The Summer’s about to go, but we’ve still got the roses

A couple of days early, perhaps, but as we prepare to wave goodbye – in calendar terms anyway – to the summer, the last three months have certainly produced a season of contrasts compared with flimsy summers of recent years.



Nearly September and the geraniums have only just reached full bloom
Nearly September and the geraniums have only just reached full bloom

The Weather:

As it’s Britain, we have to start with the weather and in keeping with the bizarre climate patterns of 2013, this summer certainly did not disappoint.  Following one of the coldest, and certainly the latest, spring on record, it took only a couple of days into June before the harsh, east wind of the previous four months was suddenly replaced by still, warm days of glorious sunshine.  And, with the exception of a few downpours – coinciding, of course with my cycling days out – it pretty much stayed like this for the next three months. Consistent temperatures around the mid 30 degrees mark created an almost Mediterranean atmosphere at times, and sitting out in the garden on long, balmy evenings was a long-forgotten pleasure.



Hardy survivors from the bitter spring
Hardy survivors from the bitter spring

The Garden:

The eccentric weather has been accurately reflected in the idiosyncratic growing patterns of plants in the garden.  As I write, on the penultimate day of August, the geraniums are blooming as if it were still high summer and the mountainous Buddleia has retained its pristine white floresence long after its traditionally short flowering season in mid July.  Deep crimson impatiens, which arrived as feeble little plugs in the cold spring, now cascade out of their tubs and the blackberries have already produced enough fruit for daily use, as well as for the freezer.



The gorgeous peacock butterfly
The gorgeous peacock butterfly


But the real highlight of the garden has been the return of the butterflies; in particular, after a sad absence of several years, the small tortoiseshell.  After pessimistic reports forecasting the demise of the entire Lepidoptera species, waves of dazzling peacock butterflies arrived appeared in July, followed by their pretty small tortoiseshell cousins in August.  And today, two gorgeous red admirals have now been spotted on the Buddleia.




Poppy the Pashley: perfectly at home
Poppy the Pashley: perfectly at home


June saw the arrival of a new member of the bike family – and what an appropriate debutant!  The pastel blue of Poppy the Pashley has been perfectly at home amongst the summer blooms and the warm early evenings have provided ideal conditions for a passeggiato on wheels round the village.





Lovely sunny days: ideal for lovely long rides
Lovely sunny days: ideal for lovely long rides


The high temperatures may have been a little uncomfortable for cycling at times, but it sure more than made up for the below zero temperatures and Siberian winds of the early part of the year.  The agreeable conditions also tempted me to get back on the Cannondale (thanks Patrick for the servicing) and experience, again, the exhilaration of cruising along dry roads with only a gentle breeze as your headwind.  It’s also really encouraging to see how popular road cycling has become and, especially, how it now attracts people of all ages and genders.



The 77 year wait for a men's Wimbledon champion, justifies the celebration
The 77 year wait for a men’s Wimbledon champion justifies the celebration

Miscellaneous Highlights:

The standout has to be the late afternoon of Sunday July 7 when Andy Murray finally overcame Novak Djokovic to win Wimbledon.  I’ve watched the tournament each year since I was five and I never thought I would ever see a British man win the singles title: it was suitably historic and emotional.  And, maybe as a result of that, I finally re-joined the local tennis club, bought a new pair of shoes and signed up for some coaching – very necessary after 20 years away from the courts – and, so far, pleased to say, it’s going well.


Even amongst the regular horror stories dominating the news these last few months there have been some uplifting examples of human courage and integrity: the local and national protestors against fracking deserve mention, as do the majority of decent and humane people throughout the country who continue to vehemently oppose the shameful and barbaric badger cull, and even the sensible majority of MPs who voted against any further war mongering in the Middle East.  These may be small chinks of light, but are significant, nevertheless.


Buddleia: the butterfly plant
Buddleia: the butterfly plant

Autumn Preview:

So, finally freed from the constraints of school holidays, I can look forward to spending some of September in Scotland.  The unspoilt, undiscovered delights of Galloway (including, hopefully, the Wigton Book Festival) await, as does a return to Glasgow and its wonderful cafe society, plus the Trossachs, with possibly another circuit of Loch Katrine in its russet autumnal glory, on the cards.


It’s been a summer to remember, but now I can’t wait for the autumn.

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Welcome, but still not nearly enough


Following today’s announcement of  the government’s plans to boost cycling, this is Boot and Bike’s response to our local MP, Michael Fabricant



Dear Mr Fabricant,


I am very happy to read of your government’s very welcome, if belated,

acknowledgement of the need for more investment in provision for

cycling.  Let’s hope this is only the beginning of a more holistic and

pro-active approach that recognises the health, social and

environmental benefits of cycling.


However, in order to encourage as many people as possible to start, or

resume, cycling, there also needs to be an equal recognition that the

current unfair benefits that motorised transport enjoys cannot continue

(compare today’s £77m for cycling with the recent £28b for road

building).  In addition, as many recent cases have tragically

illustrated, the law does need to be reviewed to ensure that those

drivers found guilty of causing death and serious injury to cyclists,

pedestrians and other road users are adequately punished.


In your own constituency there is much to be done.  As a volunteer

ranger with the Lichfield Sustrans group, I witness, first hand, the

chaotic and inadequate provision for cycling within the city.  For

example, even where there is a cycle lane (Walsall Road) it is arguably

more dangerous to use because of the cars parked illegally along it.

Provision for cyclists (and even more importantly for disabled and

elderly customers) at Trent Valley Station, is as I know you agree,

risible.  There is also no safe and straightforward route from City

Station into the city centre.


On a more positive note, it is a delight to cycle from the city (once

past the dangerous junction at Upper/St John’s Street) to Waitrose –

where provision for cycles and their riders is excellent. However, here

in Barton it is very sad to hear friends complain they are not able to

allow their children to cycle to school because of the absence of any

dedicated cycle routes.


Over the last few months Sustrans has re-routed NCN 54 away from the

Main Streets in both Barton and Alrewas to avoid as much traffic as

possible, but it is only the creation of dedicated cycle lanes,

separate from other traffic, that will really improve the safety of



I hope you will give your support to improving provision for cycling,

both nationally and in your constituency.


Yours sincerely,

Jill Phillip


You can email your MP about cycling via Sustrans 

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To Park, Or Not To Park?


While reluctant to draw any more attention to the latest utterance of that tiresome publicity junkie, Eric Pickles, it is an unfortunate fact that the ‘right to park’ is one issue that generates raised blood pressure in this part of Middle England, even among supposed advocates of sustainable transport.

The right to park?
The right to park?

Mr Pickles’ latest suggestion that motorists should be able to park on double yellow lines for up to 15 minutes has, rightly, been ridiculed, not only by pedestrian and cycling groups, transport experts and safety campaigners, but also several retail spokespeople and even some motoring organisations.

But while this is merely the most recent instalment of Pickles’ unrelenting campaign to remain poster boy for the lazy, selfish, unfit disciples of entitlement and overconsumption in our society, it does raise some interesting, and depressing, insights into the attitude of many towards both car ownership and their ‘right’ to park wherever is most convenient to them.

One of the more heartening set of statistics that has emerged in recent years for those of us trying to improve and encourage sustainable transport throughout the country, has been the fall in overall car ownership.  In particular, the results of the last census in 2011 show a marked increase in the number of car-free households.  Indeed, in Inner London, the majority of households are now car free, while in Glasgow that figure rises to 65%.

But yes, I hear you cry, that’s in the cities where they have buses, trains, the underground – and, in any case, you can’t compare London with anywhere else in the UK.  Life is very different out here in the rest of the country. Too true, and as someone who owns a car, not because I want to, or indeed, enjoy driving it, but because I live in a place with negligible public transport, I am only too conscious of this.

But the point is, as clearly shown by this article  even in Inner London where a majority of households are now car-free, infrastructure and transport policies are still, overwhelmingly, being designed round the needs of private car owners.  So the requirements of pedestrians and cyclists for safe areas to walk, cycle and socialise continue to be subjugated to the demands of motorists, when instead we need far more than even a level field policy to try to redress the current imbalance in favour of private motorised transport.

This is not a war on the motorist.  I am a motorist, but I make no apology for trying to discriminate in favour of the less powerful (and less destructive) pedestrian and cyclist in order to achieve a safer, healthier, more environmentally friendly and more inclusive approach to transport in this country.

Despite what Clarkson and co might try to imply, there is no divine right to own and drive a car. In the UK at the moment, more than 25 per cent of adults do not have access to a private car – mostly for financial reasons, but also because of disability and age-related issues – and the majority of them are excluded from all kinds of employment and leisure activities because of this.

And, in spite of Eric Pickles’ best efforts, there is also no divine right for motorists to park their vehicles in the most convenient places for them.  One man’s (or woman’s) accessible parking spot is another’s obstruction or source of danger.  Parking on pavements and cycle lanes is potentially dangerous and often makes it impossible for those for whom they were designed to use them safely, or indeed at all.

The last thing we need is an escalation of the simmering conflict between motorists and cyclists we already see in some places.  But, if we are serious about trying to emulate the cycling culture of The Netherlands and Scandinavia, then we have to accept that our road space is not big enough to provide safe areas for walking and cycling, while still indulging motorists with the belief that they have a greater claim to the roads, as well as the licence to park wherever is most convenient to them.

The Government could start by belatedly recognising that Eric Pickles is just about the worst mouthpiece possible if it really is serious about trying to improve the nation’s health and fitness (its promise to be the ‘greenest-ever government’ now being totally discredited). Far stricter sentences also need to be introduced and imposed on those who kill and maim other road users through carelessness, inattention and breaking existing laws, such as mobile phone use.

But, above all, those of us who are motorists, but say we are in favour of encouraging more sustainable transport need to put up, or shut up.  We can’t have our cake and eat it.

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