Where You Wheely Bin

April 29, 2021

OK so it’s been an exciting weekend

Sadly I didn’t get to witness the giant projections in person, but you can see them on this film:

After all that excitement, you’d think that Bin Day might have been a bit of an anticlimax, but no! Cycling down into town on Tuesday lunchtime, I spotted that our neighbour’s wheely bin had gained two pals as Bigtownshire finally joins the 20th Century and gets a doorstep recycling programme

Wheely bin with two recycling wheely bins

Indeed, all the wheely bins that had been put out on the route into town had company.

This left us (OK, me) slightly anxious that we had been left out as we don’t have a wheely bin so we hadn’t been given any pals for it. I made a mental note to phone up and check, but then forgot about it. And yesterday, having returned home after a somewhat frustrating day, for reasons that were only tangentially related to the coonsil, we discovered that we too have recycling facilities, in the form of two stout canvas sacks, a large red one for cans, plastic and packets and a slightly smaller one – as designed by someone who clearly doesn’t take a daily newspaper* – for paper and card. There’s also a handy leaflet and calendar so we can join the rest of the country in having impassioned discussions about what can and can’t go in the recycling and what is supposed to be going out when (in my experience, these leaflets tend to raise more questions than they answer in these situations).

Now all we have to do is wait for Actual Recycling Day to come around (12 more sleeps!). I know, you can hardly wait.

* Annoyingly, it’s got just slightly too small a footprint to fit an unfolded tabloid (as the Guardian now is). Who designs these things?

As you were…

April 23, 2021

For one giddy moment last week I thought I might be able to retire from cycle campaigning and start spending spring each year if not resting on my laurels, then at least being able to spare some time to garden them (although maybe not actual laurels, as they’re not my favourite shrub). It seemed as if all the major political parties in Scotland were lining up behind a promise to spend 10% of the transport budget on active travel, something we have been campaigning for, in various guises, since 2012. In particular, this included the party that, realistically, will be forming the next Scottish government. Could it be that next year’s POP would be a ten-year-on victory lap for the local elections, followed by a chance to spend each March and April in something that wasn’t a state of rising panic?

And then we read the fine print.

There are promises, and there are politicians’ promises and you’d think I’d know by now how to tell the two apart…

Still, even though I’m not paying it any attention, spring is still springing away in the approaches to Bigtown (it takes a little longer to get up our hill, a bit like me on a bike)

And I was reminded that if you rattle past them on a bike with a trailer you can set a whole herd of cows in motion as they chase after the thing that might just possibly contain delicious cow treats – at least until you stop and they stop too and just stare at you in bewilderment as if they have no idea what they were doing just then, or how you made them do that.

I may not be able to influence the politicians, but I can at least still hypnotise cows, it seems.

Once more into the campaigning breach, dear friends … once more.


April 17, 2021

As evening venues go, a bench on an old viaduct more usually frequented by teenagers probably wouldn’t have been my first guess at where my first post-lockdown after-dark outing would take place. But if I’ve learned nothing else over the past 9 years, it’s that Pedal on Parliament will take me to some strange places doing stranger things. With that in mind, the fact that I spent the evening of the first occasion in Scotland when we could go further than our local area and meet people from more than one household by cycling down to Bigtown with my bike bags packed with some carefully cut cardboard boxes and all the bike lights I could lay my hands on, makes perfect sense.

Stencil light boxes

Obviously,* we haven’t been able to run a mass ride on the Scottish Parliament this year, but as it’s an election year, we knew we had to do something to tell our candidates that they needed to start taking active travel seriously as part of the solution to the climate crisis. So POP this year has taken the form of light-based actions – from lit up window displays to laser projections.

Putting fairy lights on Kirkpatrick McMillan statue

Here in our little corner of southwest Scotland we wanted to do something that would be clearly local, but get the national message across. And fortunately, one of our local legends offered just the opportunity. Add in some fairy lights, some home-made light boxes and a bit of fancy footwork with a few torches and we reckoned we could stage something that would get our message across next weekend

But first, we needed to fine-tune our setup and get some practice in. Which is why I spent a very enjoyable if slightly chilly evening (once darkness had finally fallen – thank goodness POP isn’t in June) mucking around with torches, cameras and a couple of like minded souls – to the faint bemusement of any passing yoof (sadly, none of their bikes had lights or we’d have roped them in).

And then I had the joy of cycling home in the dark for the first time in I don’t know how long.** It might not be the trip to the pub or the cultural outing most people have have been pining for … but actually it will do me just fine.

Dusk falling over river

* I say ‘obviously’ but someone saw the POP poster on my bike last weekend and asked me if I was taking the train up to Edinburgh for POP next weekend. A sentence that would have made perfect sense in 2019 but sounds like a bizarre futuristic fantasy in 2021.

** Long enough that, naturally, my back light suddenly turned out to be not working when I finally needed it. Because whatever else may have been suspended during the pandemic, Sod’s Law isn’t one of them.

light box saying 'machine'

No Longer Shouldering On

April 15, 2021

As I mentioned over two years ago, one of the indignities middle age has visited on me has been A Shoulder,* self diagnosed as a rotator cuff injury. As this was causing me some distress by changing my reading habits of a lifetime, I eventually took myself off to a physiotherapist who basically winced, strapped it up a bit, told me to sort out my neck or I’d really start suffering and finally sent me to my GP who sent me for an X-Ray, diagnosed a very tiny amount of calcification in the joint and bounced me back to the physio.

Unfortunately at this point I’d stopped seeing the physio for the very British reason that she’d suggested doing some acupuncture, which I didn’t particularly want, so I dealt with it by saying nothing and then never going back, which I’m sure you’ll agree is an entirely rational response. This threw me onto the tender mercies of Dr Google and also asking everyone else in the Shoulder cohort what they suggested. When the pandemic hit and I started spending longer at my desk, I did finally raise my screens up to eye level, get a decent chair, and a separate keyboard. I also bought a not-as-kinky-as-you-might-hope Swedish device that encourages me to sit more upright, did more yoga and an exercise suggested by someone on Facebook I vaguely know but have never met, started reading propped up in bed like a middle aged woman in a 70s sitcom, and hoped that things would improve.

And there things stayed for roughly the last year: not in as much pain as I originally was, but with a constant nagging ouch in the background and a limited range of mobility in my right arm. I resigned myself to the steady decline of age. After all, for a cyclist, A Shoulder was better than A Knee, and both are better than A Back.

And then my keyboard began to play up, and I idly asked on Twitter if anyone had any opinions about replacement keyboards (spoiler: oh boy, yes they did). It turns out keyboards are complicated. Just as I was about to go down a loooong rabbithole regarding mechanical keyboard switches and how many centiNewtons of force I wanted to use for each key stroke (I swear I am not making this up), someone came to my rescue by offering to send me his old ergonomic keyboard, saving me from weeks of research and indecision and it from ending up in landfill (or the drawer under the bed where old electronic equipment goes to die, which is more or less the same thing).

Shortly afterwards the keyboard arrived and I have to admit, at first I was dubious. I don’t know how many centiNewtons of force were needed to press the keys, but it felt like a lot, and indeed the whole keyboard felt like it was designed for the Default Man with large manly hands rather than someone who spent her university years wearing children’s gloves because they fit better than adult ones. Plus I’ve always secretly felt a bit dubious about these ergonomic keyboards – they just looked a bit unnecessary. Surely I didn’t need a special keyboard when I’d spent all my life battering away on a five quid job from Tesco?

Keyboard set up

However, I persevered. And after about five days of battling with the thing, I noticed something strange. Well, two things. One, my shoulders were no longer around my ears and I was resting my wrists on the rest the way I was supposed to with my upper body largely relaxed. And two, my shoulder – and indeed my neck – no longer hurt. I found myself rotating my arm around this way and that, trying to remember exactly what it was I wasn’t able to do before and not finding it. The whole nagging background pain I’ve been carrying around for the last two years … just gone.

I do realise that ‘ergonomic keyboard actually makes life better for someone with shoulder pain’ is yet another finding in the No Shit Sherlock category from the School of the Bleeding Obvious, but hey, it turns out it’s one more thing I’ve had to learn the hard way. Hopefully there’s someone out there who can profit from my experience without having to do the whole ‘two years of pain’ part. If so, you’re welcome.

And now having written all this and realising I may no longer have A Shoulder, I’m just crossing everything that it doesn’t get replaced by A Knee instead. Or, worse, A Back. Ergonomically, of course

* As I understand it, as you approach your middle years, everyone is issued with either A Shoulder, A Knee or, if you’re really unlucky, A Back, which will be your cross to bear for the next couple of decades, when I believe things really start falling apart.

A Quickening

April 7, 2021

For reasons which may or may not become apparent (depending on whether I actually go through with a mad idea I’m cooking up at the moment), I’m trying to break the habit of a lifetime and actually work out how to cycle faster so that I can tackle longer distances without needing to get up at silly o’clock to do it.

Having asked various more speedy cycling friends about how to go about this, especially at a time when you’re helping organise three cycle campaigns and also vaguely work for a living, the advice seems to be: 1) get a faster bike (or at least take all the crap out of my panniers); 2) interval training*; and 3) ride as fast and hard as you can for an hour.

Now, even if I did want a faster bike, there are no bikes to be had for love nor money, so that’s not an option, although I might consider not taking along the weekend papers, a flask and sandwich boxes, or a pair of curtains if I do go for a proper sporting challenge. I’m also holding off on the intervals until I’m certain they’re unavoidable, so that leaves option 3, which is especially appealing as it theoretically should take me just under an hour to cycle to get the paper, thereby costing me no extra time, and making it more likely that I’ll actually do it.

flask and sandwich boxes

After a few days of pedalling as flat out as I can manage (at least when I remember, and am not stopping to chat to an acquaintance, passing a horse, or actually in town) I’ve worked out that I can do the 11 miles to the garage and back home again in 55 minutes, including actually buying the paper, can hunting, and even today shooing a couple of lambs back into their field (it turns out that cycling past them at speed** shouting ‘get back in your field you woolly morons works surprisingly well). I’m not sure if this is going to do anything for my average speed over longer distances, but it certainly feels like I’m getting more of a workout than I normally do.

Anyway, in the course of this flirtation with actual sporting endeavour, I am learning some things about the difference between my normal slow cycling and actually putting some effort into it:

  1. It’s a heck of a lot warmer (I always thought my need for thicker gloves than anyone else was a circulation issue but it might just be a slowness issue). This is a good thing when it suddenly starts SNOWING IN APRIL, which, frankly, can get in the bin.
  2. You ingest a lot more insects.
  3. You don’t actually save any time. I may have shaved 10 minutes off my normal papershop run, but I then spend twice that time changing (the magic of merino only goes so far when you’ve just caned it up a hill wearing a raincoat, a jumper and a tweed cap) and sitting around getting my breath back.
  4. It’s just not as pleasant as cycling slowly, sorry sporty people! I’ve always found that thing about cycling being about suffering faintly baffling, and while I understand it a bit more now, it’s not something I actively embrace. I can get plenty of suffering just from sleeping funny these days, so I’m not really in the market for any more.
snow shower

So I’m looking forward to going back to normal, but I will persevere, at least for a month or so until I’ve either got a bit faster or definitively proved it doesn’t work. Anything’s got to be better than intervals …

* It appears to be an iron law that the answer to any query involving sporting issues that isn’t ‘work on your core’ is ‘interval training’.

** or ‘speed’ anyway.

Badgering On

April 3, 2021

I would really like to know who it was decided elections in this country get held in May; not people with gardens, I’m guessing. I’d also like to know why I thought it was a good idea to start not just Pedal on Parliament but another election-focused inclusive active travel campaign that has meant we’ve spent the last week trying to keep up with all the various Scottish political parties which have been popping up (and occasionally popping back down again) like mushrooms after the rain.

So blogging has been a bit light – as has doing anything that’s not work, cycle campaigning, riding for the paper and popping out occasionally to apologise to my garden for neglecting it.

Fortunately, my new toy has revealed that there are at least a few visitors to the garden who have been enjoying the amenities greatly (bribed by a nightly handful of carefully distributed peanuts)

Although it’s possible they’ve realised we’re onto them.

Or maybe they just don’t like the angle at which we’ve placed the camera. Everyone’s a critic these days.