Shiny, Shiny

May 25, 2017

And not just the strange bright light in the sky, either…

Well, I made it home safely yesterday evening, finally, after about 24 hours of travelling and today’s chore was finally reuniting myself with my old laptop, which had returned from its adventure in Bristol about 12 hours after we’d left for the US. The excitement had barely abated when a knock on the door came and a UPS delivery man arrived with my new laptop which is not, in fact, shiny at all but a rather sleek matt black. It has a super-duper screen, all the battery life you can shake a stick at and any other number of bells and whistles which I hope will make it worth the ‘how much?!’ I paid for it.

It also has Windows 10 and a new version of Office. I’m sure both have many fine features and one day I will work out what they are but for now I am wrestling with the fact that nothing is where I expect it to be and that Microsoft have, in their wisdom, removed Picture Manager from the current Office installation, apparently on the grounds that it was a nice little application that allowed people (me) to very quickly crop, adjust and compress a photo with a minimum amount of fuss and clearly nobody wants that in the modern age. A quick google has revealed that there are alternatives and when our rural broadband has finished downloading the resulting 300MB file, I will be able to resume adding photos to the blog. Just as soon as I work out the setting that allows me to transfer files from my phone via Bluetooth without having to individually give permission to accept each one. Nobody say get a Mac.*

So you’ll just have to hang on a bit longer for illustrated hare news, gardening updates and the glory that is Scotland in May when the may is out. Clouts may very well have been cast…

Oh and delighted to discover that my compatriots are treating terrorism – and the political response to it – with a little derisive mockery. I knew the UK wouldn’t let me down.

* Or &%*$ Linux. Thank you.


Lost and (Almost) Found

May 10, 2017

I have much to tell you about Seville, with many photos* but you will have to wait because – as regular readers of this blog know – I live my life trailing lost belongings, and yesterday the lost belonging in question was my laptop, which is a key part of the blogging-with-photos process. I had taken it out of my wheely bag because the airline was checking the bigger carry-ons, and slipped it under the seat in front of me, and then when we were getting off the plane I was focused on getting moving because the absolute last train to anywhere even close to Bigtown left at 8:15 and I wanted to make sure I was on it and now I’d have to wait for the luggage to come out of the hold.

So it wasn’t until we were through passport control, and I had spotted my bag on the carousel and grabbed it and was about to bolt for the tram (at this point, I actually had more than an hour before I caught my train** but after many hard years of London commuting I never consider that I’ve enough time to catch a train until I’m standing on the platform waiting for it) when I remembered my laptop. Which was still under the seat that had been in front of me, and was now – it turns out – locked on a plane bound for Bristol.

At this point, naively, I had thought that someone at the customer service desk would take my seat number, alert the crew or the staff at the other end, suggest that someone could retrieve the laptop and put it in a safe place until the plane returned to Edinburgh, and then it could be handed in to lost property. However, this isn’t how airline lost property works. If it hadn’t been handed in already, nobody seemed to think it was worth letting anyone on the plane know that it was there until someone stumbled upon it or the cleaners found it when the plane got cleaned wherever it was it ended up for the night.

So this morning was spent discovering that the world of airline lost property has become, like many other things, largely outsourced. Lost property at the airport is handled by a company (which charges an unspecified fee to reunite you with it). Lost property on the airlines is handled by a different company whose call centre only operates for a few hours in the morning. The airline customer service team feel that as there is a company handling that sort of thing for them, they don’t need to do anything further. The lost property companies just sit there waiting for things to be found and handed to them, and can’t access anything that’s on a plane. As the laptop had not apparently been handed in after the plane had presumably been cleaned for the night, I pictured it spending the next few days happily travelling from Bristol to Brno to Manchester and Madrid, until somebody finally noticed it and handed it in to the lost and found, which by then could be anywhere from Aberdeen or Zagreb, where nobody would know it was mine. This is the way of the world, I realised, and there seemed to be no way to talk to an actual person who might take pity on me and follow up with somebody who could actually track it down.

And then, just as I was ready to give up, I got an email from someone at Bristol Airport who had not only read the message I sent through the ‘contact us’ form (never the most confidence-inspiring means of communication), had also gone and followed up with their security team who run their lost and found, Bristol having not apparently caught the outsourcing bug. And, oh frabjous day, despite originally telling me last night that nothing had been found – the security team did after all have my laptop.

All I have to do now is get it from Bristol back to Bigtown but that is in hand and hopefully laptop and I will be reunited before we have to depart once again (family duty calls, sorry, I will plant more trees in penance) on a plane to the US. You can be certain I will be keeping a very close eye on it this time. While undoubtedly losing something else important (Passport? Head? Husband?)  that I ought to be hanging on to…
* It’s going to be a bit embarrassing if anyone who’s not a cycle campaigner wants to see my holiday snaps: ‘so yes, these bollards are interesting because look at the little pictures of bikes on them, and this is the tree in the middle of the cycle path, and this is a stop sign for bikes and … what, any actual historic sights? Wait, I did take a photo of the cathedral, because there was this nice bike parked in front of it, it’s here somewhere, I think just after the floating bus stops …’

** Which was anyway cancelled.


Vamos a Sevilla

May 1, 2017

And then, with a bang – almost as if the Weather Gods were paying attention to our puny human calendars – it is May and suddenly there as proper warmth in the air. The hare has gone from sitting looking hunched and miserable in the wind to stretching out sparked out in the sunshine (at least until its pesky human hosts attempt to go out and photograph it.) And I, who have been thinking every day as I get dressed how sick I am of my winter clothes, had to shed not just my gloves and hat but actual jacket on the cycle into Bigtown this afternoon.

I had better get used to it, because on Thursday, as soon as the election is safely over (at least the local one – when it comes to the general election, I’m just putting my fingers in my ears until its over, although I will vote, don’t worry), I am off with my wheely suitcase but not my bike to Edinburgh and thence to Seville where the same gang of four who took a highly serious study tour to Amsterdam back in September will be conducting a thorough investigation into the cycling infrastructure of ‘build it and they will come’ poster child, Seville.

And by thorough we mean really thorough because it’s well known that I can get lost getting out of a wardrobe, so we’re likely to end up giving any wayfinding in the city a brutal workout (obviously my companions are all skilled navigators AND know how to use the GPS on their phones, but I’ve a tendency to be impatient and lead from the front whether I know where I’m going or not. POP organisers, you can stop sniggering at the back now). We’ll also be ensuring that the infrastructure can be as easily used when you’re coming back from the bar as when you’re going to it, and that the bike hire system can be worked out by someone whose Spanish has been learned from a phone app that is heavy on phrases like ‘where is the train station?’ and ‘would you like more beer?’ but rather lighter on phrases like ‘give it some welly‘ which is, as I recall, the key to getting a Boris Bike out of the docking station. If our trip to Amsterdam is anything to go by, there will undoubtedly also be testing of the ease of using bikes for spontaneous shopping trips, finding a decent cup of tea, riding a bike having been lured into drinking mojitos and discovering how many kms of Seville’s segregated bike network need to be ridden to work off excessive consumption of tapas and other Spanish goodies.

I think even the most earnest of kerb nerds would agree, that’s a pretty good assessment of a city’s bike infrastructure. Although we’re open to inspecting any interesting floating bus stops, innovative junctions or nicely angled kerbs should anyone want us to have a look. And if you’ve any other suggestions, bike-related or not, for what to see, do, eat, drink or experience in Seville, bring them on.


The Best* Thing About Having a Birthday

March 21, 2017

… is the resulting stack of to-be-read books by the bed

bedtime reading

I remember as a small child being quizzed about my birthday presents by an adult who didn’t know me very well. After I’d listed all the books I’d been given she asked, ‘but what else did you get? Didn’t you get any dolls?’

It took her about five repetitions to get the question across, because I had no idea what she was talking about (I kept hearing ‘bells’, which was only slightly more baffling to the six-year-old me than ‘dolls’) and had no conception that you might want anything more than books. If only she’d said ‘killer whale vertebra’ I’d have grasped her meaning much faster.

My birthday wishes have widened somewhat over the years, but even now, the prospect of having not just something, but a whole stack of books to read is an unalloyed pleasure, even if I’m not entirely sure when I will have the time to devour them all.

Equally delightful is a replacement apocalypse proof jacket from the other half, although on the whole I’d prefer not to put either its rain proofing or its apocalypse proofing to the test…

*Oh, okay, the best thing is cake for breakfast in bed. But this is the next best.


Ask a Busy Woman*

March 12, 2017

Finally, after a week in which I’ve almost had to schedule every waking hour to get everything done, I have managed to hit my last deadline, and now only have a small three-city mass bike demonstration to organise plus another active travel campaign for the local elections and the small matter of everything that’s been piling up while I’ve been too busy to do it.

Pedal on Parliament

BTW we’re crowdfunding POP this year, in case you missed it on Facebook, Twitter, my emails … click picture for more details

This has meant compressing the whole of potato day into half an hour (a post in itself), not nearly enough cycling, and spending six hours on various trains on Friday working solidly on my laptop as some of Scotland’s finest scenery passed unnoticed beside me. I was putting the final finishing touches to a piece of editing as the train pulled in to Inverness, and then it was only a small matter of getting a response in to the minister’s Active Travel Task Force about why local authorities might not be putting in ambitious cycling infrastructure (am I the only person who’s a little disappointed that this doesn’t seem to involve nearly enough gunboats? Sometimes talking softly and carrying a big stick is the way to go when it comes to some coonsils. Still, hard to get a battleship right up to East Dunbartonshire, I suppose).

scenery from the train

It’s a mug’s game trying to take photographs through the train window.

As I got back on the train again yesterday, I discovered that the Glasgow train doesn’t seem to come with power sockets, meaning all my plans for another productive session on the laptop came to naught. Fortunately, by then there was only the small matter of a crowdfunding campaign to launch – and there were others who were perfectly capable of getting everything done in my absence. It was no bad thing, in the end, to be forced to spend a few hours actually appreciating the scenery, and reading the weekend papers. Luxury.

Inverness – what little I managed to see of it – seemed really nice. One day I will return and check it out properly. Apart from anything else, it’s full of bikes…

Inverness bikes

* If she’d like to sit down with a nice cup of coffee and a biscuit, while you do one of the million things she’s taken on because people keep asking her to do them because she’s a busy woman who gets things done. It’s really the least you can do.


Time and Motion

February 23, 2017

So I’m gadding about again tomorrow, back to Aberdeen to talk about the Women’s Cycle Forum  so naturally I was still writing my presentation at the last minute. Well, I say writing, but my tactic with giving presentations is to throw together a lot of slides with images that illustrate what I want to say, and then stand in front of them and just wing it, because I’ve spent way too many hours of my life listening to a man in a suit reading his Powerpoint slides to us. It generally makes for an amusing,* if occasionally a bit random, presentation but it does take forever to create the slides, as I worked out this evening

pie_chart
Anyway, if you want to find out whether I ever did track down that image of a princess doll in a ball dress on a toy bike with a cup holder** that I thought was a celebration of cycle chic and everyone else on Twitter thought was the worst case of pinking it and shrinking it they’d seen in ages, then get yourselves along to Aberdeen to hear from a couple of awesome cycling women, and me.

* At least I hope it’s amusing. People laugh, anyway, and you don’t always get that in road safety conferences.

** Spoiler alert: I didn’t


Get a Mac. Or, you know, Don’t

February 14, 2017

It seems to be an iron law of freelancing that whenever you think you might, just, if everything goes to plan, get everything done that you need to do by the time you need to do it – that that is when fate will throw a massive spanner in the works. Or rather, fate doesn’t need to throw anything, it just needs to sit back with its feet up and watch as I leave my laptop power cable on a desk in an office in Guildford, travel blithely up to Palmer’s Green, spend forty minutes or so using the laptop unplugged in, realise I’d better feed it and only then work out what I’d done.

Thanks to the magic of Dropbox, my files were all fortunately available online. All I had to do was borrow my sister’s laptop and I could still get the work I needed to do done, until I was reunited with my own laptop’s power cable. And this is where Fate twists the dial slightly for extra sadism, as my sister’s laptop is a Mac, a wonderful sleek, shiny, MacBook Air that the whole of Twitter suggests I should switch to whenever I moan about my Windows laptop. So wonderfully sleek and shiny that it hides distressingly ugly unglamorous things like scroll bars from you until you give it the right esoteric gesture on the touch pad (two fingers, appropriately enough). So slim and minimalist that it doesn’t have a delete key, only a backspace key and it doesn’t have a page down key because that’s what the scroll bars are for only YOU CAN’T FIND THE SODDING SCROLL BAR because it has hidden it from you when you stopped using it for a second.

Having spent an hour or two last night resisting the temptation to turn my sister’s laptop into a sleek, aerodynamic, shiny frisbee, I thought I’d better get up early this morning to give myself time to get on with some work, adjusting for all the time I was going to have to spend hunting for the disappearing scroll bar. Which was when I remembered she had a password on her mac and I had forgotten it, and the guest account had parental controls on it, and apparently one of the websites that had been banned was one that Word wanted to visit every single time I clicked on it. Who knows what naughty things Word wanted to look at (illicit scroll bars, probably, the dirty tart) because there wasn’t any way of telling it not to bother and it wouldn’t do anything until it had done so so I was stymied until someone in the household got up and could remember the password.

Anyway, thanks to Backonmybike, and an afternoon spent travelling around approximately two-thirds of the Southwest Trains network (it’s always nice to get the full use out of your Oyster card…) I have been reunited with my laptop’s power cable and my laptop is once again in use. After a brief pause to play ‘guess where the Mac has moved your file to mysteriously without being asked’, I have transferred my work back onto the undoubtedly clunky arms of my own computer and all is more or less all right with the world again, for, slow and annoying though it most certainly is, it is my slow and annoying computer and I am used to its little ways.

And now, as a bonus, I have a post I can point people to on Twitter the next time they smugly suggest that I get a Mac. Now all I have to do is spend a pointless day fruitlessly trying to make a linux installation work without having to hand edit a config file, and my life will be complete.