Step Aside ASBO Buzzard

May 13, 2017

So, I’ve never really quite understood why the good people of Bigtown were so down on the local gull population. It’s near enough to the sea that you’re going to expect there to be gulls and personally I think they give a town a holiday-ish air. I can understand it if you’ve got one that’s built a nest on your house and is busy defending it against all comers, including you, or if you’ve just lost half your chips to an avian maurauder, but otherwise a bird is a bird, even if it’s a bit shouty. Of all the things that’s wrong with Bigtown, I wouldn’t even have put ‘seagulls’ in the top ten, but it invariably comes up in the list of complaints about the place, usually as part of the holy trinity of local issues (dog poo and potholes being the other two of course) – to the point where an Urban Gull Task Force* has apparently been set up to combat them.

And then I was standing innocently minding my own business on the High Street this morning when I felt what appeared to be half a bucket of something being emptied over my head. And realised that I had been literally dumped on from a great height. It turns out that a herring gull can unleash an extraordinary amount of crap in one go and this one had scored a direct hit on my hat, saddle, shoe, back, jacket hood, arm, and both the outside and inside of my Brompton basket.

Oh, and top tip to those in a similar situation: don’t try and get any sympathy from someone who’s spent a season in the Farne Islands.

* As a side note, ‘task forces’ are clearly one of those things, like ‘tsars’, that have suffered from serious devaluation over the years. The first time the UK deployed a task force, it retook the Falklands. The Transport Minister recently set up an Active Travel Task Force to tackle the growing backlash against cycling infrastructure which, disappointingly, has confined itself to calls for evidence and hasn’t got a single battleship. That’s hardly going to bring East Dunbartonshire Council to heel, now, is it?

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Civilian Cycling

May 12, 2017

bike at the cathedral

There is much chat among cycle campaigners about ‘citizen’ or ‘civilian’ cyclists – those people who are just using their bikes to get around, generally in their ordinary clothes, looking relaxed and happy, rather than (as Mikael Colville Anderson described the average London cyclist) as if they were being hunted down by dogs.*

I even try and fulfil this role myself, adjusted for the Scottish weather and my general inability to put together an outfit that by any stretch of the imagination could be described as ‘chic’. Maintaining a relaxed and happy mien is sometimes possible as long as I stick to the rural back roads and Bigtown’s somewhat patchy off-road network, but there’s always a point here or there where I have to take my life into my own hands, assume everyone is out to kill me and generally gird myself for battle before taking on the traffic.

In Seville, despite a complete lack of wayfinding so we were lost more often than we were found (for some reason my companions allowed me to navigate) this never happened once. Seville’s comprehensive cycle network meant we could just cycle around like civilians, if not actually like the Sevillanos themselves, who can generally be seen cycling along no handed, rolling a cigarette, perhaps with a pal perched in the front basket of their hire bike.

map of knowledge

The marked up map from the bike hire company which not only described the main cycle routes, but also flagged up the best tapas places.

There has already been much digital ink spilled on our Seville cycle trip, which had its own hashtag (yes, we are aware there are only four of us), a storify, and a rather more serious dissection of what makes it work as a cycling city despite there being many things which were less than ideal about its cycling infrastructure. So I don’t have much more to add here, except to show you my holiday snaps, some of which are actually a bit holidayish, albeit with perhaps a little more emphasis on bikes and urban design than is strictly conventional

sightseeing by bike

smiley bollard

shady bike lane

flamenco by bike

shady square.

Oh, and the food was incredible, the Sevillians use their oranges to make wine not marmalade, which is a massive improvement, the flamenco was pretty damn amazing …

passion for tea

… and the Spanish even manage to make an acceptable (I’m told) cup of tea.

* indeed, I think this may be in the draft Tory manifesto …


Lost and (Almost) Found

May 10, 2017

I have much to tell you about Seville, with many photos* but you will have to wait because – as regular readers of this blog know – I live my life trailing lost belongings, and yesterday the lost belonging in question was my laptop, which is a key part of the blogging-with-photos process. I had taken it out of my wheely bag because the airline was checking the bigger carry-ons, and slipped it under the seat in front of me, and then when we were getting off the plane I was focused on getting moving because the absolute last train to anywhere even close to Bigtown left at 8:15 and I wanted to make sure I was on it and now I’d have to wait for the luggage to come out of the hold.

So it wasn’t until we were through passport control, and I had spotted my bag on the carousel and grabbed it and was about to bolt for the tram (at this point, I actually had more than an hour before I caught my train** but after many hard years of London commuting I never consider that I’ve enough time to catch a train until I’m standing on the platform waiting for it) when I remembered my laptop. Which was still under the seat that had been in front of me, and was now – it turns out – locked on a plane bound for Bristol.

At this point, naively, I had thought that someone at the customer service desk would take my seat number, alert the crew or the staff at the other end, suggest that someone could retrieve the laptop and put it in a safe place until the plane returned to Edinburgh, and then it could be handed in to lost property. However, this isn’t how airline lost property works. If it hadn’t been handed in already, nobody seemed to think it was worth letting anyone on the plane know that it was there until someone stumbled upon it or the cleaners found it when the plane got cleaned wherever it was it ended up for the night.

So this morning was spent discovering that the world of airline lost property has become, like many other things, largely outsourced. Lost property at the airport is handled by a company (which charges an unspecified fee to reunite you with it). Lost property on the airlines is handled by a different company whose call centre only operates for a few hours in the morning. The airline customer service team feel that as there is a company handling that sort of thing for them, they don’t need to do anything further. The lost property companies just sit there waiting for things to be found and handed to them, and can’t access anything that’s on a plane. As the laptop had not apparently been handed in after the plane had presumably been cleaned for the night, I pictured it spending the next few days happily travelling from Bristol to Brno to Manchester and Madrid, until somebody finally noticed it and handed it in to the lost and found, which by then could be anywhere from Aberdeen or Zagreb, where nobody would know it was mine. This is the way of the world, I realised, and there seemed to be no way to talk to an actual person who might take pity on me and follow up with somebody who could actually track it down.

And then, just as I was ready to give up, I got an email from someone at Bristol Airport who had not only read the message I sent through the ‘contact us’ form (never the most confidence-inspiring means of communication), had also gone and followed up with their security team who run their lost and found, Bristol having not apparently caught the outsourcing bug. And, oh frabjous day, despite originally telling me last night that nothing had been found – the security team did after all have my laptop.

All I have to do now is get it from Bristol back to Bigtown but that is in hand and hopefully laptop and I will be reunited before we have to depart once again (family duty calls, sorry, I will plant more trees in penance) on a plane to the US. You can be certain I will be keeping a very close eye on it this time. While undoubtedly losing something else important (Passport? Head? Husband?)  that I ought to be hanging on to…
* It’s going to be a bit embarrassing if anyone who’s not a cycle campaigner wants to see my holiday snaps: ‘so yes, these bollards are interesting because look at the little pictures of bikes on them, and this is the tree in the middle of the cycle path, and this is a stop sign for bikes and … what, any actual historic sights? Wait, I did take a photo of the cathedral, because there was this nice bike parked in front of it, it’s here somewhere, I think just after the floating bus stops …’

** Which was anyway cancelled.


Hare’s Gap

May 4, 2017

As amazing a privilege as it is to wake each morning to find not one but two hares sunning themselves in your garden (in the immortal phrasing of Dave Barry, a large main hare and a small emergency backup hare), I felt that with the advent of the veg growing season, some boundaries needed to be made quite clear.

hare habitat and non hare habitat

So far, the large main hare has been keeping to the correct side of my anti-hare fence, but I’d left a gap to get the wheelbarrow in and out and as I was about to plant out my broad beans and peas and then leave them undefended while I went to Seville, except by the other half (who is pretty much Team Hare and unlikely to do anything to stop them eating whatever they like) it was time to close the gap.

hare defences mark one

First attempt at a gate.

My first attempt at a gate was pleasingly rustic, but effectively lasted 12 hours before it blew over. It was time for something less decorative and more solid. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to create anything like that, so I just bodged it as usual.

hare defences mark two

Ah sod it

It’s well known in the UK cycle infrastructure world that there’s no bodge so half-arsed that putting up a sign won’t magically make it work. I didn’t have a cyclists dismount sign handy, so I made one of my own.*

no hares

Looking forward to coming back and finding that at least some of my poor seedlings will have survived …

seedlings planted out

*Obviously, hares can’t read, so I drew a picture as well. I’m not a complete idiot.


Ford Auld Lang Syne

May 2, 2017

Cycling back from the Community Council meeting this evening with a song in my heart – for I had finally handed over the secretaryship to not one but two people* – and several insects in my eye – for the warm weather has brought the bugs out in profusion – I passed the turnoff to the ford. And as there was daylight still (and how nice it is to cycle in daylight in the evening), I thought why not.

Dear readers, I bring you for possibly the last time, the ford:

the ford

It’s been a dry spring, all in all.

* It’s always very satisfying when it takes more than one person to replace you


Vamos a Sevilla

May 1, 2017

And then, with a bang – almost as if the Weather Gods were paying attention to our puny human calendars – it is May and suddenly there as proper warmth in the air. The hare has gone from sitting looking hunched and miserable in the wind to stretching out sparked out in the sunshine (at least until its pesky human hosts attempt to go out and photograph it.) And I, who have been thinking every day as I get dressed how sick I am of my winter clothes, had to shed not just my gloves and hat but actual jacket on the cycle into Bigtown this afternoon.

I had better get used to it, because on Thursday, as soon as the election is safely over (at least the local one – when it comes to the general election, I’m just putting my fingers in my ears until its over, although I will vote, don’t worry), I am off with my wheely suitcase but not my bike to Edinburgh and thence to Seville where the same gang of four who took a highly serious study tour to Amsterdam back in September will be conducting a thorough investigation into the cycling infrastructure of ‘build it and they will come’ poster child, Seville.

And by thorough we mean really thorough because it’s well known that I can get lost getting out of a wardrobe, so we’re likely to end up giving any wayfinding in the city a brutal workout (obviously my companions are all skilled navigators AND know how to use the GPS on their phones, but I’ve a tendency to be impatient and lead from the front whether I know where I’m going or not. POP organisers, you can stop sniggering at the back now). We’ll also be ensuring that the infrastructure can be as easily used when you’re coming back from the bar as when you’re going to it, and that the bike hire system can be worked out by someone whose Spanish has been learned from a phone app that is heavy on phrases like ‘where is the train station?’ and ‘would you like more beer?’ but rather lighter on phrases like ‘give it some welly‘ which is, as I recall, the key to getting a Boris Bike out of the docking station. If our trip to Amsterdam is anything to go by, there will undoubtedly also be testing of the ease of using bikes for spontaneous shopping trips, finding a decent cup of tea, riding a bike having been lured into drinking mojitos and discovering how many kms of Seville’s segregated bike network need to be ridden to work off excessive consumption of tapas and other Spanish goodies.

I think even the most earnest of kerb nerds would agree, that’s a pretty good assessment of a city’s bike infrastructure. Although we’re open to inspecting any interesting floating bus stops, innovative junctions or nicely angled kerbs should anyone want us to have a look. And if you’ve any other suggestions, bike-related or not, for what to see, do, eat, drink or experience in Seville, bring them on.