Thursday, 30 September 2010

Almost there

Today is my last day of self enforced no car / motorbike usage.
This last week has probably been hardest as I see the end in sight. Monday my bus didn't arrive, and the next one was late. Tuesday I got soaked walking to the bus. Wednesday the bus soared past me just as I was about to cross the road to the bus stop, and this morning the bus was late again.
I've developed a few blisters from wearing the wrong sort of work shoes to do the 10 minute walk either side of the bus stop, but I've also found I'm getting fitter and I quite like my daily bouts of exercise (albeit that I prefer the walk when its dry and have perfected moving my anorak hood before looking to make sure my peripheral vision is correct!)
So at the end of the month not only have I not filled the car up several times (I've spent £34.50 on megarider tickets or I've used my bike), I've improved my carbon foot print considerably. I've driven at least 1000 miles less than I usually would have done, and as I have to carry home whatever I buy there has been a lot less kitchen waste in our house.
So just a few more hours to go and then I'll have the car back and can finally do a proper weekly shop - the thing I've missed most. But I'll still be using the bus on a regular basis and keeping the car for those occasions that I just can't get a bus to my destination.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The wheels on the bus ....

Once my sons were getting older I swore I'd never have to sing this song again (or grit my teeth through yet another snippet of title music / episode of Thomas the Tank Engine) but I find it keeps springing to mind at the moment.

There has been so much rain in the last few days that my bicycle is back in the garage and I'm making the most of using buses where available. That said, I have my last Parish Council meeting for the month tomorrow night and - you've guessed it - no bus so on my bike for one last ride in the dark.

But I keep coming back to the bus - or lack of it - in almost every meeting I sit in at the moment. In the City the bus service is frequent and reliable. I feel the need to keep reminding people that it's not like that just 6.7 miles from Shire Hall. 2 examples really struck home last week

1) the new blue bins
2) the Library service review.

I could rant for Britain on the subject of recycling so I was really pleased to see my blue bin arrive on Friday. I can recycle lots more - and I'm on a personal quest to see how much I can reduce our kitchen bin rubbish to. BUT ....... and it's a very irritating but .... I now have 4 large bins in my garden and 3 green boxes. The previous owners of my house had a larger family than I do so had a second black bin delivered. I now have 2 black bins, a green one and a blue one - plus those dreaded green boxes. The District Council have organised drop off points for people to return them to local supermarkets and other points - but if you don't drive it's a struggle to get them back by bus. And not everyone wants three garden boxes to grow tomatoes in!

The Library service review is another exercise in reminding people that it's not just distance from something that has to be taken in to consideration - the availability of transport has to run through all service reviews. If something is 7 miles away with no public transport, unless you drive it might aswell be in another County.

I'm in to the last week of my self imposed car and motorbike ban and the only thing I truly miss is the luxury of being able to pop to the shops and do a weekly shop. But it's been a much cheaper month - if we run out we wait until the next planned shop!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Almost finished or just getting started?

Having just spent the best part of the last week at the Lib Dem Conference in Liverpool I was stunned at how many people wandered up and asked me how it was going. Stunned because I wasn't sure that anyone outside Cambridgeshire knew I'd given up my car/motorbike for a month. But I've discovered that Julian Huppert MP and I have made Page 2 of Lib Dem news. A few thought I was mad and swore they'd never be able to give up their cars ..... but a significant proportion were intrigued to know what had made me do it and what I'd learnt. A few just wanted to know if I'd given in and cheated under cover of darkness.
My intention hasn't been to wear a hair shirt doing this - more to show what it's like if you don't have easy access to transport. So I have had the odd lift (getting from Caldecote to Harston at night when 3 others are going from your village - it seemed sensible to accept a lift) - but the car is still sat on the drive continuing to collect a thin layer of dust, and the motorbike sits in the garage behind it. I can't say that I don't have the odd pang when the sun shines and I can only look at the Thruxton without actually getting it out and on the road. But she hasn't been out!

For the last two weeks I've been using the bus and (for Liverpool) the train. I realise that I'm lucky to be fit enough to walk a distance to get the bus and whilst I continue to lobby for a better local bus service, the penny has dropped that if I take the bus it's cheaper than putting petrol in the car - and much much quicker to get around the City. And I'm finally starting to "really" enjoy it.

The train was a new experience. It's been so long since I've taken one that the world of pre booked ticket deals has been a real revelation (as was the fact that Euston to Liverpool was £132 one way - never have I been more relieved to have done my homework in advance). I'm very much a novice but I've got the bug now so there'll be a bit more surfing before my next journey.

But at this stage of the month I can honestly say that I'm coming to a major mindset change. It's no longer a chore to get out my bike or walk to the bus stop - it's something I look forward to - albeit I have now bought a handbag sized umbrella and better waterproofs.

And Julian has suceeded on another issue - It took him 18 months to get me to do this - and a mere 3 weeks to agree to do the Oxford to Cambridge bike ride. I haven't specified which ride yet but I'm sure he'll sort that out soon too.

So just getting started it is!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Hearing a pin drop

Cabinet Day at Shire Hall and some very important things on the agenda. It's always hard to go through serious case reviews in relation to the deaths of young people - distressing for both the families and the professionals involved.

The pin dropping moment came right at the end with the usual Guided Bus item. Up until the last 24 hours we've been promised that an end was in sight with the completion of the Southern section in December. Now we're being told January. If there wasn't so much money at stake it would be laughable - but this has the potential to be VERY expensive. All those promises about not costing the tax payers of Cambridgeshire a penny are starting to sound very hollow. When this is done and dusted and we finally get the Public Enquiry we've been calling for, I truly hope that we will see people accepting responsibility and accountability for their actions and inactions.

For me the first Tueday of the month brings a Parish Council meeting in Barton - again inacessible from Caldecote by bus. I was sorely tempted to turn around as the rain came down (and the correct answer to the rhetorical question "do I need my waterproof trousers?" is Yes - not NO!!!!) but I felt good for perservering. I have the option of a car on the drive at the end of this month - lots of people don't.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Monday and it's raining .....

Having had a day at home on Sunday and traveled nowhere at all, Monday sees me starting my week of trying to use the bus to get about.

Needing to be at Shire Hall for 10:30 - the 07:06 Number 14 Service was no use. It would get me in to Shire Hall 2 ½ hours early - and mean that I'd have to leave 50 minutes before my two teenage sons leave for school. And as anyone who has teenagers knows - they have a tendancy to go back to bed!

The Citi 4 got me in to work easily - and having looked at the price of a Mega Rider I think I'll be using it a lot more on those days that I just need to go in and back. If I need to do several stops in my 9 villages it's not going to work.

The evening was a bit more problematic as, being the first Monday of the month, I had Parish Council meetings in both Madingley and Toft. Put simply - there is just no way to get there by bus in the evenings in a timely fashion. I cycled to Madingley for 7:30 and then after 30 minutes I got back on my bike and rode to Toft.

I'll be honest and say I didn't enjoy the ride to Toft very much. The light rain, wind and exercise were fine. What I didn't like were the invisible lines distinguishing where the cycle paths were, the lack of any sort of lighting to ensure I wasn't about to hit a pot hole, and the car drivers who refuse to dip their main beam when they approach a cyclist - it's hard enough in the dark without being dazzled.

I'm learning lots as this month goes on .....

Monday, 6 September 2010

3, 4, knock at the door

My third day in and I'm getting the hang of things. Although I haven't been a reguar exerciser in a while (quite a while!) I really do feel better for the 40 mins ride in and the 40 mins ride back. I did find it noticeable that the schools were back with a vengeance however. There was more traffic on the road and school buses are a new factor to take in to consideration. Whilst my motorcycle training has ingrained a suspicion of how well some van drivers check their mirrors and blindspots before they pull out, I'm now getting to grips with the side stream caused by a bus whoosing past. Although technically there is a cycle path most of the way up Madingley Road as you come out of town - I feel very vulnerable as I get to the M11 turnoff and may consider going back to the cycle path on the other side of the road.

Saturday was a bit more of a personal challenge as I wanted to join the canvassers out in East Chesterton who are campaigning for our candidate Ian Manning. Much as I could get there by bike I'm not that keen on knocing on people's doors when I've just had a 50 minute workout. So I explored the bus opportunities.

The biggest complaint that Caldecote residents have about public transport is the lack of buses through the village. There is a frequent service from the Citi 4 which runs along the top of the village but it can be anything up to a three mile walk to get there. From my house I have a very brisk 10 minute walk to the bus stop - but I'm young(ish) fit and healthy and not struggling with heavy shopping bags or young children. For many residents in the village taking this bus is simply not an option. Their alternative is the 07:06 Number 14 service which takes 59 minutes to get in to town - and only runs Monday to Friday. If you can't acces the Citi 4 then you are stuck in the village all weekend.

Again I've seen bits of the City I haven't explored before because I walked part of the way. East Chesterton has some beautiful areas down by the river - and a great cycle network. Something we covet just 7 miles ouside the City Centre!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Day 2 - and a few revelations

The gremlins that attack our villages' broadband in peak hours got me last night and I'm posting this a little late. Although I'm aiming to highlight the lack of bus transport in the 9 villages making up the Hardwick Division, I'm sticking to bicycle for the first few days before experimenting with buses next week. Being brutally honest - it's hard work going from almost no exercise to cycling 14 miles a day and if I hop on a bus after the first few days I'll find it harder to get back on the bike next week. There’s only so much Gel you can get in a modern saddle.That said I'm actually enjoying riding in to Shire Hall each day. The weather is great, the exercise is making me sleep more soundly than I've done for years - and I found I actually looked forward to it this morning. And it's having a few unexpected effects! I've always been keen on planning ahead and my diary goes everywhere with me. But, not being able to hop in a car at the drop of a hat is making we question whether my journeys are essential - and so far other than Parish Council and Shire Hall meetings I've found that they're not. And once the family realised that I was 100% serious that the car was going nowhere - it's help to focus their minds on what they needed. School starts back today and there were no last minute requests for items last night. I've probably NOT driven 60 or 70 miles just in the last two days. My biggest revelation has been how much quicker it is to get about the City on 2 wheels, and what great rides there are - for example getting from Shire Hall to Newmarket Road by crossing Jesus Green and then riding alongside the River. I'm keen to explore more of the City this way now. For next week I'll have panniers in lieu of my current backpack and lights as I start my monthly round of Parish Council meetings.

But I AM enjoying it – mostly!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Two wheels - but no motor!

It's been a while since I last updated my blog- but we're back to work after the sumer recess - and I have a new mode of transport for the month of September!

For some time now I have been trying to get a better bus service for Caldectote where I live. For those who are fit, healthy, energetic and able to walk a mile or two to the top of the village, there is the Citi 4 service in to the City. However, if you have to walk more than a mile (and many in the heart of the village do) it's not really accessible. There is a bus service through the village but it's once a day just after 07:00 a.m - not really that conveniant.

So I've put my money where my mouth is and parked my car and motorcycle for the month and I'm using feet, bicycle, bus and train to get about. I may also have the odd car pooling lift if I can't find another way to get to meetings.

Today I've cycled 18 miles - home to Shire Hall - Shire Hall in to the City - and then back again.

I'm shattered but I have a long list of cycle lane lines that need repainting and brambles that need cutting back. As the weeks go on I hope to blog how I get on getting to places under my own steam. It's not going to be easy but I hope it will highlight the problems that those reliant on public transport face.

And the money? Well I'm donating the money I would have put in my petrol tank to the Outlook Fund - for looked after children in Cambridgeshire. Hopefully a win win situation as I raise money for a good cause and get fit in the process.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A time of change

No one really knows what is happening at the moment – and I don’t want to speculate here. Along with many local Cllrs my phone and email Inbox have been buzzing all weekend with people firmly pro and anti the various discussions that are going on in London at the moment. But I can assure anyone that has contacted us that we have passed on your views!

Closer to home, due to work commitments David Jenkins has stood down as group leader of the Lib Dems on the County Council, and I have replaced him. David and his predecessor, our new MP Julian Huppert, are a hard act to follow but it’s an interesting time to be taking the job on. Top of the list for the whole County has to be pushing for the Guided Bus to finally open at the often promised “no cost to the tax payer”.

At home I feel like the creator of Bart Simpson. His children were mildly impressed but wanted to know what he’d do next. After 5 weeks of a very busy election campaign my two sons were just stunned to have a home cooked meal last night that hadn’t been prepared by someone else!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Almost 48 hours and counting

My blog has fallen by the wayside in recent weeks – and I’ve really missed putting thoughts down at the end of a sometimes unusual day.

The last few weeks have seen over 80,000 leaflets delivered throughout the South Cambs constituency, and many miles walked and doors knocked on in Caldecote, Kingston and Toft whilst introducing District Council candidate Tumi Hawkins to local residents.

It’s almost all over – one last push before the polls open at 07:00 on Thursday morning. Waking up to the result on Friday morning is certainly going to be very different to anything we could have imagined just five weeks ago.

Hard work – but worth every blister and scrapped knuckle that came with it (I can only dream of the day letter box flaps stop fighting back!).
And the 14 year old? After weeks of listening to debate and asking 101 questions he's asking to join in when we deliver leaflets - I no longer have to "persuade" the family to come and give me a hand!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Off and running

I’m watching this General Election through the eyes of my 14 year old son. Politics has always been around in our house, and he has seen me go through 2 County Council elections in the last 18 months. This time is different though. He realises that bar a re-run of ’74 he’s likely to be able to vote in the following election. So he’s taking note.

It’s also the first time that I have been part of a General Election campaign as an activist. Previously I’ve just put my “X” in the box.

One quirk this time around is that although only two elections can ever be held at a time, three are actually scheduled for May 6th in some areas. Parish Councils are up for re-election together with some District Council seats ……. and then there’s the General Election.

Parish Councils are waiting to see if their election will be bumped until later in May. If more candidates stand that the number of seats available, the election will be bumped. If the right number (or less) stand however then they are automatically returned on May 6th and no Parish Council election tales place.

Nominations close at 12:00 today (April 8th) for District and Parish Elections!

Monday, 29 March 2010

What a difference a day makes

On Sunday I dropped my children off to visit their Father and Grandparents in Essex and with an afternoon to spare (and no leaflets to deliver or doors) my other half and I went to Frinton on Sea. It was a rare moment of sun, fresh sea breeze and a leisurely walk along the sea front to Walton on the Naze and back. Battery recharged after a long week.

Just as in a former life when I used to have a knack of pointing out that French fishermen hadn’t blockaded Calais for a while (and then they inevitably did ……..) I pointed out how ironic it was that we’d been worrying about supplies of Salt Grit just two weeks earlier and here we were in sunshine.

Well – no more comments from me on the weather for the next few weeks!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Cheese and Onion Crisps

These are my absolute downfall. I can leave cakes and bread (not surprisingly as I’m wheat intolerant) but you can tell when it’s been a really stressful day – I reach for them. Two packs today – 2 teenagers (well one is and the other thinks he ought to be) + one TV remote control = fireworks. I feel a banning of set watching coming on.

Whoever writes the definitive guide to surviving teenagers will make a fortune – but sadly it’s not going to be me!

Elsewhere there’s a definite feeling of calm before the storm. People of all political persuasions are beavering away in the background just waiting for the word that the election’s been called. At least the exercise delivering leaflets and door knocking always makes me feel I’ve had a positive end to the day. And finally seeing daffodils is a definite plus!

If I ever get to be a grandparent I shall sit back and smile. Probably the way my folks do just at the moment!

Monday, 22 March 2010

The thill (?) of the open road

We’ve all moaned in recent months about the state of the County’s roads and pavements and even our local radio stations are handing out awards for the biggest or deepest pothole etc. Very shortly we’re going to have a new and potentially more serious problem on our hands. Whilst car drivers and cyclists tend to use the same mode of transport all year round, March / April brings many motorcyclists on to the roads for the warmer months.

I’ve made no secret of my midlife crisis bike licence last year, and I’ve certainly never advocated people using motorbikes rather than more sustainable methods of transport. I live in a village which is not blessed with a great bus service to the other 8 villages that I represent and therefore I do use a car or bike to get about. Now that the nights are getting lighter I’m going to try getting to more Parish Council meetings by bicycle.

The reason I flag this up is that Hardwick hosts the only DSA Motorbike Test Centre in the County. Students have to come here to take their bike test, and they will take their Part 2 test out on the local roads. Hitting a pothole in a car is one thing – but hitting one on a motorcycle could be lethal.

Here’s hoping we get some of them filled in on the main routes before someone is seriously injured.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Sport Relief Rocked

Last year, for Comic Relief, the Lib Dem group on the County Council were all pictured wearing red noses and we had a whip round to support this very good cause.

This year, the County Council’s call centre in St Ives got 160(ish) of us together to man the phone lines until from 19:00 Friday evening until 02:00 this morning taking donations as part of a nationwide team of call centres.

I can only express my extreme thanks and admiration to all those who worked so hard to raise over £100,000. Some (including myself) took donation calls, some kept us plied with refreshments and a few hardy soles stood outside in the rain directing cars so that those of us on the late shift didn’t have so far to walk when we left in the wee small hours. It worked like clockwork and heartfelt congratulations go to the organisers of the evening. I’ll be back to volunteer again next year!

And a special thanks must go to my son, whom I promised to keep anonymous, for the loan of his CVC football kit. As it was Sport Relief, we were a well turned out sporty lot on the helpline!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A day of two contrasts

Yesterday morning I was sat on the front row of the audience for what I thought would be a packed Cabinet Meeting regarding the Guided Bus. After the tales of woe and wringing of hands over contractual stalemate the previous week, I was expecting some robust discussion at the very least.

In the event it was underwhelming. A statement was read out that negotiations are being held at the very highest level and we shall wait and see what arises. At least the people of Cambridgeshire are finally being given some more information about the problems and the overspend – something missing for a long time now.

The late afternoon saw me at the Council’s Contact Centre in St Ives, having telephone training before Sports Relief on Friday. Sadly I’m the only County Councillor taking part (I hope more colleagues from all parties will join in next time), but I shall be manning a phone line taking donations from the public from 22:00 on Friday night until 02:00 the following morning.

I’m hoping to be allowed a lie in on Saturday Morning!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

What’s going on?

We’ve all cracked jokes about the misguided bus and when it will open. Stagecoach themselves have an interesting new line in signs fixed to the side of their buses regarding the ever elusive opening date.

Today however marked a new low point in the project with the release in to the public domain of the most up to date information.

If you look at you’ll find agenda Item 9 of the meeting papers for next Tuesday’s Cabinet Meeting at the County Council. As a side issue you might like to know that all Cabinet meetings are open to the public and the Agenda and minutes are always available on the County’s website:

This has now gone way beyond party politics and a “we told you so” spat in the playground. This is a significant amount of public money spent on a project which has yet to deliver in any sort of time frame and within any sort of acceptable margin of financial outlay.

And the saddest part – the impasse that says we don’t know what will happen next because our hands are tied. At least Councillors no longer appear to gagged aswell!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A long month .....

February was not a great month - we lost a family member and another is now in hospital. Sadly it sometimes takes a hard time to remind us all of where our priorities lie.

This time last year I was so chuffed – my younger son had his place at Secondary school and life was getting easier with both sons growing up.

A year on and I’m rapidly grinding teeth to a stump. Having brought 2 boys up on my own since they were 2 and 4 I thought I’d gone through the worst of it – the younger one having set a new standard for the terrible twos.

Now I’m deep in the delights of teenage hormones. I finally have two children old enough to be left at home alone for short periods – but not hormonally balanced to be left home together.

In some ways I see an analogy of the childish spats I referee on a daily basis with what’s happening at Westminster between the Conservative and Labour parties. Whilst us foot soldiers at ground level are coping with sweeping cuts and trying to hang on to basic services for local constituents, they are getting increasingly petty and slinging more mud and names at each other.

Whoever wins the next election – this looks like turning out to be the nastiest campaign for some time – and it’s only going to get worse. Shame they’re ignoring the real issues.

Monday, 8 February 2010

The enthusiasm of youth

My younger son bounded out of bed this morning yelling at the top of his voice that it was snowing. Us less enthusiastic folks noticed a solitary snowflake and rolled over for an extra 5 mins before braving the cold. Needless to say a new cold snap means that the new (and supposedly improved) central heating timer has decided to wave its white flag and stop working.

But it did get me thinking about when it is that we lose our enthusiasm for things. In my case, I probably haven’t lost it – son number one groans whenever he has to suffer both his brother and I on a particularly enthusiastic for life day. He feels Marvin the paranoid android probably had it right and that we are the equivalent of the Sunshine Corporation’s talking doors (apologies to those who never enjoyed the Hitchhikers guide top the Galaxy).

Well – it’s half term next week – so here’s hoping for a snowman or two.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

In at the deep end.

I attended my first planning meeting at South Cambs District Council yesterday – speaking re a cottage in Coton, a proposed new development for Caldecote and the proposed sixth form college for Comberton. Given that we were in Cambourne I’m relieved I got all village names out in the right order!

What stunned me was the robustness of the debate. Officers were put through the mill by members to make sure that all issues were thoroughly thrashed out before a vote was taken. It was also heartening to see that members were not voting along any party lines – it was democracy at its best.

A long afternoon but very worthwhile and an experience I hope to repeat in the not too distant future.