Pedalling Frantically

October 17, 2021

Of all the baffling things that people believe about Pedal on Parliament, the one that gets me every time (even though I’ve heard it a number of times now) is the fact that people think we’ve somehow got things under control. If I hear it described as a well-oiled machine (usually by someone explaining why they haven’t got involved themselves) one more time I might just cry. The fact is – as any regular reader of this blog has probably got an inkling by now – POP is about as well-oiled as my chain in between visits to the bike shop. It runs not so much like clockwork, or even on blood, sweat and tears, as on endless messages on every communication platform existing, emails dug belatedly out of spam folders, four a.m. thoughts, increasingly desperate attempts to bring order to multiply ramifying to-do lists, and pure nervous tension.

And occasionally, just occasionally, bike rides.

The earlier POPs were run using an organisational method best described as Death by Email. Since then we’ve mostly switched to Slack, supplemented by social media messages and painful Zoom meetings – as I believe is now required by law – and I’m grateful for the fact that modern communication methods allow us to misunderstand each other in real time on a wide variety of different platforms, instead of relying on getting our wires crossed on just one. All of which is very draining, so it was utterly restorative to be able to spend a long-delayed 24 hours with my chief POP partner in crime, setting the world to rights, showing her some of the delights of our local cycling routes, bugging her by talking at her during the climbs, and recharging our batteries ready for the final three weeks before we Pedal on COP and join the masses in Glasgow for the Climate Global Day of Justice Action (I’m hoping that by November 6th I’ll be able to get those words in the right order first time without having to go and check the website).

I suppose it’s true that almost every endeavour – especially one run by volunteers in what they laughably call their spare time – is like the swan: for all it might look serenely graceful above the water, there’s a lot of paddling going on underneath. Perhaps if there’s something you know about for which you’re grateful – and which appears to run like clockwork – it might be worth inquiring of the organisers if they’d like a hand from time to time at turning the key; you would likely make a tired middle-aged woman very grateful. And indeed, if one of those things is, in fact, POP itself, here’s your chance to do that very thing.

Meanwhile, it turns out I don’t have a photo of a swan, graceful or otherwise, so have a tranquil leaf instead which, despite doing no paddling at all, was quietly floating upstream as the water rushed past it down towards the sea.

Leaf floating amid reflections in the water

You may write your own metaphor for that.

All Systems Go

September 7, 2021

Well, it’s been a lovely summer and now it is somehow already a week into September, and I’m not really sure how that happened. And now it’s that back-to-school feeling (without the existential dread, at least) as the cycle campaigning kicks back into gear again after a summer when it’s mainly involved just going for nice bike rides which is still my favourite form of campaigning; if only it actually changed anything.

Fancy Women Bike Ride poster

Or maybe it can, because first up on the agenda is a reprise of the Edinburgh Fancy Women’s Bike Ride which was a blast when we did it in 2019 (I keep trying to write ‘last year’ as if we could just roll the whole of the last 18 months and put them in the bin) despite the weather gods serving up a day of Edinburgh’s finest, ‘you’ll have had your tea’ unwelcoming dreich drizzle. This year is proving a little stressful – it’s never helpful when the council decides to remove some of the temporary cycle lane you were planning on using, and then another part of the planned route catches fire – but hopefully it will be bigger (and dryer) than last time and just as much fun. Getting dressed up with a bunch of other women and going out and taking to the streets of your city by bike shouldn’t be a radical act, and yet somehow it feels like it is.

And it’s just under two months until I find myself involved in the biggest event yet – the UN Climate Conference is coming to Glasgow in November, and there’s no way we’re going to let an opportunity like that pass.

Pedal on COP Global Day of Action 6th November in Glasgow

Thankfully I’m not involved in organising the actual march itself, but we’re part of the mobilisation effort which for our part means getting as many people as we can cycling there (from all corners of Scotland). We’ve long argued that bikes have to be part of the solution to climate change – and now it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.

And if that weren’t excitement enough, this evening sees the Bigtownshire Cycling Campaign meet in person once more, after a trying year of Zooming and people who are on mute and shouldn’t be (and people who aren’t on mute and should …) We’ve decided against returning to the pub just yet, but we will be cracking out the bike mounted samovar and meeting in the park over tea and coffee instead.

Bike mounted samovar

I can hardly wait.

As you were…

April 23, 2021

For one giddy moment last week I thought I might be able to retire from cycle campaigning and start spending spring each year if not resting on my laurels, then at least being able to spare some time to garden them (although maybe not actual laurels, as they’re not my favourite shrub). It seemed as if all the major political parties in Scotland were lining up behind a promise to spend 10% of the transport budget on active travel, something we have been campaigning for, in various guises, since 2012. In particular, this included the party that, realistically, will be forming the next Scottish government. Could it be that next year’s POP would be a ten-year-on victory lap for the local elections, followed by a chance to spend each March and April in something that wasn’t a state of rising panic?

And then we read the fine print.

There are promises, and there are politicians’ promises and you’d think I’d know by now how to tell the two apart…

Still, even though I’m not paying it any attention, spring is still springing away in the approaches to Bigtown (it takes a little longer to get up our hill, a bit like me on a bike)

And I was reminded that if you rattle past them on a bike with a trailer you can set a whole herd of cows in motion as they chase after the thing that might just possibly contain delicious cow treats – at least until you stop and they stop too and just stare at you in bewilderment as if they have no idea what they were doing just then, or how you made them do that.

I may not be able to influence the politicians, but I can at least still hypnotise cows, it seems.

Once more into the campaigning breach, dear friends … once more.


April 17, 2021

As evening venues go, a bench on an old viaduct more usually frequented by teenagers probably wouldn’t have been my first guess at where my first post-lockdown after-dark outing would take place. But if I’ve learned nothing else over the past 9 years, it’s that Pedal on Parliament will take me to some strange places doing stranger things. With that in mind, the fact that I spent the evening of the first occasion in Scotland when we could go further than our local area and meet people from more than one household by cycling down to Bigtown with my bike bags packed with some carefully cut cardboard boxes and all the bike lights I could lay my hands on, makes perfect sense.

Stencil light boxes

Obviously,* we haven’t been able to run a mass ride on the Scottish Parliament this year, but as it’s an election year, we knew we had to do something to tell our candidates that they needed to start taking active travel seriously as part of the solution to the climate crisis. So POP this year has taken the form of light-based actions – from lit up window displays to laser projections.

Putting fairy lights on Kirkpatrick McMillan statue

Here in our little corner of southwest Scotland we wanted to do something that would be clearly local, but get the national message across. And fortunately, one of our local legends offered just the opportunity. Add in some fairy lights, some home-made light boxes and a bit of fancy footwork with a few torches and we reckoned we could stage something that would get our message across next weekend

But first, we needed to fine-tune our setup and get some practice in. Which is why I spent a very enjoyable if slightly chilly evening (once darkness had finally fallen – thank goodness POP isn’t in June) mucking around with torches, cameras and a couple of like minded souls – to the faint bemusement of any passing yoof (sadly, none of their bikes had lights or we’d have roped them in).

And then I had the joy of cycling home in the dark for the first time in I don’t know how long.** It might not be the trip to the pub or the cultural outing most people have have been pining for … but actually it will do me just fine.

Dusk falling over river

* I say ‘obviously’ but someone saw the POP poster on my bike last weekend and asked me if I was taking the train up to Edinburgh for POP next weekend. A sentence that would have made perfect sense in 2019 but sounds like a bizarre futuristic fantasy in 2021.

** Long enough that, naturally, my back light suddenly turned out to be not working when I finally needed it. Because whatever else may have been suspended during the pandemic, Sod’s Law isn’t one of them.

light box saying 'machine'

How Many Polar Bears in Pairs

March 5, 2021

As we stumble towards our first anniversary in lockdown, I’m sure many* of you are wondering how one might organise a bicycle-related demonstration in the middle of a pandemic, or whether I’m enjoying a nice quiet spring this year…

Ha ha ha, of course not. Pandemic or no, the Scottish elections will soon be upon us. Currently the Scottish political world may be transfixed by Alex Salmond’s attempt to bring down Nicola Sturgeon (about which I have MUCH TO SAY but it’s probably best left for another forum) and no doubt the election proper will be dominated by constitutional issues, but Scotland is hosting the UN Climate Conference this year and we’ll be doing what we can to put active travel on the agenda. Scottish government transport policy has moved on slightly from ‘build a dual carriageway between every city’, but not much, and with a climate emergency looming we felt that there could be a bit more emphasis on the wonderfully elegant solution to sustainable transport that is the bicycle, and a bit less on ‘maybe electric cars will save us at some unspecified time in the future’.

And so … a pedalling polar bear, and an invitation to everyone to shine a light on active travel in any number of creative ways on April 24th. If nothing else, I’m looking forward to spending a month or so cycling around with a ‘This machine fights climate change’ sign on my bike.

Polar bear with bike captioned 'This machine fights climate change'

And because I wasn’t busy enough, we’ve also relaunched our election-focused active travel campaign as an inclusive streets campaign, because if you think cyclists have it hard, disabled people (some of whom are also cyclists of course) have it harder, and without the option to just dismount when the going gets tough. So we want to make sure they were included when we talked about active travel.

Walk, Wheel, Cycle, Vote logo

All this means that my poor garden will continue to get short changed again, although we are making progress on the fruit cage at least. It’s lucky that Gardeners’ Question Time keeps emphasising the need for us to have less tidy gardens. I consider myself ahead of the curve on that one.

Partially completed fruit cage

* or, more realistically, none.

The Definition of Insanity …

December 8, 2019

… Is supposedly doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. However, I have found that this doesn’t really apply with sufficiently complex computer software and politicians, who can ignore something for ages and then suddenly decide it’s their own idea. I can’t do anything about the computer software, and I’ve already confessed I’m about ready to give up with the politicians – but I did exempt cycle campaigning …

And so I’m preparing to step once more into the breach and am winding up for next year’s Pedal on Parliament which will be (breaking with tradition a tiny bit, just to keep them guessing) on the first weekend in May.

We’ll also once more be going local, meaning lots of little events to fret about instead of one or two big ones. The jury is still out as to which is more stressful to organise, but at least with the pop-ups the load is easier to share, always assuming we can find some people to share it with.

In fact, we’ve already had a few ideas popping up with plans underway in Inverness, Aberdeen and Glasgow (and Bigtown, of course). I’m looking forward to finding out what will be popping up elsewhere …

cow on a bike

Pedal, Bus and Train on Parliament

October 24, 2018

One of the unexpected side effects of being a leading* cycle campaigner is that you get invitations out of the blue to attend the Scottish Parliament for a round table discussion on the Transport bill. I wasn’t sure entirely what this entailed, although the invitation pretty much had me at “light buffet beforehand”, but I’ll never turn down an opportunity to bend important people’s ears about cycling, however tangentially. So today saw me getting into my one remaining respectable outfit, dusting off the saddle of my Brompton, setting off down the hill, noticing the front tyre was rather flat, pedalling furiously back up the hill, retrieving my bike pump, filling the tyre, and setting off again for the bus stop and an exemplarily multi-modal trip to Edinburgh.

Brompton on Parliament

I think the Brompton was a little put out to discover that, one day of the year aside, it has to share the route to Parliament with something other than thousands of bikes, but we got there safely enough, and more to the point it was still there safely waiting for me when I came out again having bent as many ears as I could get hold of. However, if it spent the intervening time dreaming of its next visit in April, I have news for it …

#POP2018 (5 of 230)

For, in an exciting development, I can announce that next year, it – and thousands of its colleagues – will not, for once, be pedalling on Parliament. Instead, we’re taking POP local, hopefully right around Scotland, with simultaneous events that take the battle to the local authorities. Theoretically, this is a genius way to spread the load, and widen the message, and bring cycling to every corner of Scotland. In practice, I suspect it will also mean a cubing of the complexity of actually organising it, so watch this space in April when I fully intend to be a nervous wreck…

If nothing else, it will be a chance to get out around Scotland in search of enough fellow nutters to get this mad scheme off the ground. So, although it might not be pedalling on Parliament for a wee while, the Brompton will not be gathering too much dust.

*Although I note that my little sister has just won another award and is ahead of me on points

There’s a Moment During Every Pedal on Parliament…

April 29, 2018

… When you think, OK so maybe this will be the year that really nobody will come.

So you’re standing in the Meadows, and there’s nobody there but the organisers, a BBC film crew, and the Gruffalo …


And it’s pissing down with rain and has been on and off all morning and all the hard work and the flyering and the planning and the tweeting and getting the University of Edinburgh to fill back in the big trench it had dug right across Middle Meadow Walk three days before you were due to lead a mass cycle ride up it, is beginning to look like a bit of a waste of time …

Feeder ride arriving

And then the first feeder ride arrives, undiminished by the rain, with the sort of grins cyclists only have when they’ve ridden through Edinburgh with police outriders on their tail instead of irate taxi drivers …

Mark Beaumont and the assembled crowd

… and you think that, just maybe, you might get away with it again for another year…


Communications Breakdown

April 26, 2018

When we first started Pedal On Parliament, our communication method could loosely be described as ‘death by email’ – everyone emailed everyone else all the time about everything. This worked when there were only half a dozen of us, more or less, but it didn’t exactly scale. Last year, with many more people coming on board, we’ve moved to Slack which is brilliant at cutting down the email volumes and allowing people to only see the messages they need to. But not everyone I need to communicate with uses Slack, or keeps up to date with it, meaning I end up having to email them, if only to remind them to look on Slack, which slightly defeats the purpose. Nor do people necessarily use their email that much either, I’ve found.* In recent months I’ve ended up communicating or being communicated with by pretty much every channel possible, including FB messenger, Twitter DMs (on my own account and on the POP one), text messages, WhatsApp, an old email address I mostly use for Internet shopping, and an email group that doesn’t actually accept emails from non-members but which sends me a notification of the email it’s not allowed to deliver to me, including its contents, and then continues to do so every morning until I remember the password to go and clear out the blocked messages, which must be the most self-defeating form of spam protection ever invented.


Hello clouds, hello sky. No reason for posting this photo except that I liked it

As our channels get ever more fractal, my role at this stage in the game mostly appears to be receiving communications, whether by sky writing, interpretive dance or hand-engraved invitations delivered by carrier pigeon, and passing them on to the people who need to do something about it by whatever means of communication they most prefer. On Tuesday, as I was racing out of the door to get to choir, I got an email from someone telling me to listen to my voicemail about a request I hadn’t made that had come up in a discussion in a meeting that I hadn’t been to and to ring back if I could help (sadly I was out of credit). Today I found myself direct messaging someone in a cycling forum to get their email address so someone on the Slack channel could include them in a discussion about rickshaw rides and retrieving someone else’s email address out of a private message in Open Streetmap which I think I last logged into in 2010. It’s fortunate I never signed up to MySpace or SecondLife because otherwise, undoubtedly, someone would have tried to contact me through there by now.

Tomorrow, though, the Brompton and I will get on the train to Edinburgh and I will hopefully be spending the evening doing any last-minute PoP planning via the novel means of actually talking to people, face to face, possibly over beer. I hope I’ll see some or all of you at PoP on Saturday, unless you’ve got a very good excuse.

wood anemones

In other news, hello spring. Come Sunday, I shall hopefully have a little more time to enjoy it.

* I was chatting to a young man of my acquaintance who was, I could have sworn, a grumpy toddler in a spiderman costume only a couple of years ago but is now inexplicably 17, and he tells me that his generation view email as an incredibly fusty and formal means of communication, roughly equivalent to an engraved invitation or a visiting card to my own generation. Old, who, me?

May I Humbly Remind the Weather Gods …

April 4, 2018

… That it is April?

snow in garden

This was Monday, but it was snowing today too (I was just too depressed even to photograph it)

We’ve not actually had it as bad here as they have further north including, crucially, Edinburgh when we have an event planned, for which it would be quite good if it *wasn’t* snowing …

Pedal on Parliament 28th April

Spring will be here by the 28th, right? Right!?

(PS if you like the design, you can now buy the t-shirt …)