Secret Squirrel

March 29, 2016

So, one of the reasons why I’ve been so busy recently has finally gone live – an interactive bit on the We Walk We Cycle We Vote website where (for viewers in Scotland) you can enter your postcode or constituency and find out where your candidates stand on active travel, and then tell them what you think about it. The other half did the clever bit, that actually makes it work* while I did what should have been the easy bit of gathering information on all the candidates standing for election and their contact details and getting them into a database.

Oddly enough, this proved quite tricky. You’d think, if you were running for election, that fairly high up on your agenda would be simple things like announcing you were running for election, and providing people with the means to contact you. And yet, a few weeks ago hardly any of the party websites had lists of candidates and those that did disdained to provide any way of contacting them beyond those annoying web forms that don’t give you any real sense of confidence that the email it supposedly generates will go anywhere but straight in the bin. Even now, with nominations closing on Friday, there are still gaps – some some parties haven’t included all their list candidates, some still treat their candidates’ email addresses like state secrets, some provide email addresses half if which ended up bouncing (naming no names, but it was the Lib Dems), and almost all of them make sure you have to click on each candidate individually to find out if there’s an email address for them at all – which is all good fun when your broadband is a rural as ours. Add in Gmail deciding this afternoon that I was a spammer because I was sending out too many emails – to be fair, it had a point – and as you can probably tell it’s been a frustrating exercise.

However, I have persevered, and with a mixture of googling and rummaging around in various Facebook ‘about’ pages, and just plain guessing (if a candidate called Firstname.Surname ever runs for office they’ll be a shoo-in) – I have managed to contact about three-fifths of the people who allegedly want to represent us in the Scottish Parliament. The rest clearly feel that not getting inundated with adverts for penis enlargements – or, indeed, requests for their policy positions on active travel – is more important than being reachable by their electorate.

Now comes the really hard part – which is deciphering the replies that have come in from the more practised candidates and trying to determine if they’re actually promising something or just writing something which semantically looks like a promise but has a way of wriggling out of your grasp like a double jointed eel when you try and pin it down. But that part, I’ll leave up to the voters to decide. If you want to play along go here and put in your postcode and see what comes up for your constituency. Bonus points to the first person who extracts an actual measurable promise out of a politician …

* And yes, I did use to be a computer programmer who managed web-based database developments in a previous life, but I have thoroughly de-skilled myself in the intervening years. Possibly the ‘managing’ bit was part of that process…

If it’s Saturday, this must be Perth

October 30, 2015

My whistlestop tour of Scotland continues tomorrow with a dash up to Perth with the Brompton to annoy delegates to the Labour Party conference* with flags, bikes, t-shirts, postcards and (on this occasion) free bike lights courtesy of the Perth Bike Station. I have to say it’s been an exhausting month, and while in the end I’ve enjoyed the gadding about, I will be glad when it’s over.

Just when that will be, I’ll let you know – not November, which is already shaping up to be a busy month. Not only will we be running a Women’s Cycle Forum Walk, Cycle Vote event on the 11th (speed dating female politicians, anyone?) but I am off to Northumbria University on the 14th to take part in a combined academia and advocacy conference, to talk on ‘how blogging changed cycle campaigning’. It’s something I’ve talked about before, so I’ve got all the slides, there’s just the slight matter of boiling down a 40 minute talk into a 20 minute one. I suppose I could just talk twice as fast…

It may surprise some people to learn that we quit our jobs and moved up to Scotland in order to simplify our lives and downshift. Remind me how that works again?

* It was about half way through October before I thought to question whether the Tories also had an autumn conference in Scotland. To my relief, they confine themselves to the spring.

The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen

October 18, 2015

I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this weekend’s flying visit to Aberdeen – there’s something about the prospect of taking 6 trains in less than 36 hours, plus of course navigating a strange city with a non-existent sense of direction, oh AND worrying that you might be about to hold a campaigning cycle ride and nobody comes.

Fortunately I was wrong on all counts. For a start, the train ride from Edinburgh to Aberdeen is a bit of a stunner, even if you sit on the wrong side of the train. Especially when October has decided it is, in fact, September, or maybe even May…

crossing the Tay by train

Crossing the Tay on the train.

And then, it turns out that if you want to cycle from Aberdeen station to the Deeside railway cycle path (which, as it happens, I did), then the signposting passes the exceptionally challenging ‘can I follow it without once getting lost’ test. This is, in my experience, a first.* For all other journeys, I had the services of a native guide, and it turns out that there are a few routes that don’t involve putting on your big girl pants and being beeped at by every driver who passes.

Aberdeen Esplanade

Am I the only person in Scotland who didn’t realise that Aberdeen has miles of glorious sandy beach, right by the centre of the city? I mean, you’d have to be part polar bear to actually want to swim there, but even so…

I’ll write about the actual campaign ride elsewhere but Aberdeen has enough brave souls willing to take to a bike to make it worth while, and we even got some politicians out to talk to us, if not actually join us on two wheels.

Joan Mc Alpine and Aileen McLeod

As a special bonus, I also got to see the Most Scottish Artwork Ever.

tunnocks art

All in all, a very satisfactory 36 hours.

* Aberdeen also has some mysterious signs which are just a picture of a bike on a blue rectangle, which don’t seem to signify anything at all. After a while, I realised that they were there as an aide-memoire to Aberdeen’s motorists, to remind them what a bike looks like so that every time they see one they can give it a friendly honk.

Come Back Glasgow, All is Forgiven

October 15, 2015

After last weekend’s Glasgow adventures, tomorrow the Brompton & I will be off to Aberdeen for another WalkCycleVote ride, this time at the SNP conference. It will be my first trip to the city, but I’ve heard that it’s possibly not the cycle-friendliest place in Scotland. Add in the fact that conferences take place in conference centres, which tend to be on the edge of cities and thus places expecting the answer ‘by car’ and you get the fact that we’ll be exploring roads that look a bit like this

Or as someone on Facebook put it “You’ve got to be brave to cycle in Aberdeen. Don’t you know it’s illegal up here?”

I’ve been rude about both Glasgow’s roads and its cycling infrastructure in the past, but I think I may be about to eat my words.

More on my return. I was going to write ‘if I’m spared’ but that feels a little close to the bone…

Space for Really Rubbish Cycling

October 11, 2015

In Glasgow today for the first Walk, Cycle, Vote event, I discovered that – with a sufficiently lopsidedly loaded bike, and a sufficiently unskilled bike handler – it was possible to actually come off your bike while stationary in a comedy slow-motion tussle between me and gravity which gravity inevitably won. And no, I wasn’t track standing, I just somehow got tangled up in my bike in a way which even now I don’t fully understand.

There’s been much digital ink spilled over Glasgow’s separated cycle lanes which are, variously, too narrow, too slow, difficult to get onto, and in the wrong places. But I can confirm that if you are going to come off your bike, however slowly and amusingly to any bystanders, that doing it on a kerb-protected bike lane is much preferably to doing it in the road.

Still, once I’d picked myself up and dusted myself down (no harm except to my pride and the perfect imprint of my bicycle frame on my legs) and got to the actual event, it all seemed to go with a swing

I think I might rethink our campaign demands  though. It seems true safety – for me – will never be achieved until they surface any new bike lanes with that bouncy rubber they use for children’s playgrounds.