November 29, 2021

I’m going to confess that today’s ride down for the paper was not an inviting prospect this lunchtime. Yesterday’s snow is still hanging around, although the roads aren’t too bad, and it was just raw and cold looking all day. And besides, I tweaked something in my back this morning, doing yoga ironically enough. It left me unable to properly straighten my lower back without it hurting, which made sitting uncomfortable, and standing and walking downright painful unless I hunched right over. It’s happened a couple of times before, and cycling has always been okay, even something of a relief. But it was still something of a leap of faith to actually get on a bike and set off, when I could barely walk as far as the garage to get it out in the first place.

With the cold and the snow and an unfamiliar bike to get used to, I took the ride down a little gingerly. But the moment when I tottered painfully out of the shop with a gait that can only be described as ‘sixth former playing an old person in the school play’, got on my bike and sailed off was magic indeed. For the hour or so that I was actually cycling I had no pain at all, and you would not have guessed I was the same person who was hobbling round the shop barely able to stand up at all.

e-bike in driveway

It did help that a good friend has lent me her old e-bike while I work out how best to replace my old* one. I didn’t have to worry about putting in too much effort and could sit fairly upright, or at least as upright as my sacrum was prepared to allow. I was grateful for the extra oomph up the last bit of our hill, but I know from past experience that I’d have been all right even on a normal bike. There’s something about cycling that not only makes it feel OK when my back is giving me grief, but actually feels as if it’s doing me good.

Had I time enough (and infinite charge – I am becoming acquainted with the range anxiety of the ebiker already) I would probably still be out there riding it around the back roads of Bigtownshire because it was the only time all day I’ve felt entirely whole. Tomorrow, I hope, I should be back on the mend again. But even if not, at least I know I’ll still be able to get moving as long as I’m on a bike. Indeed, if I’m still in pain you’ll have trouble stopping me…

* The consensus is that the bike could be fixed – at least the frame repaired – but even the most ardent fixit fans among my bikey acquaintance don’t think it’s worth it. At best I can find a similar frame and move all the parts over onto it but I don’t think that will really counts as being the same bike, Trigger’s Broom or no. So RIP …

Snow Joke

November 28, 2021

With impeccable timing, my parents have made two visits to Bigtown in the past month, both times coinciding with epic weather warnings. Despite visiting during the floods at the end of October, they are planning to move over here (to be closer to their favourite daughter, naturally) so on Friday they made the drive again to view some houses, managing to arrive just before Storm Arwen had got into its stride, with red weather warnings ringing in our ears.

This morning, having congratulated ourselves on surviving the weekend’s storm with only minimal damage (the house is now wearing the gutter from one of its dormer windows at rather a jaunty angle), we woke to discover that Arwen had an unexpected sting in its tail…

Snow falling in garden

I do love snow, generally, however inconvenient, but this didn’t look like the sort of weather we could in all conscience send two 80-somethings out into on a 100 mile drive. However, they were keen to get home so after an anxious morning spent alternately checking the rain radar and the live traffic cameras on the A7, they decided to take the risk and set off armed with emergency blankets, snacks and a thermos full of tea.

An hour or so later, with the sun out and a cheery message from Mum saying they had reached Langholm and all was well and they were happily eating their emergency snacks, we could go out and enjoy what was left of the snow with a clear conscience.

Snow on fallen tree
Snowy path through woods

A Moment’s Silence, Please

November 21, 2021

Among the many other things on my after COP to do list has been a long standing item to deal with the damaged paint around my bike’s bottom bracket. I’d already had it checked at its last service to make sure that the signs of corrosion I’d started to notice weren’t anything too dangerous, and had been given a cautious all clear for now. But I wanted to make sure the frame would last so I picked up some paint for it, and this morning started by cleaning up the frame and taking off the kick stand so I could remove the flaking paint and touch it up.

Unfortunately, I found a bit more than I’d bargained for…

Bike frame with crack

Twitter, sadly, concurred

The consensus (in so far as Bike Twitter has a consensus about anything) is that the bike might be salvagable in the hands of a decent framebuilder (steel is real and all that) but for now it is not so much a bike as a death trap – if it goes, it will go suddenly and quite painfully for anyone on board.

So I’m left with a problem, or a number of problems. Whether I opt to get a new bike, get a new frame, or try and have the frame repaired, it’s not going to be a quick process. That means my main means of transport is now the Brompton, which is fine for heading into town and back (well, less so back, given I live up a sizeable hill) but I’m not sure I relish doing anything longer on it. Still, at least I have a good second bike so I’m not completely stranded (I did recently, out of curiosity, look at whether there was any usable bus to get me into town or back, and short of a three mile walk along a B road, there isn’t).

And then there’s what to do about my big bike. Just getting the frame repaired seems like the most attractive option right now. I don’t know anything about bike geometry, but I do know that the combination of that frame, my touring bars, and my Brooks saddle, I had something I could ride pretty much all day without any real discomfort. If it can’t be fixed, finding a similar frame, if such a thing can be found – and swapping over all the components would be almost as good and has a pleasing ‘my grandfather’s axe’ sense of continuity about it.

But then there’s the question of whether I really want to just replace my bike like for like. It has been suggested in certain quarters that it weighs more than a bike ought, and that there have been advances in technology that I might want to take advantage of, like brakes that actually stop the bike. I have long thought that my next bike would probably be an e-bike, but I was thinking that would be a decision I wouldn’t have to make for a while. I wasn’t sure I was ready to go electric, mostly because I know that once I do I would probably never go back. Although maybe after I’ve slogged the Brompton up our hill for a week I’ll be more than ready for any form of e-assist.

Either way, I am preparing myself for the fact that my bike – my faithful companion on so many adventures for over 12 years – may well have pedalled its last. It feels like the end of an era.

The bike the day I got it

Kicking the Can Down the Road

November 18, 2021

Life’s been gradually returning back to normal after all the excitement of COP26 and Glasgow and I seem to have finally cleared most of the outstanding post-event tasks, and even begun to catch up with the huge list of things that had been put on the pile marked ‘After COP’, some more glamorous than others …

Although as it happens, our septic tank is fine, despite not having been emptied, or even looked at, since we bought the house – it didn’t even smell too bad, which is a sign that its bacteria are working away nicely. And there’s something very satisfying about ticking something off your to do list that’s been nagging away at the back of your mind as something that ought to be sorted for over five years.

No such sense of satisfaction is looming for the Scottish Government, sadly, at least when it comes to its long awaited and now once more delayed deposit return scheme. This is incredibly disappointing, especially as they set up one of their shiny new Green ministers to announce it. It’s not just about litter and unsightliness of drinks cans (and broken bottles) along the hedgerows – each unrecycled aluminium can means an extra 8 times its weight in additional carbon emissions.

can caught in hedgerow

I’m still picking up cans when I’m out on the bike and every single time I go into town I easily find at least four – and that’s on just 5 miles of not very busy rural roads. Indeed, today I’d met my ‘quota’ before I’d even got half way into town. I’ve been looking forward to finding fewer of them once the deposit scheme kicked in (or failing that, having developed a lucrative new sideline). But now it seems I’ll have to keep on picking them up pro bono for the indefinite future. Which is bad news for the planet, as the scheme was expected to cut emissions by 160,000 tonnes a year, meaning every day this scheme is delayed, will cause over 400 tonnes of extra emissions.

After all the talk of the urgency of tackling climate change, and the need to get emissions down now, not at some time in the future, it’s beyond dispiriting to hear that this most anodyne and undisruptive of measures is being held up – and that by a government which fancies itself as a climate leader. What’s going to happen once they try and implement something properly difficult? They’ve announced that they’re aiming to cut car kilometres by 20% by 2030 for instance. Now that really will be interesting to watch …

old moss covered hawthorn bush

Back in the Saddle. Wellies. Whatever

November 14, 2021

So for a blissful two days between Transport Day at COP26 and the arrival of my next last-minute job with an insane deadline I had … some actual spare time. Or at least what was left over of my waking hours after I’d started to tackle the massive list of admin tasks that had been filed under ‘after COP’ over the last couple of weeks. Naturally, the garden beckoned.

roses in pots

These days the gardening people advise you to do a lot less in autumn – digging, cutting back and tidying away for the winter is all somewhat frowned upon, and who am I to argue with that? But I did have one thing I wanted to get sorted ready for spring and that was preparing a permanent home for my instant rose garden, which I had been gifted in the summer.

Rose in bloom

With the little rose I’d moved earlier this year still flowering away happily, and November be damned, I decided it could do with some pals so I spent a nice afternoon clearing out the worst of the weeds (even as the podcast of Gardeners’ Question Time I was listening to was telling me that exposing soil to the air was a complete no-no in carbon terms). The next step will be to cover it in manure and compost for a bit, and hopefully I can move the roses in the new year.

New rosebed

As so often with the garden, as soon as I was out there to do one job I started to realise all the other tasks that needed doing. Like raking the cut grass off my ‘meadow’ (which I probably should have done two months ago, but hey ho), and emptying my potato bags. For yes, despite deciding not to grow potatoes this year after getting a bit of trouble with blight, I did inherit a couple of bags for growing potatoes in from some friends who were downsizing. I filled them with the soil that was left over from excavating the sitooterie bed, and then added a few volunteer potatoes that showed up in the greenhouse over spring, and then pretty much left them to get out of it.

Potato bags being emptied

From this minimal amount of effort, I have harvested a fairly minimal amount of potatoes, but it is at least an amount larger than none. In what has been a neglectful gardening year, I’m taking that as a win.

We Pedalled on COP – Now What?

November 9, 2021

Well. The whole Pedal on COP event and the march in Glasgow have been huge beyond anything I’ve done before, and I’m still slowly coming down (and tying up all the loose ends which has somehow managed to take the last two days although at least I didn’t end up with ‘washing bike grease out of a polar bear costume’ on my to do list). I’ve written up our actual ride to Glasgow elsewhere, and I’m still processing the experience of leading a bloc of over a thousand cyclists as part of a throng of over a hundred thousand people through appalling weather and with feet so wet and cold I resorted to dancing just to keep warm (it didn’t work). It was epic and amazing and heartwarming and encouraging and all those things but in my mind I keep coming back to two discordant moments over the past few days.

KM trail sign

The first was as the six of us who rode from Bigtown sailed down the hill towards Abington having climbed up and over the Mennock Pass and descended eight miles in the pitch dark with nothing to see but our comet trail of lights strung out along the road. For almost the whole day we’d been riding on our gloriously empty back roads, through the timeless-seeming scenery of the region that makes it hard to believe there really is a climate crisis gathering momentum around us. We’d met primary school kids who were desperate to cycle to school and not just on days when there was a bike event planned, and ridden alongside good-hearted churchgoers who give up their mornings to pick litter (and feed pancakes to hungry passing cyclists). It was something of a shock to be spat out into the motorway services (our only practical option for accommodation on our chosen route) and find ourselves back in a world built around the needs of the car. There was lots that felt jarringly alien about this brightly lit place but the thing that stood out was that the only apparent play opportunity for children – who would presumably have spent several hours cooped up in their parents’ cars – was to nag their parents to pay for a ride in the pretend car making tinny vrooming noises in the entrance.

field of sheep with hills around them

The second was as we marched – or rather inched – through Glasgow, a hundred thousand strong, united in our demand for stronger action on the climate (even if our individual pet causes and solutions might differ). Many of my fellow marchers had already cycled miles and miles in the rain to be there, and all of us had stood and waited in the same rain for a couple of hours because this was a cause worth suffering for. Our route took us over the M8 (which long ago ripped Glasgow in two) and it was sobering to see the traffic rolling on as usual: so many cars and so many drivers for whom this was just another Saturday afternoon. Many of them might be concerned about the climate, on essential journeys that couldn’t be done in any other way, and possibly even guilty about driving on such a day – but it was still a reminder that our society’s need for convenient mobility has trumped all else. We might be marching and dancing and shouting ourselves hoarse but we were barely a blip in the rear view mirror for those on the motorway. It’s perhaps no wonder that when the COP26 conference come to discuss transport tomorrow they’ll be focusing almost entirely on electric cars, because it seems we can no longer imagine a world where we can’t just hop in a private motor car and go wherever we want, whenever we fancy.

Cyclist heading up the mennock pass

Over the past few years I’ve started to understand that climate change means we’ll need to do more than trim our sails a bit to nudge our course away from disaster. It’s going to take a revolution of some description in how we live, either to prevent catastrophic change from happening, or in the aftermath of said catastrophic change. My understanding of history is that most revolutions don’t work out that well – neither for those being revolted against in the short term, nor for those doing the revolting in the medium (in the long term, I’m with Keynes). Even so, of all the revolutions we might imagine, one that dethrones the private car from dominating our streets seems to me to be the one that has fewest downsides. It can’t be the whole answer – we’re too far gone for that – but, given the alternatives, surely it has to be worth a shot?

Meanwhile, if you’ve got any good polar bear cleaning tips, I know someone who might be interested …

Now Comes the Easy Bit

November 3, 2021

Over the past few weeks I’ve been flat out with an endless to do list as we’ve been trying to corrall 21 different feeder rides into Glasgow: designing flags, delivering flyers, finding cargo bike riders, planning routes and, naturally, sourcing a polar bear costume … My days have reached the stage where I open my email when I get up and just start dealing with whatever has come in, until suddenly it’s dark outside and where did the day go? Slowly we’ve herded an unfeasible number of cats into something resembling something organised, if you don’t look too closely, and now we’ve reached the stage where things are either done or they’re not going to be done and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Pennant flags with 'this machine fights climate change' and 'No Planet B' written on them

Tomorrow, I set off on what I’ve been (half jokingly) calling the easy part: the Bigtown #PedalOnCOP26 ride up to Glasgow, all 93 miles and however many feet of climbing it is. On the way we’re taking in three primary schools and a church which has very kindly offered us coffee and pancakes (the communion service has come on a bit since I was confirmed). And I’m trying very hard to not panic too much about keeping to our planned itinerary – we’re already resigned to the fact that we’ll be doing the last nine miles of the first day downhill in the pitch dark.

Sign saying Wanlockhead, Highest village in Scotland
(OK, but no need to keep banging on about it)

On the other hand – I’ve just worked out that as we career down towards our first rest stop with the stars* spread out above us and a warm and dry hotel bed awaiting us – my co-organisers will be sitting through yet one more of a zillion Zoom meetings as they finalise the logistics for the big march. I think that definitely counts as a win.

* I’ve arranged for it not to be raining