If it’s Saturday, this must be Perth

October 30, 2015

My whistlestop tour of Scotland continues tomorrow with a dash up to Perth with the Brompton to annoy delegates to the Labour Party conference* with flags, bikes, t-shirts, postcards and (on this occasion) free bike lights courtesy of the Perth Bike Station. I have to say it’s been an exhausting month, and while in the end I’ve enjoyed the gadding about, I will be glad when it’s over.

Just when that will be, I’ll let you know – not November, which is already shaping up to be a busy month. Not only will we be running a Women’s Cycle Forum Walk, Cycle Vote event on the 11th (speed dating female politicians, anyone?) but I am off to Northumbria University on the 14th to take part in a combined academia and advocacy conference, to talk on ‘how blogging changed cycle campaigning’. It’s something I’ve talked about before, so I’ve got all the slides, there’s just the slight matter of boiling down a 40 minute talk into a 20 minute one. I suppose I could just talk twice as fast…

It may surprise some people to learn that we quit our jobs and moved up to Scotland in order to simplify our lives and downshift. Remind me how that works again?

* It was about half way through October before I thought to question whether the Tories also had an autumn conference in Scotland. To my relief, they confine themselves to the spring.

Now I Remember…

September 10, 2015

… why I don’t go to London so much any more: my immune system isn’t up to it. Indeed, as someone who leads a fairly isolated life these days, I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking going down to London to stay in a houseful of children just as the new term was starting and everyone was busy passing on the exciting new cold germs they’d picked up over the summer. Throw in the fact that time pressures meant I had to resort to germ-ridden public transport occasionally (yes, a bike may well be the quickest way to get around London, but that’s on the assumption you always head in the right direction, and I couldn’t rely on getting advice from helpful strangers all the time so I have to factor in stopping at every junction to check the map) and I don’t even know why I was surprised to get back home feeling a bit rubbish and then wake up this morning with a cold.

Obviously, there was nothing for it but to try and pedal it off today even though it was a lovely day (the best weather for cycling off a cold is a bit more dreich in my experience). As I had a Bike Breakfast AND a Kidical Massive to advertise, I set off for Bigtown with a pocket full of flyers to hunt down cyclists and their bikes. All was going well – I’d even caught my first cyclist – when I felt something fly down my front and then YOW! That something was a wasp and it was still somewhere down inside my top and it was now quite cross about it. All I can say is, I’m glad that road is quiet as I careened around trying to de-wasp myself and then stopped and just yanked the zip down and hoicked the little bugger out before it got me again. I’m beginning to feel a tad got at by the local wildlife, frankly.

Anyway, three hours of almost constant pedalling later I can’t say I felt a great deal better, but I had at least managed to distribute most of my flyers including one to the elusive dad with the Only Cargo Bike in Bigtown  (I suggested that it would make an excellent pirate galleon for our Kidical Massive ride). Time will tell whether the awesome power of cycling and my immune system is a match for London Germs plus added wasp venom. I think it may be a close run thing …

101 Uses for a Brompton: Getting Directions

September 7, 2015

I am in That London with my Brompton for a flying visit, having been asked to help chair a round table (I still get Monty Python songs going round my head whenever I hear that phrase; no doubt eventually I will grow out of it*) for the Near Miss Project which is researching cyclists’ experiences of all those scary moments where your life and usually the tail end of a double-decker bus passes before your eyes which means you get to both help science AND have an audience for all those ‘and then you won’t believe what the driver did …’ stories that your nearest and dearest have long since stopped listening to (and if you missed being part of the Near Miss Project last year, never fear, they are recruiting again). This meant Bromptoning from Euston to Vauxhall yesterday, a trip which went reasonably well, adjusted for the fact that I decided to improvise a little in Soho and found myself unexpectedly heading northeast with the firm conviction that I was going south, something that could happen to anybody as long as that person has the sense of direction of a compass in a tin mine.

Today I had to navigate my way from Vauxhall to Baker Street & when I asked my hosts for advice on timings and routes the suggestion was ‘On a bike? Don’t’. Twitter was a little more gung ho, however, and between us we worked out a route over Lambeth Bridge (Vauxhall Bridge has a fantabulous wide separated new cycle track but it’s only currently accessible going southbound), up to St. James’ Park, through Hyde Park and then working my way north – or, you know, possibly south if I wasn’t careful – to Baker Street. Some of this I knew well enough from Disgruntled Commuter days, so I only went the wrong way a couple of times (it’s been a while), and having crossed the river safely I paused at one of the map monoliths to check I was more or less where I thought I was. A passing Bromptonaut, spotting a fellow owner, paused to ask if I knew where I was going and reassured me I was on the right track. We then fell into conversation (I admired his very nifty arrangement of water bottle holders on the back of his saddle), and, having tactfully pointed out the off-road cycle path just as I was about to fling myself into the maelstrom of angry taxis that is the Mall, he more or less took me under his wing and guided me the rest of the way to Hyde Park. Clearly either Londoners have mellowed, I look even more helpless than I am, or the fellowship of the folding bike trumps all rules about not talking to strangers. Either way I was grateful.

I could have done with my native guide as I made my way to King’s Cross after the event. Somehow my cunning plan of riding parallel to the Marylebone Road along quieter streets by Regent’s Park turned into me being decanted straight back onto it. The last time I cycled along that road I was 22 and foolhardy and heading to Paddington with an enormous backpack on my back to take up a last minute place on a course in Bristol. With no greater sense of direction than I have now – but considerably more courage and less sense – I had simply followed the main roads and, when I came to some big junction as the lights were turning orange, accelerated instead of stopping, not considering just how much slower a bike is through a junction than a car. Somehow I made it across alive with traffic coming at me from what seemed like every direction, horns blaring. It’s a moment that is imprinted on my memory though, for ever more.

There were no horns this afternoon, and no near misses either, although I can’t say the experience was exactly pleasant. I’ll be looking forward to getting home again, where the main hazard is buzzards rather than buses and the only horns I hear are my neighbours, saying hello…

* OK, maybe not

At the Speed of Chat

July 15, 2015

Riding back from Bigtown yesterday after yoga (it’s like riding with freshly oiled legs; I recommend it) I saw a rider turn into the road ahead of me. He didn’t appear to be going that fast initially, but I had more trouble than I expected reeling him in on the uphills and when I did finally draw level and said hello, he told me he was riding an electric bike, so naturally I had to settle in alongside him and find out more, along with a fair chunk of his life story (mid-life tragedy, late found happiness and home decorating, among other things…).

I have to admit – much though my inner Londoner might cringe – that happening across some cycling stranger and spending a few miles setting the world to rights with them one way or another is one of my favourite things about cycling around here. Our roads are quiet enough that you don’t have to be constantly pulling over to let drivers past, and the culture is friendly enough that merely taking the time to pause, say hello and compliment your fellow cyclist on their bike (what do you mean you don’t do that?) and enquire if they are going far is often enough to start a conversation, should they be up for one (I hasten to point out that if I merely get a grunt in reply, or a pointed reference to the fact that they ‘must be holding me up’ then I take the hint and pedal on – you can take the girl out of London, but you can’t completely take London out of the girl). Obviously this only applies to cyclists who are slower than me or who overhaul me and are then happy to fall in with my pace, so it limits my options somewhat unless they’re carrying a tree, but I’ve still passed many a happy ride that way although I’m always a little startled at how much people are prepared to divulge of their lives to a passing stranger (it’s a boon to the practising novelist though). And there is something about holding a conversation as you pedal that makes the miles melt away much more easily than when you’re on your own, and it’s got nothing at all to do with wind resistance.

That Heatwave in Full

July 2, 2015


Awake to drizzle, and the news that the UK is in the grip of a heatwave, something that apparently knocks the Greek crisis, refugees, striking French ferry workers and even British players not quite losing at tennis out of the headlines. My Twitter timeline fills up with people telling me how hot it is already. Head out into the scorching 15 degree temperatures and intermittent rain for the village school bike picnic…

By the time we have escorted all the kids up to the caravan park and round and back down again, and ushered them back to school, the rain has stopped and the sun is edging out. Cycle into Bigtown for a paper and get a bit warm. Cool off the minute I get into the house, which is several degrees cooler than, apparently, the rest of the entire planet, according to  my Twitter feed.

As evening comes we realise we’re better off outside, where it is finally warm enough to eat outside. Sit out into the long evening, accompanied by Chilled Hare, who has decided to join us, and enjoying the fragrance of the night-scented stock for the first time since I planted it. Feel that this is the life.


Awake to clouds, but as we open the door and go outside we realise the heat has finally arrived, except in the house, of course. Rashly change into shorts. Head up to the walled garden until even I have to admit that it is too hot to do anything sensible. Tweet, to let everyone know how hot it is, in case there’s anyone left who may not have realised it (perhaps they, too, live in a damp Scottish stone cottage).

We take the bikes to Bigtown to recce a route and stop for lunch at the Greek cafe which has managed to survive two years still serving actual Greek food, rather than succumbing to dishing up haggis panini, the signature dish of all other Bigtown eateries.* For about half an hour, as we sit at the outside tables watching the world go by and listening to the assembled Greek population of Bigtown set the world to rights(I assume they were talking about the crisis, but who knows – Greek, like Italian, seems to make any discussion sound like an impassioned political argument; they may just have been reading tweets out to each other about how hot it was) it feels as if we are on holiday. Cycle home to find my timeline full of people’s cancelled trains and sweaty tube journeys and general meltdowns and feel a bit smug. Admittedly, by now it is raining, but it is warm rain.


Awake to fog, and the news that yesterday was the hottest July day in the history of ever. Up here, normal service has resumed, the shorts go back into the drawer, and the neighbour takes delivery of a lorry load of firewood.

Still, it was nice while it lasted.

* I swear I am not making this up.

Northern Enlightenment

June 23, 2015

… and now, as they say, for something completely different, although having said that, it did start on Twitter. Last night just as I was thinking of going to bed, I noticed a tweet warning me that a solar storm was on and there was a high likelihood of seeing the northern lights in the UK in about – ooh, well about that very moment. Perfect timing. It was a clear evening and we have little light pollution around us so I could just pop out the door and have a look for any mysterious glowing lights to the north of us.

Just one slight problem, which was that at 11pm it wasn’t particularly dark yet. Nor was it dark once I had wasted a bit more time on the internet, brushed my teeth, and nipped out for one more look at around 11:30. Nor was it much darker by the time I had sat on our garden wall in the quiet for a while and watched the bats flying around overhead and got a fright as an owl screeched from a nearby tree, and the other half came out to join me for a look. There certainly was a light in the sky to the north of us but it wasn’t all that mysterious, and if we were honest, it looked much more like the last glow of the setting sun than the aurora borealis, or at least how we imagined the aurora borealis might look, given that we’ve neither of us actually seen it. So we watched it for a bit to see if it might do something, and then we strolled up along the road to the top of the rise to get a better look at it not doing anything, waking up the neighbour’s horses which galloped around their field in the dusk, and then we stood for a while and looked at it not doing anything and agreed that we had no idea whether it was the after-effects of a sun storm, or just the after-effects of the sun setting. And by this time, it being almost midnight, we decided it could be what it liked, it was bedtime, and so we returned home.*

And I would have liked at this point to add something philosophical about how it was worth it anyway, northern lights or no northern lights, just to take advantage of the wonderful long days and lingering dusks of summer and to take a break from the dreaded internet and go out and experience the beauty of the evening for ourselves – but the midgies were being absolute murder and frankly, I was glad to get indoors.

* I note that I came to exactly the same conclusion three years ago. Stop me when all this repeating myself gets boring, won’t you?

Cheerfully Misdirecting Londoners

June 17, 2015

A knock on the door, and I go to answer to find a genial well-spoken stranger on the doorstep.

GW-SS: ‘Oh hello, I’m looking for X, she’s staying at the holiday cottages.’

Me: ‘Ah, you’ve stopped too soon, you need to go on up the road and they’re on the left.’

GW-SS: ‘Ah, she said they were third on the left after the turning.’

He then looked at me expectantly as though all he had to do was wait and I would crack and admit that yes, these really were the holiday cottages and I had X bound and gagged in our pantry. Because obviously that would be much more likely than the fact that the person who lives here might actually know more about where the holiday cottages were than he did. But I didn’t say any of that because there’s no arguing with some people and after a while he persuaded himself that this wasn’t the third property on the left, but just the third property as some of them were on the right, and off he went. Presumably to argue with our landlords about whether *they* were the holiday cottages …

I do thank our lucky stars that we’re not the unfortunate inhabitants of the house at the dead centre of our postcode, who must have all manner of strangers turn up at their door and try and get them to admit that they were the house the strangers were looking for, on the grounds that their sat nav was insisting ‘you have arrived’, when in fact they might still be miles away.