December 2, 2016

cut paper bicycles

Chatting to our local archivist the other day (nothing to do with any archiving: she has a laser paper cutting machine at home and had made some fantastic little paper bicycles for the Bigtown Cycle campaign. Suddenly a whole new world of stationery possibilities opens up …) I was shocked – shocked! – to learn that Bigtown library now has no actual librarians. The staff at the counter who stamp your books are there to do all sorts of other council business as well, which I suppose could bring a wider range of clientele into the library, but you wonder who is doing all the other vital library stuff, from ordering books to setting up reading schemes.


This is why I have a special affection for books which disappear again after 3 weeks

After I had physically picked up my jaw and composed myself, I wondered what could be done about this. As a voracious reader in my childhood (at one point the school library disallowed me from returning books on the same day I had borrowed them) libraries were a lifesaver for me, even with their pettifogging rules about keeping a book for at least 24 hours before you returned it. As an adult with a non-infinite amount of shelf space, they continue to be a useful way of feeding my book habit without filling my house, and as an author (however unprolific), the Public Lending Right payment I get every year is a small but happy reminder that somewhere out there, people are still reading my book. So it’s safe to say, I was keen to support the library from any more cuts.

‘Footfall,’ my archivist contact said. ‘That’s all they look at. So keep using the library if you want to keep it open.’

Well, as activism goes, that’s something I can utterly get behind. It will be a terrible sacrifice but tomorrow I will have to get myself down to the library and borrow some books, take them home, read them, and then swap them for some more. All for free – and anyone and everyone can do it too.

Put that way, it’s amazing such a civilised thing has been allowed to exist for as long as it has. Perhaps you’d better get down there and be counted at your own library while stocks last.

Curtain Call

November 19, 2016
stacked wood

No reason for including this photo except so you can behold my beautifully stacked wood …

So, we are at my parents’, swapping wood stacking services for a spot of curtain-sewing consultancy from my mother, who was delighted to pass on (among other gems) the ‘pulled thread’ technique for cutting an absolutely straight edge across a piece of material. This was something her mother taught her, and her grandmother taught her mother before her, and she was delighted to finally have a daughter interested enough to learn it from her, albeit one who has negligently failed to breed, so she will have to teach it in turn to her nieces or, indeed nephews, should the occasion arise.

And it struck me – after much measuring, and measuring again, and cutting, and pinning, and checking, and checking again before I finally got my hands on the sewing machine – just how technical and systematic properly sewing something is. Equally as technical as making something out of wood or metal, needing the same combination of know-how and knack (as I discovered when I put the bobbin in wrong and messed up the tension, or attempted to ‘feel my way’ with the scissors to cut a straight edge), except perhaps with less need for ear defenders and upper body strength. It also reminded me how much I like getting to grips with a well thought-through piece of machinery like Mum’s sewing machine with neat little features like a bobbin winder which automatically stops when it’s full – and which, at 35 years old, is still going strong, except that you have to be firm with the foot pedal at times.

pinning material

I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised at my own occasional techy leanings, as I did work in IT for a dozen years, but I don’t think it’s all that unusual for women, despite what a dozen lazy pop scientific books (and half the men on Twitter when they argue that the reason women don’t go into IT in greater numbers is down to anything other than the inherent institutional bias of the IT industry) might try to claim. In Delusions of Gender, her excellent demolition of all lazy explanations of so-called inherent differences between men and women, Cordelia Fine points out that supposedly neutral tests for things like systematising (often described as an inherently male trait) include questions like ‘would you feel comfortable using a wiring diagram to wire your house’ but not questions like ‘would you feel comfortable using a knitting pattern to knit a cable sweater’ even though both require similar abilities to translate abstract instructions (indeed, women were chosen to wire up computers at Bletchley Park because they could understand complex knitting patterns) it’s just that one is something boys are culturally encouraged to learn, and the other something girls are. Plus, nobody ever burned their family in their beds by incorrectly cabling a sweater, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

Of course, once the curtains have been finished, there’s still the small matter of installing the rail in the bedroom to hang them from. This will require drilling and making sure things are level and finding the right kind of screws and rawl plugs, and all the sorts of thing I normally let the other half do because he’s so much better at them than me, plus you know, power tools are a man thing. Hmm. Perhaps I’m going to have to put those up myself as well…

Poorly Timed

September 16, 2016

My watch has stopped. In truth, it’s been stopping intermittently for a while now – it seemed to only work properly when I had been doing a fair bit of cycling, and shut off if I spent too long sitting at the computer, like some sort of primitive analogue fitbit, which I could have lived with (although it might have made a bit of a dent in my earnings taken to extremes), but now – just when I needed to get up at silly o’clock this morning for our Bike Breakfast – it seems to have given up altogether, even after cycling about 17 miles today. This is disappointing as it is less than two years since it last returned from being serviced. While I stand second to no-one in my tendency to persist with gadgets which anyone else might have consigned to landfill long ago* even I am reluctantly having to admit that a watch which needs to be sent off to be serviced for 3 months every 18 months at vast expense is something of a liability. Perhaps after 20 years I should face the fact that nothing lasts for ever, even fine Swiss timepieces, at least in my hands.

bike breakfast

Fortunately, watch or no watch, I managed to wake up in time for the bike breakfast anyway … and look, the sun came out!

So it’s time to think again about watches, bearing in mind the fact that I have a face, or at least a wrist, that apparently stops clocks. A bit of Googling suggests that Seiko seem to do reasonably priced automatic watches with luminous dials at about half of the cost of getting my watch serviced, which would tick all my boxes. Well, apart from the one marked ‘but I just want my old watch to work properly like it used to …’
* Case in point: the phone with only one-third of a working keypad which I kept using for another half a year

Pathetic Fallacy

June 28, 2016

rain on the river

I don’t know if it’s the return of the rain, or lack of sleep, but the reality of Brexit really began to hit home today. Normally I’m a ridiculously positive person, but I found myself almost in tears watching a video clip of vile racist abuse on a Manchester tram and wondering just what has happened to my country. There’s only so much gardening, bike riding, and sharing of black humour on Twitter that you can do – and then you wake up again in the morning and it’s still happening. We’ve voted ourselves out, nobody has a plan, the Labour party have formed a circular firing squad – the news just keeps getting worse. I’m not even going to mention the football, because there’s an unholy amount of gloating going on by the Scots, which doesn’t bode well for any future indyref debate. Last time around the independence campaign was conducted in a spirit of democracy and debate and a lack of anti-English sentiment that did Scotland proud. If there is another one, I dread it being conducted in a spirit of bitterness and resentment. There are some genies that cannot be put back into the bottle once they have been unleashed.

All I can say is this – to the Scots, the EU, to anyone listening. We’ve all had friends who’ve become troubled, who lash out in their misery and make themselves unpleasant and generally try and shake off the people who love them most and want them to be happy. Mostly we understand that that’s not the real them that’s behaving that way and that all we can do is ply them with tea and sympathy and hugs and support and shrug off the things that they say when they’re not really thinking straight. So please, tempting as it is to kick England when it’s down, and much as it deserves it, bear with my poor self-harming country anyway while it works its way through a dreadful nervous breakdown. Send it tea. Lock away the knives. And don’t let it do anything drastic if you can.

mugs and kettle

Send tea… it’s all that can save us now

And to my compatriots I would add: damn it, whatever happened to Keep Calm and Carry On? We have never needed it more than in this hour.

Life Goes On

June 24, 2016

I think between them, the radio, Facebook and Twitter have said all that there is to say about the Brexit vote and has since been saying and re-saying it over and over again, so I’m not going to add to the cacophony.

broccoli plants

For us, life goes on. We transferred the money to buy the house today (quite relieved to find the banking system was still running smoothly). I planted out my broccoli plants to a background murmur of politicians trying to sound statesmanlike and everyone else trying not to panic. I’m fighting the temptation to just batten down the hatches and concentrate on our own small square of Scotland and let the UK get on with it, but then again, we’re lucky to have that option.

This seems like the best advice in the circumstances although I would say join anything – party, union, cycle campaign – that is actively trying to make Britain, or Scotland, a better place in or out of the EU (or in or out of the UK as seems increasingly likely to happen north of the border).

The Leave campaign promised us a better Britain if we had control of our destiny and plenty of people I know of – who are not racist and not idiots – agreed. I doubt that their vision of a better Britain really matches mine, but maybe we should take them at their word and start to fight for all the things we really want. For me, it’s cycle campaigning. I’m sure you all have similar causes to espouse, and we will go on fighting for them come what may.

But that will have to wait for Monday. Tomorrow we have plans to ride bikes and eat cake and forget about politics and that’s the only really sane response to this morning’s news.

Be Afraid

June 14, 2016

curious cows

I’ve been meaning to blog about the EU referendum (it seemed only fair, after I devoted so much time to the Scottish one) and have even got as far as drafting a post a couple of times but to be honest until a few weeks ago it’s not really been that much in the foreground. Compared to the the Indyref, when nobody seemed to be able to talk about anything else, the EU referendum has largely just been something that’s on the news and not anything anybody really discussed. If anything, my reaction was to kick back, crack open the popcorn, and enjoy the spectacle of the Tory party tearing itself apart over a referendum that the remain side would – surely – comfortably win.

That has changed now that it’s starting to look as if we might be heading for Brexit, if the polls are anything to go by. Quite apart from the fact that not 18 months ago Scotland was being told that if we wanted to guarantee our place in the EU we should vote to stay in the UK – insert hollow laugh here – this is a terrible idea. A few weeks ago I would have thought that I could leave it at that, on the assumption that pretty much everyone else who reads this blog would understand that this is a terrible idea, on a par with making Donald Trump US President. But it seems that even right-thinking people (and I’m assuming here that most of you here are generally fairly green, liberal, un-xenophobic types given that you’re reading a blog written by a green cycling feminist who knits her own socks and grows her own veg and is married to a foreigner, unless you’re going under deep cover to infiltrate the very heart of the enemy) are confused about whether they should support Britain remaining in the EU, possibly because the campaign on both sides has been pretty appalling.

So this afternoon, I was on my favourite cycling forum when the referendum thread finally flared into life and I took the opportunity to put into words the reason why I will be voting to remain. People seemed to find it helpful so I’m posting it here too. I doubt it will change anyone’s mind, but maybe it will be enough to swing one or two waverers into the remain camp and more importantly down to the polling station. And at least I will have tried:

“For all its problems, the EU is the only thing preventing us from entering a giant race to the bottom. When you hear business people talking about ‘red tape’, they’re not talking about bent bananas, by and large they’re talking about things like not forcing people to work more than 48 hours a week, giving them lunch breaks, providing maternity leave, animal welfare standards, clean air and water legislation and reducing landfill. Given what’s happened with things like zero hours contracts, I’m fairly sure that the minute we pull out of the EU the pressure will be on from the more unscrupulous employers to dismantle all these things that are getting in the way of sweating every last short term penny out of their employees and assets. Once that’s happened, the scrupulous employers will have to follow suit or go bust.

The whole point of the EU is that it pools sovereignty so that countries can’t start to undercut each other in this way. Sure we’re competing with China which does not have all that legislation – but at the moment, if I want to buy something which has at least met a minimum ethical standard for workers, then a ‘made in EU’ label gives me some level of reassurance. The EU can also impose some of its standards on countries that want to import to it. Which is why our beef isn’t laden with growth hormones the way it is in the US, and any genetically modified produce has to be labelled as such. At the moment, our workers’ rights legislation is driven by stroppy French unions, not enfeebled UK ones; our food standards are driven by the Italians, Spanish and French, who actually care about what they put in their mouths; and our animal welfare standards are driven by animal-loving Brits who don’t have the stomach for the worst excesses of factory farming.

It’s precisely *because* it’s not fully democratic that it is able to drive up standards in the single market against market forces that would like to drag them down. Personally, that alone is enough for me to want it to continue.”

So there you go. The case for remain, as explained to a cycling forum based in a city I don’t even live in. And if that doesn’t help you decide, you may find the following briefing useful as it seems to contain a rather larger ratio of fact to wild-eyed spin than most of the material put out by either camp.

And the cows? Well I was going to make some sort of elaborate analogy drawing together EU farming policies, mad cow disease, butter mountains and bullshit but actually they just amused me on my ride home from the pub this evening.

Hanging Jury

May 30, 2016

Jury service finally rolled around this morning – despite it being a sort-of bank holiday (they really don’t do bank holidays properly in Scotland with the exception of the extra hangover recovery day after New Year, which is sacrosanct) AND still being gloriously fine weather, the sort that makes it positively criminal to keep people indoors. Having rung the information line last night hoping that they might have relented on weather grounds if not it being a bank holiday, I was disappointed to learn that we were still expected to show up.

sock knitting in progress

I had been sort of joking about ordering knitting wool but at the last minute I did go online and pick up some sock yarn and I’m glad I did because so far jury service has consisted mostly of hanging around being told nothing and waiting for someone to remember why they had summoned 60 people to spend their bank holiday in a windowless waiting room. This morning I had enough time to ride home* after we were sent away reasonably quickly and told to come back at two, when 15 of us would actually be chosen to form a jury, but then when we did reconvene we were just left hanging around for an hour and a half and then finally sent home again, with instructions to come back tomorrow so we can do it all again. As you can imagine, my fellow potential jurors were unimpressed by this process. I imagine after a week of this sort of thing, we’ll be ready to hang anyone…

What did surprise me was that, even though the leaflet we were sent made it quite clear that we might be expected to hang about a bit and should bring something to read, nobody else had apparently brought anything else to do, and passed the time either chatting to their fellow jurors or staring blankly into space. I can’t imagine risking having to hang around for even five minutes without something to keep me amused – I’d also brought a paper and a book as a backup in case the knitting palled – but then again, it’s probably no bad thing that we all get to know each other a bit before the process begins. And if nothing else, I could do with a new pair of socks.

* I did vaguely think I might actually get something useful done that way, but naturally having been granted two unexpected hours at home, I squandered them by sitting drinking coffee in the sun, chatting to the neighbour and the neighbour’s baby and doing a little light cobble weeding. That plus the 32 miles of cycling back and forth in total meant a complete waste of a glorious day. Oh no wait, hang on…