Getting out more: Day 2

Finding a cycle route north from the northern tip of the Cotswolds to the southern part of Leicestershire is rather tricky, as there is a band between Coventry and Birmingham which is very built-up. What roads there are tend to be trunk roads, which all cyclists should avoid like the plague if they value their lives. The most obvious routes north for cyclists tend to avoid the East and West Midlands entirely, and either go up through Shropshire (which I normally do) or go east of Rugby and Leicester. However, my route demands that I go right through the middle. I started by going east of Stratford to pick up the Fosse at Wellesbourne.

The Fosse at this point takes the form of the B4455. Most motorists regard B roads as “small” roads, but from the cyclist’s point of view, they’re a mixed bag. This one turned out to be dicey, because although traffic isn’t heavy, most that there is is enjoying the Romans’ propensity to make straight roads, so tends to be going fairly fast for a rather narrow road. Although the Fosse is straight, it has to negotiate any hill in its path, so visibility over humps is as bad as if there were bends in it. But many motorists seem to disregard this, oblivious to the possibility that, having cleared a small summit, they could suddenly find themselves bearing down on a cyclist on a laden bike with a 50MPH speed difference between the two road users. On more than one occasion I was passed at about 40MPH by a vehicle weighing several tons, with a clearance of less than a foot. Car, lorry and van drivers regard this as a successful clearance, but what they’re not aware of is that the non-fatality of the encounter was due, in part, to evasive action by the cyclist, who has had to instinctively adjust his or her balance to avoid being sucked into the passing vehicle’s slipstream, which in the case of a long vehicle is considerable. This sort of experience is bad for one’s psychology, which explains the permanently aggressive nature of some cyclists towards anyone behind the wheel of a motorised vehicle. Basically, too many encounters like this have just messed up their brains. For this reason, I was glad to get off the Fosse and make my way by lanes through the delightfully-named Offchurch, north of Leamington’s suburbs, through the rather drab Kenilworth (terrible town architecture, but with an amazing castle) to my special set of rare country lanes which would take me between Birmingham and Coventry without a street lamp in sight.

Unfortunately for the residents of the tiny villages on this charming network of lanes, being in the one part of the Midlands which has escaped urbanisation means that they are now part of a precious band which makes up the only route left, not only for solitary cyclists, but also HS2 – the planned fast train route from London to the North-West. As I passed through villages such as Burton Green, I kept seeing protest signs by each driveway. The reason is that the railway’s route is set to carve the charming little village in two. Although its environmental impact will not be as severe as a trunk road or motorway, the community will never have the same sense of unity or tranquillity again, which is very sad.

The landscape gets more undulating the further north you cycle, so by the time I reached the border with Leicestershire, I had become used to a more strenuous mode of cycling, with gentle hill-climbs and the rewards of descents following. I arrived earlier than planned (2.30pm) at the home of my hosts, John and Marion Plant. They are due to return from holiday tonight, so it was arranged that the key would be located for me in the dog-kennel. Now John is particularly adept at taking the mick out out of your intrepid author, so I was wondering whether I would find, instead of the key, a note saying “Welcome to your home for the night. ps. we aren’t back for a fortnight.” However, John was good to his word and the availability of wifi for the first time in the journey means I will hazard posting a few photos.

Again, an easy ride today. Tomorrow is also fairly light, but the the hard stuff bites on Thursday, together with some northern hills.

Theme tune

Map of the ride

Trying to support dairy farmers

Like many people in the UK, I have great sympathy for the plight of dairy farmers, who have struggled for years with the fall in the effective cost of milk. The move by supermarkets to start another price war means that dairy farmers are making a loss on every pint of milk they produce, and after years of falling prices, there aren’t any savings left to make. I’ve tried to do my bit to support the cause by posting info from the Farmer’s Weekly on Facebook. But the only direct action I can take concerns where we buy our milk. This is the information I have gathered so far, but as far as I know it’s only valid today, and even then to the best of my knowledge, so I would be interested in comments as to what others think…

  • Morrisons and Asda seem to be the worst in forcing down milk prices.
  • Co-operative supermarkets have recently said they will not activate planned price reductions.
  • Milk processors Robert Wiseman and Arla are being blockaded by farmers as I write. According to their website ‘Robert Wiseman Dairies processes and delivers over 30% of the fresh milk consumed in Britain, every day.’ I know they bottle milk under their own brand, but I guess they also do the same for supermarket chains. (But which ones?) Arla bottle milk under the Cravendale brand.

In the end, the milk consumer in Britain should support the plight of our dairy farmers, not just because they are our neighbours. If we allow supermarket price wars to destroy the milk production infrastructure of our country, we will soon find ourselves drinking imported milk, the shipping costs will be added to the price and it will do further damage to the UK balance of payments. It’s not like we can’t afford milk, which is far cheaper than the bottled water which so many of us consume by the gallon.

Christine Sine is blogging about gardens

Back in the 1990s, in the early days of the Third Sunday Service, we did a service on the theme of gardens. Obviously there are gardens in the Bible, but what’s perhaps of more interest is the relationship between the gardener and the creation. Gardening is an activity of working with, and against, nature. Gardens are articial spaces, in that they seek to control the natural forces of chaos in nature which would otherwise have their sway. At one level, there is nothing wrong with nature space at all. However, gardening offers human beings the chance to selective work with-and-against nature to create various desired effects. In some ways, it parallels the relationship which God has with creation: in Genesis 1 we see the Spirit of God brooding over the waters of chaos, and from gardening we get the insight that creation isn’t (unlike other parallel near-Eastern myths) a crushing of chaos, but a shaping of it. Creation happens when God becomes enmeshed in chaos for his own, creative, purposes.  So it was good to see the Christine Sine has been theologising and spiritualising about gardens.  You can catch this on the Emergent Village website and her own website.

Wisdom from Truth or Consequences

Whilst staying with Chris Webb, an old student of mine and now President of Renovaré, we were looking at a map of the USA in his office and I happened to notice that in New Mexico there was a town called Truth or Consequences. What a great address!

I was somewhat surprised, then, to be directed to a very interesting blog post by two residents of the very same town, discussing the likely impact of the current financial crisis on the values as lived out by poorer societies.  They write:

When we built a world on top of one that was given to us and we thanked ourselves for it we parted ways with the natural world and we made gods of ourselves for the doing of it. What do we have to gain from this collapse? Only paradise and the rediscovery of our humanity. And perhaps wealth will finally move to the hands of those most capable of holding it, those who know how to live in the real world a world that teaches us through our ability to live in it that the health of the individual is dependent on the health of the whole.

Thanks to Gina Trapani at Lifehacker for the link.

Praise the Lord and press the accelerator

I’ve been an active, adult Christian for about the same time as I have been an active supporter of green modes of human transport. For me, the two all but go inseparably together.

So when I saw this story about Christians praying for lower gasolene prices – and apparently getting an answer to their prayers – I had one of those ‘my religion is up for sale’ moments …

Bristol-Bath Cyclepath: relief and hope, or false dawn?

The BBC is reporting a change of heart by the councillor who was pushing the idea of converting the wonderful, first-of-its-kind Bristol-to-Bath Cyclepath to dual-use as a bus lane. You can get the story here. If they’re right, the idea is dead in the water, with a face-saving climb-down for Councillor Mark Bradshaw after seeing a similar bus scheme in Cambridge (and also implying that he’d never actually looked at the width of the required route – yes, right…)

However, last time the BBC reported on this story, they gave the false impression that the council had done an about-face, when in fact it hadn’t. So I’m not opening the champagne until I hear confirmation from Sustrans and CTC. But here’s hoping that, this time, the Beeb have got the facts right.

Rapid Bus transport scheme and the Bristol to Bath cycle route

Many in Bristol will be aware of the worrying draft plan to convert the Bristol end of the Bristol-Bath cyclepath into shared use with a Rapid Bus Transport scheme. Over 9000 people have signed a petition against the idea, and tomorrow there is a celebration of the path for walkers and cyclists, to indicate how precious a part of Bristol this is.

The BBC today have posted a news items called “Bus Lane Scheme hits buffers“, indicating that Mark Bradshaw, Executive Member for Access and Environment, has said that it would now “be focusing on other priorities”. However, in his video statement, he appears to say no such thing: he refuses to rule out consideration of the plan as part of the whole consultation process, so I don’t really see what has changed. I’m hoping that lots of people show up in support of leaving the path exactly as it is …

You can see Cllr Bradshaw’s statement here …

Instructables – my favourite geek site to date…

Today I hit upon an astonishing example of a web collaboration site: Instructables.  It’s founded on the simple fact that many people out there are home-engineering solutions to problems using parts and tools that can be found in the average home shed.  It’s the ultimate site for shed-man types (and I include myself) who would much rather build something themselves if it can be done easily and cheaply.  Instructables then encourages these amateur home-inventors to publish a set of instructions, with pictures, on the site of how to make the product.  The site has also given me a great new phrase (and concept): ‘open-source hardware’.  Their range of themes vary from cooking recipies, through bikes (of course!) and sewing, to electronics.  Back to the sheds people!

Recycling in Bristol isn’t working

OK – here’s the rant about recycling which I threatened earlier.

Tracey has already described her woes. For us, E-day happens on 8 August, but we’ve known it’s been coming for some months now. From that day, routine garbage collection moves from a weekly to a fortnightly basis. The present situation is already a shambles, and it looks like this:

In addition to our wheelybins, everyone in Bristol has a little black box, presented by our municipalia, which will take: paper, glass and metal, shoes and old clothes. It’s about the size of an old cardboard box. It’s just big enough to salve everyone’s consciences, but not big enough to be particularly useful in removing a significant amount of waste from a family household. For that, we’ve got the wheelybin. The little black box won’t take: cardboard or plastic. It is emptied weekly.

We are a household of four, including two teenagers. They consume huge quantities of food at the moment. Most of this food comes in cardboard or plastic packaging. None of this can presently be recycled. It accounts for about 3/5ths of our total rubbish, with a slight bias towards plastic rather than cardboard packaging. I also have a composting bin, which I use, but others in the family have been reluctant to use.

From 8 August, our wheelybins will be emptied fortnightly. The little black boxes will continue to be emptied weekly. In addition, we will have a little plastic bin for perishable food waste. And cardboard will henceforth be collected for recycling. But not in the little black box. It’s got to be left loose, by the side of the perishable food box. Presumably, it’s the responsibility of a different department from the black box emptiers. If it’s rainy, this will turn into a sodden mush. If it’s windy, it will blow all over the street. Nice.

Plastic will not be collected. The only plastic being recycled in Bristol is plastic bottles. To recycle plastic bottles, we must please make our way to the local Recresco bottle recycling skips. Our nearest is tucked away by an out-of-the-way bar in Clifton. I never go near the place – neither do most of the local residents. Even if we were so keen to recycle that we were to make the trip, most of households of more than one person will take our bulky plastic bottles in our cars about once per month. Probably thereby burning up more by way of fossil fuel than will ever be saved through the recycling of our puny little load. Households can also pay for a fortnightly garden waste collection service, if they can’t compost themselves.

Two of Bristol City Council's recycling partnersNow this is a bit of a curate’s egg: it encourages more recycling, but doesn’t offer effective solutions for its collection – and crucially, doesn’t offer effective recycling of plastic. This is the real bin-filler which could cause the whole waste-collection system to break down. This afternoon I was driving along the Muller Road – one of those areas first to experience this new regime. Overflowing wheely bins lined the route: a serious public health hazard. The rat population, already high, will benefit greatly (perhaps rats are going to be the great recyclers).

The policy is a shambles, driven by government targets which offer local councils financial incentives based on the percentage of household waste being recycled. Bristol have tried to get their hands on the money, without – it would appear – really thinking through what effective recycling really means. There is little evidence that the policy was thought through by anyone who lived in a largish household who was serious about the need to find a way to get everyone recycling – I’m reminded of the council’s policy on cycling (oh don’t get me started on that!). The bottom line is that effective recycling only happens when you bring the service to the end of the gate. Local mini “recycling centres” are an outdated approach which doesn’t take the matter seriously.

So here’s what I think they should be doing:

  1. All houses should have a recycling-only wheelybin, which will hold paper, cardboard metal and plastic. This will be emptied fortnightly. These will be the existing big wheelybins. We can cope that they’re not coloured green.
  2. All houses will have a general waste-bin – this will emptied weekly – new, smaller bins will be provided. Thus providing the incentive to recycle whatever is possible in the larger wheelybin.
  3. All these silly bottle banks and plastic recycling centres should be removed – save the money to pay for effective home-collected plastic recycling. Ditto the ridiculous black boxes.
  4. The garden waste collection should be more expensive – encouraging everyone to compost far more. Much better to rot it at home, then pay a lorry to pick it up to rot elsewhere.

Websites giving more information:

Bristol City Council’s Silly New Policy

A Helpful Composting Guide (yes, my compost bin is presently hot!)

POSTSCRIPT: The only sensible thing I can see written on the web is on the local Green Party site, which shows the truly abysmal recycling record of Bristol, and comments:

It doesn’t help that the city has got itself in such a financial mess that it daren’t pay the price for decent recycling facilities, and it’s stuck with a contract that gives its waste contractor a virtual monopoly when it comes to new recycling initiatives. We’d like to see much more effort made to reduce waste at source; that means acting locally and nationally to cut down on throwaway goods, and to make sure that what there is can be easily recovered for reuse. Meanwhile, the council must take things like composting and plastics recycling more seriously, for starters.”

Meanwhile, in 2004/5, Bristol was sitting at 364 out of 393 on the County Council recycling league issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Sorry, have to stop now, can’t stop laughing …

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