Archives for July 2012

Role Models

A good long ride largely south of Reading, essentially a round trip with an opening stint with a tailwind, a lengthy section into a stiff-ish headwind, a stretch with a favourable crosswind and then home again with a tailwind – not a bad way to spend 40-odd miles.

That said, once you get south of Reading it’s not that attractive as countryside goes; it seems the area has more than its fair share of the unsightly – derelict former industry; run-down barely surviving light industry; regularly fly-tipping-strewn side-roads and so-on.

Even as you get beyond that fringe of the town, there’s something, too, about a fair swathe of North Hampshire that I can’t get enthusiastic about; I can see there are aspects to appreciate but somehow it lacks much geographic identity. Perhaps it just needs exploring at a more micro-level.

Near Aborfield I came across a fairly large group of cyclists. I might be wholly wrong and apologies to them if I am, but it struck me as a mixed-ability but perhaps not that experienced group of older riders, largely men, being led by a younger and, presumably, experienced lady.

It struck me that that’s the kind of sporting activity that needs supporting, funding, promoting … it’s likely to have far more positive consequences than anything ‘Olympic’.

The list of what’s wrong with the London Olympics is long and still growing. There are plenty of commentators out there who are explaining all the failings and I won’t repeat the whole sorry litany. The headline aspects of the whole grim spectacle aside though, what I can’t escape is the underlying fallacy of the entire Olympic-sporting ideal.

Elite sports people, of any nationality, in any discipline, have to be policed to the Nth degree. If they’re not they will cheat. They will cheat by any means available – ‘professional fouls’ anyone? – not least drugs. Yes, there are ‘clean’ athletes but that we have to hold them up as shining examples says all you need to know about the rest. And you have to ask, too, whether these shining examples would be ‘clean’ if they didn’t believe they might get caught.

Given that that’s what elite sportspeople are like – to hold them up in any way as some kind of role models to aspire to is quite ludicrous.

Even if I’m being unfair and there are plenty of genuine sporting sports people among the elite, even if 99.9% of them would never cheat in any way, they are nevertheless an elite and, in essence, freaks. They have to have mentalities that are not commonplace. They are no more useful as role models for Joe and Josephine Public as any other freak, any other exception.

If there was to be a genuine Olympic legacy to benefit real people, it would be no more Olympics and the fall of the charade of an Olympian Ideal. It would be the showing-up of elite sports – any and all of them – for what they really are. It would be a new culture of sport engaged in by amateurs for pleasure, happily. It would be money wasted on Olympics spent on grass roots sports. And I can whistle in the wind for all that.

The skip, tired of being so foully treated, evolved into a sentient being

The skip, tired of being so foully treated, evolved into a sentient being and threw out all the rubbish that had been dumped on it.

Wrong Again

If I ever again say that the English countryside never has any colour, tell me to wash my mouth out with soap.

Red poppies, blue skies - near Woodcote

Red poppies, blue skies, hear near Woodcote

World Views

Up on the Ridgeway with Charli, a good place to be on a hot sunny day: not quite the same as enjoying a cooling sea breeze, but better air than in the Thames Valley.

I’d expected to encounter more people than we normally do – after all, it’s holiday time – but it was as pleasantly quiet as other times of year – a couple of horse riders, two walkers, a farmer working in a field some way off.

A dried-up path on the Ridgeway; an accidental photo snapped as we stopped to let a horse and rider go by.

A dried-up path on the Ridgeway; an accidental photo snapped as we stopped to let a horse and rider go by.

Seeing the farmer, the rather obvious thought occurred that his world view is almost certainly going to be wholly different than mine, shaped not least by the solitude of his day to day life and the openness of the space he’s working in. It is very hard to remember the variety of world views that there are; the fallacy of believing your own world view to be common is far easier to accept.

Perhaps we should try a system of government by a parliament of deliberately selected differing world views – with the key element being ‘deliberately selected’. Membership should be akin to jury service; a duty to society. At present, parliament is self-selecting and thus peopled by similar individuals. For all their variation and allegiances, all politicians share a drive for power, an urge to govern others, a belief that they are fit to govern others.

Arguably, possessing any kind of drive for power over others should be reason enough to bar an individual from any kind of office. The trouble is, that sounds glib and thus easily dismissed. The real trouble is, it might be true.

Did I Notice?

Sparrows have dust baths. Maybe other little birds do too though I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.

Today, I saw a Kestrel having a dust bath, on the edge of a lane near Henley.

A few days ago I was able to stop in a lane near Caversham just a few feet away from where another Kestrel was hovering, to witness its superb flying control close-up. I confess I found myself smiling just because I was seeing something so impressive.

In the previous few months I’m sure I’ve been seeing more Kestrels than in other years … but perhaps that’s only a by-product of my conscious effort to be more observant. I’m entirely sure I’d have noticed if I’d stumbled upon one taking a dust bath before now, but there’s this nagging doubt about all the things I might have passed by.

Regrets, as ever, are pointless; perhaps the best I can do is hope to notice more from now on, and hope anyone who reads this will take up the same approach, perhaps earlier in life than I have. I think my experience – that a more observant life is a more enjoyable life – will be true for others. Curiosity is enriching.

Exploitation

A ride in hot sun with Jim, in a loop from Caversham heading north into South Oxfordshire. (The hot sun constituted a novelty factor.) Inevitably for two cyclists, talk turned to British success in the Tour de France.

I think, for me, one of the most interesting things to try and grasp is the mental side of being a bike rider good enough to win the Tour. Physically, I could be Bradley Wiggin’s identical twin with exactly the same bodily ability and potential, but unless I had his brain too I still wouldn’t be able to ride like he can, to that extreme level. I simply don’t have the mental ability to be that dedicated to a single activity, to have that amount of focus over such an extended period of time.

It’s a commonplace but it’s nevertheless true that having natural talent in any given field is one thing; having the ability to exploit that talent to its full potential is quite another thing entirely. Talent, in one form or another, is relatively commonplace. It’s the dedication to exploiting it that’s rare.

And talking of exploitation, it should be a salutary lesson for us all to witness so many politicians, local or national, being so stupid as to imagine we – Joe and Josephine Public – can’t see through their transparent, dismal, pathetic attempts to exploit the successes of people like Wiggins.

Maybe, just maybe, a Prime Minister having something to say about it is appropriate. To see local councillors popping up on Twitter to praise Tour winners is just laughable. Mirthless laughter aside, seeing these people trying to somehow ride on the coat-tails of outstanding individuals, trying to get some reflected glory, is also wholly unedifying. Expect lots more of it over the course of the Olympics. Whenever you come across it, judge the politician accordingly.

A Golden Age

A decent length ride looping around Binfield to the south and Henley to the north. From near Billingbear, it struck me just how flat a large part of Berkshire is; I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of it in those terms before. I think it’s not that far off to call it a flat county riven by a river valley.

The Plains of Berkshire

The Plains of Berkshire

What was notable was that for ALL the non-main road stretches, out of urban areas like Reading and Henley, there were more cyclists than cars. This is between about 11 am and 1pm. It has to be a golden age for riding to some degree; the question is, whether this peak can be capitalised on.

I can think of a number of reasons for the growth in riding – there’s a recession and it’s affordable, we’re getting more health conscious, we have a charismatic World Champion in Mark Cavendish and, of course, British success in the Tour de France this year has to be a contributing factor too.

There are plenty of far more knowledgeable commentators about cycle racing than me; all I’ll say is that two things strike me about this year’s Tour winners above everything else.

  • Firstly, the true team work in Team Sky, involving everyone in the organisation, seems stunning, and that combined with the incredible individual talents has made it a pleasure to witness.
  • Secondly, it has to be that the success of the British is also a reflection of the cleaning-up of the sport in recent years and the subsequent levelling of the playing field: it’s given opportunities for ‘non cycling nations’ (without the doping culture).

If there’s one ground-level thing I’m sure of, it’s that the entrenched, established cycling culture in England – and presumably Britain – needs to change.

I think it’s been weakened considerably – brands like Boardman being in shops like Halfords have made buying a decent bike far more accessible than having to brave what can be the intimidating ‘LBS’ (local bike shop), much as they are wonderful institutions for initiates. And I was pleased to read a review a while back that said even the really quite cheap bikes sold by Decathlon are good to ride, unlike the often unfit-for-purpose rubbish sold by people like Tesco.

No, not all local bikes shops are intimidating – I think my local one, AW Cycles, is friendly to all-comers – but many are. (And maybe I’m no judge – I’m a cyclist so perhaps I’m not that sensitive to it). Either way, if there’s going to be a surge in interest in cycling, they’d all do well to think hard about how they come across to someone coming in the door with no cycling experience at all.

As for cycling clubs, if today’s club riders are typical then they remain poor ambassadors – as they’ve been for as long as I’ve been aware of them. There were any number of visibly new cyclists in the lanes today and it’s always the club riders who’ll go by them without so much as a glance, all macho and trying to pose as intimidatingly good on a bike. More often than not they’ll also ride badly in terms of basic road-rules and simple politeness too. It’s daft and it’s short-sighted. All riders would benefit from an increase in cycling’s popularity. New riders need to be encouraged. And all riders need to think of themselves as ‘proper’ road users, obeying the rules, if they want to be respected and treated as ‘proper’ road users themselves.