Civilized, Unnatural Lives

Today was a grey, soggy, fairly cold and unappealing autumn day for a ride. You go out, you feel better for having gone out, but it’s much harder work to get out the door, even though you know you’re very likely to get some benefit from it.

You can only wonder what’s at work there. You know you’ll feel better for a ride, but it’s still a bit of a struggle to do it, just because the weather isn’t great. It’s not even bad weather – it’s just a bit on the dismal side. The reluctance is stupid.

So, why can’t my intellect defeat … what? It’s not an emotional response to a grey day so much as it’s something primaeval – very deep seated. Perhaps it’s a basic human reaction to falling light levels and all the other environmental-climatic changes going on at this time of year. Perhaps, if we’re being true to fundamental, animal ourselves, we actually should just curl up and sleep more.

Perhaps I feel better for having gone for a ride because it’s an – however small – triumph of will over instinct. After all, at root, that’s what civilization is – the triumph of intellect over instinct.

Perhaps the feeling good is real because of the demands of so many of our modern lives, mine included: the exercise, getting out, makes you feel better because an office- and computer-bound daily life is so unnatural.

If that’s true then of course that ‘feeling good’ is only because we’re not being true to ourselves. We’re living a compromise. That’s not inherently bad, but we might benefit from being more aware of it.

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

Sitting Down Again

A late morning short leg-stretcher on a fixed-wheel – some exercise on an otherwise enervating hot spring day when it would be all too easy to just do nothing.

Nothing much was happening; there weren’t a lot of people around; nature – animals, birds, even vegetation – was remarkably still on a hot and quite calm day.

And now I’ve started noticing them, there were seats for the public cropping up all over the place – in Emmer Green, Sonning Common and in Binfield Heath. There was an elderly couple sitting on the bench at the end of Kiln Road, and families on the seats in the park at Binfield Heath.

Benches in a park, here in Binfield Heath

Benches in a park in Binfield Heath

These seats, they’re not just tokens or left-overs from a bygone era. I wonder if they’re more important than anyone might give them credit for; if they – in some quiet way – represent a really very basic decency that’s too easy to take for granted.

Sitting Down Outside

Near Twyford today I had to stop and tighten a cleat (the bit that allows a shoe to clip in to a pedal). That was just sloppy on my part: I’d changed them a little while ago, ridden them since but not checked and tightened them. A basic over-sight but no big deal: a multi-tool will fix most on-road problems.

What it made me think about wasn’t bike maintenance but the fact that I could sit on a bench to sort it out. It, the bench, was just there, on a grassy few square yards near Ruscombe Church.

Public seats near Ruscombe Church

Seats near Ruscombe Church

That’s really quite wonderful. It’s civilised and it’s caring.

Once you start noticing them, there are lots of places for the public to sit down outside, provided by councils or churches or any number of other groups or individuals. If you look further, there are any number of semi-public seats – in National Trust properties and that sort of place – for people to rest on, outside. Add to them all the seats in gardens and it’s obvious that we like sitting down outside.

That’s not something you’d naturally associate with Britain – land of grey skies and showers. Perhaps as time goes on they’ll get more appropriate. Today was another day hovering around the 80F mark and the second day in a row with a very strong wind accompanying it. And there I was, thinking Sirocco-like conditions weren’t for old Blighty.

The saving grace for this time of year is that hot air isn’t so thick, so the strong winds of the last couple of days aren’t so hard to battle against as they would be in winter. It looks far worse than it is once you get out there. The classic ‘out in to the headwind, back with a tailwind’ works well.

Disturbing Another’s World

With the weekend looking like it’ll be foul for riding, today was a quick off-road dash out between the showers, before the deluge.

I know it’s only a few days before their due date, but I was surprised to see Mayflies in the lanes near Kidmore End today; if anything April’s felt colder than it should be.

On the lane from Cross Lanes down to Mapledurham, I disturbed a large, presumably adult, Red Kite, feeding on the verge. I couldn’t see what the carrion was in the grass. When one of those birds flies up just a few feet in front of you, it’s pretty spectacular – both the colouring and sheer size of it.

Perhaps strangely, I felt quite guilty. The showery, soggy day meant there was no-one around apart from me and I felt like I shouldn’t be there – I was intruding in to that Red Kite’s world, and doubtless really hacking him off too as I forced him to leave his meal.

Photo: Crumbling roads in South Oxon

Crumbling roads in South Oxon

I then thought that was stupid: it’s not that bird’s world at all. This was a Red Kite in my, human world – on a roadside, next to a field that’s farmed, probably feeding on something that’s been killed by a human, and so on.

And then you look at the crumbling road surface and the plants poking through the holes – it’s yet another testimony to the local council’s failings – and think about how nature’s permanently poised to overcome everything and anything we impose on the planet and undo all our efforts at control. And then you think about how dependent and frail humans are these days. And then you realise your first thought is right – I was disturbing a Red Kite in his world.

Rain and Mud

A decent length spin with Jim, because we could, because we both needed it and on my part at least because the week’s shaping up to not be great for cycling. It’s just the way the diary is working out. So it goes; I’m much more a master of my own day-to-day destiny than I might be.

Spring’s pushing through but it’s not looking lush; it’s too dry. Some traditional April showers – if they come – will sort it out.

It is odd to write “if they come” and to then ponder it. From April showers to summer sun, from a basic rule of law to doctors that take the Hippocratic Oath seriously, from money being worth something to shops that will have some stock – there are so many components of life that we take for granted, that we rely on, that we make presumptions about.

By chance, recently I read about ‘The Anarchy’ in England and the breakdown of basic law and order in the country. I gather, too, that the description of these years as ‘anarchy’ is open to dispute, but nevertheless it would do us all good to remember how fragile civilization is – all civilization. And we all need to remember that every single one of us is dependent on rain and the few inches of topsoil the covers parts of the planet. Without that, any notions of class, politics, government and most other things simply disintegrate.