway. That did at least stop me from just firing up my laptop and catching up with my emails online…