Bike the Strike

April 29, 2014

So here I am in That London, having safely negotiated my way up to Palmers Green. I had to get myself first to the Holloway Road, which wasn’t too bad, at least until you get to Islington and the nice bike contraflows disappear and are replaced by a 20 mph zone, which is obviously awesome and everything, but not if you still end up at the wrong end of a one way street and having to cycle around some massive one-way system playing ‘please don’t kill me if you can help it Mr. Bus Driver’.*

Once done there, I decided to avoid the trains even though they were running, because even a folded Brompton is a bit too much bike to be squeezing onto a massively packed carriage full of Picadilly line refugees – and besides it’s actually easier to cycle the whole way to Palmer’s Green than it is to lug a Brompton through Highbury and Islington Station. I made my way northwards following a reasonably non scary route up to Alexandra Palace, from where I thought I knew way. Having made only a few wrong turns and stopped to check my A to Z hardly more than a dozen times, I found myself in the back streets north of Ally Pally consulting my map and wondering how pigeons manage to instinctively know where north is when I can’t even tell with the help of a map and two years in the Guides (there aren’t many trees with lichen on them in North London). A passing cyclist asked me if I needed any help and fortunately he was going my way because – and this is really the subject of tonight’s rant – because the way I thought I was going to go has been scuppered. I used to cut along the back streets and cross the North Circular at a handy pedestrian crossing, but apparently they have widened the road there since last summer and removed the crossing, replacing it with some topiary instead. Following my guide, we had to get onto Green Lanes (if you’re not familiar with North London this is neither green nor a lane but a standard issue scary London A road) and joust with the buses for road space to cross the North Circular on one of those head-down-and-pedal-like-all-the-hounds-of-hell-are-after-you junctions.*

I really cannot believe that they are taking pedestrian crossings out, in this day and age. Apparently, the Enfield mini-Holland funding will turn Green Lanes into, if not actually a green lane, but at least somewhere where you get your own space on the road without having to share it with double decker buses (which I swear have got bigger since I left London: were they always basically blocks of flats on wheels?) as long as the shopkeepers of Green Lanes don’t have their way and scupper it for the Great God Parking. Frankly, it can’t come soon enough, but even so, they’ve got to reinstate that crossing, if only for the pedestrians. Come on London, what on earth were you thinking?

Tomorrow, I think I’ll just take the train…

*If you’re reading this, Mum, I got off and walked at that bit

Back to Earth…

April 28, 2014

And how was your weekend? Mine was like this. Because this.

And now I’m back to a bottomless inbox full of emails about it all (I should remember, it’s only once it’s all over that the really hard work begins), with the flow showing no signs of diminishing. I’d love to spend the next few days alternating basking in the glory with pottering in my garden (I have a shed window full of seedlings that are all but climbing out of their modules) but I’m down to London tomorrow for more gadding about until Friday. I’m fairly sure that at one point I downshifted my life, but it doesn’t seem to have stuck.

Just to complicate matters I have developed what appears to be a hernia which may be due to persistent coughing (thanks, lurgy) but which I suspect was not helped by lugging the Brompton about. Oh the indignity. I was half inclined to leave the Brompton at home and just get about in London on the tube like a normal person, but it turns out the unions had other ideas and there’s a tube strike planned for most of my visit. And besides, the doctor didn’t say anything about folding bikes although that may have been because I cunningly didn’t ask – his only advice was not to cough if I can help it and not to do any sit ups. I think I can definitely manage the latter

Oh and here’s a picture of me. I’m the one on the bike (the anxious expression is largely down to the fact that we had foolishly thought having children at the front of the ride would help slow the whole thing down; in fact eight-year-old boys cannot be stopped from treating the whole thing like a race and I was concerned they’d overtake the police escort and disappear into the hills. They were heard shouting ‘we won Pedal on Parliament’ as they rounded the final corner into Holyrood and sprinted for the line. Safer cycling anyone?)



April 25, 2014

Today I got up at 5:15 am to help out at Bigtown’s bike breakfast (fab time was had by all, despite the lack of bacon … we made sure there was real coffee though; some things are not negotiable), pedalled home, read about a thousand emails, wrote a press release, sent about 300 emails, read all the replies, packed, pedalled back to Bigtown to get on a bus and a train to Embra, sat around worrying about things like whistles and bamboo poles and laminated signs and MSPs’ contact details and did we have enough string and all the other things involved in running a mass protest, went to the pub to sit around doing more worrying, and have finally bailed out before I flaked out under the table in exhaustion.

So you’ll forgive me if, in lieu of a blog post, I give you a picture of a tree

tree coming into leaf

Tomorrow it will all be over…

With any luck there will still be a bit of spring left to enjoy

The Cowards’ Cycling Campaign

April 22, 2014

So I’ve been in the local paper for my cycle campaigning activities and one of the nice side effects is people I know emailing me to tell me they’ve seen it and encouraging me to continue with my efforts. What’s interesting is how many of them also go on to apologise for not personally riding a bike much themselves – usually because they tell me they’re too scared. I suppose that, unversed in the subtleties of the various approaches to cycle campaigning, they imagine that what I’m trying to do is encourage people to get out on their bikes and discover for themselves the joys of cycling – the wind in your hair, the flies in your teeth, the huge shot of adrenaline that comes from having a timber lorry overtake you on a road that’s about as wide as a timber lorry. That sort of thing.

In fact, although I’m always delighted when someone decides they want to ride a bike, and very willing to encourage them – at least until they take out a restraining order to stop me – that’s not really what we’re about with Pedal on Parliament. Nor are we campaigning on behalf of current cyclists particularly, although it would be nice if people would stop driving into them. In fact, it’s exactly the people who tell me that they’re too scared to cycle that I’m campaigning for, whether they like it or not. Apart from anything else, they’ve generally got a better idea of what it takes to create mass cycling than half the traditional campaigners do: as one friend put it, until she doesn’t have to worry about mixing with lorries, we’ll never see her on a bike. Of course that may have been her version of ‘until Hell freezes over’, but I’m choosing to take her literally and/or call her bluff. It will take me a while, but until we can create the conditions for even ‘cowards’ to cycle, we won’t see cycling taking off in this country, how ever much encouraging I do. Although I can’t do much about the insects in the teeth part, I’m afraid. (And if that’s all too flippant for you, I’ve written something rather more earnest on the subject for the Pedal on Parliament site.)

Back to ford updates, mild gardening peril and pictures of scenery soon, I promise

Welcome Home…

April 20, 2014

We’ve been wondering when ‘our’ swallows would reappear after the winter. I’ve seen them swooping overhead when out on the bike, sometimes quite close to home, but there’s been no twittering presence on the wire outside the house – and no rapid darting in and out of the window of the swallow shed. Despite always sending many freshly minted swallows off to Africa in the autumn, such is the mortality rate that there’s no guarantee any of them will return, so this time of year is always tinged with a little anxiety.

So we were pleased when – sitting outside on the bench enjoying a cup of tea and a shared Easter egg with a visitor this afternoon – he suddenly clapped his hand to his head and looked up ruefully at the swallow perched on the wire strategically placed above his seat. The swallow soon shot off to check out the nesting sites within the shed, where we hope it will soon be joined by many others. And our visitor? He’s gone off to get himself a lottery ticket while his luck holds

Taps Aff

April 19, 2014

I had a day trip to Newcastle today which meant setting off for the station with frost still thick on the grass, for all the bright promise of the morning sunshine. The Toon itself was distinctly nippy with a sharp wind blowing in from the North Sea and the various stag and hen parties making their way along the river front looked as if they regretted going for the matching t-shirts/comically brief dresses, at least until they’d got enough alcohol on board to stop caring. I was feeling fairly smug at having dressed sensibly until I realised that I’d lost one of my favourite gloves, a gift from the other half and rather spiffy with rabbit-fur lined (don’t write in) cuffs, which I’d successfully managed to avoid losing for two years – something of a record for me. One was restored to me, having been found on Bigtown station platform and kept for my return, but the other has vanished, to join my last two hats and at least four right hand gloves (I never lose the left-hand ones for some reason) in the great lost-property office in the sky…

Fortunately, by the time I came to ride home this afternoon the sun had done its work and it was warm enough to ride home bare handed. It’s not *quite* taps aff yet, but from the reddened shoulders I passed on my way home there has been some reckless clout casting going on in Bigtown today, May be out be damned. And as we’re all apparently desperately vitamin-D deprived at this time of year, perhaps it’s no bad thing…

N Plus … My God What Am I Thinking?

April 17, 2014

No, not bikes, for once, although there is a parallel. This week I’ve been attempting to do All The Gardening (along with the last frantic week of Pedal on Parliament organising) as I try and catch up from our sodden winter and my busyness and get everything in the ground while I have the chance. Yesterday, as I was reminding myself how back-breaking potato planting was, the landlord gave me a last chance to take over the remaining vegetable plots in the walled garden before they were grassed over (the landlord’s veg production having been moved to raised beds nearer the house). Despite the fact that I already have more garden than I can really handle – and we now grow pretty much all the veg that we can reasonably eat, without extending the season with a poly tunnel – I was briefly tempted.

ex vegetable beds

Ooh look, all rotavated and raked and everything. Shiny…

Clearly to a gardener, an extra patch of land is just as enticing as a new bike is to a cyclist. Sure, you have all the bikes you need, and not enough shed for another… but … shiny. Especially if the alternative is for the bike – or the garden – to be scrapped. The plots in the walled garden have been cultivated for decades and while they’re not being permanently lost, it does seem a shame that nobody is prepared to take them on. For one mad moment I did think about a career in market gardening but then I looked at the state of my own plot and came to my senses.

my own vegetable plot

Meanwhile, back in reality

In other news, the first parsnip emerged today. Time to get the slug traps down before munching begins.

parsnip seedling

Parsnip seedling. I include this photo as a service to all those who arrive at my blog having searched for photos of parsnip seedlings, as happens regularly at this time of year. Weed seedlings look very similar…

And we learned that pheasants and greenhouses don’t mix.

Half Sprung

April 15, 2014

waiting bike

It’s a tough life, but today I had to add a few extra miles to my route back from Bigtown after yoga to deliver some Pedal on Parliament flyers to a local cafe and farm shop. The sun was blazing down* and dazzlingly bright, but I battled on up hill and down dale, stopping only for a cold drink and a a rest once I had arrived there.

hedgerows and trees

The hedgerows are full of green and blossoms and the skies were full of singing larks, but the trees remain resolutely wintry. We’re not there yet, not quite. There’s still springing to be done…

wintry trees

Sometimes it’s hard work bringing about safer cycling in Scotland, but someone’s got to do it…

gate and green field wintry tree two trees

* you may laugh, but I had not really factored in the insulating effect of having my yoga leggings on under my normal trousers and I was genuinely boiling by the time I got there and was able to do a quick change routine in the loo. It was so hot I even considered nipping behind a bush and just continuing in my leggings but they contain lycra and I was concerned someone might think I was a real cyclist.

Facts on the Ground

April 14, 2014

It’s that time of year when you only have to turn your back on a bulb of garlic and it turns into this

garlic bulb sprouting

So it got re-allocated from kitchen duties to joining the overwintering (and by ‘overwintering’ I mean ‘lost track of last summer and only rediscovered it when it sprouted’) garlic up in the veg plot.

overwintering garlic

The garden feels massively behind this year, but things are warming up at last and spring is advancing. Tempting though it is to dive in and go mad on a glorious sunny breezy day like today, the soil is still very damp and claggy and there are frosts forecast so I’m having to hold back from planting anything just yet, apart from the chitted parsnips. Everything else is crammed onto the shed windowsill biding its time with varying degrees of patience – I have to be a bit careful walking past the pea seedlings, lest they start climbing up my leg.

broad beans in flower

Thank goodness for my autumn-planted broad beans. Battered they may be, but they are magnificently in flower. Even though I’ve done practically nothing except take a punt and stick some in the ground last year on the off chance, it almost makes me feel like a real gardener…

Duns Cycle Chic

April 12, 2014

Babymother and co were up helping Huttonian celebrate his birthday this weekend and we came over to join them. And with spring springing (somewhat gustily, but at least not raining) we took the opportunity to go out for a quick cycle ride.

Islabike and paperbike

The Paperbike might be a splendid town bike, but with its cushy fat tyres it handles gravel, mud and ruts with a certain aplomb. The Brompton makes for a rather more skittish ride but is nippy round the potholes, and of course an Islabike is primarily a mountain bike, so we were able to take full advantage of Duns’s forest tracks and off-road paths. Which was fortunate because we weren’t that keen on trying the Borders’ roads.


It was only when I was looking at the pictures afterwards that it occurred to me we were all riding British bikes, all very different but each in their own way quality pieces of engineering.

Why is it we can build the bikes, but not the roads we need to ride them on?