How can I be an effective activist?

I’m so frustrated with the city council and their lack of action in building cycling infrastructure. We know that cycling infrastructure encourages people to ride their bikes and we know that when people ride their bikes there’s less pollution, less traffic congestion, and less of a strain on the NHS because those people are engaging in physical activity which improves their health and wellbeing. It’s such a no-brainer. Why aren’t they jumping at the chance to have all these benefits?

I write to the council regularly about it. I share my experiences of cycling with cars, trucks, and buses and suggest ways they can make things better. I also highlight other examples of good cycling infrastructure around the world and all the research which demonstrates spending on cycling infrastructure produces more for the community than it costs to build. And yet they haven’t done anything about it. What am I doing wrong and how can I be more effective?

Here’s my last email to someone called “Louise” at the council who is very nice and said with honesty that most of the council are not on-board with building dedicated cycle lanes. This was my reply:

Hi Louise,

Thanks for your honesty. Have you got any suggestions for what I can do to gain some momentum with the city council because writing letters doesn’t really do very much. I don’t really understand the politics and I don’t work for any large organisation with lobbying power. I’m just an individual. Should I write letters to someone else in the council? Or should I try to arrange a meeting with someone?

For what it’s worth myself and my two children cycled along Union St at around 5pm yesterday and then onto King St and all the way to the University of Aberdeen. It was awful. There were so many buses on Union St and I’m sure they didn’t like getting stuck behind us as we were slow. I also did not enjoy over-taking them at all. It was terrifying. And then on King St we had to cycle on the right side of parked cars. Cyclists should never be put between parked cars and traffic. Parked cars open doors without looking and sometimes pull out without realising there’s a bike there leading the cyclist to swerving right and possibly under the wheels of a lorry. I try to take a wide berth around parked cars so as to avoid getting “doored” but then I end up taking a lot of space on the road and there’s insufficient room for motor vehicles to overtake me on the right. It should be pedestrians on the very left, then cyclists, then parked cars, then traffic. If there’s not space for all these modes then start taking it away from cars.

One thing I also noticed was the amount of traffic on King St heading into town. There was an enormous queue. If half of those people were on bikes instead then your traffic problem is solved. But they’re going to choose their car for now because it’s so much easier to drive for the reasons I outlined above. Who should I be telling all this to?

Best wishes,

Perhaps the next step is to create some guerilla bikes lanes. Anyone else got any better suggestions?

Theresa Mayhem

It may not be mayhem in the UK, not yet anyway, but I’m becoming increasingly alarmed by Theresa May. She started off with grand statements about equality and working for everyone but I’ve seen nothing encouraging since then and more cause for concern than anything else. One example was Amanda Rudd’s recent statement about having British firms declare the number of foreign workers they employ. I think they may have since back-tracked on this one but as a foreign worker living in Britain let it be known that if I’m kicked out my job goes with me. I will simply move and work elsewhere and my job and my taxes will disappear from Britain. They won’t go to a local person.

Another example was Theresa May’s recent criticisms of the Bank of England. It’s possible the media have exaggerated this but I don’t think so given Mark Carney’s (Bank of England Governor) response. He is quoted as saying,

“We are not going to take instruction on our policies from the political side.”

From what I’ve seen of Mark Carney – he’s brilliant. The UK is very lucky to have him. And no, politicians should not be dictating policy to the Bank of England. The Bank of England is and should be independent.

Since the referendum vote the pound has plunged and inflation is starting to rise. A low pound is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s very good for local producers and probably just what the UK needs. Higher prices, particularly for imported goods, might also encourage local manufacturing. Given the choice though, I’d still rather the UK remain a part of the EU.

I see Nicola Sturgeon is hoping for another independence vote for Scotland and I think I will probably vote to leave the UK if that happens, especially if it means Scotland can continue to trade freely with the EU and we won’t have to put up with Theresa May any longer. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing that we’re governed by environmental laws set in the EU especially when those laws have helped to clean up the air and sea.

Cargo bikes are the future

Cargo bikes are the future

This trailer for a documentary about the cargo bike movement makes my eyes all watery but in a happy and hopeful way. I relate so much to what the narrator says – the thought of spending my life taxiing children around in a polluting motor vehicle and living in the suburbs makes my heart sink. I never wanted that life and thankfully that’s not the life I have! We have no car and no house in the burbs. Instead we have a cargo bike and we live in the inner city. I wouldn’t want to live my life any other way.

You can find out more about the documentary on the Motherload website.

A rainy autumn day on the bike path

A rainy autumn day on the bike path

We ran out of biscuits today which was potentially disastrous. My choice was either to bake some biscuits or cycle to Newton Dee to buy some more. Of course the virtuous thing to do would have been to cycle to Newton Dee to buy the *ingredients* and then return home to cook them but I’m not that virtuous.


And so this quest for biscuits led me to cycling to Newton Dee in the rain. Why don’t people like going outside in the rain? I have gum boots and a raincoat and was mostly dry and perfectly warm. There was also practically no-one else about and the autumn colours are beautiful right now. It was a wonderful ride. Go cycling in the rain one day. It’s very pleasant. I highly recommend it.

Here’s the view from the bike path today.




There were a couple of other bicycles at Newton Dee and I noticed that neither of them was locked up. Newton Dee is a pretty safe place. In fact, Aberdeen is a pretty safe place.


Back at home again after a bit of fresh air and exercise; just what I needed.


It’s outrageous!

I’ve discovered a character flaw in myself. I’m not perfect after all. Surprising, I know. What is this flaw, you ask?

I don’t like it when I don’t get my own way.

How can I deal with this? I see three options.

Option 1 
Always make sure I get my own way. Sadly, I’m not sure how to make this happen. I’ve been trying all my life and it’s not working.

Option 2
Never get my own way so I eventually get used to it. Nope. That sucks.

Option 3
When I don’t get my own way give myself a treat like my favourite chocolate or a trip to the op-shop as compensation. This could very well work. I will try it next time.


Moan, moan, moan – that’s all I seem to do

I feel like I’m always complaining to the Aberdeen City Council. It’s just that they keep making silly decisions and not doing what I suggest.

This week they announced their plans for pedestrianisation of an historic street in the city centre only their idea of pedestrianisation is to make it a thoroughfare for buses. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in favour of mass transit, but bus thoroughfares and pedestrianisation are two separate things. The other aspect to this plan which I don’t like is that they’re creating a shared-use pathway for cyclists and pedestrians. Shared-use pathways aren’t great, especially in the city centre, because they create conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. Pedestrians don’t like sharing walkways with cyclists and cyclists don’t like having to weave around pedestrians. If a city council is going to completely upgrade the roads and pathways on one street then they should do it properly right from the start and create proper segregated cycle paths otherwise it’s just a waste of money.

The Dutch cycling blogger, A View from the Cycle Path, has a great video which demonstrates the problems with shared-use pathways really well:

The Deeside cycleway is a shared-use pathway and it mostly works pretty well because it’s not very busy. But cyclists do have to slow down around pedestrians and I suspect – although no-one has ever complained to me – that some pedestrians don’t like cyclists. One time when I was cycling a dog ran in front of my bike when I was part-way up a hill on one of the bridges. I came to a complete stop but was then stuck there. I had a full load in the cargo bike and my momentum for getting up to the top was suddenly lost. I couldn’t get off the bike and walk because the kids were in it and it would have tipped over. I had to struggle with one foot on the ground and the other foot turning a half-cycle of the pedal to move about 20cm at a time. Eventually I got to the top this way but it was not very efficient. It’s the same problem on roads that have traffic lights at the very bottom. Sometimes the only way I can get up the hill is with a run-up but if I have to stop at a red traffic light at the very bottom then the only option is to push the bike up the hill. Urban planners need to factor this into their designs.

The pedestrian zone for buses is also a strange decision to make. The same Dutch blogger  I linked to above has a video of a similar council mistake in Boston, England. This council also completely banned cyclists. Have a look at the video to see how unpleasant they made the pedestrian area:

Think of a nice area for browsing shops and eating lunch and sitting and relaxing. Are there buses going by every 5 minutes? I suppose I should be glad that at least they’re banning private motor vehicles from the street which is certainly a good start. But I’d rather we get it right first time around.

On being a leader and Doctor Who

Several months ago I became a team lead at work and  I’m now leading a team of five Happiness Engineers. Last week I started a pilot coaching program to become a more effective leader. It’s like having my own personal coach. In fact that’s exactly what it is. The whole program is giving me warm fuzzies. It tells me that my employer cares about me. It makes me feel valued and that’s worth gold. Automattic is a good company to work for and we’re hiring.

What makes a good leader? Have I got it in me to be a good leader? As part of the program I completed some questions, one of which is this:

In 4 months, I want the following to be true:

I am an effective leader. I combine compassion, candour, and direction and my team produces results.  

Compassion, candour, and direction. These are the qualities I think leaders should have. When I say “direction” I don’t necessarily mean the leader decides where to go. They may have their hands on the wheel but they’re not necessarily the one reading the map or holding the compass. Everyone in a team is part of the decision-making process.

I want to share this because the reflection is useful, I may learn something from any comments I get, and it will be interesting to look back on my growth in 4 months, 6 months, 12 months and so on.

What qualities do you think make a good leader ?

On other matters, the kids are completely obsessed with Doctor Who, even drawing pictures of the Tardis and Daleks and Oods in free time at school. Last night we watched an episode which had the Daleks fighting the Cybermen and Daniel and Elizabeth thought all their Christmases had come at once. The Daleks are so funny. Their voice! It’s so shrill and grating. Exterminate! Exterminate!

Exclusively Highlands Craft Fair at Drum Castle

Exclusively Highlands Craft Fair at Drum Castle


We’ve been to Drum Castle more than any other castle now, mostly because it’s so close, but it’s terrific and one of the best in Aberdeenshire. It’s also open all year round although only on weekends over the winter. Most other castles close for the winter. Every weekend I check for events at Drum and other nearby castles to see whether there’s anything we want to go to. That’s how I found out about A Midsummer Night’s Dream which we saw in August.

Today was the Exclusively Highlands Craft Fair at Drum which was a market of locally made art, craft, and produce. It was wonderful with some really lovely stuff. I met the fellow in the next photo at one of the stalls. He’s from Flavour Magic which makes delicious rock salts combined with herbs and spices. The funny thing is he’s a New Zealander from Christchurch and he fled – like us and thousands of others – after the Christchurch earthquakes. He’s been in Scotland ever since and seems to be doing well. I can highly recommend the rosemary rocksalt as well as the truffle and porcini.


The tower at Drum Castle is one of the oldest in all of Scotland. It was built in the 13th century and is a proper fortress – not just for show like some others are. This tower is extremely solid with walls that are 12ft thick at ground level. Here’s an inside view from inside the top of the tower.


I tried to get a photograph which shows how thick the walls are but it’s hard to see. Imagine me lying down in this next one and my feet would not hang over the edge. I’m 175cm. I’m not sure how thick the walls are up in this part but at a rough guess they looked about 2-3m.


You can walk up onto the roof of the tower and the views are lovely. The landscape is starting to change colour and a gorgeous show of yellow, orange, red, and brown has begun. I like this time of year.





Elizabeth’s dress is getting a bit short. She’s growing too fast. And look at that filthy bum! Will she get upset that I posted this photo to my blog when she’s 18?




These steps are over 700 years old. Notice how thick they are and the huge pegs used to keep them in place.


Mrs Garden and her son🙂


In the playground which is just for 4 – 14 year olds. Whoops!



The scenic drive back.


Photos from Aberdeen

Photos from Aberdeen

I only just discovered this lovely rooftop garden in central Aberdeen about a week ago. A friend tells me it’s fairly new – a year old? It’s just above the St Nicholas centre next to Marks & Spencer on Union St. There’s a children’s playground, seating areas, and a stage. They’ve done a wonderful job with the landscaping and the colours and textures along with the raised seating areas makes it pleasing to look at.


The church is the Kirk of St Nicholas.


The children are standing in front of Lang Stane on Dee St in this next photo. It’s a boundary stone from the site of the Battle of Craibstone in 1571 or part a stone circle or maybe both.


A lane. Aberdeen has lots of little lanes like this one.



I walked past this place today. It’s Make Aberdeen, a digital fabrication studio. You can become a member and print stuff on their 3D printer or use the laser cutter. It seems to be quite cheap and you can also use their space to work. I’ll have to go in and check it out.


And here’s my dinner. It’s a Pianta pizza from Pizza Express. I love Pizza Express. This pizza is their cheese-free pizza although I suspect they’ll make any without cheese if you ask. I never thought I’d get used to the idea of pizza without cheese but this one is delicious and I wouldn’t have it any other way now. I always pour garlic olive oil over the top.


Ice-cream or kale, anyone?

Ice-cream or kale, anyone?

On three separate occasions in the past month, pedestrians have called out to me asking for an ice-cream as I cycle by. Does Harald look like an ice-cream bike?



Pashley Classic No. 33:


Oh dear! So much for looking cool and trendy.

Pak Choi. What a wonderful vegetable. I’ve been craving leafy greens recently and so I decided to try growing pak choi and spinach. I already have kale in abundance. Kale grows anywhere and with little effort.  Here’s some of my kale:


My experience with pak choi so far is also good. The seeds germinate faster than any I’ve ever seen. These ones only took about 3 days:


Apparently it’s a good winter plant so I’m hoping to have a constant supply over the winter months. Most of it is growing in the greenhouse but that’s probably not necessary since I think it will survive outside. I also have some in my kitchen on a sunny windowsill. The pak choi is on the very left, rocket in the middle, and basil on the right. I put the cling film over the top to see whether they’d grow faster.


Growing your own food is fun and rewarding. It also tastes better. Maybe it’s just bias or maybe it’s because the food is fresher.

Super review for airbag helmets

The Hövding invisible bicycle helmet has received a favourable review from a Stanford University team.

We found that the airbag has the potential to reduce the acceleration of impact by a factor of five [over traditional helmets].

I’ve been using the Hövding for over a year now and am very happy with it. I’ve never had to test it out, thankfully, and hopefully I will never have to. It felt a little strange to wear at first but I’ve got used to it now and never notice it. The downside of the Hövding over traditional helmets is that it requires charging but only about once per week. It’s also not going to work if you hit a low hanging branch or post when cycling since the helmet only deploys when you fall off the bike. My review about it is here.

I sometimes also forget to take it out with me but that can happen with any type of helmet. I’m still opposed to compulsory helmet legislation simply because it reduces the health of the population as a whole by reducing the number of cyclists. The benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks of having a crash. However I’m very much in favour of investing in cycling infrastructure which offers one of the best returns on investment and is the most effective way to keep cyclists safe.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

I was stopped in the middle of the street today by a lovely lady who wanted to introduce herself and tell me she read my blog. See, I really am famous. Tomorrow there’ll be paparazzi camping outside my front door hoping to get a photo of me tripping and flashing my knickers as I fall down the front steps. I’m sure it’ll happen. The tripping part, that is. The paparazzi thing is probably unlikely.

We’re up to Series 3 of Sherlock now and I give it 10/10. It’s one of the best tv series I’ve seen. There are a few unbelievable bits though, I will admit. Like how he breaks computer passwords because the characters have chosen silly passwords that are easy to guess. Who does that? No-one should do that and if your passwords are English words that are easy to guess then change them. Change them now. Stop reading my blog and do it.

The jumping off the building bit at the end of Series 2 was a bit unbelievable too. Apparently Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in his short story, The Final Problem. Sherlock and Moriarty are fighting at Reichenbach Falls and both plunge to their deaths. Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to stop writing about Sherlock to focus on what he felt was more serious writing. However fans were so dismayed by Sherlock’s death that he eventually conceded and brought him back to life in The Adventure of the Empty House

Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty fighting to their deaths at Reichenbach Falls
1893 illustration by Sidney Paget

I really like Molly in the show. She’s vulnerable and a bit insecure but very likable. Here’s a funny scene with her from the first series.

Bakfiets vs Butchers and Bicycles cargo bikes

Bakfiets vs Butchers and Bicycles cargo bikes

I rode the kids to school in Busby today for the first time since March this year. Since then I’ve been cycling Harald each day. Here’s a photo of Busby followed by a photo of Harald so everyone knows what I’m talking about when I say Busby and Harald.






Busby got sick in March and spent several months in the bike hospital. By the time I got him back I was in the habit of riding Harald each day. Today I tried Busby again and having had a lot of experience with both bikes now I think I can make a good comparison. Which bike is better? Busby is far better on so many levels. Let me explain why.

Harald is lighter and the suspension is much better but apart from those two things, Busby is much more comfortable to ride. Somehow the geometry of Harald is all wrong. For starters, my leg is still bent even when the pedal is nearest the ground. “Raise the seat”, you say? But if I did that I wouldn’t be able to touch the ground when I’m stationary. On Busby my leg extends straight with each pedal cycle but I can still put my feet on the ground when I’m stopped without having to get off the bike. I don’t really know why this is but the Dutch know how to design bikes is all I can say.

The handlebars on Harald are too far away from the seat. I end up riding slightly hunched over the handlebars. On Busby I could sit comfortably upright with a straight back. I understand that leaning forwards over the handlebars adds to the aerodynamics but I’m not in a race. I just want to get my family from A to B at a leisurely pace and in comfort.

Busby has a step-through frame. When I first started riding Harald I missed this and frequently banged my leg on the crossbar as you have to physically throw your leg over the bike before you can start peddling. On Busby there’s a seamless flow between walking and cycling and I used to be able to go from walk to cycle or cycle to walk without stopping and in the smallest of movements. It was a very graceful transition and very useful in a city with few cycle paths and lots of cycling on and off pavements.

I’m in two minds whether to complain about the next thing on my list but it’s probably worth mentioning also: the Gates Carbon Drive. Harald has a very nifty carbon belt in place of the chain. It doesn’t require any oiling and lasts much longer. It’s also lighter. However there is a downside – long skirts and dresses can get caught in it because it’s exposed. Here’s a pic:


Busby on the other hand had an old-fashioned chain but it was fully enclosed so I could wear long flowing skirts and never once had any problems. Maybe the carbon drive comes with a guard also? I’m not sure.


My next complaint is the seat. I realise a seat can be fairly easily changed but when you spend over £3000 on a bike you don’t want to have to go out and buy another seat for it. I got a jelly seat for Harald but it’s still not great because the problem isn’t the softness but the dimensions of the seat. When women sit on a bicycle the weight should be taken by the sit bones in the pelvis and not a woman’s private parts. Men can push their private parts out of the way but women cannot do that and the vulva is not designed to support a woman’s weight. Furthermore when women sit the sit bones in the pelvis are further apart than when a man is sitting. This is why narrow men’s bicycles seats are not suitable for women.

I discovered a new bicycle shop in Aberdeen today – Holburn Cycles – and I showed them Harald. They took one look at me sitting on the bike and said it was all wrong and that I would end up with sore knees. The sad truth is I *do* have sore knees. I never had sore knees with Busby. Thankfully they seem to think they will be able to make some bespoke changes to Harald to improve the geometry. I’ve booked in him and have my fingers crossed. But part of me wonders whether I’m wasting more money on a bike which will never be comfortable to ride.

When is too old to start tap dancing?

I’ve been having such a nice week. I’ve been gardening, op-shopping, cleaning the house, cycling, doing karaoke, playing the piano, and watching tv. And yes, I had the windows and doors closed when singing karaoke and yes, it would have been very embarrassing had anyone heard. On the gardening front, I’ve caught so many slugs and snails in my beer traps that I’m beginning to wonder how any vegetables survived at all?

Lately I’ve been considering taking up tap dancing. I’ve never done any tap dancing before and never did ballet or anything else as a child but I’ve always been enthralled by the tap dancing numbers of the 1940s and 1950s and Eleanor Powell, Fred Astaire, and Ann Miller – to name just a few. Tap dancing is quite versatile: you can do it on your own or with a partner. It’s also a form of music in many ways in that you’re dancing and creating music at the same time. I want to do this (fast-forward to 2 minutes in to see the tap routine).

Ok, I realise I’m never going to be able to do that but I can still dream. What do you think? Can 40-somethings learn how to tap dance?

A vintage tartan skirt

I’m taking some much-needed time off this week and today I went op-shopping (to non-Antipodeans op-shopping = charity chopping). I haven’t been op-shopping for ages and ages and I got some fantastic bargains including this gorgeous tartan skirt.


I could tell from the tag and the zip that it was very old but I wasn’t sure how old because I’d never heard of the label before. I Googled it when I got home and it turns out this is a brand from the 1960s called “Sportaville” and made in London.


The skirt is older than I am and in perfect condition. It has been very well-looked after and probably never worn by the looks of it. I will certainly wear it. I absolutely love it and it’s pure wool so perfect for a Scottish winter.

The perfect bridesmaid dress

My sister has wonderful taste. I’ve been having a spring-clean and I found my bridesmaid dress from her wedding about 19 years ago. It’s a simple halter-neck dress made from a purple tie-dye chiffon over a satin lining. She had them specially made. I don’t know why I haven’t worn it since. It’s beautiful and a classic dress which doesn’t look out of place today, almost 20 years later. Maybe I’ll wear it to my work Christmas dinner. I could even wear my new purple boots with it.


A hedgehog house

A hedgehog house

We got a hedgehog house for our garden. I hope a hedgehog finds it suitable and moves in. I think it looks very inviting. That old pot next to it has been dragged with us all over the world, from city to city and country to country. I think we got it in Christchurch.


My war with the slugs and snails continues. I haven’t lost any of my new seedlings so far but I do put a lid over this compartment each night.


I planted a sweet pea in an old bicycle basket a couple of months ago and put it in the glasshouse. It’s grown a bit out of control but there aren’t as many flowers on it as I’d hoped; maybe it hasn’t reached its peak yet. I love reusing old baskets and containers as flower pots.


Sticky poo on my new shoes

Sticky poo on my new shoes

A very kind person solved my tap problem by posting the missing part through my letterbox this morning. Thank you so much! It was particularly fortunate because I later stepped in dog poo and the hose made the cleaning up much easier than it would have otherwise been. It turns out the plumber did not install a non-standard tap. I’m just a moron🙂

I’ve been wearing my new purple boots non-stop every day since I got them. Ben refused to let me wear them to bed though. Not fair! They have been supremely comfortable and still no blisters or anything. My only complaint is that they’re not dog-poo-proof. I stepped in a particularly sticky and fresh dog turd today and, as always with the bad ones, I smelt it before I saw it. The grooves are so deep on the bottom that I had to use Ben’s toothbrush to get rid of it all.


The next shot is *after* scraping off most of it with a stick (and before using Ben’s toothbrush).