July 17, 2019

side by side cycling

I’m in danger of becoming one of those bloggers who post at increasingly infrequent intervals, mainly with a litany of excuses for not having blogged more frequently, yet somehow here it is a week since I last posted and unless you want photos of compost* and some not-very-thrilling garden updates (the asparagus is looking a little more chipper, the beetroot is coming through, we’re still on a three-line lettuce-eating whip) there’s not much to say at the moment or at least I’m not feeling all that inspired to say it.

Life should get a little more exciting in coming days as I’m about to embark on a couple of weeks of unaccustomed sociability: the Cycling Embassy AGM in Cardiff, an old school friend visiting, another all-ability cycling day of chaos in Bigtown and then a dash up to Fife to visit more old school friends from a different school. All of which would be much more enticing if the major editing job which was supposed to be finishing this week hadn’t been extended for the next fortnight – hello freelancing life and the freedom to work to your own schedule as long as that schedule involves spending half your supposed holiday time hunched over a laptop.

'can you see me now asshole' vest

Some things haven’t changed since 2011

In preparing to write this, I did dig out this ancient history from 2011, just at the start of the Cycling Embassy – the first cycle campaign I ever started. Scrolling through the comments reminds me of how far we’ve come – there are few cycle campaigns in the UK now that don’t recognise the importance of proper cycling infrastructure – and also how far we have to go – some cities are cracking on with building a cycle network but even the best are making painfully slow progress, while other places are doing nothing. It seems everywhere in the UK, from the government downwards, is happy to declare a ‘climate emergency’ but whether that will translate into accelerating progress over the next few years is anyone’s guess.

That said, Wales has been quietly getting on with things (implementing the 20mph limits Scotland was too feeble to support, cancelling a motorway, drawing up decent design guidance for cycling infrastructure instead of kicking it into the long grass) so the Brompton and I will be curious to see what cycling in Cardiff will be like. Assuming I get to unchain myself from the laptop for long enough to find out …

* Don’t worry if you do, you will still get them, but all in good time.


A Nation of Shopkeepers

July 5, 2019

I remain, frustratingly, cameraless after one repair attempt failed leaving me with a phone that will now not focus at all unless I use it in selfie mode. This is particularly annoying as Moo-I-5 have made an unexpectedly early return and I’m sure will be providing entertaining* blogging material as soon as they have got over the ‘Nooo!! Scary humans!’ stage of their visit (meanwhile the cows in the other two fields near our house have discovered each other and have spent the last two days mooing yearningly at eachother across the front corner of our garden).

Bike hub shopfront

So I’ve been trawling back through earlier photos and realised I forgot to announce that I have taken up shopkeeping – or, more accurately, voluntarily minding the Buddies accessible bike hub one day a week. It’s fair to say I’m not rushed off my feet just yet, although I have rented out one bike, shown a couple of prospective punters round, directed numerous confused people towards the ‘real’ bike shops in the town, and spent much of the rest of the time in an undeclared war with the illegal parkers of the supposedly pedestrianised street the shop is on. If a space does open up outside the shop, my job then is to dash round as fast as possible (which is not particularly fast) with the rickshaw bike or other contraptions to fill the space before the spot is nabbed by someone else who’s ‘just dropping something off’ to one of the other shops, a task which apparently takes all day. I can then amuse myself by watching through the window as drivers think they’ve scored a spot and then discover they’ve been gazumped by a bicycle. Or, when I fail to get to the space first, then at least I can enjoy counting the number of direct hits Bigtown’s seagulls score on the scofflaw parkers (there’s a reason all those bikes are sporting saddle covers, and it’s not just to advertise the Bigtown Cycle Campaign.

If nothing else, I’ve found myself a quiet (and internet-free) spot in town to get on with some work and/or knitting while I wait for the good folk of Bigtown to come in for a nosey, so it’s win-win as far as I’m concerned. Watch this space for exciting tales of retailing or parking war triumphs – or at the very least, some progress on my latest knitting project

* adjusted for the peculiarly low standards of this blog.

A Thousand Words

June 30, 2019

I am currently, annoyingly, cameraless having cracked the lens on my shiny new-to-me phone (technically, I can still take photos using the front camera but anyone who has seen my selfie face will know that’s a non-starter). This is frustrating for the blog, because I do like to illustrate my posts if I can – but also when I’m in the garden, because I like photographing the progress of the garden – or at least take before and after shots to get some idea of whether I’m actually making any progress or just treading water…

Fortunately although my phone is apparently very old (despite being new to me) the parts to replace the lens are still available so hopefully I’ll soon be regaling you once more with my photos (and yay! for getting things fixed). Meanwhile, a dashed-off tweet about a rush-hour ride down Princes Street in the rain on the Brompton (to retrieve my phone, ironically enough) resulted in something far better than my usual wonky-horizoned dubiously composed photographic efforts:

It’s fair to say I hadn’t enjoyed the experience, particularly the bit where Princes Street is just two lanes of stationary buses with a cyclist-sized gap between them, but then again, it’s not often you get to (partially) inspire a cartoonist

The result appeared online in the Guardian a few days ago and I felt a sort of parental pride, particularly at this panel which I feel captures my Edinburgh experience perfectly. Honestly, who needs a camera when you’ve got your own cartoonist?

Ain’t no Cure for the Summertime Blues

June 26, 2019

“These are the days we dream about all winter” I said as I pedalled homewards with a pal from the last day of Buddies’ bike extravaganza. For the sun had come out, the wind had dropped, and I was light of heart, if not exactly of bike

(look, when it comes to charity-shop shopping, she who hesitates is lost).

“Never mind all that,” my companion replied, for she is truly a person after my own heart – “can we just stop and take a photograph of where the pipeline went in?”

flowers along pipeline route

The grass may long since have grown up over the pipeline route, but the flowers give it away…

I had stuff to do after a day spent gallivanting around the roads with our cavalcade of curious cycles, and I will likely regret not spending this afternoon and evening doing it, but when I got home it was sandals weather for the first time all year, and the other half had fired up the barbecue. If we can’t down tools on occasion and waste a few hours just enjoying the garden, why do we bother having one?

daisies in garden

For these really are the days we dream about all winter and we need to make the most of them when they arrive.

Hitting the Road

June 24, 2019

When you’re heading out on the bike for a day of adventure, it helps to have the weather on your side

(photo does not show the epic thunderstorm that – from the sound of it – passed directly overhead shortly afterwards)

Luckily it wasn’t really my adventure today, but Buddies who are holding a three-day sponsored bike ride on the flatter roads around Bigtown, and by the time they had assembled (held up, ironically enough, in traffic on the bypass) the rain had stopped and stayed more or less stopped for the rest of the day (my socks, on the other hand, were still soaking wet when I got home six hours later).

Cycling event sign

Twenty-one miles over three days on back roads may not seem like a lot for most cyclists, but it’s big jump when your cycling up to now has been mostly round the local park and you’ve never really ridden on anything but the quietest residential street. Fortunately, our motley crew of two- and three-wheelers – plus the wheelchair transporter trike – were also accompanied by two motorbikes and a following car, courtesy of our local Blood Bikes.

Obviously, this being a bike ride, we needed a cafe stop and fortunately a local farm runs a delicious ice-cream parlour – we even got free ice creams. This was exactly a mile into our ride but you take your cafe stops where you find them around here.

Ice cream parlour

From there, the six further miles to the pub where we ended the first day went remarkably quickly, even with one rider stopping dead every time she came to a hill she didn’t like, which was most of them. The drivers were pretty patient, nobody fell off, and we arrived with the same number of people as we left with,* which always counts as a success for a group ride. In fact, once you’d got over the unusual bikes and the need to allow for various additional needs, it felt pretty much like any other group ride – riding along through beautiful countryside chatting with the other riders, saying hello to the cows (you all do say hello to cows as you pass them, right?), speculating about how much further there is to go, rejoicing in a downhill stretch or a tailwind – and above all the sense of achievement as you sail into the pub car park, certain that you have earned your lunch.

Arriving at the pub

There has been a massive amount of logistics involved, of course, in getting to that point safely – these guys are a long way from being able to enjoy the real freedom a bike brings, and maybe they never will. But at least they’ve got a taste of what’s possible – and from there, who knows?

PS – for those wondering – Stephen came too, but on a trike and he had an absolute whale of a time.

* Actually we gained one, as we managed to rendezvous with the passenger for the wheelchair transporter en route. I think the community transport guys were a bit bemused to find themselves taking a wheelchair user out into the middle of nowhere to track down a bunch of cyclists and then load her up onto a cargo bike, but they did it with good grace.


June 12, 2019

There’s some irony in finding yourself – not more than an hour after blogging about the joys of being temporarily disconnected – hunched over your phone in a frenzy of communication as you attempt to mastermind the logistics of urgently getting 60 chairs from one part of Edinburgh to another, all from the top seat of a rural bus lurching in and out of signal on the way to Lockerbie.

Fortunately a van was procured (internal combustion engines have their uses) and the chairs were transported to the Scottish Parliament.

Empty chairs

Sixty chairs, sixty lives interrupted – and fortunately more than sixty people who were willing to turn up and let their MSPs know that they wanted to see slower speeds on Scotland’s residential roads.

People at the demo

If you’re in Scotland, there’s still time to write to your MSPs and let them know if you agree.

It was somewhat sobering to be demonstrating alongside Sudanese protesters who have bigger problems than urban speed limits to worry about. Kindly, they paused their chanting for 20 minutes or so, then got on with attempting to bring about democracy in their own country in the face of military brutality. I sincerely hope that in a decade or so’s time, they’ll have the space and the energy to worry about active travel – and the open democratic space we enjoy in Scotland in which to make the case.

Then there was the small matter of getting the chairs back again – this time sans van.

chairs in cargo bike

No problem.

Falling Off the Wagon

May 29, 2019

So, every year I make it my resolution not to start any more cycle campaigns. And for the past couple of years I’ve been reasonably successful and had started to think I might have been able to stop at just the five. And technically I suppose a one-off demo in support of the 20mph (Restricted Roads) Bill is not in itself a cycle campaign (although I seem to remember that Back on my Bike assured me that We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote would be a short lived campaign back in, ah, 2015). So yeah, anyway, I’m taking it one day at a time, and let’s look upon this as a minor slip-up on the road to recovery. Whatever you do, don’t come – and don’t even encourage me by doing anything as foolish as writing to your MSPs in support of this bill. It’s the only way I’m ever going to learn.

In 2020, I’m definitely, definitely not starting any more campaigns.

Could someone hold me to that?