Archives for June 2012

A Tad Breezy

Dog Roses managing to come out despite the weather

Dog Roses managing to come out despite the weather

Another unseasonal day’s weather today – this time very windy, again.

Climate change: ‘an increasing frequency of unusual weather events.’ That doesn’t sound very threatening. It is and it will become ever more so.

On a practical level, if you’re riding a bike, it’s worth keeping as a conscious thought the fact that you can’t hear so well when there’s so much wind noise and to look around you more often. Vehicles ‘sneaking’ up on you can make you jump and that can have unintended, unexpected, undesirable consequences.

Drivers: be aware that on windy days cyclists are less likely to be able to hear you, and are also prone to be buffeted around by the wind in a way that you’re unlikely to be aware of in a vehicle. Give them plenty of room – even more than usual – when you pass.


A spin off road, taking my chances between showers. Riding down a track near Binfield Heath, not far from Henley, I was struck by a fold in the land and the way the fields in front of me weren’t visible from any roads; that I couldn’t see any roads, houses or people. It’s not wild; the fields are farmed; there are telegraph poles across them – but even so, they’re that bit away from where many will ever go.

Further down the same track there was a plank over a ditch leading off into woods.

It all made me think of adventures, that thrill that comes with exploring, the wonderful way that you can just walk a few yards off from the world you know and feel like you’ll be away from nearly everyone.

Or, rather, it made me regret that I can’t rediscover that sense of adventure ‘hidden’ fields and paths leading off into woodland would have once evoked. It’s just age; you get to know too much and to understand too much.

Perhaps it wasn’t even regret. Perhaps it was just nostalgia. Either way it’s real, in that I did explore fields and woods once. Talking about it with Charli, she said her childhood was the same.

I don’t know if young kids can get that thrill now. They seem to both know too much and to be shut-off and cooped-up at the same time. Perhaps that’s a media myth but perhaps it’s not – I’m always struck by how few people under the age of, say, 18 that I see when I’m out. Perhaps they’re just more stealthy than I was all those years ago. I hope so.

A hidden fold in the land

A fold in the land …

A plank across a ditch, a path to adventure?

A path to adventure …

Fools, or Civilized?

I know people who –

  • have spent all their life savings on trying to get decent medical treatment because the NHS is failing them – through lack of funding – and who still haven’t been treated properly;
  • are working well beyond their retirement age, despite having heart problems, because their savings have effectively been pillaged by the banking sector’s failures;
  • are unemployed despite being qualified and keen to work, who can’t find even a sniff of a job offer wherever they set their sights, because the sector they’ve worked in all their lives has been wrecked by the banking system’s crash;
  • can’t move house, to down-size, although they badly need to so they can keep their financial head above water, because the housing market is stagnant through the financial sector’s greed of the last however many years; who need to down-size in the first place because of this banking-created recession;
  • are working three different part time jobs to try and make ends meet, with all the inevitable consequences for their family;
  • are working ludicrous hours for no extra pay, just to keep their job.

And so on.

Today the headlines are dominated by the manipulation of banking lending rates by Barclays and others. Banks were once, supposedly, pillars of society, models of probity. Barclays has been fined £290m. That money goes to the Financial Services Authority. It will be used to cut the fees that banks and similar pay to the FSA.  That is to say, the fine is totally and utterly meaningless. It will do nothing to redress the harm caused.

Today, I was riding around the area between Reading and Windsor. There are any number of properties to be seen as you ride, owned by the very rich, doubtless many of them working in the financial sector. There were are fair few cars around as driven by people of that ilk too – Bentleys and so on – making their way to the regatta in Henley.

What I can’t decide is whether we, the  more-or-less lumpen mass, are fools for not lynching these people or whether we’re civilized for not doing so.

There have been any number of ‘raps on knuckles’ to financiers, bankers and all that ‘class’ of people and – obviously, as evidenced by this latest scandal – no lessons have been learned.

With some irony, it is always the ‘right wing’, to which the rich inevitably gravitate, who will call for severe punishments for crimes and will talk of ‘setting an example’ with sentencing. Perhaps we need to send a stronger message to these bankers and the like. Perhaps hanging them from lamp posts in public would work. Just ‘making an example’ of a few of them might prompt a return to honesty on the part of the rest.

How, against what criteria, do you judge when being civilized and non-violent might cease to be an appropriate stance? I don’t know. My natural instinct is to never advocate violence in any form. Every conflict always ends with talking, one way or another. I’m all in favour of skipping the conflict and cutting straight to the talking. But perhaps I’m wrong and perhaps the bankers and that type are correct in their instincts. Perhaps it would be more civilized – for the greater good of society – if we did start hanging a few of them, as examples.

Who do you ask what’s the right thing to do? Bankers? Doubtless it’ll be bankers who’ll be called in to look at the mess they’ve made, find it’s the fault of ‘a few rogue’ staff or whatever, rap a few more knuckles and let the truly guilty off the hook, again.

Is that too cynical? The horrible, corrosive truth is that it’s probably not. We should all be worried about what else is being corroded.

Commercial poppies being grown near Henley

Commercially grown poppies, here near Henley

Colour and Death

The strong sense of fullness in the lanes continues – that’s the best way I can think of to describe it. The combination of mild and wet weather seems to have made everything growing at this time of year grow that bit extra.

All this growth is overwhelmingly green – very little other colour strikes you at a casual glance. Look more closely and there is variety but by and large it’s subtle, tucked away amidst all the other vegetation in its many shades of green.

Red poppies are an exception: they do grab your attention. It seems to me you’ll find them as stragglers in hedgerows and verges, en masse in some fields – I think mainly, but not exclusively, among cereal crops.

Striking red poppies

Red amongst the green

In the context of a field of crops, poppies are, of course, weeds. I’ve been told that if you see a field without them it more-than-likely means they’ve been poisoned to death. Pesticide is just a selective poison, going by a marginally nicer name.

When you see acre upon acre of weed-free field, as you can around these parts, it is probably masking a lot of poisoning. I suspect that’s another of those things we’d all do well to bear in mind. No, that’s not a knee-jerk ‘old hippy’ thought: that our collective long-term track record on poisoning land isn’t great isn’t really open to dispute. What’s been deemed safe at one point in time has often turned out to be quite the opposite a few years down the line.

More personally, I once met a government scientist in Henley who told me he wouldn’t eat anything grown on flat land near the Thames because of the amount of pesticide run-off from neighbouring hills that’s now accumulated in the soil. Chance encounters like that stick with you. He had no axe to grind, nothing to gain in telling me that.


On the road across to White Waltham from the A4 today I said ‘good morning’ to another cyclist, a chap younger than me, I would guess West Indian in origin. He said something similar back and his voice really struck me.

I mention his descendants solely because there was something about the tone or timbre of his voice or perhaps even just his accent – I’m not sure – which if you’d heard him without seeing him would almost certainly suggest West Indian. There was a quality there that’s somehow distinct. That’s no more remarkable than being able to recognise any other accent. Secondly though, over and above that, there was a richness to his voice that – to my ears at least – was outstanding because of the way it sounded in conjunction with that ‘West Indian-ness’.

Basically, my unreasoned thought was that if he wasn’t doing so already he should be looking to work using his voice somehow; it sounded like a gift that ought to be used.

That in turn set me thinking about gifts. I can ride a bike better than some because of my basic, underlying physical shape and strengths. Others can ride far better than me, everything else aside, because they have better physical basics. And so on. There are any number of aspects to a person that you can say are natural gifts: natural singers, runners, writers, artists or whatever.

Let’s leave aside the natural curses; let’s leave aside the work that can be done to develop gifts and to overcome curses.

What I couldn’t decide was whether the thought that he ‘ought’ to use the gift of his voice was valid or stupid. ‘Ought to’ in the light of what exactly? Of course, the same goes for every other natural ‘gift’ that anyone has. It’s something of a commonplace that someone should use their gifts but there’s no justification given … And of course, perhaps a gift can become a curse if you’re not happy with it.

I don’t know where that commonplace comes from; what its basis is and whether it should be questioned. I don’t know what the final tally would be if you could tot up everyone who felt blessed by their natural abilities in one column, everyone who’s struggled with them or because of them in another.

A Rib Cage

The view from near Turville Heath

The perhaps surprisingly big view from near Turville Heath

A reasonable length ride and a quiet ride – not a lot happening, nothing much to pique the curiosity. Plenty of cyclists, not many pedestrians, and fewer cars than I’d have predicted for a weekend.

Two voles or shrews or something caught my eye. I don’t know what they were – they didn’t have the obvious tail of a rat. There were two separate occasions when little brown animals were scurrying on the side of the road when normally you’d not see any at all. Perhaps there was something about the weather conditions today. I have no idea. All it served to emphasise is the limited variety of mammals that you normally see.

Dropping down from Turville Heath to Stonor there was a rib cage on the side of the road. I was doing 30+ mph so I didn’t stop to look closely or photograph it. Perhaps it was somehow jettisoned from a butcher’s waste. I like to think it was all that was left after the carrion eaters had been doing their work on some road-kill, a small deer perhaps. There are plenty of Red Kites around there and, doubtless, foxes too.