June 11, 2019

After a day and a half of phonelessness, I now have a phone again – courtesy of Back On My Bike who seems slightly less hard on her personal electronics than I am. It’s still at the ‘how do I get rid of that annoying notification?’ stage of being set up, but I have now at least been reunited with most of my social media channels just in time for our 20mph demo today and the Women’s Cycle Forum ‘Pecha caka’ evening on Wednesday.

I’m actually in two minds about this – and not least because I found that after just 24 hours with neither a phone nor much to do on the laptop, I woke up with no pain in my shoulders and several extra degrees of rotation in my neck. It was also interesting to see when I was automatically reaching for my phone and how often it was just out of boredom rather than any really pressing need to be in touch. I do use Twitter and the like to pass the time – even when I’m not actually at a loose end, just procrastinating. I have occasionally found myself reading the very same article on my phone that I know is printed in the paper I have cycled eight miles for and purchased at some expense. Certainly I far too often find I’ve reached the end of the day having not had time to read much of the paper or read a book, and yet I’ve obviously had time to spend far too long idly scrolling through various social media feeds.

On the other hand, it’s a (metaphorical) pain in the neck trying to make arrangements to meet people without a means of getting in touch and with three trips to Edinburgh and Glasgow this week, going completely without a phone would have been challenging. I also genuinely miss having a camera with me to record the things I want to share with the world – from a new young leveret scampering flightily around the garden (it’s going to have to learn that hiding under the car, right by the front wheel, isn’t sensible; hopefully not the hard way) to Bigtown’s baby rhino sporting a traffic cone, Duke of Wellington style, on its head. And this ‘road narrows’ sign on our already narrow road, courtesy of our trench digging pals from last week, which amused me this morning (the camera on the new phone is also a step up from the last, so I’m looking forward to boring you with compost pictures in higher resolution than ever before).

road narrowing sign

Not entirely sure how it could get any narrower …

So on balance it’s probably a blessing to have a phone again but I have resolved (a forlorn hope, I expect) to try and make sure I’m picking it up when I actually need it, rather than just to scratch the boredom itch. Who knows what I might manage during all the extra time that frees up?


Politics by Other Means

May 22, 2019

Enjoying a post-lunch ice cream with the other half in Bigtown yesterday we were startled to encounter what sounded like a Brexit Party rally on the High Street, complete with cheering at Nigel Farage’s name and pantomime-style booing at Nicola Sturgeon’s. Closer inspection (but not too close) revealed that this was in fact a recording, and the actual Brexit Party stall was three balding men handing out flyers while the entire town resolutely ignored them and got on with their lunchtime shopping.* I know not everyone who reads this is a remainer, but the whole setup was strange and actually pretty obnoxious – it’s the first time ever that I’d wished the guy who busks with his bagpipes further up the high street was a) louder and b) closer.

A short time later, I found myself heading into Bigtown again for a very different kind of political gathering which started, for reasons which made perfect sense at the time, with the police being invited to take their kit off if they wanted to remain (they made their excuses and left). I decided by the end that, while I wish them well, I’m probably not cut out to be an eco-warrior – the warrior part I could manage, but the meetings part may need some work, at least as far as the Bigtown chapter goes. On the other hand, it was a lovely day and an even lovelier evening and so two trips to Bigtown in one day was no hardship.

ash tree

Fortunately tomorrow we also all have an opportunity to do politics by traditional means – I hope everyone who can, whatever their opinions, will be getting themselves down to the polling station to vote.

vote by bike

Bonus points for getting there by bike

* I gather that later on there were some full and frank exchanges of views.

Old Person’s Railcard

May 14, 2019

Idly scrolling through Twitter as I took the train back from Glasgow this afternoon, I saw a promoted tweet pushing ScotRail’s 50 Club, which is currently offering a flat rate £17 ticket to anywhere in Scotland for anyone aged 50 or over. Bloody old people, I thought, they get all the good travel deals, that would be brilliant seeing as it’s going to cost me £78 return to get up to Inverness on Friday.*

And then I realised that I am now, as far as ScotRail is concerned, an Old Person (seasonally adjusted) and for the first time since my Young Person’s Railcard expired when I reached the grand age of 23, I would be eligible for discounted tickets, albeit only in Scotland – not just the limited time £17 offer, but 20% off all rail fares booked online or 10% off tickets bought at the station. Having spent the rest of the journey calculating that, since I had turned 50 in March, I had taken enough rail trips to pay for the card already, I stopped in at the ticket office to find out more.

Obviously, there are hurdles to clear – the first of which is you can only apply online, potentially eliminating some Old Persons from the off, and the second of which is that once you get online to apply, you will spend several baffled minutes going round in circles on the ScotRail website until you realise that first you need a Smart Card before you can add your Old Person’s card to it – I imagine that my browsing history alone would be enough to prove that I was sufficiently Old and befuddled to qualify. Having worked that one out I fell at the third hurdle which was to provide a selfie of sufficient quality to act as a photo id (actually, being far to old to take a decent selfie, where I really failed here was in working out whereabouts I’d stashed the memory stick with the photo I had had taken when I renewed my passport which ticks all the requisite boxes of having plain white background, being in focus, and making you look like an axe murderer). Clearly ScotRail have thought this one through with some care. I may need to find a young person (or at least a photographer) to get past that one.

Once I have defeated the technology and got hold of my card, my battles will not be over, however. Because my planned route to Inverness goes via England (I know, I know) so will not be eligible, and all other routes are flagged up as not being off-peak when you look online, even though they are and hence also not eligible. Fortunately, in Bigtown Station we have a secret weapon, in that some of the ticket office staff consider it a point of pride to sell you the cheapest possible ticket on any given route. The most innocent-sounding request for a ticket can lead to a thoughtful pause, much tapping on the keyboard and jotting down of notes, a few searching questions, and finally a set of multiple tickets that, by routing you through Dundee or making your final destination Paisley Canal rather than Glasgow Central, save you the sum of £5.73. I feel confident that, however hard ScotRail try, the arcana of the Old Person’s Rail Card will prove no match for these ticketing ninjas and I will place myself in their capable hands, even if it means a queue building up of epic proportions while they work it all out. It is for such triumphs that we Old Persons live and breathe.

*Where, among other things, I will be hopefully hanging out with some of the cool cycling women of Inverness (or at least those not quite cool enough to have something better to do on a Friday night)

There’s Very Little …

May 4, 2019
POP tshirts hanging to dry

Post-pop washup session

… that sinks the heart quite so thoroughly as the words ‘rail replacement bus service’. This has been a week of trains what with two trips to Glasgow and two trips to Edinburgh, indluding the final one today, for the post-Pop washup meeting which will mean two hours on a coach rather than an hour on the train.

Even worse, though is spotting the word ‘cancelled’ against your train home – as I experienced on Thursday after a productive meeting with Back On My Bike plotting further progress with our other cycle campaigning activities (which in turn will mean more trains, albeit hopefully not cancelled ones). Expecting the worst – at the least a two-hour wait for the next train – I was pleasantly surprised to instead be offered a taxi to Lockerbie with a fellow passenger. I know some people who would have preferred the two hour delay but my travelling companion was pleasant and interesting and happy to chat, I had my knitting, and I even got an onward lift from Bigtown from her family who were waiting to pick her up. Sometimes a bit of enforced sociability away from the dreaded phone and laptop are just what the soul needs, even if it’s not great for my deadlines. And I’m making progress with my knitting. When life sends you cancelled trains, make jumpers.

I was also reminded that I am in fact the weirdo when I suggested my lift drop me off at the supermarket by the bypass, that being the easiest place for them to stop without getting tangled up in what passes for the Bigtown rush hour. ‘But how will you get into the centre of town?’ they asked in horror. ‘Walk’, I said (it’s really only a mile). Amazing, apparently…

Bordering on the Ridiculous

December 22, 2018

So, we’ve safely arrived in Newcastle (County Down) for Christmas, which means I’m statutorily obliged to quote Percy French.

mourn mountains

“Where the Mountains o’ Mourne sweep down to the sea”

But before we settle into our normal programme of quality control of the cafes and ice cream parlours (it is indeed December, and your point is? Morelli’s is still open), we first paid a lightning visit to some of my Dublin relatives. We thought we’d also take the opportunity on the way back to make the acquaintance in real life of Twitter celebrity, The Irish Border.

This is easier said than done. Clearly too busy tweeting to be actually present on the ground, we crossed where it should have been three times in less than a mile, with no sign of it on the ground.

It’s one thing to talk about a ‘frictionless border’ in the abstract. It’s another to realise that you can come off the dual carriageway on a slip road and cross an international border, only to recross it when coming off the roundabout – and cross it again up the road with no clue that you have done so beyond an unexpected cluster of fireworks sellers and petrol stations suggesting there might be some arbitrage opportunities to be exploited somewhere not entirely clear where in the vicinity.

I’d hoped to get a photo of the change, but we blinked and missed it, so this was the best I could do. Seriously, they make more fuss of the border between England and Scotland.

welcome to Newry, Mourne and Down

I was going to make some solemn point about the amazing changes that have taken place since the Good Friday agreement and the dangers of a return to check points and so on, but having seen what it’s currently like on the ground, all I can say is that if we think we can put a functioning border of any description between the Republic and the North, then we’re deluding ourselves. No wonder our Dublin relatives can’t seem to tear their eyes away from the impending disaster.

What an almighty cockup this all is. And a Merry Christmas to you all …

Shouldering On

December 14, 2018

With my half century approaching I’ve not really suffered any of the real problems of age – but ever since I turned 40 and realised my warranty had effectively expired, the ageing process has been an accumulation of small inconveniences and indignities (the latter usually visited by some dangerously young-looking health professional or other pointing out that x is only to be expected at one’s advancing age). I remained braced for the menopause, and resigned to the possibility of reading glasses, but what I wasn’t expecting was to have a lifetime’s habit cruelly snatched away from me.

Not cycling (it remains my chief hope for holding back time), but reading in bed. Ever since I can remember, I have read my books in bed while lying on my side. This remains the last thing I do every night, even if only for a page or two, curled up under the duvet and reading until the words stop making sense, before falling asleep. Sadly no more. For I have developed what Dr. Google has diagnosed as a rotator cuff injury (so much more impressive sounding than a sore shoulder). Not only can I not read comfortably in bed, I now can’t sleep comfortably either and – most distressing of all – it’s painful to reach out for my cup of coffee from the coffee table when lounging on the sofa.

Obviously the response to ‘Doctor it hurts when I do this’ is to stop doing it, so I’ve had to try various tactics – reading on the other side (but then my bedside light is in the wrong place and I’d probably only end up knackering the other one too), reading sitting up in bed (wrong), reading lying flat with my book above my head (wronger than wrong), and (inevitably) hoping it’s got better and going back to reading on my right side (ouch, but oh it just feels so natural). I’ve also discovered that when I wake up at four am and need to go back to sleep before I start systematically visiting all my anxieties in turn to keep them all fresh, my body’s signal to the brain that it’s time to go back to sleep is to turn onto my right side. So I’m getting up either in pain or unrefreshed, or a combination of both, and it’s making me grumpy.

More to the point, it’s got so that I no longer really look forward to going to bed with a book which, as a former boarding school pupil, has always been one of my chief pleasures in life (I discovered fairly quickly that going to bed early was the best way to get undisturbed reading time alone, something it had never occurred to them to ban until then). A quick search of the internet suggests that the answer may be better pillows and/or a replacement mattress (this mainly according to sites that sell mattresses). It also suggests that the world of pillows has moved on from just being a bag stuffed with feathers (I don’t know about you, but I’ve read enough fairy tales to be wary of sleeping on anything that bills itself as being made of ‘memory foam’). This all feels a bit complicated because you can pay anything from £15 to £100 for a pillow and no guarantee that it will do any good.

So, loyal readers – any recommendations as to pillows for the confirmed side sleeper? Or is this just one of the many downward steps on the road to dereliction?

Come Back Rita, All is Forgiven

December 8, 2018

I think I write a variant of this post every time I’m forced onto two feet instead of two wheels for extended periods around Bigtown and realise that it’s often actually worse for the poor beleaguered pedestrian than it is for us cyclists who can at least pretend we’re cars. Still, it’s my blog and I can repeat myself if I want to. And the subject has been on my mind for the past few days, partly because I’ve been taking part in a mostly pedestrian street audit, albeit armed with the biggest, baddest trike in Bigtown, and paying closer than usual attention to the all the things that make walking feel like a third-class means of transport: the caged in crossings and railings, the cracked pavements, and the endless wait for the green man.

bike at the butchers

It’s also been on my mind since I used this old photo last week to illustrate something for the Bigtown Cycle Campaign and realised I could tell it was taken a good 4 years ago (and not just because it was two panniers ago) – because the street in the photo shows people freely strolling down the street, happily checking out the nice independent small shops. Parking in Bigtown has always been a bit of a freestyle affair but ever since people have taken on board the fact that there really are no parking wardens in the entire county a small but growing minority of drivers have taken to effectively parking wherever they sodding well like. The street in the photo is still, officially pedestrianised, but a photo of it taken from the same spot today would basically show a linear car park. It’s a change that’s crept up on us so gradually that we’ve barely noticed what we’ve lost.

So on Thursday, in town without my bike for once, as an experiment, I tried just walking down the same street on Thursday as if it was the genuinely pedestrianised street it used to be. I think I got about two thirds of the way down it before the driver behind me couldn’t stand it any more and hooted their horn, to let me know that there was someone in a more important means of transport behind me, someone I must clearly not have noticed as I would otherwise have got out of their way. Confirmation, if confirmation were needed that the street has been reconquered by cars, all in the name of the God of Parking.

We’ve started trying to fight back – but I think it’s going to take more than the odd pop-up park. Traffic Wardens may once have been the most reviled officials in Christendom, but conversations I’ve had around town in the past week or so suggest they’re starting to be missed. There are complicated legal reasons* why the Coonsil can’t just bring back traffic wardens, but I do occasionally fantasise about the day when they finally do.  And as they turn the corner into the Vennel with their little notebooks in their hands (or whatever the modern traffic warden uses these days), their eyes lighting up at the rich pickings before them, I can only hope I’ll be there to witness the carnage that ensues…

* Anyone who wants an explanation, touching on decriminalised versus criminal parking enforcement and the implications of current Transport Bill going through the Scottish Parliament – feel free to ask in the comments because, sadly, I know …