To Easter Road, not the football ground, but the street; it’s a rush-hour death trap for cyclists according to Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale, transport minister Keith Brown says it’s perfectly safe.
Now when you’ve been through a real shooting war in the Falklands with the Royal Marines as has Mr Brown, your definition of safe might be at variance with the rest of us.
Therefore I thought he might take up Ms Dugdale’s invitation to saddle up and face down all the street can throw at him, but it seems not.
So I stepped where ex-Special Forces apparently feared to tread and set off on the alleged death ride from Abbey Mount to Leith Links at about 5.30pm on Tuesday.
Busy yes, but hardly Oxford Circus. And sadly for Ms Dugdale’s case, the closest scrapes I had along the way were both with cyclists.
The first was downhill just before the rear of the old Leith Central Station, when matey-boy pulled out of a side-street and decided I could brake rather than halt his progress onto the main road.
The second, on the way back up, was a girl who cut across the traffic in front of me, mounted the pavement just up from the empty B&Q, and continued to ride amongst the pedestrians up to Albion Road. Maybe she’d heard about Kezia’s warning.
That is not to say Easter Road is a pleasant cycling experience. Amsterdam it ain’t – the traffic calming and parked cars make it narrow and the nose-to-tail line of buses means nothing moves when they stop.
But the problem area is relatively short, with congestion easing after the filter at Albion Road and the run between there and the Links is relatively smooth. If it wasn’t for other cyclists.
The difficult stretch between London Road and Albion Road is unalterably narrow. Maybe some experts know better, but I can’t see practical way to make it better for cyclists which doesn’t interfere with main bus routes or make life unfairly difficult for traders or residents.
The residents have as much a right to car use as anyone else and the traders need both custom and goods deliveries.
I don’t know the circumstances of the 19 incidents over the past three years, and I know only too well that there are some pretty dreadful drivers out there.
But on my one-off experiment, no driver overtook too close, or cut me up. I made sure I stopped behind the buses until they pulled away and generally took my time. There is no other way to do it.
Cycling on city roads is all about awareness and confidence and if, like Ms Dugdale, you don’t fancy a particular route, don’t use it.
And if you’re the transport minister whose been photographed cycling before, surely getting on a bike in the spirit of investigation isn’t too much to ask?
Mind Ps and Qs in family area
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a Hearts game, the last, I think, being the derby cup final. But I’ve been to Tynecastle enough times to know how high passions can run down there.
But now facing its darkest hour, the emotions of fans go from abject despair to uncontrolled fury.
Living just a ten-minute walk from the ground, a steady stream of always very well-behaved but clearly downcast supporters trudge past our house after every home game.
Though I wasn’t brought up a Jambo, I’ve long felt guilty about not going down to show support for this great institution as I did regularly in better days. So too did I go to Easter Road; as Evening News editor I always wanted both to thrive.
My nine-year-old son hadn’t been to a game for no particularly good reason, unlike his big sister who’d been to countless Hearts matches by the time she was his age. We used to go to the front of the old stand which was always a brilliant place for a youngster to watch.
So last weekend it was finally time for his first visit to Tynecastle, and for his debut I thought the Thistle game would be relatively benign and the family enclosure more so.
But under the circumstances in which Hearts now find themselves, Tynecastle is a different place. First of all, the three home stands are packed and that is a fantastic sight to see. Partick Thistle games in the 90s used to attract crowds of about 5000 compared with the 13,000 plus there on Sunday.
But the anguish is palpable and it can manifest itself in ways which although predictable, in areas of the ground specifically aimed at families should still be unacceptable.
Having received my early football education watching Rangers with my dad in the 1960s I’m not so naïve as to think football grounds should be like nursery schools. Nor am I a stranger to industrial language myself.
But the way some people in the family area of the Gorgie Stand behaved on Sunday near very small kids, not just mine, would give social services enough work to blow the entire city council budget.
Hearts is a club which rightly prides itself on its positive attitude towards young people and I was more than happy to throw the Evening News behind its breakfast club initiative. On Sunday, the youngsters of the Livingston Hearts Supporters Club were on the pitch at half-time for a great experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.
It is also a football club like most others in that the kind of problems it has with poor behaviour can be found at most other grounds. Except now things in Gorgie are at boiling point and for some supporters it’s all too much.
I’ve been to every part of the stadium over the years, except the away end, and even accompanied by my daughter when she was in single figures I never felt uncomfortable. Quite the opposite. But on Sunday, with my son and his wee pal it was not the same.
Jambos are understandably becoming increasingly desperate and frustrated, but in what is clearly designated as a family-friendly area, no action was taken by stewards against overly aggressive behaviour. In fact for most of the game there were hardly any stewards in view at all.
It’s not just the words (how long after the watershed does Mrs Brown’s Boys go out on BBC1?) but the aggression that goes with it makes all the difference.
I do not doubt for a minute it will be a similar story at other grounds, although the plight of Hearts fans at the moment is, in sports supporting terms, tantamount to torture and some fans are reacting accordingly.
But surely there should be some restraint in sections where people are actively encouraged to bring their children?
Under 12s get in for a fiver, which should be great value, but not if the 90 minutes is spent in anxious discomfort.
I spoke to the club this week and they take crowd comfort very seriously and have recently banned several fans for using inappropriate language. But their policy is quite clear: they hope fans will be self-policing and generally their stewards will require complaints from spectators before they will act. They also say that it is pointed out to supporters when they buy tickets for the family enclosure that a certain standard of behaviour is required. But the very convenient system of home ticket printing means you never have to go anywhere near a staff member until you’re at the turnstiles.
When we have football fans being arrested for singing songs about 1916 and all that stuff, have we not got our priorities wrong when aggressive people are permitted to bellow the foulest obscenities right behind the ears of five or six-year-olds?
As always, it’s a minority. The chap sitting next to me didn’t utter a single profanity all afternoon and, as I said, the fans passing our house are always impeccably behaved.
But in the heat of the moment, who is saying to those whose plot has been lost that their actions are unacceptable in front of youngsters?
The alternative to parents acting as policemen is simple; stewards should be proactive in calming extreme behaviour. Failing that, clubs like Hearts should not market parts of their grounds as family areas and also warn potential customers that the experience might be unsuitable for youngsters.
This weekend we’re giving the Motherwell game a miss. From a bear-pit to what can be more like a monastery, this weekend the wee guy is off to Edinburgh v Perpignan at cavernous Murrayfield.
There has to be a happy medium somewhere.
COUNCIL’S OWN GOAL OF THE YEAR
IN most sports clubs after matches, a certain uncomplimentary award goes to the player who made the most outrageous error during the game.
At Edinburgh City Council, they can probably already give out one for the whole year to Councillor David Walker for his astounding bid to keep thug John Lindsay out of jail by writing to the trial judge.
Except it’s more serious than that, and if he is allowed to continue as a Labour councillor it will be a slap in the face for every Labour member in the City Chambers.
Let’s be clear, Lindsay scalded, burnt, beat and threw a clearly confused and frightened young man to his dogs, yet Cllr Walker felt Lindsay deserved leniency even though, he claims, he didn’t know the full facts.
If, as we’re being led to believe, Cllr Walker has now apologised to the judge as requested, then the apology needs to be made public.
But is there something more he needs to explain? Not so long ago he defended his actions and challenged colleagues to report him to the Standards Commission. That is now going ahead, following a complaint by Conservative activist and Euro candidate, Ian McGill.
I found the Standards Commission to be a strange organisation when I was caught up in a probe into the actions of former councillor Shami Khan. Even if the commission finds against Cllr Walker, the most he’s likely to face is a brief suspension.
The real responsibility lies with Labour leader Andrew Burns and it will not be the first time the party chief has been forced to take action in Craigmillar. In 1998, ex-leader Keith Geddes had to remove Councillor David Brown for abusing the housing system to procure a house for a pal’s mum.
That pal was former Labour regional councillor Paul Nolan who, Labour sources tell me,
is not unknown to Cllr Walker.
Usefully, you can still find Cllr Walker’s pre-election pitch on Edinburgh Labour’s website in which he says: “I would hope to become . . . someone that the community can turn to when problems arise or they need someone to speak on their behalf.”
Well, you’ve certainly ticked that box, councillor.
RECYCLING COULD BE SUCH A BUZZ
I’M happy to report that, unlike our near neighbours up on Blantyre Terrace, the recycling patrol arrived on time on both holiday Saturdays to relieve us of our carefully sorted bottles, cans, cards and plastic.
And the Christmas tree recycling? If you’ve got a brown bin, simply put your tree out on the next collection day next to the bin, says the council.
Down our way that’s January 31, so what’s left of the tree is supposed to lie about for a month.
Given they also ask you to cut it in two for them, I just sawed the whole thing up and put it all in the bin. Which is maybe what they hope we’ll all do.
Any chance of a set of power tools to go with the wheelie bin?