If I Ever Go on Mastermind…

April 7, 2017

… My specialist subject can be ‘Scottish local authority election candidates, May 2017’

We have finally got the Walk, Cycle, Vote candidate database up and running, complete with funky mapping based ward finder courtesy of the other half, and we’re on the hunt for contact details for all the candidates (and there are over 2,500 of them). This is surprisingly difficult. You would think that, were you running for office, that you would want to let your electorate know what your policies were and how they might contact you, but you would largely be wrong. We have someone on the case truffling out the various twitter accounts, Facebook pages and websites-that-haven’t-been-updated-since-2015. And I’ve been doing the checking, data munging (it is a word) and generally falling down a rabbithole of wondering why some local parties’ Facebook pages need to have a description on them saying that THIS is the official Facebook page and we should ignore anything with a similar name that isn’t the official Facebook page and not believe anything that’s on it.

We also had a brilliant Women’s Cycle Forum Hustings in Glasgow at the brilliant Glasgow Women’s Library, with loads of brilliant and interesting and passionate women, but I haven’t had time to write it up yet, so you’ll just have to believe me.

The election is in less than a month (and Pedal on Parliament is in just over a fortnight). I don’t know whether to be relieved that the end is in sight, or panic, so I’m alternating between the two.


Binge Gardening

April 5, 2017

We had gardening pals around for lunch today, who very kindly came bearing surplus seeds as I have neither bought any myself nor managed to get to the regular seed swap organised by the local guerrilla gardening group.

As well as the pleasure of their company, inviting them round also gave me the spur I needed to put some hours in on Sunday catching up with myself in the garden.

Veg plot in AprilNotice the veg plot now has proto hare-defences, created out of the hazel sticks and some willow that we cut back earlier in the year. In my head, this was going to be one of those Pinterest-worthy rustic woven fences, but it’s perhaps not quite as impressive (nor indeed likely to be as hare-proof) as I’d hoped. The main problem being that I didn’t have enough suitable material for weaving in, but as we have two largeish willow pollards in the garden, there will be more where that came from. Also, I am avoiding putting any of the willow actually in the ground as I don’t want my fence to turn into a line of willow trees the moment I turn my back on it, which willow is prone to do (even if stuck in upside-down, apparently)

As for the rest, well, we’re still seeing what’s coming up so that’s my excuse for not getting to grips with the other parts of the garden. I was pleased to discover that what I had thought were peonies are in fact hellebores

hellebores

And I’ve long wanted wood anemones, and suddenly I have a nice little clump of them. Not quite in the right place, but I can help to spread them.

wood anemones

Of course, some other less-welcome plants are popping up too

nettles emerging

A reminder not to let everything get too behind hand …


Exciting Gas Pipeline News

April 1, 2017

Look, we live in the country, we have to take our excitement where we find it …

It turns out that the gas pipe being put in on my route to Bigtown is no ordinary gas main – they are effectively dualling the main gas pipeline to Ireland (which might be interesting come Brexit) at a cost of around €92m.

On the ground, that translates into an impressive swathe through the landscape.

gas pipeline works

So far the workers seem a friendly bunch (with impeccable road manners too). I particularly like it when they’ve held up all the cars to move some impressive piece of machinery across the road, but just wave me on my bike through…

If you’re interested in how gas pipelines are laid – stop laughing at the back there, I don’t see that it’s unreasonable – then you can read all about the project here. But rest assured, I will keep you posted on progress anyway, whether you’re interested or not.


To Do List

March 31, 2017
sunlight and shadows on the field

No reason for including this photo, except that I do love the way the sunlight moves over the landscape and picks out the contours in this field

I was awake this morning at 2am with a list of all the things I had to remember to do today churning around in my head (I actually got up and wrote the list … it’s the only way to get back to sleep if you’re plagued by this sort of thing). And then I’ve been on the go from the moment I actually got up – one of those days that just feels a bit relentless, with every new email a new thing to do. It reminds me of when I had a proper job as a manager and often I would get into work at 8:30 and open my email then spend the time until 6:30 just reacting to stuff until it was time to go home, without having done any of the things I’d hoped to get done in the intervening ten hours (if anyone was wondering why I might quit a well-paying job in a fantastic institution, well, that’s your answer).

I’m not complaining – I have brought this on myself, and I’m doing something I feel passionate about, and it’s only for the next few weeks, and I’m working with a great group of fellow campaigners whose enthusiasm and energy is brilliant and amazing even as it generates ever more stuff that needs to be done. And it helps that, for the last three days the rain has been equally relentless so I have felt absolutely no resentment at being chained to the computer alternately answering emails and looking at lists of local authority candidates (which is more interesting than it sounds, but only slightly).

Freshly laid tarmac

But the problem is I had resolved to try a new route on the bike every month this year, and somehow it’s already the last day in March. And all I had time for this afternoon was a dash up to New Nearest Village to pick up a prescription. This might mean a new stretch of road, but only in the sense that the tarmac had been freshly laid, not a new route

But, with the sun finally putting in an appearance, I did realise that I had an opportunity to do the tiniest bit of exploring along a road that leads out of the village and through a tiny hamlet past the school. So I took it.

The road not yet taken

As new routes go, ‘detouring half a mile out of your way’ is a box-ticking exercise that the coonsil would be proud of, but what can I say, needs must when the devil drives.

sun and clouds

I shall do better in April, I hope. But don’t count on it.


Some Politics is More Local than Others

March 29, 2017

As my twitter timeline went into meltdown over the triggering of Article 50, I was busy concentrating on some rather more local politics. For today was not just momentous/disastrous (delete as applicable silently in your head and don’t feel you have to tell me in the comments) for Brexit, it was also the day nominations closed for the Scottish local elections, blowing the starting whistle on the Walk Cycle Vote campaign.

So today has mostly been spent starting to get a mass of unruly data into something that will ultimately become our candidate database – and marvelling at the vagaries of local politics. This, it appears, gets progressively more idiosyncratic the further you are from the centre, with some of the outlying parts of Scotland eschewing party politics altogether, and others featuring a bewildering array of independents (if anyone would like to explain to me the difference between aligned and unaligned independents I’d be grateful). Interestingly, while some council wards are hotly contested, with ten or more candidates battling it out for just three seats, in others candidates have already been elected unopposed. I hope you’re happy with the coonsil, people of South Kintyre, because you aren’t going to get a chance to tell your candidates at the ballot box this time around. Shame it’s too late to get a Cycling Party together in time for the nominations.

And, talking of rotten boroughs, today was an even more momentous day in local politics as someone has finally come forward to be secretary of Old Nearest Village community council. Oh frabjuous day. I don’t know her, but she knows me – for as I rang her up to seal the deal before she got cold feet, she asked me if I’d been out on my bike on such a grim day. Clearly my reputation precedes me …


Two Wheels Good

March 26, 2017

Bike Nation by Peter WalkerWell, as a bike lover and a book addict, there’s really very little to beat being sent a free copy of a book about bikes, and, more particularly a book about how bikes can save the world.

The possibly inaptly named Peter Walker is a Guardian journalist and he also runs the Guardian bike blog (which has hosted me from time to time). He’s generally a reasonable voice on Twitter, too, which is harder than it sounds in the occasionally febrile world where bike politics and 140 characters coincide. And he’s written the book that, as cycle campaigners, we’ve often wanted: a steady canter through the evidence underpinning just how much benefit cycling brings, whether it’s looking at your own health, to childhood happiness, to prosperity. Sure, we’ve been banging on about this for the last decade, but somehow it’s more convincing in an actual book, laid out in measured prose, with a bibliography and everything. Something to give to people to show them that it’s not just bike fanatics and (dread phrase) ‘avid cyclists’, that will benefit from investment in cycling, but everyone, even those who (poor sods) never actually get to ride one.

It’s all here: the evidence that cycling makes us healthier, how bikes can improve social justice, the benefits to the economy, the need to build decent infrastructure. In truth, if you’ve spent a lot of time reading bike blogs – or have ever been backed into a corner by me at a party after you unwisely asked why I was so keen on cycling – then there’s not much here that’s going to be startlingly new. As a good journalist, Walker has dug deeper into the stories behind the well-known facts, like the bereaved family behind the Dutch die-ins that changed the Netherlands’ policy direction away from the disastrous dependence on cars in the 70s that we blindly continued on with. It’s engagingly and sensibly written. It even manages to navigate the choppy waters of the issue of bike helmets without making the reader lose the will to live.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in public health, social justice, green issues, and even cycling. But for me, my main interest in it isn’t so much the information it contains – it’s about getting it into the hands of people who can make a difference on these matters. That’s why, when we were discussing rewards for the Pedal on Parliament crowdfunder I suggested that we include this book as one of them – but with a slight twist. Rather than send it to the PoP supporter themselves, who will likely know much of what it contains, we’re offering to send it to the politician or official of their choice.* So far 16 have been taken, but I think that there could be many more policy makers in Scotland who would benefit from having this brought to their attention

For the rest of you – assuming that no Scottish politicians or policy makers actually read this blog – it’s coming out in April and you’ll have to pay for it yourselves.

* As soon as the crowdfunder closes, we’ll be liaising with the relevant supporters to spread them out a bit, to make sure that they don’t ALL end up outside the Scottish Transport Minister’s door.


What Lies Beneath

March 25, 2017

So, I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to discover how the manky pink carpet experiment has been getting on.

carpet-covered veg bed

Well, as it happens, due to a rare confluence of events that meant I was not required to be in a random Scottish city this weekend, combined with a slight lull in the immediate pressure of POP preparation (but there’s still time to contribute to our crowd funder, just saying), and a day promising sunshine and light winds, gave me the perfect (indeed, possibly the only) opportunity to find out. In fact, I would have been hard pressed not to spend today out in the garden, given the gloriousness of the weather.

potatoes chitting

So far this year, my entire preparation for growing veg has been a half-hour trolley dash through potato day (top tip: label your seed potato bags before you pick your potatoes, and then put them in alphabetical order for maximum efficiency), and chitting my seed potatoes. I knew that the carpet hasn’t been down long enough to properly deal with the weeds or let the organic matter break down, but spring waits for nobody, and I decided to open up the first bed and put my first and second earlies in today.

veg bed uncovered

If I’d been hoping that underneath there had been a magical transformation into wonderful friable rich soil, I would have been disappointed, but if I’ve learned anything in gardening these past few years it’s to manage my expectations, so I was just pleased to discover that the grass it had covered up wasn’t just sitting there unscathed. There are still some clumps hanging in there to deal with, and a lot of the coarser plant material hadn’t broken down yet, but there was also a fairly healthy population of worms. So the carpet has saved me a lot of digging, although I suspect come later in the season when I’m battling the weeds that did survive, I will wish I’d been more patient

Fortunately potatoes have a fierce determination to grow and will do so even in a light-proof plastic bin so I suspect they will manage anyway (that said, I note that last year I was still putting potatoes in at the end of April, which might explain why we had such a rubbish crop – I had forgotten that. Clearly you can push even a seed potato too far.)

Anyway, given that I haven’t even bought any seeds yet, he rest of the bed can remain under the carpet for now, hopefully mulching down into something marvellous. Meanwhile the now-spare carpet has been moved up to where the fruit cage will be, which is currently about 50% nettle roots by volume. I don’t think we’ll be planting our raspberry canes there for a while …

potatoes planted

What with all the digging, lugging about of heavy stuff and general hard labour, I feel a bit broken now, but it does feel good to have got started for the season.