Fashion Faux Pas

April 30, 2015

Apologies for the brief blog – I’ve just done my first solo navigation through Newcastle (I usually try and secure a native guide) on my way back from the Women and Cycling conference. I’d love to summarise the day but it would be almost impossible, but the main difference between it and a regular conference was that it was mostly extremely good fun and even when one of the speakers went a bit off piste about retail and the female brain (please, do me a favour and read Delusions of Gender before spouting out the usual guff about women not being able to read maps*) I was able to let off steam by sitting at the back with my internet buddies sending rude tweets about it. Plus I got to meet *the* Isla of Islabikes fame – in fact she came and joined my round table (she didn’t know how to get teenage girls cycling either, sadly).

But one slight downside of a women’s cycling conference is that you do actually have to think a bit about what to wear. At a regular cycling conference, simply managing not to turn up in lycra is considered dangerously cycle chic; the rest of the attendees are usually in suits. I had put more thought into my outfit than I’d done all year, and decided to break out my new purple cords in honour of the occasion, feeling rather pleased with the fact that I could actually fit in them (I’d bought them on the internet and been a bit ambitious about the sizing). This smugness lasted exactly long enough for to look down and realise I had immediately annointed them with oil. Seriously, cycle clothing manufacturers of Britain, stop messing around with reflective patches and special pockets for your u-lock. If we want more women to cycling then all non-black pairs of trousers need to come pre-patterned with the distinctive markings of a Brompton chain. It’s just going to save a lot of time and grief in the long run.

* present company excepted**

** and the fact that I am in the right house and only tried to unlock the wrong gate once on my way here suggests that even this one can, given a couple of runs at it, read maps.

Hole in the Wall Gang

April 28, 2015

OK, the Hatton Gardens heist it ain’t… but we did get an idea these last two days what it takes to fit a new boiler flue into a cottage with two-foot thick stone walls.

hole in the wall

The plumbers were particularly unimpressed by the way the installer of the previous boiler had chosen to drill a pipe right through the centre of one of the stones, rather than go through the gaps between them, forcing them to remove a substantial chunk out of the side of the house to replace it.

chunk of stone

But now, after two days of banging noises and a kitchen turned upside down, we have a shiny new boiler which, as I discovered this evening, sends rather alarming clouds of water vapour drifting past the sitting room window when it’s running (I was alone in the house and I just caught the movement out of the corner of my eye).

No chance to stay home and enjoy it, sadly, as the Brompton and I will off again tomorrow, heading to York for this, where I will be chairing a round table (I don’t get to dress up as a knight, disappointingly) on teenage girls and cycling, a topic for which my sole qualification is that I once was a teenage girl who cycled, albeit a terrifyingly long time ago. However, having talked to a few of them by way of research, I have discovered that mainly teenage girls don’t cycle for the same reason most people don’t cycle: because the roads are scary (and, yes, helmets are uncool). And hence the answer is more of this, which will require me doing more of this.

bikes at POP on the Royal Mile

Bet you can’t wait

The Weather Gods Giveth…

April 27, 2015

So you’ve invited several thousand people to Edinburgh on their bikes to tell their politicians they want to see a cycle friendly country. And come Friday evening the forecast is for heavy rain, and on Saturday morning the actuality is heavy rain, and you’re busy rewriting an expectations-managing press release …

and then something odd happens.

The sun came out

The rain stops. And the sun comes out.

bikes at POP on the Royal Mile

And so did all the cyclists.

and now it's snowing

Nothing is free in this world, however. So I suppose I should not have been startled to look up this afternoon and discover that it was snowing.

bamboo on a bike

Oh, and for those wondering how you carry bamboo on a bike? You ask a nice man to do it for you. Either that, or our head marshal is trying out for the Edinburgh University Quidditch team.

A Bike as Lovely as a Tree…

April 24, 2015

As I was cycling into Bigtown yesterday I noticed ahead of me a cyclist who appeared to be carrying a fishing rod (this is not that unusual a sight – there’s a chap who regularly cycles along that road in full fishing gear, including thigh length waders). As I slowly caught up with him, though, I realised it wasn’t a fishing rod that was sticking out over his handlebars, but in fact a tree – a ten foot sapling which, as he told me when I finally drew level with him (it’s embarrassing, actually, how long it took me to catch up with someone who was cycling along on an ancient mountain bike carrying a tree), he had dug out of the river to replace some trees he’d bought in an auction which had died, due to an infestation of coral spot and that he wanted the tree so the birds would have somewhere to land, and he needed a big one so he’d get some enjoyment out of it while he was still around. I further learned, as we pedalled into town, that he had retired from his job in the quarry, but still cycled out along the road and back every day because he enjoyed it so much. And that two of his grandchildren had never ridden a bike (we agreed what a terrible shame that was). We then chatted more generally about bikes, and the fact that there were no decent jobs in the area for young people these days, and I offered him some of the birch saplings that I’m digging out of the garden, and generally we passed the time very pleasantly until we were in Bigtown itself and parted ways.

I’m enough of a recovering Londoner to find the fact that we fell into conversation as naturally as we did much stranger than the fact that he was cycling along carrying a tree – although now I think about it, we have exchanged nods many times as we’ve passed each other on the road, so we’re practically old friends. And I was so caught up in the conversation, I never even thought to ask how he was carrying the tree, as the bike he was riding had no rack or basket or pannier or any carrying capacity whatsoever.

This last is a bit of a shame, because it turns out that tomorrow (as well as many other things) I am going to have to work out how to get a longish bundle of bamboo – shaped, as it happens, very much like a small tree – across Edinburgh on a bicycle by some means. But at least I know that, theoretically, it can be done …

Oh and talking of bikes as lovely as a tree, if you’re in Edinburgh tomorrow and want to come to Pedal on Parliament but don’t have a bike, there are a couple of glorious Paper Bikes available for loan.

You know you want to.

Loveliest of Trees the Cherry Now

April 23, 2015

I had a last minute Guardian Bike Blog piece to write yesterday for Pedal on Parliament and was finding it difficult to get started, so there was nothing for it but to get myself onto my bike and hope that the words would come. I do all my best thinking on a bike, or at least that’s how it seems at the time. And besides, it was just too nice to be anywhere but outdoors.

spring trees

I even inveigled the other half along. He’s the tiny red dot, providing a bit of contrast to the first spring leaves of the trees. He’s not much one for riding at the speed of chat.

Blackthorn blossom

No cherries here (I spotted a glorious one in the middle of a wood from a train window this weekend though and have had an AE Houseman earworm ever since), so blackthorn will have to do. But frankly, all trees have a special loveliness when they first flush into leaf. I can’t get enough of that tender green.

And did I find inspiration? Well, it’s not exactly Houseman, but you can judge for yourself here.

More tree-and-cycling related shenanigans tomorrow, if I’m spared.

Life in the Day of a POP Organiser

April 22, 2015

… especially one who has inconveniently got a load of work deadlines right in the middle of the busiest part of organising Pedal on Parliament, and during an unexpected spring heatwave.

5am-6am: Wake up early, for a productive hour spent fretting. Wonder if I can possibly justify going to yoga this morning given the amount I’ve got on. Neck informs me in no uncertain terms that I can’t possibly justify missing yoga either. In the end the neck, and yoga wins. Balance tipped by the fact that the meditation session afterwards offers the chance of a nice nap, thereby cancelling out the hour’s fretting.

6am – 9am Get up, dressed. Check emails. Spend half an hour putting the finishing touches on a press release for POP Scotland. Check more emails. Send emails. Tweet stuff. Realise I’m about to be late and dash around the house trying to find my yoga stuff.

9am – 10am Cycle to Bigtown. Absolutely glorious morning. Shame I am going to spend most of it indoors staring at a screen. Get to yoga and nip into bike shop next door to find out if my front chainring has arrived yet. Get to class to discover Yoga Bunny just pipping me at the post for the coveted corner slot.

10am – 11:30 am Ahhh. And breathe. And I swear to God, it wasn’t me snoring at the end.

11:30 – 12 noon Rush around Bigtown doing a bit of social media stuff for someone else’s viral marketing campaign (a quid pro quo for spreading the word about POP). Discover it’s harder than it looks to hold up a sign and take a photograph of a building at the same time. How is everyone else managing it? Do they have three arms? Are they taking the photo with their nose? In the end I rope in a passer-by who turns out to recognise me because he sees me cycling past in Papershop Village. This being Bigtown, I am not in the least surprised.

Look up you don't know what you're missing

#GetDumfriesTalking Thank you random stranger who turned out not to be a complete stranger after all…

12 -1pm Pedal home. Still glorious. And at least I get an hour or so of cycling in the sunshine

1-2pm Eat lunch on the bench having dealt with the gazillion emails that have accumulated in my absence. Other half has learned that when I go in to fetch something I will not come out again because I have picked up my phone and am tapping away at it, having completely forgotten what it is I came in for.

2-3:30 pm Work. Realise how behind I am. Work some more. Check emails. Aargh. Workity work work. Emails. Work.

3:30 – 4pm Coffee on the bench. There’s vitamin D to be synthesised, you know, and we’re all deficient after a long winter.

4-5 pm Workity work work.

5pm Can’t stand it any longer. Toast on the bench in the last of the sunshine before the sun moves behind the house.

5:30 – 7:30 pm Work. Emails. Work. Emails. Facebook (it’s all POP stuff, promise). Twitter. Panic. Work.

7:30 – 8:30 pm cook dinner, phone in hand, checking emails and tweeting. Panic mildly about meeting deadline.

8:30 – 10pm – just as supper is ready, old friend rings for a chat. Haven’t spoken in ages. Fortunately she doesn’t mind me chewing in her ear as we catch up.

10pm – 11pm Work. Eyes propped up by matchsticks, but thank goodness for the yoga nap. Ahem. meditation. Finish work. Bed

5am Wake up fretting …

A Matter of Timing

April 20, 2015

So pretty much lesson one of garden planning (apart from ‘don’t organise a major cycle protest right in the middle of April’) is ‘don’t go on holiday in May’ – and not just because May is generally when your garden will be looking at its best. Normally May is when I’m madly planting out everything I planted indoors in April, to give it the best possibly chance away from the slugs. Unfortunately, May is also when I will be in Southern California, helping celebrate a 100th birthday, not something that comes around too often or you can put off just because it’s a little inconvenient horticulturally.

So today I had to dash up to the greenhouse (and what a lifesaver it has been this year – without it I would have to be carefully rotating everything through the limited space we have on the kitchen windowsill, or then again, perhaps I might not have thought ‘ah loads of time, I can just shove everything in the greenhouse’) and bulk plant everything I could during the brief window of opportunity offered by the 5 o’clock pause in the onslaught of emails (also I’ve discovered that the only election coverage I can stand is that on PM, as it’s the only Radio 4 programme that fails to take any of it remotely seriously, yet Eddie Mair still manages to give the politicians a wrigglingly hard time, just – presumably – for the hell of it). So hello french beans (dwarf and climbing), leeks, pumpkins, spaghetti squash, purple sprouting broccoli and, for some reason that undoubtedly made sense when we did our seed order, three different kinds of kale. Hopefully you will all have emerged in time to be planted out before I leave. And next year, I will definitely not be budged from my plot between the month of March and August. Although I can’t promise to do anything about the cycle campaign…

Hello Stranger

April 17, 2015

Operation stupidbusy continues unabated, not helped by my inability to say no to stuff, but I did ‘have’ to ride down to Papershop Village for the paper this morning.* And as I got back on my bike I heard a familiar, scolding chattering and looked up to see a swallow perched on the wire above, back from Africa. Although there were none in our front yard when I returned, the other half soon called me out to greet the first of our returned swallows. Welcome back, guys, there’s midgies here already, and it was only snowing last week…

We may have to recreate our anti-cat defences on the window of the swallow shed, though. The new neighbour has a cat, apparently, and as soon as she manages to catch it, she will be bringing it here. It doesn’t sound as if it’s much of an indoor moggy…

* There’s lots of reasons for doing things by bike, like burning off cake, saving the planet etc. And sometimes, simply the excuse to get outside of a sunny spring morning before chaining yourself to a laptop for the rest of what is promising to be a gorgeous day.

Running to Stand Still

April 15, 2015

Pedal on Parliament effectively reached the email event horizon today – that point where emails start coming in faster than I can deal with them, so I can sit down at my computer thinking I’ll just get some minor task done while I start lunch, and an hour later I’ll still be typing away with my lunch cooling beside me and actually more behind with my inbox fuller than it was when I started and not having actually done the thing that I switched it on to do in the first place.

sprouting onions

This isn’t great news for the garden; in a sane and rational world we would hold POP in September when the weather is still generally nice and gardening consists of swanning about with secateurs harvesting things, not suddenly looking up from your inbox with a start and remembering that it is not enough to get hold of some onion sets, you actually have to go out and plant them before they climb out of their bag and start planting themselves but before you can do that you need to prepare the bed for them and what about those parsnips you were chitting, they need planting out too, and there are bastard mice in the greenhouse nipping off the tops of your broadbean seedlings* so better get them out of harm’s way as soon as possible. But we hold POP in spring because that’s when elections generally are – clearly politicians aren’t generally gardeners any more than they are cyclists (and perhaps if they were either, we really would live in a sane and rational world…).

decapitated broad bean

Fortunately, as most of the POP team ARE cyclists, I do get a reprieve between 5 and 7 as that is when most self-respecting cyclists are cycling home from work (and then eating their bodyweight in toast) and so the emails slackened off and, as it was a suddenly gorgeous evening, I was able to escape to try and catch up with the gardening backlog. I can’t say I was exactly successful there either, but the situation is at least no worse than when I started, which is more than I can say for my emails …

broad beans planted out

We’re also falling behind with eating the purple-sprouting broccoli, but I’m filing that one under ‘nice problem to have’.

purple-sprouting broccoli

* for no discernable reason at all. At least the slugs actually *eat* the things they attack. Still, it makes me feel slightly less bad for all those times I’ve seen the cat playing with her food …

You Racin’? You Askin’?

April 13, 2015

Riding back from last week’s adventure, I happened across a family I knew from the village heading along the back road. Mum, daughter, granny and dog were all on foot, but the son, who I knew from the village school’s cycle trips, was on his bike – pedalling away ahead of them like a good ‘un. As I came up behind him, I rang my bell, as much to say hello as anything else, and noticed that he immediately sped up. I picked up the pace a little and pulled out to pass him, but he sped up again, head down over the handlebars and giving it everything. Were we racing? I upped the pace once more and started to pull level and as I did so I caught sight of the look on his face: half deadpan seriousness, half challenging smirk. Oh yes, we were racing all right.

At which point two thoughts crossed my mind simultaneously. One: it wouldn’t do to demoralise the poor lad by sweeping past him effortlessly as, even though I was an adult on a full-sized bike with road tyres and he was a primary school kid on some sort of mountain-bike shaped object with knobbly tyres, at the end of the day it would still be being beaten by a girl. And two: I was damned if I was going to let the little squirt beat me in a bike race.

So I did what I had to do and gave it everything too, including my best Mark Cavendish impression as I passed, complete with a sprinter’s lunge forward as I edged him on the line. And then, honour upheld on both sides, I pedalled away, without a word said.

Just wait till he discovers Strava, though.