Getting Off at Haymarket

August 8, 2018

So I thought I had worked out Haymarket. After several episodes when I have confidently headed in any number of wrong directions, I should have learned that if I know anything, it’s that I don’t know which way to go when I come out of Haymarket station and that – due to the fact that Edinburgh’s topology is in some indefinable way just wrong – whichever way I think I’m going, that way will be the wrong way. Indeed, I should know by know that the only sure way I can ever navigate around Edinburgh is to head for the Pedal on Parliament route and go from there, as, after 7 years, I’ve just about got that one committed to memory (unlike the Glasgow one…) or failing that just break down and turn the GPS onto my phone and let the magic of technology guide me.

However, having arranged to meet a friend for lunch yesterday near where I’d got the Brompton serviced, I might have got a bit too cocky. After all, I had navigated the route before, and I had looked at Google Maps to check, and I had cross referenced it with the map outside the station. I was fairly certain which direction to head off in, so it was just a question of discarding Google’s walking route suggestion as clearly insane and … heading off confidently down the wrong road. I swear to God Edinburgh rearranges itself every time my back is turned.

This may also explain why, having had a very enjoyable 3-hour lunch (there wasn’t even any booze involved, but there may have been cake and there was certainly gossip) I managed to completely fail to find the Central Library, despite it actually being on the POP route, someone having unaccountably moved it to the other side of the George IV Bridge when I wasn’t looking. Honestly, the festival really has gone too far these days.

The worst part was I was on foot, which meant battling along Edinburgh’s unnacountably narrow pavements through festival crowds, every single one of whom appeared to be either handing out flyers or doing the mime act of ‘man stopping to consult mobile phone abruptly in the middle of the pavement’ (although, to be fair, they might have been trying to work out where another Edinburgh landmark had rearranged itself to now). As I had already been walked off my feet by my friends in Fife, I was pretty footsore and weary when I finally made it down to the Princes Street Gardens, which was still where I’d left it, and a very welcome bench. How anyone manages to survive Edinburgh in August I will never know.

Fortunately, after five bikeless days in strange lands we will be back home tomorrow, and I will know never to leave my Brompton behind ever again…

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Ah, Embra

August 3, 2016

I had forgotten why I don’t go to Scotland’s capital in August until I unwarily ventured there today for a meeting… I’m sure the city is filled with wondrous cultural things during the festival* but as I was reminded today, it’s not enough to outweigh the sheer mass of shuffling zombified crowds (and the sad thing is, the festival doesn’t even start until Friday so God knows what it will be like then), many carrying elaborate balloon sculptures which, I can tell you, do not mix well with folded Bromptons being carried by harried travellers who are keen to catch their train back to the relative sanity of Bigtownshire (no balloon sculptures were harmed in the making of this blog, by the way; I was in a rush but I’m not a monster. I suspect I’ll have an entertaining new selection of Brompton bruises in the morning from trying to keep it out of the way though).

Fortunately, there is one sacrosanct space in Edinburgh dedicated almost entirely to the convenience of the harried cyclist. The ramp out of Waverley station was initially out of bounds to everyone except authorised vehicles, with cyclists forced to wheel their bikes along an insanely narrow walkway with pedestrians and their wheeled suitcases. Then someone saw sense (it turns out that there are a few benefits to having a Dutch company running your railways) and allowed bikes on the roadway alongside the authorised vehicles. They did have to give it an over-the-top painted bike lane but if that’s what it takes to enable you to sail in and out of the station without tangling with the festival crowds, then so be it. And the best thing is, as there are hardly any authorised vehicles you get it all to your ..

Oh well.

It’s still better than mixing with the zombie hordes.

* And the not-so-wondrous: in my misguided youth took a show up there where we often played to audiences who outnumbered the cast,** and would have been a fantastic commercial success*** had the venue not absconded with the takings.

** And no, it wasn’t a one-woman show.

*** Broken even.


Made in Scotland, from Girders

January 13, 2012

As I was walking up to Laid Back Bikes on Wednesday, ready to borrow the Paper Bicycle for the demonstration, I started to get a bit concerned about the whole single gear thing. After all, I knew the bike wasn’t ACTUALLY made out of paper, in fact it’s rather solidly built out of steel. And Edinburgh has an entirely unnecessary amount of topography with very steep streets, flights of stairs, roads that turn out to be about 40 foot below other roads and a nice scattering of cobbles to make the cyclist’s life more difficult. While I had been quite happy cycling around the malarial flatlands of South London on a bike with only one functioning gear, as soon as I moved to Scotland I quickly got that sorted. If I didn’t watch my route in Embra, I was going to be spending more time pushing this bike than riding it. And that would be no fun at all.

I needn’t have worried, as it turned out. For a start, Dave of Laid Back Bikes regularly runs recumbent tours around Edinburgh and so was adept at finding routes that avoided the worst of the gradients as we cycled to and from the demonstration. And besides, single gear or no single gear, the Paper Bicycle didn’t seem to have any trouble climbing hills, even with me at the pedals. After the first little ‘oh help, steep bit, change down, oh damn …’ I didn’t really find I missed the gears at all. I’m not saying that hills were effortless, for I was certainly a bit puffed as we came up the first significant hill, but I never had that feeling of running out of gears, and in fact I never even needed to get out of the saddle. Whether it was the geometry, the build quality, the big fat floaty tyres or some sort of hidden engine in the seat tube, the bike just kept on going up and up and up in a way that even my own bike doesn’t (there’s a rather more scientific discussion of why this should be so on Lovely Bike if you want to get all technical on me – see the comments). Of course, that could be because my own bike has spent the last few months cycling along awesomely muddy roads and through floods without, perhaps, the sort of love and attention lavished on it that it deserves. There’s a lot to be said for full chain cases in a Scottish winter. And I suppose, given that it was designed from the ground up in Ayrshire, that is entirely to be expected.

Other than the lack of a rack, which apparently newer models will have, I was generally pretty impressed with the Paper Bicycle. I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to the technicalities of bikes, but I do know what I like, and I liked it a lot. It didn’t quite give me the upright regal bearing you get on a propr dutch bike (although if I’d had the handlebars a little higher it might have). There’s a level of attention to detail to the design that makes it really pleasing to the eye – like the fact that when you kick up the integrated kick stand it lines up with the chain case thing to look like a little chrome exhaust pipe. It has everything you’d expect from a sensible city bike – full chain case, mudguards, dynamo lighting, reliable brakes – a true get on and go bike. It attracted second glances (even allowing for the fact that I was following a bloke on a recumbent) and admiring looks, which is always nice. In a handsome, dress-up city like Edinburgh it’s nice to have a bike you can ride in smart clothes without worrying about oil. And you can get it powdercoated to order almost any colour you choose so you could even match it to your favourite outfit if you wanted to really work the cycle chic vibe. If I lived in London still, I’d buy one right now and ride it everywhere – although I’m not entirely sure, without the rear triangle, how I’d lock it up. As it is, even as a single speed and with our hills, I’d be seriously tempted. It’s one of those things where you start trying to think of reasons why you need one (it would make a great guest bike! It could be my winter bike! Err, I need a bike that matches my coat!) however tenuous they might be. Dave described it as a ‘Scottish Pashley’ which certainly captures the build quality (and possibly the weight – it’s not a bike for hoisting in the air at a demo, put it that way). But it’s not a retro looking bike at all, just a rather handsome one.

But don’t take my word for it. If you’re in Edinburgh at all, book yourself a test ride at Laid Back Bikes (or if you fancy becoming part of a real subculture, go on one of his recumbent tours). He’ll even show you round the city on your own bike, if you want to know the sneaky ways avoiding the worst of the hills. And that alone in Edinburgh has got to be worth plenty of your English pounds.


Revolving Doors

February 7, 2011

You know you’re at a very grand hotel indeed* when it not only has a magnificent brass-and-mahogany revolving door, but a magnificent set of  uniformed flunkies to revolve it for you. Fortunately I had remembered that going up to town requires not just discarding the fleece, but the wellies too, and so they didn’t take one look at me and decide to just keep on revolving it until I was safely deposited back in the street again.

Although to be honest, having sampled Embra’s idea of a February day (east wind, sleet, snow, rain, sometimes all at once), the fleece and the wellies were otherwise sadly missed. And I did rather wonder how they would have reacted had I come on my bike…

*just for coffee, unfortunately, not to stay


Platform Nine and No-Quarters

August 19, 2009

People of Edinburgh: how hard can it be to number the platforms in your principal railway station in some kind of sensible fashion? I hear that starting at one and going in consecutive order up to, but not beyond, the number of platforms you actually have is fashionable in certain forward-thinking railway stations. As opposed to say, randomly scattering the platform numbers, as you appear to have done, or possibly – I didn’t have time to work it out, being in a hurry what with having a train to catch and all – in some elaborate fibonacci sequence, or Dan-Brownesque code that, when deciphered, reveals the ultimate secret of the universe*. And if you will insist in doing it your way – and you are the Athens of the north after all – how about then arranging your signs so that the weary traveller doesn’t have to walk the entire way widdershins about the station in order to find platform 9? Only to realise that there are in fact two platform 9s, 9E and 9W with – and this is the sort of detail that marks you out from all the other, lesser, train stations – the eastbound train on the ‘W’ end and the westbound train on the ‘E’ end. Add in the fact that at this time of the year every other person in the city is either dressed as a gorilla or in full zombie makeup, and it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the weary passenger has become instead an unwitting audience member in an interactive promenade performance of an absurdist European drama. Six passengers in search of a train, perhaps?

Still, I made it home. Normal posting to resume tomorrow.

*how to buy a standard advance fare to anywhere that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg