Claire Black: The joy of cycling | Spare rib

Picture: ContributedPicture: Contributed
Picture: Contributed
Let’s start a chain reaction

I HAD been thinking that my newly reinvigorated love for being on my bike was weather-related. But having been caught in a downpour of hailstones the size of golf balls or Gene Kelly-esque rain every day I’ve put butt to saddle for three consecutive days, I might have to reconsider. That said, there’s something about the light nights and the fact that I can on most days retain sensation in my hands on my handlebars without gloves, hail excluded, that makes cycling a lot more fun than in the never-ending winter. The reason I mention this is that I spotted an event that combines cycling and books – two of my favourite things. Part of Women on Wheels, a strand of Edinburgh’s Festival of Cycling that runs from 13 to 21 June, it’s a literary tour of Edinburgh by bike, celebrating cycling writing by women. It’s not a marathon, just five or six miles, with stops to listen to readings and have a blether. The antithesis of all that wheel-chasing, lycra-clad competitive malarkey (each to their own, but that’s not my idea of a laugh). I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Meet on Middle Meadow Walk in Edinburgh to set off at 2.30pm.

Click on Spare Rib and find your place in the world

I MUST have been about 14 when I got a subscription to Spare Rib. It was a time when I had exhausted Oxgangs Library’s collection of books published by The Women’s Press – I read according to spine, stripes for The Women’s Press, green with an apple at the bottom for Virago. And Raymond Chandler novels for balance. I also wore ripped jeans, love beads and cheesecloth shirts, despite the fact that it was the late 1980s. I don’t think I was entirely sure where I was going to find my place in this world.

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Spare Rib magazine has been digitised by the British Library. Picture: ContributedSpare Rib magazine has been digitised by the British Library. Picture: Contributed
Spare Rib magazine has been digitised by the British Library. Picture: Contributed

I loved Spare Rib. I didn’t always understand it. I’m not even sure I read every issue that was posted through my mum and dad’s door. In lots of ways it didn’t really speak to me about my life. I was 14, my biggest struggle was working out how to get out of the Britannia record club. But reading that magazine felt important. It was, in a way, aspirational. I was reading with an idea that this magazine might help me to become who I hoped to be. Wiring through articles about feminism and domestic violence, abortion rights, the situation for women in El Salvador, lesbian mothers and Reclaim the Night marches was about believing that these issues were important, even if I didn’t fully understand why. Some felt the same way about Position of the Fortnight, I feel grateful that I came across Spare Rib.

And now we can read it all over again, because it’s been digitised by the British Library. The entire print run, all 239 issues published over 21 years, is online and it’s free. I haven’t been this excited since the Desert Island Discs archive was made available.

It’s not that you couldn’t get hold of Spare Rib before, but to do so you had to take a trip to the Women’s Library in Glasgow – always a treat – or to the British Library’s Reading Rooms. Now, there is a curated website ( which features 300 selected pages and another site where the entire collection is available to view and search and enjoy.

I’ve only dipped my toe in so far, but what seems striking is how, in some ways at least, so little has changed. You couldn’t say that about how it looks – in this age of tablets with glossy photos and video content, Spare Rib looks like it was made with a blunt pair of scissors and a Pritt Stick. But in terms of content, the story is shockingly similar. I realise that this could be cause to get depressed, and the fact that female genital mutilation and the vulnerability of pregnant women in the workplace still persist is perplexing to say the least. But there is happier news too. Or rather evidence of the vast progress that’s been made. In an article published in an issue from 1987 there are accounts of lesbians losing custody of their children just for being gay. In that same year, it was still legal to sack someone for being homosexual. So now as I sit here, mother to a son, out at home and work, it feels good to have witnessed and benefited from such enormous change. Spare Rib played its part in making that happen. It’s right that it should be allowed to take its place in this digital, digitised world.

The force is with Portman

IAM not immune to taking pot shots at Hollywood people. Those who are beautiful enough, talented enough or lucky enough to become movie stars can take it. But I want to give credit where it is due. George Clooney. Not only are you suave and funny, you are also bang on about the ageing process when you say: “I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t try to look younger. You just have to look the best you can at the age you are.” Of course, it’s easy to say that when you age with the grace of a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, but still, good on you, George. And good on Natalie Portman. Her speech at Harvard was self-reflexive smartness at its most engaging. She is now forgiven for Star Wars Episode One. «

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