There’s a Moment During Every Pedal on Parliament…

April 29, 2018

… When you think, OK so maybe this will be the year that really nobody will come.

So you’re standing in the Meadows, and there’s nobody there but the organisers, a BBC film crew, and the Gruffalo …


And it’s pissing down with rain and has been on and off all morning and all the hard work and the flyering and the planning and the tweeting and getting the University of Edinburgh to fill back in the big trench it had dug right across Middle Meadow Walk three days before you were due to lead a mass cycle ride up it, is beginning to look like a bit of a waste of time …

Feeder ride arriving

And then the first feeder ride arrives, undiminished by the rain, with the sort of grins cyclists only have when they’ve ridden through Edinburgh with police outriders on their tail instead of irate taxi drivers …

Mark Beaumont and the assembled crowd

… and you think that, just maybe, you might get away with it again for another year…


Communications Breakdown

April 26, 2018

When we first started Pedal On Parliament, our communication method could loosely be described as ‘death by email’ – everyone emailed everyone else all the time about everything. This worked when there were only half a dozen of us, more or less, but it didn’t exactly scale. Last year, with many more people coming on board, we’ve moved to Slack which is brilliant at cutting down the email volumes and allowing people to only see the messages they need to. But not everyone I need to communicate with uses Slack, or keeps up to date with it, meaning I end up having to email them, if only to remind them to look on Slack, which slightly defeats the purpose. Nor do people necessarily use their email that much either, I’ve found.* In recent months I’ve ended up communicating or being communicated with by pretty much every channel possible, including FB messenger, Twitter DMs (on my own account and on the POP one), text messages, WhatsApp, an old email address I mostly use for Internet shopping, and an email group that doesn’t actually accept emails from non-members but which sends me a notification of the email it’s not allowed to deliver to me, including its contents, and then continues to do so every morning until I remember the password to go and clear out the blocked messages, which must be the most self-defeating form of spam protection ever invented.


Hello clouds, hello sky. No reason for posting this photo except that I liked it

As our channels get ever more fractal, my role at this stage in the game mostly appears to be receiving communications, whether by sky writing, interpretive dance or hand-engraved invitations delivered by carrier pigeon, and passing them on to the people who need to do something about it by whatever means of communication they most prefer. On Tuesday, as I was racing out of the door to get to choir, I got an email from someone telling me to listen to my voicemail about a request I hadn’t made that had come up in a discussion in a meeting that I hadn’t been to and to ring back if I could help (sadly I was out of credit). Today I found myself direct messaging someone in a cycling forum to get their email address so someone on the Slack channel could include them in a discussion about rickshaw rides and retrieving someone else’s email address out of a private message in Open Streetmap which I think I last logged into in 2010. It’s fortunate I never signed up to MySpace or SecondLife because otherwise, undoubtedly, someone would have tried to contact me through there by now.

Tomorrow, though, the Brompton and I will get on the train to Edinburgh and I will hopefully be spending the evening doing any last-minute PoP planning via the novel means of actually talking to people, face to face, possibly over beer. I hope I’ll see some or all of you at PoP on Saturday, unless you’ve got a very good excuse.

wood anemones

In other news, hello spring. Come Sunday, I shall hopefully have a little more time to enjoy it.

* I was chatting to a young man of my acquaintance who was, I could have sworn, a grumpy toddler in a spiderman costume only a couple of years ago but is now inexplicably 17, and he tells me that his generation view email as an incredibly fusty and formal means of communication, roughly equivalent to an engraved invitation or a visiting card to my own generation. Old, who, me?

Fill your Boots

April 22, 2018

Yesterday was the New Nearest Village church plant sale and – it being a rather glorious sunny one – I actually managed to lure the other half to join me on a cycle ride up there for my annual ‘how many plants can you fit in a Brompton basket‘ adventure.

After a very pleasant interlude sitting in the sun in the church hall car park eating barbecued sausage sandwiches and as many tray bakes as we could decently pile onto a plate, and talking cycling in Rwanda (as hilly as it looks, apparently), we pootled (me; it’s difficult to get up much speed when you’re conscious of your new plants’ leaves all blowing in the wind) and raced (the other half) back down again. The plants (random lupins of unknown provenance and a named primula species which I’ve managed to forget everything about apart from the fact that it apparently likes boggy conditions) are now awaiting such time as I can clear a space to plant them and set up slug defences, as the last lot of lupins I planted didn’t last a week. I should probably have thought of that before I bought them but hey ho, if I keep throwing lupins at the problem surely some of them will get through…

plant sale haul

In other plant cruelty news, I was wondering why our windowsill basil had started looking peaky even (especially) after I’d fed it. It was only when I took it out of its lovely white pot cover – which I’d bought earlier this year as part of a set and left on the windowsill of our entrance hall awaiting a plant pot to put in it – that I realised why. Handy pots left on windowsills in our household get random things put in them, it turns out. Like spent button batteries, for example. And it also turns out basil doesn’t thrive when sitting in a weak solution of battery acid. Who knew?

On the other hand, it might also do for the slugs …


April 20, 2018

You know, when you have lived somewhere for almost 10 years (and how did that happen, I want to know), you start to think you’ve got a grip on the place and its little ways and strange customs like talking to strangers on buses. And then you have a conversation in your writers’ group that goes like this:

Local person: yes, it was like at the flounder tramping when I just couldn’t bring myself to stand on a flounder.

Other local person: oh God, they’re so wriggly, I don’t blame you.

Me: Wait, whoa, hang on, back up a minute. Flounder tramping?

So it turns out, there used to be an annual event where you waded out into the sea to go and stand on flounders (you can get a flavour of the excitement here).

Sadly (or perhaps happily if you’re a flounder) it has apparently since been banned on health and safety grounds – although not, presumably, the flounders’. You snooze, you lose, even in the world of bonkers rural pursuits it seems.

Crooked Billet

April 18, 2018

For those of you wondering, the lack of posting on the raised bed front unfortunately reflects a lack of progress due to a combination of rain and the need to earn money to pay for the things. Today was suffering from both obstacles but after lunch, with my brain in sore need of a rest and the rain letting up, I thought I’d get the next two into position, if not filled.

raised bed corners

As an aside, I’m pretty pleased with these raised bed kits so far. Yes, we could have built raised beds out of wood from scratch for about half the cost, but if we’d opted for that we’d probably still be drawing up plans, whereas these just fit together very neatly and are pinned into place with a couple of pegs which even a feeble person like me can drive into position with a couple of whacks with a hammer.

They’re also pretty light so I can put them up single handed and manoeuvre them into position, which is handy when you have just started filling them and then walk past and look at them from another angle and think …

crooked raised beds

… ah no, that’s too crooked, even for me.

The problem is, the site isn’t particularly square, so they were always going to be a bit skew whiff both in relation to the other elements of the garden (themselves not square) and each other. I’m not someone who insists my pictures hang straight or things have to be particularly neat (as you might have worked out from the rest of the garden) but it turns out I have my limits.

A bit of digging and shoogling later, and it was all a bit less jarring to the eye and no doubt once everything gets growing, any remaining wonkiness should be disguised by the rampant vegetation.

less crooked

Which might be sooner than I like because with the warmth, spring is all ‘here I come, ready or not’ …

seedlings coming

Hopefully they’ll all have homes to go to before it’s too late.

Anarchy in the UK

April 14, 2018

So, I’m a bit busy at the moment, as is normal at this time of the year (and by ‘this time of the year’ I mean January through to December) so really the last thing I needed to be doing today was cycling into Bigtown to spend the afternoon in the park at an inclusive cycling event. But It turned out to be exactly the thing I needed to be doing (and not just because I took the opportunity to spread the word about Pedal on Parliament).

You might think an event promoting cycling for people with disabilities would be all kinds of worthy, but that’s because you’ve not experienced inclusive cycling Bigtown style. The group I’ve been volunteering with for the last year or so have just bought a whole van load of secondhand adaptive bikes, ready to set up a new inclusive cycling hub at Bigtown station.

bikes lined up

The calm before the storm. Bikes lined up, ready for the onslaught.

I like working with them because they have a somewhat anarchic style which is the opposite of wrapping people up in cotton wool. Today’s event consisted of lining up an assortment of contraptions from a state-of-the-art wheelchair bike to some miniature go-karts, getting all comers to sign a form so we could at least inform their next of kin if they rode straight into the river, and then letting them loose with the instructions ‘stay in the park, don’t hit anyone, and bring it back’.

kids on a side by side tandem

Pretty soon, almost every bike and trike had been commandeered, and the park was full of people old and young, able bodied and not, pedalling round the paths like people possessed. Amazingly, everyone came back unscathed  – and in most cases with huge grins on their faces.

four person bike

Me, I just stood around in the sunshine, took a few folk on a guided ride, chatted to all comers, and came home somewhat knackered but infinitely more relaxed.

Highlight of the afternoon was seeing two of the Buddies members – one of whom couldn’t ride a bike a year ago and had been told he never would – caning it round the park on a standard tandem that nobody else there had been able to ride.

Oh and this dog, who spent the afternoon snoozing on the path right in the middle of the event, completely unfazed by the fact that he had become a small furry traffic island in a sea of chaos.

chilled out dog

I need to get hold of some of that attitude for myself.

Sheep Worrying

April 12, 2018

Well, that will teach me to blog about a pleasantly warm day – it hasn’t (thankfully) snowed since my last post but it’s not exactly felt springlike, put it that way. They say the warmer weather is coming; it had better hurry, is all I can say.

Hawthorn leaves emerging

But there are signs of it, and not just in the hedgerows. Exhibit one: putting-lambs-back-in-fields season has begun, with a lamb that had, as usual, worked out the way out of the field but could not for the life of it work the way back in (are modern fences equipped with special one-way sheep valves?) Meanwhile I couldn’t work out for the life of my how a lone cyclist could corner a lamb along a straight stretch of fence in order to chuck it back into its field. Having stood there for a while trying to give it instructions (‘Under, under! You need to go under the fence, not attempt to julienne yourself by going through it, you stupid animal’) and hoping that a driver would stop to help (fat chance), I finally flagged down a tractor driver who said he’d alert the farmer and I was able to head off for my lunch with a relatively clear conscience.

fleeing lamb

My usual lamb photo effort

It only struck me later that would have been a good opportunity to get a better photo of a lamb than the usual ‘distant running-away dot on the horizon’ but it seemed a bit indecent to profit from its misfortune just to bump up my Instagram likes.

lamb huddled by tree

On a related note, I hope that this lamb spotted this afternoon was just sheltering from the east wind, and not actually sick, which was why it didn’t run away. I suppose I could have gone to find another tractor driver or farmer to ask … but while ‘lamb out of field’ seems a legitimate thing for even the most uninformed townie to report, ‘lamb looking a bit depressed’ is a bit more marginal…

We Interrupt this Earth-Moving Tale …

April 10, 2018

… with news of a strange interlude of not just sunshine, but actual warm weather this spring. Not only that but it arrived just as I had an afternoon to kill in Bigtown between coaxing Stephen into riding a bike (still working on it …) and the Bigtown Cycle Campaign meeting.

First stop was the high street for a coffee in the sunshine (outdoors! Without my coat on!) and the traditional Bigtown way of passing the time: waiting to bump into someone you know.

coffee outside

Half a pleasant hour of cycling chit chat later, I headed off on the bike to check out a possible route for our family rides in the summer. It was not a route I knew well, and there has been an issue with a bridge washing out. The Coonsil assured me they were on the case and it seems they are dealing with it in time-honoured fashion, by putting up a couple of barriers and hoping for the best.

hole in bridge

As far as I’m concerned, the main issue with the route isn’t the opening up of a small temporary ravine, it’s the fact that it ends like this.

cyclists rejoin carriageway

Yes, that’s a 30 mph sign – on a long straight wide road with fields on one side. Guess how many cars actually do 30 on it …

(I always find it strange that when there’s a small chance of a cyclist coming off on an uneven section of path, we need to put up all manner of barriers and warning signs. But when it has become inconvenient to accommodate them in safety any longer we happily wave the same cyclists off into oncoming traffic on an A road a few hundred yards further along the route. Go figure.)

Recce done, and having duly got lost in one of Bigtown’s more confusing suburbs, I returned to the park and enjoyed the novel pleasure of hanging out reading the paper and not doing all that much, in weather that was warm enough to not do so in comfort. If I have learned anything at all since moving to Scotland, it is to savour these moments when they occur.

bike and park in April

I would like to think we still have some warm weather to come, but in the event that yesterday was our summer (and it has reverted to grim grey miserableness since) I’m glad to have made the most of it.

Making Mountains (Well, Raised Beds) Out of Molehills

April 8, 2018

Apologies that this is becoming the ‘all raised beds, all the time’ blog but while I’m doing lots of other things (work, cycling, Pedal on Parliament, lying awake at night fretting about Pedal on Parliament, bending the other half’s ear about how I’m fretting about Pedal on Parliament, being gently reminded that it is always like this Every Single Time in the run up to Pedal on Parliament), none of them are particularly blogworthy, whereas with the raised beds I have a bit of a job on my hands …

… but crucially it’s an eminently doable one.

The plan is to fill the raised beds with cut turf at the bottom (turned upside down in the forlorn hope that this might at least slow the bloody grass down; I realise nothing will stop it from growing as that – like the rest of the countryside around here – is what this garden most wants to do), followed by my birthday bags of well rotted horse manure (towards the bottom because it’s full of grass seed, see previous parentheses), followed by garden compost (ditto), followed by topsoil.

Traditionally, you get your soil from molehills and this year – it’s as if they knew – we’ve got plenty of those.


Some bigger than others.

large pile of soil

If I’m honest, no small part of the raised bed project has been driven by the need to remove the soil we dug out to put in the greenhouse. In the process, several other piles have had to be created, not least more stones, but today we did manage to at least get five out of the eleven (eek!) raised beds filled, and put a dent in the big pile. I’ve also learned we need to raise our compost game, but that’s a blog post for another day.

five filled raised beds

Veg plot taking shape. And not one of your boring right-angled regular shapes, either … ahem. Right angles are so last century, right?

Now if anyone can think of something to do with several piles of stones, I would be grateful.

pile of stone

What a Difference …

April 6, 2018

… A bit of sunshine makes, with spring finally making a guest appearance yesterday, and apparently now settled in for the week.* It wasn’t exactly ‘taps aff’ in Bigtown, but I felt a bit overdressed in my hat, scarf and winter gloves when I cycled down for the paper and discovered that everyone else was in their summer clothes. What can I say, they’re a hardy bunch. There were even other cyclists out on the country roads (I was deep in conversation with myself, plugging up the hill on my way home, when I was startled by a cheery voice saying ‘nice day for it!’ just at my right shoulder. Turns out other cyclists actually maintain their bikes to the point where they can silently sneak up on people …).

I didn’t technically have any time for gardening yesterday, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get on with the earth moving project that the raised beds have turned into. I was only going to clear away the soil and tackle assembling them later, but I got the bit between my teeth and it turned out to be pretty straightforward in the end.

assembled raised beds

Assembled raised beds. That small cairn of stones in the foreground is the inevitable result of doing any digging around here …

Today I was going to start filling them, ready for the potatoes which are waiting chitting on the windowsill, but the rain came down just as I had met my last deadline of the week and was ready to head out to do some muck shifting at last.

potatoes chitting indoors

Fortunately, it doesn’t rain inside the greenhouse so I did some binge planting instead. Now all I have to do is assemble and fill the other eight raised beds before everything starts climbing out of the pots unassisted.

seeds planted in greenhouse

That should be easy enough, right?

* I actually thought my Met Office weather app might be broken when I looked at it this morning and there was no forecast for rain/sleet/snow/plagues of frogs for the whole week, just a row of white clouds and more-or-less normal temperatures for the time of year. Surely some mistake?