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…

Snatched from the Burning

May 27, 2016

How best to say goodbye to a small literary magazine which has run its natural course? I have been running the Fankle for five years now and it was more or less washing its face – which is about all you can ask of a small-scale literary pamphlet to be honest – until my printing costs doubled and I decided it was time to pull the plug.

I could have just quietly folded it up (appropriately enough if you know how it is made), but I decided its farewell should be marked in more dramatic fashion so we gathered together as many of our past contributors as could make it, to drink wine, read out some of our greatest hits, and then it seemed to make sense to give it a final, Viking-style sendoff by fashioning one into a boat, setting fire to it, and then sending it off flaming across the nearest loch.

When I dreamt this idea up, I hadn’t quite factored in the fact that it would still be broad daylight at 7 in the evening, which made it less dramatic a sight than I had hoped. Nor had I quite taken into account the onshore breeze – or the fact that when a party of people comes down to the edge of the water in an urban location, all of the local swans make a beeline for what they hope will be some food. It’s quite difficult to shoo a swan, it turns out, let alone a dozen of them. Indeed, even setting fire to a small literary pamphlet and floating it in their general direction doesn’t do much more than bemuse them. It takes a lot to faze an urban swan.

swan audience

Come to think of it, this isn’t a bad turnout for a poetry reading…

But it takes even more to faze a party of poets – who weren’t even all that drunk as they were driving so I had had to do my best with the wine – so we said farewell to it anyway (and then fished the remains out of the loch and disposed of them properly; we’re not litter louts). And perhaps after all, adding a touch of farce and an audience of swans to the proceedings wasn’t the worst way to see something off that has always run on a wing and a prayer.

Twelve* Angry Men**

April 26, 2016

An important-looking letter arrives

I know that jury service is supposed to be a bit of an imposition – but I’m actually looking forward to it in a way. I’m trying to put my finger exactly on why this should be. Partly it’s because I’m nosy – part and parcel of being a writer – and it seems like it would be really interesting. Partly it’s because I’ll be able to claim a massive 9.8p a mile for cycling to Bigtown’s Sheriff Courts for a week (what’s the betting they won’t let me sit on any dangerous driving cases?). But mainly, after the last few weeks I’ve had it’s because the thought of spending a week largely hanging around with nothing to do seems rather appealing …

* Except it would appear it’s 15 in Scotland

** and not all men either. Or, necessarily, angry.

Secret Squirrel

March 29, 2016

So, one of the reasons why I’ve been so busy recently has finally gone live – an interactive bit on the We Walk We Cycle We Vote website where (for viewers in Scotland) you can enter your postcode or constituency and find out where your candidates stand on active travel, and then tell them what you think about it. The other half did the clever bit, that actually makes it work* while I did what should have been the easy bit of gathering information on all the candidates standing for election and their contact details and getting them into a database.

Oddly enough, this proved quite tricky. You’d think, if you were running for election, that fairly high up on your agenda would be simple things like announcing you were running for election, and providing people with the means to contact you. And yet, a few weeks ago hardly any of the party websites had lists of candidates and those that did disdained to provide any way of contacting them beyond those annoying web forms that don’t give you any real sense of confidence that the email it supposedly generates will go anywhere but straight in the bin. Even now, with nominations closing on Friday, there are still gaps – some some parties haven’t included all their list candidates, some still treat their candidates’ email addresses like state secrets, some provide email addresses half if which ended up bouncing (naming no names, but it was the Lib Dems), and almost all of them make sure you have to click on each candidate individually to find out if there’s an email address for them at all – which is all good fun when your broadband is a rural as ours. Add in Gmail deciding this afternoon that I was a spammer because I was sending out too many emails – to be fair, it had a point – and as you can probably tell it’s been a frustrating exercise.

However, I have persevered, and with a mixture of googling and rummaging around in various Facebook ‘about’ pages, and just plain guessing (if a candidate called Firstname.Surname ever runs for office they’ll be a shoo-in) – I have managed to contact about three-fifths of the people who allegedly want to represent us in the Scottish Parliament. The rest clearly feel that not getting inundated with adverts for penis enlargements – or, indeed, requests for their policy positions on active travel – is more important than being reachable by their electorate.

Now comes the really hard part – which is deciphering the replies that have come in from the more practised candidates and trying to determine if they’re actually promising something or just writing something which semantically looks like a promise but has a way of wriggling out of your grasp like a double jointed eel when you try and pin it down. But that part, I’ll leave up to the voters to decide. If you want to play along go here and put in your postcode and see what comes up for your constituency. Bonus points to the first person who extracts an actual measurable promise out of a politician …

* And yes, I did use to be a computer programmer who managed web-based database developments in a previous life, but I have thoroughly de-skilled myself in the intervening years. Possibly the ‘managing’ bit was part of that process…

Pass the Spanner

January 13, 2016

It’s beginning to dawn on me (I’m slow that way) that life in one’s forties consists largely of tedious maintenance tasks if your body is not going to gradually fall apart or, more likely, seize up. If I added up all of the things which ‘just take five minutes’ which various health-related professionals have advised me to do on a daily or (worse) twice daily basis, I’d never actually leave the house, except to take my recommended 30 minutes of exercise. It all seems perfectly reasonable as the optician explains why I should be regularly gently steaming my eyelids to keep the glands open, the yoga teacher recommends 10 minutes of poses to start the day, the dentist wants me to add using the poky wee brush between my teeth on top of the statutory 2 minutes regular brushing* – but usually after a week or so, I revert to my normal low-maintenance routine, promising myself I’ll make up for it when I have time.

Still, it’s the time of year for turning over a new leaf and while my half-hearted attempts to at least do a few yoga stretches every day have fallen by the wayside, I could at least return to regularly attending yoga once a week, and hope that would be a start. Sure, I was very busy but I’m always very busy and what could be more important and productive than an hour or so of mindful exercise followed by a nice 20 minute nap.** So yesterday morning – running rather late because I had been trying to get some of the backlog of work done, I threw my kit together and sprinted off on the bike, conscious of the fact that I needed to get there early because the yoga class has moved to a new smaller studio and I wanted to beat all the other resolutioners …

Unfortunately, I take a similarly neglectful approach to maintaining my bike – I always mean to regularly wipe off and oil the chain, clean it occasionally, tighten those various nuts, investigate that odd new noise coming from the back wheel – and then get home and forget all about it in my haste to get inside and out of the weather. Which is why I got halfway up the road before I remembered that, oh yes, I was going to look at why that brake was rubbing. And tighten up my front light before it detached itself and launched a suicide mission into my wheel.

In the end, I decided that I would acheive more in the way of zen calmness and inner peace if I turned around and actually sorted out the front light and the back brake and then got some work done, than if I pressed on, especially if it turned out that Yoga Bunny had nicked the last remaining spot

But I’m definitely, definitely, making it to yoga next week. And I will certainly be keeping on top of the bike maintenance. And taking the time to steam my eyes. And running more often. And moisturising regularly, and eating my five a day…

Ah sod it. Perhaps I should just resolve to keep riding my bike because I’m going to do that anyway.

* actually I do that one because the dentist is the only one who backs up his requests with a rather robust approach to pain relief…

** I also regularly resolve to stay awake through the breathing and relaxation but the minute I close my eyes and start visualising whatever mad thing it is we’re supposed to be visualising, that’s it, I’m gone. I wake enormously refreshed though.

Merry Christmas

December 25, 2015

May your day be merry and bright …

white trees blue sky

… even if your Christmas isn’t white