Exciting Trench Digging News

June 7, 2019

I suppose I should be grateful to my phone for choosing the morning after I had just met a series of unfeasibly tight deadlines to die on me. It has been proving erratic for a while, but I like to get as much life out of my stuff as I can before replacing anything, so I was resolutely ignoring it until finally I couldn’t. Rebooting, cache wiping and a factory reset all failed, the phone repair shop admitted that they’d just be googling it the same way I was, so it looks as if it’s time for a new phone (or new-to-me, anyway). Fortunately I have enough offers of people’s cast offs that I probably won’t be left stranded for too long – but today at least I have been phoneless, which also means cameraless.

Which is why you’re not being treated to the exciting (in the very specialised meaning of the word used in this blog) sight of two men digging a trench along the side of our tiny dead-end road (it was quite sweet that they’d even put out roadworks signs, even though it would probably have been less effort to just come round and warn us individually). Screeching to a halt on my bike I said the words that most rural householders can only dream of uttering:

… are you … putting in … fibre … by any remote chance?

Readers, they were. This was exciting enough news that I had to cycle back up the hill to tell the other half (OK, I had also forgotten the Guardian voucher but to be honest, such is our hill, that I normally just donate the Guardian the cost of the voucher if I realise I’ve forgotten it by the time I’ve descended). I leave it to you to calculate the bandwidth* of a slow cyclist on a steel tourer pedalling up a Category 3 climb, but believe me it won’t be the lowest we’ve experienced since moving to the country so this is exciting news

Looked at objectively,I would have to agree with the guy on the digger when he declared it mad to be running fibre up a road that serves a grand total of six houses, but it seems the Scottish Government is committed to rolling out superfast broadband to every house and business in Scotland and amazingly that appears to be what it’s doing. Colour me amazed.

Now we just have to hold them to turning their climate emergency promises into actual policies and we may just be getting somewhere. I might suggest 20mph limits as a good place to start.

* as the lecturer on my IT degree used to say back in the last century, ‘never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of floppy disks** heading down the freeway.’

** younger readers – ask your parents.

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Rotting to the Core

June 4, 2019

Yesterday saw me at home, waiting for some work to arrive, knowing it was going to be a ridiculously short deadline when it did arrive, unable to go anywhere because it could arrive at any moment but with no actual work (work work, that is) to do until it came …

It’s in situations like this that a garden comes into its own, because once you’ve started there’s no end to the pottering that can be done in one. It wasn’t particularly convincing gardening weather, being June which means our summer is effectively over and our ‘green winter’* has begun. Still the rain held off and – in between nipping in to check my emails – I managed to plant out the rest of the Swiss chard and two kinds of kale, tie up my peas, water the greenhouse, cut back the grass around the raised beds and (if you squint a bit and choose your angles carefully) generally make the garden look as if I knew what I was doing.

Vegetable garden looking tidy

Even the peas (well, one pea plant) were behaving themselves – I believe this may be the first time in my pea-growing history that one has actually attached itself to the support provided.

pea tendril attached to cane

Come lunchtime, with the work still not in evidence, I had to get a bit creative. Time to empty the compost tumbler and start a new batch. We’ve been turning the current batch for a few weeks and while it never really heated up that much, it has turned into something resembling compost in less than two months. It’s certainly turned into something that resembles compost more closely than what was in either of the two working daleks – one of which has been sitting there since *looks at the pieces of newspaper miraculously preserved in perfectly readable condition at the bottom* mid February without noticeably composting anything at all but which had acquired a working wasps’ nest (sorry mama wasp).

compost in tumbler

Compost tumbler day one – watch this space. Literally, as I’m quite capable of making this into a timelapse sequence and inflicting it on you

By the time the other half came home from work I had the tumbler filled with one and half daleks’ worth of compostable material and we then spent a happy half hour feeding a pile of brassica stalks into the shredder to add to the mix. We’ve got a way to go before we’ve fine-tuned our composting operations – without worms (and wasps) to do some of the work as you get with a traditional heap, getting everything finely chopped up and getting the balance of carbon and nitrogen (and moisture) right is a bit more crucial, but at least I could head back in to check my emails one last time, confident that the tumbler is doing better than our previous arrangements (even if not *how much!?* better) … only to discover that the work I’d been waiting for had actually arrived three hours ago.

* The months of June, July and August when the weather’s not that much nicer than actual winter, but people look at you funny if you wear your winter clothes.


Falling Off the Wagon

May 29, 2019

So, every year I make it my resolution not to start any more cycle campaigns. And for the past couple of years I’ve been reasonably successful and had started to think I might have been able to stop at just the five. And technically I suppose a one-off demo in support of the 20mph (Restricted Roads) Bill is not in itself a cycle campaign (although I seem to remember that Back on my Bike assured me that We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote would be a short lived campaign back in, ah, 2015). So yeah, anyway, I’m taking it one day at a time, and let’s look upon this as a minor slip-up on the road to recovery. Whatever you do, don’t come – and don’t even encourage me by doing anything as foolish as writing to your MSPs in support of this bill. It’s the only way I’m ever going to learn.

In 2020, I’m definitely, definitely not starting any more campaigns.

Could someone hold me to that?


Bonus Ride

May 24, 2019

I had for some reason thought that things might get a bit calmer after PoP – a chance to chill out, catch up with some gardening, possibly even tidy the house (but let’s not go mad, eh?). Naturally that didn’t happen and this last week has been particularly bonkers as I’ve tried to combine a rash of tight deadlines, commitments I’d taken on in the intoxicating day and a half when I thought I might be about to have some spare time, and coordinating a non-Pop demo (of which more anon) which suddenly kicked up into high gear just as the sun came out and the countryside hit peak May in all its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it loveliness.

fresh green trees

So today was a bonus: one of the commitments I’d taken on was to lead a chilled ride out to lunch for a local cycling event and although the forecast was for it to be at best cloudy, the weather outdid itself.

I was leading a select bunch of nice people who were happy to ride at the speed of chat, and I was suddenly reminded just what an amazing place we happen to live in (especially at this time of year).

We stopped to climb a half-ruined tower and watch the house martins from above as they hoovered up insects and came into their nests

Drumcoltran tower

And we barely saw a car.

trees just coming into leaf

I still have a million things to do and I have no doubt that the few hours it took out of my day could have been more productively spent but I don’t regret it for an instant.

And now, back to the grindstone…


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.


Club 50-80

May 19, 2019

Anyone following along on Twitter will know that I managed to crack the code and get my £17 ticket to Inverness – meaning my £15 Club 50 membership has already paid for itself about 4 times over. I even managed to navigate the various hazards of late-running trains, tight connections and the late train home from Glasgow which can be lively* on a Saturday night.

Inverness itself was eye-opening. One of our latest projects for We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote is to try and understand how our streets can be redesigned to accommodate not just cycling but visually impaired and disabled people as well. We felt that the best way to do that was to go on an exploration together with a motley crew of blind people with guide dogs and white sticks, a young man in a wheelchair, and a handful of campaigners.

Inverness street sculpture

Public art or confusing obstacle? If all you have to go on is your white cane, this appears to be a flight of steps

At one point, with a pair of specs on that effectively rendered me completely blind, I had to put my own safety in the hands of one of our blind companions. I know that these sorts of simulations aren’t always considered all that illuminating (all I really learned was that I was completely incapable of moving anywhere without my vision, which I could probably have guessed) but it is a humbling experience to allow yourself to be led through the streets by someone who can’t see either but can navigate confidently and calmly and transmit that confidence to you. And, in a way I can’t quite put into words, it changed the whole dynamic of the discussion afterwards into something much more open and mutually illuminating. Maybe there’s something in those annoying trust exercises after all.

Looking at a dropped kerb

Kerb nerdery with a purpose

This is a work in progress, and we’ll be repeating the exercise in Glasgow and Edinburgh in a few weeks with different participant. Excitingly, this means that not only will I get a chance to deepen my understanding of what ‘streets for all’ really means in practice, but I’ll get to use my Club 50 card again. I knew my 50s were going to be fun. Just don’t expect to find me in the party carriage any time soon.

* Fortunately this time the party was going on in the other carriage; I was facing the other way so couldn’t see what was going on but, from the running commentary provided by a group of teenage boys who could see – indeed were craning their necks to make sure they didn’t miss any of it (‘she’s got her top off and she’s wearing a black bra’) – the group of women making most of the noise had lunched very well indeed.


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)