Let the Gadding About Recommence

January 30, 2020

After a relatively quiet couple of months spent mostly wearing  groove between our house and Bigtown, I’m about to start getting the full use out of my Club 18-50 card again with a trip today to Glasgow, followed by overnight stops next week in Edinburgh, Inverness and, er, Duns for such is the glamour of my life when Back on my Bike has her way with my schedule.

Today was a meeting about inclusive cycling, which was interesting and engaging – but I couldn’t help contrasting it with yesterday’s experience when we were out with Bigtown’s accessible cycling group doing some actual inclusive cycling, in the rain, with fairy lights* and having a whale of a time.

Fans of Stephen will be pleased to know he’s there, albeit still on his trike, probably having the best time of all.

There’s another video to be made of us all attempting to get across the toucan crossing at the end to get back onto the cycle path which shows the limits of Bigtown’s cycling infrastructure, but that’s a topic for another day. However, I’m beginning to suspect that if we all spent less time in meeting rooms talking about inclusion, and more time on trikes and bikes and rickshaws and handcycles getting out there and doing it, then we might well make faster progress. And definitely have a lot more fun.

* Including the police, who were just getting their bikes all set up to join us when they were called away urgently to arrest a miscreant. I hope that they managed to take the fairy lights off their handlebars before they did so, for the dignity of all concerned …

Snow Joke

January 28, 2020

So, today was already looking complicated: my bike booked in for a (long overdue) service and a meeting at one end of town, followed by a meeting right at the other end of town, both of which would be easily accessible had I had my bike but which would be a total slog to get between without.

And that was all before I woke up to this:

snowy morning

Snow untouched by anything but a few hares’ footprints is lovely, but it is a daunting surface to cycle on. Especially when it turns out to be a bastard mixture of snow, ice and meltwater.

snow covered road

I couldn’t even put on my magical ice tyres because the gears on my bike needed serviced so there was nothing for it but to make sure I had that number one piece of safety equipment, plenty of time, walk down to the road end, where the B road starts, put on my big girl pants and set off.

snow and sky

I’m not going to lie, I’ve had better bike rides. The B-road had been treated but not ploughed so I was mostly able to cycle on tarmac rather than ice, but there were still sections of snow on some of the bends and some of it was rutted enough to make for some squeaky moments. When I’d turned off the B-road and onto a quiet back roads again at least I wasn’t dealing with much traffic, but that meant there was only really one set of wheel tracks which were clear of snow; once I was in them it was safe enough, but if they went straight over a pothole then I had no choice but to follow (it also meant that no, Mr Jeep Driver, I wasn’t going to move out of the relatively safe wheel track so that you in your four-by-four could keep driving along them the other way so beeping at me was counterproductive). The only thing I really had going for me was that I’d managed to wear my brakes down to the point that even if I lost my nerve I couldn’t jam them on anyway, which is the worst thing you can do on an icy surface.

Sustainable transport hierarchy

I actually had a meeting with the coonsil recently where this was on display …

Once in town, things improved somewhat in that the roads were clear enough. It was only when I had dropped the bike off and started walking to my first meeting that I registered why all the pedestrians were doing penguin impressions: the pavements were pretty much entirely black ice, even around the school. They were only safely passable by sticking right next to the walls, walking on the grass verges, or just giving up and walking in the road. Remind me how the sustainable transport hierarchy goes again?

Fortunately, the temperature was rising and by the time I got out of the first meeting the ice was gone and I was able to get back to pick up my bike in time for the next. There really is nothing like a freshly serviced bike* on a freshly deiced road for suddenly feeling as you have wings.

* New bottom bracket, new drive train, new gear cables, new brake blocks (‘mind you don’t come off when you use these, because they will actually stop your bike’) and – apparently – no longer wonky handlebars (‘I don’t know how you were even riding that bike’).


January 25, 2020

‘If you concentrate on your breathing,’ said a little voice at my elbow as I made my way round Bigtown’s parkrun this morning, ‘then you won’t feel like giving up.’

Looking down at the little girl who was about to overtake me, it occurred to me that, while up until then I had been feeling quite good about my run,  clearly I was giving off the air of someone who needed some encouragement and advice.

‘And as you go down hill, the important thing is to make sure your heel hits the ground first,’ she added.

‘I have to slow down on the downhill bits to protect my knees,’ I said, ‘so you’d probably better go on ahead.’

We wished each other luck for the rest of the run and she powered off to find another middle-aged adult to completely demoralise in the nicest possible way, and I mused that, while childsplaining can be annoying to the middle-aged runner, she’s probably got a good 80 years (if society doesn’t change) of mansplaining to look forward to so I was glad she was so confidently, if obliviously, sharing her knowledge while she could.

I was a terrible childsplainer myself, being a bookish child who took a while to grasp that adults don’t like being corrected by precocious brats (my housemistress at boarding school never forgave me for ruining her anecdote about her cat being called Diogenes because it had climbed into a biscuit barrel as a kitten by pointing out that actually Diogenes had never lived in a barrel, he had just said that one ought to be able to). I was full of the joys of learning and genuinely thought that sharing all my fascinating knowledge was a generous act. It took me into my early adult years to learn to gauge people’s reactions and start to check whether they in fact knew anything about the subject I’d just read an interesting article on before expounding on it at some length.

And this, indeed, is the real issue with those who never grow out of childsplaining, be they men or not. We’ve all mounted our hobby horses from time to time – it’s human nature to want to share the thing we find most compelling (never, but never, ask me about cycling policy if you’re in a rush to get away). On average, to generalise wildly, women get socialised to take up less air time, or at least check occasionally that the person they’re talking to is interested in what they’re saying (and indeed didn’t actually write the article that they’re banging on about). On average, to generalise even more wildly, men don’t. Sometimes men react to accusations of mansplaining as if we’re asking them not to explain anything, even if we ask, but it’s not sharing knowledge that’s the problem – it’s doing so, and continuing to do so, regardless of whether that explanation is wanted or not.*

Unless of course you’re ten, and you’re full of the joys of running, and you just want all the adults around you to share them too. In which case, carry on, little running girl, until you get it beaten out of you by the lesser joys of growing up.

* I will confess now that I’m still not perfect at this myself. But I do at least get embarrassed when I catch myself doing it.

Green Shoots?

January 24, 2020

Well, here’s a turn up for the books. No sooner do I write a blog post about the coonsil’s gaslighting behaviour, when I get an email from one official asking suggestions about where to put some new cycle parking followed by another from another council official offering to set up a tour of some of the worst cycling issues in Bigtown so we can explore ways forward. This is … unexpected, to say the least. Normally, when I get asked for input into the coonsil’s plans, it’s to look at some already finalised drawings so the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign can put a big old rubberstamp in the box marked ‘we have consulted with stakeholders’. Occasionally some of the things we pointed out in a meeting three years previously might show up in an (already finalised) plan with no acknowledgement that this was something we suggested ages ago and were told was impossible, but that was about as far as I felt our influence might go, and it was getting a little old.

market parking

So it was rather satisfying yesterday to spend a pleasant hour with a council officer examining possible sites for cycle parking (having consulted local cyclists of course), discussing how best to install sheffield stands so you can actually attach a bike to them (half the bike parking in Bigtown appears to have been installed by someone who’s never seen a bike but has read about them in books), and generally come up with a sensible solution given the inevitable constraints about planning, and the coonsil’s unaccountable reluctance to plonk a massive bike rack right in the middle of the (nominally pedestrianised) High Street to stop the constant stream of ‘deliveries’ (this is what you get when you solicit suggestions for bike parking locations online).*

And it was the icing on the cake this morning to get an email from a local cyclist very happy that the last cycle path had finally been cleared of leaves. Apparently it took the wee machine a few goes up and down to get the job done, because the might of a coonsil cleaning machine is as nothing to a woman armed with a shovel, but they got there in the end.

working on the cycle path

So I’m feeling a little positive for once, and I’ll thank you not to burst my bubble for a little while yet, although let’s see how next year’s leaf fall season goes before we pronounce the corner turned. And there’s still plenty of stuff left to protest about, so we’ve got plans brewing for another Pop-Up PoP in Bigtown. This year it won’t involve any cows but if our discussion in the pub last night is anything to go by, it will involve both knitting (or more accurately crochet) and drinking coffee. And I think that’s the kind of protest we can all get behind.

cow on a bike

* It was even more satisfying when she had to go and move her van from one of our proposed locations to another and I (on my bike) not only got there three minutes faster, but also got to watch for a further five minutes while she hunted in vain for a legal parking place. And no, I honestly can’t think why cyclists have a reputation for smugness …

Far From Disgruntled

January 19, 2020

frozen moss on wall

It’s been a long time since I was Disgruntled Commuter, so it was a nice nostalgia trip to appear in the paper as a ‘disgruntled cyclist‘ instead (although I can only apologies for our failure to be photographed in proper angry person in local paper style – we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves at the time and weren’t expecting the story to get any actual coverage).

Inevitably when these sort of stories appear we get comments asking why cyclists have to clear their own paths, while motorists get their roads maintained for them. Obviously the main point of such an exercise (apart from actually clearing the path) is embarrassing the council into doing something about it although at the moment Bigtownshire Coonsil is proving itself unembarrassable and keeps sending us tweets thanking us for our efforts and volunteer spirit.

And I would also like it noted that this morning, we headed down to the bottom of our road to the icy spot on the corner and spread some grit on it ourselves.

our road

Because frankly, when your road looks like this, you really can’t expect anyone to grit it for you. We’re fortunate to have not one but two nice full grit bins – one handily outside our gate – and we’re perfectly happy to do a bit of amateur gritting as needed.

Either way brisk walk on a frosty morning and a little purposeful activity to work off our morning cinnamon rolls really is no hardship indeed.

frosty woods

Make Do and Mend (Not You, Bike)

January 18, 2020

You’d think I would have learned by now not to taunt the puncture fairy … it’s just that you never quite know what will incur her wrath.

Like a simple tweet which was largely me feeling quite pleased with myself for tackling the fraying sleeves on a baselayer before they’d reached my elbows …

Regular readers will know I’m not one for fast fashion (or any fashion, really) and will try and get as much wear out of my clothes as is possible partly on environmental grounds but largely on hating shopping grounds. In an ideal world, this would involve looking after them properly to make them last, but in the world in which I actually live this tends to involve wearing stuff until I’m in danger of passing strangers giving me their spare change. So I was quite pleased to not just get round to tackling the repair but doing a reasonable-looking job of it as well.

Of course, having posted the tweet and headed out on the bike for an appointment it quickly became apparent that it was going to be more than my rudimentary sewing skills that I needed, for I had once again fallen victim to a Bastard Big Thorn.

You’d think by now that living in the land of BBTs and using my bike as my main means of transport would have left me a little bit more practised at fixing a puncture, even with Marathon Plus tyres. And yet, I still can’t manage to do this comfortably in under an hour. I have at least worked out (this has taken me ten years, but I get there in the end) that once you have taken the wheel off the bike, it’s a whole lot more pleasant – and actually easier – to do the tyre wrestling and puncture fixing indoors in winter, but that would appear to be the sum total of my progress. During the same period I’ve learned to knit even quite complicated things and make sourdough bread. It’s almost as if the gender stereotypes are out to get me.

Although, having said that, on reading this piece of utter baddassery, I have learned that sewing skills can actually come in handy when the Puncture Fairy really gets serious.


January 12, 2020

drowned field

I suppose I should know by now that winter in Scotland means a choice between reasonably mild but wet and windy weather, or sunny and sparkly but bitterly cold weather. Yesterday was the former,* but today – through some bureaucratic error – it was both reasonably mild (above freezing, anyway) and sunny. For January, this counts as a miracle, especially as I’m not buried in work for once.

That meant only one thing – into the garden (I did suggest a bike ride but my suggestion was spurned). The problem is, while it might have been fine and mild today, we’ve got at least another 3 months of potential frost, snow, gales and rain (well, technically speaking, 12 months recurring of rain) and there isn’t really much you can usefully be doing in the garden at this time of the year, unless you’re of the tidying-up persuasion which I’m not for both ecological and can’t-be-arsedness reasons. I’ve mulched all the beds that need mulching and cut back all the growth that means cutting back, and the rest of the garden would be happier if I just left it alone to get on with things.

I believe this is what January plantings of sweet peas are for: scratching the gardening itch without compacting wet soil, destroying overwintering spots for wildlife, or encouraging tender shoots to sprout too early. I even had some sweet pea seeds because I took a last-minute trip to the garden centre to pick up a gift before Christmas and made the mistake of wandering into the seed department just to have a quick look at what was there and not buy anything (if anyone has actually managed this feat, please do go ahead and let me know how in the comments).

sweet pea planting materials

And so a pleasant morning in the greenhouse ensued. I don’t think I’ve ever grown them before, at least not in Scotland, so I was a little sceptical about planting them now but it seems worth a shot. I didn’t have the requisite number of toilet roll inners due to some over-efficient recycling, but we have plenty of newspaper and I bodged together some paper pots by rolling them round an old spice jar. According to some sections of the internet I was supposed to have soaked the seed overnight but I googled until I found some advice that said you didn’t need to bother, and then I split the difference and soaked them while I made and filled the pots (you all do this, right?). Twenty-four pots have been filled and planted and are on the utility room windowsill. I don’t actually have anywhere to put any sweet peas if they emerge, but I’m sure that a space will be found; for now they have done the job for which they were intended and any actual plants will be a bonus. Especially as tomorrow brings our next weather warning, and winter is all set to resume.

planted sweetpeas

* I did actually venture out for the paper in the rain, once the wind had died down a bit. Looking at the floodwater in the fields along the way, I did briefly consider that a better blogger than me would extend her trip by a few miles on the way home to check out the ford, and then I came to my senses. Fortunately, a local pal is made of sterner stuff:

The Wrong Kind of Leaves on the Path

January 10, 2020

This January is shaping up to be a month for slipping out in between weather warnings; today’s adventure involved heading down to Bigtown with a shovel for a cross bar because the coonsil are apparently incapable of getting some leaves off a cycle path.

shovel on a bike

Have shovel, will travel

This has been a long-running saga: two months ago, noting that the leaves were falling off the trees – again! in autumn! just like last year! – I reported several stretches of cycle path that were getting dangerously choked. I did this through the official channel, plus two separate coonsil officers, who both assured me that something would be done. Time passed, more leaves fell, armies of coonsil employees spend hours with leaf blowers tidying other leaves into nice piles in the parks, and nothing was done about the leaves on the cycle paths. I chased again (every time I do this I get an automatic email saying that my email will be responded to within 20 days and then … silence). I emailed my councillors. I emailed our climate champion (‘every council policy will be looked at through a climate emergency lens’). More silence. Christmas came and went and new year and when everyone was back at their desks, I chased again. This time I got a reply telling me that it was difficult because they didn’t have a machine that was capable of cleaning up the resulting leaf mulch. The leaf mulch that would have been nice leaf-blowable leaves had they actually tackled them when they were first reported.

path covered in leaves

At this point, we cracked and just did it ourselves, using that bleeding edge piece of technology, the shovel. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a busy woman at the other end of it (we had one camera shy man) but some level of willingness to get out of your wee machine and put your back into it does seem to help. Four volunteers, two hours, and several slices of gingerbread later, we had cleared one of the paths entirely (just another half dozen trouble spots to go).

working on the cycle path

Riding home, I pondered on the way that every interaction with the coonsil – at least when it comes to any form of transport that isn’t in a car – ultimately leaves me questioning either their sanity or my own.* Especially after the coonsil responded to our tweet about the whole thing by helpfully asking if we wanted any bags of leaves uplifted (I’m still now undecided if this represents extreme cluelessness or extremely clever trolling). I know that when I speak to individual officers and politicians that they often seem to get it and are simply trying their best to get things done in difficult circumstances. But somehow the end result is often still indistinguishable to what an evil genius would come up with if they wanted to discourage cycling without actively banning it.

Even so, while it would be nice if if we didn’t have to do the coonsil’s job for them, we still got the better end of the bargain. We were the ones who had a morning in the fresh air and the winter sunshine getting some healthy exercise in good company – and the satisfaction of a job well done, something I suspect is rare if you work for Bigtownshire Coonsil.

And I got home while it was still dry. With 24 hours of rain forecast, that counts as a win these days.

* It’s not just me – I’d stopped to chat with a friend who is attempting to get some sort of traffic calming on her rat-run road so she can safely take her autistic son to school, and has been told that nothing can be done because not enough people have been knocked down there yet.

For Those in Peril Up a Pole

January 7, 2020

So, I’d like to say that it was a hardship today being the one who had to wait in for the Openreach engineer to come and sort out the fact that we’ve had no landline since before the new year and crappy internet since the last deluge – but given today’s forecast was similarly grim, it would be a complete lie. True, I had to cancel a regular appointment and I would be missing out on a bike ride but I probably would have done that anyway, frankly, given the weather.

Instead, after the engineer had been, pronounced there was indeed a fault on the line, and headed off in search of it, I had a moderately pleasant and productive morning sitting in my nice dry study watching the rain being whipped sideways across the fields and working around our on-again, off-again connectivity. Our intermittent internet has been pretty annoying over the past few weeks, especially as I work from home and do actually need a decent connection for much of my activities (but also, if I’m honest, because I like to waste far too much time on social media). However, I have been gradually learning how to spend the down time doing productive work where that is possible, which it mostly is, and when that fails, turning to things which might actually be a bit better for my general wellbeing than arguing with people on Twitter about why it’s counterproductive to argue with people on Twitter (Reading books! Actually reading the newspaper! catching up with my knitting!).

Despite this, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t want reliable broadband back – although I do have to admit feeling a mild twinge of guilt when I looked out the kitchen window as I made myself a coffee and watched the engineer battling with his ladder in the wind to climb up poles in the rain all so I could watch cat videos and argue about cycling with total strangers. Remind me next time I’m moaning about the freelancing life, or getting a bit damp on the bike, that at least I’m not a telecoms engineer…

openreach engineer

I love work, I could watch it for hours

Oh, and nothing to do with the rest of the post – but if you live in Scotland and would like to see the government investing in transport infrastructure that isn’t just ever more roads then could you please head over here before Friday and let them know?

Never Mind Self-Care …

January 6, 2020

dirty bike
… time for some bike care.

I had absolutely no plans to go anywhere by bike today but I did have some bike-related business to take care of. It’s been a wet and muddy autumn and winter so far and in recent weeks my bike had crossed the border from ‘showing that I’m not a fair weather cyclist’ to ‘active bike neglect’. This is not just the superficial matter of surface muck – I’m not that fussed whether you can tell what colour my bike is or not, but I do know that a little bit of attention to the drive train would undoubtedly make the bike work better and probably reduce my maintenance bills to boot.* I did go through a phase of at least running a wet wipe round the chain and re-oiling it every so often (and yes, I know about wet wipes but I put them in the bin, not down the drain) but somehow that has fallen by the wayside as I come home wet and tired and decide that the bike can probably wait. I know, it’s a terrible way to treat the one you love …

Anyway, yesterday my comeuppance came as I realised that not only was my chain looking a bit neglected, but that it had actively started to seize up making it almost impossible to oil the damn thing without three hands – it wouldn’t let me turn the cranks backwards to run the chain around the mechanism so I was reduced to holding the bike saddle with one hand, pressing down the pedal with the other, and wheeling the bike round in a big circle to get the chain back onto the ring. Naturally, having got enough oil on to get the bike going again, I took it out in the rain and the muck and then chucked it back in the garage unwashed. So today, I made amends, and in a gap in the rain, gave it a good wash and properly cleaned and oiled the chain.

cleaned bike

A quick test run suggests it’s still long overdue for its annual service but at least it won’t be embarrassing to take it into the shop. Although given the continuing state of the roads and the forecast, I expect it won’t stay looking respectable for long.

How often do you clean your bikes?

* In another life, I’d be regularly measuring the chain wear – probably during its weekly cleaning and oiling, haha – and replacing the chain so as to avoid wearing out the chainset quite as frequently as I do now but I’m not in that life now and if I’m honest I’m not sure I ever will be.