Well, that Escalated Quickly

February 26, 2018

So I might have thought I was bestriding London as a returned exile triumphing in her native city – but it turns out that at a microbial level I was but a lamb to slaughter: to the average London virus my poor naive immune system was about as defenceless as a bottle-fed fawn stumbling into a live deer cull.

bare trees and blue skies

Yesterday, despite a continuation of the vague aches and pains I was complaining about before, I managed to lead a 25 mile winter ride on what turned out to be a beautifully sunny but pretty baltic sort of day. But by the time I had got home (having scrounged a lift from one of the ride participants) I was not feeling at all well and today I have spent mostly in bed, dragging myself up only to light the fire and lie on the sofa by way of a change of scene in the evening. Given the increasingly apocalyptic tone to the weather forecasts (Britain colder than the Arctic Circle! Polar Vortex split! Amber warning of the Seventh Seal opening!) this may be no bad thing.

Looking back, this happens pretty much every time I go to London; I really should learn either to avoid the place altogether or at the very least not risk the tube…

For this Relief, Much Thanks

February 24, 2018

So, I am home, and I may be banned from going back to London as I came back with a range of complaints some of which I admit were probably self-inflicted.* This morning, I woke up with a tickly cough and a headache which developed into a generalised ache in and around my back, which left me unable to find any ease at all – neither sitting, nor standing, nor lying on the sofa. In fact, only moving gave me any relief, so after I had made a loaf of sourdough bread, hung out the washing, and even done some vague tidying up (there are limits, even in extremis), there was nothing for it but to head out on the bike.

Fortunately I had an errand to run that involved cycling steadily across the length and breadth of Bigtown at a speed of around 8 MPH** which turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered, if only temporarily. What with cycling in and back, it meant a steady four hours on the bike during which I didn’t cough once, the headache dissipated, and the ache disappeared. A miracle indeed.

Sadly, the effects now seem to be wearing off, so just a temporary miracle. Tomorrow means another day of steady riding, as we’ve a winter ride scheduled, but if that doesn’t sort it I may be in trouble. Much as I like cycling, I can’t make a living doing it, and all my other cycle campaigning activities depend rather more heavily on me sitting down and doing things on the computer than they do on me riding round on a bike, sad to say. I may have to join the ranks of those using a standing desk (although standing still isn’t much better). Or finally learn how to sit up straight and properly the way my mother told me…

* galloping heartburn, possibly the least sympathy-inducing ailment ever, even though it turns out it hurts like hell. I mean, even the NHS site’s advice on heartburn is effectively ‘try to be a bit less of a greedy guts’.

** working out the timetable for a bike bus, since you didn’t ask

Maybe Because I’m a Londoner

February 21, 2018

Apologies for the radio silence – we’ve had a great and inspiring weekend touring the mini hollands of Enfield and Waltham Forest – and now suddenly it is Wednesday and I have neither written it up nor anything else that has happened (although if you are desperate you can catch up via our hashtag). The truth is I have been largely working (the downside of being a freelancer that they never tell you about is the way your work follows you around so that you are never quite free of the dreaded laptop and the hunt for a quiet corner with WiFi to squeeze in some work) and catching up with old friends leaving little time for anything else.

This afternoon, being free of the laptop for once, and having some time to kill between coffee and cake and chat with one friend and the book launch of another (go buy the book, by the way. It’s got a bicycle on the cover and everything), I decided to walk across central London from Trafalgar Square to Bank. There’s no city in the world other than London that I could dare to do this in without a map – while I can (and do) get lost coming out of a pub toilet, I can generally navigate my way around my old home city based on the map that’s indelibly ingrained in my head and the fact that it’s laid out like a sensible city with the river down the middle and a gentle slope down towards the centre (Edinburgh, I’m looking at you).

Saint Pauls

With time still to kill, I crossed over the wobbly bridge to Tate Modern to check out the swings (and, ahem, offload some of that coffee). I noticed as I sat down on one to take the weight off my feet that I had instinctively done so tube-passenger style – even though the swing would be better balanced had I sat in the middle, I sat at the end, so that if anyone else wanted to sit on the swing they could do so without sitting right next to me. These are the things that get into your blood if you live and commute in London, and they are habits that cannot be shaken.

sitting on a swing

Never mind the centre of gravity …

In fact, as I stopped on the bridge to marvel at the ever changing skyline (if London had a state bird, it would be the crane), I realised that I may not have lived here for 10 years, but I will always walk fast and chafe at being trapped behind slow-moving tourists to the point of stepping out into the road rather than be held up. I will always know that if you’re going to Covent Garden you actually want to get off at Leicester Square and nip down the back alleyway behind the theatre. I will always walk up the escalator even if I’m not in a hurry and glare at the people who don’t stand on the right. I will always mind the gap and move right down inside the car. I will always cross the road when there’s a gap in the traffic, regardless of what the green man says. I will always know which side of the river is the right one. I will always pedantically insist that Big Ben is the bell. And I will always ensure that I sit down in such a way as to enable us all to maximise the distance between ourselves and everyone else for as long as possible. In short, I am a Londoner and will always be a Londoner and the fact that I no longer live here is an irrelevance.

London buildings

Who put those buildings there?

That said, I’m quite looking forward to going home tomorrow…

101 Uses for a Brompton: A little light mischief

February 14, 2018

I think I mentioned I had a small intervention planned – and last night saw me heading out on the Brompton with a fellow conspirator, a stencil and two cans of entirely temporary and not at all vandalistic chalk sprays to do my first ever (and I suspect last) spot of tagging.

It was all for a good cause – lovebombing the cycle paths of Bigtown for We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote, in an idea that made absolutely perfect sense to me when it popped into my brain in September. As the date got nearer and the thought of heading out to do something that would look from the outside very much like graffiti-ing things, I have to admit I got rather cold feet on the idea, but others seemed to think it was a good idea and I had a partner in not-actually-crime who was keen and so off we went into a freezing cold night to share the cycling infrastructure love.

pink spray on boots

Graffiti on the cycle paths officer? What makes you think I had anything to do with it?

Anyway, it turns out that if you’re standing on a bridge in some parts of Bigtown late at night, apparently blatantly spray painting it, then passers by take it in their stride, with nothing more than a faintly amused note to their ‘allright?’ as they pass on by (it was the other half, blamelessly sitting in the car doing the Sudoku as he waited for me to finish, who attracted the curiosity of the police).

ILOH in orange

I’d post some daylight pictures of the resulting work, but the weather today looked like this pretty much the whole day, so you’ll have to wait.

snow on window

This is what happens when you look out of the window and say ‘it’s snowing a bit but it’s not really trying that hard’

And now I’m very much relieved the whole thing is over. Just in time to head down to London for another #5goMad adventure. Watch this space.

Snow Dropping

February 11, 2018

Just before going to bed last night, I was confronted by this simultaneously baffling and yet distinctly terrifying tweet

It didn’t help that the Met Office had been predicting overnight snow last night and all day today – indeed it was snowing as we went to bed last night so I was fully expecting to wake up to …


Well, anything but sunshine and not even a flake of snow. Indeed, the sun mostly shone all day, apart from a few snow flurries, giving me a chance to empty out one of the compost daleks and ponder our composting deficiencies (of which more anon). Then back indoors to light the fire, drink coffee, thaw out, and look out of the window to discover that the Arctic Oscillation had finally gone negative on our ass as threatened

Or something.

In other news, the shop in Papershop Village is under threat. Does anyone want to buy a shop?

Next Time, we’ll Start an Actual Fire…

February 9, 2018

Things people say to you when you tell them you’re planning a pop-up parklet in a few parking spaces in Edinburgh for the Firestarter Festival:

‘Cool! Sounds fun!’

‘Why would you do that?’

‘Don’t you have a proper job?’

‘Have you done a full risk assessment?’

Things people don’t say to you when you tell them you’re planning a pop-up parklet in a few parking spaces in Edinburgh for the Firestarter Festival (but you wish they had):

‘Have you checked the alignment of the sun?’

parking spaces before

Before …

pop up park after

After …

So it turns out, St Andrews House casts a deep and brooding shadow over the road in front of it. And that on a bright, sunny, but baltic February day in Edinburgh, when you are standing deep in that shadow, staring out at the sunshine warming every other corner of the city, with the wind funnelling between the massive somewhat Nazi-esque frontage of the building and Calton Hill, you will be very glad, very glad indeed, that you chose to wear All The Merino in preparation for the day.

Sunshine Calton Hill

Sunshine on Leith and, indeed, everywhere in Edinburgh except us

That said, Scots are a hardy bunch, and also well supplied with thermal layers and turned out to be prepared to play musical instruments, fix bikes, stand around cheerfully chatting and generally making the most of it with only a few yearning glances towards the sunny sheltered patches we could have set up in, had we thought it through. We had some good conversations, made some useful connections and while we’ve clearly got a bit of a learning curve before we perfect our tactical urbanism, we can chalk this one up at the very least as a useful learning experience

hardy musicians

And lesson number one is that next time – even if we don’t actually start a fire – we will be looking for nice sheltered suntrap for our next location. Which means (as someone pointed out, cheerfully) inevitably, it will rain.

Winter Might have Renewed its Grip …

February 7, 2018

… but spring is just around the corner.

winter and spring

This is less cheering to me than you might think because spring has also become associated in my mind with the start of the cycle campaigning year, and specifically Pedal on Parliament. Much as I love the buzz of being part of a big campaigning event, I could also do without the stress.

That said, I have come to realise that the minute I’m not completely flat out busy, I start looking around for other projects to get involved with, so perhaps it’s safer for all concerned this way.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying:

Pedal on Parliament save the date Saturday April 28th

Time to start spreading the word

Taking it to the Streets

February 2, 2018

chalk heart

So I’ve been saying for a while now that as campaigners, we need to get out of our social media bubble and do more in the real world. And obviously by ‘we’, I mean ‘everyone else’, because getting out there and doing stuff in the real world doesn’t really change much when you have cows for neighbours, and even then only a few months of the year.

Still, Back on my Bike has ways of digging me out of my rural fastness to join her for some event or other. The most effective involves suggesting things that aren’t going to happen for a ridiculously long time so I don’t need to worry about them, and then filling me with enough coffee and cake that we can hatch all sorts of ridiculously ambitious ideas about what we could do in the unlikely event that we make it through to the new year alive.

And then suddenly it is February 2018 and as part of the Firestarter Festival (launched by the First Minister no less), we seem to have rashly agreed to transform four parking spaces in the middle of Edinburgh into a pop-up park, and turn a dead space for cars into a welcoming place for people. In February. Yeah, that February, the cold one.

Fortunately, my partner in crime is the most organised person in the world, so has done the bulk of the actual work, which means it will actually happen, rather than remaining a beautiful idea. So now all we need is some actual people to come and enjoy it. If you’re in Edinburgh next Friday, please do drop by. We can’t guarantee Nicola will join us, but you never know.

Meanwhile, I have been busy plotting another real-world intervention, of which more anon…