Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Herts Advertiser - Death-crash driver is 'unfit to plead'

The Herts Advertiser - Death-crash driver is 'unfit to plead': "THE sister of a cyclist spoke of her anger and heartbreak this week after an elderly driver charged with causing his death was ruled unfit to stand trial.

John Broad, aged 89, of Shenley Hill, Radlett, had been due to make his plea at St Albans Crown Court on the charge of causing death by dangerous driving. However Judge John Plumstead closed the case because the defendant was suffering from Alzheimer's disease."

Goodbye and good riddance

BBC SPORT Other Sport... Cycling Former Tour winner Ullrich quits: 'Today I'm ending my career as a professional cyclist,' said Ullrich. 'I never once cheated as a cyclist.'

Yeah, right.

Lock up the pies, Jan's on the loose.

Monday, February 26, 2007


First sowing, originally uploaded by mike1727.

Spring's so close you can smell it; crocus and iris in flower, tulips pushing through quite well, even in the containers at the front (north facing). Daffodils out everywhere (except in our garden), hawthorn(?) and a few cherry blossoms on roadside trees but nothing on next door's cherry trees yet.

The resident frogs have been busy spawning again; first croaks heard last weekend, first spawn around Wednesday and more appearing daily. Randy little buggers. Looking back, I photographed spawn in mid March last year; I think it was a week or two old then which means the frogs are spawning maybe a week earlier this year. That's not really conclusive evidence of any underlying trend, but it has been very mild this winter.

Planted this week:
  • Early peas. Sown in guttering (2 x 1m rows) to get an early start and for easy transplanting once the seedlings are big enough to cope with pigeons and slugs.
  • Broad beans. Red and green, 10 each in 3" pots- should do just under 1/4 square metre.
  • Sweet peas. Mixed scented. Some in individual 3" pots, others 5 to a 5" pot. I'm not sure how well these will germinate in an unheated greenhouse, they probably need a propagator lid to get them going.
  • Carrots. Early globe. Broadcast into a 12" bulb pot since all the beds have been heavily manured this season.
  • Potatoes. First earlies. Some in heavy duty refuse bags filled with compost from last year(3 to a bag), 6 in one of the raised beds. The beds are still quite wet, hopefully not so wet as to cause rot.
  • Shallots. A couple of rows in the sunniest raised bed. Probably squirrel food, they need protecting.
  • Garlic. A couple of rows next to the shallots.

About half of last week's planting of tomato seeds have germinated; cherries first, followed by the beefs and Moneymakers. The biggest are about an inch tall and growing fast.

To do:

  • Fruit tree pruning. Before they blossom, possibly a spray too though no sign of reappearance of the canker(?) they had a couple of years ago.
  • Sowing. Another batch of tomatoes if I can find space for another propagator, half a gutter of lettuce, a few courgettes, sweet corn, cabbage (?), Marigold and a few other border annuals to fill in gaps.
  • Hanging baskets. Look for plants to raise from seed.
  • Slug traps. Drown the buggers in beer.
  • Gate, fencing.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A stencil is worth a thousand words.

grosteque, originally uploaded by Walt Jabsco.

We made our last Tesco purchase last week.

I'd been getting very uncomfortable buying anything from Tesco given their plans for St Albans, but we needed an internet shop, our details were already set up and we had some money off vouchers to use; so as a last resort it didn't seem too bad an idea. Well, not until their customer service wouldn't give a reasonable response to a query and certainly not when some of the produce turned out to have a use-by date of the same day as the delivery.

So, screw 'em. Sainsburys/Asda/Morrisons can have our supermarket money, we'll buy more from the market and grow more of our own veg.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pothole fishing

Pothole fishing, originally uploaded by mike1727.

Herts Highways' vision of St Albans roads?

I've just added a blog entry on how to report potholes over at the St Albans cycle campaign blog. It's time to log 'em all and keep tabs on Herts Highways' performance against their target to fix dangerous potholes within 24 hours.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Spring stirs

Fumigate, originally uploaded by mike1727.

Spring is just round the corner, or so it feels. Learning from last year's hurried planting we spent the weekend clearing children's toys, patio furniture etc out of the greenhouse, replacing glass broken by falling conkers, cleaning layers of green crap off the glass and finally fumigating the whole thing to get rid of any nasties left over from the diseased vine which used to grow in there. We planted a bay to fill a gap in a evergreen herb bed and did a load of tidying up.

I planted the first batch of tomatoes last night- including 'Big Boy' beefs, which will allegedly yield fruits weighing 500gr each. We'll see.

Tonight's batch of planting will be a few pots of sweet peas and a couple of dozen broad beans, red and white- then garlic and shallots this weekend. Spousal objections to seeds trays and pots on every windowsill have limited the available propagation space so I'll see how the beans get on in the greenhouse- it was 50F in there yesterday with the door open, so it should be warm enough to get them going.

Elsewhere: new grass is yellowing a little and needs feeding, fruit trees need pruning soon (to spray, or not to spray?...), first show of green from some of the bulbs planted last year, a couple eof crocusses and a solitary iris. Fig cutting still ominously dormant.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Stop Tesco in St Albans! Protest, because every little helps

St Albans Market, originally uploaded by mike1727.

St Albans is a small mediaval city, just North of London. If I was an American tourist I'd probably call it 'quaint'- there's a load of Roman remains, a nice cathedral, a vibrant market, loads of restaurants and pubs. The city is compact- you can ride from one side to the other in an easy 15 minutes- and surrounded by greenbelt.

Like all settlements in the South-East, St Albans is under intense housing pressure, and although not totally gridlocked just yet we've got traffic problems most of the time.

Megaretailer Tesco would like to build a superstore on a brownfield site just outside the city centre. Tesco have been buying up property around the site for some time as part of its landbank strategy and letting the houses and shops it owns on this main road into the city fall into disrepair in order to make redevelopment more attractive. Finally, they've made a planning application for a combined superstore and housing project- read more about it on their greenwash-spattered site here (if the massive spin doesn't make you dizzy), then read just some of the local reactions on the plan at the local protest group here and St Albans Green Party here.

Here's why I think Tesco shouldn't open another store in St Albans:

A superstore this close to town threatens local businesses including our 1,000 year old market.
The site can be better used: situated very close to the station and the city centre it's a prime spot for housing and shouldn't have so much area dedicated to retail.
Additional traffic generated by shoppers and deliveries will worsen queues and reduce safety for cyclists.

What can you do?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's just not funny any more.

It's just not funny any more., originally uploaded by mike1727.

Four punctures in less than two weeks is frankly starting to take the piss. I picked this one up without even riding off road, and didn't find the cause, which is even more frustrating. At this rate I'll live with the extra rotating mass of anti-puncture bands just to escape the nightly tube fixing session.

If through some accidental transgression I have offended a trail deity I apologise unreservedly.
Really, I do.
Stop now, please.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Link bait..

Hey, guess what?, originally uploaded by mike1727.

A mention for two quality bike resources on 'tinterweb.

cyclelicio.us is a quality bike blog with mainly US-centric bike advocay and commuting bias. Fritz is looking out for bike haikus, here's one which bubbled into my conciousness while I fixed my latest (3rd in a week) flat last night. At least this time I found the thorn.

Snowy verge hid thorns
Sharpness beneath the smooth white
Holes my tube again

Yes, I know, it's pretty crap.

For audio, the bikeshow from resonance fm is hard to beat- quality journalism with eclectic content. Reccomended listening.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Snowday commute

, originally uploaded by mike1727.

It snowed a bit on Wednesday evening- about 4 inches or so. The roads were suprisingly passable, but I avoided the drivetrain munching salt/grit combination by riding to work offroad. This was surprisingly easy- keep to a middling gear and churn away. The fresh snow was quite grippy, but the thin layer of snow over paviers on the bike path in the office park wasn't, resulting in a couple of unplanned body/ground interections.

Local schools have stayed closed today, which seems a bit of a skive given that the roads are clear. It's the typical British over-reaction to snow- more than a half inch and panic ensues.

Green ink time again?

WATCH FOR BIKES, originally uploaded by psd.

It's difficult to place bike advocacy stories in the local press without coming over as a 'green ink/no margins' nutter. Hopefully this latest attempt (published today) worked..

SIR, - After your recent editorial comment about St Peter's Street, St Albans, it's important to point out that bike lanes and off-road bike routes are not the only way to improve safety for cyclists. Well-designed bike lanes do provide an increased sense of safety for some and do encourage people to take up cycling, but they take a long time to plan and build and can be expensive. Sadly Herts Highways and local and county councils don't have a good track record in St Albans.

The recent development of a Cycling Strategy is a step in the right direction but it will take many years for a usable, linked network of on and off-road cycle routes to arrive. In the meantime, it helps no-one to imply that roads are too dangerous to cycle on when some changes to cyclists' and motorists' behaviour would make cycling considerably safer at little or no cost.

Here are a few common-sense tips for safe cycling on the road, derived from Cyclecraft, the Government-approved guidebook to safe cycling, or from the Highway Code.


n Don't ride in the gutter. Riding two to three feet away from the kerb puts bikes in a position where they can be seen by other road users and have some safe room to manoeuvre into if needs be. Riding here keeps you away from broken glass and other debris which traffic sweeps into the gutter and causes punctures.

n Always leave a gap when overtaking parked cars - riding into an open car door will hurt.

n Obey red traffic lights, just like other road users. A bike rider is soft and fleshy, other vehicles are hard and heavy. You will come off worse in any collision and you'll have only yourself to blame.

n Stay off the pavement unless there are signs indicating you're allowed to use it. Pavements are for pedestrians, unless you're young enough to be riding with stabilisers. Even if the pavement is clear, you will be more vulnerable to being hit by a car simply because you will be crossing driveways and roads in places where drivers are not expecting to see you.

n Be aware of other road users - making eye contact with drivers at junctions and glancing over your right shoulder to check what's behind you makes you more aware of what's going on and reduces some motorists' tendency to see you as an impersonal moving speed bump.

n Signal when you're turning or moving out - just like everyone else on the road. Doing this helps drivers predict what you're going to do.

n Use lights at night and on dark mornings and wear something brightly-coloured or reflective. The warm glow you feel at using eco-friendly transport does not make you visible to pedestrians or other road users.

n Don't pass lorries and busses on the inside. You may not be visible to the driver and you can be hit and seriously injured.

n Don't mistake the red-painted strips on Sandpit Lane and Hatfield Road for cycle lanes - they're (barely-effective) traffic-calming measures.


n Bikes have the right to be on the road so treat them like other road users. They don't have to use bike lanes which are often badly-designed, ill-maintained and dangerous. All but a tiny minority of cyclists pay taxes which pay for the roads, and many have insurance. (By the way, "Road Tax" hasn't been reserved for road spending since 1927, and even then road maintenance and construction was partially subsidised from general taxation.)

n Leave room when you overtake - passing too close is very dangerous since bikes may need to swerve to avoid potholes which you can just drive over. Do you really need to overtake when all it often does is get you to the back of the next queue 30 seconds faster?

n Bikes can travel quicker than you expect, so don't pull out too close in front of them at junctions or make turns without signalling.

n If you park on the road, look out for passing bikes when opening doors.

n These coloured boxes painted on the road at traffic lights are there for cyclists' safety, please leave them clear.

n Don't park in the few cycle lanes we have.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Bah, originally uploaded by mike1727.

Strewn on local bridleways like natural cathrops , hawthorns are the bane of my off-road cycling life.

In the past 7 days I've had two front wheel punctures, and this morning the back tyre was soft so I've probably got a slow puncture there too. I'm pretty sure of which stretch is causing it- a quarter of a mile of bridleway skirting the northern edge of Marshalswick- the problem is that this is a very useful stretch which links a bunch of other routes.

Anyway. I digress. I have a plan. I'm going to keep all the thorns my tyres pick up this year and ritually burn them on the winter solstice. Hopefully this vodoo anti-wassail won't simply encourage more growth and more punctures the following year..

fillthathole.org - report potholes

Those wonderful people at the CTC have produced a site which allows people to report potholes online using a single site rather than the one which Herts Highways use.

This is an excellent development and would be so much better if the highways agencies shared their data. Herts Highways progress on fixing potholes does seem to be improving, but they're very still bad at making their progress visible. If the various Highways agencies nationwide could/would make their systems open then sites usful mashup sites like this could work to their full potential by showing full detail of all reported faults.

I'm sure that many faults are reported (and probably investigated) multiple times since the public aren't aware of what has already been reported. Making the data public would alose give an independent means of monitoring the progress of agencies funded by tax-payer's money, so I guess it'll never happen.

So- if you see a pothole, report it. Let's get the map full and then hit the local press with a screenshots to shame highways authorities into pulling their collective figers out.

There is a companion site clearthattrail.org.uk which does the same thing for off-road rights of way.