Trumpet Practice

March 7, 2017

In celebration of International Women’s Day tomorrow, the Women’s Cycle Forum has been compiling interviews with various cycling women around Scotland (and a few beyond). This has been a fun, interesting and slightly frustrating exercise. Fun, because it’s always fun to talk to fellow cyclists, especially if you ask them about their bikes; interesting, because some of these women are doing pretty cool stuff I didn’t really know about; and frustrating because when you ask (most) women to peer out, ever so briefly, from under that bushel where they have been hiding themselves, they claim they are not really interesting enough (this from a woman who learned to ride a bike when she was 40 and is now inspiring others to ride in a community where it has traditionally been frowned upon), fail to mention some pretty significant achievements (from someone who went from being annoyed about her commute to work to running a major cycle campaign, but didn’t really think that worth mentioning), and – almost universally – apologise because their answers might be a bit long.

As I was prompted to remark, my next venture might have to be a fund to buy all the women in the UK a trumpet of their own so they can practise blowing it.*

Be that as it may, we have bulldozed aside all demurrals, modesty, and suggestions that we not bother using any of it in case it’s too dull, you can find the results here.

Happy International Women’s Day …

* Suggestions that we could do with a job lot of mutes to keep some of the chaps’ trumpet playing down, would be entirely unworthy.


Someday my Bus will Come

March 4, 2017

So today I had to make it out to the Wild West which meant just your average multi-modal rural journey: six miles by bike (with a small portion of a popup bookshop in my Brompton’s basket) down to Big A Road, bus to Notso Bigtown, and then a lift onwards. After extensive consultation of the bus timetables, maps and Google Streetview (to check if there was a bus stop where I was planning to catch the bus – I have seriously no idea why I ever thought Google Streetview was a gimmick; I can’t imagine life without it now), I was fairly certain that I could make it in time although, as the next bus wasn’t for an hour, if I missed the first one it would actually end up being quicker just to cycle to Notso Bigtown, even with half a ton of books in the front basket.

on the road

bus stopThere’s an argument (I’ve made it myself from time to time) that more cycling could be the salvation of the rural bus service because the effective radius of a bike means that you can generally get away with taking just one bus instead of two,* and because buses can then take you further more quickly and on much scarier roads than you can comfortably manage on a bike. But then again, once you’re standing at a deserted rural bus stop with no timetable and no shelter and no indication of how you might know if you had missed the bus if you had missed it, then really nothing does seem more unlikely than the arrival of a rural bus.

Which is unfair, because the bus arrived bang on time and I even had time on the way to stop and photograph some sheep (I really will keep on posting photos of sheep here until you tell me that you’ve seen enough…).

reflective sheep

And while it will still never be my preferred mode of transport for any journey where I can feasibly ride a bike, as a writer I probably should try and spend more time on local buses. In London, when I was writing my old blog, I was continually confronted by people and little glimpses of their stories, intriguing enough at times to spark an idea or bring a character to life. This morning as we passed through one of the intervening villages, the bus picked up a cheery middle-aged woman who explained her leather jacket, eyeliner and semi-punk hairdo to the driver as she got on (I am guessing this was not her normal get up): “We all had to dress up as someone from the eighties and this was the nearest I could get to Siousxie and the Banshees. Or Siousxie and the Banshees with a shopping trolley in my case.”

You never get that kind of quality comment from a sheep.

* having to co-ordinate two rural buses turns a not-madly-convenient-but-doable journey into the sort of epic travelogue people write books about – the publishers surely only turned down Dervla Murphy’s ‘Across Galloway by Public Transport’ idea down on the grounds that it was clearly impossible and they couldn’t be responsible for sending someone off on such a fool’s errand.


Keeping Sunny

March 3, 2017

So this week it happened: a confluence of Pedal on Parliament planning, clashing work deadlines, impending weekend activities and general life stuff meant I had no time between Monday and today to ride my bike, even just to get somewhere, let alone go on a nice bike ride. I even had to hand over paper-fetching duties to the other half, as he was going into town anyway, as I couldn’t justify the time taken to cycle into Bigtown, which is a ninety minute round trip at the best of times.

Today, with deadlines still looming, I had a meeting in town so at least I had an excuse to get on the bike after four days of enforced inactivity. And of course, as soon as I did and got onto the B road, a driver in a four-by-four did their very best to make me regret it by passing fast and close on a bend because clearly a nanosecond’s delay in their Very Important Journey was worth forcing me onto the potholey edge of the road.

But I wasn’t going to let one extremely poorly-endowed driver, nor the four drivers following on behind who also decided to pass me a little bit closer than I would prefer, ruin my only bike ride in days. Indeed, as I got off the B-road and onto the single track roads, I did note when a white van driver waited behind me until I’d looked over my shoulder, and reached a wider part of the road, before passing with plenty of room. And when I came across him parked up at the site of the exciting road works, I stopped and let him know that it was appreciated. Yes, it’s no more than any driver should do, but sometimes you’ve got to spread the love for the people who do the right thing and he was pleased to be thanked.

After that I concentrated on enjoying the ride and all the little positive interactions I enjoyed: from the older chap who said ‘thanking you’ as I rang my bell before passing him on the bridge to the little toddler full of the joys of spring on the river path, whose grandad just gently ushered her out of the way so I could (slowly) pass, rather than snatching her to his bosom at the sight of the Dread Cyclist.

daffodils

The daffodils have not emerged in our garden yet but the ones lower down the hill are out, if not particularly well focused (I was too lazy to get off my bike and photograph them properly). It will be interesting to see how long it takes for actual spring, as measured in daffs, to work its way up to us. How long my new found positivity lasts under the onslaught of careless driving is another question.


Turning Left in Aberdeen

February 25, 2017

The problem with going off to Aberdeen to talk about cycling and listen to the stories of way more adventurous cyclists than me, is that it then seems a bit feeble to have almost reached the end of February and not even managed my one modest adventuring ambition for the month. But fortunately Back on my Bike & I had a spare* morning before our train home, and we both had bikes, so, although her idea of an adventure is also much more adventurous than mine (frankly, everyone’s idea of an adventure is more adventurous than mine) she humoured me in my suggestion that we do a little routefinding of our own today.

start of the Deeside way

Without an Ordnance Survey map, we chose a route that only we could manage to get lost on – the Deeside way (despite the sign, turning left did not get you to Peterculter…).

Deeside way

That slight hiccup aside, it was all very pleasant, and the weather was kind.

blue skies

It’s rare to see other modes asked to dismount …

I’m beginning to gain the erroneous impression that it’s always sunny in Aberdeen. Don’t disillusion me.

ex station building

The only fly in the ointment was that nobody had turned one of the many little stations still dotted along the route into a cafe serving coffee and cake. Honestly, what were they thinking?

sign about the end of the Deeside wayAlso the end of the path seems to be being turned into the Aberdeen bypass, so we never did reach Peterculter, wherever or whatever Peterculter is. We could have followed the diversion, but by this time the lack of coffee shops was beginning to tell so we headed back for the station where Aberdeen almost passed the ‘can Sally and Suzanne navigate its cycle routes by following the signs’ test – foiled only by the fact that the cycle route to the station meant going through a door into the multi storey car park. I’ve seen all sorts of barriers on cycle routes before, but a door is a new one on me (apart from the lift to the Tay Bridge, I suppose).

bucket of coffee

You know your coffee is large when it requires both hands to lift it…

After extensively recaffienating (yes, I know, Costa; we would have visited a lovely independent coffee shop had one obligingly presented itself along the way but it didn’t) it was time to get back on the train

bikes on the train

And ignore some of the loveliest views from a train window as we caught up with all the things we should have been doing instead of gadding about on our bikes.

view from the train

So that’s January and February done – just got to find time and pick a route for March…

* As in there were a billion things we could both productively be doing instead but we had examined our schedules and our consciences and decided that as long as we both worked solidly 24 hours a day for the next two months, we could spare a couple of hours to go for a bike ride.


Time and Motion

February 23, 2017

So I’m gadding about again tomorrow, back to Aberdeen to talk about the Women’s Cycle Forum  so naturally I was still writing my presentation at the last minute. Well, I say writing, but my tactic with giving presentations is to throw together a lot of slides with images that illustrate what I want to say, and then stand in front of them and just wing it, because I’ve spent way too many hours of my life listening to a man in a suit reading his Powerpoint slides to us. It generally makes for an amusing,* if occasionally a bit random, presentation but it does take forever to create the slides, as I worked out this evening

pie_chart
Anyway, if you want to find out whether I ever did track down that image of a princess doll in a ball dress on a toy bike with a cup holder** that I thought was a celebration of cycle chic and everyone else on Twitter thought was the worst case of pinking it and shrinking it they’d seen in ages, then get yourselves along to Aberdeen to hear from a couple of awesome cycling women, and me.

* At least I hope it’s amusing. People laugh, anyway, and you don’t always get that in road safety conferences.

** Spoiler alert: I didn’t


A Little Water Otter

February 21, 2017

Cycling home from Bigtown this lunchtime with a bit of a case of the grumps because it was miserable and raining (I know, I know, it’s February in Scotland so what did I expect, but I got a bit over optimistic about this Caribbean air that was supposed to be arriving) and I’d been in too much of a hurry when I left to bring in the laundry (ditto), so not only was I going to be pretty soggy when I got home, but so would be most of my clothes.

And then as I turned across the bridge I caught a pattern of ripples on the water just out of the corner of my eye, and stopped in time to see an otter surface, dive, resurface again, then seem to catch my eye before it dove again and vanish under the bridge. I spent a hopeful few minutes darting from side to side of the bridge hoping for it to reappear long enough to be photographed, but it was too fly for me, and I cycled off again into the rain.

There are so many reasons why I ride a bike: the environment, saving money, maintaining my cake-based lifestyle – but it’s encounters like that make me happy that I cycle even on the grimmest days.

The laundry was still soaking when I got in, mind. And so was I.


A Vision Thing

February 17, 2017

Fog ahead

On a foggy cycle ride back from my second Coonsil meeting in two days, I was feeling the usual frustration: they’re planning some route changes which will be an improvement on what is there now, but still nothing like what they could be. The problem is that bikes are squeezed to the margins: once the cars have got all the space they need, then if there’s anything left over, the cyclists can have what’s left. I do understand that the coonsil are constrained by the realities of Bigtown life – even reprioritising a single road is causing people to be up in arms because it will be slightly harder for them to turn right even though it means the road they live on will see slightly less traffic (personally I’d close the road to traffic at one end to make it a lovely quiet bikeable street – after all if they’re going to be incandescent at a priority change, they can’t actually get any crosser, so might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb and create a route worth detouring for, seeing as that is what the bikes are going to have to do anyway. This is undoubtedly why I’m not running the coonsil in Bigtown)

Anyway, I got home to find that we had the dates confirmed for not one but three Pedal on Parliament rides this year (or should that be Pedals on Parliaments?). This time, we’re targeting the local elections (so yes, technically, they’re Pedals on Councils) in the hope that, at least in some parts of Scotland, cycle campaigners don’t have to keep banging on and on and on just to get a slightly more sensibly positioned crossing – but can actually start to work towards the sort of wide, smooth, safe, joined up routes that would make a real difference. It will be a long time before that trickles down to Bigtown, perhaps, but it will come. I hope.

Meanwhile mark your diaries for the 22nd April (Edinburgh or Aberdeen) or the 23rd (Glasgow) and help to bring about that change. Bring a bike and a banner and all of your friends. It won’t make the wider world much less of a scary place, but it could at least make Scotland a little bit more cycle friendly. And we need all the good news we can get, these days.