Being a cycle commuter: my truth

For four years I was stuck in a car for just over two hours a day as I chugged backwards and forwards to Cheltenham to Oxford.

Freed of that commute in my new job in the swanky area of Summertown, I have been cycling to work from my home in Appleton for the last three weeks qnd it has been a joy.
It’s a round-trip of just under 16 miles, so great training for the triathlon and just general good fitness. I also arrive at work feeling wide awake and don’t have the same sluggish start I often experienced in my previous job.

But I was concerned before I started. Being a keen cyclist, I have seen some of the stuff on YouTube from various cycling commuters who post updates from their daily lives. I am thinking about Cyclegaz, CyclingMikey, Magnatom and a few others and their commute looked like a daily hell on wheels, a continual battle against motorists who course with murderous intent.

Their channels are full of close calls and road rage. It didn’t even begin to resemble my experience of being a cycle commuter four years ago when I worked at the Oxford Mail but, thought I, perhaps things have changed. Perhaps Clarkson and his foolish tirades had bought out a criminal anarchy among car drivers that wasn’t there in the noughties?

But no. My commute has thus far been pretty pleasant. There has been the odd car come closer than I would like and more than the odd silly cyclist taking no care over their own road skills but I have to say that overall my impression has been pretty good.
I have enjoyed the healthy rivalry with a few other speedy commuters who hate the thought of being bested by a bloke on a one-tonne steel mountain bike and many car drivers in Oxford are careful to give a cyclist enough room.

There’s a few who try the old left hook – overtake only to slam on the indicator and brake and cut across you but not too many so far.
The thing that has annoyed me most so far is the amount of cyclists willing to jump red lights. There are some red lights that beg to be ‘jumped’ and I understand that, but seeing cyclist hammer through pedestrian crossings at high speed or totter through a dangerous busy junction without a care for others makes my blood boil.

Red Light Jumpers (even those in lycra) nearly all have one thing in common – I can catch then within about 400m. My suggestion to them would be to get some muscles to cut that commute time rather than endanger other people on the road.
But back to my point. It seems social media is just good as the mainstream media about scaremongering – always best to find out something for yourself.

Blog Action Day: The Power of We

The theme for this year’s Blog Action Day is The Power of We.

That theme resonates very strongly with myself as I have just taken up a new job with Earthwatch, an organisation based around the idea of ‘citizen science’ – getting the ordinary individuals to help in the collecting of data which provides the backbone of research.
The bulk of my time for the next year will be spent working on the HSBC Water Programme, a five-year project to study quality, quantity and biodiversity surrounding  sources of fresh water.

The research will be carried out around the world with fresh water sites already identified in China, Brazil, America, Canada, Australia, Japan, France and London to name but a few.

Research subjects will vary, depending on the location and the local issues, but will focus on:

·         The links between climate change and freshwater quality and quantity

·         The effects of changes in water supply on urban, and near-urban, freshwater ecosystems

·         Identifying the types of intervention that can best protect ecosystems downstream from major conurbations.
But crucially it will not be possible without the 'Power of We'. Earthwatch and our partners will need many thousands of private citizens to come forward in order to collect the vast quantities of data we need to make the project a success and scientifically valid.

Using a Smartphone data app, individuals will input their own research data into a global database, allowing direct comparison between sites and data sets. The resulting online database will be freely available to academics throughout the world.
Earthwatch has a long established record of citizen science and a recent project, the HSBC Climate Partnership, engaged 2,267 HSBC staff from 65 countries to complete the ‘Climate Champion’ programme.

The HSBC employees spent two weeks at a Regional Climate Centre working with scientists to monitor the health of the forests. Climate Champions also took part in discussions to further their understanding of climate change. Upon their return to work, Climate Champions delivered 700 environmental projects that furthered HSBC's commitment to sustainability.

Additionally, 63,000 employees volunteered to take part in environmental projects in their community, gaining practical experience of tackling climate change locally.
So yes, the Power of We seems oh so relevant to me at the moment.


Why I left journalism to save the world

So I did it. I left Higher Education and, to a lesser extent, I left journalism as well.

Why? I hear you ask with half-hearted ‘enthusiasm’.

Well the answer is simple – the job was too good to turn down. I am now Senior Communications Manager at Earthwatch, an international environmental charity which is committed to conserving the diversity and integrity of life on earth to meet the needs of current and future generations.

It is an NGO based on science – establishing facts through detailed, thorough research. I have wanted to work for an NGO for a long time, perhaps because of the guilt I still feel about being a Daily Mail reporter back in the day or perhaps because it has always fitted in with who I am. My ambition in journalism was to be the environment correspondent of the Guardian and at uni I took a Wildlife Conservation module which ended with a highly enjoyable week in Snowdonia taking water measurements and studying local flora and fauna.

It was a real wrench to leave the University of Gloucestershire, where I have worked as online journalism lecturer and Course Leader since 2008. The work was varied and we had made significant strides with the course which now recruits a good number of highly-dedicated students and, I have no doubt, will continue to grow in stature over the coming years.

To leave a job that I enjoyed and found challenging was no easy choice. But, coupled with my interest in the environment, I also felt that as a journalist with more than 15 years’ experience I still had a lot to learn.

Journalists’ attitude to people working in communications for corporations or other non-mainstream media organisations has long been one of patronising mocking – either you couldn’t make it as a journalist or you took the money to work on the ‘dark side’.

But the web and social media has opened up huge potential for self-publishing, not just by the individual citizen, but also by organisations large and small which means that people working in comms can be increasingly pro-active. There is much less begging for a few column inches or a few seconds of airtime and far more creation of content which can reach a wide audience even if the content would be viewed as niche by the mainstream.

So here I am – developing websites and social media strategies, writing copy and using my design skills to work on projects monitoring freshwater across the globe and encouraging the corporate world to help transfer their skills to help manage Protected Areas and World Heritage Sites. What could be better?