Tag Archives: bike

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not worth the earth – these streets are your streets, this turf is your turf.

There are so very many things that I could write about Climate Camp 2009, and other experiences I’ve had in the last couple of weeks. None of it would be very coherent or cohesive, though, I would find it difficult to get points across, I would argue with myself, I would struggle as I always do.  This statement addresses some of my concerns about it, and this article voices some of my hopes and happinesses.

And what about me? I am well and happy. My head is full of ideas, hopes, fears, half-formed analyses. A lot of things are wrong in the world. Some things are right and good. Some things are ugly. Some things are beautiful. I had some time to think and a lot to think about. I value opportunities to meet and spend time with interesting and kind people. My brother is one of the most interesting and kind people I know. I value time spent with him, above much else. I met several new interesting and interested and kind people, too. I like being heard and respected for who I am. I enjoy pubs, pretty girls, Thai food, sunshine, laughter, foxes, freedom and fire. All of the above were features of my week away. I missed my lover, and my bike. My sister is sixteen years old. I got to Newcastle to see her a few hours before her birthday began.

This weekend just gone was Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year – it started at sunset on Friday. I guess that means I started it by tipsily cycling home from the pub where my newish boss had treated me and a colleague to drinkies following an unexpected, but pleasant, ‘it’s 5pm on a Friday and this bottle of wine has been in the fridge for ages!’ one in the office. I had a ‘credit crunch date’ at home, as the boy and I need all the spare dolla we can muster for paying the deposit on, and buying stuff to go in, our new flat next week. We had a nice meal and watched The Proposition – I’d seen it before, in the cinema with K, but he hadn’t, and it is still as bleak yet brilliant as I remembered. Then we sat and talked about stuff and I ended up crying about EDL and/or UAF until I felt very very sick, and not sleeping well at all, wakefully Thinking about Things until after 4am.

I got up on Saturday morning with puffy eyes, had some tea, and baked some really nice cinnamon biscuits. Then had some more tea, then went out on my bike to meet my good buddy P, who I hadn’t seen in four weeks, due to our busy lives. We met at the start of the canal, rode down the Union canal path (nice and flat, and mostly wide with just a couple of slightly scary bits where you’re supposed to get off and walk, but of course we don’t), over aqueducts and under viaducts, talking about stuff – what we’d both been doing over the month, his 30th birthday being in a few days, bikes – to where it meets the Water of Leith path somewhere around Wester Hailes and so we switched on to that (pretty good, scenic, but a lot more bumpy – rather him than me on that roady bike he has borrowed from his brother while the latter is in New Zealand. Leon can handle all the rocks, sticks and mud just fine) and took it all the way to Balerno, where it somewhat abruptly ends. It had been pretty grey and drizzly all day and a proper downpour commenced just as we stood there wondering what to do, so we went to the shop and bought some milk to have with our biscuits, then went a little way back along the path looking for shelter. I always find it sort of awesome how much cover the trees can offer from even this torrential rain – we quickly found a really nice dry spot with a big rock to sit on.

Then P decided that if we scrambled down a horribly steep bit to the river’s edge, it would be a perfect place for a little fire, but upon investigating my handbag it turned out we had no means of making the fire (a mirror, yes, but not enough sunlight for that) so, as the rain wore off, he went back to the shop and bought a lighter, the cheapest newspaper he could find (Daily Express – ugh ugh ugh!), and a fruit loaf, while I ate an apple and collected firewood. We locked our bikes together just off the path. He leapt fearlessly down the slope to his proposed fireplace and I crept gingerly behind him, which took about twenty times as long, but didn’t fall. He crumpled up paper, mysteriously found a huge, comfortable plank and by means of balancing it across rocks, assembled it into a handy bench upwind so we’d be out of the way of any smoke. I built the sticks into the little pyramid over the crumpled paper, gathered some more wood, and lit the fire. He got a rock and bashed the protruding ends of some ‘deadly’ nails back into his lumber bench, convinced me it was now safe to sit on, and flapped the remaining paper at the base of the fire as a makeshift bellows, to get the flames going. Then we just sat and toasted pieces of fruit loaf on a stick and had them and the cookies with milk and talked and stared at the beautiful fire for a couple of hours. When it was time to go home, we let the fire burn itself out and then doused the embers using water from the river in the empty milk bottle. The sun had come out while we were sitting there and it was finally a really beautiful, crisply sunny late afternoon, and clearly the last day of summer, and the start of something new. The ride back was easy because it was all very slightly downhill, and we had a laugh, and talked about autumn and time and light, places, politics, plants and plans.
I went home and hung out with D without crying about UAF, and made some totally delicious vegetarian chilli. That was Rosh Hashanah. When I was younger I used to go to shul.

I talked to my dad on the phone. My mum’s got swine flu but he said she’s not feeling too bad. He’d been to the first day of his teacher training course at uni, so he hadn’t been to shul either, which is more ground-breaking – and had spent the week working in the school where he’s been volunteering part-time for a while now. He told me that it had been the most enjoyable working week of his life and I wasn’t surprised, but was very happy for him. I told him about my three-month review and how happy I was at work too, and about my plans for my career, and about K’s success in Catalunya, and about my bike ride. He told me about reading a story to the children (And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street) and how he was impressed and amused by some of their own creative writing, and described the way that he cycles to the school and to uni now – it has been a very long time since he hasn’t had to drive to work, as he used to work a long way out of town in Consett and Blyth. And he told me that my sister had been at a surprise party for her (belatedly) and one or two of her friends’ birthdays.
Obviously I’m gutted for my mum being ill, and I don’t really know what my brother did, but for the rest of us I kind of love that we each celebrated the New Year in our own, very meaningful ways. I think God would like it, if there was one.

In summary, then, same as almost always I suppose: small things good, big things… not so good. Or thereabouts. I am not mentioning the footy. My hopes and plans for 5770 are pretty shiny and exciting. They include

  • not filling in one single job application form
  • Barcelona
  • A garden
  • Saving up for this, yeeeah booooi!

Happy new year to you too.

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It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

I don’t do this often, but this is important:

Please, please, please go to the cinema and watch this film this weekend.

The Age of Stupid

If you’re in Edinburgh, it’s showing at the Filmhouse for a week from this Friday, with a bunch of events around the screenings in association with the lovely people of Take One: Action, and on this page you can find local screenings throughout the UK. I watched the premiere on Sunday night, and apart from anything else, it’s bloody brilliant – it really is the most thought-provoking, outlook-changing, unmissable, oddly life-affirming £6 you’ll spend in a good while.

There are terrifying, horrifying moments – as stomach-lurching and spine-shivering as anything from War of the Worlds or 28 Days Later – but this isn’t science fiction. Instead, you find yourself shuddering at things like the realisation that about 40% of natural gas is still being burned off at source across Nigeria‘s 1000 onshore oil wells. Yes, that’s the same natural gas that we use to cook and heat our homes: according to the World Bank, over 100 billion cubic metres of it – that’s the combined annual gas consumption of Germany and France – are ‘flared’, uselessly spewing filthy, toxic smoke into the air, every year, apparently because it’s not easy enough for oil companies to make a profit storing and exporting the fuel. In Nigeria, the practice continues despite the new law prohibiting it from 1 January 2009. Much like the High Court ruling that prohibited it from 2005, then.

It’s difficult not to feel appalled at moments like this – but that’s not the whole story. The Age of Stupid, like our world itself, is beautifully put together, inspiring and frightening by turns; part-disaster movie, part-cautionary tale. There’s no knight in shining armour, no fairy godmother, and no straightforward way to a happy ending, but for me, some of the most thought-provoking moments are genuinely uplifting. Watch the excellently named Alvin DuVernay III – the Shell employee who lost his home and everything he owned, but saved the lives of more than 100 of his neighbours in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina – sitting in a jazz bar and reflecting on what he’s learned from the experience about materialism and the way Americans use energy, the way we all live, and tell me you’ve seen a more – good GOD I hate this word and can’t believe I’m about to use it – heartwarming scene in a film this year.

Incidentally, from filmmaker Franny Armstrong’s fascinating backstage diary: [Alvin] is haunted by all the people he didn’t save. He said he “lost his humanity” that day – because he was so focused on getting as many people as possible that sometimes he snapped when people asked if they could bring lots of luggage or go back for something they forgot. Now he says he wants to find all those people and apologise for being short with them.

If that dude has lost his humanity, there’s a lot of us could really do with finding some of it.

Anyway, got distracted there, my point is: it’s pretty easy to feel tiny in the face of climate change. It’s easy to feel terrified, to feel there’s nothing you can do to help avert the forthcoming catastrophe – in short, to freak out. Easy, but certainly not logical – this is our world, our generation, and this is real change that’s happening now, to us. This is why Age of Stupid media producer, brilliant animator and all-round mensch Leo Murray wants you to

Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip

Very seriously, if you don’t see The Age of Stupid (which would be, well, stupid), if you don’t even read this whole post, then please, please DO take 10 minutes to watch Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip. It’s short, it’s easy, it’s free, it’s got some ace artwork, and it might just change your life. On peut le voir en français ici, and it’s also available in Deutsch, Español, Nederlands, Türkçe and English with subtitles.

Another of the most resonant moments in The Age of Stupid, for me, was a quiet reflection from an Englishman. Piers Guy, a windfarm developer who’s struggling to achieve positive change against the disturbingly blinkered ‘not in my back yard’-ism of a snobbish, Home Counties tweed-wearing set, stands in Airfield Farm, near Bedfordshire, and is reminded of the war and how the land got its name: “You only have to look at the terrible things in our history, which everyone regrets now”, he muses, “massacres, the Holocaust, and a lot of that was just going along with what was the predominant thinking at the time.”

And this is it, this is what I needed: the reminder that yes, massive social, economic and political changes for the better can happen. More than that, they do happen, must happen, and will happen, and relatively fast.24.358

A hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to vote, and it’d be massively unlikely for me to go to university – but as early as the 70s the UK had a female Prime Minister (granted, she was a shit one, but that’s beside the point here). Sixty years ago, black children in the USA were segregated into ‘Negro’ schools, and couldn’t ride buses or trains, use drinking fountains, or play sports with their white peers; today the President is black. These changes have happened within living memory, and there’s more – the film goes into the (rather exciting) possibilities for going forward into a cleaner, greener future and working to achieve a position of global energy equality, which will unsurprisingly involve the US and Europe seriously (though gradually) downsizing our fossil fuel consumption. (Al Gore: ‘They’re seeing the writing on every wall’).

My grandparents, probably some of your parents, remember life during wartime – living in fear through Blitzkrieg over London, and worse in Poland and the former USSR; losing brothers to the fighting, watching children die from treatable diseases. And they remember dealing with serious shortages – they remember the rationing of clothes, petrol, soap, sugar, meat, fat, then bread, then potatoes. Nobody’s asking our generation to give up our lives for our freedom and principles, and we’re not even talking about rationing bread, more like rationing the time we spend with big-screen TVs, XBoxes, cheap flights. Unquestionably we can face this fight. It’s started in the Maldives, it’s coming to Copenhagen this year.

We can do this, we can survive – and more than that, we can and we will live low impact.


Newsflash: Bikes are still amazing!

Who’s with me (pictured)?

Pete Postlethwaite is with me.

And finally, bonus fun, whimsical and actually rather beautiful link by way of a reward for having read this far: check out Leo and Bill’s creation of the universe with milk and a fishbowl.

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Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.

This week I have been mostly jumping for joy24.238

because I have got a new job. In four weeks I will start being an assistant at a small, young publishing firm by the sea. I don’t want to get ahead of myself too much or anything but I think this might actually finally be the beginning of my career. It’s going to be amazing you guys. As are my tiger socks.

I rode my bike all the way to Cramond and back, by the way. With P. He wouldn’t stop showing off and doing tricks. The sea looked like this. It was absolutely brilliant.

I took D, my favorite colleague, to the pub to tell him about my notice, and it was really fantastically sunny so we sat out in the beer garden and we talked about everything and laughed and even had little bits of seriousness chat as well. It was ace. Then I rode my bike home really fast again. I’m going to get a new tattoo.

Tomorrow I’m going away up North with Dollface and we are very excited! Just to stroll about in a changed scene and have a little mini-holidayette. There is much celebrating to be done. Back soon.

I know what you talk about in your sleep.

A quick note of some things that have been happening: I look out of windows. I go to parties. I enjoy the kind warm light of summer evenings and I stay up late. I write letters. I go for walks, I go for bike rides, I try to capture little moments and pieces of things. I try to hold on. I smile, I grin, I laugh, and I make other people laugh. I kiss. I remember.

I went to the zoo in the course of my voluntary work (meaning I didn’t have my camera) and I saw a black jaguar. It was just insanely beautiful. I will have to go back.

I grow beans! P gave me a scarlet runner bean one night, I planted it in my kitchen and was enchanted, thrilled, delighted to see it grow.

weekend
So then I asked him for another one for my office and he gave me three so my colleagues could join the fun – ‘in the spirit of competition’, he said. The race is on. D’s is the tallest and mine is the smallest, right now, which is sort of like our bodies as well. Slow and steady. The one in the kitchen is huge and it’s tying itself in knots, but I think in a happy way.

I went to a party and met lots of people, some of whom were lovely; I talked to people I’d met before and people I only ever see at parties. In the morning, a boy who is an experimental physicist at CERN sat and kindly explained to me about subatomic particles, and the large hadron collider, and the Higgs boson, and why it was important. He wanted to know why I was interested, and seemed happy with my explanation. Behind him, the large kitchen window treated us to a view of the gradually changing sky as the sun came up, from darkness into the most beautiful, bright, pure, sunny day I’ve seen in ages. Conor brought up Richard P. Feynman, quoted something from What Do You Care What Other People Think?. He seemed pleased that I’d heard of him before, knew something about him, as with Murray Gell-Mann, Max Planck, ALICE, singularities and everything else for which I have Laurence to thank. In RPF’s case, actually, it is not L but my parents, I read a book or two of his from their shelves when I was younger, I feel I should state this, I don’t know why.

Here’s one of my favourite things he wrote, on the same note:

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere”. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part… What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
(The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1964)

I walked on home through the morning and everything shone. With dew and new sunlight, but also with something else, I think.

Last night I went to Medina with P and we heard the most amazing thing, a lean man in a check shirt and black beard stepped up on to the modest little stage and he sang; in the yellow and red light he made a thousand wonderful sounds using only his voice, with a loop pedal gently stroking layers upon layers of resonant rhythms, of murmurs and howls… There’s no way that words are ever going to get close to explaining it. And yeah, there were other performers, there was other music as well. But Wounded Knee and his wondrous wandering lament for Phil O’Donnell blew my tiny mind.
I talked to Simon Kirby who is one of my most admired living people and I hadn’t seen him for ages. I hugged him, in fact. I hope I did not make a fool of myself. Si told us about an upcoming installation he’s working on, where bamboo robots will make traditional Chinese music float in and out of home-grown Scottish leaves and blossoms, echoes fading through the midsummer night’s air. Sometimes, I think I must have dreamed things but actually they were real. I can’t wait.
We stayed out late and lay in the grass in the big dark park because we didn’t feel like going home yet; it was a school night but fuck it, I wanted to see stars. Then as I walked home, savouring again the strange bluish quiet of a deserted Princes Street, I listened to my mp3 player and it played (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? What, indeed.

In the morning I had an email, a sort of free-association free-verse, from Rémy who was one of the loveliest people I’d met at the party; we’d bonded over our mutual love of notes and notebooks, and I’d hoped I’d hear from him again sometime.

alice's afternoon off
It was strictly too sunny to be at work, and I felt funny and fuzzy from lack of sleep, so I just took the afternoon off and rode my bike around in Holyrood Park and it looked like this.

This is my life and it’s pretty fucking incredible, you know.

You’re my number one guy.


That’s how I roll.

My bike’s name is Leon and he is awesome.

I am learning to ride a bicycle.

I am learning to ride a bicycle. Oh yeah.

Don’t ask me how I managed to get to the age of 24 without learning earlier, that’s what everybody asks; I just did, alright. My sister can’t either. My dad did try to teach me when I was about 12 or so; it didn’t work, I guess I was a bad combination of too stubborn and too scared. Now it’s different, my stubbornness is actually helping me in a way, I’m approaching it as a kind of challenge, so I’m thinking ‘huh, riding a bike, anyone can ride a bike, I bet I can too’. Also my very dear friend, P, is helping me. Well, actually he deserves more credit than that. He is not just ‘helping me’, he is: almost solely responsible for bringing bicycles into my consciousness, proselytizing about his whenever I give him a chance; definitely the most constant source of nagging/promising to teach me ever since he found out I couldn’t, at least a year ago; single-handedly undertaking teaching me in a series of early(ish) morning lessons on the Meadows; selflessly allowing his beloved bike to be mishandled, wobblingly ridden and fallen off by me, in what he calls ‘low rider’ mode which is where he’s changed the seat to cater to my smaller proportions; running along behind me holding me up, being encouraging and apologising when he touches my bottom; tirelessly explaining every principle of bike-riding physics and engineering that I think of questions to ask him about, and even the ones I don’t; providing emotional support and tough love and absolutely not allowing me to quit; incredibly patient and tolerant and lovely and cheerful in the face of my cowering, wibbling, sulking, falling, bellowing and cursing; generally going far above and beyond the call of friendship duty; actually quite possibly a saint. Continue reading