Next Time, we’ll Start an Actual Fire…

February 9, 2018

Things people say to you when you tell them you’re planning a pop-up parklet in a few parking spaces in Edinburgh for the Firestarter Festival:

‘Cool! Sounds fun!’

‘Why would you do that?’

‘Don’t you have a proper job?’

‘Have you done a full risk assessment?’

Things people don’t say to you when you tell them you’re planning a pop-up parklet in a few parking spaces in Edinburgh for the Firestarter Festival (but you wish they had):

‘Have you checked the alignment of the sun?’

parking spaces before

Before …

pop up park after

After …

So it turns out, St Andrews House casts a deep and brooding shadow over the road in front of it. And that on a bright, sunny, but baltic February day in Edinburgh, when you are standing deep in that shadow, staring out at the sunshine warming every other corner of the city, with the wind funnelling between the massive somewhat Nazi-esque frontage of the building and Calton Hill, you will be very glad, very glad indeed, that you chose to wear All The Merino in preparation for the day.

Sunshine Calton Hill

Sunshine on Leith and, indeed, everywhere in Edinburgh except us

That said, Scots are a hardy bunch, and also well supplied with thermal layers and turned out to be prepared to play musical instruments, fix bikes, stand around cheerfully chatting and generally making the most of it with only a few yearning glances towards the sunny sheltered patches we could have set up in, had we thought it through. We had some good conversations, made some useful connections and while we’ve clearly got a bit of a learning curve before we perfect our tactical urbanism, we can chalk this one up at the very least as a useful learning experience

hardy musicians

And lesson number one is that next time – even if we don’t actually start a fire – we will be looking for nice sheltered suntrap for our next location. Which means (as someone pointed out, cheerfully) inevitably, it will rain.

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Taking it to the Streets

February 2, 2018

chalk heart

So I’ve been saying for a while now that as campaigners, we need to get out of our social media bubble and do more in the real world. And obviously by ‘we’, I mean ‘everyone else’, because getting out there and doing stuff in the real world doesn’t really change much when you have cows for neighbours, and even then only a few months of the year.

Still, Back on my Bike has ways of digging me out of my rural fastness to join her for some event or other. The most effective involves suggesting things that aren’t going to happen for a ridiculously long time so I don’t need to worry about them, and then filling me with enough coffee and cake that we can hatch all sorts of ridiculously ambitious ideas about what we could do in the unlikely event that we make it through to the new year alive.

And then suddenly it is February 2018 and as part of the Firestarter Festival (launched by the First Minister no less), we seem to have rashly agreed to transform four parking spaces in the middle of Edinburgh into a pop-up park, and turn a dead space for cars into a welcoming place for people. In February. Yeah, that February, the cold one.

Fortunately, my partner in crime is the most organised person in the world, so has done the bulk of the actual work, which means it will actually happen, rather than remaining a beautiful idea. So now all we need is some actual people to come and enjoy it. If you’re in Edinburgh next Friday, please do drop by. We can’t guarantee Nicola will join us, but you never know.

Meanwhile, I have been busy plotting another real-world intervention, of which more anon…


Vote till you Boak*

April 18, 2017

Lunching with the other half today, I admitted to feeling a bit weary. There’s a lot of bitty stuff to do at the moment, not just with last-minute preparations for Pedal on Parliament but particularly with the ongoing We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote campaign. The good news is that we are getting lots of candidates signing up in support of our three ‘asks’. The less good news is that each one involves a little bit of work – finding the relevant tweet on Twitter, or replying to their email, finding and updating the relevant record, trying to turn a politician’s words into a firm actionable promise… nothing individually too arduous, but it is all starting to feel a bit relentless.

The long road home

The good news, as I told the other half, was that it would all be over in a few weeks. And even better, I was off to meet a couple who have agreed to take of the role of community council secretary. Their house happened to be on the reservoir road, which leads to one of my all-time favourite rides, the reservoir loop. It wasn’t exactly on the direct route home and it involved many entirely unnecessary feet of climbing, but I needed to be away from my computer for a while so I took the long road home.

Stone dykes

I got home much refreshed, ready to face the last two and a half weeks of election campaigning, happy in the knowledge that, whatever happened, there wouldn’t be any more elections after this one for at least two years.

bike on the long road home

* The #votetillyouboak hashtag has been going the rounds on social media as a way of explaining the voting system for the current local elections where it’s most effective to put everyone in order, all the way down to the person you absolutely don’t want to get elected … Unfortunately, it seems Theresa May misunderstood


If I Ever Go on Mastermind…

April 7, 2017

… My specialist subject can be ‘Scottish local authority election candidates, May 2017’

We have finally got the Walk, Cycle, Vote candidate database up and running, complete with funky mapping based ward finder courtesy of the other half, and we’re on the hunt for contact details for all the candidates (and there are over 2,500 of them). This is surprisingly difficult. You would think that, were you running for office, that you would want to let your electorate know what your policies were and how they might contact you, but you would largely be wrong. We have someone on the case truffling out the various twitter accounts, Facebook pages and websites-that-haven’t-been-updated-since-2015. And I’ve been doing the checking, data munging (it is a word) and generally falling down a rabbithole of wondering why some local parties’ Facebook pages need to have a description on them saying that THIS is the official Facebook page and we should ignore anything with a similar name that isn’t the official Facebook page and not believe anything that’s on it.

We also had a brilliant Women’s Cycle Forum Hustings in Glasgow at the brilliant Glasgow Women’s Library, with loads of brilliant and interesting and passionate women, but I haven’t had time to write it up yet, so you’ll just have to believe me.

The election is in less than a month (and Pedal on Parliament is in just over a fortnight). I don’t know whether to be relieved that the end is in sight, or panic, so I’m alternating between the two.


Some Politics is More Local than Others

March 29, 2017

As my twitter timeline went into meltdown over the triggering of Article 50, I was busy concentrating on some rather more local politics. For today was not just momentous/disastrous (delete as applicable silently in your head and don’t feel you have to tell me in the comments) for Brexit, it was also the day nominations closed for the Scottish local elections, blowing the starting whistle on the Walk Cycle Vote campaign.

So today has mostly been spent starting to get a mass of unruly data into something that will ultimately become our candidate database – and marvelling at the vagaries of local politics. This, it appears, gets progressively more idiosyncratic the further you are from the centre, with some of the outlying parts of Scotland eschewing party politics altogether, and others featuring a bewildering array of independents (if anyone would like to explain to me the difference between aligned and unaligned independents I’d be grateful). Interestingly, while some council wards are hotly contested, with ten or more candidates battling it out for just three seats, in others candidates have already been elected unopposed. I hope you’re happy with the coonsil, people of South Kintyre, because you aren’t going to get a chance to tell your candidates at the ballot box this time around. Shame it’s too late to get a Cycling Party together in time for the nominations.

And, talking of rotten boroughs, today was an even more momentous day in local politics as someone has finally come forward to be secretary of Old Nearest Village community council. Oh frabjuous day. I don’t know her, but she knows me – for as I rang her up to seal the deal before she got cold feet, she asked me if I’d been out on my bike on such a grim day. Clearly my reputation precedes me …