An Old Revolution

Clenched fist salute

To the barricades

And so another week goes by, with rides largely determined by when they can be fitted-in around work and other commitments. It’s unusual for me to have to demote cycling so far down the pecking order, but needs must sometimes.

What time I have had to think on a bike has been dominated by thoughts of revolution. To explain –

Earlier this week I saw the Mark Thomas show, 100 Acts of Minor Dissent – a good show by a good man and good performer who’s been consistently on the side of good over the decades, at the good venue that is Norden Farm. It was all good and I went with friends so I was in good company too. So, what’s not to like? Nothing – except that we were almost all old.

It’s difficult to say with absolute certainty but I’d be very surprised if the average age of the audience wasn’t somewhere well on the other side of 50. Certainly, I didn’t feel old there. And why that’s perhaps important is that once upon a time dissent (protest, action, radicalism, revolution) was perceived to be and I think actually was, largely, the province of the young.

Once, it seemed only the young had the mental freedom, the energy, the time and the willingness – through having little to lose – to be radical. The older you became, the more you were sucked-in to the system and the more interest you had in maintaining the status quo. And once upon a time there was a not particularly rigorous dole system and there were student grants and they combined to create a certainty of sorts, a broad type of bedrock that radical thoughts could be built upon. That has all been swept away. Enforced vocational training, unpaid internships and student debt will foster nothing.

So, what I’ve found myself wondering is whether it’s now up to us 50+ people to be the radicals. If the broad-brush-stroke picture of getting older and more affluent is right, then perhaps we need to be using our relative security and comfort as a new bedrock, upon which to build change rather than stasis. Speaking in terms of generations, many of us will have had the experience of radical views in our youth, even if only vicariously. Perhaps it’s up to us to (re)discover our once more radical selves and our perhaps lost idealism. If there’s a wisdom that comes with age, then that wisdom is saying very loudly and clearly that there’s one hell of a lot that we should be being angry and radical about.

Nearly Dead Angry Cyclist!

How to approach life? Now, that’s a question-and-a-half. Today, for part of the ride, I was following a cyclist who was pulling on the bars, rocking his body and stomping on the pedals; everything about him oozed anger and frustration. Over Henley bridge and turning left to Remenham there’s a sharp bend. He lined up to take it fast and thus swung wide; a small Peugeot came around – perfectly reasonably positioned on the road and slowly enough – and Mr Angry missed being sprawled on its bonnet by a whisker.

Mr Angry let loose a stream of hollered invective and stomped on. The driver pulled a ‘what the hell was that all about’ face and I could only shrug my shoulders in sympathy.

And I’m relating this simply because it made me think about anger (again). I get angry; I think anger can be a useful force for change – but it needs to be positive and it needs to be directed. Going through life with a generalised unspecific rage isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. I don’t want to go out splattered on someone’s bonnet, with an unspecific rage as my final emotion.

It often seems there’s a widespread feeling that anger’s inherently bad but that seems to me to be promoting a neutralised and ultimately ineffectual response to a world in which a lot of things genuinely merit a more powerful response than that. We shouldn’t be condemning or trying to nullify anger; we should be learning to focus and direct it, gaining energy from it, using that energy where it needs to be used … and then approaching the rest of the world with appropriate equanimity.

I found myself wondering, too, about whose interests are safeguarded by the promotion of this notion that anger is somehow bad. The answer is the obvious one: those who are gaining most from the iniquities of status quo.

In A Bad Mood

Lousy weather again – gales or very strong winds, a bit of rain, cold – and so the last few days have been short rides to just get out; rides in order to have ridden, to have done something physical, but nothing particularly pleasurable.

With that as the background to the last few days, I just found myself in a bad mood today:

The climate is wrong and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest it’s ever been, but there’s no real noise about it; there’s no decisive action, there’s no leadership. Today I found myself grimly hoping that the world’s leaders, the ones who could have taken action, along with all the nay-sayers, live long enough to see the world worsen significantly and their children inherit it – live long enough to have to look their children or grandchildren in the eye and say yes, I could have done something about all this but I didn’t.

And with climate change, of course, comes the roads. If the councils’ standard excuse for our rotting infrastructure is the exceptionally bad weather and climate change means more and more of the exceptional, then they need to adopt a higher standard of road repairs to cope with it. There’s no sign of that, not the faintest whiff. Let’s keep wasting the tax-payers’ pounds on ‘repairs’ that don’t last a year – we can always repair it again next year, it’s not our money.

Blackbird Egg - broken into by a magpie

Robbed

And that leads to money – the repetitive cries of ‘it’s all too expensive’ – to mend roads properly or to do anything about the climate. It’s even more expensive to do nothing. It was – and still is – possible to find the billions to rescue the politicians’ friends, the banking class. What it comes down to is that it’s not possible to find the money for the common good but it is to line the pockets of chums. Such is the quality of our politicians. Again, about all we can hope is that they live long enough to see their children despise them. The only mystery is why we don’t lynch them all.

And as you cycle around, doing your best to avoid the craters, all around you there are idiots – idiot drivers parking on blind bends; idiot cyclists riding on the paths; idiot pedestrians walking their dogs without leads and getting all surprised when little fido goes running off to bark at horses. I was attracting idiots this time two years ago – perhaps it’s the time of year.

And then you get home and find a pecked-open blackbird’s egg on the grass – robbed by a foul, thieving magpie from the nest under the kitchen window, and it looks like ants have scavenged whatever was left.

Time For Anger?

A short ride – again largely determined by which roads are flooded and which are going to be deep in debris; the normal legacy of flooding. At least it was on the road and on a road bike this time.

The rain’s ceased and it’s unseasonally mild. There were squirrels out foraging, hedgerow birds aplenty and two sightings of birds of prey – a Sparrow Hawk and, probably, a Kestrel.

And there was an endless amount of litter on the verges. This country is filthy. From the casually discarded stuff – mainly drink and food related – to the obviously deliberately tipped – typically ‘small builder detritus’ – I have nothing new to say about it. It’s depressing to see and depressing to think you’re sharing the world with so many grotty people.

I’ve seen any number of pundits over the past few days looking back at 2012 and going on about how great Britain still can be, referring to the Olympics in particular, but in truth that was just a red-herring. It was a freak-show diversion.

Any ‘feel good’ talk is wholly and utterly inappropriate when we’re living in a society where, at the most simple, basic level, so many of its citizens feel so disinterested and disengaged they’re willing to foul it up. Leave everything else aside. It is uncomplicated in the extreme: if you’re shitting in your own nest then there has to be something very, very wrong.

Coincidentally, this time last year I was writing about the possible merits of being angry. It’s a new year again. Perhaps anger is sensible; perhaps it is time to try and take a different, more active attitude.

Thieving

This year seems a good one for Magpies generally, and they seemed particularly evident today – boldly pecking at carrion in the roads; chattering – if you can call it that – with that harsh noise they make at each other in trees.

From seeing them around it was a short mental hop to thieving bastards, and again from that thought to government – national or local. Sometimes I just get sick of the whole cursed lot and all the waste that they represent.

For a cyclist the obvious example is the state of the roads. There are pot holes everyone. A very significant proportion of them are holes in existing patches. The patches are always done badly. They’re not sealed around the edges. The rain gets in; the hole reappears.

One pot hole marked to be filled, the one next to it not.

Here’s a good idea. Let’s pay someone to mark a hole to be filled but leave the one next to it. Then we’ll pay some other people to come and fill one hole but not the other. And then we can do it all again when the second hole gets big enough. Yes, that will be brilliantly efficient.

That’s not some great insight or deduction. It’s not hard to see what’s going on, but we – idiot tax payers – continue to have countless thousands of pounds just thrown away on more useless repairs. The people spending the money either don’t give a damn or are criminally incompetent.

I can’t see any alternatives apart from corruption – that there are back-handers being paid somewhere along the line.

It’s not hard to come up with a corruption conspiracy. After all, those mending the roads are on a job for life. Mend it badly. Get called back to do it again. It’s easier than snatching sweets from kids; easier than fiddling an MP’s expenses. Bung a sweetener to some government wonk somewhere and it all can carry on nicely.

I have no idea if that sort of corruption’s happening. The natural instinct is to hope not, but would it be better if those running this system were just plain incompetent? Or totally uncaring? I don’t know.

There has to be a reason why this thieving continues – for that’s what it boils down to, this constant leeching from the public purse for someone or another’s gain. And if it’s systemic, if ‘the system’ means repairs are always done badly, then those responsible for the system are the guilty ones. Systems don’t just happen.

It is the waste that’s so galling; and against a backdrop of ‘austerity’ that waste is cast in ever sharper relief. And I have a strong dislike of being angry and impotent.

It’s not all bad. I owe some thanks to the friendly and considerate driver of the, I think, vintage Merc at the top of Aston/Remenham Hill coming out of Henley.

To Be Angry Or Not

I hit a pot-hole in the road today – I hit it hard because there was no where to go to avoid it as a car was passing – and I felt like it was close to chipping a tooth because it jarred me so much.

I have to say I do really dislike it when I bash my teeth against each other like that. Dentistry related fears come flooding in with any opportunity.

(How modern wheels take the punishment they do is amazing – they are far better than when I was first riding seriously in the 70s and 80s. Anyway …)

What I can’t decide is whether to be angry or not. I spend a lot of my time potentially worked up about stuff and telling myself not to be, but sometimes I think that’s just all wrong. We all need to get angry, to get things changed. We just take it on the chin too much – from bad government to bad business. We have a moan, maybe, and that’s about it.

There’s the argument that we all get the governments we deserve. The same applies to a lot of public life – the way we’re sold to, the way we’re treated by companies, and so on. The means are there to bring about change one way or another – or at least to try to. “If voting changed anything they’d outlaw it” is glib but there’s a grain of truth in it. Perhaps getting angry would be a better course of action.