While Stocks Last

May 19, 2018

I genuinely did not have time to get out on my bike today – and I didn’t need to go and fetch the paper because the other half was going into town.

may blue skies

But it is May and the fine weather is still here, and each day brings another fleeting spring moment, and when it’s gone it’s gone. Today it’s the turn of the cow parsley, just beginning to froth in the hedgerow. We have slogged our way through the winter, living for the moment when this weather would arrive, and it would be criminal not to slip out just for an hour or so to enjoy it.

And the roads were empty, for some reason, even emptier than they normally are. Could it be that people round here were all huddled inside, watching the royal wedding? I encountered about three cars and perhaps half a dozen cyclists, one of them out stretching his legs before the cup final.

Tomorrow we have lunch guests (the greenhouse inspection committee) and we’re hoping this weather will continue long enough to wheel out the barbecue. At least we were, until the local farmer – also keen to seize the day – made the most of the fine weather by spending the afternoon spreading slurry. Hopefully the smell will have dissipated somewhat by then

Got to take the rough with the smooth, living the rural life. This is the price we pay for having hot and cold running hares in the garden, and coos for neighbours.


Suffering for my Principles

May 15, 2018

Heading back from Bigtown with a freshly serviced stealth bike this afternoon, I had to pick up some sausages on my way home. This meant a choice: the butcher in town, who does nice sausages but from pork of unknown provenance and hence probably intensively reared pigs. Or the farm shop and shortbread emporium out on the edge of town, which does equally nice if somewhat pricier sausages but from its own outdoor reared pork, which means happy (albeit now obviously dead) pigs

may woods

And an extra mile or five added to the ride back…

may woods

It’s a tough choice.

April Showers Bring May … Gales?

May 11, 2018

It’s safe to say that I’ve been pretty disappointed with May’s weather so far. After the various beasts from the east and what have you, I’ve been holding out for a fine, dry May, or ‘summer’ as it’s known in Scotland. We had a couple of nice days over the bank holiday weekend, but not the heatwave everyone was enjoying down south, and since then it’s mainly been rain, wind, the odd hailstorm and fog.

evening ride

Yesterday was nice enough, if chilly, enough to tempt the other half out on the bike for an early evening ride, and today looked promising at least until we checked the forecast: high winds, which would only drop in the afternoon as it set into rain. By lunchtime, with the paper still to be fetched, the wind was battering round the house in an uninviting manner, but as the other half pointed out, at least I’d have a tailwind home, which is better than the usual arrangement.

The trouble with tailwinds is that you can never rely on them to deliver on your way home, however bad the headwind might have been on the way out. But as I came out of the shop with the paper and narrowly dodged the display of plants a sudden gust of wind sent tumbling down, I had a feeling today was going to be different.

And so it proved. My bike is not is still awaiting its winter service* and is all squeak and rattle at the moment, so it’s not the smoothest of rides – but even so, with the south-easterly pushing it along almost dead behind me, it was transformed into a flying machine. The hill home was still a climb, but compared with battering into a headwind, it was positively enjoyable. And as I turned to tackle the final kick upwards to the house I could feel it behind me like a welcome hand on my shoulder, pushing me home.

Even so, I think the weather gods have made their point, and if they could lay off for a bit so I can get my seedlings into the ground without them being blown away, I’d be grateful.

* I think the bike shop is hoping that if they take forever to order the parts needed, I will give up and buy a modern bike like a normal** person.

** adjusted for being someone who rides a bike

What are the Chances of That?

May 3, 2018

Since we’ve moved to the new house, I’ve often wondered just where our bus service goes. There’s definitely a bus that serves New Nearest Village, because I’ve seen it and it’s got a timetable that’s available in various formats including online. The problem is, I’ve seen it in a number of places which seem to make no sense as far as any route to New Nearest Village goes. Occasionally I’ve seen it running sensibly down the B road to and from the village (indeed, once I came across it on the B road twice in one day and both times the driver got my very best wave* for their extremely patient overtake), but other times I’ve seen it wandering far and wide on back country roads, often heading in precisely the wrong direction.

A look at the online timetable left us none the wiser – as far as we can tell (and it doesn’t help that there are no actual physical bus stops on the road and the bus timetable itself refers to places that even Google hasn’t heard of) it has a number of different and wildly circuitous routes and it would seem that it only goes past our own road end once a day on the way into Bigtown, and never on the way back, which makes it even less useful as a regular bus service than your average rural bus.

So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s less a bus service and more a magical mystery – a bus that appears when you least expect it, going in a random direction, possibly with a handful of enchanted passengers who have been travelling the rural back roads of Bigtownshire for decades now. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised this afternoon when – pulling out around an apparently parked-up lorry whose driver suddenly decided to pull away from the kerb without either looking (I could see him not looking in his wing mirrors which is why I’d assumed he wasn’t going to pull out) or indicating, just as I was committed to my manoeuvre – the bus appeared out of nowhere coming the other way.

Fortunately, bus driver and I were both sufficiently on the ball that I didn’t end up as the filling in a lorry-bus sandwich, and I was free to cycle home in one piece, arguing furiously with the lorry driver in my head. Even so, it was just the sort of incident that might encourage a more nervous cyclist to resort to taking the bus instead.

If only she could work out where it went …

* I have a carefully calibrated set of acknowledgements to drivers who pass or overtake me ranging from a cheery salute for extra-considerate driving all the way down to the ‘what the actual F was that?’ theatrical shrug (or occasionally the ‘you have a very small endowment’ pinky waggle when needs must).

There’s a Moment During Every Pedal on Parliament…

April 29, 2018

… When you think, OK so maybe this will be the year that really nobody will come.

So you’re standing in the Meadows, and there’s nobody there but the organisers, a BBC film crew, and the Gruffalo …


And it’s pissing down with rain and has been on and off all morning and all the hard work and the flyering and the planning and the tweeting and getting the University of Edinburgh to fill back in the big trench it had dug right across Middle Meadow Walk three days before you were due to lead a mass cycle ride up it, is beginning to look like a bit of a waste of time …

Feeder ride arriving

And then the first feeder ride arrives, undiminished by the rain, with the sort of grins cyclists only have when they’ve ridden through Edinburgh with police outriders on their tail instead of irate taxi drivers …

Mark Beaumont and the assembled crowd

… and you think that, just maybe, you might get away with it again for another year…


Communications Breakdown

April 26, 2018

When we first started Pedal On Parliament, our communication method could loosely be described as ‘death by email’ – everyone emailed everyone else all the time about everything. This worked when there were only half a dozen of us, more or less, but it didn’t exactly scale. Last year, with many more people coming on board, we’ve moved to Slack which is brilliant at cutting down the email volumes and allowing people to only see the messages they need to. But not everyone I need to communicate with uses Slack, or keeps up to date with it, meaning I end up having to email them, if only to remind them to look on Slack, which slightly defeats the purpose. Nor do people necessarily use their email that much either, I’ve found.* In recent months I’ve ended up communicating or being communicated with by pretty much every channel possible, including FB messenger, Twitter DMs (on my own account and on the POP one), text messages, WhatsApp, an old email address I mostly use for Internet shopping, and an email group that doesn’t actually accept emails from non-members but which sends me a notification of the email it’s not allowed to deliver to me, including its contents, and then continues to do so every morning until I remember the password to go and clear out the blocked messages, which must be the most self-defeating form of spam protection ever invented.


Hello clouds, hello sky. No reason for posting this photo except that I liked it

As our channels get ever more fractal, my role at this stage in the game mostly appears to be receiving communications, whether by sky writing, interpretive dance or hand-engraved invitations delivered by carrier pigeon, and passing them on to the people who need to do something about it by whatever means of communication they most prefer. On Tuesday, as I was racing out of the door to get to choir, I got an email from someone telling me to listen to my voicemail about a request I hadn’t made that had come up in a discussion in a meeting that I hadn’t been to and to ring back if I could help (sadly I was out of credit). Today I found myself direct messaging someone in a cycling forum to get their email address so someone on the Slack channel could include them in a discussion about rickshaw rides and retrieving someone else’s email address out of a private message in Open Streetmap which I think I last logged into in 2010. It’s fortunate I never signed up to MySpace or SecondLife because otherwise, undoubtedly, someone would have tried to contact me through there by now.

Tomorrow, though, the Brompton and I will get on the train to Edinburgh and I will hopefully be spending the evening doing any last-minute PoP planning via the novel means of actually talking to people, face to face, possibly over beer. I hope I’ll see some or all of you at PoP on Saturday, unless you’ve got a very good excuse.

wood anemones

In other news, hello spring. Come Sunday, I shall hopefully have a little more time to enjoy it.

* I was chatting to a young man of my acquaintance who was, I could have sworn, a grumpy toddler in a spiderman costume only a couple of years ago but is now inexplicably 17, and he tells me that his generation view email as an incredibly fusty and formal means of communication, roughly equivalent to an engraved invitation or a visiting card to my own generation. Old, who, me?

Anarchy in the UK

April 14, 2018

So, I’m a bit busy at the moment, as is normal at this time of the year (and by ‘this time of the year’ I mean January through to December) so really the last thing I needed to be doing today was cycling into Bigtown to spend the afternoon in the park at an inclusive cycling event. But It turned out to be exactly the thing I needed to be doing (and not just because I took the opportunity to spread the word about Pedal on Parliament).

You might think an event promoting cycling for people with disabilities would be all kinds of worthy, but that’s because you’ve not experienced inclusive cycling Bigtown style. The group I’ve been volunteering with for the last year or so have just bought a whole van load of secondhand adaptive bikes, ready to set up a new inclusive cycling hub at Bigtown station.

bikes lined up

The calm before the storm. Bikes lined up, ready for the onslaught.

I like working with them because they have a somewhat anarchic style which is the opposite of wrapping people up in cotton wool. Today’s event consisted of lining up an assortment of contraptions from a state-of-the-art wheelchair bike to some miniature go-karts, getting all comers to sign a form so we could at least inform their next of kin if they rode straight into the river, and then letting them loose with the instructions ‘stay in the park, don’t hit anyone, and bring it back’.

kids on a side by side tandem

Pretty soon, almost every bike and trike had been commandeered, and the park was full of people old and young, able bodied and not, pedalling round the paths like people possessed. Amazingly, everyone came back unscathed  – and in most cases with huge grins on their faces.

four person bike

Me, I just stood around in the sunshine, took a few folk on a guided ride, chatted to all comers, and came home somewhat knackered but infinitely more relaxed.

Highlight of the afternoon was seeing two of the Buddies members – one of whom couldn’t ride a bike a year ago and had been told he never would – caning it round the park on a standard tandem that nobody else there had been able to ride.

Oh and this dog, who spent the afternoon snoozing on the path right in the middle of the event, completely unfazed by the fact that he had become a small furry traffic island in a sea of chaos.

chilled out dog

I need to get hold of some of that attitude for myself.