A Mini Infrastructure Safari

February 15, 2017


So it turns out that, even if you leave your Brompton at home, when you’re staying with London’s premier cycle campaigner* that doesn’t let you off the hook of going and inspecting the first actual spade-in-the-ground development of her local Mini Holland. Which is how I found myself on a borrowed bike heading for a mini Mini Holland infrastructure safari along Green Lanes, possibly the least accurately named road in London, following the ghostly turn of her tandem’s rear pedals,** remembering how foul London’s air tastes and how fond London drivers are of just nuuuuudging out of a junction to make a turn with little consideration for anyone who might technically have right of way.

flowers in remembrance

We passed a sad little bundle of flowers on a lamppost and the garage where my sister witnessed a pedestrian being stretchered away (and where on our return trip I almost got stretchered away myself after a driver decided that her need to turn right onto the road completely overrode, almost literally, my actual right of way on the particular bit of road she wanted to turn onto).

Mini Holland roadworks on Green Lanes

Defending this work against a nasty backlash has been something my sister has put her heart and soul into in recent years, and so it was nice to go and witness the things she has been fighting for start to take shape on the ground. From a British (if not a Dutch) perspective, the first few bits are promising, if not perfect – it’s nice to finally see a parking-protected bike lane, albeit one that’s just a shade too narrow for easy sociable cycling. Orcas and wands will hopefully reinforce the idea that the parking isn’t over the top of the bike lane, as is more or less standard in this country, but as a shield between cyclists and the traffic.

parking protected bike lane

It took a little puzzling to work out what this was – it’s enabling cyclist to more comfortably turn right out of this side road. Perhaps a spot of sign-make-it-better might be in order here.

right turn lane

There are other quibbles I can make, like the bus stop boarders that double as mini roller coasters (although they are quite fun, in their way). But even so, the signs are that Green Lanes will be transformed into something that is still neither green, nor a lane, but where my nieces will at least be able to cycle safely (if not comfortably side by side).

And – given how cycling infrastructure like this makes roads safer for everyone, not just cyclists – we can hope that one day the only flowers we find on the streets are old Christmas wreaths left puckishly decorating a plastic wand, rather than memorialising yet another needless death on the road.

Christmas Wreath

Oh and – entirely off topic, but top marks to the anonymous Londoner who had decorated a gleaming black Porsche all over with post-it notes casting aspersions on the owner’s parentage, personality and general road manners – whether because of something they did or simply because they own a Porsche I don’t know, but it did make me giggle the rest of the way home.

* who happens be my little sister. I tell you, I taught her everything she knows

** there was no way on God’s green earth I was actually going to get on the back of it; I might acknowledge her success as a campaigner but she is still my little sister and there are limits


101 Uses for a Brompton: Being Left Behind

February 12, 2017

I am in London for a couple of days, having barely been down at all for a year now. And this morning, as I was setting off, I decided to do something unthinkable and head off without the Brompton. I realised that there was no really obvious journey I would be making that wouldn’t, realistically, just be easier on public transport. And while riding a bike instead of taking the tube would save me money, equally not lugging a bike about would save me from collecting another fine set of Brompton bruises.

It felt a bit weird to be able to just hop on a train without the usual encumbrance, and it did mean that I could – luxury of luxuries – stop and buy a non-train coffee while changing trains at Carlisle, something that requires a third hand when also lugging a Brompton on and off the train. It also meant descending into the third circle of hell that is Euston underground and shelling out zone 1 money for my Oyster* and saddest of all, not getting to play on the new Superhighways, which weren’t quite finished last time I had to cross the Thames. But for every blissful traffic-free moment on the Superhighway, I would still have had to spend several eternities watching my own and other people’s lives flashing before my eyes on the rest of the route between Euston and Vauxhall (I am still scarred from watching a lorry overtake and then turn left across a woman cycling in front of me, forcing her to hop up onto the pavement to escape its back wheels).

So on balance, I think I made the right decision, although as the Brompton functions as much as a badge of office as a means of transport, I might have difficulty getting into the Cycling UK headquarters tomorrow when I show up for a meeting. Then again, they are in Guildford, which if memory serves is one of the least cycle-friendly places on earth, so they may be used to it.

* and the bastards charged me for going through the ticket gates at Vauxhall, realising I needed to go out again and buy something from the shop and then going back in again. Daylight robbery.

Ah, Embra

August 3, 2016

I had forgotten why I don’t go to Scotland’s capital in August until I unwarily ventured there today for a meeting… I’m sure the city is filled with wondrous cultural things during the festival* but as I was reminded today, it’s not enough to outweigh the sheer mass of shuffling zombified crowds (and the sad thing is, the festival doesn’t even start until Friday so God knows what it will be like then), many carrying elaborate balloon sculptures which, I can tell you, do not mix well with folded Bromptons being carried by harried travellers who are keen to catch their train back to the relative sanity of Bigtownshire (no balloon sculptures were harmed in the making of this blog, by the way; I was in a rush but I’m not a monster. I suspect I’ll have an entertaining new selection of Brompton bruises in the morning from trying to keep it out of the way though).

Fortunately, there is one sacrosanct space in Edinburgh dedicated almost entirely to the convenience of the harried cyclist. The ramp out of Waverley station was initially out of bounds to everyone except authorised vehicles, with cyclists forced to wheel their bikes along an insanely narrow walkway with pedestrians and their wheeled suitcases. Then someone saw sense (it turns out that there are a few benefits to having a Dutch company running your railways) and allowed bikes on the roadway alongside the authorised vehicles. They did have to give it an over-the-top painted bike lane but if that’s what it takes to enable you to sail in and out of the station without tangling with the festival crowds, then so be it. And the best thing is, as there are hardly any authorised vehicles you get it all to your ..

Oh well.

It’s still better than mixing with the zombie hordes.

* And the not-so-wondrous: in my misguided youth took a show up there where we often played to audiences who outnumbered the cast,** and would have been a fantastic commercial success*** had the venue not absconded with the takings.

** And no, it wasn’t a one-woman show.

*** Broken even.

101 Uses for a Brompton: Rescuing Visitors

July 25, 2016

‘Help’ came the voice over the phone. ‘My phone is dying and I’m lost. How do I find your house?’ – our visitor from London had got lost on the way and was having a bit of a Withnail moment. Four phone calls later it became clear that my attempt to describe where we lived and his attempts to describe where he was were doomed to failure – the things that stand out to Londoners (‘I can see cows! A big barn! There are some sheep!) weren’t really serving to narrow things down any (and there was no handy water feature to help either). our friend has excellent pub radar but it doesn’t help when we’re miles from a pub in any direction, which may have been the problem…

water feature

In the end I decided – having determined roughly where I thought he was and and which direction he was going – it would be easier to hop on the Brompton and go and meet him before he took another wrong turn. Fortunately I was right, and he was going the right way (not a given) or we might have chased each other around Bigtownshire all evening. I could then just fold up the bike and throw it in the car and guide him home.

In a way, it’s nice to know there’s someone out there whose sense of direction is worse than mine.

Never a Truer Word

May 16, 2016

Back when I used to work in IT and had a team who had to pretend to listen to me as I was their boss, I had a little saying I used to trot out on appropriate occasions: “Never underestimate the permanence of a temporary solution that works” (yes, I was that kind of boss but in my defence, I worked in an organisation which had a building called the Temporary Cycad House that dated from 1971, so I rest my case).

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that although when we moved up here renting our cottage was a temporary measure, intended to tide us over until we were sure we wanted to live up here and had found a more permanent house we could buy, just over eight years later, here we still are. Partly this is just because time flies if you’re not careful and eight years could happen to anyone if they’re busy and have other things on their mind, and partly because we accidentally found ourselves in a place – or at least a location – which was hard to improve upon. Not only does the other half’s shed empire occupy almost as much floor space as the house, allowing us to have a shed each and one for the swallows, but we got access to a splendid walled garden, and recently a full size greenhouse. Add in the fact that we are in the middle of some of the best rural cycling roads in the UK – a dense network of lightly trafficked single-track roads with just enough up and down to be interesting but not enough to force me to get off and push – and somehow found ourselves enmeshed in various things in the village and Bigtown that moving too far elsewhere was difficult to contemplate. Given that one of the attractions of the place where we live to us is that there aren’t very many people around, house hunting proved difficult as that meant there also weren’t that many houses to hunt from.

However, all these difficulties notwithstanding, it does look as if we might have bought a house that ticks most of our boxes. It’s still very rural, it’s within cycling distance of Bigtown (but up rather more hill…), it has a garden and enough shedage to be getting on with,* and it’s close enough to where we are now that many of my cycling routes and all of our activities can remain more or less as they are now. It is, in short, not perfect (no greenhouse, no walled garden, a road with a white line down the middle between me and Bigtown) but it is as perfect as we were likely to find – and fingers crossed (although I gather this is very much less fraught a process in Scotland than it is in England), it will soon be ours.

It means farewell to the ford (sniff), Papershop Village and ASBO Buzzard (hooray –  although we’re not moving until July so it will get a few more chances to attack me). It won’t mean farewell to the garlic or any of the other surviving veg as I have arranged to keep access to the veg plot until everything has been harvested. And it should mean lots of exciting new gardening adventures as I finally get a chance to shape a garden of my own.

Stand by for more on this as the story develops…

* it has other things, like bedrooms and a kitchen, but to be honest I think we spent more time looking at the outside bits than the inside ones. Sadly it wasn’t the house where the tour included a detour to look at the next door badger sett …

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility

April 13, 2016

I’ve got a fair bit on my plate at the moment: two colliding work-related deadlines, a pop-up bookshop on Saturday, the small matter of a mass cycle protest and related election campaign to help organise and – last but not least – the small matter of the village litter pick on Sunday.

Well, I say small, but it’s the litter pick that appears to be occupying most of my mental stress cycles. Not the litter pick itself – I think I have got that more or less under control although many a slip and all that – but the fact that after the litter pick there is traditionally a tea, and serving the village a tea is no light matter. In the past, in my innocence, teas just appeared magically in the village hall whenever there was a village event, complete with a small army of sensibly shod older ladies who could always be heard having way more fun in the kitchen than those sitting down with their tea and enormous array of cakes. It was only as the weekend approached that it began to dawn on me that the tea wasn’t actually going to magically appear, complete with army of helpers, unless I personally did something about it in my new role as secretary-of-the-community-council-oh-and-apparently-organiser-of-everything*.

A few frantic emails to people who looked as if they might know how to summon a tea or a little-old-lady army has elicited some advice and an offer of baking and I think I now have the matter under control, although time will tell. Who knows, with any luck the army of ladies may even appear and take over – although even if they don’t, I think nobody will die of thirst and they won’t be talking about the litter pick with no tea for the next decade.  But do please remind me why it is I thought that quitting our jobs and leaving the rat race and London behind would make life less stressed?

It may be time to downshift again. And stay downshifted this time…

* I am about 99% certain that when the secretary was a man, he did not organise the teas but I haven’t quite got to the bottom of how that worked.

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.