Getting Somewhere

September 7, 2017

So, some time last weekend, in between the cake and the cycling and the chat on other topics (we do occasionally talk about subjects other than cycling), the conversation turned to future campaigning plans. I have now been involved in cycle campaigning in one form or another for over six years and there are times when it feels like pushing a peanut uphill with your nose. We have now covered the entire electoral cycle from one Holyrood parliament to another, plus assorted referenda as well as local, European, general and snap elections. While things have undoubtedly moved on, there has always been a feeling that we were ‘the cyclists’ who speak for the tiny minority of hairy-arsed outsiders who ride bikes instead of driving cars like normal people, and who endlessly bang on about things that nobody really cares about except other cycling nutters.

This despite the fact that we have in fact been endlessly been banging on about things like public health and congestion and pollution and climate change and childhood freedom and happiness: things that we kind of hoped that everyone cares about. And maybe they do, but they haven’t connected it with the ability for people to get about, for short journeys, using the most efficient means known to man, woman or, indeed, salmon.* And yet, these things continue to matter and we continue to believe that we have the answer, or part of the answer, to many of the problems that plague Scotland today, with the exception of the midgies.

And then our First Minister stood up in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday and made the explicit connection between public health and active travel – and then put (some of) her money where her mouth was to boot

Now I know (because I’ve been told by many people online) that this isn’t enough, that it could be wasted on the wrong things, that it’s not worth celebrating until we see it happen, etc, etc. And I know that people are cynical and possibly even rightly so. But you know what? I’ve campaigned six hard years for any kind of announcement even half as positive as this and so I say sod it, I’m going to celebrate anyway.

If anyone feels that is premature, then they are very welcome to join me in the next round of nasal uphill peanut pushing, which will resume in a week or so after we’ve recovered our senses. I should warn you, though, that it’s a hell of a lot harder than going on Twitter and having a whinge. Although there is a certain element of that…

* and certainly vastly more efficient than pushing a peanut uphill with your nose

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And I’m to be Queen of the PoP …

April 21, 2017

Well, that’s it – this weekend it’s Pedal on Parliament, and there’s not much more I can do after many frantic weeks of emailing, tweeting, messaging, planning, phoning, flyering, writing, lying awake worrying and having bizarre POP-related anxiety dreams.* In fact, there was something I could do as I was supposed to be spending this afternoon looking at the giant hole that someone has inconveniently dug right across the planned POP route in Edinburgh but I managed to miss the train attempting to do some last-minute paperwork and then got caught up in Bigtown’s rush-hour traffic – oh the irony. Fortunately there were others in the hole-inspecting team, who have inspected the hole, and so now, more or less, everything is ready to go.

Tomorrow will be the usual roller-coaster ride of fretting, anxious planning, chasing up last-minute details and almost (but not quite) forgetting in the whirl to enjoy the moment of actual achievement. Always assuming anyone actually does turn up, and that the giant hole doesn’t scupper us completely.

However, on Sunday, I hope, I will get to experience something of what it is to actually participate in POP because the PoPpers organising it in Glasgow are a formidably organised bunch, and thus my role in POP Glasgow has largely consisted of me sending them anxious messages about some detail that I had just remembered only to be told that they had thought of that three weeks ago and someone was on the case already, but thanks for the advice. Generously, they are letting me lead out the ride, granting me some sort of elder stateswoman role as the figurehead of POP – possibly to keep me out of the way of the people doing the actual work. I am working on my regal wave even as we speak, although I won’t be doing it in quite such style as this character

And then, on Monday, although the work is not yet over with the local elections still to come, I might be able to devote a little more time to all the things I used to do before the madness started.

I think I remember what they used to be …

leek seedling coming up
* The last two are not, strictly speaking, part of the preparation process but apparently unavoidable all the same.


Turning Left in April

April 8, 2017

Cyclists for next 12 miles

A rare confluence of events today left me with a freeish day (mostly due to things I was intending to do not being ready for me to work on them, so I’ll pay for it later) and a sunny forecast. What to do? I had intended to wash my bike before its service (I never usually remember to do this) and maybe get on with the garden but then I had a bright idea on Twitter

The only problem is, even on a nice day, it’s quite tricky to find cyclists to flyer in Bigtown who might be interested in coming to an event in Edinburgh or Glasgow. But then I remembered that there was some sort of a road race going on in a village not too far away from here. Time for another mini adventure

The problem was, I was only able to get away at around 11:30 (a ‘free’ day is a relative concept here), the village was several miles away, the race started at 11, and I cycle very slowly. I had no idea how long these races take, or whether I would make it in time before the riders all finished and dispersed. So I slightly reluctantly took the most direct route despite it being all on roads with white lines down the middle, something I generally try and avoid (we’re a bit spoilt for quiet roads around here, what can I say?)

minor A road

It was only once I arrived, in what was for me record time, that I realised it might have been a good idea to find out some details before setting off, like where the race was finishing for example. The streets were completely deserted of anyone, including cyclists, except for one chap pottering along on an old racing bike in jeans and a rather smart shirt, and a mother cycling with her two kids along the pavement. Thinking I’d wasted my time and missed the whole thing – apart from the whole going on a nice bike ride on a sunny afternoon part – I circled the streets one more time until I came across rather more parked cars than normal, many with bike racks on them. Aha.

lone cow

Lone cow in a field full of sheep, looking about as discomfited about it as I was

Then the first cyclists started appearing over the horizon. I was in time. The problem was they had just finished a hard race and were more interested in picking it over with their mates and talking about their wattage and who got dropped on that hill and who shouldn’t have attacked and who should, than they were in taking my flyers. I was also feeling a little out of place with my bike and pannier that probably weighed twice what some of the riders weighed, let alone their bikes. But fortunately the race organisers very kindly let me say a few words and dish out some flyers and, after a brief detour to the local shop (where I also encountered one of my candidates for the council and was able to give him a Walk Cycle Vote postcard), I headed for home satisfied at another adventure completed, and the word spread a little further about my various campaigns.

back roads home

The road back was somewhat more my style too.

beech avenue

How we suffer for our cause…

Obligatory sheep photo


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.


Ask a Busy Woman*

March 12, 2017

Finally, after a week in which I’ve almost had to schedule every waking hour to get everything done, I have managed to hit my last deadline, and now only have a small three-city mass bike demonstration to organise plus another active travel campaign for the local elections and the small matter of everything that’s been piling up while I’ve been too busy to do it.

Pedal on Parliament

BTW we’re crowdfunding POP this year, in case you missed it on Facebook, Twitter, my emails … click picture for more details

This has meant compressing the whole of potato day into half an hour (a post in itself), not nearly enough cycling, and spending six hours on various trains on Friday working solidly on my laptop as some of Scotland’s finest scenery passed unnoticed beside me. I was putting the final finishing touches to a piece of editing as the train pulled in to Inverness, and then it was only a small matter of getting a response in to the minister’s Active Travel Task Force about why local authorities might not be putting in ambitious cycling infrastructure (am I the only person who’s a little disappointed that this doesn’t seem to involve nearly enough gunboats? Sometimes talking softly and carrying a big stick is the way to go when it comes to some coonsils. Still, hard to get a battleship right up to East Dunbartonshire, I suppose).

scenery from the train

It’s a mug’s game trying to take photographs through the train window.

As I got back on the train again yesterday, I discovered that the Glasgow train doesn’t seem to come with power sockets, meaning all my plans for another productive session on the laptop came to naught. Fortunately, by then there was only the small matter of a crowdfunding campaign to launch – and there were others who were perfectly capable of getting everything done in my absence. It was no bad thing, in the end, to be forced to spend a few hours actually appreciating the scenery, and reading the weekend papers. Luxury.

Inverness – what little I managed to see of it – seemed really nice. One day I will return and check it out properly. Apart from anything else, it’s full of bikes…

Inverness bikes

* If she’d like to sit down with a nice cup of coffee and a biscuit, while you do one of the million things she’s taken on because people keep asking her to do them because she’s a busy woman who gets things done. It’s really the least you can do.


A Vision Thing

February 17, 2017

Fog ahead

On a foggy cycle ride back from my second Coonsil meeting in two days, I was feeling the usual frustration: they’re planning some route changes which will be an improvement on what is there now, but still nothing like what they could be. The problem is that bikes are squeezed to the margins: once the cars have got all the space they need, then if there’s anything left over, the cyclists can have what’s left. I do understand that the coonsil are constrained by the realities of Bigtown life – even reprioritising a single road is causing people to be up in arms because it will be slightly harder for them to turn right even though it means the road they live on will see slightly less traffic (personally I’d close the road to traffic at one end to make it a lovely quiet bikeable street – after all if they’re going to be incandescent at a priority change, they can’t actually get any crosser, so might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb and create a route worth detouring for, seeing as that is what the bikes are going to have to do anyway. This is undoubtedly why I’m not running the coonsil in Bigtown)

Anyway, I got home to find that we had the dates confirmed for not one but three Pedal on Parliament rides this year (or should that be Pedals on Parliaments?). This time, we’re targeting the local elections (so yes, technically, they’re Pedals on Councils) in the hope that, at least in some parts of Scotland, cycle campaigners don’t have to keep banging on and on and on just to get a slightly more sensibly positioned crossing – but can actually start to work towards the sort of wide, smooth, safe, joined up routes that would make a real difference. It will be a long time before that trickles down to Bigtown, perhaps, but it will come. I hope.

Meanwhile mark your diaries for the 22nd April (Edinburgh or Aberdeen) or the 23rd (Glasgow) and help to bring about that change. Bring a bike and a banner and all of your friends. It won’t make the wider world much less of a scary place, but it could at least make Scotland a little bit more cycle friendly. And we need all the good news we can get, these days.


101 Uses for a Brompton: Giving evidence

February 9, 2017

Brompton at Parliament

“Brompton bike, Brompton bike, where have you been?”

“I’ve been to London Edinburgh to visit the Queen Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee”

“Brompton bike, Brompton bike, what did you there?*”

“Banged on about bikes as much as I could to try and counter the narrative that electric cars would save us all, mostly”

Possibly, catching mice would have been as effective, but I tried. The evidence we submitted is here, if you’re a real glutton for punishment.

*Oh okay, the Brompton just stayed outside while I gave evidence. But it did it in style