Dockless bikes: Urban junk or the future of pedal power?

Dockless bikes: Urban junk or the future of pedal power?

A new two-wheeled phenomenon has hit the streets of London; the dockless bike. You’ve probably seen these orange and yellow pushbikes propped up against walls and dumped in parks. Two firms predominate: Mobike and ofo. We already have Santander Cycles, or Boris Bikes as everyone but people who work at Santander call them, but those are docked in stands around central London.

Controversy rages (perhaps rage is a little strong) over whether these new additions are two-wheeled litter or provide a useful public service. You may have seen the BBC report on dockless bikes in China, from where Mobike and ofo originate, where millions have been dumped for scrap.

I have a bike and use it regularly, particularly for shorter rides around our neighbourhood, but I also use Boris Bikes when I know my return journey will be made using some other form of public transport. So, time to check out the new kids on the block.

I downloaded the free apps for both ofo and Mobike onto my phone and signed up. This proves to be very easy; you provide your email address and mobile phone number and they ping you a code. You log that into the app which opens your account and thereafter you give them your credit card details. Both apps work in a remarkably similar manner.

Time to look for a bike parked locally and that’s where I hit a problem. At the heart of the apps is a google map which shows your location and bikes that are close-by and ready to rent. You need to have your roaming data on and apparently it all works more smoothly if you turn on Bluetooth. There are no Mobikes near me and just one ofo, about five minutes stroll from my home.

Digging a little deeper it seems that while not regulated by Transport for London (TFL) dockless bikes do have to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with local authorities and where I live (Lambeth) that hasn’t happened. Largely, I think, because there are a plethora of Boris bike stands in our borough. In the burbs dockless bikes are very popular and have largely been welcomed by the authorities. The upshot being that any bikes in our area are incomers brought by discerning people who fancied a trip to sunny Vauxhall.

Donning a helmet and high viz jacket I set off in pursuit of my ride. It was propped as you can see just outside a local primary school. Unleashing the yellow beast proved remarkably easy. Open the app, click on unlock, the app now takes control of your phone’s camera which you focus on the bikes QR code. A metal lock around the rear tyre springs open and you are good to go.

You pay 50p for thirty minutes with a daily cap of £5. By way of comparison: It costs £2 to access Santander Cycles for 24 hours. You can make as many journeys as you like in that time but if you go over 30 minutes you’ll incur another £2 charge.

So, what are they like to ride? Well frankly, they feel a little flimsy. If you’ve ever ridden a Boris Bike you know they’re built like tanks and are extremely heavy. Not something you can say about an ofo bike. These have three gears which for my money are set at a better ratio than the Santander Cycles, I actually changed gear which I almost never do on a Boris. Another plus is they have a proper basket on the front which would certainly take a small load of shopping. This is far preferable to the strange arrangement on the front of Santander Cycles which doesn’t quite know what it’s supposed to be.

A big downside is the saddle height. I’m six foot one and it just doesn’t raise high enough for me, so getting any kind of speed up was tricky and it also proved wearing on the knees. But you know what (?), for a short trip around the corner to pick up a loaf of bread and some tea-bags (we live high on the hog in our house) it was just fine.

I propped the bike tidily outside the house, secured the lock around the back wheel and the journey was over. Then came a little surprise, I received a text saying:

You’ve parked outside ofo’s operational zone! To avoid losing 20 points from your ofo score, please ride the bike back into ofo’s operational zone – check the app for more details on where we operate.

I checked Google maps on the app and couldn’t find where their operational zone is located. This rather defeats the whole object of these bikes which is the ability to pick them up and leave them where you chose. Albeit I accept they have to be parked properly and not dumped in the middle of the road.

I’m also not entirely sure what losing 20 points from my ofo score means and what disadvantage this has put me at, but it wasn’t sufficiently scary for me to do anything about it. Around twenty minutes after I left the bike, someone else picked it up so it’s now off my conscience.

Just checking the Mobike app again and I see there is a bike available just over the road. On further inspection it turns out a neighbour has the bike parked in their back garden, so  inaccessible unless I knock on their door. Not sure what happens here, but I assume at some point a Mobike operative will be paying them a call.

What to make of dockless bikes? They’re flimsy, but cheap. They’re handy but often dumped in ugly heaps. To answer your unspoken question, I’m sure I will be booking another ride. And ultimately isn’t anything that gets us going places leaving no carbon footprint a good thing?

Before I go, you might be asking why the name ofo? Apparently, according to the company, the logo looks like someone riding a bike. Now you know.

Nicking Milk

Nicking Milk

In March we started getting milk delivered to our door the old-fashioned way, in glass bottles. Just trying to do our (micro) bit in the war against plastic. Now some little bastards are nicking it right off our door step.

Milk & More deliver in the early hours and as the More would suggest they go beyond just moo juice. On Friday we ordered their Breakfast Bundle which includes eggs, bacon, juice and two pints. At first, we thought the delivery hadn’t been made but no, it was looted.

Today we ordered one pint of full-fat and one semi-skimmed. Both bottles, drained of milk, were left on the wall in front of our house as a big fuck you to our family.

I’ve cancelled all orders until we find some sort of secure delivery box. So, thanks to those hard bastards who nick milk (#massivelegends) we don’t get our milk, Milk & More lose orders and we go back to buying plastic.

Update 1: Milk & More have refunded the cost of our Breakfast Bundle. #goodguys

Update 2: An old friend reminded me of the 1970s milk ad: ‘Watch out there’s a Humphrey about’. It was a bit of nonsense from Unigate about someone trying to snaffle your pinta. They even got Muhammad Ali on board. 

Stoned in Stockwell

Stoned in Stockwell

With the sun out, the people shirtless and picnics in full swing, the sweet smell of marijuana, along with the stench of skunk, is wafting across the parks of London.

Recently the dog ran through a tsunami of smoke caused by one of those vaping dudes and ended up on her back giggling. (Yes, my dog can giggle) So I’m pretty sure those guys are up to something too. Summer’s here and Londoners are high in Highgate and stoned in Stockwell.

Weed remains illegal in the UK and being caught with it comes with a maximum five years in prison and an unlimited fine. Police can issue an on-the-spot fine if you’re caught with a small amount and will take your stash.

But frankly unless you blow smoke in a copper’s face you’re unlikely to feel plod’s hand on your shoulder. The War on Drugs, or at least the War on Weed seems to have sputtered out.

Ask any lawyer and they’ll tell you that if a law is on the books and it’s not enforced, it should either be struck off or at least changed. But of course, that is unlikely to happen. Politicians in the UK know there are few votes to be won in suggesting weed be legalised and any unfortunate MP who takes up the cause will likely be mugged by the Daily Mail.

You have to wonder how many of our elected members have never smoked a joint. I’m sure the delightful Mr Rees-Mogg is in the clear along with our Prime Minister, but Boris Johnson? A few years ago, Ann Widdecombe (remember her?) caused a storm at the Tory party conference when she called for zero tolerance on all cannabis use and anyone caught with the drug would receive an automatic £100 fine. Even Tories couldn’t stomach that, and it was ditched.

It’s all so tricky for both politicians and the police. Just recently in Argentina a huge cache of marijuana being held by police went missing. A former police commissioner and fellow officers gave an entirely believable account as to what had happened when they told a judge the drugs were “eaten by mice”.

A few years ago, smoking a joint in public came with a police warning: ‘You’re be nicked sunshine’. Not anymore. MPs are too frightened to touch it, the police have more important stuff on their hands and so we do what we always do when faced with an intractable problem, we whistle up a van load of fudge to make it all go away.

And fudge, so I’m told, goes very nicely after you’ve smoked a joint.

Vexed in Vauxhall

Vexed in Vauxhall

With apologies to Noel Coward and his poem ‘There are bad times just around the corner’.

They’re miffed at the Nine Elms intersection

They’re vexed in Vauxhall, outraged at Oval

And Fentiman Road, so I’m told, is on the verge of insurrection.

The President of the United States has been at it again and people round our way are not happy. First, when commenting on the new US embassy, he called our neighbourhood ‘off location’ – bloody cheek. Now at a rally in Michigan over the weekend he ramped up the war of words calling our locality ‘lousy’ and ‘horrible’ ahead of his planned visit to the UK in July.

Time to fight back south London and extol the benefits and merits of life (just) south of the river. So, with my Tourist Authority of Lambeth (unofficial) hat screwed firmly on my head here is why you, along with the most powerful man in the world, should take a stroll round our manor. Dodge the deadly bullets of Madame Tussauds, the London Dungeon and M&M World and take a trip to Lambeth.

  • First up there’s Battersea Park, perhaps the best park in London, which now boasts an excellent restaurant, the Pear Tree Cafe.  You can go boating on the lake or dangle from a zipwire, play football and marvel at the remnants of the Festival of Britain.
  • There’s a thriving gay scene headquartered at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern just south of Vauxhall Station.
  • There are so many bonkers buildings along Nine Elms Lane, including the new US Embassy, perhaps we should be marketing ourselves as the New Dubai.
  • We have art galleries: Tate Britain  and Damian Hurst’s Newport Street Gallery that was designed by the same Swiss architects that brought us Tate Modern.
  • Then there’s Little Portugal spread out along South Lambeth Road which includes the Estrella Restaurant  where you can sit outside and enjoy the sun, while sipping hot chocolate and nibbling on a nata.  A little further along is the local favourite, the Canton Arms, a gastro pub of note. I’ve not tried it yet, but we have a new place on Clapham Road: 24 The Oval which looks promising.
  • People are raving about Wright Brothers Seafood Restaurant at Battersea Power Station. They specialise in oysters, in case a basket of bi-valves is your thing. While there, you’ll also be able to take a look at the Battersea Power Station restoration; one of the biggest housing developments in Europe.
  • There is the huge Nine Elms Sunday Market, which can be a little on the scummy side, but if you want to indulge your inner Martin Amiss you might want to give it a go. Close by is the newly located New Covent Garden flower market, but for this you are going to have to get up early. It opens at 4am. Come Christmas, it’s fun to pick up your Christmas tree there for a fraction of the normal London price.
  • Underneath the railway arches and strictly for the more adventurous we have Urban Axe Throwing and you can get to grips with the VauxWall climbing centre.

We should encourage Donald Trump to come to our neck of the woods and see what he’s missing. I’m sure we can assure him of a rousing reception.

(Now it’s over to you, local inhabitants, what have I missed?)

Plastered at the Tate

Plastered at the Tate

In 1897 when the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain) was nearing completion they got the plasterers in. And plasterers being plasterers, did what plasterers always do, they left a hidden note to be found by future generations. They got their wish.

This was placed here on the fourth of June 1897, Jubilee year, by the plasterers working on the job, hoping when this is found the Plasterers Association may be still flourishing. Please let us know in the Other World when you get this, so we can drink your health.

Signed: N. Gallop, F. Wilkins, H. Sainsbury, J. Chester, A. Pickernell (secretary)

The writer, perhaps the secretary, is hesitant to say whether plasterers fetch up in heaven or hell and opt for the ‘other world’ but given the lovely, humorous nature of the note I reckon it must be the former.

How much of their work remains, I have no idea, but I like to think that some of the UK’s greatest paintings hang in front of their smooth plaster work. This evening I plan to raise a glass and drink to the health of Messrs Gallop, Wilkins, Sainsbury, Chester and Pickernell.

Seventy years later

Just over seventy years after this note was written a callow youth visited the Tate for the first time. I was 16 years old and a pupil at a dreary boarding school in the Midlands. A school trip was arranged to visit the Tate Gallery in London. I didn’t have much interest in art and knew nothing about the artist whose exhibition we were going to see. All that mattered was escaping school and getting to London.

I’m not sure I’d ever seen pop art before, but I knew right away I loved it, particularly when we learnt that the artist, Eduardo Paolozzi, had made robots for the exhibition and at the last moment had carved them up and dumped them in a skip. When you’re a teenager at school in Rutland you feel like carving your life up and putting it in a skip. Here was something I could work with.

I think there were also some Warhol’s on display; possibly the Marylyn screen prints. It was all so new and so fresh, I couldn’t get enough of it. I now live around the corner from Tate Britain, but I’ll never forget my first visit.

Stealing art from Tate Britain: It’s child’s play

Stealing art from Tate Britain: It’s child’s play

I went back to Tate Britain yesterday to take a last look at the ‘Impressionists in London’ exhibition. (It closes on 7th May) I was a bit rude about it on a previous occasion but wanted to see Monet’s wonderful fog shrouded pictures of Big Ben and parliament once again.

I got there bang on 10 o’clock when the gallery opens, brandished my member’s card, and made directly for the Monet’s which are in the penultimate room. Although other punters were invading the earlier rooms, I had the Monet’s and the Whistler Nocturnes to myself.

Wandering out through the Duveen Galleries, the main space opposite the Millbank entrance, I spotted a young couple with two toddlers. The kids were charging about among the statues and generally having a great time. I guess it’s the combination of the open spaces where they can run plus the colours and strange shapes of the art that appeals.

All of which reminded me of an occasion, years ago, when my three-year-old daughter and I paid a visit. We walked in to one of the galleries and were met with the unusual sight and sound of a security guard wearing a blaring walkie-talkie. Perhaps he was upset by one of the more visually arresting Francis Bacon pictures, but he was babbling into a microphone while the radio on his belt was turned up full, so everyone could hear the anodyne chat coming from the control room. There was no emergency underway.

Of course, even though people were irritated, being British, nobody said anything. If you listened closely you could just hear some gentle tutting. Finally, I went up to the guy and asked him to turn down his radio as it was getting on everyone’s nerves. He gave me a shirty look, had me figured as a poncey, pretentious git, but complied.

Meanwhile the daughter was making her way, at some speed, into the next room. When you want three-year-olds to move they stick like glue, but they can give Usain Bolt a run for his money if so minded. I followed closely to see her bearing down on an Anthony Gormley sculpture of fruit laid out on the floor at perfect toddler level.

I kind of knew what was going to happen. Just as the security guard entered, she grabbed a silver pineapple and looking very pleased with herself tore out of the room. The guard approached with a menacing look that seemed to indicate all his Christmases had come at once and that the pretentious, poncey git was going to get it with both barrels.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, and before plod could say a word, I raced after the toddler, wrenched the pineapple from her hands, put it back on its pedestal and within thirty seconds the two of us were standing outside with the security guard sucking up the dust from my departing heels. There are some fights you can’t win.

Close-up of a girl's face
Jenny Saville

Last word: Yesterday I also went to see the ‘All too human’ exhibition at Tate Britain. It has spectacular paintings by Freud, Bacon and Kitaj. It also introduced me to a wonderful artist I’d not come across before: Euan Unglow.

Younger painters feature in the last room and the severe close-up of a woman’s face by Jenny Saville really needs to be seen. The exhibition is on until 27th August: Don’t miss it.

X Rated Television

X Rated Television

These days if you watch TV after the nine o’clock watershed, swearing is everywhere. Drama dialogue and unscripted chat shows are liberally spiced with the F word. The continuity announcers seem to relish it: ‘The next programme contains strong language right from the start’ they say, giving the indication there’s some hot stuff on the way.

This is fine with me as I swear quite a lot – too much according to my wife. But it wasn’t always like this. I remember years ago on the Old Grey Whistle Test (It was a music programme) some hairy rocker offered up an unexpected ‘fuck’ and I thought the roof was going to fall in. Even the somnambulant Bob Harris almost woke up. Now swearing is commonplace and Mary Whitehouse must be summersaulting in her grave.

Despite this we try to keep our fourteen-year-old daughter safe and have put a lock on the TV to prevent her watching 18 rated shows. As my wife says, you can’t unsee what you’ve seen. I think she might be a bit of a soothsayer.

But here’s the problem, wife and self are not technically adroit and besides that we’ve forgotten the password needed to unlock the TV. So, what do we do when we want to view an 18 show on Netflix or iPlayer? Well obviously, we call our daughter and she taps in the code.

Wait a minute…