Thursday 20 July 2023

Re: Cycling (Part Three)

If there’s one thing that annoys me about my fellow humans, it’s the inability – or refusal – to recycle. Of course, there are lots of other annoying things about humans, but let’s start with this. When I see people dumping any old rubbish in the bins destined for landfill, I have an urge to pick out the bottles and card and plastic and paper. But I’m not a bin-raker.

Public bin with separate
sections - now removed...

(An aside: my Polish friend Marta once sent me a text, having seen rubbish bins in the city centre with ‘Any Old Rubbish in here’ printed on them. She asked, “why would I carry ‘old rubbish’ into town? All rubbish is new.” As a Londoner I found the expression ‘any old iron,’ far too hard to explain, and Marta remained bemused. Lost in translation.)

Living on a ground floor tenement flat I have the dubious pleasure of a selection of bins right outside my front window. In the past few years, the City of Edinburgh Council has removed the large bottle banks from most supermarket car parks, where people could dump their empties without annoying the neighbours nor announcing a drinking habit to all and sundry.

Now there are smaller metal bottle banks on residential streets. While I’m irritated by the sound of bottles being thrown into the wrong bins, I’m majorly disturbed by the noise of bottles clanking into these new bins – even more so when they’re emptied into lorries by equally noisy operatives – setting off car alarms as they do.

I know, there’s no pleasing some folk, right?

Recently I scored a little victory against the Council, regarding their street enforcement strategy. The same friend, Marta, recently moved from Morningside to my neighbourhood, but had left her bike behind, attached to the ‘Sheffield’ bike racks outside Waitrose. Being a sentimental sort, I’m rather fond of this bike, especially since I wrote a poem about it…

'Princess' in 2020 parked outside Henry's Cellar Bar (rip)


She called her bicycle ‘Princess’  

even though, in her mother tongue,  

a bicycle is gendered male. 


Furthermore, the bicycle’s style  

was modelled for the ‘gentleman’ –  

a ‘lady’s’ bike has more finesse,  

presumably. But as we know,  

gender cannot be imposed  

upon a person or an object.  


It’s just a linguistic construct:  

we can be any gender we choose.  

Was Princess named, I wonder,  

in spite of her language’s gender? 

She might have said: “It’s my bike 

 – I’ll call him whatever I like.” 


Perhaps it was that he was precious  

to her that she called him Princess! 

That said, the model had a name  

printed on its (his) lower frame  

by the manufacturer: “Free Spirit.”  

Rather like her character and wit. 


Unfortunately, Marta is less sentimental. When I asked when was she going to pick up Princess, she just said, “He’s rusted,” then added with sad resignation: “The Council have probably taken him away.” True, her bicycle wasn’t in the best condition, and the gears were stuck in the hardest position – not ideal for a hilly city.

A few weeks later, visiting Morningside, I popped along to Waitrose. Sure enough, Princess was in a sorry state: his chain had come off, the tires were flat, and the gear cable was, indeed, rusted fast. Unsurprisingly, there was a notice attached to the frame announcing its imminent destruction.

It had already been there a week; time was nearly up – I needed to act quickly. So, I wrote to the Council’s Street Enforcement Team, begging a stay of execution for poor Princess. I included the poem, suggesting they could read it to see how important this unique bike was to me, and how much I held my friend in high esteem. Explaining that although Marta was a ‘free spirit’ she would not abandon this beautiful bicycle without lawful authority, I asked for some extra time, then I would fix and clean him up in time for Marta’s birthday in early July.

The Council excelled themselves with this reply…


In its current state,

never a second glance


A stay of execution,

wanted a second chance


Shock and dismay,

dishevelment and neglect


A plan of action,

need to repair and perfect


Cunning, timing, a chivalrous act

Proposed procedure we will re-tract


Re-unite Princess and Marta

Agreement from us is your starter.


Happy to comply with your request, please go ahead and remove the notice from ‘Princess’ and good luck in your endeavour to repair and re-unite with Marta.


Kind Regards



Street Enforcement Officer


Luckily for me, the D-lock that fixed the bike to the rack gave sufficient mobility for me to oil and re-attach the chain and replace the gear cable and casings so that all five cogs of the rear cassette were fully functional. I cleaned the frame, pumped up the tires, and gave the chrome a bit of a shine. Question is, was I wasting my time? And how would Marta interpret this ‘chivalrous act’ – as the Council Officer described it?

I’m not gonna lie; as well as sending her a notice in the post from ‘The Bike Fairy’ (a real organisation, although based in Cornwall so it’s unlikely they secretly fix up bikes in Edinburgh) I also popped a copy of this story of unrequited love between two bicycles – which I read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival ten years ago – in the rack on the back, sealed in a plastic envelope.

'Princess' - polished, pampered, and pimped outside Waitrose!

Yet there is so much more to this tale than simply performing what I saw as a piece of non-reciprocal altruism – although many, perhaps even Marta, may reject that claim – or getting one over the Council and their over-zealous treatment of abandoned bikes. It goes back to my views on re-cycling, and it occupies a much broader question too.

The throwaway society we live in is a disgrace. 

The rate at which people throw out things that are unfashionable, faulty, or prematurely obsolete is shocking. The amount of packaging in shops (or delivery boxes if online is your purchasing preference) is alarming, whatever bin you put it in. We farm so intensely that fields are rarely left fallow to rejuvenate the soil, and yet society bins so much food because, even when covered in chemicals, it goes off before we can eat it.

Meanwhile, the Government introduces schemes it believes will alleviate climate change: who are they fooling? Charging for plastic bags in the supermarket is micro-consumerist bullshit. Getting shops to stop putting food in plastic pots, wrapping fruit in cellophane, encasing everything in superfluous wrapping is an impossible task; meaningless when pitched against food's carbon footprint.

A Local Shop

Dear Tesco/Tesco Metro:

why on earth do you sell

asparagus shipped from Peru?


I’m fully aware – and so are you –

this stuff grows perfectly well

in the fields of Kent.


If you went there

to purchase your produce

it would not only reduce


your carbon footprint

but also, by dint

of boosting the country’s economy –


which is better for you and better for me,

and benefits everyone globally –

would bring down the prices on every shelf.


And, as we both know, every little does help.

So why sell Peruvian peas and asparagus?

It’s better for them and better for us


and certainly more beneficial to you

to sell broccoli, sugar-snaps, and mange-tout

that comes from the Garden of England.


Or better still, grown here in Scotland.

And why not? Because people want their food here and now, uniform and regular, fertilised, sanitised, and artificially clean: as fake as their paid-for gym routine. 

Do they care about where their food comes from? Of course not. And are we going to save the planet? Probably not.

Encouraging farmers to use methane-reducing feed for cattle is all very well, but for starters, farting cows are not the biggest producer of methane. And second, better animal husbandry and organic practices will have a far greater effect than feeding cattle seaweed, Mootral Ruminant, Bovaer® or any other synthetically-produced food-source.

The same can be said for those who think planting clover or grassland swards will improve biodiversity. Sure, but only if you’re not fooling us that these gestures work only in pastures where sheep may safely graze. What about introducing agri-environmental practices first on unproductive fields and margins first?

Besides, what’s the point of attempting holistic or regenerative agriculture, or creating circular biological systems when farmers struggle to get organic feed for their farting cows, while others refuse to reduce nitrate fertilisation.

Back in the cities, they’re introducing Low Emission Zones (LEZ) to attempt to make our conurbations less polluted. This is fine if you’ve got the latest, up-to-datest car, or don’t need to drive. As a cyclist I should be happy with this sort of thing. But it’s flawed and unworkable. 

In Scotland, our five largest cities have had LEZ schemes introduced, and Glasgow is the first to see it enforced. A city with a motorway running right through the middle, right next to the boundary of it’s lovely, clean, exhaust-free corridors. 

What a joke.

Worse still, fining drivers of non-compliant vehicles seems like a cheek: a cash-cow for the Council right enough. Put another way, it’s a tax for those who cannot afford to buy a new car, or for those who have no choice but to work and drive in city-centres. Delivery drivers, those in the service industries, and people who cannot use public transport will be unfairly penalised. Then there are the taxi-drivers.

While I have little sympathy for their driving style, it must be said they’ve had a tough deal lately. The pandemic decimated the industry, many taxi drivers left the profession, and companies went bust. Then the Government told them they had to either retrofit or scrap their vehicles if they were from before some randomly selected date.

Taxi drivers have been given grants to destroy perfectly good vehicles! In the case of hansom cabs, Scottish cabbies often acquire their cars from Londoners as there are fewer restrictions up here, but when this scrappage incentive is offered in the expansion of London’s ULEZ who knows where Scottish cabs will come from? As for Glasgow, whose LEZ was the first to be introduced, since it was enforced in June, pollution has gone up, not down.

Whether the UK hits its net-zero target by 2050, or Scotland more optimistically by 2045, I doubt I’ll be alive to experience this utopian dream. I’ll try to do my bit to keep my emissions low (including methane farts) and separate my own, if not my neighbours, rubbish into the appropriate bins; I’ll continue cycling as long as I can, and refuse to dispose of anything perfectly functional just because it’s deemed old-fashioned, out-dated, or obsolete.

As for food waste, here are views on bagged salad...

Perhaps I should go one step further and systematically fix any bicycle that has a Council Scrappage notice on it, even if I can’t re-unite each bike with its owner. At least it would offer the chance to re-cycle a cycle instead of throwing it on the scrap heap. It would probably confuse my poetic friends in the Street Enforcement Team. Or maybe it’ll give them more time to chase up those naughty cars who can’t comply with the pointless LEZ scheme.

I’ll end on a less ranty note, with a piece I wrote several years ago. It was written as a long introduction to one of the Monday night acts at Henry’s Cellar Bar, a great guy who wrote a song about becoming a multi-millionaire. It was also a reaction to finding my way blocked on the way to this bar due to people gluing themselves to the road outside the Filmhouse.

While Henry’s Cellar and Filmhouse are no more, the Stop the Oil protesters continue to disrupt the roads, the tennis, the Proms, and more. Do they have a point? Maybe. Is this the right way to make their point? Who knows. Will they achieve anything. Again, probably not. But at least they’re not scrapping taxis, bicycles, throwing recyclables into any old bin, or feeding their cattle with MOOtral ruminant for the sake of a very poor pun.

A Helping Hand 

When Malcolm unexpectedly came into a vast amount of money, his concern was not that he would never need to work again, but that he might spend the rest of his days drinking or wanking himself to death. Either way, his fortune seemed likely to end up down the drain. 

Although his new-found solvency could have given him a degree of popularity, he palmed off – literally, on a daily basis – the idea of coupledom. He was happily single, filthily rich, and free from his formerly boring life in the Civil Service.  

Even the manner in which he came to inherit his great wad (of money) was humdrum. One of those emails offering to transfer a sum of money into ones bank account. He nearly deleted it. Then he noticed: the name of this distant relative rang a bell. Literally: kerching! 

There was no chance that Malcolm’s funds would run dry. He lived in the same house – a one-bedroomed bungalow – and drove a perfectly reliable Ford Fiesta. He didn’t own a passport (on account of a fear of flying and a bad bout of mal-de-mere on a booze-run from Calais) and didn’t care for expensive food or wine. 

What, then, would he do with his pot of dough? He needed a project, a cause. Suddenly a line from a pop-song, about noble causes, came to him. Something like, ‘help the needy and the crippled, and put some time into ecology.’ 

Malcolm didn’t have the empathy to care for those in need, especially if they were children. He didn’t dislike kids; he accepted that they were the future, but not his future. The only option, then, was to care for the planet. He’d read on some wanky website that adults were responsible ‘for bequeathing the world to future generations.’  

If anyone had asked him if he was a Friend of the Earth, he’d reply: oh, just a friend of a friend. He’d never voted, or looked into the policies of the Green Party, and never got hot and bothered about climate change. So when he petitioned his neighbours about forming a scheme to have solar panels fitted on the roofs of every chalet-bungalow in the street, it was met with incredulity. 

This mild-mannered, middle-aged man from number 42, with a 1970’s moustache who dressed in cords and a lumberjack shirt suddenly wanted to save the planet! People admired his enthusiasm, especially those who were seeing this for the first time. Which was everybody. Sadly, only a few on the street actually had the money to chip into his scheme, which meant that Malcolm ended up footing the bill for ninety percent of the properties. 

He didn’t mind lending a hand. His money – unlike the ozone layer – was in no danger of depletion. He comforted himself that he was giving to both the needy and ecology, thus fulfilling that line from the pop-song. Apart from the bit about the crippled.  

His method of comforting himself quickly reverted to drinking and wanking.  

He needed another project. Malcolm had stumbled into a complicated world, some distance from his simple existence as a Civil Service pen-pusher. But he knew there was much more to do to make a difference.  

His eccentric aunt – for whom he had to thank for his fortune – tackled global activism on a truly local level. She made a stand against the dreadful, consumer-proof packaging that adorned supermarket food. At the till in Waitrose or M&S, she simply removed any extraneous packaging and left it right there on the counter. She ended up barred from every supermarket in town. 

This idea of civil disobedience, nevertheless, appealed to the New Malcolm, now so far from his erstwhile Civil Servitude. Malcolm knew little about the nitty-gritty of ecology. He left that stuff to scientists and Swedish schoolgirls. All the same, it seemed that saving the planet was about more than packaging, solar panels, and cycle-to-school incentives. 

It was about more than bequeathing the earth to future generations; the planet – or its inhabitants – was facing extinction. Action was needed, and rebellion – Malcolm learned at a local rally in a bar called Henry’s– was the only answer. He’d never been disobedient in his life – let alone in a civil way.  

He didn’t have to organise anything, or put up funds; he just had to go along and get stuck in. Literally. At the blockade, the police were in force. Perhaps it was the smell of the glue, or maybe the pint (or two) of Dutch Courage, but when it came to Malcolm’s turn to place his sticky palm on the pavement, he swayed and caught his balance with the help of a nearby phone box. Before he knew it, his hand was glued to the Perspex pane of the door. 

While the Special branch gently scraped the protesters off the pavement with their potions, and fish-slices Malcolm was left like a hapless bystander. Whatever chemicals worked with glue and tarmac, they didn’t work on BT’s plastic window. Instead of a police cell, Malcolm landed up in the Burns Unit of the local A&E. His right palm was permanently blistered. 

Being unidextrous, he retained the ability to lift a pint of bitter to his mouth, but his other leisurely pursuit, with his mangled right hand, was severely compromised. Luckily, thanks to the services of ‘Mandy’ at his local back-street sauna, he was lent a helping hand. With wealth enough to bring pleasure to others, he could barely bring pleasure to himself, let alone save the planet. Malcolm thought this a tad unfair.  

But he was still a multi, multi-millionaire.  


All text and poetry © J. A. Sutherland; photos of ‘Princess’ by the author.

‘A Helping Hand’ was first published in The One O’Clock Gun, June 2022

Re: Cycling (Part One) can be found here; Re: Cycling (Part Two) is here.