Notes from the Green Party MEP for East of England. Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Automatic doors 2

As Tiger notes there has been a positive rash of automated doors here there and everywhere. In the Arts building at UEA we have some sets of double doors such that the ordinary door that you push also has an electric mechanism which you can activate by bashing one of those metal pads with a wheel chair sign on it. It's placed on a nearby wall at wheel chair height. You know the sort I mean.

The implication of the wheel chair button is that the electric mechanism is to help those with disabilities to get through the door.

How many able bodied students and academics bash the wheel chair button just to go through a door?

Maybe about the same number as the number of able bodied individuals with nothing to carry who get in the lift to go up one floor.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Roast beetroot and potatoes with rosemary and garlic

Here is one of my favourite recipes for Beetroot. This is probably enough for about two people.

Two or three medium sized beetroot
Two or three medium sized potatoes
A sprig of fresh rosemary
Two cloves of garlic
A generous tablespoonful of goose fat or olive oil.

Preheat the oven to a fairly hot temperature. A conventional oven is best. If using a fan oven, you may want to use an enamel roasting tin with a lid, or perhaps a terracotta brick, to prevent the vegetables from drying up.

Put the goose fat (or olive oil) in the bottom of a roasting tin, and heat it in the oven for a bit.

Scrub the mud off the beetroot but do not peel them. Do the same to the potatoes. Cut off the scabby top and the tail of the beetroot. Cut the vegetables into portions, about the normal size for roast potatoes or a bit smaller.

Peel the garlic cloves and cut them in thin slices. Rinse the rosemary.

Take the tin of hot fat out of the oven and put the vegetables in it, turning them over to coat them with grease on all sides. Scatter the rosemary leaves around and drop the garlic slices in between the vegetable pieces.

Put the tin in the oven and roast them for about 45 minutes or a little longer depending on the size. It is best to turn them again in the fat part way through the cooking. Make sure the potatoes are quite tender before serving. Just before serving grind some sea salt over the roast vegetables.

Serve piping hot, with anything you like. Yummy.

PS you can do the beetroot without the potatoes, but I quite like the way the edges of the potatoes get coloured pink by bumping into the beetroot in the pan.

The experience is completely different if done with olive oil instead of dripping, but both are yummy.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Heating 2

Sources of heat in our Cambridge house:

  1. Gas boiler with radiators
  2. A coal effect gas fire
  3. An aged electric convector heater (rarely used).

Saturday, 27 January 2007

What does it mean to be green?

It means that when you could do something using a machine, or you could do it just as well or better without using the machine, you do it without using the machine.

Automatic doors

There's a way into our local Shopping Centre (the nearest way in if you start from our house) which has two sets of doors, one at the outer end of the passage and one at the inner end.

Actually there are four sets of doors, two at the outer end and two at the inner end, so if there are a lot of people coming and going the ones going in can go through one set of double doors and the ones going out can go through another set and they don't get into collisions. It's sensible, on the whole, to keep left, which is the normal way of doing these things in this country.

The doors on the right as you go in are automatic doors, at both ends of the corridor. The double doors on the left are ordinary doors, such that you can push them from either side. It's a lot quicker to go through the ones that you push, because you don't have to wait for them to sense you and then open for you. The automatic ones are particularly irritating when you're approaching from the side where they open into your face.

There's also another reason why it's a lot quicker and easier to go through the non-automatic doors. It's because everyone else is trying to squeeze through the automatic ones.

Young and old, fit and unfit, slim and obese, the lot. They would prefer to jam themselves into a bottle neck with all the rest of the lazy bunch of chavs rather than push a door open.

In fact some of them stand outside the non-automatic doors and smoke, and look most surprised when someone (i.e. me) comes out that way. I do so habitually, partly because I think a little exercise to the muscles of the arms, chest and abdomen will be good for me. It's not much, but if you do it regularly I presume it helps to keeps them in trim.

So there are three advantages to going through the doors that you push: (1) speed, (2) not having to negotiate a way through a crowd of fat and unattractive specimens of humanity, (3) improved fitness.

A fourth advantage is that you use your own renewable energy, not the electricity that powers the mechanism of the doors.

And why would you prefer to go through the automatic doors, assuming you're not in a wheel chair or walking with a stick? Because you're lazy? Any other reason?

Friday, 26 January 2007

Washing up

Today at 1340 I started running the hot tap to get the water to come hot. While it ran I cleared the washing up rack of clean dry things left from the breakfast washing up.
At 1343 I had a bowl of hot water and a clear rack. I pulled on my rubber gloves. I started washing while the tap filled the rinsing bowl.
It was a cooked lunch. There were pans, two chopping boards and a measuring jug as well as the plates and cutlery. At 1348 it was all done, a full rack of washed dishes were draining, and I had cleaned the kitchen surfaces. I took off my rubber gloves and went back to work.
I'd be interested to know from anyone who uses a dishwasher for day to day usage, how much time it takes to load a dishwasher and unload it when it's clean, including the time spent cleaning the filters and so on? Aside from the frustration of finding that the item you need is in the dishwasher waiting to be washed up, and the frustration of finding that the rack into which your item would fit is already full, and the cost to yourself and the environment of running a dishwasher, is there actually any saving in effort or time?

What does it mean to be green?

It means eating beetroot.

Hot house peppers

Have you noticed that all the salad vegetables that are in the shops, especially in the winter, are always from Holland (except when they're from Spain)?

Last Spring I went to the Green Grocers in Norwich, which prides itself on supplying local produce, and was distressed to discover that it was stocking virtually nothing from Norfolk, or even from the UK. But there was plenty of produce from Holland.

So I asked the man in the shop why it was that we could only get tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers and peppers from Holland, given that the weather in Holland is no warmer than here or, if anything, less warm. The answer was interesting: it's because Holland has virtually unlimited supplies of cheap natural gas with which they heat their greenhouses and thereby produce bland tasteless salad vegetables throughout the year, which still cost not very much even after they've been shipped over by sea and distributed by road transport. So even if we went in for growing stuff under glass in the UK, we'd struggle to compete with their prices, because the cost of the heating would be too high. It's not surprising that Norfolk growers don't offer produce grown in artificially heated conditions.

The carbon footprint you make by buying such produce is far from small, evidently. But for some reason the price does not reflect the huge quantity of fossil fuel that is being consumed to provide it at the wrong seasons of the year, and to distribute it to places miles away across the North Sea. Why is that?

Presumably the answer is that whereas we in the UK have already squandered all our North Sea oil and gas by distributing it at prices that were unrealistically low, Holland is still living in that profligate era. They are burning up their legacy, and producing tomatoes for which we are paying not nearly enough—nothing like what that fuel is really costing us and the world So we eat them carelessly, winter and summer alike, even though they are produced by burning up what small amount remains of the North Sea's gas and oil supplies. It doesn't strike us that they are costing the earth.

It seems to me that the squandering of scarce fossil fuel resources should be taxed to give some real sense of the cost of such produce. Because, once we've used up that fuel then not only are the wars for control of the oil fields in other parts of the world going to get worse, but we're all going to be at the mercy of that European gas pipeline from Russia. And it's fairly pointless worrying about global warming, and polishing your halo by offsetting the carbon emissions, if before global warming has a chance to get a hold we've all killed each other in the competition for possession of ever scarcer oil and gas supplies.

It's a bit like being under siege, with enough food and fuel for two weeks, but then feasting recklessly for ten days. Then, on the eleventh day, finding there's nothing left we shall fight each other to death over two mouldy crusts.

Thursday, 25 January 2007


A list of the sources of heat at my Norwich place:

1. Three electric panel heaters, thermostatic
2. Two wall mounted 2 KW electric fan heaters
3. One free standing electric fan heater (3 KW)
4. One large wall-mounted gas heater with balanced flue
5. A coal-effect gas fire
6. The electric oven, hob and fridge
7. A cast iron chimenea for use outdoors

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

The best way to get to Oxford

What's the best way to drive from Cambridge to Oxford?

The simple answer is, don't even try. Just take the train.

But a Sunday morning between 7.30 and 9.30 is probably the best time to sample the route by car, and it is quite pleasant then. Probably preferable to the trains, since one should, in general, never try to go anywhere by train on a sunday morning.

It crossed my mind, as we drove across by way of Bedford and Woburn and Aylesbury and so on, that the roads at that time of day were quite empty, and that if everyone in the country were to do what we do and hire a car about three times a year, that's how the roads would be at the busiest times.

And wouldn't we all be a lot happier then?

And then it struck me, as we looked for a parking space in the narrow streets of East Oxford, that if we all lived like that, then only one house in 100 would have a car on any one day of the year (or maybe two in every 100 if they hired for two days each, three times a year), and that car would probably not be parked in front of their house, because they'd be using it. So there would be no difficulty in parking, because the streets would be entirely empty of parked cars.

They'd be full of children playing of course, as they used to be. But that would be a delight, not a problem.

It's odd, it seems to me, that such a simple way to happiness should be so far beyond our grasp.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Bicycles: episode 3

The end of the saga.

Monday morning this week I set off to the station to take the New Norwich Bicycle to Norwich. But on the very first rotation of the pedals I discover one thing that's wrong: the briefcase sits too far forward on the carrier it's clipped to, and my foot hits it as I pedal. I only checked that the bag would clip on; I didn't check that it was rideable. Bother. However, I press on, screwing up my foot to turn the pedal, because I want to catch the 0912.

Second, a hazard approaches, and I realise I forgot to fit the bell. I have a bell. It was waiting on the kitchen dresser.

Third, as I cross Mill Road the chain comes off again. It seems that the chain comes off every time you head for the lowest gear on the rear sprocket.

Fourth it seems that the back brake is distinctly less effective than I'd like.

Bother. The bike is not fit to take to Norwich. It needs more work. And it will need the kind of carrier to fit my briefcase, which I know I can get at Kingsway Cycles. So I lock it up at Cambridge station, next to Spiffy Bike, and proceed to Norwich without it. Now I have two bikes at Cambridge station.

I survive Monday and Tuesday still living with the Black Mountain Bike. But on Wednesday everything gets put right. I return to Cambridge in the morning (the excuse is a funeral at midday), pick up the New Norwich Bike from the station and ride it to the bike shop. Leave it there, to have carrier fitted, gears adjusted, brake shoes replaced and cable shortened. This will be done in a few hours. Hooray for Kingsway Cycles.

Later in the afternoon I collect the cycle and take it home. I fit the bell.

Then I ride My Cambridge Bike to the station, lock it up there, unlock the Spiffy Bike and ride it home. That's solved that problem. (The problem was that the Spiffy Bike isn't equipped to carry the luggage I have when I get back from Norwich for the weekend).

Then I ride the New Norwich Bicycle to the station and catch the train to Norwich with it. I ride it to my Norwich place.

Now that's all fine except for one thing... which is that Black Mountain Bike is locked up at the station at Norwich.

101 things not to do with a car

Today I have a very smart car sitting in our parking space.
It's been there all day. I can't think of anything to do with it.

The same thing happened the last time we hired a car for the weekend.

I started the day by trying to think of something useful I could do with a car. I thought of going to the dump with some rubbish. But then the only rubbish I could think of was a broken deck chair in the garden, and really that could be broken up and put in the bin, if it really must be thrown away, but I feel someone might like the wood at least, for fire wood. So it wasn't worth driving to the dump just for that. I'd waste ages getting there for very little reward.

Then I thought I'd take my mother to the hospital to visit a friend who's ill. But then it seemed that said friend was coming out of hospital today, so a visit was not very sensible. And actually even with my mother it would actually be easier to go to the hospital by bus, given how difficult it is to park there, and how easy it is by bus.

Then I had to take my suit to the cleaners, but it's no good doing that by car. The Dry Cleaners is on Victoria Avenue. It would take longer to get there by car than by bike, and where would you park? It would be madness.

Then I had to take a cheque to the bank. Well you don't do that in a car.

Then I went to market to buy fruit and vegetables. You can't go there in a car (and why would you want to?)

While in town I also went to Sussex Street to get a card from SPCK.

Then I came home. And since then I've been getting on with stuff at home that needs doing. I haven't done anything with the car except take a photo of it.

So what is the use of a car? And why do people have them? Just to sit in the road, gently rusting and taking up space? I can't make out what the point is.

Friday, 19 January 2007


Wasn't the sale of indulgences something like this?

You pay someone so that you can sin without yourself having to do any uncomfortable penances.

And the someone who sells the indulgences? What's in it for them?

Offsetting carbon emissions

Here's one way of seeing how it stinks:

Say you've got some migrant child labourers on your farm, who work for no pay and are not free to leave, though you do provide them with some board and lodging. Someone points out that you're using slaves.
That gives you pause for thought. You didn't think you really approved of slave-owning. You don’t think people should really be treated like that; it's exploitation; but it's extremely convenient and the children do work hard. You can't really bring yourself to give it up; in fact you pretty well depend upon it for making a profit. To salve your conscience you send some money to Amnesty International, trusting that they will use it to alleviate the lot of some people who are in trouble somewhere. But you go on exploiting the child slaves. But now you don't worry about that, because you've offset their suffering against the relief of some suffering in some other unjust regime. As long as the total amount of human suffering is not increased by your activities, the world is no worse a place due to your participation in the exploitation of child labour, is it?

Now suppose you fancy a fur coat but someone explains to you that the fur is obtained from animals of an endangered species who are trapped in the wild and then caged, living a miserable life before being slaughtered in large numbers to make your coat. You don't much care for the practice, but you really fancy that coat. So you give a donation to the world wildlife fund, to offset the cruelty to the animals that went to make your fur coat. After all, you're very wealthy so this is no hardship. Then you don't have to worry your conscience about them any more. As long as the sum total of cruelty to animals is no greater for what you've done, it's alright to support the cruel practices involved in making the fur coat, isn't it? You wouldn't want to have to give up the pleasure of being seen in a smart fur coat. That would be too much to ask.

Now suppose you habitually book a holiday in Florida or Australia, to get away from it all, but someone points out that the flights are contributing to the damage to the environment and anyone who believes in carbon reduction should cut their flying to a minimum. You are committed to the importance of carbon reduction. You don't believe in exploiting the earth's resources to extinction. But you really enjoy your holidays.
So you give some money to a tree-planting scheme, to offset the damage caused by the fuel of your aircraft. After all, you're quite wealthy so this is no hardship. Now you don't have to worry about what you're doing to the environment any more. As long as the carbon emissions are no greater as a result of your actions, it's fine to take as many long haul flights and drive your gas-guzzling car and use as much heating as you like, and so on for all the rest, isn't it? You wouldn’t want to have to give up the expensive holidays to save the earth would you? That would be too much to ask.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

What does it mean to be green?

Surely it means both cutting your carbon emissions and contributing funds to assist with carbon reduction projects, not congratulating yourself on your virtue because you're clean when you're not.
This offsetting racket stinks.

A list of my bicycles 2

A list of my bicycles continued.
I've said a bit about the first three bikes on my list. Let's continue slightly more briefly.
4. Purple Pioneer
A Raleigh Pioneer is a trendy-style town bike. It pretends to look a bit like an off-road bike but in fact it has large wheels and standard gauge tyres and is quite good for town riding. My purple 10 speed ladies' version was new, from the Iffley Road Bike shop in Oxford, sometime in the 1990s. We bought it to replace my previous town bike when it got stolen from our front garden in Oxford.
Currently this bike is on loan to Christian Rutherford. I wasn't using it much since inheriting my mother's bike (My Cambridge Bike), especially since fitting the skirt guards to the latter. Actually I never much liked the Purple Pioneer, even after I'd tried rotating the handle bars to get a shorter stretch from the saddle to the handle bars. It just isn't a very nice ride.
5. Black Mountain Bike
I've already said a bit about this bike, which lives in Norwich, in a previous post. I'm not quite sure why I got this bike, and I don't remember very much about it's history. I think I found it second hand at a rather enticing price in a shop on St Helen's Road in Swansea, at a point when I thought I needed a spare bike in case of punctures and the like. And seeing that it had 15 gears I supposed it would be a good machine for negotiating those terrible hills in Swansea. Also I may have wanted it to cope with icy conditions on the coastal cycle path there.
6. My Norwich Bicycle (green, currently gone missing)
This one, a Raleigh Silhouette, was, as I said in a previous post, one of my favourites, and came second hand from the shop on the Cowley Road in Oxford in about 1999. I wouldn't mind having it back if anyone can find it.
7. My New Norwich Bicycle (green, just arrived in Norwich)
This I've just purchased second hand to replace my Norwich Bicycle. It's an Emmelle (I think that's the make) and the model appears to be Emerald. But it has a very odd set of handle bars and not its original saddle I reckon. It's not nearly as nice as the Silhouette was. Perhaps I'll get used to it.
8. Chris's Bicycle (black)
This is a rather elegant gent's town cycle which is not for me to ride but is on long term loan to Annie's friend Chris. The reason for this is that Chris had Grandpa's bike on loan for a year, but then Elizabeth decided she wanted to reclaim Grandpa's bike for her Richard to ride. So to save Chris being left without a bike to ride I picked up this black bike for not very much second hand from the shop on King Street about two years ago. So that is now on loan to Chris for as long as he needs it.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Bicycles: episode 2

On Saturday 30th December I reported my stolen bike to the police at Parkside. The lost cycles department was closed, but I didn't reckon they'd have found it yet anyway. I was not awfully impressed by their "that's Cambridge for you" attitude to bicycle theft. After all, we've lived in Cambridge for five years and had no bicycle stolen from anywhere in the city. Until this one.

They gave me a piece of paper. But I'm not going to claim on the Insurance. It's not worth it. In fact it never is worth it, so I'm not sure why we bother to have insurance cover for cycles. Perhaps if I lost all seven cycles in one go it would be worth claiming something.

Then I went about my life for a few days, went to France, came home again etc etc. But as my return to Norwich approached I figured I'd better do something about it. There are three options: either I find my green bicycle or I replace it or I live without it. So far I'd been managing the third of these without too much difficulty, but there would be difficulties in continuing like that. The most pressing problem was that it had a crucial rear carrier which fits the briefcase that I carry to work. I have two bikes with that kind of carrier, one in Cambridge and one in Norwich (or rather, I no longer have one in Norwich, but used to). If I don't have a bike with that kind of carrier I can't take my briefcase to work, or not easily, and not in such a way as to keep my laptop very happy.

A trip to the police station to search the Found Bicycles department assured me that the first option was not realistic. I also tried a brief survey of Midsummer Common, and realised that it was quite likely that my favourite bike is somewhere in the river Cam. It's a pity (if that was all they wanted it for) that they didn't take Horrible Pink Bike. But they wouldn't would they?

Let's face it. I'm not very likely to recover that lovely green bike, wherever it now is.

Tuesday morning focused the mind, and I decided to go to the bike shop on King Street to see if I could get another bike of the same sort. This is what I got: same style, thin wheels, hybrid frame, straight handle bars, derailleur gears, but this one has ten speeds whereas the old one had five. This one was £55 second hand. The old one was second hand from a shop on the Cowley Road in Oxford in 1999. I paid £69 for it in 1999.

Of course, £55 is not the end of the story. It needs a basket, and brackets for lights (the old one had a fine dynamo, in good working order; but this time I buy brackets that will fit the battery lights I've now got for my Cambridge bike: this might be another topic for later). I decide that the rear carrier appears to be compatible with my brief case, so I won't need a new one. All this will need a visit to my preferred bike shop, Kingsway Motorcycles, who will supply the kind of wicker basket I like, and brackets to match the lights I have already. I deposit the new bike to have these done. Kingsway Cycles (unlike Station Cycles and Pedal Revolution) never send you away saying they're not taking in any work now.

Meanwhile I go to Norwich and try to survive a week riding the Black Mountain Bike every day. I can't think how people can bear these things. It's a bit better since the professor fitted some smoother tyres last time he was in Norwich, so there's a bit less drag on the road, but the posture is most odd and it's very hard work to ride. I keep it in Norwich partly as a spare (in case of emergency) and partly to help with snowy conditions in the winter, because then the strong friction on the road is helpful. It has fifteen gears (just as well, given how hard work it is going up the hills). One very stormy day with strong westerly winds I take to the bus instead, since I got very wet the previous day and I'm hatching a bit of a cough.

Home again at the weekend, I collect my new second hand bike with its new fittings, at a cost of £49 (most of which is for the splendid wicker basket).

Wicker baskets are a lot better than wire ones, because things don't fall through all the time as they do with the wire ones. You can even carry your keys in a wicker basket. Thankfully, the newly fitted bike survives in our back garden till Monday. The plan is to take it to Norwich on Monday morning.

But remember, we still have the Spiffy Bike locked up at the station (I've been checking it's still there each time). It's been there for three weeks. To sort out the logistics of that I should have taken the new bike to the station on Sunday and ridden the Spiffy Bike home, but I forgot to do that. Never mind, we'll sort it later.

End of episode 2.

A list of my bicycles 1

A list of my bicycles:

1. My Cambridge Bicycle (red and white).
2. Spiffy Bike (blue and white)
3. Horrid Pink Bike
4. Purple Pioneer
5. Black Mountain Bike
6. My Norwich Bicycle (green, currently gone missing)
7. My New Norwich Bicycle (green, not yet in Norwich)
8. Chris's Bicycle (black)

As someone once remarked, I've got bicycles in all the liturgical colours, so in principle one could go to Church on the correct colour of bicycle in the same way that Shirley Dex goes to church in the correct colour of hat. That would be possible in principle, if the bicycle were in the right place at the right time, which, of course, is unlikely.

But let me explain about the bicycles.

1. My Cambridge Bicycle
This is a traditional women's bicycle with white metal mudguards and a proper chain guard. It used to belong to my mother, but she's in her eighties now and doesn't ride it any more. I'm not sure when she acquired it (in my memory she never had anything else, but it's not awfully old, maybe 1970 perhaps). It has no extra gears: you just get on it and ride at whatever speed it goes. Nothing ever goes wrong with this bicycle and it is a delight to ride.
Last Christmas the professor gave me some skirt-guard panels to make it easy for me to ride a bike when wearing elegant long clothes. There was only one bicycle they could be fitted to, and that was My Cambridge Bicycle, because it alone had proper metal mudguards of the traditional sort. Given that it also has a decent chain guard, this bicycle is now by far the cleanest bicycle to ride whatever the outfit. From that time on it's become my regular bike, used for all purposes in Cambridge city. It also has a particular good wicker basket. It has no disadvantages except that it's extremely hard work to ride up the slope from the underpass at East Road Roundabout, especially when laden with luggage.

2. Spiffy Bike
This is among my absolute favourites. Probably it is my absolute favourite. It's a Raleigh Topaz, a very lightweight sporty bike with dropped handlebars and five speeds. The top gear is quite high (for a woman's bike anyway) so one can zip along much faster than on a traditional town bike. The angle of the frame is also very efficient so it's easy to get downward pressure on the pedals with little effort. This is the bike I prefer for long cycle rides on good roads.
I bought this bike second hand from the cycle shop on the Iffley Road in Oxford sometime in the 1990s. I forget how much it cost: probably about £70 I suppose.
For a long time this also served as my emergency bike (to get on in a hurry when you find the usual one's got a flat tyre and you're in a hurry, or whatever). Some years ago I added a back carrier so that it was a bit more usable if one had things to carry in those circumstances: it's a matter of balancing the desire to keep the weight low against the desire to have a bike that is at least functional for ordinary purposes.
I've got a wonderful dynamo lighting set on this bike. I'm not sure you can get these now. It has a roller that fits below the frame and rolls against the tread of the back wheel. The front light has a spectacularly good halogen bulb. It's usable on country roads at night which is useful. Unfortunately the dynamo has been making excruciating noises of late, so I fear it may be in a bad way.
This bike also has a perfectly magnificent bell which came from my father-in-law and dates back to goodness knows when. It makes tourists jump out of their skin so is a great pleasure to use in the summer.

3. Horrid Pink Bike has a very particular virtue: it is so horrid that no one ever wants to steal it or even to vandalise it. Periodically I think of trying to get rid of it, but so far have had no success in this endeavour.
The origin of this bike is that I bought it in a hurry from a shop in Gwydir Street in Cambridge in 1997, when I was engaged to deliver a weekly series of lectures in Cambridge. At the time I was living in Oxford and working in Swansea. On Mondays I had to travel from Oxford to Cambridge, deliver my lectures, and then go on to Swansea by way of London (I would then teach in Swansea for the rest of the week and head back to Oxford on Thursday evening or Friday). I needed to have a usable but not very special bike to keep at Cambridge station to get me to the Sidgwick site and back each week. Horrid Pink Bike seemed to be acceptable for the purpose, and was the best I could find in a hurry. It was second hand of course, and the price was about £40. Actually that was extortionate, and I thought so at the time, but it did come with dynamo lights (very poor quality, but working).
When I bought it I also got a good lock for it. I now realise that a lock was quite unnecessary.
After I finished my lecture course in Cambridge, Horrid Pink Bike lived for some years at the home of some friends in Cambridge, and was used just occasionally when I or my daughters were spending time in Cambridge for one reason or another. Another of its virtues is that it is junior sized. This is a virtue if you are short, but not if you aren't.
Some time later, when I had left Swansea and was working in Liverpool, Horrid Pink Bike once again came into its own. I had been having some trouble with vandals at Liverpool Lime Street Station, who would inflict some minor damage on my bicycle over the weekend, and make it unridable for the following week. In desperation I took Horrid Pink Bike to Liverpool for the sole purpose of using it for the journey to and from the station (while my preferred bike stayed the weekend at my flat). This was a great success. Horrid Pink Bike never had any trouble and could be left at the station for weeks without suffering anything except having its basket used as a litter bin. Forgivable if irritating, because stations now refuse to provide litter bins since the Reading station bomb (so that means that naïve but well-meaning people, who like to throw their rubbish in a waste paper basket, think that it is helpful to put it in someone's bike basket, rather than put it on the floor).
Of late Horrid Pink Bike has not been much used. I keep trying to offer it to students as a gift or on loan (I was hopeful that one of Annie's friends might be pleased to have it) but no one will take it. So it sits in the garden going rusty, and whenever you do want to use it the tyre is flat or the lights don't work.

To be continued in a later post.

What does it mean to be green?

It means that bicycles occupy quite a large place in your life...

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Bicycles: episode 1

I have approximately something like six or seven bikes, depending on whether I'll ever see my favourite green bike again.

Just before Christmas, my favourite green bicycle, the one that I used to ride most of the time in Norwich, had a flat tyre. So I brought it home to Cambridge for the Christmas vacation, thinking that I would take it to Cambridge Station Cycles to have the puncture mended. That would have been convenient, because you get off the train at Cambridge station, take the bike to the menders, leave it there to be mended, go back and find your normal bike where you left it before you went away and ride home. Then, when you want to take the bike back to Norwich you ride to the station on your Cambridge bike, lock it up in the racks there, go to the cycle shop, pick up your Norwich bicycle and pay for the repair, and then take it back to Norwich on the train. That's a lot simpler than trying to get to one of the Norwich bike shops with a dead bike (and then get back without a bike at all).

Unfortunately the plan didn't work exactly. I arrived in Cambridge a bit too late. It's true that the station cycles work excellent long hours, and oftentimes they are open. But because I'd had to walk to the station in Norwich I was a bit late and I didn't get back before 8 pm. So when I got to Cambridge the shop was closed. Failure of the first part of the plan.

So I locked up my Norwich bicycle at the station, unlocked my Cambridge bicycle and rode home.

Now this was just before Christmas, as I said, and life was very busy. Off and on I remembered my bicycle still left at the station, but most of the time I forgot it. Eventually, on Saturday before Christmas, I remembered it at a time when I could do something about it, so (on my way to somewhere else) I rode to the station on my Cambridge bicycle, intending to unlock the bike and take it to the cycle shop. But alas, when I got to the station I realised that I hadn't brought the key (which I keep on my Norwich key ring) with which to unlock my Norwich bicycle. So I couldn't take the bike to the bike shop, after all. Of course, I could have taken it there still locked up but I don't think the cycle shop would have been willing to mend a puncture with the wheel still locked to the frame. Actually, there's an interesting question as to whether they would have mended the puncture at all. Many bike shops just replace the tube instead, and since the station cycles became large and busy I'm not sure they still do real work.

Well, what I did do while at the station was look at the shop opening hours. The shop announced that it was to be open on Sunday, Christmas Eve, from 10 till 4. But then it was to be closed from the 25th December to the 2nd January. Was I going to return on Sunday to take my bike in? Chances were they'd say "Don't bring it now: we don't want it until 2nd January". No, I thought, that was going to be quite likely a wasted trip.

Instead I decided to leave my bike there, and fetch it sometime over Christmas, take it home and my husband (whose main role in life, besides baking the bread and being a professor, is mending bicycle punctures) would mend it in the kitchen (or in the garden if the weather was warm). The disadvantage of this was that I'd have to walk home with it from the station. That takes about 20 minutes. But a walk at Christmas time is sometimes a good thing.

So that was what I did. On the 27th December I rode to the station on bike number 3 (Spiffy Bike: I'll give you more details on the list of bikes in a later post). Locked up Spiffy Bike at the station, unlocked Norwich bicycle (I'd remembered the key this time) and walked it home. Later that day the professor mended its puncture. Then we left it in the back garden along with four other bikes (two of mine, one belonging to Annie and one belonging to the professor). The lock was in the basket.

Two days later the bike disappeared from our back garden without warning (apparently while we, and three of the other four bicycles, were out with the family for a meal on my birthday). This is odd because we have lived in Cambridge for five years, and always left the garden full of bikes, all of them unlocked. There's never been any evidence of bike thieves in the area before, as far as I'm aware. And it's such a shame they took it after the professor had gone to the trouble of mending the puncture (though fortunately I'd decided to wait till after the winter before replacing the chain and block which were very worn and giving trouble).

So by this stage we had the Spiffy bike still locked up at the station, and nothing to take back to Norwich.

End of episode 1.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Carbon footprints

On Friday my friend Mary asked me whether I'd been to Lyon by train and ship as one should. And I had to admit that I had taken a cheap flight by Easyjet. And then she asked me how I was doing on carbon emissions this year and whether I was going to offset my carbon emissions by funding some carbon reduction project somewhere.

Well I think that's a fraud, and I said so. Mind you Mary was only teasing me. But it's a serious issue.

And I was annoyed last week to see that Tony Blair thought he could get away with jetting off on long haul flights just for the holidays and then excusing himself by "offsetting" the carbon.

And then I saw James Warren's post about the School run. Now the School Run is another thing on which I have views.

And then I thought it was about time I started a Blog on this subject. Because hardly a day goes by when I don't get the feeling that there's something to say on it. And it would be interesting to see what other people say in response.

It'll also be a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. More anon.