Not Dead Only Sleeping

March 19, 2017

‘Have you given up blogging then?’ the other half inquired rather plaintively this morning (despite the fact that I’m not, and never will be, as funny as I was in 2005).

The fact is, there’s a sweet spot between not doing anything interesting to blog about, and not having enough time to blog about it, and I’m still overshooting it. I may, technically, have become less busy at the end of last week but that doesn’t seem to have translated into my having any more time. Maybe next week …

Part of the problem is that I’m still extricating myself from the clutches of the community council in the parish I no longer live in as even an appeal from the pulpit has not yet produced a willing volunteer to become secretary in my stead. That also means helping distribute the newsletter, which the Brompton and I duly did this afternoon.

newsletter delivery route

Oh okay, so maybe it wasn’t that much of a hardship on an early spring afternoon.


Chionodoxa luciliae

In other news, my birthday present to myself has arrived a few days early.

It is One Thing …

January 11, 2017

… to slog up the hill cycling home on a dark wet freezing afternoon from Bigtown, head down into the teeth of an icy headwind with the Met Office’s latest weather warning for wind and snow ringing in your head.

It is quite another to do so knowing that no sooner have you got in than you will have to turn around and head out again on the bike to Old Nearest Village, which has now become Really Too Far Away for Comfort on a Night Like This Village.

And it is an entirely third thing to head out into the cold and rain when the reason you’re heading out again is to act as secretary of the community council for a community you no longer live in because they haven’t found a replacement yet. Apparently the next stage, our Facebook call for volunteers having failed, is an appeal from the pulpit (to the congregation, I assume, I don’t think God interferes in community council appointments which are surely an ecumenical matter).

On the bright side, getting home and collapsing on the sofa in front of the fire with a whole pizza has never felt quite so justified. Or so sweet.

The Tarmac Fairy is Dead. Long Live the Tarmac Fairy

May 24, 2016

community council agenda

In my role as secretary of the community council (fortunately – or unfortunately* – ours survived the night of the long knives which saw 38 of them axed by the coonsil due to failure to fill in the correct paperwork in the right order, something which I predicted as far back as December when we realised the evilly bureaucratic genius of the process involved in not having your community council dissolved) I have received what I believe to be the ur-specimen of a coonsil email:

1. It has been openly copied to 53 separate email addresses (I think I probably have access to every email address in the county by now due to the coonsil’s inability to master the use of the bcc field), although to be fair, that’s actually quite parsimonious for a coonsil email distribution list.

2. The email itself says nothing much except to direct me to an attachment which I then have to download to read. There was nothing in the email to suggest that this might be quite an important and relevant email, in contrast to most of the other regular emails I get from the council which are almost entirely irrelevant. But then I suppose if the coonsil thinks that all the emails it sends are vitally important even the ones attaching a newsletter which summarises the feedback it’s had on its strategy for the consultation over its strategy for the proposed merging of social and medical care.**

3. On downloading the attachment, because I’m diligent like that, I discover it is written in pure coonsil (‘undernoted’ anyone?), but on careful parsing I realise it’s a road closure notice – for our own road, as it happens – for the period of a month (I might have been tipped off about this by the weekly email I get which tells me about road works across the whole of the county, but which is fairly useless to anyone who doesn’t know their U33Bs from their C25Ns and so I’ve stopped reading it with any real attention).

4. On further inspection, this road closure notice appears to be an arse-covering exercise on the part of the council who have decided they’re going to be mending the road at some point during the next month but aren’t sure when, so they’re just going for a blanket order so they can close the road when they need to, which is wonderfully convenient for them, but slightly less convenient for the people who actually live on the road. When it comes to following the letter rather than the spirit of the law, this coonsil wrote the book…

5. Just to add injury to insult (from a cyclist’s point of view) they’re not actually mending the road, they’re just surface dressing it.

6. And finally, if we have any comments, we have to respond ‘within five working days’. Which would be great, if the road closure wasn’t due to start the day after tomorrow.

I have sent them some full and frank feedback all the same.

* Encouragingly, at least one of the axed bodies has effectively gone feral and has been busy spending the money it had built up in its account on useful things like bus shelters so the coonsil can’t get its hands on it. I bet being secretary of a rogue community council involves a hell of a lot less paperwork and more actual doing stuff. I wonder how many guerrilla bike lanes we could have got installed before anyone stopped us …

** I really wish I was making that up.

Those who Help Themselves

January 11, 2016

Our new community council has been slowly bedding itself in (it’s a bit disconcerting realising I’m now one of the longest serving members) but I was pleased that when I emailed around on Friday to enquire if anyone knew how we should go about getting the village pavements cleared of snow and ice before it froze solid, the response was the setting up of a volunteer squad of snow shovellers within the village* – a development only slightly marred by the fact that the rain had set in before they could get to work and rather unsportingly washed it all away. Still, we stand ready to go out and shovel snow and distribute grit the moment we are needed, which if nothing else should guarantee a mild winter.

I may have inadvertently created a monster, though. Setting out for the paper this lunchtime after a rather rainy morning, I happened across a couple of our neighbours (one of whom is also on the community council) industriously digging out the drains on the road outside our house. Which is great, of course it is, and very public spirited of them, and they have managed to find the second drain into the field which has long since been silted up out of reach of even the most industrious stick poking. But I couldn’t help feeling in the furthest reaches of my soul that those were my drains that they were poking at, and why should they have all the fun?

* this is especially heartening considering that the standard British response to any suggestion that people might want to clear snow off the pavements is to worry that they might get sued

I Promised you Interesting Drainage News

January 4, 2016

… and I realise now I might have oversold it somewhat

But, for what it’s worth, we came back to find that our yard had mysteriously developed a small dyke on one side and a dam in the gate leading to the back – while our neighbour (who was away having a baby at the time) found that all of her stuff had been piled up at the back of the garage, presumably to get it out of the way of flooding in the yard. It means that when the burn at the side of the house bursts out of the confines of the ditch it runs through, it heads straight for the road rather than half of it pooling in our yard We can only assume that the landlords were busy over the break, for which we’re very grateful, or else someone has gone ahead and introduced some extremely resourceful beavers. It makes cycling home in the dark a little hazardous but into every life, a little* rain must fall.

flood_defences_1 flood_defences_2

Anyway, I’ve now more or less caught up with the local gossip in the village having cycled through it for the paper on Friday and bumped into various neighbours out and about, as well as attending the community council meeting. I was happy to meet the neighbour’s new baby, delivered safe and well, and saddened to hear that one of the people I regularly met out on the road had died over Christmas. He owned a mad sheep dog of the kind that would have your throat out if you looked at it wrong, and I think he was on a mission to walk it into submission because I’d see him out on the roads with it, often miles away from the village. He always had a cheery word for me when I cycled past him. In latter years we had stopped to chat on occasion, although it was always a bit strained as he would be occupied trying to stop the dog from chewing my leg off. As is so often the case, it was a few months before I realised I hadn’t seen him for a while, and by the time I found out the reason (and, indeed, his name) he was gone.

In other news, we heard at the community council that someone in the coonsil had finally taken decisive action over a spot of subsidence on the road that leads up to the village from Big A Road. Year after year, this has sunk down, and year after year it has been patched up by the addition of another layer of tar, in what must by now be a rich geological record. But this year, at long last, someone decided to stop papering over the cracks and sort this out for good and for all. So they have put up a sign. It says ‘dip’. So that’s all right then.

*little, please note, Weather Gods little

Politics Begins at Home

December 4, 2015

noticeboard treeYesterday, the chair of the community council and I met to work out what needed to be done to arrange an extraordinary general meeting of the council. We need to arrange an extraordinary general meeting of the community council because the new community council needs to agree to re-adopt the existing constitution of the community council. The community council needs to re-adopt the existing consistution within three months of being elected, otherwise it is not validly constituted and can be disbanded. It needs to re-adopt the existing constitution at either its AGM or an extraordinary general meeting, it can’t just do it at one of our scheduled community council meetings, because reasons. In order to have an extraordinary general meeting, we need to post notices not less than 15 days in advance but not more than 21 days (are you keeping up there at the back? I can go over it in more detail if you like…)

All this caused me to wonder out loud whether the system is designed to ensure that only the sort of people who a) bother to read constitutions, b) can work out what they mean and c) are detail-oriented enough to fulfil all the nitpicking obligations within them will survive as community council officers. And that this might not be entirely accidental, those being the people least likely to take it into their heads to cause trouble for the coonsil.

The UK, and particularly Scotland, has the largest local government areas in Europe, and it’s crying out for some real local self-determination. Unfortunately, community councils are not it, having, effectively, zero powers.* However, they can, with a little imagination, make a small difference to their areas, especially now that they are getting some money from windfarm payments (which the big council was helpfully offering to take off our hands and spend on our behalf, if we liked).

For that to happen, they need people with real leadership and the ability to get on and do things, regardless of whether they were the sort of thing the council had in mind for them to do. And in my experience, people who fit that description AND can manage all the constitutional extraordinary general meeting noticed period shenanigans are rare beasts indeed. I know I’m not one of them, but I’m trying to keep my head above water and tick enough boxes that we can avoid being disbanded and – more importantly – not spend all of our time jumping through bureaucratic hoops instead of actually changing the few small things it’s possible for us to change. That way we might be able to raise our sights a little higher than lobbying for a bus shelter on Big A Road, if it’s not too much trouble, some time before the waters close over our heads …

* I’m always amused (and saddened) when talking to Dutch people about things like rural speed limits and traffic in villages. They say things like ‘the villagers decided they didn’t want through traffic on that road so they closed it’. We say things like ‘after about 30 years of lobbying, this village finally managed to get the speed limit on the A-road that bisects it down to 40 mph’.

A Rural Tragedy, a Short Script for Two Voices

November 3, 2015

Me to other Half: That’s me off to the first community council meeting. All the office bearers have quit, so I just have to make sure I avoid getting lumbered with being secretary. The last thing I need is more paperwork, and the Coonsil insists on sending everything in hard copy, including printed-out emails with ‘click here for the link’ on them.

Other Half: Nightmare! Good luck

*time passes*

Me: Hello, I’m back!

OH: How did it go?


OH: You got made secretary didn’t you?

New Scriptwriters, Please

February 3, 2014

So community council night tonight, and I was a bit surprised to find the ‘police matters’ section conducted in an atmosphere of suppressed hilarity as it didn’t deviate much from its usual course (two police officers we’ve never seen before, nor will we ever see again, come in and introduce themselves as our community policepeople, tell us that there’s no reported crime in the parish, warn us about the latest wheeze among the rural criminal classes – currently wheely-bin towing, whereby young people in cars hang out of the passenger window to grab a wheely bin and then see how far they can tow it before abandoning it three miles down the road in a ditch – inform us that they haven’t found our statues yet, ask us if we’ve anything to report, and leave with relieved looks on their faces). It was only after they’d safely gone that the chair – having kept an admirably straight face throughout – asked if anyone else had noticed that they’d walked in and and officer one had greeted us with ‘Hello, hello, hello’, while officer two had added ‘evening all’…

It made a change from the usual agenda items of dog poo and potholes, I suppose.

Out of Sorts

October 8, 2013

Mostly, I manage to live my life in a nice generally-right-on vaguely greenish bicycle-shaped bubble. Pretty much everyone I follow or who follows me on Twitter has ‘cyclist’ in their bio, except for the ones who prefer to be known by the more politically correct ‘person on a bike’ (the rest are mostly poets and probably consider most of my more rabid cycling tweets to be some sort of extended metaphor about the cycle of life and anyway aren’t in any position to judge someone else’s eccentric lifestyle choices). And most of the people I know locally are also either writing people or green people or cycling people, with a few ticking multiple boxes. But occasionally I have to step out of my comfort zone and be reminded how the world really is, and that (here in the UK anyway) it’s completely dominated by the car to the point where even questioning whether that’s a good thing is considered a bit odd.

Take our community council meeting, for instance. Now, on the whole it’s a lovely community council: it’s not riven by disputes, it only spends 10% of each meeting discussing dog poo, most planning applications are uncontroversial, and generally we whip through the agenda at a brisk trot. We don’t even get too het up about wind farms. Last night was no different, except that we ended up discussing the issue of the purchase of a piece of land to create a larger car park for the (newly delivered – it looks pretty good too) school. The dropping off area outside the current school is too small for all the cars, so there is a bit of chaos (although not as bad as this – the staff supervise things fairly strictly), which means that the kids who walk (and the three who cycle) are at risk. So a new car park would, technically, make active travel more attractive although it would also of course make completely inactive travel even more so. And I can see their point – the catchment area of the school is pretty large, and while most of the roads are lovely and quiet, there are enough quarry lorries bombing up and down the road beside the school to make parents think twice about having kids cycle however much they may enjoy any one-off biking events (and no, we can’t stop the lorries from roaring through the village because, well because we just can’t, and we can’t even restrict them for an hour around the start and end of the school day, because when they’re mending the roads they need to be delivering tarmac and gravel all the daylight hours because you cannot hold up the mending of the roads and obviously that is more important than anything else). They are considering having parents park up near the village hall and walk down with their kids but that all seems a bit complicated and difficult compared with just buying a bit of field and tarmacking it. And – as the others said – a bigger car park would be an asset to the community. After all, when there are events on in the hall, there’s not enough space for everyone to park.

I didn’t say anything. Well, I did try and press the case for the ‘park and stride’ option and I may have made a small whimpering noise at the ‘asset to the community’ part, but I did manage not to just put my head on the table and give up. After all, I knew that every single member of the community council except for myself and one member who lives in the village, had driven there, mostly less than two miles. The thought of any of them choosing to walk or cycle to the village instead, even on a summer evening, let alone in October when the nights are drawing in, just seems totally improbable even to me. Looked at objectively, it’s not the community that’s wrong about welcoming the prospect of a new car park, it’s me. Not building a car park won’t suddenly make everyone cycle everywhere, or walk, or even arrange to share lifts down to the village. So I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself and so another little piece of the countryside risks getting tarmacked over in service of the great god car.

There is a school of thought even among cycle campaigners that the UK is so car-centric that there’s really no point investing in cycling because most of the population just won’t countenance the idea. I’m not quite sure what lesson we’re supposed to take from that (give up? Start looking for a new planet? Move to the Netherlands?) so mostly I choose to ignore it. After all, in the cities where there has been investment in cycling, rates have increased markedly. Give people the facilities, and they will come. Even in Bigtown, you see more and more people on bikes using them simply to get around. But every so often, I am brought up short by the realisation that here and now, to most of the population of my own country, I am, in fact, a weirdo, and I should remember that fact. A tolerated, indulged, even occasionally admired weirdo, but a weirdo nonetheless.

All Politics is Local

May 30, 2013

From the (not very) sublime to the (only faintly) ridiculous – having trod the corridors of power on Tuesday, Monday will see me back at the community council, discussing – I feel sure, because the village speaks of nothing else these days – potholes*. Oh and bus shelters, but that’s another story.

That said, while meeting with the minister leaves you with nothing but the dawning realisation that you have been fobbed off, the community council would appear to wield more power. For with the meeting looming and the agenda distributed, lo and behold we have had another visit from the tarmac fairy along our road, the road that, coincidentally, 50% of the community council will drive down to attend the meeting. And this time she has actually managed to lay some relatively flat tarmac, rather than the usual dropped-from-a-spade-and-trod-down-will-this-do job.

It doesn’t exactly amount to a properly fixed road, but it reduces the chances of me personally flying off my bike and landing in a patch of nettles by approximately 50%.

Safer cycling, indeed

* With a possible side excursion into dog poo