Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

The weather has quietened down over the past few days allowing me to get out on my bike more. But I have been spending much more time in my workshop too.

My brother returned from holiday he brought me a present of a book, the 50 greatest bike rides of the world by Sarah Woods, I have only read the first ride in Belfast; Northern Ireland, and it already sounds like Sarah Wood does not even have a bike. For it is like all the information came from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board pamphlet. And I do not hold with her that an Englishman, John Kemp Starley created the bicycle in the form we recognise today, I do accept that he patented his bicycle in 1885, so may have been the first man to patent the idea.

In June 1842, Macmillan seems to have ridden the 70-odd miles to Glasgow. A newspaper report talks of “a gentleman from Dumfries-shire bestride a velocipede of ingenious design” who knocked over a little girl in the Gorbals area and was fined five shillings. Many believe this was Macmillan, though others question whether a newspaper would describe a blacksmith as “a gentleman”. Macmillan did not patent his invention, and in 1846 Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow produced a very similar machine, leading to a belief that persisted through much of the 1800s that he had invented the powered bicycle.

In 1854 Macmillan married Elsie Goldie, and they had six children together. He died in 1878. The smithy where he worked is still standing and carries a plaque which reads: “He builded better than he knew”. Two of his bicycles are on display in the Dumfries Museum 

I am not sure that I accept either that,

“Today, now that the 50 years of unrest and social conflict is consigned to the history book, Belfast and its slogan –daubed mural-painted walls, vast…..”  

All we read about riding in Belfast and Northern Ireland from Sarah is a seven-mile traffic-free section of the National Cycle Network (NCN). In fact, the only thing I recognize about the NCN is her tip:

“Be alert to debris on the road and the threat of puncture from thorns, sharp stones and old rusty nails.”

For this is the state of the UK cycle network throughout these islands, and why cycling as a means of transport will never take off as it has in Europe, and at the detriment to the health of the nation.      

A few weeks ago I commented on an article I had read in the iScot magazine. It had been written by a doctor that writes a regular column there and I was shocked at his words. What he was talking about was PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere. I had read other articles on PM2.5 particles but always in connection with diesel engine exhaust gasses, this was different.

PM2.5 particles are so small they pass right through the lungs and into the bloodstream, and from there into the main organs of the body and why they are so dangerous to human health. Not only do they cause death but they are contributory to bad health in general and account for a high toll on the NHS resources and budgets.

Now if PM2.5 particles have been known about for decades and their effect on our health and wellbeing well documented. Why the shock now? Well, today (Saturday 9th October 2021) I read in The Guardian, an article by Damian Carrington, it was more or less making the same argument that I had read in iScot, that even the new Eco wood-burning stoves emitted 375g of PM2.5 particles for every gigajoule of energy produced, whereas a modern HGV diesel engine only 0.5 per gigajoule. Nordic swan, the official ecolabel of Nordic countries allows wood stoves to emit up to 150g per gigajoule, 300 times more than a modern HGV engine.

40,000 early deaths across Europe each year are attributed to wood burning.

These are figures for modern high efficient stoves, but many homes that have central heating will still have an open fire for nostalgic reasons. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and in today’s world of high gas prices, how many more will open up their open fires and burn wood? This will not only mean more pollution from the chimney pots but also into the room where the fire burns.

We are told that the UK government has no plans to restrict the use of wood burners, (I am not sure if this applies to Scotland too) although the sale of wet wood has been banned from sale since May.

A spokesperson for the government’s Department of Environment did say

“That air pollution has been reduced significantly since 2010, with PM2.5 emissions falling by 11%” (That’s only 1% per year by my calculation)

“The environment bill currently in parliament would”, he say, “Make it easier for local authorities to tackle pollution from domestic burning by providing powers to issue (fines) for smoke emissions” 

So another half-hearted bill, not to ban dangerous wood-burning (open fires or stoves) and only allowing local authorities to tackle, smoke emissions, not PM2.5, and only in domestic settings, not commercial settings, where the real problems are. So, boilers, such as the St Andrews University bio-fuel boiler at Guardbridge, will have no PM2.5 checks on emissions from its chimney, by any local authority. 

Is it any wonder that we will never tackle global warming when governments are so afraid of upsetting their paymasters, big businesses?        

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