Archives for August 2011

Plain Wrong

There is so much to get angry about.

The fighting in Libya continues, and the media continue to trot the government line out and try and demonise Qadhafi. They’ve all conveniently forgotten that just a few years ago we were willing to deal with him. Watch what happens in the coming years – follow the money. It’ll all be about oil.

We’re being taken for fools again.

It’s the same as with bankers, the same as with public sector pay packets for the elite – there’s a whole culture of taking the public for fools while they rob us blind.

You don’t have to pay top dollar to get top people. All that attracts is people motivated by money – foul, venal individuals who are just out for themselves. The kind of people who’ll happily back a war if it makes them money. The kind of people who’ll get their noses out of the trough long enough to make an apology for whatever departmental failing they’ve been caught responsible for, but will then just go on failing for as long as they can pocket the money.

We are mugs. Absolute fools.

The bankers are particularly foul. The prospect of reform is looming so, as predictably as a seemingly endless stream of liquid shit comes after a stomach bug, so bankers and their mouthpieces are being given endless media time to tell us that reforming them is just all wrong and will damage the economy. These are the scum, the people working in a “socially worthless” industry (to quote one independent report), who’ve saddled the entire world with endless debt for years and years to come. To give them any credence whatsoever beggars belief. Expecting them to help with the rebuilding needed after the collapse they’ve caused is on a par with asking a rapist to baby-sit your daughter. And the media that gives them air-time, and the politicians that listen to them for a nano-second, are such transparently pathetic, supine stooges, I cannot bear to listen to them. Full stop.

All of which begs questions – not least, does anyone outside of the media-political-big business circle listen to them anyway? We all know we’ve been shafted, we all know the people are the top are filthy liars that you wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire. If you took their media stooges away (also not worth pissing on) then they’d have no advocates and no audience.

The other question that always intrigues me is whether their mouthpieces believe what they say. It’s akin to religionists, “faith healers” and any other snake-oil pedlar. There is a vast difference between someone knowingly lying and someone who genuinely believes what they’re saying, however wrong it may be. I find it very hard to believe spokespeople for banking are anything other than liars, members of the same venal class that they’re speaking for.

Riding around today up Stokenchurch way and down to Marlow, I was struck by how many expensive private properties are having building work carried out. The recession only hits some of us – as always. Tour around the rich bits and they’re all doing fine.

Meanwhile, we can’t even get the roads mended. There’s a stretch of road near Hambleden on the way to Henley that’s just had the gravel-smeared-on-tar treatment. It was atrocious beforehand and it still is. Just a few days after all that money was wasted on it, the holes that were there before are already showing through and the new surface is disintegrating. To rub salt into it, just a few miles along, nearer Henley, the road surface was treated the same way, probably two years ago or thereabouts, and that’s a rotting mess. Why the common-sense-forsaken morons in charge of spending this money keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again defies any logic or analysis of any of the ostensible aspects to it. The suspicion has to be that we ought to be following the money to find the real reason. Always follow the money.

And all of that anger set me thinking, why am I getting worked up about it? I’m not doing that badly despite the bankers and the damage they’ve done to my future finances. The war in Libya hasn’t had any direct impact on me. Bad roads may rattle me around a bit but they’re not the end of the world. Sure, it’s my tax money the scum are blatantly wasting, whether it’s on road ‘mending’, military ordnance, inflated salaries or bailing out banks, but tax is unavoidable, and I can always pretend my contribution goes to something useful.

So, why do I get angry? The only answer I could come up with is because all these things are just plain wrong.

It’s as simple as that. It really is. No relativism, no sophistry, no excuses. Some things are just wrong.

Seething Resentment

Going home time after Reading Festival and the traffic here and there was heavy so that helped decide today’s route. Crime at the festival this year was well down. It made me laugh – albeit mirthlessly – to see one of the local ‘New’ Labour councillors tweeting about it, congratulating the police and the organisers for the fall in incidents. Um, how about the fans? If the people there hadn’t been good natured and well-behaved despite the atrocious conditions caused by the rain, then crime would have been up. If a crowd that size had wanted to get out-of-hand, no amount of policing or organisation could have contained them. That kind of public sucking-up by low- and high-level politicians alike manages to be both vacuous and nauseating.

(Is Labour still ‘New’ or have they ditched that now? Does anyone care? What would a post-new-Labour party be? Where do you go after mutating from socialism to conservative-lite and betraying everyone along the way? Perhaps that should be ‘conservative-by-stealth’. To my mind, betrayal is unforgivable.)

So, a Bank Holiday Monday with weather that’s not bad but not good – and lots of folks with time on their hands. The British can seem very bad at making good use of free time. I rode through Henley today and the people in the crowd milling about by the river side rarely looked happy or pleased to be there.

And as for shopping: if the high street is dying then by-and-large the retailers have only themselves to blame. The punters in Henley could have been wandering around pretty well any similar sized town in England and they’d be seeing the same shops with the same stock, the same bored minimum-wage staff and the same poor sods trying to sell the Big Issue on a street corner somewhere nearby. There’s nothing to inspire anyone to spend any money and now that the mood is to question expenditure, the ‘big name’ shops are all struggling. Add to that the miserable experience the average town provides when it comes to the real basics: driving, cycling, walking, parking, even having a pee … and shopping online seems a much better bet.

I came in to Henley from Remenham. The queue to get over the bridge started well before the top of Remenham Hill. If that’s not a miserable way to spend of a significant chunk of a precious free day then I don’t know what is. I just went down the outside then took a right into the lane to Remenham Church and from there joined the main road again at the bottom of the hill. When I do that kind of thing I swear I can feel the seething resentment of the cooped-up drivers somehow permeating the air. Of course, that’s more than likely just my imagination. Of course, if they’re inclined to be thinking anything, what they should be concluding is that queuing to get into Henley for no good reason is a dismal waste of time, waste of life.

The queue went by the entrance to Park Place, a huge great pile of a house just sold for £140 million quid, which makes it Britain’s most expensive private residence. I did rather like the fact that whatever the expense, they’d still have been struggling to get in or out of their drive today. I did also think that’s perhaps a fairly petty, grotty sort of thought to have. And perhaps it is, but I struggle with the degree of income inequality in the UK today, and property like Park Place seems to symbolise it all too well.

Who’s Teaching? (Just For Cyclists)

Just a little leg-turner, and I was lucky enough to miss the showers. When they come, they’ve been stunningly heavy.

There were lots of cyclists around today – far more than I’d have seen even just a couple of years ago and these are leisure riders out for fun, not utility. These are people choosing cycling. I like it. I do hope they get some good advice though, on the nuts and bolts of riding happily, comfortably and sensibly.

Perhaps strangely, that sort of advice was easier to come by when cycling was more of an unusual thing to be doing. Then, it would be almost inevitable that you’d meet up with experienced riders who’d often tell you the more arcane bits of wisdom. Nowadays you can go to the bike shop, buy a decent bike and never have a way in to access the information that makes riding enjoyable. I see people out – on weekends particularly – that have the kit but are riding alone and look, well, uncomfortable.

I’m no fan of cycling clubs – they’re far too race-oriented for most people, myself included, and in my experience far too inclined to ‘burn the newbie off’. Some of the magazines are helpful but, again, there’s an awful lot of stuff in them that’s race or competition oriented and is just irrelevant to the weekend rider who just wants to enjoy a few miles riding every now and then. And like most hobby/interest magazines, they can only exist if they keep on trying to sell you stuff you don’t need. Perhaps the web can fill the gap.

Perhaps I ought to put more information about technique and tips in these pages. I mentioned rubbing my palm on my front tyre to clear it of grit the other day. I learned that from someone way back when, as part of what was then the ‘normal’ way of things. How’s someone going to pick that up these days?

The danger, of course, is that without some help, newcomers to it will find cycling unenjoyable and quickly put it down as a mistake to be forgotten. Cycling will get safer when there are more cyclists, so it would benefit everyone if knowledge is freely shared.

The Greater Good

The weather is so variable at the moment it’s a case of making the most of any day that’s half decent. Today was one of those days, and I know I’m fortunate to be able to take advantage of it.

That said, I’m able to work into the small hours without too much trouble, to make up for the daylight hours I’ve spent out and about. It’s one of those things; speaking in very broad terms I suppose working late does require discipline but I can do it and it’s not hard for me. So, what kind of discipline is that really? It can’t be considered an absolute. It would only be ‘an act of great self-discipline’ to work long hours into the night if it was hard for me to do so. It’s like bravery – you can only be considered brave if your act of bravery was preceded by fear.

It’s Reading Festival this coming weekend and that has big knock-ons for traffic, and thus for the routes it’s going to be sensible to ride for the next few days. In turn, that influenced the route I picked for today. I can’t say that’s a big deal, I don’t resent that. What I do find irritating, or maybe depressing, is that so many people are willing to get annoyed about it. It’s not hard to go online and find people moaning about the festival. Every now and then a few local residents will get organised and have a pop at it with some inane petition or a group protest letter, that of course the local press will pick up on simply because they rarely have enough to fill up their pages.

The festival happens every year. The dates are predictable. It’s not a surprise to anyone. It is perfectly feasible to plan to work around it. Yes, the noise can be annoying if your aim was a quiet bank holiday evening or something and the wind’s bringing the sound your way but for goodness’ sake, there are tens of thousands of people there having a really good time and the amount of inconvenience it’s causing the locals need be no great shakes.

And I genuinely think that about it, which is in sharp contrast to how I react when, say, a neighbour is being noisy. When that sort of thing happens I am totally and utterly intolerant; it both annoys and angers me.

So, that’s what I was thinking about riding today – what those two reactions mean, or rather what they say about me. The obvious thing is to conclude I’m happy with the ‘greater good’ argument. That it’s a large crowd having a good time outweighs any inconvenience the festival causes, whereas when it’s a neighbour making a racket, that’s one or two people inconveniencing far more – me and all the other neighbours around.

The trouble is, mob rule isn’t the way forward either. The majority isn’t always right. It’s too easy to descend to the lowest common denominator if you go down that path.

That then leads you towards the uncomfortable, awkward acceptance of elites – there’s no other word for it. Society needs leading, leaders, leadership, to decide what to tolerate and what not to. I suspect a healthy society is where that leadership is taking the whole of society to a better place, as best it can, whether the whole of society knows it wants to get there or not.

That, surely, has to be better than the exploitation of masses by the elite, dressed up and justified in that foul, smug condescending way that’s too commonly heard these days: “We’re treating people like shit / feeding them shit / entertaining them with shit / telling them shit / letting them wallow in shit because that’s what they want. We know it’s shit but hey, what can you do if that’s what people want. It’s not for us to judge.”

Surely, as a basic tenet of civilization, if you know better than it’s your job to spread that knowledge, not exploit the ignorance of those who don’t know.

A Heron Walking

Another long-for-me ride, making the most of the weather. It is odd to feel that you’re a long way from home but it can be like that when you’re 20+ miles out and you’re not even half-way yet. It’s not the distance as such, it’s the fact that you’re reliant on just your own power to get back home again. I suppose it’s a kind of frailty. I guess once upon a time all travel did present that kind of a challenge; now we can just take it for granted most of the time. I don’t know whether that’s good, bad or neutral.

The traffic today was surprisingly light. On some stretches I went for a few miles and saw no cars at all. Sure, this was along a couple of lanes up near Upper Basildon and Aldworth but even so, no cars at all is unusual. Even the road down to Hampstead Norreys was quiet. Perhaps it’s just that it’s August and people are on holiday. Perhaps the price of petrol really is making people drive less – that’s what they’re saying is going on, but whether that’s country-wide they don’t say. Around here it’s generally affluent. It would be interesting to see some detailed figures about what’s going on, perhaps broken down by county.

It would be interesting, too, to see a world with a lot less driving going on. I don’t say that from any anti-car stance – I ride a bike but I drive too. It would just be interesting to see how nature responded. It might be quite a different world we’d all find ourselves living in, quite quickly. Today I saw a sight I’ve never seen before – a heron walking along a road. Admittedly it was a very quiet lane and it was near the ford by Bucklebury, but even so I think it was an uncommon occurrence. Perhaps we’d see more of that kind of thing if there were fewer vehicles being driven. A different world but whether that’s the same as a better world I don’t know. Nature in the ascendant? Nature wouldn’t do humans any favours.

A quiet ride and so little interaction with anyone. I didn’t see any other cyclists today, not one. Thanks are due to the driver of the Verdant Group van near Kidmore End for making room for me, and it’s nice to be acknowledged by the silver Astra I let pass near Hook End. It costs me nothing apart from a break in my rhythm to let a car get by me on a narrow lane and it only seems polite to do so. Add to basic politeness a belief in “what goes around comes around”, and a break in my rhythm becomes no big deal.

After The Rain

After the rain, debris. Yesterday saw some freakishly heavy rain around these parts. Today, out riding, the rubbish on the roads is the consequence to consider. I’m not talking about major stuff; it’s the run-off that’s the issue – grit and gravel, which is the stuff of punctures. Small flints can be very sharp. Fortunately, today’s ride was puncture free but I’m sure that was pure good fortune.

I did read somewhere that one of the tyre manufacturers had researched into punctures and found a lot of back tyre flats were caused by grit or whatever flicked up in the first instance by the front tyre. I can’t vouch for that but it might be true. I do have some faith in holding the (leather-glove-clad) palm of my hand on my front tyre for a few revolutions if I go through a patch of gravel to clean it off before anything gets embedded and can cut through to the inner tube. I’m also quick to respond if I hear that tell-tale ‘tick tick tick’ of something stuck in a tyre. Stop, find it and dig it out quickly before it does any damage. I carry a very small but sharply pointed pen-knife for that very reason.

Up near Woodcote today I noticed a small metal cover in the road, broken, with grass growing up through it. This was on a busy road, not a little-used lane. There’s just enough shelter in the dip it’s in and in the hole in the cover for the grass to survive despite all the traffic. It’s salutary to be reminded about the sheer remorselessness of nature, that blind and completely unsentimental will to live that informs so much of what’s around us.

There’s something to think about in how we, people, seem to need so much sentimentality to rise above nature, but sentimentality itself is rarely held up as a laudable quality. I don’t know – it’s something to return to.

Just a few yards on from the grass in the road I saw a Red Kite land in a tree and nearly fall off, having picked a branch that wasn’t able to take its weight. Cue frenzied flapping. Nature may be remorseless but that’s not the same as infallible. That I’m commenting on a clumsy Red Kite is, I think, a reflection of how we’ve become: in incredibly broad and sweeping brush strokes, it seems we’ve lost faith in science and in ourselves and, instead, impart ‘nature’ with properties that just aren’t there – that it’s somehow inherently ‘good’ and ‘infallible’ and ‘right’ and ‘honest’.