101 Uses for a Brompton: Discovering that Some Things Haven’t Changed

October 30, 2020

In this strangest of years, it’s good to know that some things haven’t changed. It’s an iron law of life around here that almost any interaction where favours are being exchanged must involve some form of baked goods (in summer, garden produce may be substituted).

Exhibit A: today’s journey to drop off our second string ice cream maker. We bought this at the local charity-shop-which-does electrical-items (not to be confused with the charity-shop-with-a-good-selection-of-knitting-needles, the charity-shop-that-always-has-decent-books or the charity-shop-where-someone-knits-little-cosies-for-its-mugs – I’m sure the charities involved all support good and noble causes but it’s their stocking policies which tend to count most when I’m actually buying something) a couple of years ago and have since upgraded to a bigger and better one.

I was going to take it back to the charity shop (by which I mean putting it in the special place of things awaiting the trip to the charity shop, where it would probably still be when the earth finally fell into the sun, along with the curtains that were in the spare bedroom when we moved in and our Antarctic expedition padded jackets which may well get resurrected as going-out-for-lunch jackets the way things are going). But a fellow cyclist expressed an interest in having it at our last group ride and today there was a sufficient window in the weather to load up the Brompton basket with the help of a couple of cunningly deployed bungees and set off into Bigtown.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to then be presented with some home-made biscuits in return, which was very nice, albeit unnecessary (especially as we have a new shiny ice-cream maker which the other half is busy testing out). I then headed to some other friends who are moving house, to have a rummage through their surplus books (outside of course) and parlayed a couple of the biscuits into further baked goods, in the form of flapjacks and brownies, before pedalling my well-gotten gains home.

I’m often asked by baffled locals why I ride a bike when a car would be quicker, safer, and on most days and most journeys drier. There are many reasons which I’ve covered here before, but the one that makes most sense to those I’m talking to is that it allows me to maintain my cake-based lifestyle. Or these days, my cake- biscuit- and ice-cream-based lifestyle…

101 Uses for a Brompton: Media Stardom

September 5, 2020

Top tip for cycle campaigners – don’t send out a news release that will unexpectedly capture the attention of the local media on the morning the carpet fitter is due to arrive and spend all morning making banging noises upstairs just as you’re supposed to be recording a vaguely coherent WhatsApp voice message to the local radio station (my new least favourite way of interacting with the local media, worse even than posing for a sadface in the local paper, arms crossed in true Angry People in Local Papers style).

It turns out that spending a couple of hours counting bikes on Bigtown High Street and then pointing out that there might be more people shopping by bike (and fewer illegally abandoning their cars in the pedestrianised town centre) if it wasn’t actually impossible to cycle from the main cycle path to the High Street due to the one-way system has media legs on a quiet news day (frustratingly Bigtownshire Council actually decided to exempt bikes from the restrictions about two years ago and got as far as doing the traffic order, when someone raised the issue of street clutter (because giant 4x4s littering your pedestrianised street aren’t street clutter but a small blue sign with a bike on it is) and the whole thing got put on hold until after the outcome of the last High Street rejuvenation project but one, and then apparently filed under ‘too difficult’).

one way sign

Also apparently not ‘clutter’

Anyway, the upshot was that the local TV news decided they wanted to do a piece about it. Unfortunately this meant Friday’s plan to ride down to some local friends for a leisurely lunch and inspection of their village’s new allotment project turned into a bit of a logistical headache that ended with the Brompton in the boot of the car so that we could fit it all in and I would still be able to show up for the interview on a bike (I did cycle it home, so it wasn’t entirely cheating). Cue an hour spent not just being interviewed but the Brompton and I and a fellow campaigner being filmed riding up (but not down, that being illegal) the High Street and, most importantly, observing social distancing (‘we have to include at least one shot that shows how far away I stood from you during the interview, otherwise we get emails’ the reporter explained – I told him it didn’t matter because their inbox would be so full of people complaining that neither of us was wearing a helmet). They even got in the shot of the bike wheel spinning and coming to a stop, without which no local TV segment on cycling is complete.

Whether any of this will make it onto the actual tellybox depends on there being anything more interesting happening over the weekend (national paint-drying championships, anyone?) but at least the Brompton got its moment in the spotlight, something it has missed with POP being cancelled this year.

New allotments

I can remember when all this was fields …

There was no time to take any photos of the TV shenanigans, so have some of the new allotments instead. Not bad for something that was a ploughed field this spring. Perfectly timed for lockdown …


101 Uses for a Brompton: Blueberry Matchmaking

May 31, 2020

I’m not exactly an avid shopper at the best of times so I wasn’t expecting to be one of those racing down to the nearest garden centre as they reopened in Scotland this weekend. But it turns out that we had an urgent plant need, as I can explain. Well over a year ago we bought a blueberry bush on something of a whim during Potato Day (I know, it’s not a potato, but all sorts of garden related paraphernalia can be picked up if you can get past the fleece-clad hordes). Ultimately, we will be building a fruit cage, in the fullness of time, but for now the blueberry bush has been planted outside the greenhouse alongside a couple of gooseberry bushes that sort of fell into our trolley when we were going round a garden centre.

Last year the blueberry bush didn’t produce any fruit but that was because a hare had thoughtfully and methodically removed each of the flowering branches while we sat and watched it do it; hares eat what they like in our garden as regular blog readers will be aware. This year the hares have left the bush alone – they’re surprisingly fickle about their preferences – but although it has been flowering, it has not set any fruit and I recently read that blueberries either need or prefer some cross pollination from another bush.

Brompton with blueberry bush

So, with garden centres opening – and our blueberry window of opportunity closing it was time to saddle up the Brompton (mainly because of its capacious front basket) and head off to find a partner for our lonely blueberry bush.

It helped that it was a lovely day.

blue skies

Naturally, I took the scenic route.

trees overhanging road

Once at the garden centre, having negotiated the new rules (every customer was issued with a basket as well as any trolley ‘because we’ve got 70 baskets and that’s how many people are allowed inside’) I headed (almost) straight for the fruit bush section (a bottle of citrus feed may just have fallen into my basket as even Bob Flowerdew on Gardener’s Question Time said it was worth buying and he’s someone even less likely than me to spend actual money on something that could possibly be brewed from old nettles and repurposed car tyres). Unlike Potato Day, no sharp elbows were required – everyone was on their absolute best behaviour, like children who are being taken on a long-awaited treat but only if they are very very good – indeed, there was so much ‘after youing’ things almost came to a halt in places. A flowering blueberry bush was swiftly located and loaded into the Brompton and I was able to pedal back at moderate speed* to unite the new lovers at last. I can only hope their union proves a fruitful one.

* I can only apologise to the young lad walking his mountain bike up our road, on the way home. Being outclimbed by a middle aged woman must have been bad, being outclimbed by one on a Brompton with half a shrubbery in her front basket can only have burned. I hope he would be comforted to know that I was a woman on a mercy mission. And he’s now prepared for a lifetime cycling in the Bigtownshire area where being out-cycled by people twice your age only stops when you yourself are old enough to be the one doing the outriding. Even the wiry old boys had to start somewhere…

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet

November 4, 2019

So I thought I had my current trip to Edinburgh well planned – I’m attending a conference at Murrayfield, with a workshop that started at 1, giving me a nice amount of time to take my usual train (getting in to Haymarket at 11:30), drop the Brompton off at the nearby Brompton dealers to get its mudguard sorted and various niggles ironed out, and then walk down to my afternoon session. It’s safe to say it didn’t quite work out like that – and not just because the Edinburgh Monsoon still seems to be in full swing. For a start, there was that fact that ‘a few niggles’ on a Brompton that has been somewhat taken for granted by its Bad Brompton Owner for the last few years translates into How Much?! and then some, and then some more. And for another start, there’s the fact that I hadn’t quite readjusted my mental scale for walking distances rather than cycling distances so once I was Bromptonless and trudging through the pissing rain, what had felt like it might be a nice leg-stretching walk quickly (or, rather, slowly) became a route march. It didn’t help that Murrayfield Stadium is huge and when it’s not holding an actual rugby match, quite hard to get into without walking about three-quarters of the way round it in the wrong direction in the pissing rain (did I mention it was raining? It was raining). Which is why I ended up at my workshop late, damp, and with VERY strong opinions about the need for better pedestrian wayfinding.

But that’s not even the worst of it. The worst of it was discovering that the train from Lockerbie – the one that connects reasonably nicely with the bus, that means I can get into Edinburgh for a late morning meeting or lunch without getting up at silly o’clock, the one that everyone in Bigtown uses if they’re heading up to Embra – that train is going to be no more from mid December. Instead, we can get the 8:30 train (and pay peak fare) or we can wait until after 12 for the next train. And it seems there’s nothing anyone can do about it, because that’s the mad way we run our train service in this country.

I’ve been feeling recently a vague sense that, at least in Scotland, the powers that be have started to – just a little bit – get the idea that we can’t just keep providing for car drivers and letting everyone else have the scraps. And then something like this comes along – effectively removing a key sustainable transport link between a major town and the Scottish capital – and it seems we just have to accept that’s the way it is.

Funnily enough, a few months ago, I sat through a long meeting about how transport links to Lockerbie could be improved, the subtext of which was ‘how can we avoid building a multistory car park to serve the train station because that’s clearly ridiculous in a town the size of Lockerbie’. Nobody thought to mention it at the time, but it would seem that TransPennine Express have had the cunning idea of cutting down the demand by not running any decent trains, so everyone will end up just throwing up their hands and driving direct to Edinburgh instead.

Remind me how we’re tackling that climate emergency again?

101 Uses for a Brompton: Transmuting Spiderplants

October 25, 2019

I’ve had a bit of a work crunch on these last 10 days or so, with a tight work deadline combined with events in Edinburgh and Glasgow and a big consultation exercise on the Scottish National Transport Strategy to respond to (because we know how to party in the Town Mouse household). So obviously, one of my number one priorities was to spend time photographing just some of our growing army of spider plants and posting them on Bigtown’s newly created bartering group online.

baby spider plants

I joke, but it was becoming a matter of growing urgency as we were in danger of becoming overwhelmed by them. We bought one spider plant about three years ago, after we decided that our new-to-us bathroom storage unit looked wrong without a plant sitting on it. Pretty soon the spider plant started doing what spider plants do, which is the same thing rabbits do, but without the need for another spider plant to get the process going.* I’m a sucker for planting up the babies because they look a bit desperate just hanging there, but I always forget that the first thing the babies do once they’re settled in is start creating babies of their own, so we’re on about our third generation now.

Anyway, amazingly – because you’d think the world would have enough spider plants for everyone to have at least one by now – there were takers, and after a trip down to Bigtown in the Brompton (plant transporter of choice), two of the spider babies have been transmogrified into a nice sanseveria, with further offers of a peace lily and a couple of aloe veras still in the bartering pipeline.


In fact the whole bartering group has proved to be something of a delight: a simple idea that appears to have taken off among the good people of Bigtown in an unexpected way. Quite a few people are using it just to get rid of stuff without wanting anything in return (‘space in my house’) but it’s been fun to watch some of the more creative swaps actually take shape – as well as the emergence of packs of coffee and chocolate bars as an ersatz currency.

The only slight downside is I’m now feeling a little bereft, as gaps appear on the windowsill where the spiderlings once sat and others are earmarked for swaps. Still, as long as I don’t get rid of the motherplant, that’s a problem that will quickly solve itself.

What would you barter?

* I used to volunteer for a charity which used to help old people who’d lost control of their gardens, back when we lived in London. One old couple had made the mistake of planting out a spider plant to see what happened. There was basically nothing else growing in their garden, and every nook and cranny was filled with spider plants. You’d think I’d have taken this as a Dreadful Warning but apparently not.

101 Uses for a Brompton: Wool Transport

November 6, 2018

When my cousin announced that he’d found me some potential yarn bombing supplies I thought I’d save him a trip to the post office and pick them up when I was in Edinburgh on my travels this weekend. Wool, after all, is fairly light and squashable so I was sure I could squeeze it into my bag and transport it with me as I ran one workshop and then travelled to Dundee for a little light troublemaking and a conference.

What he hadn’t quite conveyed to me was the scale of his find…

bag of wool

Not quite three bags’ full …

Bromptons don’t really have a huge carrying capacity, at least compared to the big bike, so it took some ingenuity (and a willingness to look a bit like a bag lady, albeit one with impeccable taste in bikes) to work out how to attach the bag of wool to the back of my backpack and cycle along with it hanging behind me. This was made extra exciting by a massive tailwind down Princes Street (it’s always … interesting … when you apply the brakes and put your feet down, only for the bike to continue moving forward of its own volition). It also added a certain something to the ride over the Tay Bridge and definitely something to the climb up to the Tay Bridge, the lift being out for repair.

Dundee has come on a bit since my last visit and now has a shiny new museum you can cycle under, Rijksmuseum-style, meaning the connection between the station and the waterfront is much improved albeit still involving crossing five lanes of traffic. It’s still got a long way to go before it can truly be said to be the livable city its powers-that-be seem to want it to be, but as I found out yesterday evening, it also has a group of campaigners who seem determined to help push those powers-that-be into fulfilling its promise (I also learned last night that Dundee has a great fondness for penguins, something of which I fully approve). Watch, as they say, this space …

V and A sign

Anyway, wool, Brompton and I are now all safely home again along with a bonus potplant from my uncle, because when you’re already transporting large quantities of wool on a small bike, a miniature potplant is neither here nor there. All I have to do now is find some sort of suitable yarnbombing project to make use of my newly acquired loot. Perhaps even penguin-related …

new pot plant

101 Uses for a Brompton: A little light mischief

February 14, 2018

I think I mentioned I had a small intervention planned – and last night saw me heading out on the Brompton with a fellow conspirator, a stencil and two cans of entirely temporary and not at all vandalistic chalk sprays to do my first ever (and I suspect last) spot of tagging.

It was all for a good cause – lovebombing the cycle paths of Bigtown for We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote, in an idea that made absolutely perfect sense to me when it popped into my brain in September. As the date got nearer and the thought of heading out to do something that would look from the outside very much like graffiti-ing things, I have to admit I got rather cold feet on the idea, but others seemed to think it was a good idea and I had a partner in not-actually-crime who was keen and so off we went into a freezing cold night to share the cycling infrastructure love.

pink spray on boots

Graffiti on the cycle paths officer? What makes you think I had anything to do with it?

Anyway, it turns out that if you’re standing on a bridge in some parts of Bigtown late at night, apparently blatantly spray painting it, then passers by take it in their stride, with nothing more than a faintly amused note to their ‘allright?’ as they pass on by (it was the other half, blamelessly sitting in the car doing the Sudoku as he waited for me to finish, who attracted the curiosity of the police).

ILOH in orange

I’d post some daylight pictures of the resulting work, but the weather today looked like this pretty much the whole day, so you’ll have to wait.

snow on window

This is what happens when you look out of the window and say ‘it’s snowing a bit but it’s not really trying that hard’

And now I’m very much relieved the whole thing is over. Just in time to head down to London for another #5goMad adventure. Watch this space.

101 Uses for a Brompton: Going Singing

January 31, 2018

As I mentioned, I’ve been trying out a new choir (if it was the sort of choir where it was the other way round, I’d probably not have got very far, but they claim to be able to work with ‘the voice you have’ …). The main reason for choosing this choir, which is in Notso Bigtown (there are others which are nearer) is because a pal and ex choir member from Old Nearest Village found out about it and offered to give me a lift there and back. But this means her first driving five miles in the wrong direction to our house and then turning around to go back past her house on our way out. Clearly this is just dispiriting, even in a car, so after trying a few cunning alternative routes which turned out to be slower, I decided the easiest thing would be to ride the Brompton down to hers, at least on evenings when it isn’t snowing, pissing down or hailing frogs, all of which seem equally likely given the weather we’ve had recently (snowing again today, thank you, although none of it seems to have stuck around). It cuts out at least one of the unnecessary journeys, and crucially it’s almost all downhill, so it doesn’t feel like anything but a pleasure on my part.

So last night, I zoomed happily down the hill, blessing my new C&B Seen lights (which I should probably review one of these days), and arriving feeling refreshed and ready to head off for a happy evening of singing, and learning, and generally not looking at a screen, which is all good.

Even better is the fact that we pass through the village on the Big A Road that has recently had two Stoplights of Shame installed. These are amazing. If you’re detected doing more than 30 as you get into the village outskirts, they turn red on you and you have to sit there for all to see, having saved precisely no time. Instant karma. There was of course an almighty fuss when they were first installed and they were taken down to be tweaked after people complained they were stopping people who weren’t speeding, but they’re now back up again and working a treat. I have to admit I love the wonderfully sedate pace everyone now adopts through the village (there might even have been some unholy cackling), at least until the last SoS is negotiated. Why we don’t have these installed everywhere I have no idea. They’re bloody brilliant.

And the choir? Well they seem to be coping with the voice I have, which is only really an alto in the sense that I can’t hit any of the higher notes, rather than being particularly comfortable in the lower ranges. We’re learning some quite challenging-to-me stuff, but so far we have always managed to pass through the ‘God we’ll never get this’ stage, to the ‘hang on, that sort of makes sense’ stage to the ‘oh wow actually that managed to sound quite good’ part, at least for a line or two. And no being singled out or shamed, at least unless my pal puts her foot down on our way home.

101 Uses for a Brompton: Coffee-Cup Holder

January 11, 2018

For a long time I have regretted that trips with my Brompton by train – requiring as they do two hands to lug both Brompton and Brompton basket up and down stairs – have precluded being able to drink coffee on the train, because obviously I can’t drink train coffee, and neither can I buy a cup of coffee at the station to take with me on the train.

But now – thanks partly to Blue Planet and the current tide of anti-plastic feeling – things have got better. Not (yet) for the poor baby albatrosses, but at least for me because I got a giveaway keep cup at the end of last year, and also you can now ask for your coffee in it without the embarassment of being That Person.

So behold, a Brompton with on-board coffee.

Brompton basket with coffee cup

So excited was I by this new development that I totally forgot to pick up any sugar so my enjoyment of the coffee wasn’t exactly unalloyed. Still, the technology worked and a world of productive train journeys has opened up ahead of me

Anyway, here I am in Inverness allegedly for cycle campaigning reasons but possibly also because I wanted to visit Leakey’s Bookshop (and test my new coffee carrying technology, obviously). Unfortunately, for reasons which really are too humiliating* to go into, I shall be visiting with almost no cash and no means to get hold of it until I get home.

This might actually be for the best.

* Put it this way – don’t attempt to efficiently sign your new debit card and cut up and get rid of your old one while you’re very jetlagged after 24 hours of travelling when the new debit card looks very like the old debit card. Just saying.

In the Midst of Life

August 24, 2017


It has been a week for contemplating mortality – a graveyard tour of Bigtown last Friday (genuinely more fun than it sounds), and then I had to travel to York on Tuesday for the funeral of a good friend’s father.

I took the Brompton – something I ummed and ahed about, because I didn’t want to make a spectacle of myself on a solemn occasion but, after looking at Google maps and checking with the locals, I decided that I could get to both York crematorium and the hotel where the event-that-happens-after-funerals-that-doesn’t-seem-to-have-a-name was to be held looking reasonably respectable and without needing the services of the crematorium myself. It saved me messing about ordering taxis or working out buses, and as it happened I arrived at the hotel almost before anyone else, despite taking a massive detour to stick to the cycle paths as much as possible. York’s on-again-off-again cycling infrastructure (now it’s a shared path! Now it’s a pavement! Now it’s on the other side of the road! Now it’s paint on the road! Now it’s under a skip!) did enough to remind me of my own mortality without leaving me seriously fearing for my life, there was even cycle parking at both venues, and the main problem turned out to be that I had dressed for August in Scotland (bordering on autumn) and was cycling in August in England (Gas Mark 5), so had to do a hasty spot of delamination in the loos before the service. I had the bonus of a native guide to get me on the right road through York’s somewhat confusing city centre, and a reasonable map to get me back to the station, and in the end it all went extremely smoothly even if I did feel like I was indeed being That Person, the one who insists on turning up everywhere on a bike to make a point.

And in truth, although I might frame it as being entirely a practical decision about a mode of transport, there was another reason for taking the Brompton with me, which probably weighed the strongest. On a day that was inevitably about sadness and loss, about death and the past, simply being able to get on a bike and just move was exactly what I needed to do.

engraved stone

For in the midst of life, we are indeed in death. And in the midst of death, we are also still alive.