101 Uses for a Brompton: Parading

June 17, 2017


I’m ashamed to say, we’ve lived in the area for 9 years now and this was the first year I’ve ever been to the annual only-slightly-made-up historical celebration of ancient traditions dating all the way back to, ooh, 1932, aka Guid Nychburris.*

Buds of Anarchy float

Today, though, our local cycle campaign were taking part in the parade alongside Buddies, an organisation for people with learning difficulties who last year started a bike project. We’ve been helping them get riding (it’s amazing how many of their members have been confidently told that they’ll never ride a normal bike who turn out to be perfectly capable of it, with a bit of practice and some patience). The Buddies had decided they wanted to celebrate their biking project by dressing up as the Sons of Anarchy (‘Buds of Anarchy’) and we followed along behind as the ‘Hell’s Bells’. Like most of our plans, this all made a lot more sense in the pub when we first discussed it.

Brompton and float

Brompton ready to rock

Anyway, my touring bike, beautiful as it is, didn’t seem quite suitable as part of a biker gang, so I took the Brompton instead, lowering the seat to give it a bit more of a Harley Davidson feel. I’m not sure I quite rocked the ‘biker chick’ look myself, but others had made a more convincing effort and we set off in the sunshine at about 5pm for our slowest bike ride ever.

I hadn’t quite understood what a big deal this parade is for Bigtown. It helped that it was an absolutely glorious day, but the entire route was lined with crowds of people. We could have given out ten times the number of flyers we’d brought, and it was good to be part of a huge civic event, showing that cyclists are as much a part of the life of the town as the local Brownie pack, the young farmers (and boy were we glad not to be the ones dressed up in cow onesies this afternoon), the nearby wetland centre and the Cat’s Protection League

And I suppose it counts as a miracle that, given the many thousands who had lined the streets to watch, only one person felt the need to shout out ‘helmet’ as we passed. Because apparently even when moving at 4 miles per hour on completely closed roads and while dressed up as an anarchic biker gang – you need a magic plastic hat on your head.

biker gang

*I’m only bitter because every time I have to write about it I have to google it first to remind myself of which cod spelling of ‘neighbours’ they’ve officially used as its name. I’m all for Scots being used in the vernacular but given even the locals simply pronounce it ‘good neighbours’ I think they’re actually just spelling it that way for a bet.

Pathetic Fallacy

June 28, 2016

rain on the river

I don’t know if it’s the return of the rain, or lack of sleep, but the reality of Brexit really began to hit home today. Normally I’m a ridiculously positive person, but I found myself almost in tears watching a video clip of vile racist abuse on a Manchester tram and wondering just what has happened to my country. There’s only so much gardening, bike riding, and sharing of black humour on Twitter that you can do – and then you wake up again in the morning and it’s still happening. We’ve voted ourselves out, nobody has a plan, the Labour party have formed a circular firing squad – the news just keeps getting worse. I’m not even going to mention the football, because there’s an unholy amount of gloating going on by the Scots, which doesn’t bode well for any future indyref debate. Last time around the independence campaign was conducted in a spirit of democracy and debate and a lack of anti-English sentiment that did Scotland proud. If there is another one, I dread it being conducted in a spirit of bitterness and resentment. There are some genies that cannot be put back into the bottle once they have been unleashed.

All I can say is this – to the Scots, the EU, to anyone listening. We’ve all had friends who’ve become troubled, who lash out in their misery and make themselves unpleasant and generally try and shake off the people who love them most and want them to be happy. Mostly we understand that that’s not the real them that’s behaving that way and that all we can do is ply them with tea and sympathy and hugs and support and shrug off the things that they say when they’re not really thinking straight. So please, tempting as it is to kick England when it’s down, and much as it deserves it, bear with my poor self-harming country anyway while it works its way through a dreadful nervous breakdown. Send it tea. Lock away the knives. And don’t let it do anything drastic if you can.

mugs and kettle

Send tea… it’s all that can save us now

And to my compatriots I would add: damn it, whatever happened to Keep Calm and Carry On? We have never needed it more than in this hour.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves*

March 16, 2016

I was in a sandwich shop in Bigtown yesterday waiting for my order of mini donuts to finish frying, as you do, and the proprietor was feeling chatty. In the time it takes for a dozen small roundels of sweet dough to float across a moat of boiling oil and be flung into a pile of sugar,** he, I and the other customer in the shop had covered the habits of Bigtown’s seagulls (not as voracious as they’re cracked up to be), the qualifications and experiences needed for a career in medical administration, the perils of running a small literary magazine, and the correct use and distinction between a semi colon and a colon.

It was only afterwards, as I biked my hot donuts post-haste to my destination, where we were to put together the next issue of the Fankle (Errandonneering ride 12 – hooray – Arts and entertainment), that it was a sign that I have begun to go native. Certainly when I had just come up from London there is no way on God’s earth that I would have answered a question like ‘so what are you getting up to this afternoon’ from a shopkeeper with anything but the blandest of responses, let alone attempt to elucidate the finer points of punctuation by way of a follow up (he was the one who brought it up, I must point out; I didn’t start it).

Of course, that’s partly because, for the first year or so at least, every conversation I had with a native of Bigtown sounded like this

Oh, and the mini donuts were absolutely delicious.

* with thanks to Paul M on Twitter for the post title

** None of your Krispy Kreme nonsense here – go on, you know you want some.

Getting the Nod

February 13, 2015

I have long pondered, but never got round to, writing about nods. No wait, let me explain. You’re on the bike, out there in the elements on a lonely road. You approach another lonely soul also out there in the elements – whether another cyclist, a workman digging out a drain, a farmer on a quad bike. You nod, they nod back – a little interaction that is probably universal across rural cultures where everyone, including strangers, gets an acknowledgement of some sort in passing. Except I began to notice that people nod slightly differently up here. I’d bob my head up and down as I learned as a child and in return, my interlocutor would not so much nod as rotate their chin through a few degrees – from say six to eight on a clock dial. One of those things you note, think must blog about that one of these days, and then totally forget until someone comes along and writes about it (or its Norn Iron equivalent) far more eloquently than I ever did.

So far, I’ve confined myself to my own native English nod, uncertain whether I could actually pull the authentic South West Scotland version off without looking like a complete fake. But after such encounters I do sometimes find myself practising it as I ride along. Just, you know, to see if I can manage it in case I ever need to go into deep cover.*

It’s lucky our roads are really very empty indeed.

Oh go on, it’s Friday: what embarrassing things do you do when you’re out on your own on a bike?

* See also dropping ‘outwith’ into casual conversation.

Hotting Up

August 29, 2014

This week I have:

  • Discussed how the last BBC #indyref debate went with in a pub with a poet and an artist (they felt Mr Salmond had won it but as they were wearing one ‘aye’ and two ‘yes’ badges between them they may not have been entirely disinterested in the matter)
  • Discussed with several cyclists over breakfast this morning how the local TV debate had gone (they felt the ‘nos’ had won it as the Yes side were merely making speeches without answering the questions)
  • Swapped flyers with a radical indy chap (I was publicising our bike breakfast, he was campaigning for a better world; I said that one the whole while I liked the idea of a radical independence I thought what we were likely to get was a rather conservative one, he suggested we get independence first and build the Scotland we want later)
  • Discussed how the independence campaign generally was going with an extremely well-spoken chap I met on the way home as he was diligently picking up litter from the verges, something he has done every week, he tells me, everywhere he has lived for the last 50 years (he felt Darling had the best lines at the last debate and didn’t feel just going it alone for the heck of it and seeing what happened was the wisest course).

This week I have not:

  • Got any further making up my own mind – indeed I have noticed that I have a tendency to want to vote the opposite way to the last person I have spoken to on the matter, and the more firmly they have made up their minds, the stronger this effect is.

I think it’s safe to say I’ll be having many more conversations on the matter over the next 20-odd days …

Another Country

August 9, 2014

Our writers’ anarchist collective conducted a cross-border raid yesterday – down to Carlisle to recce the latest incarnation of our pop-up bookshop at the city’s newly hatched literary festival in September. Following a local recommendation we pitched up at Coffee Genius for coffee and further plotting, where my ‘slow brew’ coffee (aka a cafetiere to you and me) came with this to ensure that my selected beans were brewed for the optimum time (four minutes was recommended but, reckless scofflaw that I am, I went for five, partly because I was too busy taking a photo of my coffee timer to press down the plunger at the operative moment). coffee timer We have nice cafes in Bigtown but I gather we’re a little behind the times (‘oh, menus in Ladybird books, those were really trendy a few years ago’, someone exclaimed on being taken to our newest and nicest). They rather tend to concentrate on the cake side of things, which makes sense given the rural economy is about 50:50 farming and baking (if you want to dine really well in Bigtown, order a bacon roll, followed by a tray bake. If feeling adventurous, try a haggis pannini, and yes I know that’s the plural in Italian, but once you’ve put haggis in it, it’s been fully assimilated and we can pluralify it how we like. You can do your own joke about deep frying it in batter in the comments.)

So where was I going with this? Oh yes, regardless of the outcome of September’s vote, England already feels a little like a different country. But then again, so does Edinburgh.

And my coffee? Very nice, if a trifle over-brewed, but I’ve nobody to blame for that but myself.

Scotland Undecides

August 6, 2014

I’m probably going to regret posting this, in case the cybernats and cyber-other-lot come piling in, but with six weeks to go, I do have to make a decision about how to vote in September’s referendum. Last night I actually hurried home from the pub in order to catch the big debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling (and does anyone else think ‘Salmond and Darling’ sounds like an unsuccessful pilot for an odd-couple detective series?) but sadly this just consisted of two men in suits shouting over each other and scoring debating points so after about fifteen minutes of amusing myself on twitter with the #ScotDecides hashtag I took pity on the other half and turned it off so I could cook supper instead.

The debate (in so far as I did follow it) turned mostly on the mechanics of who will have what after independence – the pandas, the pound, the oil – but to be honest, I’m not that bothered about all that. Whatever happens, an independent Scotland is unlikely to turn into South Sudan, although there’s a risk it might turn into, say, Ireland. Nor, realistically, is it going to become the land flowing with milk and honey that the independence campaigners suggest. It will sit somewhere within the spectrum of other wealthy western democracies – possibly a little poorer but hopefully a little more equal than it would have been had it remained in the UK. I can live with that. There’s a greater risk that the Rest of the UK will suffer from its loss – from an England left ‘locked in a room with Nigel Farage’ (as James Meek so vividly phrased it), to a Northern Ireland left seriously destabilised by the possibilities opened up by the break up of the UK. That does worry me a bit more. In fact, I’m beginning to feel that by moving to Scotland I’ve been accidentally handed rather too much responsibility for another country’s entire future for comfort, and my previous stance of planning to vote yes just to have one over on the Scots Nats when they assume I voted no on the grounds that I’m (half) English is looking a bit frivolous.

But seriously, how to decide, especially now it’s looking close enough that my vote might actually matter? Obviously not by watching the debate. There have been other debates and hustings held locally that have apparently been more illuminating, but I’m not sure I’ll ever make up my mind by listening to other people talk about it. I’m hampered by having no gut feeling on the matter, seeing as I’m not Scottish and – despite having been educated here for six years, and lived here for another six years – I know I never will be. There are some who would argue that we shouldn’t have a say in the matter at all, especially as there are thousands of Scots who won’t because they live in the rest of the UK – but then again, we’ve made a positive decision to throw in our lot with Scotland by moving here. If anything, we’ve got more of a stake than someone who returns at Christmas and wears a kilt to weddings but won’t be paying any of the extra taxes (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if I thought an independent Scotland might go for a more redistributive fiscal policy I’d vote for it like a shot, but I suspect it will just squander the oil money the way the UK has done for the last 30 years while pretending we can have the public services of Denmark on the tax regime of the United States).

So short of tossing a coin in the polling station, how should I make up my mind? There have been competing pros and cons going round my head for a while and it goes a bit like this:

Pro: it would be exciting and interesting to be part of history, and live in Europe’s newest country

Con: that didn’t work out so well for the Crimea…

Pro: Scotland is much more egalitarian and instinctively left wing than England, so no fear of ever living under a conservative government again

Con: we will have a large and grumpy and possibly permanently right wing neighbour to our south

Pro: Scotland can pioneer new ways of doing things and we might end up living somewhere a bit like Denmark

Con: except that the economy will be heavily dependent on oil, which doesn’t bode well for it becoming a green cycle-friendly place

Pro: living in a small country means we can influence policy more easily as we’re all that much closer to the levers of power

Con:  the danger then is it’s all about who you know … I’ve seen enough of how things work close up to worry that we’ll end up living in a banana republic only without the climate for bananas and it won’t even be a republic.

And so on.

None of this is particularly helping. At the moment I’m leaning towards voting yes, just out of the human instinct to poke something to see what happens. I apologise in advance for doing this to what is not, at the end of the day, my country, although I do at least promise to stick around to suffer or enjoy the consequences.

What would you do?

You Know you’re not in London any more…

March 28, 2014

… when you find your train journey enlivened by a stranger’s life story. I caught the Bigtown connection by the skin of my teeth this afternoon, and slid into one of the table seats beside what I took to be a mother and teenage daughter. The girl was soon chatting away merrily about the Brompton, the train service, her international gymnastics career (now retired), her As in maths, English and child care, her three-year-old daughter, the various fights she had got into in school after the announcement of her engagement, her plans for this evening (chicken curry cooked by her fiance’s sister if you’re interested), the fact that you can no longer get a half on the bus if you’ve got your own toddler in tow, and much much more. It soon became apparent that the older woman was not her mother – indeed, she was a stranger too, and as bemused as I was, as well as being slightly concerned. The barrage continued until the stop before Bigtown where the girl got off, with a cheery ‘see you later’. It was certainly an eye-opener and I suppose it beats one of those overheard telephone conversations that used to enliven my morning commute down in London, although it wasn’t much less one-sided…

You also know you’ve been in London when you come back feeling like you’re coming down with a lurgy. What with the public transport, all the people, school-age children and the pollution, my isolated country immune system just doesn’t stand a chance…


January 9, 2014

A short post today because I am ranting elsewhere – but it was as I was crafting a point-by-point rebuttal of a council employee’s email explaining why they couldn’t put two lousy toucan crossings in to complete what would otherwise be a safe and convenient route to the new hospital instead of a death dash across two 60 mph roads,* that I noticed the message at the bottom:

Please consider the environment. Do you really need to print this e-mail?

It’s so good to know that the planet is in safe hands…

* variously: you can’t put toucan crossings in on a 60 mph road, not enough people are likely to use it, it’s up to the hospital to create a Travel Plan (so that’s all right then), I cross the road on my bike and it’s fine, we don’t think the road to the hospital will be that busy, and people can just find a gap in the traffic and sprint across. Or something…

Committing Pedestrianism

December 20, 2013

I suppose in the interests of strict accuracy, I should report that it’s not always blue skies and gloriously sunny weather here – while yesterday we had lunch sitting in the sun before going on a 3-hour bike ride, today the temperature barely crept above freezing, and we decided it might be time for some of those car-based errands we’d been putting off while the weather was so gorgeous, like going to the grocery store and the giant bookshop and other shops surrounded by acres of parking. And hunting down the mysterious pop-up baklava shop that had no website and appeared to be in an abandoned used car lot, if Google Streetview was anything to go by…

We decided that we’d better do something a little bit active as well, especially if we did find that baklava shop, so we headed down to the riverwalk where you can walk a mile, sponsored by Toyota (the river was actually diverted away from the city centre after it flooded the whole place, but when they wanted to create somewhere for people to walk, they diverted some of it back as long as it promised to behave).

toyota_mile toyota_mile_2

For those who find walking sedately around a glorified duck pond a bit tame, you can always try sprinting across the roads instead…

downtown street

It’s fortunate the drivers around here are mostly pretty patient, but there’s no doubt that round here the car is king. Outside of a tiny historic downtown area, and the mall of course, even parking and walking from shop to shop just feels, well, wrong. Not illegal or anything, but wrong. Well, maybe a little bit illegal if you don’t cross in the crosswalks. If you want to walk and not get funny looks, get a dog. Or stick to the Toyota mile…

Oh and the baklava? We found it in the abandoned used car lot as promised, and it proved absolutely delicious if a little calorific. Looks like we’ll need to do a few more circuits of that riverwalk pretty soon….