Plum Job

September 30, 2017

This week, a visiting friend prompted an expedition down to the ruined building below our house – once a cottage, then a cow byre, and latterly the haunt of barn owls.

ruined cottage

There were no owls this time, but we did realise that the trees beside it were plum trees, replete with small but tasty plums, ripe for the picking.

plum on tree

I had assumed they were the remnants of trees grown by the cottage’s inhabitants, but according to our neighbour (whose land it is), they have appeared since the building was abandoned. She was happy for us to pick what we wanted, in return for sharing some of the spoils. So yesterday I gathered the ones which hadn’t split or been feasted on by wasps, or already fallen into a nearby cowpat (this may explain the proliferation of trees, come to think of it).

There was going to be a third photo of them on our kitchen windowsill, in all their purple glory (I feel we have to keep up the instagram lifestyle from time to time), but I forgot about this until after I had converted them into crumble and we’d scoffed the lot.

The food you grow yourself is, by convention, always delicious, but the food which just grows itself is sweeter still…

Showing Up

September 29, 2017

One of the things I have been pondering for a while is how campaigners (and indeed writers and other people trying to make the world a better place by whatever means at their disposal) can support each other. There are many facets to this, some philosophical and some practical, but one really simple thing is simply to show up for stuff.

morning clouds

And so, I’ve been making an effort to get out and support other people’s events, even if they don’t feel like a massive priority for me. Sometimes this has felt like a hardship, but on the whole it’s quite nice to be at an event where your only responsibility is to exist.

morning clouds and sunshine

And when it means cycling to Old Nearest Village on a dewy not-quite-managing-to-rain morning to eat cakes and drink tea and exchange gossip in the name of defeating cancer, I can’t even pretend it was an imposition.

ford no progress

(They don’t seem to be making much progress with the ford though, for some reason. They’d better hurry before that paint wears off altogether)

Tomorrow I will be here, being blissfully no-longer-in-charge, but hopefully supportive of those who are.

I could actually get used to this.

Keeping up appearances

September 27, 2017

No sooner do you blog about your pannier breaking … than magically one arrives in the post.

new pannier

No, I haven’t become the kind of blogger who gets sent bike loot* to review by companies eager to benefit from my massive influence. It’s better than that: I’ve become the kind of blogger whose enormously kind readers post her bike accessories they happen to have lying around to replace the ones she’s broken. This has the advantage of saving me from the horrors of going shopping, as well as a bit of money (I’ll donate something to Animals Asia by way of thanks) and also means not buying a new pannier, as I’m all for not bringing new stuff into the world if at all possible.

The pannier is probably also a step up on the old one, being a Proper Touring Pannier, although I still feel the good people of Ortlieb missed a trick not making it a cow print. It clips securely onto my bike rack, is undoubtedly waterproof (although not yet certified Waterproof in Scotland). It has all sorts of straps and buckles and compartments that I have yet to properly get to grips with and looks capable of taking my stuff in safety across continents, taking raging currents and epic downpours in its stride. Indeed, I suspect it felt that today’s pootle down to pick up a paper and a couple of pints of milk was a little beneath it. It’s a terrible thing when you feel the need to live up to your own kit.

ready for adventure

Still, I imagine even a shopping trip beats being kept unused in a cupboard under the stairs so it will just have to get used to micro adventures rather than macro ones. At least for the time being, anyway …

* garlic, on the other hand, is another matter

Out with the Old, Redux

September 26, 2017

As you may have guessed from the sparser-than-usual blog posts, I’ve been busy in recent weeks. In fact, my busyness has gone from being acute to becoming chronic: it seems as if for months now, I’ve been thinking that I just have to get through this week and then I will have time to do all the other things I need/like/want to do, only for the next week to arrive with fresh urgent priorities, and the sunlit uplands of the time when I will be able to garden again, or knit something, or even read more than the first few pages of the paper recedes further into that mythical future.

I’m not complaining (okay, I am complaining, but only a bit) – it’s all useful stuff, whether in terms of earning money, or cycle campaigning, and it’s not as if I’ve been too busy to ride my bike (it does help when it’s your main means of transport) – but it does mean that the ‘important but not urgent’ stuff gets endlessly postponed. And that includes not just the enjoyable things that recharge my batteries, like the garden, but also the really really important things, like writing, that were supposed to be why we downshifted (insert hollow laughter here) and moved to the country to enjoy the slower pace of life.

blog roundup

So something had to give, and that something has been the Cycling Embassy blog roundup. This, for those of you who don’t read it religiously every week, has gradually become a bit of a monster. It was started as a way of keeping in touch with what the various campaigning cycle bloggers were writing about, back when that seemed to be where it was at with cycle campaigning. At the time, there was still a big argument going on about whether we should even be asking for Dutch-style infrastructure, with plenty of mainstream campaigner still thinking that as long as cyclists just put on their big girl or boy pants, and drivers learned to behave, then we could all merrily take the lane and cycle everywhere as if it were still 1934 and there were about three motorcars in the whole country. A few die hards excepted, that battle seems to have been fought and won. Now the battle is actually getting the Dutch-style infrastructure and that takes more than blogging, frankly, as you’ll have probably gathered from my own activities.

So I have decided that I can no longer justify spending my Sunday evenings and Monday mornings scanning, choosing, summarising, categorising and linking together in something resembling prose up to a hundred different blog posts (from a total of over 600 a week). Instead, I will put some of that time towards chipping away at the ever-growing list of ‘things I really ought to do once things calm down and I have time to think about it’, preferably before they too become urgent or simply missed opportunities that might actually have made a difference.

I will also miss it. I have learned a lot from bike bloggers over the years, from how good cycling infrastructure works to brilliant campaigning ideas, and I’ve had my own prejudices and assumptions challenged. It’s also been my calling card with other campaigners in the UK and beyond, who have enjoyed reading the round up, or at least enjoyed the effect on their stats when they were included in it. But it is no longer worth eight hours a week of my time, in spite of all the lovely tweets from readers about how much they’ve enjoyed and valued it. Perhaps someone else will take up the baton – or perhaps we’ll find another, even more useful and less onerous way of keeping track of what’s going on.

Whatever it is, it won’t be me doing it.

Well, probably not, anyway.

Out with the Old

September 22, 2017

Regular readers will be aware that I like to get the full wear out of my things, preferring to use them until they have fallen apart than to actually go shopping before I have to.  Partly on environmental and general frugality grounds, but mainly because whenever I go shopping I tend to come away baffled and enraged because I cannot replace the thing I have finally worn out because the world has now moved on since I last bought that thing.

However, my old slippers had reached the point where they were either going to have to be mended with duct tape, or replaced. A quick whirl around Bigtown confirmed that slippers have moved on since I got my last pair about 8 years ago, and all that was on offer were mules, ridiculous synthetic things, or slippers in the shape of a cat, which would be cute if it were I that was 8 years old, not my footwear.

old and new slippers

Fortunately, the internet came to the rescue in the shape of very expensive and – as it turns out – alarmingly white and fluffy replacement sheepskin slippers.

And now I’ve got to go shopping again, to replace my trusty cow pannier, which had already been mended with duct tape once. Yesterday, as I was out doing final preparations for our annual bike breakfast, it decided that it had had enough and one of the plastic clips gave up the ghost after a mere two and a half years. Make that a not-so-trusty cow pannier (in fairness, I think it was designed for light shopping use, not daily hard wear and routine overloading with cycle campaign literature, assorted freebies, locks and other gubbins. A cycle campaigner’s bike’s accessory’s lot is not a happy one …).

cow pannier

Remind me that, just because I got it home temporarily using the bungee, doesn’t mean that I can keep using it like that until it fails completely.

I know I should probably be sensible and get myself some proper touring panniers, but I did really like the cow bag. I might just get another one, assuming that such a thing can still be purchased.

cow pannier

Cow pannier in happier times

In other news, there is either progress on the ford repair front, or someone’s started making a note of the high-water marks on the road. I suspect when it isn’t under more than a foot of water they will get on with it. When that will be, is anyone’s guess…

ford roadworks

Catching Up

September 19, 2017
POP sticker

It’s always nice to spot a POP sticker still hanging on there …

Somehow it’s Tuesday and I haven’t got round to writing up the excitement of the weekend’s Cycling Embassy AGM in Glasgow.

yes march

Possibly it wasn’t the best weekend to be holding a meeting of an organisation with ‘Great Britain’ in its full name

In fact, I still haven’t properly digested it, although it was as always nice to spend a weekend with people who feel properly passionate about decent cycling infrastructure and have no compunction at stopping and measuring it.

Glasgow dropped curb

Measuring the inability of the council to properly drop a curb flush with the tarmac …

I didn’t even take that many photos as I was too busy riding my bike, discussing things, catching up, and generally enjoying a weekend of proper, full-on bike geekery. It couldn’t have been more different from Friday’s action – from gently and temporarily transforming our streets, to measuring them – but then again, I think we need to do both.

blocking bike lanes

There’s a lot more to say, but it all needs more thought, so here instead are a few of the photos I did take. Glasgow, you have so much potential to be a cycling city …


motor dystopia

We built all these car lanes and the bloody motorists aren’t using them …


underpass flowers


“Activism …

September 18, 2017

… is such hard work”, commented one of my fellow trouble makers as she topped up my teacup and settled back down in her deck chair.

tea break

It’s true that lots of what I do to try and bring about better conditions for active travel is quite hard work – POP doesn’t organise itself, and there always seems to be an endless stream of blog posts and press releases to be written, flyers to be printed and handed out, routes to be planned and meetings to attend.

So our little Park(ing) Day event in Bigtown on Friday was a revelation. All we had to do was show up, throw together a small park (easier than it sounds when your co-conspirators are already guerrilla gardeners) and sit back and enjoy the almost sunshine as local businesses brought out tea and biscuits. A tiny window of time to sit and chat and just enjoy the day while also making Bigtown a better place, if only for a day.

tea and biscuits

As protests go, this one has to be the most chilled ever.

Unexciting Ford News

September 14, 2017

I had a prescription to pick up this afternoon, at Nearest Village, and then needed to head to Bigtown to get the paper. As these are in opposite directions to each other, the sensible thing to do would have been to head directly to Nearest Village and then turn around and head to Bigtown, but we’ve already established that that just seems like a waste of time, so I decided to take the back route out of the village, down one of my favourite hills, and swing by the ford, partly for old time’s sake, but mainly because I had received word that the road there was to be closed due to essential ford maintenance works.

road heading downhill

This seemed like an exciting opportunity to catch the concrete fairy at work (that being the only other maintenance the ford has ever received in this blog’s lifetime), so off I went pausing only to wonder why it is that you can never take a picture of a road that gives any real sense of how steeply it is either rising or falling (actually, I also paused to take a photo of the impressive looking spider on the bike racks at the doctor’s surgery, but because my phone camera will never focus in on an interesting close object when there’s a fascinating stretch of concrete behind it to focus on instead, you’ll just have to believe me).

One swooping descent later, I reached the ford, to discover that nothing was happening, probably because it was running with 5 inches of water, although why the coonsil (or the concrete fairy) hadn’t thought this might be the case after a month when it has rained most days at least some of the time, I don’t know.

the ford, unchanged

More on this non-story as it develops.

Meanwhile, down in Bigtown, something stirs

And the Rain it Raineth Somewhere Else

September 13, 2017

For anyone who has ever thought that ‘this blog is all right, but it really doesn’t ramble on about the joys of rural cycling in Scotland anything like enough’, all two of you, I am on the CamCycle Podcast doing just that.

I have no idea what I said because I just chatted away happily as I am wont to do, and there’s no way I’m listening to my own voice to found out, but I do remember that the opening question was about what I’d seen on my bike that week. The recording was made a couple of weeks ago and I undoubtedly rambled on about blackberries and exciting drainage works, those being pretty much the highlight of the week at the time.

I was reminded of all this today, as I cycled home from Bigtown and found myself riding in the wake of what I’m pretty sure was a merlin, using the hedge as cover as it flew along the road for a couple of hundred yards, before hopping over a hedge and disappearing from view. I can report that, while not as speedy as a peregrine, they can certainly outpace me on a bike, and it was definitely the highlight of my ride home, indeed my week.

Naturally, I didn’t capture any of this because I was barely able to keep the bird in sight, let alone get a photo of it. So you’ll just have to enjoy the equally rare image of the rain raining on someone other than me as I rode into Bigtown at lunchtime …

rain raining somewhere else

Unusually, the weather gods didn’t manage to catch up with me all day

Never on a Sunday

September 12, 2017

I have exciting plans for Friday, but they are of the ‘better to ask forgiveness than permission’ kind, so I shall refrain from posting them here just now, although I think it’s unlikely that the powers that be are monitoring me that closely.* However I do have other exciting plans for the weekend because it is the Cycling Embassy AGM this weekend, which is venturing north of the border for the first time ever, to Glasgow.

This means a full on weekend of bike riding, kerb measuring, campaigning chat, pub going and general gadding about, and a chance for two of my cycling worlds to intersect, as up to now the Scottish cycle campaigning scene has been a bit divorced from what’s going on down south.

It also means that I don’t have to lug my Brompton half way across the country to take part, as it’s just one train up to Glasgow from Bigtown and it takes loads of bikes so I can bring the big bike. Frustratingly, that doesn’t make it any easier to get home than if we were in Cambridge, Leicester, Brighton or any of the other places where we’ve had our AGMs over the years. Because it is decreed that no train shall move on our line on Sunday until After Kirk, and even then extremely reluctantly, so I shall have to cut the festivities short in order to get home at all …

* other than Moo-I-5, who spent most of the weekend staring at our pile of woodchips in case it turned out to be edible and magically became available