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.


Five* Go Mad** in Holland***

September 1, 2016

I’ve been up in Glesgae for a day’s adventure which I may get around to blogging about or I may not. But no time now because I have to pack and get an early(ish) night for tomorrow I’m off to Newcastle to get the ferry to Amsterdam with three of my cycle campaigning female buddies – for what will be a part study tour, part bonding exercise and hopefully a wholly fun trip. I’d be even more excited if the nature of my freelancing and cycle campaigning life didn’t mean I was going to have to lug my laptop along for the ride and find the odd hour or three here and there in between admiring bus stop bypasses and whatever else it is we will be doing. There may well be blogging too – or at least the odd over-excited tweet. And we will return on Tuesday refreshed, re-energised, and ready to take on the world.

Look out, Scotland …

* well, four but nobody really counts Timmy the dog.

** although, to be honest, we’ll probably end up being quite sensible. One of us even emailed around a packing list for the trip…

*** I know, I know, calling it Holland instead of the Netherlands is like calling Britain ‘England’ but it works better that way and besides Amsterdam actually is in Holland so that’s all right then.


September 23, 2015

Somewhat as a joke, I made a New Year’s Resolution not to start any more cycling organisations this year, having in the past four years got myself tangled up in the founding of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, Cycling Dumfries, Pedal on Parliament and the Women’s Cycle Forum. And then in June, buoyed by the success of a Family Bike Curious event, and possibly having had rather too much coffee and cake,* I was sitting in a room with a lot of cycling people discussing plans for the 2016 Holyrood elections.** We had just achieved the marvellous feat of getting about 20 cycling and active travel organisations to agree on 3 key priorities for politicians and cycling*** and it seemed to me that this was an opportunity too good to be missed. As nobody else was suggesting it, I wondered aloud whether we needed some sort of an umbrella campaign to help us present a united front. Encouraged by Suzanne Forup of the CTC, another person who doesn’t know to duck when an opportunity to do a lot of thankless work presents itself, I found myself mentioning that it would be a fairly simple matter to set up a website to co-ordinate things. And the next thing you know …

We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote

So far, all we have is a name, a logo, a Facebook page, a small budget, and a dawning realisation that things are about to get very, very busy.

If you’re in Scotland and you’d like to see more investment in active travel, infrastructure that anyone can cycle on, and safer roads for the most vulnerable, then please join us.

* If you want to get me to do something for you, inviting me out for coffee and cake is an excellent start. I get overexcited just at having left the house, and then the caffeine and sugar kicks in and the next thing I know I’ve got at least a pop up bookshop or a small origami publication on my hands, if not a full blown cycling campaign…

** I know, I know, but it turns out the time to start talking tactics about election campaigns is about a week after the last one. No wonder politicians are all a bit odd.

*** and if you’re not thinking that’s remarkable, then you don’t know more than one cyclist; in fact, leave a single cyclist in an empty room and when you come back you may find that they are disagreeing with themselves over the correct apparel, pedalling cadence, gear ratio, or indeed the best kind of cake…

Me and My Dog

March 4, 2015
my new dog. Cheaper to feed than a real one...

my new dog. Cheaper to feed than a real one…

Cycle campaigning takes you to some unexpected places – like the head of a huge crowd of cyclists in the heart of Edinburgh and meetings with ministers albeit not yet meetings of minds. But perhaps the most unexpected was when I found myself crouching on the floor of an artist’s studio (fortunately I had just been to yoga so was feeling extra bendy) painstakingly inching a wee paper dog along a paper pavement frame by frame by frame…

It all started with a throwaway idea that Pedal on Parliament should do a little animation to try and reach out beyond our core audience of people who already think cycling is the answer and what was the question? That lasted until I found out how much a short animation might cost (anywhere between ‘how much!?’ and ‘couldn’t you just build a cycle path for that and have done with it’). Clearly POP, funded as it is on t-shirt sales and home baking, wasn’t in that league. But then we got the opportunity to apply for some grassroots funding via the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, just as my pal and co-conspirator in other literary and artistic matters, Hugh Bryden, mentioned he was interested in developing his animation skills.

The cast of the PoP movie relaxing behind the scenes

The cast of the PoP movie relaxing behind the scenes

Cut a long story short, and after some back and forth with designs and storyboards and messing around with coloured paper, the basic animation was done and I went to see the first rough cuts. It all looked amazing, but there was one tiny flaw. The crucial thing that really gets people cycling, when all is said and done, is proper space for cycling, separated from the traffic by something more substantial than a line of white paint and the fond hope that drivers won’t cross it and squash any cyclists who might happen to be on the other side. Unfortunately Hugh had based one scene on a standard UK cycle lane: white paint, fond hope and all. One whole scene needed to be re-shot.

Oh no, where's the cycle track?

Oh no, where’s the cycle track?

Which was where I came in. Hugh had created all the characters and set up the studio, but his animation assistant had gone back to New York. I had to step into the breach and spend a whole afternoon helping to recreate a few short seconds of footage. Watch very carefully what follows, because if you blink you will miss it. And keep an eye on that wee dog.

(I think you’ll agree that Hugh’s goal of getting to grips with animation has been pretty comprehensively met)

Anyway, please do me a favour. I know many of you only put up with the cycling stuff in return for posts about rural life and my rubbish gardening exploits, but please do pass this on to anyone you know who you think might be interested, cyclists or not. In fact especially the not. We’re not trying to force everyone to cycle, willy nilly, just because we think it’s a good thing (although it is). We’re simply trying to build the sort of Scotland where people can cycle if they want to, because we think that makes life better for everyone. Even those who don’t ride a bike and never will…

The Squeaky Wheel

February 23, 2015

I was at a cycle campaigners’ day on Saturday up in Edinburgh which was not just a nice opportunity for me to stand up and talk rubbish at people who could neither interrupt nor politely leave,* but also to meet others who could talk sense about their own campaigns. In among the other speakers was a local politician who was there to tell us how best to influence local politicians (and no, you cynics, brown envelopes full of cash didn’t feature although given today’s headlines perhaps that’s where we’re going wrong). There are a lot of people who would like cycle campaigners to be more positive generally – back-pedalling somewhat on the whole cyclists getting squashed by lorries thing, not getting too shouty when misguided advertising campaigns attempt to foster mutual respect by accusing all cyclists of running red lights, and not simply pointing and laughing when councils release plans for cycle paths that send cyclists into the side of a bus stop. Obviously, politicians are usually included in this group; indeed we have had representations made to us that it was unfortunate that a minister got heckled at the last Pedal on Parliament but one because now they won’t want to come any more, the poor delicate wee flowers. To which I reply: have these people never had to go to a hustings in Glasgow? I mean seriously? You’re a Scottish politician and you don’t like to be heckled? Because being heckled is, in fact, your job.

Cleaned bicycle. Archive shot. No bicycles were actually cleaned in the making of this blog

Cleaned bicycle. Archive shot. No bicycles were actually cleaned in the making of this blog

So anyway, at this point, I was about to develop an elaborate metaphor about how I don’t clean and oil my chain when it’s purring along nicely telling me what a wonderful job I’m doing maintaining my bicycle, but wait until it’s bitching and moaning with every gear change about my dreadful neglect. And then I rode into to town today and I realised that in fact, I don’t oil it then either. I wait until it won’t get into the lowest gear when I need to get up the steepest hill into an icy headwind because of my neglect and THEN I promise that when I get home – if I get home – I will definitely oil it, and give the whole bike a good wash and brush up to boot.

Oh, and then I get safely home and forget all about it until just now. You may develop your own elaborate metaphor about the political process, poltiicans’ promises and the coming election if you like.

*I’m possibly the only person in the country who actually looks forward to doing a bit of public speaking. Don’t tell anyone though because it’s a bit embarrassing.

A Listening Administration

June 11, 2014

The gadding continues, although the end is in sight: yesterday I was in Edinburgh for the day, partially camapaigny stuff, but mostly meeting up for lunch and attempting to cram several years’ worth of catch up gossip with two old school friends into a couple of hours. Having talked ourselves almost hoarse, and finished with a cheeky half (at four in the afternoon! The decadence!) in the pub in the station, I got on the train home to find I had seated myself opposite the leader of the coonsil, also on his way home from what sounded like a much less fun afternoon.

He gave me the slightly hunted look all politicians must reserve for the moment when one of their local single-issue activists has managed to corner them somewhere with no hope of escape for at least an hour. He manfully managed to connect my face to my cause, which is pretty impressive, and even bravely raised the subject of cycling, but I had work to do and to be honest he looked pretty worn out and did mention quite sadly that the weekend before he had been at some event in Glasgow and ended up next to someone from the area who spent the whole evening moaning to him about the state of the schools. I suppose it’s par for the course – especially round here – and part of the job and all that but I’m just not ruthless enough to spend a whole train journey talking some poor local politician into the ground even in the cause of cycling. Plus I’m pretty sure that promises made under those conditions would count as ‘duress’…

So he got to have his journey in mostly peace and quiet, and I got a bit of work done as planned, and we left on good terms which will hopefully stand me in good stead when I really need to bend his ear over something. Or maybe I’m just going soft in my old age. Time will tell.

Sign here…

April 24, 2013

I will blog properly tomorrow – with holiday snaps and everything – but meanwhile if you’re a UK citizen or a UK resident could you take a moment to sign this please. It’s important.