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.


A Hitherto Unexplored Benefit of Active Travel

March 5, 2016

We were viewing a house yesterday and the estate agent was extolling its location

“The village has all you need, shops, pubs and you can easily walk there so you don’t have to use your car, which is good.”

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised because walkability not the sort of thing you expect to hear from estate agents in the area. I must have looked a bit taken aback because he went on to say, hurriedly

“I mean, I’m not implying that you like to get drunk or anything …”


Hurry Up Spring

February 24, 2016

Cycling along with a companion the other day, we both remarked on how cheering it is to see the first flush of colour on the bare trees as the buds thicken ready to burst into leaf. It’s something we neither of us noticed until we moved up here; whether because living urban lives we weren’t as attuned to the passage of the seasons, or simply because we’ve got longer to stare at the leafless winter trees up here and try and imagine spring into happening, who knows.

first flush of spring

You can see it, can’t you?

We woke this morning to a surprise dusting of snow, with hard frost forecast again for tonight, so I suppose we should be grateful for any presentiments of spring we can get our hands on. And in the interests of full disclosure I should note that shortly after stopping to take this photo (and having a chat with the cyclist you see approaching in the distance, who turned out to be a neighbour who was combining triathalon training with the joys of utility cycling by dashing up the Col du Doctor’s Surgery to pick up a prescription) it began to sleet…


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.