Dear all …

Dear all,

On the 29th July 2014 I was in a serious cycling accident. (It was no-one’s fault – probably a deer knocked me off.) Since then I have been slowly recovering but there’s a long way to go yet. Bike riding is out of the question for the foreseeable future, and so ‘Codgertation’ has necessarily fallen silent.

Thank you for reading this site in the previous years and, of course, thank you for your feedback and best wishes.(Feel free to enjoy the back-pages if you’d like to – there’s plenty there that remains relevant.)

Any updates will appear on this page, as and when.

Later.

‘Creaky’.

Cyclists And Their Bikes (Part 1)

What cyclists say, when asked about their bikes:

An old bike rotting in woodland

A good bike will last a long time if you look after it

“I think I love my bike. Whatever love is.”

“I keep mine in the house, in the hall if there are people coming over but quite often it’s in the dining room. I just like looking at it.”

“My bike? It’s over there if you want to take a look. You’ll have to move all the kids’ bikes off it. Sorry. The tyres are probably flat.”

“I had silver tassels on the ends of my handlebars but they’ve come off.”

“I’ve gone retro; I don’t like these modern ones. Give me steel any day.”

“Don’t look too closely – it’s in bad need of some loving care.”

“Do you like it? I’ve just painted it that colour. Very pink, very bubblegum, very me, don’t you think?”

“I’ve got a folding bike, just for the commuting. That’s my only one.”

“I like bikes and all that but I don’t go mad about them. My boyfriend’s made, like, a fetish out of his. He’s always fiddling with it, has to have the latest bits for it. I don’t get it. He spends a fortune but he never goes any faster.”

“That thing?! That was left behind in the shed of a place I rented when I was a student and it’s sort of stayed with me ever since. Lord, that was a few years ago now.”

“I just ignore it until it goes wrong and then the old boy in the bike shop sorts it out for me. I can’t even fix a puncture. I suppose I ought to learn really. Mind you, it’s people like me that keep him in a job.”

“Can’t say I’ve ever given it much thought. It gets me about. It’s a three speed.”

“It’s the old ones I really like; finding an old gem in a bike sale or something is just brilliant.”

(More next week)

Part of theUnstated.Net   Part of theUnstated.net

Liberation

Walking the other day, I was passed by a cyclist. He wasn’t hurrying or working hard, but very soon he was in the far distance and then gone. It brought home to me, not for the first time, how efficient riding a bike is, even if you’re not “a cyclist” (whatever that might mean). It’s just a very good mode of transport.

It also made me think about how liberating it must have been back in the day – before cars – and how liberating it should still be. It’s a great shame that cycling now comes with a huge amount of baggage for the unwary.

A bike doesn’t have to be expensive to be enjoyable to ride. You don’t have to dress up to ride it if you don’t want to. You don’t need accessories galore. All of that stuff is the stuff of marketing – fluff, bullshit, hype. You just need a reliable machine, your ordinary clothes and yourself.*

I’m old enough to regret the passing of the days when even ‘high end’ bike bits would stay more or less the same for years on end; there wasn’t this ludicrous routine of ‘this year’s model’. (And it is dull and boring, as ‘routine’ implies.) I do think the introduction of mandatory helmets would be a mistake because of the amount of people it would drive away from cycling; I do think the same is already true for a lot of the cycling industry. No-one needs disc brakes on a road bike, nor electronic gears, nor ‘hydration systems’, nor … nor … There are any number of other examples … Most of it is about manufactured need (and profits). And it’s all combining to create barriers to riding a bike.

A new sticker

The tedium of the routinely new

Bikes can be simple and reliable. They can be user-serviceable or cheaply fixed by someone else. They should be understood to be approachable and accessible – cycling should be uncomplicated and inexpensive.

Explore your local world – there’s a huge amount of pleasure to be had in getting out and about, not using a car but out of range of where you can easily walk to, without any fuss or faffing about. Cycling gives you a freedom that walking can’t – and that driving a car can’t either. Take advantage of it, without feeling like you have to have ‘the right kit’ – whatever that may be.

If cycling is to remain a liberating experience (or, perhaps, if it is to regain its potential to be a liberating experience) then we’d all do well to remember that the cycling industry, by and large, isn’t on the cyclists’ side. It’s just about making money. In short: “Dear Mr Marketing Person, please f**k off.”

* And before any long standing readers accuse me of hypocrisy: I think there’s a lot of pleasure to be had from a higher-end bike if that’s your thing, and I think if you’re riding a lot then some well designed clothes and shoes can make the experience more comfortable. I just don’t think any of that stuff is essential, and the hype surrounding it all can put off the non-enthusiast who might just want to ride a bike. (For that matter, even enthusiasts need to be careful they’re not sucked-in to wanting the latest when it’s merely that – the latest. ‘New’ is not synonymous with ‘best’.)

Nothing Is As It Seems

Three lovely old ladies, good friends thrown together by circumstance and now sharing a house, decided they liked a vase they’d seen in a second hand shop window. It would brighten up their dining room. It was just £30 but their pensions weren’t huge. However, they decided they’d each chip-in with £10, so they saved up over a few weeks and eventually had enough in the kitty.

Money in their purses, off they set one Saturday morning and to their relief the vase was still there. Without any further ado, they paid the nice lad in the shop and set off home with it.

Just seconds after they’d left the shop manager came out from the office where he’d been doing a rough-and-ready stock check and said to the lad, “let’s mark that vase down to £25, it’s been hanging around for ages and it’s never going to sell.” The lad said he’d just that minute sold it to three old ladies. The manager, without a moment’s hesitation, told him to run after them and give them five pounds back – “it’s only fair”, he said.

So the lad grabbed five pounds out of the till and ran after the ladies. But while he was nice enough, he was also a crafty one, and when he caught up with them he gave them back just one pound each and kept two pounds for himself. “Well,” he reasoned, “they’re still going to be happy.”

So that meant the three old ladies paid £9 each. Three multiplied by nine is twenty-seven. The lad kept two pounds for himself. Twenty-seven plus two is twenty-nine. Where did the other pound go?

Nothing is as it seems.

This week I caught a glimpse of a not particularly imposing church while out near Wittenham Clumps but in fact it’s Dorchester Abbey – one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain.

The establishment in Britain is currently working out how best to deflect the resurgence, yet again, of claims that some of its leading members were, perhaps even are, involved in child sex abuse and/or covering it up. They’re doing the inevitable and setting up enquiries and investigations left, right and centre. I think it was either a ‘Yes Minister’ or ‘Yes Prime Minister’ episode that made the joke about an enquiry being just a way of kicking a problem into the long grass.

In the 80s I was told that you could tell which ‘top people’ the press knew were ‘fiddling with little boys’ by whose photo was printed next to other stories about paedophiles. I have no idea whether that’s true; the chap who told me is long dead. The point is, this is not a new story, in the same way that Catholic priests have been ‘joked’ about as fiddling with choir boys for far longer than I’ve been on this planet.

The establishment will always put a lot of effort into pouring oil on troubled waters – being seen to do something positive while in fact doing nothing apart from saving itself. As they do so now, it’s always worth remembering that nothing’s as it seems, not even simple maths.

Dorchester Abbey - ancient Christian site

Not an insignificant church

Goodbye Didcot (A), Goodbye Baggage

Summer continues and the lanes of South Oxon, criminally neglected though they are, beckon. I’ve been riding the roads near Didcot lately because part of the power station there is being demolished. Three of the six landscape-dominating cooling towers are going later this month.

And that’s all a bit odd.

I’ve taken dozens of photos of Didcot over the years, nearly all of them from some distance away, primarily because it’s one of those features in the landscape that’s surprising for how often and where it pops up. It’s not as if losing three of the towers will reduce its impact in the wider landscape (although of course it will make a big difference close-up), but it’s still going to be a major change, so taking a slightly longer look at it as it appears now seems, somehow, the right thing to do.

Didcot with six cooling towers

I’m easy, either way

But looking at it now I find myself strangely, surprisingly neutral. And looking back, I realize I’ve not taken all those photos with any real affection, nor with any dislike. It’s more a case of ‘because it’s there’ rather than anything else.

And that’s all neither here nor there in itself, but it leaves me wondering what else that applies to. How much of what we see do we actually care about? For that matter, how much of any facet of life do we genuinely care about?

Of course, it’s a knackered old cliche that you only realise how much you care about something/someone when they’re gone but that’s always taken to mean that you find you care a lot about something/someone you take more-or-less for granted, if you only knew it.

What thinking about Didcot power station is making me realise is that the converse can be true too: under examination, it’s possible to realise that you don’t actually care much about something. That sounds negative, but it might be a positive – if you look properly at your life you might find you’ve fewer ties, less baggage if you like, than you might imagine.

Cycling Smells

There’s more to cycling than all the sights you see, the terrain, the weather, traffic and the nation’s rotting infrastructure and its institutionalized neglect. Smells are just as much part of your environment, your context.

The other day I had the misfortune to ride through some residential streets in Sonning Common on a hot day just after a street sweeper had been through them, ‘washing’ them with what smelt like sour milk. It wasn’t quite stomach churning but it wasn’t great. On Friday I rode past a barbecue going on at the village hall in Checkendon and it smelt gorgeous.

Ride the lanes near Reading golf course at weekends and you’ll often catch a strong smell of bacon from what I guess is a refreshment hut half way around. It’s all too easy to find yourself riding behind a rubbish cart if you’re out cycling during the week and, in summer particularly, there’s a uniformly unpleasant – but, again, not sickening – smell to them that’s much the same as you’ll experience at a tip. I guess if you work with it you just get used to it.

You’ll occasionally catch a whiff of a coal fire and that’s very distinctive; wood fires vary a lot depending on the wood being burned. The smell of cigarettes is very strong and relatively rare now; the smell of pipe tobacco even more so. (I have to confess, as an ex-smoker, fresh tobacco smoke smells lovely.)

Stinking diesels aside, traffic doesn’t smell much – something you realise if overtaken by a vintage vehicle still running on leaded petrol.

Pig farms can be pretty noxious and I’ll turn and go another way rather than ride through crop spraying, and when I have caught it in my nostrils you know it’s not a good smell, whatever it is. For that matter, ‘natural’ fertilisers can be pretty whiffy too.

And sometimes you’ll smell death – I can’t say I’ve analysed it closely, but rotting mammals seem to have much the same smell about them whatever the animal that’s died. If it’s a strong stench that can be stomach churning, which I guess makes sense seeing as we’re mammals.