Thursday, 23 June 2011

Austerity bites.


Until a couple of years ago, I have not even heard of this word. I had to look it up in a dictionary when it was first voiced and since then, it has had a severe impact on thousands of lives in this country.

You usually think you are immune to it until it bites you too.

First there was the threat to my job. Like all local government employers, mine had to cut back with a vengeance as the grants were drying up and subscriptions seemed to be falling. There were also too many similar organisations about and talks started in earnest to bring these closer together to minimise confusion amongst councils and to create more value for money.

So we were to be cut. A rigorous process followed with consultation after consultation; interviews, questionnaires, assessment centres and preferences that followed closely.

The end of this saga is that I've got a new job but in the process I lost my homeworker status. Even though we argued that removing it will prevent talent outside London to contribute to the delivery, it was removed. All ex-homeworkers are now office remote with London Weighting! Even though I live in Chester...

This has had a profound effect on the way I choose to travel. It the past, my travel to London (when I was needed in London) was paid for by my employer, but now that I'm having to pay all London travel out of my own pocket, I have started to be really savvy about how and when I travel. For example: a single journey by train (Virgin) to London cost me £108. So a return is £216. That is peak time travel when I can safely walk into the office before 10am. My London weighting is taxable, pensionable and NI carrying so at the end of each month I only get £200 nett.

I had to investigate different ways so my attention turned to coach and cycling. So getting the coach into London, then hop onto a bike (to avoid further costs with the Tube) and make my way to the office. Luckily I already had a Brompton. My big expense was to buy a Brompton storage bag as the Brompton will not be accepted onto the coach without adequate protection.

The next change to my travel was to use a different overnight stay. Hotels were too expensive. I found an EasyHotel close to work but it was still more than staying at the local YHA. So coach travel to London (which takes 5hrs), then cycling with the Brompton to the office and overnight stay at the YHA. The overnight stay is really a no-brainer as the coach travel will only be viable if I stay overnight, but not at a place so expensive that I could've taken the train!

So my Brompton gets much more use now, which is marvellous!

Today was a good example. I had to go to Leeds for an afternoon meeting, so cycling to the next village to get the No.1 bus to the railway station. That did mean adding another hour to my travel, but hey! I left the car at home and was spared the M62.

On a lighter note...I had a marvellous day with the Chester Fabulous Ladies in Clun, Shropshire. It's just great being with the girls even though I couldn't cycle as much as I wanted to due to a debut appearance in a play on the Saturday night in my local village hall.

I also had a lovely evening bike ride on 21 June celebrating Summer Solstice with a good friend and my other half. It was great being out after 8pm which is something I don't often do. Before summer is out, I want to do more of those!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Southport Belles, what a lovely bunch of Ladies!

One of my aims as CTC North West Councillor is to cycle with as many CTC ladies as possible. I like having my 'ear to the ground' so to speak as you get to know people better cycling along a good bike path instead of at a (boring) meeting. I made an appointment with Juliet, their leader, to meet up on the last weekend in April but last change of plans meant we needed to reschedule, so 28 May was the the best day.

I asked one of my cycling buddies Jo, to join us and together we hopped onto Merseyrail and made the train journey from Chester to Southport. I reserved my ticket online and was amazed at the good value. £6.20 was a good price to pay for a return train ticket! Jo had to change stations and as hers was unmanned, so I offered to get her a ticket at Chester station. I couldn't believe it when her return was priced as £4.50! It turns out that hers was an off peak day saver and mine was an anytime day return. Both incredible value for money.

We had to change at Moorfields in Liverpool. It was a bit of an issue to carry our bikes up the escalator (and down when we did the return journey) as the lift was so small, I don't think you would be able to fit a bike in properly., definitely NOT two bikes.So with the connection made (the trains runs every so often), we were on our last leg to Southport.

 The bikes snugly alongside each other in the dedicated bike space on Merseyrail.
Merseyrail is probably one of the best cycle-friendly train providers in the country. Two dedicated cycle storage spaces on each train and each station has secure cycle parking facilities for commuters.

Soon our journey was over and we went looking for the Dunes Splash Centre.

After a short bike ride towards to beach we found Juliet and her group waiting for us.

The ride set off with the wind behind us, along the seafront on a lovely bike path. Soon we were weaving our way through more of Southport and reached the countryside. The weather was ok-ish. There was no rain but a strong wind so Juliet tried to keep the distance short and manageable. Her stronger ladies group has already set out and we were cycling with the starter group.
It was good to chat to the ladies on our way to the cafe and learn more about how the Belles cycle in Southport.

We got to the cafe and got some good Barms! Some of us went a bit further and ordered cooked breakfast for lunch!! A nice chat followed, learning more about each other.

From the cafe a few of us decided to venture further out to increase the mileage and another group headed back to Southport.

I wasn't sure where we were heading to but increasingly the road seemed to be familiar and I soon realised that I'm on the same route what I did with the Fylde Belles! We headed for the same cafe with the fantastic cakes and meringues.
I had to use very strong will power to say no to these cakes!!
The cafe makes the loveliest meringues, HUGE ones with cream and berries (see photo).

Well, all good things must come to an end and we left the cafe heading back for Southport where Jo and I caught the train back to Chester.
It was a great day out and we've got plans to link up with the Southport Belles again. I think Jo wants to go up and ride with their faster group.

We might even be able to get more ladies from Chester to meet up with Southport and also invite the Fylde girls down. It's all happening! Here are the details to our ride.