Archives for January 2012

Some Kind Of Addiction

Let’s face it, today’s ride was tokenism; a short stint around Shiplake and Binfield Heath. It was lousy weather and I didn’t particularly feel like it.

That all, of course, makes going out of questionable sense. I was only out because the weather forecasters are confidently saying it’s going to get a lot worse – very cold and with some snow and ice.

If you say it was a case of “getting out while I can” at face value that seems sensible. But if you reflect on that for a moment, if I’m getting out but in lousy weather and I’m not enjoying it, then there’s surely no point, whatever the next few weeks hold.

I’ve read in the past about joggers getting hooked to their running because it somehow releases chemicals in the brain that are both associated with pleasure and addictive. I guess cycling might be the same. Addiction, of course, can over-ride common sense with ease.

I don’t know if I’m happy with the thought of being addicted to cycling, any more than if you told me I was addicted to anything else I like – rye whiskey or something. I like to think I am in control.

I’ve read a little about brain functions and I fear that all notions of conscious control are a vanity … but it’s a vanity I’m still clinging to. If conscious control is a fiction then I’m not sure what that leaves us all with.

Not Even Antepenultimate

Cold, drab and damp; not a great day to be doing anything other than a short little spin, partly off-road but not a proper mud lark, to counter being indoors.

Out with Charli, on the on-road sections we had two instances of absolute arse-holes in cars. No, they weren’t a danger to us, but witnessing such idiocy doesn’t do much for your faith in humanity . Both instances were much the same – cars overtaking us in a hurry, trying to squeeze in to gaps before oncoming cars arrive, not going anywhere fast because once they’re past us they were immediately behind other slower moving vehicles, having not been held up behind us for any length of time at all. In short, daft driving for no gain and no appreciable reason – it’s not as if they had cause to be frustrated.

The first car was one of the posher BMWs. Now, it’s dumb to generalise to too great an extent but it’s an observable phenomenon that a higher percentage of BMWs you encounter – whether you’re a cyclist, in a car or whatever – are driven by dick heads. This applies especially to those driven by men, which is the majority, though some women – presumably those with undue amounts of testosterone – fall into this group too. I should say now that I’ve two friends who are BMW drivers who aren’t in this class. I know it’s not every one of them, but it is a significantly higher proportion than for other makes.

My theory is that the brand attracts particularly insecure and vain males, drawn to their ‘ultimate driving machine’ slogan. The kind of people who imagine that they’re worthy of ‘the best’ and are burdened by the need to trumpet their belief in their worth by having a car of sufficient supposed merit. BMWs may, or may not, be ‘ultimate driving machines’; I neither know nor care. What I do know is that even if they are, that manifestly does not make their owners ‘ultimate drivers’.

The second car was another male, in another typically male car – one of the sportier VW Golf models which are, of course, all too often ‘wannabe cars’. I don’t understand why anyone, by driving one, would want to broadcast their failure to achieve the ‘real thing’, whatever that might be. I presume they are too wrapped up in their aspirational dreams to realise how the rest of us are judging them on their tenuous grip on the lowly rungs of the ladder they’re climbing.

The January Blues

The January blues feel real. Perhaps it’s the January Greys that are the issue. At least today wasn’t that awful slab grey; there were grey clouds scudding across a different shade of grey sky.

Grey clouds on a grey sky

Grey on grey

Over 30 miles – Henley, Remenham, Maidenhead, Shurlock Row and interconnecting lanes – and nowhere was it busy. Perhaps it’s just the normal lean January bank balances that lie behind it.

Today and one other time recently I’ve come across what can only be called a cliché of road cyclist. He has all the top-drawer expensive gear (and he’s riding around on it in winter …). Note that I’m saying he has the expensive gear; that doesn’t always equate to it being the best. There’s something about him that just oozes that attitude of wanting the most expensive stuff. Maybe he has even higher-end stuff for summer.

Sure enough, you’d expect someone who’s oozing that attitude to be stand-offish and far too up himself to talk to strangers and hey, what do you get but just that. Stereotypes exist for a reason. I’ve said before about mid-week riders being a different bunch than the weekend crowd, and if there’s one thing that distinguishes them it’s their friendliness. This chap should ride at weekends.

I suppose what that says about me is that I’m, what? Sort of resentful that this kind of rider is out and about mid-week? Vaguely depressed by the fact that stereotypes prove valid sometimes?

After the recent incidents of helping other riders / being offered help, I did find myself wondering whether I’d bother to help this chap if I came across him on the roadside. I suspect I would; I don’t want to end up at his level.

Maybe he’s a weekend rider who’s on holiday. Maybe he’s just been made unemployed. Maybe he’s shy. Maybe I just shouldn’t give a damn.

First Recognise The Problem

From the small van on the roundabout in Emmer Green who let me across even though it was his right of way to the bin lorry in Pangbourne to the Volvo in Pangbourne lane and the blue car in Twyford, there was a lot of active consideration being shown today. It wasn’t busy though; I wonder if people feel they can be more considerate, if people simply have time to look up more, if they’re less hassled.

On the lane that runs past the turn to Mapledurham and on up to Goring Heath they were litter-picking the verges today. It makes a terrific, positive difference; the leap from neglect to cared-for is vast in both its visual impact and how that then makes you feel – the emotions it engenders. You can’t help but feel those doing the litter-picking are contributing labour of far greater social value than any number of ‘financial sector workers’.

Drive around, cycle around, walk around – whatever your mode of transport, if you keep just half an eye open then the signs of careless and unnecessary, unjustified neglect are everywhere. There’s so much littering and fly-tipping, so many ‘public works’ (roads, pavements, buildings) are tatty or badly repaired. So much graffiti isn’t cleaned up … and so on. Just focusing on these simple but very visible aspects of public life is very grim. And in so many cases it doesn’t seem to be a question of money; it’s far more to do with how money is spent.

With the Olympics coming up and the hoped-for influx of tourists, who presumably won’t stop just in the East End of London, I was wondering today whether there’s a drum to be banged about the state of ‘Royal Berkshire’. If I was a tourist visiting, I’d be very quickly disabused of any notion of England being a green and pleasant land. If we can’t get the only Royal County looking half-decent, then what hope for the rest of the nation. To do anything about it though, first the problem needs to be recognised for what is. We can’t keep on pretending that England’s a great place to visit. It’s not. We need to own up to that, and then tackle why it’s not.

Discarded Union Jack

National pride only goes so far, it seems

Digital Ubiquity

When you’re out riding and having to pedal to get down hill, you know it’s more than just a tad breezy. And it rained a little, particularly at the top of the hill in Woodcote. But it was mild, I was in good company with Jim, and as we were both saying, it’s too easy to stay in when going out’s the far better option.

Yes, the hills were a slog today and that strength wind makes the whole ride harder work than it might be, but there’s something about being outdoors that makes you feel alive in a way that’s unique. I’m not sure there’s a sum of money that I’d take if the deal was that I’d have to stay indoors thereafter.

With fast moving clouds and patches of blue sky, the light changes all the time. As we came to the top of Garson’s Hill, before dropping down to Ipsden, the view across the valley floor below include Didcot power station caught in the sun and today it didn’t look ugly. It looked impressive; striking. Bright in the light, it looked well balanced and it had a grace. I didn’t have a camera with me but that was a scene that merited recording.

I find myself increasingly wary of taking photos: there are just too many of them. With digital technology they’ve become ubiquitous. But scenes like today make you realise how few photos are anything other than snapshots – photographs as memories. There’s very little ‘painting with light’ going on.

Didcot Power Station

Didcot, but not on the day I wanted to photograph it.

Squaring Circles

It’s rarely as bad as it looks. Today looked unappealing – windy and overcast, although at least not the grim uniform grey of the other day. And it was windy and it did spit with rain on and off over the 90 minutes I was out, but it wasn’t that unenjoyable.

A mixed cloud sky

Well, at least it’s not a dull grey day

Nowhere’s looking good at the moment – Sonning, Wargrave, Remenham, Henley – they’re all suffering from what you could call a winter tattiness. Few things look good, either in nature or man made, around this time. Very depressingly, the lack of dense vegetation – for instance on roadsides – means all the litter and junk discarded by so many people is all too visible.

That’s depressing on more than one level. The fact of and sight of the rubbish is bad. That I’m sharing this area with some many people willing to just foul-up the place is bad. That there are so many people so stupid that they’ll shit in their own nests is bad. (Because this has to rubbish being slung by locals who’ll then see what they’ve done next time they pass it; I can’t believe there are that many people just passing through.)

That I’d be happier if it had the fig-leaf of thick vegetation to hide it isn’t a good reflection on me.

I don’t know if it’s possible to go through life staring reality in the eye. I don’t know if fig leaves and ‘white lies’ and all those other constructs we surround ourselves with, to soften reality, are necessary for sanity’s sake. Perhaps they are.

Perhaps, instead, we’ve accepted them but in reality we’d be better off not living with the unstated but ever present conflicts that way of living engenders, the tension of always having to square the circle between what we’re pretending to be the case and what, deep down, we know.