Archives for May 2011

Honestly, The Kids Of Today

Another ride with Charli off road.

Towards the start we came across three kids. I’m no good at guessing the ages of children; I’ve reached that apocryhpal point in life that’s supposed to come to everyone, where most policemen look young enough to still be in school. I would imagine they were early-mid teens. We were heading down a single-bike-width bridle path and these three lads were coming towards us. We pulled over, they went by and thanked us.

That should be no big deal but it occurred to us both that it was. What made it so was its rarity value. I ride thousands of miles a year; I rarely see kids out and about. Sometimes, yes, in urban areas you’ll see one or two, but out in the country? Almost never.

We – Charli and I – can both remember having the run of our respective childhood neighbourhoods and the surrounding areas too. I know I’m saying nothing new here, but it does seem that something’s gone horribly wrong when that kind of freedom just doesn’t seem to be available to many anymore. We all did a lot of learning in that very unbounded context, as well as having a lot of fun.

I suspect quite why that’s happened is more difficult to pin down than it might appear.

There’s the much-cited fear of child abuse and child abduction but that’s grossly distorted and I imagine a lot of parents are able to work out for themselves that it is. (An irony of keeping kids indoors – and online – is that ‘online grooming’ of children seems to be a growing and real issue. Hey ho.)

There’s the volume of traffic issue, and that’s real, but cars were no less lethal when I was young than they are now, and dealing with them safely is a) a necessity of modern life that the sooner you get to grips with the better; and b) not so difficult that a teenager can’t cope with it. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that young teenagers were legally adults.

There’s the widely made allegation that parents don’t want to risk their children hurting themselves in the woods or something, but proving that allegation is another thing entirely. It’s not something I see with the friends I have that have kids. And besides, now everyone has a mobile phone, the risk element is far less than it ever used to be.

Of course, there’s also the question that doesn’t get mentioned much, which is whether going out to muck about in the woods or down by the canal or something is at all attractive to teenagers in the way that it used. Maybe it’s too easy to blame molly-coddling parents when the real issue is that the kids themselves aren’t interested, that they’re finding online gaming and what-have-you more attractive.

It is quite conceivable that online / indoor activities have been marketed so well that most kids wouldn’t dream of ‘going out to play’. It is also more than merely conceivable that the people who are doing that marketing, or commissioning that marketing, are amongst those who are lamenting the fact that kids never go out to play any more.

What it all means that it’s probably more appropriate to question the parents of the kids of today, rather than to so readily criticise the kids themselves.

Manufactured Pressure

I’ve written before about the technique of riding successfully on windy days: go out into the wind so you have a headwind when you’re strongest, a tailwind when you’re weary. Today, for reasons of road-works and holiday traffic I ended up doing that in reverse, with – yet again – an unseasonably strong wind blowing.

The theory is valid; the last third was a real slog. The first third was a tail wind – nice. The second third was a more-or-less favourable cross-wind – not too bad but mind the gusts. The final third was just grim.

I suppose I’ll begrudgingly agree that there’s some kind of grim satisfaction in testing a theory and finding it valid. I think, on the day, I’d have been happier to find empiricism failing.

I was supposed to be out riding with a friend but he couldn’t make it. No big deal; I’m happy riding on my own. He couldn’t make it because, basically, the rest of day-to-day life was overtaking him – he had too much to do to take a time-out to ride. Not major, one-off, special stuff to do, just the run of the mill. We’ve all been there.

I struggle with the issue though: the fact that pretty well everyone I know laments not having enough time, at time going by too quickly, at never getting enough done. I do too.

I don’t know what’s going on. Perhaps it’s a simple product of getting older, an increasing awareness of mortality and the need to fit everything in before it’s too late. Perhaps it’s a product of too much opportunity and all that nonsense pressure to do more: ‘101 whatevers to do before you die’. That’s the sales pitch. The extent to which it even begins to teeter on being realistic is something else entirely.

Perhaps I’d be more accurate if I said time-pressure comes from the myth of all these opportunities and the perception that we should all be ticking off all these things. No-one is happy with all that pressure, yet it is merely manufactured pressure – there to be ignored.

A Weak Willed Idiot

Off-road with Charli again. An hour-and-a-half in the rain although, because of all the dry weather we’ve had for so long, it was never particularly muddy.

‘Bad weather’ is interesting. Of course it’s untrue to say “there’s no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing” – try telling that to anyone who’s been on the receiving end of seriously bad weather: the recent-tornado-hit unfortunates in the USA to name just a few. But, extreme weather aside, there’s a kernel of truth in it.

Today we could quite easily have stayed in. It was just starting to rain as we set off, and it was pretty obvious there was more on the way, and that it was likely to be heavier. So it proved … and it wasn’t a problem. You get a bit wet and dirty. Yeah – and?

And you also get to feel rain on your face; hear the sound of rain falling through beech woods that are in full leaf; smell fresh rain on tarmac; have what amounts to a quite different riding experience.

It’s tempting to think the issue hinges on why we go on about ‘bad weather’ when, by and large, it’s not ‘bad’ by any sensible measure. Of course the answer to that is simple: it’s popular parlance; it’s how weather forecasters talk. They’re wrong, but that’s how they describe anything vaguely inclement, and that’s how Joe and Josephine Average describes anything vaguely inclement.

So, the question then becomes, why am I so weak-willed that I can so easily, mindlessly, fall in line with such an inappropriate approach; why am I so pathetic that I let such a stupid approach dictate what I do. It took a definite mental effort to convince myself that going out today was the right thing to do. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

Blowing In The Wind

(Happy Birthday Bob.)

The wind’s strong again and persists in being so – not the 100 mile gusts they’ve had in Scotland and nothing like the tornado that’s just trashed a chunk of Missouri, but unseasonally strong. A local weather site reported a record-breaking sustained gust on Sunday. Climate change is evidenced by an increasing incidence of unusual weather events.

The choice of route was pretty well solely determined by the wind today – it was that strong. I plotted a careful meander around the lanes that meant most of the time I’d have a favourable or at least not too unfavourable crosswind, and most of the time I was heading into a headwind I was either in sheltering lanes with high hedges, or heading downhill. It would be all too easy to say a ride on a day like today was never going to be pleasurable but with some careful planning it was fine.

Out near Wallingford today I was treated to a really close-up view of a pair of Red Kites play-fighting (I guess), at a low level and positioned in relation to the sun so I could properly see their colours. Spectacular; it’s a pleasure to see them and heartening that they’re doing so well since their reintroduction.

Target Driven

I try and cycle 100 miles a week; in winter it will tail down a bit, and then illnesses, holidays and so on will interrupt that as well, but that’s the goal. It is totally arbitrary – I know it’s just a(nother) round number that I’ve settled upon. I find it motivating though; I take it seriously – 100 miles or more is something I really work hard to make sure I do if I possibly can, just because I’ve decided to.

I suspect it’s another facet of that ability to take an arbitrary self-imposed target seriously that I’m also not in the slightest bit interested in beating anyone else, either on a bike or in any other walk of life. I am only interested in beating me, in doing what I do better, by my standards.

No, there’s nothing unique in what I’m saying makes me tick, and no, that’s not what’ll work for everyone else.

What is worth doing though, is putting in the effort to properly understand what it is that motivates you, if you’re riding a bike or doing anything else. It may not be what you presume it is.

Frowned Upon

It’s not uncommon to be passed by a car or, more often, one of those flatbed pick-up trucks or a Landrover or similar with a dog in the back, who’ll start barking furiously as they go by. Farm dogs seem particularly prone to it.

I don’t know my dog breeds – I can recognise the common ones but that’s it. Today, I was passed by a pick-up truck with an open flatbed back, with a hound-type of dog in it – it looked like a nice, pedigree animal. It wasn’t tethered at all that I could see, it was just happy in the back. Traffic was slow and as it drew alongside me it sat up, looked at me … and frowned in one of the most superbly quizzical expressions I’ve ever seen, animal or human. As the truck pulled away it continued to look at me with an unwavering frown for as long as I was in sight. It left me feeling like I should try to catch up and introduce myself to resolve the mystery of the perplexing cyclist.

It was just a short ride to get out; I’m still not feeling great with whatever it is that started back on the 17th, but getting out for a break continues to be better than staying in. For some reason there were a lot of cyclists around today – more than I’d expect. Still, it’s good to see.

Apart from the concerned hound, the other animal encounter of the day was with a partially albino blackbird – a male with quite a few white feathers. It really did suit him. I wonder if completely white blackbirds ever occur.