Edinburgh is a great city for cycling.
Actually, forget I said that: Edinburgh’s dreadful for cycling. It has
difficult hills, cobbled streets, roads pocked with potholes and perilous
tramlines. Then there are the trams themselves, which are almost as
treacherous as general traffic… but not a patch on taxi-divers whose universal
disdain for the cyclist makes sharing a road with them a dangerous and
As ‘professional’ road-users, taxi-drivers
show the least aptitude (not to mention, courtesy) in their manoeuvring skills;
they indicate their intentions simply by whacking on the hazards. No, Mr Taxi
Driver: putting on your hazard lights and stopping dead in the road does not
indicate that you are pulling in having checked your mirror. It simply means that
you are a HAZARD.
We have a nod towards priority areas
at junctions, although these are largely ignored (especially by drivers of
BMWs, who I'll come onto later.) Cycle-lanes are shared with buses with ‘Don't
pass on the left’ stickers on the back – a patronising instruction as pointless
as ‘Baby on Board’ signs when it comes to drivers’ behaviour improving
There is a pretty good network of
cycle paths formed out of former railway lines, wittily named the Edinburgh
Innertube. The down-side of these is sharing them with dog-walkers and blackberry-pickers,
more perilous than toddlers whose parents are quick to yank them out of the
way. Dogs, however, whether on the leash or not, are usually as daft as their
I could get political about this and
talk about various ‘BUGS’ (Bicycle User Groups) and lobbying parliament to
improve the cycling infrastructure, but this 2-part post is about
cycle-parking. Recently there has been an increase in ‘Sheffield stands’ and
'cycle-hoops' (some, cutely heart-shaped) around the city. Perhaps the most twee are the
designer bike-racks by the Parliament building.
It riles me that supermarket cycle-racks
are placed in the open air, while smoking-areas are under cover. At my local Morrisons,
no-one uses the useless ‘toaster’ racks, but instead use the yellow handrails –
one of which has recently been wrenched out of the concrete. But look at the
smokers in their cosy doorway!
But my biggest bug-bear is these
If railings are private property,
this is fair enough; or where there are safety or access issues this makes
sense. However, the attitude that bicycles make the place look scruffy
is absurd. In Part 2 of this post, I will tell a story about someone who was
sorely offended by the presence of bicycles.
But to end on a lighter note, here is a tale
of two bicycles.
Three years ago I took part in a
poetry slam run by Inky Fingers, in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival of
Cycling (EdFoC) which is currently running. I decided to take a story that I’d
written (and been invited, by Edinburgh City of Literature to read at the Edinburgh
International Book Festival – my debut appearance!) and turn it into a
Just like me, she was orange.
Brightest orange – not yellowy-red,
or the colour of leaves on the
Nor what those humans call ginger,
or burnt sienna.She was orange
the colour of, well, an
Though I’d seen others of similar
she dazzled with metallic
I figured it unlikely that I’d ever
this gleaming creation again.
Her chrome was grubby,
her chain a little rusty,
but she had a lovely frame,
just the right proportions.
Sparsely adorned; no extraneous
markings, frivolous additions
or pointless accoutrements –
she was, you might say, quite au naturelle.
If you don’t mind me saying,
she had a damn fine rack
of gears on her – front and
She might have spotted me
as I free-wheeled round the corner,
but we were likely to be
ships that passed in the night –
or bikes that peddled by in
Cycle-romance is only fleeting.
People think we’re chatting
when we’re chained in bike-sheds,
or touching tyres along the
Do our owners suppose,
when they jam us up together
on the bike-rail outside Tescos,
we talk about our favourite
or moan on about dog-walkers
on the Leith to Newhaven inner-tube?
Perhaps they fancy the idea
that we enjoy a little frottage, or
for all our revolutionary fervour,
we play ‘footsie’ with our pedals.
The idea that we talk is fantasy –
what humans call ‘projection.’
Even when we’re made to touch,
through careless application of a D-lock,
our sole communication
is when we clash together.
It is, for some, the briefest
a momentary silence, broken.
But for most of us, we leave
could be spoke, unspoken.
Despite leaving a cliff-hanger, I wasn’t sure if I
would make Round Two, as there were other, far more worthy poems about cycling.
However, it seemed both audience and judges approved, and I was through. So my
As I was saying, a bicycle tryst
is a fleeting thing; a momentary
a clash of antlers some might say,
or for us, a clash of handlebars.
For some, a courteous ‘hello,’
those with heavy chains mutter, Oi,
The rusty, trusty roadsters keep
While the angry mountain-bikers tend
I’ve had some clashes in my time,
but only one
resulted in this love-at-first-kiss
I saw her once again, my orange
shining like a spangle in the
I was innocently drifting along a
former railway line
that naively skirts the Seat of
some archaic King;
How do I remember it was autumn?
because my owner kept on swerving
to avoid the brambles, prams and
and, in addition to ramblers,
who have a terrible habit
of walking backwards into the path
with their tupperware boxes and
Tesco carrier bags.
There’d been no rain for three
but still the tunnel was dripping
as Glasgow’s ‘Clockwork Orange’
The wind, if not the gradient, was
in our favour;
He pushed against my pedals with
And as my rider and I were about to
the light was blinding, and that’s
when I saw her;
Or at least, that’s when I felt a
My owner, being more careful with
than his cycling, hadn’t switched
my front light on.
As we drew closer to the exit,
dazzled by the sun,
he didn’t see this woman enter the
She was negotiating her (my
the railing stopping us from
hurtling into the abyss.
We clashed – smash – with a
The gentle ‘ping’ of her bell said
that needs to be said in a bicycle
Her basket impaled itself on my
But like all such encounters, it
I could feel us both saying, deep
in our well-oiled
sprockets, to our respective
come on, this is it!But they blew it.
Each said to the other: are you
yes, I’m fine, are you, no really,
oh no, it was my fault, no mine,
you sure you’re okay,
yes, no really, I’m sorry – and so
Off we rode – or more accurately,
were ridden –
in opposing directions of
As Harry Giles, the compere for the evening
pointed out, this was a canny tactic for a poetry slam. “But will there be a Part
3,” said he. Only if I got through to Round Three would the audience find out!
Luckily, I made it: I was up against the laconic Max Scratchman – and the
The shop-bell of the newsagents
out of my reverie; I was back on
There, on the other side of the
street stood she,
my lookalike, dream bike,
I wonder if my owner saw me
He unchained me, clearly teasing,
me to where she rested waiting for
He stopped an obvious while,
looking her over.
Who owned this splendid thing, this
this other half of a matching
She may have been thinking the
I hope she wasn’t
It was for me, in bicycle-terms,
the eternal question.
But it wasn’t the end of the
Believe it or not, we met once
This time, my owner attached me to
post.We had that moment when our frames
were jostled together, a brief
a touching of souls that spoke of
our inner desires
(which, for bicycles, is all about
the air in our tyres,
not our hollow hearts.)Then I noticed something
that made my gear-cables
My owner had inadvertently
(what humans would call, Freudian)
slipped the chain through her frame.
We had a connection!
What if her owner came back
and, unable to remove her bike
became frustrated, angry, or worse
Would he return before her and, disengaging us,
leave all they might have spoke unspoken?
Could it be that our owners might
return to their bikes at the same
If so, would it be a polite
a shared recognition, or (this was
a discovery of the self
for which each had been
A part of me (that over-active
with which some bikes are saddled)
wondered if my owner was lurking
in the shop doorway until she
Then he would appear and unlock
far more than a combination.
I couldn’t see him – my view was
by my companion’s fulsome
Instead, as time ticked on,
I started to form my freewheeling
fantasy of who she might be.
Was she a ‘Cycle-Chic’ type who,
refusing to wear
to look trendy and seasonal as she
through The Meadows?Would she be dolled
up with high-vis jacket and
sporting one of those helmets
that look more like tin pots than
-gear?My owner wouldn’t be seen dead
in one of those.By the look of her tread
and her mud-spattered saddle,
I figured this owner had ventured
further up a mountain than a brief
around Calton Hill or Arthur’s
As time ticked on, I felt
What did my conjoined friend think?
Then, as slow as a puncture, my
like an un-oiled chain with a
And as we were untangled from that
of once-shared orange light,
we both might well have said, I
But in fact, the clash of
amounted to no more than:
I’m sorry; no really.
Talk about ending on a downer: the sad conclusion
of unrequited bicycle romance would surely leave the audience deflated? But no:
I won the applause, the slam, and the tee-shirt!
Tune in next week for the second part of this
Skewing the anonymity with which this blog began (see December 2009), my twitter-biog says “Writer, photographer, poet, composer, phone-box fanatic and film-buff - all to varying degrees of accomplishment.” Here, then, is the evidence: weigh it up.
This is my third blog (the first two, part of my old life, are no longer extant) and was started as a way of lifting the lid on my turreted loneliness and saying, I’m still here, still writing, still alive – and thriving. The window is open: come in and have a look around. And follow me on
NB: All poetry and prose on this blog is entirely fictional; comment and opinion is my own.