Can Capture and Storage

February 27, 2020

As I mentioned earlier this year, I’ve been reading How Bad are Bananas? (the answer, in case you’re wondering, is that bananas are fine, but this doesn’t stop them from smelling revolting) and making a few lifestyle changes as a result, which are still going strong, thank you for asking.

It’s also given me a new hobby – or at least, a new element to my regular cycle rides. One of the facts the book underlined was just how important it is in carbon terms to recycle aluminium. This was one of those things I vaguely knew about, but hadn’t quite realised the scale of the effect – in fact, for every kilogram of aluminium recycled, 8kg of CO2 emissions are avoided. Obviously, we already recycle all our cans and other aluminium foil and have done for ages – but recently I’ve been noticing just how many cans (along with other litter) there are on the side of the road as I cycle in and out of Bigtown. So I decided that this year I’m going to pick up a couple every time I cycle anywhere, take them home and put them in the recycling. It only adds a few seconds onto any journey – less time than I’d spend taking a photo – and a few grams to my load (an average of 15 grams per can, actually, and yes, I did weigh them).

Pretty much as soon as I made this decision and started implementing it, I’ve been questioning whether it was the right one, but I’ve been plugging on regardless. It would undoubtedly have been more effective just to go out one day with a big bag and pick them all up – but then I’d probably still be vaguely planning to do this. I’m also feeling slightly guilty at all the other litter I’m not picking up – what about plastic bottles that can also be recycled and will end up in the sea? What about just joining the regular litter picking groups in the area? But – as a guy I once worked with often used to say – ‘better a bad decision than no decision’ and in the time I would have spent debating the perfect tactic, I have already picked up around 40 cans which have gone to the recycling* and will ultimately prevent the emission of 4.8kg of CO2. If I keep this up (and it’s already become a habit) then over the course of the year I expect I’ll pick up 4-500 cans (assuming there’s an endless supply, which there would appear to be so far) and save up to 60kg of carbon emissions. It’s also giving me an interesting insight into local beverage choices, at least among the subsection of the population who just chuck their litter out of the car window (and if anyone could explain how a zero-calorie energy drink is supposed to work I would be grateful).

This is, obviously, a drop in the ocean, especially when I learned yesterday that new cars registered in Scotland are getting less efficient, not more, on average. But I don’t know what more I can do so I’ll keep on picking up my cans and hope that other people elsewhere are making similar efforts (I know a few people locally who do) that might just add up to something that makes a difference. Because the alternative is simply to despair, and – despite everything – I’m not quite ready to do that yet.

*In the car, but it was going anyway.


February 23, 2020

old papershop village road

Today’s bike outing was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me – Bigtown’s Cycle Campaign winter bike ride was to Papershop Village for a pub lunch, and amazingly we managed to slip through the gap between yesterday’s weather warning for wind and tomorrow’s one for snow. Unfortunately, in our excitement at getting what passes for a break in the weather these days (only gusts of up to 30mph and light snow flurries), we hadn’t quite clocked the fact that we’d be riding the whole way to lunch into a hefty headwind.

This meant progress was a little slow but I entertained the troops with tales of ASBO Buzzard’s reign of terror. As we finally approached the spot that marks the start of the bird’s domain, I realised that this might actually be at an end. Whether through wind action or felling or a mixture of both, the woods where ASBO Buzzard liked to lurk in wait of unwary cyclists (and more to the point, probably build its nest) are gone.

Felled forest

Weirdly, the warning sign doesn’t mention dive-bombing buzzards …

I hope the forestry guys were wearing hard hats.

The Only Good Headwind …

February 22, 2020

… Sorry, trick question – there is no such thing as a good headwind.

I knew I was due some weather-related grief on the bike because on Thursday I’d very cunningly managed to not only avoid all the rain, snow, hail, snow and hail, and plagues of locusts and set off for Bigtown during the only fine part of the day with a stonking tailwind – but I’d also arranged for a lift back, so I knew I wasn’t going to have to battle the headwind home.

I thought I’d repaid my karmic debt yesterday, which was forecast to rain solidly from dawn to dusk and duly did. However, once I’d donned the full waterproofs and set off for Bigtown I discovered that the wind had shifted round from its normal prevailing direction and while this meant a massive gusty headwind into Bigtown (bad) it also meant a tailwind on the way home – and importantly, up the worst of the hills. Indeed it was stonking enough to be not just assisting me as I rode alongside the river, but actually pushing me on, which is a bonus when you’re wearing not massively breathable waterproof trousers.

high river

And then there was today, which had a yellow warning of wind – but we’ve had weather warnings of one form or another every day for almost a fortnight now, so they’re beginning to lose their warning powers. I was considering ditching parkrun as I didn’t fancy another battle with the gusts, but I haven’t been for a few weeks, and I decided if I didn’t go today then I’d probably just stop going altogether. So out I went and headed down the road thinking it wasn’t too bad after all when I turned the corner and realised that was because I was sailing along on a tailwind, and a pretty hefty one too. One that would be massively in my face for the whole of the last climb home.

Possibly at that point the sensible thing would have been to give up and go home then and there but that would have meant riding back into the headwind. There’s always the forlorn hope that if you keep on riding the tailwind, by the time you’ve reached the park, run 5km and have to head home, the wind will have dropped and you won’t have to slog back into it on by-now weary legs. Obviously, this never actually happens, but there’s always that hope…

Anyway, I can report that an hour spent cycling uphill into a weather-warning-worthy headwind on legs that have run five unaccustomed kilometers was exactly as bad as I was dreading it would be – but not, in the end, any worse. So perhaps the best (or least-worst) headwind is the one you have been dreading long enough to be fully prepared for. Blessed are the pessimists, for they shall never be disappointed.

And I didn’t even get a parkrun personal best, despite a wind-assisted uphill finish.

Out of My Comfort Zone

February 19, 2020

There seems to be a rail-based conspiracy at the moment to keep me stuck in my corner of South West Scotland. First the timetable for trains to Edinburgh got so messed up that it’s barely worth attempting the trip, and now a landslip has turned the otherwise slow-but-civilised Bigtown to Glasgow chuffer service into an obstacle course of rail-replacement bus services and all the uncertainty that entails. Unfortunately, this happened after I’d agreed to head to Glasgow to give a short presentation (and, to be fair, attend a half-day networking event) meaning six hours of travelling to deliver one 2 minute slide show.

glasgow cycling bridge

In fact, the total travelling time was technically longer, but the rest of it was by bike which never feels like time wasted. Cycling in Glasgow is usually quite challenging but amazingly enough, I was able to do the four-mile trip from Glasgow Central to the venue entirely off road and only got lost twice and then only a little bit. Given that I’d responded to the pre-event survey question ‘describe cycling in Glasgow in one word’ with ‘terrifying’ this was a welcome surprise.

railway line cycle path

I had meant to use the part of the journey I could do by train to get on with some work, but in the end I got chatting to a chap who sat opposite me at Kilmarnock. He opened with a joke (as is traditional in the west of Scotland) and I responded in kind and by the time it became clear this was someone I’d probably steer well clear of on Twitter (pro Brexit, anti Independence, and an HGV driver who when he learned I was a cyclist asked me to tell my colleagues to cycle as far to the left as was possible) I actually quite liked the guy. So instead of hiding behind my laptop – the in-person equivalent of muting him – I decided to keep talking. After all, we’re all about getting out of our bubbles these days. I didn’t try and tackle anything contentious – but I asked him about his life and work (as he’d asked me about mine) and learned a lot about the pressures he is under – paid less than he was 30 years ago, coping with busier roads and worse drivers, under intrusive surveillance, competing with drivers who know less than he does and generally fed up with it all. But he also talked about the good things – seeing the length and breadth of the country, meeting interesting people, and the joys of an early morning run when it’s just him and the scenery and the wildlife, including one stag that stood blocking his way and wouldn’t move because it genuinely did think it owned the road.

No great revelations were had on either side, but we parted on good terms, having agreed that it was a shame kids didn’t have anywhere safe to cycle these days, and perhaps he learned something too – about why a bike might be in the middle of the road and that the person on board could just as well be the nice middle-aged lady he chatted to on the train, just trying to keep herself safe, as some tosser in lycra who was obliviously holding him up as he tried to get on with his job.

Glasgow cycle path

All in all, perhaps not such a waste of time after all.

Get Outside

February 12, 2020

snowy sunny morning

Well, the difference a day makes (and a bit of sunshine). We woke this morning to a bit of snow, but nothing too icy, and a lot of unforecasted sunshine, which was welcome. And suddenly, having been too miserable to even venture outdoors yesterday, this afternoon nothing could stop me from getting on the bike to get the paper – even when the sunshine disappeared and it briefly started sleeting.

Fortunately, that didn’t last long and as the sun returned I was soon below the ‘snow line’ – stopping periodically to attempt to capture the contrast between the snowy hilltops and the almost spectral green of the fields in the valley.

green fields and snowy hills

Regular readers will know I’m a sucker for any sort of survey or research on cycling and I’ve been meaning to take part in this study for a few days now. It’s about cycling and mood and it requires you to do part of it before and after a ‘usual’ bike ride (whether indoors* or outdoors). What with one thing and another – gadding about, the weather, mild lurgy – it’s been over a week since I did any of my usual cycling trips, other than the one-way run to the bus on the Brompton. So I definitely recorded a mood boost on my return.

road through fields

The survey specifically required any outdoor cycling session to be in a natural, green environment. I hope this counts.

* I assume this means cycling on some sort of stationary trainer, rather than my dad’s former use of a bike to roam the corridors of power

Under the Weather

February 11, 2020

So far – and I know I’ll regret saying this – despite more or less hourly Met Office weather warnings for wind, rain, snow, ice, plagues of frogs and other hazards, the sole casualty of Storm Ciara round here has been our inherited garden statue Mostly, who has toppled from her plinth again (I should probably just lay her flat on the ground at the first weather warning of the autumn as I’ve grown rather fond of her).

toppled statue

Mostly, looking the way I feel

Mostly’s not the only one feeling a bit under the weather. I’ve been coming down with a cold of some sort which is either taking its time fully establishing itself or just extremely mild. I had two things I was supposed to be doing in Bigtown today but I was rather assuming that they’d be snowed off, given the forecast, but despite a weather warning cocktail of snow, ice and wind, when we woke up this morning the promised apocalypse was more of a dusting. This left me with a dilemma: neither sick enough to cancel due to ill health, nor snowed-in-enough to cancel due to the weather, but with no desire to actually get on the bike (or even into the car, frankly) and battle into town. Had I felt well, I might actually have relished it – and had the weather been a bit nicer, I would have welcomed the chance to drive out the lurgy through cycling but in the end I wimped out, made alternative plans, and spent the day watching the snow showers drift past my window without ever settling, and almost willing them to turn into blizzard conditions just so I’d feel a bit less of a wuss.

Not exactly the snowpocalypse

Of course, this may end up being a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ – even as I write, the snow has begun settling and the forecast tomorrow is for the same mixed bag of wintry weather and biblical weather warnings as today. But we’ve stocked up on enough food to last until the yellow warning of snow gives way to a yellow warning of rain on Friday and we’ll just sit it out if we need to …

The Real Reason Why Pink Stinks

February 7, 2020

So a conversation about cycling gloves on Twitter made me realise that perhaps men hadn’t quite twigged why women get annoyed when companies ‘pink it and shrink it’

(I should add, I know nothing about the gloves in question, because we’re long past the point where you had to click on a link and read the attached article in order to have an opinion on it). As always when these things get posted, there were the usual replies from men saying that they’d love to wear more pink but they’re forced to wear boring colours because men don’t get nice bright things.

Just to be clear, I think it’s fab that there are men out there who are comfortable wearing pink – I’d love all of us to have a choice of colours in our clothes (says she of the seven grey jumpers). I genuinely think it’s a tragedy when men feel they have to act in narrowly defined masculine ways, even to the point of not saving the planet in case they look a bit gay and I love to see a chap rocking a colourful floral shirt or, yes, bright pink gloves. But that is to miss the problem of pinkification and women’s stuff.

The problem women have isn’t with things being pink. It is when companies take something, decide to market it specifically to women, hike up the price, and make it less functional than the male equivalent and THEN make it pink that’s the problem.

Or as I put it more swearily on Twitter

So chaps, next time you come into my mentions to tell me you wish you could wear pink like me, ask yourself do you really like it so much that you’re prepared to pay more for it and have it be lower quality? In which case, there’s probably an extra-large women’s version of something out there for you to try. Why not give it a go?

Just don’t expect it to have pockets.

The Rain Falls on the Just and on the Unjust Fella*

February 3, 2020

I don’t know about you, but 2020 for me so far seems to have consisted of me pulling on my rain gear (I’m getting extremely good value out of my Aldi bargain waterproof trousers which have so far proved, remarkably, Waterproof in Scotland), wishing I’d thought to take my soggy wet gloves out of my bag to dry when I came back from the last outing, unstuffing the newspaper from my still-damp boots and heading back out into the rain for yet another Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign event that seemed like a good idea back when we planned it before the monsoon started. In just the last week we’ve had a Sunday ride (starting in the pouring rain), a Burns Night ride with the accessible cycling group (heavy rain forecast but in the end only raining lightly for most of it) and some path clearing work (solid mizzle all the way down but almost dry on the way back). Amazingly, we’ve had reasonable turnouts for all of these and none of the members have strangled me and left my body in a flooded ditch which, frankly, they would be well within their rights to do given how many times I’ve dragged them out of their warm dry homes on soggy days in recent weeks.

Today, however, the Weather Gods have given it a rest and even though I had yet another event organised, was forecast to be merely showery. I set off on the Brompton with a song in my heart, buoyed by the fact that the forecast for tomorrow (with yet another event organised – really, it’s as if I had forgotten what February is like) was even better. And got to the top of the road before I realised that when the Weather Gods take a rest, it’s only to let the Puncture Fairy have her head. For yes, the Brompton had a slow puncture in its back wheel and I had no time to fix it (even if I actually could have done which I doubt, given it’s a hub gear and a Marathon plus tyre). I couldn’t swap bikes because I was en route to Edinburgh afterwards (where the Brompton was due for a post-operative check up) and I couldn’t be late because I was meeting a bunch of council officers for a tour of the highlights of Bigtown’s cycling infrastructure. Nothing to it but to try and cycle faster than my back tyre was deflating, and then lose all credibility by arriving late, out of breath and pleading for a loan of a pump (I did have a pump in my bag but for reasons which made sense at the time, has been monkeyed with to inflate presta valves and I can’t for the life of me get it back to inflating schraders again).

Despite the suboptimal start, however, we did have a successful tour. Mostly I had erred on the informative and instructive side, choosing the route where there were opportunities to make positive suggestions about possible improvements rather than simply pointing and laughing at some of the madder stuff. But I did manage one small measure of revenge. There has been a bit of back and forth about whether it makes sense to designate one of the official bike routes up a one-in-five hill, even if it does mean a quieter road than those with a more forgiving gradient. So I made sure to include it on our route on the way back. Sometimes it’s much more powerful to show** rather than tell.

* But mainly on the just because the unjust stole the just’s umbrella.

** Especially the less-experienced officer who had borrowed one of the council e-bikes and then accidentally turned the power assist off at the bottom of the hill … amazingly he made it up, and in top gear too.

There is a Light that will Never Go Out…

February 1, 2020

… unless it turns out your tealights are rather old and almost burnt down to the bottom.

snail tealights

Having waded through about 15 pages of ‘leaving the EU’ coverage in the Guardian this morning, I’m not sure what more there is I can add on the subject. I know not there are many reasons why the country voted for Brexit, but I still think we’ve signed up for a race to the bottom we can’t win, while bringing a lot of xenophobia out into the open from wherever it was festering before. So I marked the occasion last night by lighting a candle (once I’d found one that would stay lit*) in the spirit of ‘leaving a light on’ so that Scotland, at least, might be able to find its way back, even if the rest of the UK declines to.

candle flame

For those worrying, the flame wasn’t quite as near to the POP flag as it looks here. Although I did wonder how many remainers started house fires last night from leaving candles burning unattended …

It is especially galling to be leaving just as I discovered this afternoon that German women’s trousers – or one pair, at least – are actually designed so that they fit me (AND have pockets).

Depending on how the trade negotiations go, it seems I’ve got 11 months to get myself to Germany and stock up.

* Possibly it was unwise to use one of our emergency powercut candles for this purpose …