I am told that I’m a Millennial and, as such, I’m from an entitled generation. I feel like I straddle GenX and Millenials, though, and I see the painful entitlement on both sides.
Millennials who feel entitled to a job just because they went to uni, something my grandfather rages against having gone to night school whilst working for wages and supporting a young family. I was told by that same grandfather to go to uni to get a good job, then I graduated in the midst of the Great Recession and felt the bitter sting of being unemployable because I both didn’t have enough experience but was suddenly overqualified for entry level work — but still needed to repay huge debt.
But I also see the older generations who’ve worked hard all their lives and feel entitled to their retirements, something that is now being treated as a luxury that won’t be extended to the Millenial generation with the retirement age being raised year-on-year.
But we’re familiar with these generational differences, we’ve heard it all before.
Let’s talk about other types of entitlement.
People who feel entitled to own their own homes which are far bigger than they need while young families can’t afford them.
People who drive cars and feel entitled to park their private vehicles on public roads, making thoroughfares less pleasant and less safe.
Men who feel entitled to write legislation dictating how much control women have over their own bodies.
I’m in the UK and now see why every citizen should be entitled to free healthcare.
“The days are long but the years are short” was something I was told by an older parent, with a wistful look, in the very early days of my new parenthood.
As the years have passed, I’ve come to learn that it’s a really profound statement. I didn’t realise just how much the days can seriously drag, and just how much I’d wish that the children’s harder phases would pass quickly…
But then I’d blink and the day is over and the phase has passed and my baby is not a baby anymore.
It’s actually made me a lot more mindful! I’ve taken up meditating and looked into modern Stoicism, specifically to appreciate the moments and not wish them away nor waste time wishing it would all slow down!
My kids don’t sleep so I spend many nights reading short articles about this or watching short YouTube videos of that, in an attempt to not fall asleep in the rocking chair with the toddler again and wake up with a stiff back and a panic that I could have dropped him.
And one of the topics that I’ve found myself drawn to is “Zero Waste”. I think, in part, because it reminds me of Vision Zero, an international road safety campaign which strives to reduce road casualties to zero. Everyone knows that it’ll never actually be zero, but aim for zero and you’re more likely to get as close to zero as humanly possible.
There are a few really amazing people who manage to live truly zero-waste lives, totally off-grid, growing their own food and re-purposing any waste for something else. For the rest of us, though, “Zero Waste” is aspirational. We know that this is not realistic given how our mainstream society is structured at the moment but, by aspiring to zero waste, we can significantly reduce our footprint on the world.
So I want to briefly talk about tea towels and the beginning of my own zero waste journey. Yes, tea towels.
We bought a stack of ELLY tea towels from Ikea and then liked them so much that we bought another stack. They cost next to nothing and they get used for EVERYTHING. We used to go through quite a few rolls of paper towels but we haven’t bought any in years and I think we still have a few rolls in the cupboard. We’ve got two young kids who make A LOT of mess and so we use a few of them a day to mop up messes, wipe faces, use as bibs, and occasionally actually dry dishes.
We do the laundry often enough that they very rarely get musty smelling in the wet/soiled pail in the corner of the dining room. I think it helps that the pail is actually a wire mesh wastepaper basket so they do breathe a bit — we typically throw cloths and towels over the edge of it until they’re dry and then knock them in.
We regularly use them as bibs — we just drape it over their front, and peg two corners behind their neck with a clothespeg. If you do the narrow edge around their neck, the length of the tea towel covers their whole front AND laps. They’re not waterproof and they don’t cover sleeves but they catch the vast majority of a spilled meal or drink and can just be tossed into the laundry pail. They can also be used to wipe faces and hands after the meal is over if they’re still clean-ish, and mop up the inevitable mess on the floor (because toddlers….)!
Use, pail, wash, dry, fold, repeat, for years! It’s a little thing — but it’s an aspiration and I’d like to think we’re headed in the right direction.
It’s been awhile since I’ve last written anything but I’ve missed it so I’m going to endeavour to take it up again. “Do only those things today that you will thank yourself for tomorrow” is my current mantra!
When I was in high school, probably about 15 years old or so, I found out that my best friend’s parents let her cycle the several miles to the town library. Not one to pass up on an adventure, I begged my own parents to let me join her on a trip. They gave in, but only because my best friend had been doing it for over a year already and they knew I wouldn’t be alone.
The journey on a map looks quite straightforward – down one big long road and then up the other again.
Of course, it was down a great big hill and then up another great big hill. So, she and I would meet at the bottom of a great big hill and we’d cycle up the other hill together. It was only four miles, but it was a fantastically far distance to go without my parents around – at that point, the farthest I’d strayed from them without being driven was a quarter-of-a-mile walk to deliver something to the post office.
It was then that I realised the freedom that the bicycle could offer me. If I could cycle somewhere, I didn’t need to wait for my parents to give me a lift. I could cycle to the library, to my friend’s house, or to the grocery store two miles away. I didn’t do it for fitness, but to get out of the house.
By 17 years old, I was quite happy to cycle the 8.5 miles to a friend’s house across town, bicycle laden with lunch, a change of clothes, books, and whatever else I’d want with me for the day’s adventure. I still remember cycling across town one sunny summer day – at 90F (32C) and humid. I wasn’t bothered, just stopped to take a drink of water every mile or so.
[At this point, I’d include a photo of me with my bike, but I can’t seem to find it just now!]
I wore a helmet (legally required until age 18), but not fluorescent colours. It’s not that it was safer to cycle in my hometown back then, but just that it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be very dangerous. The main roads were wide so I could cycle in the gutter and leave plenty of passing space and there weren’t many cars on the back roads. Actually, the only thing I was ever really scared of on my bike was an angry dog tied out in a garden at one of the houses halfway up the steepest hill – he pulled the chain off the doghouse one day and chased me the rest of the way up the hill, starling at my heels.
I got a car at age 18, gifted from an elderly aunt who could no longer drive. I’d graduated high school, started college part-time and worked part-time. Driving saved time, especially with the distances involved (10-20 miles, depending on which campus I had to drive to), so I all but abandoned my bike to the shed.
I secretly celebrated the handful of times when my car would break down on days that I didn’t have class and I was able to cycle the five miles to the shop where I worked. I remember my family getting upset that I was using my bike to commute rather than asking to borrow a car. In the years since I had started my cycling, traffic had gotten busier along the main thoroughfare and they were worried about my safety. If anything, I worried less as my familiarity and comfort with the roads increased. I prided myself on being one of only a few cyclists in the entire town (I knew the other two, as our paths would very occasionally cross).
When I moved to Edinburgh, at age 21, I initially didn’t take a bike with me. I spent the majority of my first year of my undergrad wishing I had a bike, though, to visit the farther corners of the city in the free moments between studying and societies. When I returned for my second year, I brought with me a budget mountain bike from Wal*Mart that would suffice for the few years I had left of university and wouldn’t make me cry if it rusted to bits.
The first time I tried to cycle on the streets of Edinburgh, though, I discovered the fear. The traffic was on the wrong side of the roads, the signal lights weren’t overhead where I was expecting them, the roads that I frequently walked were one-way in the opposite direction, and there were cars and buses and taxis! I found myself paralysed. I remember standing outside my flat with my bike, unable to get on it and cycle on the roads. I walked to the Meadows and cycled along North Meadow Walk. I intended to cycle back along Melville Drive but couldn’t bring myself to join the road. I cycled back along the pavement until I reached the North Meadows Walk cycle path again. Confused by my nervousness I looped around the Meadows a few times, avoiding pedestrians as best I could, until I finally made myself cross at the pedestrian crossing at the East end of the Meadows, turn Right onto Melville Drive, and cycle on the road back to the West end of North Meadows Walk. I mounted the pavement and congratulated myself but didn’t do it again for awhile.
I remember taking it slowly, re-learning how to cycle in Edinburgh. I remember mostly cycling with my flatmate who was, himself, an avid transportation cyclist. He cycled to class most days while I walked, but if we had somewhere to be together and needed to be there fast, then we could cycle and I would cautiously follow him. I remember the day I raced him across quiet streets to get to flat viewings and we were both surprised by how I’d taken to cycling. It took two years for me to cycle Edinburgh with confidence.
After I graduated, I donated my rusted bike to the Bike Station. I moved down to England where my boyfriend was working and found myself again wishing for a bike. There was a particular style of bike that I’d seen locked to fences in Edinburgh but couldn’t seem to find new or used! I was desperate for a racing bike like I’d used back in Connecticut, but with a dropped top-tube so I could still occasionally wear skirts. I managed to find one on eBay, collection-only in a village outside Nottingham. I fell in love with the cherry-red beauty and duly collected it and had to cycle it the 5 miles back into Nottingham because I couldn’t take it on the bus.
Then, I moved to Cambridge. Cambridge, I’m told, is a cyclists dream in the UK. I found it more terrifying than cycling in Edinburgh because there were more cyclists and the drivers were more impatient with us. Where drivers would pass me wide in Edinburgh, or wait behind me until they could, in Cambridge they’d come within a hair’s breadth. In Cambridge, I had punishment passes, SMIDSYs, and a healthy dose of “damned cyclists”. Cambridge was better in some ways, but much worse in others. But I had a bike that I loved and a need to get out and see the city. I cycled into town every Saturday and Sunday from where I was staying in the outskirts, despite bad weather and impatient drivers. I loved it, despite everything.
I moved to Norwich where my fiancé had gotten transferred and took the train into Cambridge daily. That was when I invested in a Brompton which forced me to leave my beautiful and beloved Raleigh in the storage cupboard in Norwich rather than risk theft or mud at the bike shed at Cambridge station. I was sad about not riding my road bike, but the Brompton was much more practical. After a year and a half of English cycling, I moved back to Scotland and resumed my cycling in Falkirk and Edinburgh.
Things in Edinburgh had changed, noticeably, in the time that I was gone. The cyclists I saw weren’t only other students. There were more cyclists, more high-vis, more helmets. There was strength in numbers reminiscent of I’d seen in some parts of Cambridge but the drivers still didn’t have the impatience of the drivers in Cambridge. I couldn’t cycle as hard or as far as I’d gotten accustomed to on the flat roads of the English city, but it was fine. There was more of a community of cyclists in Edinburgh, rather than the isolation of cycling in Connecticut, or the free-for-all folks-on-bikes in Cambridge. There were a few sporty cyclists, some students, and a whole load of folks who’re just enjoying getting to work.
Before returning to Edinburgh, I didn’t see myself as a cyclist. I was just a person who happened to ride a bike. It was only in a conversation on the phone with my dad, when I’d commented about how much cycling had changed in Edinburgh and how happy I was to be cycling there again that he told me “Oh, Denise, you’ve always been a cyclist, you’ve always loved your bike.” That’s when I started reading blogs by cyclists, learning about cycling campaigns like Pedal on Parliament. I wrote a blog post about it, at the time, describing the different categories of cyclist that I could associate myself with.
I still don’t really see myself as a cyclist, it’s not my profession and it’s not even what I would consider a hobby. I only really ever cycle as A-to-B transport, but cycling is my favourite mode of transport and advocating for the bicycle has become my passion. It’s been really hard giving it up while I was pregnant, and now because I can’t carry an infant — but just wait, I’ll be back out there, soon, cycling to the train station!
I’ve wanted to write this for a long time, but got rather scared about posting anything about feminism after the recent “It’s about ethics in games journalism” nonsense.
The scariest thing is that I have friends who genuinely believe that it really WAS about ethics in games journalism, not about keeping minorities out of their exclusive club.
Feminism in Technology
I’m in the middle of this really great Venn diagram, so I’ve started seeing a lot of similarities in campaigning and threats. I write software user manuals, so I consider myself a part of the software industry. I also commute by bike (at least, I did until pregnancy made me take a break) and have gotten involved in cycle campaigning.
As a woman in technology and as a cyclist on the roads, I’m a minority. And, it turns out, minorities don’t really get treated fairly…
Inpatient drivers and catcallers don’t necessarily realise just how threatening they are. What they do have in common is that they’re unashamedly using their position of power.
It’s unlikely that a car that’s driving too close to a cyclist is going to be injured. The car can, then, be used as a tool to threaten a cyclist with little risk to the driver. Likewise, a catcaller is unlikely to catcall if they think there’s any risk that the target would harm them back.
When I come home, upset because my life has again been risked on the roads, the reaction from friends and family is rarely “I wish people were more considerate of you! The police should do something about this!” Instead, it’s questions of “Were you wearing high-vis?”, “Were you wearing a helmet?”, “Why don’t you just stop cycling if it’s making you so miserable?”. It doesn’t matter what someone is wearing – I should not be punished with assault just because I’m not wearing what people want me to wear.
It makes me angry, deeply angry, that friends and family should push me to give up something I love. I am not the one doing wrong here, I am not the one who needs to change. By advising me to give up cycling, they are implying that it is my own fault that my life is risked, not those other people who are breaking rules and threatening me.
Any sensible person wouldn’t throw themself into the path of a vehicle that would injure injure them. People on bikes aren’t the ones who wield the strength and power.
Women for years have been fighting for the right to wear what they want and to walk where they want without fear of assault.
I will cycle in a short skirt without a helmet– Why should that mean I’m asking for harassment?
Anti-Feminism and Vehicular Cyclists
I have a friend who’s a staunch vehicular cyclist. The reasoning being “I have the right to be in the centre of this lane, the motorists are obligated to slow down and wait until it’s safe to pass. There’s no problem here, just people not following the rules. Enforce the rules and you won’t need to take away road space just for cyclists.
This same friend of mine thinks it’s wrong to have women-only groups in the technology sector, on the grounds that it’s unfair to men.
I can’t argue with the “fairness” of it. Yes, it’s unfair to exclude men, but it’s also unfair that the minority groups such as women and people of colour are forced to endure marginalisation and harassment on a daily basis and we rather need to have a support group lest we leave the industry altogether!
Yes, it’s all well and good saying that enforcing the rules will make the roads a friendlier place — but people are only human and they will use the power that they have. They’ll do reckless things because they aren’t always aware of how much more power they have than the more vulnerable road users.
Where resources go
There is a problem with allocation of resources in both trying to get women into STEM and get more people onto bikes. There’s a huge number of campaigners all crying out for mostly the same things, but those with the money keep insisting on spending it elsewhere.
There’s a huge number of big software companies who are throwing money at schools to try to get kids into software development and especially the young girls. They should be spending money at trying to retain the few women they have already in the field which would, in turn, provide role models for the young girls they’re so desperate to get in. This would involve upsetting some folk (like those who think it’s unfair to have women-only groups) but it would benefit everyone in the long run if there was a more diverse industry.
Something similar happens with money to get people onto bikes . The politicians keep throwing money at the “easy solution” that won’t upset the motoring lobby– cycle training. But training won’t get people to STAY on their bikes. To get people onto their bikes and to get them to stay, there needs to be infrastructure changes. They’re expensive, and it requires ruffling some feathers, but it’ll benefit everyone in the long run.
There needs to be a cultural shift, there’s no question about that. Changing our society to make women equal, truly equal, is not just about paying them the same and letting them take time out for families. It’s also accepting fathers as caregivers, too. It’s about no one doing a double-take when you say that your closest female friend is a software developer, or that your father is a nurse; anyone should be able do the work that they want to do.
On our roads, it’s about making the groups of such disparate vulnerability all equally safe. This means giving them their own space. This means enabling people to choose which mode of transport suits them best, because it is most convenient or pleasurable, not because it is most safe.
Every road user is a pedestrian at some point, even if you’re walking from your car parking space to the cinema. I spent years walking around Edinburgh and, now, walking around Falkirk as my primary form of transportation. Being a pedestrian should be easy, just a matter of walking along to your destination! Unfortunately, it’s not…
Too frequently, the pavements are not a safe place for those on foot. It’s bad enough that pavements are often potholed just as badly as the roads and are clutted with street furniture but, on particularly scary roads or where the cycle paths aren’t properly linked up, many cyclists will make use of the pavement (often considerately, but not always). Then, to make matters worse, many councils have been re-allocating half of already-narrow pavements for the use of bicycles! It’s hard to tell anymore which pavements are for the sole use of pedestrians and which ones we need to share. What is a walker to do?
This year, I will be joining Pedal on Parliament as a pedestrian — because I know that improving our roads for the benefit of bicycles will also benefit the roads for pedestrians like me. Here’s how:
Where there are fewer cars, there is less overall risk of serious injury, given that collisions between bicycles and pedestrians are less likely to cause serious injury than collisions between pedestrians and cars! 
Where there is safe, separated infrastructure for bicycles that are properly joined up to other cycle paths, cyclists will not feel the need to use the pavements to stay safe or join up their broken journeys. 
Where motorised traffic is calmed, reduced, or removed to make space for cycling, it makes a more pleasant atmosphere for pedestrians, too. The air is cleaner and it’s quieter. 
So write to your politicians and then join me at Pedal on Parliament 25th April 2015 — I’ll bring my walking shoes, you should too!
I’m in a bad mood and I have a blog. So here, have a whinge.
I’m not the only one thinking of the changes to Waverley Station are really just turning it into a fortress. Beyond how annoying it is to have to walk behind slow pedestrians on a very narrow pedestrian walkway, I’m fully expecting that there’s going to be an injury as a result of the location of the barriers at the top of the walkway.
I was regularly commuting from the North end of town when the conversion from Train Station to Fortress commenced. I started my coast down Waverley Bridge and found, out of nowhere, that there was a barrier preventing me from continuing to coast down the North Ramp into the station. I stopped abruptly at the barrier, dismounted and walked, certain there was a mistake — they had only JUST made North Ramp a dedicated cycle space! I wondered what they were up to that they’d need to temporarily close the ramp. Ooh, were they going to actually paint a cycle lane to let the pedestrians know that they ought not stand there and smoke? No.The next day was when I’d spotted the signs that said that this was going to be the way it is until further notice. No official explanation why. I tweeted Network Rail to ask, no response. I emailed to ask why they had to close it to cyclists, no response. I know, now, that many other cyclists also emailed and wrote letters, but still no response. Sure, we’ve got theories, but none that explain the blanket ban.
Time passes, annoyance increases.
I’m now commuting from the South end of town, and could much more easily enter the station from the Market Street entrance…. But the escalators are a bit too steep to take the bike down, the bike is a bit heavy for carrying down two flights of stairs, and the lifts are slow. Besides which, there’s road works on Market Street so I need to get past the temporary lights, navigate around the potholes, and squeeze between the cones to dismount in the first place. It’s a stressful way to end an otherwise lovely journey.
I tried going North up Waverley Bridge and turning right down the South Ramp. I wait for traffic and, as soon as it’s clear, I turn across traffic — to find there’s nowhere safe to dismount. The orange-and-white barriers that they’ve installed more recently are flush with the kerb against a moving lane of traffic. So traffic needs to be clear enough not just for me to cross traffic, but for me to cross traffic, slow to a stop, dismount, and get onto the pavement. Sure, there’s a bit of paint on the road to say that the kerb is meant to come out further than it physically does, but tell that to a taxi that’s just pulled out and is skirting the kerb closely because there’s a bus coming the opposite direction.
I had a word with the Network Rail staff in the office to ask if they could, at VERY least, move the orange-and-white barriers further back so I at least had somewhere to dismount. The fellow at the desk looked genuinely surprised that he’d not considered cyclists needing to dismount somewhere, to transition from being a vehicle to being a pedestrian on their stupidly narrow ramp footways. He said he’d speak to his manager about it. The next day, one of blocks forming the barrier at the top of each ramp was moved to the side, giving me somewhere to cycle to where I could dismount. By the following day it looked like the barrier blocks had been moved back.
Seriously. Waverley Station planners, whoever you may be, this is ridiculous and dangerous — fix it.
Daylight lamps are expensive. I had been saying for years that I was going to buy one but I hadn’t quite gotten around to it. I used one, once, when I had a flatmate who kept his in the communal kitchen /livingroom so I know what a difference they can make.
After I moved out, I’d researched them to decide which to buy and came across dawn simulators like the Lumie bodyclock alarm clock. These are designed to make your body “see” a sunrise at about the time your alarm clock would go off, so that you wake up more slowly and naturally (rather than being jolted out of sleep, mid-REM, by an alarm clock buzzer).
In the Scottish summertime, I keep the curtains and blinds closed tight, trying to keep out the 11pm sunset and 5am sunrise (it’s too bright for me to easily fall asleep and stay asleep). In the winter, those handful of daylight hours are just not enough for me to ever feel awake. Dawn simulators, unlike just keeping the curtains open, switch on at the same time every morning — so, despite the seasonal differences, I can keep the curtains closed tight and the room dark and I’ll still have a sunrise for when I need to wake up for work.
I didn’t manage to buy one back then, because they were all too expensive (and I was a poor student/graduate). By the time I had enough money that I could feel comfortable investing in one, I’d already ended up with a much, much cheaper alternative…
A few years ago (has it really been a few years already?!), I’d seen a Lifehacker article about under-bed lighting. I showed it to my partner who thought it was a nifty idea so we plugged a multi-colour IKEA strip light in under our Malm bed and set it to red so that it would be dark enough that it would be only just visible at night.
A short time later, my partner and I had watched a BBC Horizon episode on how humans perceive colours. It turns out that blue light makes your brain think it’s dawn! We put two-and-two together, switched our LED lights from red to blue, and plugged the whole thing into an outlet timer. Voilà! Instant daylight alarm clock!
Our current setup doesn’t have the lights under our bed, because our current bedroom is too small and the light doesn’t bounce around the room enough to wake us up. Instead, the light is behind the dresser, bounces off the semi-gloss painted walls, and lights up the whole far end of the bedroom.
It’s not the most ideal setup, because some mornings the faint “click” sound made by the outlet timer switching on wakes me up (if I’m in a particularly light sleep at the time), but it’s a lot better than waking up to a buzzer every day! We’ve been waking up to this for a few years now and it works a treat. About 15 minutes after the light turns on, the radio also switches on using a timer (tuned in to the peaceful classical music of BBC Radio 3) — but we’re usually already awake by then so we can enjoy the warmth of bed whilst we listen to the news headlines.
We have it set so that it doesn’t switch on at the weekends, but we barely sleep in more than 30 minutes, now, because our bodies have gotten so accustomed to waking up at a certain time. When the clocks changed, though, it only took us a few days of gently waking up earlier than we’d like before we were on the new schedule. I’ve never been a morning person, but I can wake up now without the grumpyness and anger at the alarm clock. I may still be tired if I haven’t gotten enough sleep, but at least I won’t be groggy.
Someday I’ll get a daylight lamp, to leave in the livingroom to have some “sunshine” in the winter evenings but, for now, this is enough.
Yesterday was the third Pedal on Parliament. This year, rather than simply riding with the crowd, I heeded the call to arms and found myself marshalling at St. Mary’s Street, helping slow down (and stop) cyclists briefly as the lovely traffic police stopped cross-traffic and removed the barriers.
I was told that the only problem with marshalling down the road is that you don’t get the fun of joining in ringing a bike bell with everyone else or exhilaration of being part of the crowd moving down the Royal Mile — but I had the distinct pleasure of seeing every single cyclist pass by me on their way to the Scottish Parliament.
It’s seeing the crowd there that really drove home why I wanted to be there, why I needed to help —
I’m not alone on these streets.
There are hundreds of us, thousands of us. We are men, women, and children. We are families with wee bairns on balance bikes, we are teens with stereos, we are lovely ladies and men in lycra.
Some of us came in our Sunday best and some came out out in our most casual of jeans. Some of us wore fluorescent jackets and helmets, some wore just helmets, some wore nothing special at all. Some of us rode recumbants, tandems, racing bikes, mountain bikes, folders, bikes with trailers and tagalongs, and some of us walked.
And we were all there, together, showing that we, people of all ages and abilities, have one thing in common:
We want Scotland to be a cycle-friendly country. And we want it now.