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 …)

Winter Might have Renewed its Grip …

February 7, 2018

… but spring is just around the corner.

winter and spring

This is less cheering to me than you might think because spring has also become associated in my mind with the start of the cycle campaigning year, and specifically Pedal on Parliament. Much as I love the buzz of being part of a big campaigning event, I could also do without the stress.

That said, I have come to realise that the minute I’m not completely flat out busy, I start looking around for other projects to get involved with, so perhaps it’s safer for all concerned this way.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying:

Pedal on Parliament save the date Saturday April 28th

Time to start spreading the word

Testing Positive

October 8, 2017

thank you balloon and bikes

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking (and talking) about how campaigners can be more effective and supportive of each other. One thing that always gets a lot of nods in the room is the idea that we need to campaign positively as well as negatively and when politicians do nice things (like double the active travel budget), it’s nice to be nice, and say thanks.

I’ll admit now, I found this surprisingly hard to do. There’s always someone on Twitter who’s prepared to win at cynicism by criticising any attempts to be positive, but it’s not just that – I found it hard myself to be straightforwardly positive in congratulating the Scottish government for doing basically what we’d asked them to do.

photo call

In the end, I satisfied myself by making sure the celebratory cake was rocky road (and I can report than the end product did look remarkably like the surface of the average Glasgow road, albeit with fewer potholes). And in fact we’ve had a pretty good response. It turns out as long as you keep their blood sugar nice and high, even cycle campaigners can be cheerful, at least until the next time they get cut up by a 4×4 driver whose phone call was more important than their life.

basket of cake

101 uses for a Brompton: transporting home baking to the minister of transport

As a corrective to all that positivity I was at a nonsultation event run by Bigtown Coonsil yesterday which reminded me of the giant task we have ahead of us before we’ll be doling out cake of any kind locally, ironically named or otherwise.

Onwards and upwards

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