Archives for April 2013

Invest? Pull The Other One

An artist’s impression of the future

An artist’s impression of the future

Another decent-length ride – 30+ miles largely in the territory between Henley and Windsor. It feels good to be riding properly again.

Nearer to Windsor, I ended up riding with a chap – as you do – who said he was out from west London. We chatted for a while – as you do; it turned out he was something I think quite senior in a commercial property company. He was on a very nice Pinarello, as in Campag Super Record equipped Pinarello. All sorts of people cycle.

Talk inevitably turned to pot-holes because there were so many we had to avoid, and that prompted my temporary companion to tell me that in the last few days he’d been ‘doing the whole buttering-up lark’ for some potential investors, what he called ‘high value low profile’ people, from India and China. I gathered that basically involved taking them on jollies and showing them the sights, Windsor, quaint old pubs and all that, as well as the more business-like stuff.

I’m not sure I’d be much good at that sort of work but it’s interesting to hear about it. What was particularly eye-opening, and depressing, and perhaps even chilling, was that he said –

  • after the touring around and what-have-you, the two people he’d been showing around from China had told him outright that they’d decided to not invest in Britain, not least because the infrastructure was so bad. In their view, so he said, if we cannot keep something as basic as our roads properly repaired, that says we are likely to be unable to do anything else well.
  • the person from India had said the same thing as the two from China about the roads, but had added to the equation that the amount of litter to be seen everywhere spoke volumes about how the British don’t even care for themselves and their own country; he thought with that attitude they were probably going to care even less about a foreign employer. And he said he was looking elsewhere instead too.

I said I can see their point of view and Mr Pinarello agreed. I said I didn’t know what anyone could do about it; he said in the Chinese view British politics was too corrupt and self-serving to be able to fix the problems, that he agreed with them and that he was planning to leave the country. He turned off and headed back towards London; I rode home, avoiding the pot-holes, passing fly-tipping and litter, wishing I knew where I could emigrate to.

Reclaim Yourself

It is, of course, absurd to be pleased to get home after a ride no more than five minutes before it starts raining heavily. It was a fluke. Be that as it may, it’s still rather smile-inducing. And, with one short ride tomorrow, I’ll have done 100 miles this week – the first time this year I’ve managed it. Hurrah!

Talking of absurdities, I read a summary of an essay that – in a nutshell – tells you to give up consuming ‘the news’ because by doing so you’ll be happier. (Read the summary) I think I’ll be reading the book shortly.

As someone who used to work ‘in news’ and who still consumes a lot of it, I can wholly see the point. Consuming news is all too absurd. Charli’s given up with all newspapers and no longer has a TV. I suspect that’s the way to go.

As soon as you start on that route, any number of other absurdities cross your mind. Celebrities. First-pass-the-post politics. Our politicians. The whole ‘you have to pay top money to get top people’ argument. House prices. Bankers. Population growth. Religions. Consumerism. It soon spirals … If rejecting all these absurdities comes with reclaiming yourself as an individual, it takes effort to be an individual, to work out your own views.

As far as I can see, the only danger with cutting yourself off from all news is that you’re then giving up monitoring – and acting against – the corrupt. There’s a big protest against expanding Heathrow airport being held today; without ‘the news’ we wouldn’t know what the few are planning to inflict on the many for the sake of lining their own pockets still further. There must be a sensible way of knowing enough, without consuming pointless ‘news’ for the sake of it.

A black sheep, thinking

Free yourself; be yourself; look away from all the rest, find your own direction.

Wake-Up And?

Wind turbine by the M4, Green Park, Reading

This is quite new. I am not.

A reasonable 30-miler, circumnavigating Reading, taking in Purley, Pangbourne, Theale, Three Mile Cross, Aborfield, Sandford, Sonning and Caversham. It’s a mark of how dismal the year so far has been for cycling, for me at least, that this is the longest ride I’ve done in 2013. With such a badly laid foundation over the winter, the summer’s riding will be harder than ideal.

For large parts of the route south of Reading, the wind turbine by the M4 looms large. Quite simply, that could not have existed just a few years ago. For most of my life, wind turbines like this just weren’t around. It feels very odd to be reminded of the passage of the time in such a blunt way.

Reality, of course, is that reminders are everywhere, from the bikes I ride and the shoes I wear to ride them upwards, and in every other aspect of life. Perhaps it’s the size of the wind turbine that makes it more striking – more forceful as a wake-up call.

Is being reminded that you’re getting old a wake-up call? It probably should be, if only to tell you to make the most of it. The hard part is knowing what constitutes ‘the most’ of any ‘it’ and, indeed, deciding which ‘its’ one should make the most of.

M.A.D.

Nature's relentless optimism

Nature’s relentless – but blind – optimism.

After the fun and frolics of a rim failure, the rest of the week has seen three short and gentle road rides on the flatter parts of Berkshire, still easing my ankle and foot back in to riding. It’s getting better.

And, of course, the week also saw the funeral of Thatcher, the Prime Minister in power when I was first looking for a job and unemployment was even higher than it is now. I remember writing the best part of 300 job applications to get two offers. It seemed an appropriate memorial to her that this week the number of unemployed increased again.

It seems appropriate, too, that Mutually Assured Destruction is back on the agenda. Although our ever-shallow media has moved on, the threat from North Korea hasn’t just gone away because our journalists and editors are preoccupied with a dead politician and how they might revise history to suit their current agendas.

If you look back to the 60s and the Cuban missile crisis, for example, the realities of the nuclear tensions then are hard to comprehend for someone of my age. Cruise missiles in the UK and all the nuclear sabre rattling of the 80s must be similarly hard to understand for anyone much younger than me.

Living with that kind of shadow being cast provided a very different context for all of life’s decisions. That so many just carried on carrying on is either testimony to human resilience or to human stupidity. History is full of praise for the triumph of hope over adversity but no-one ever recalls or tots-up the number of times that hope proves false.

I guess nature would be the perfect embodiment of the triumph of hope over everything else, if nature was exercising any choice.

Rim Failure (Just For Cyclists)

Today was supposed to be fourth in a series of short mountain bike rides to gently get my foot/ankle working properly again. (On a mountain bike but largely on-road.) Less than 10 minutes out, there was an immense ‘bang’ the like of which I’ve never heard from a bike before, and I was riding on a flat back tyre.

I have never experienced a rim failure before. The strip of metal in the photo is a chunk of Mavic rim side wall. The photo of the wheel shows the missing portion. It just blew off – the strip of metal was on the road. Whether that was some kind of impact-related failure – but no pot-holes were involved on the day – or a result of longer term wear and tear I don’t know. That wheel set has only done about 4,000 miles.

I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’m glad it wasn’t a front wheel, glad I wasn’t far from home, glad that a neighbour happened to be just along the road and he could give me a lift home (thanks Roger). But should it have failed? Is that reasonable?

A chunk of rim, blown off the wheel

The missing piece

Wheel, with missing section of side wall

Wheel, with missing section of side wall

The Mavic rim in question

The Mavic rim in question

High Jinks

Hoo-bloody-ray! A bike ride. A short, easy, tentative and cautious ride on a still weak ankle and bruised foot, but a ride. The first for 10 days – and a pleasure. It was grey, windy, it rained for half the way around and I’m to be found grimacing if I try and move my foot sideways (for instance, to release a cleat), but it wasn’t cold and it wasn’t hammering it down. And it is so, so nice to be outside again.

The pleasures of being out are many, and among them it is always a real treat to watch Red Kites. Today there were four, flying low, jinking and jostling for position against each other and against a gusty wind as they all tried to drop down to a recently killed pheasant on the road near Henley. Their agility in flight, their physical control and skill, is something you can only admire.

Whether they are intelligent is another question: while they were engaged in their high jinks overhead, a Magpie was getting on with it – darting out from the verge between the traffic whenever it could and grabbing mouthfuls of the same road-kill.

The route took in Bolney Lane, Lower Shiplake, and someone’s put up a new bench there. It looks home-made, privately done. It’s no masterpiece of seat design, but looking at it and the hand-written message on its back rest made me realise how bland so much public furniture is. The same seats, the same type-face for the message on the back … Functional isn’t the sole purpose of design.

A bench with inscription - have a rest

I suspect the writing on the back is sincere