Middle Class Protest Angst

Riding the local Berkshire lanes with Charli and continuing a discussion we’d been having about protesting, she confessed the following dream:

‘We were at a demonstration. The police attacked with tear gas. You yelled at me for onions. I panicked and yelled back: “I only grow shallots”.’

Onions are a counter to tear gas. Charli does grow shallots. We are middle class.

As a coda to that tale, Charli did admit she woke herself up from the dream laughing.

Just in case you need it: The Freedom Manual

shallots, not onions

No, we need onions


Upturned Chair

Perhaps we need to upset the whole order of things

A cold wind today but plenty of sunshine and it’s still dry – which seems something notable after all the rain of late. Hence a decent length ride was in order, taking in Sonning Common, Henley, Remenham, the Walthams and thereabouts. Even the road by the gravel workings in Sonning is looking a little less like a causeway.

I spotted two big ol’ Mistle Thrushes in a field today, I guess foraging in the mud for worms and what-have you. Also, a very plumped-up Song Thrush rootling about in dry leaves on a verge. You don’t see either very often but whether that’s a reflection of their numbers or their camouflage I don’t know. Perhaps the drab state of the vegetation at the moment means they stand out a bit more.

Talking of camouflage, at this time of year you can see all the houses (mansions and similar) of the seriously rich dotted around these parts far more easily, simply because trees and hedges aren’t so dense. It occurred to me today that I don’t really know what it makes me feel, seeing all these examples of quite high end wealth.

Even if you conclude it all comes down to how the money’s earned, there’s still a lingering doubt. Perhaps the business that generated the wealth was fair and decent; perhaps the money came through creativity – being an author or something – and it’s all been above board in every way imaginable. However honest the toil, there’s still the doubt about whether we collectively benefit from a society that tolerates – let alone lauds – a class of super-rich people; people who, in turn, are happy to be so rich when there’s so much that needs funding for the less well off.

I know it’s complicated and messy. If you’ve earned a huge sum by honest and fair means, given 50% away but found that left you with more than enough to buy a mansion – what then? Giving away half of your earnings would be generous by any measure – it’s more than I donate. Yes, it’s messy. That doesn’t mean it’s intractable.

I can’t say seeing such wealth makes me angry or indignant. It does make me question how we’re living though. Perhaps I don’t get angry about it because I’m comfortable enough; indeed, because I’m comfortable with the idea of ‘enough’. Perhaps it’s because so many of us are more-or-less comfortable that a critical mass hasn’t formed, angry enough to lynch the bankers and the politicians that have permitted the bankers to thrive.

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.

Neither Left Nor Right

A circumnavigation of Reading – Goring Heath, Pangbourne, Theale, Three Mile Cross, Aborfield, Twyford, Caversham – takes in roads controlled by both Tory and Labour controlled councils. The roads repaired by Wokingham (Tory) are generally pretty well done. Those looked after by Reading (Labour) will be patched but badly – most of the potholes are in fact old potholes, needing repair again. Those looked after by South Oxfordshire (Tory) are often simply not repaired, year after year, and if they are then they’ll be done badly. To be fair, this seems to be particularly true if it’s a minor road; South Oxfordshire will sometimes properly mend bits of more major roads.

Is cycling something for the common man? It used to be a working class sport, perhaps, but nowadays that’s probably not so strongly the case. Anyway, I’m not just thinking about the sporting side of it – there’s the utility aspect too. On that front it’s going to be fair to say a lot of those either riding more or riding for the first time, out of necessity, are those the recession is hurting the most, but that’s not strictly a class thing either. I can think of friends you’d certainly call middle class who are struggling to make the family budget add up.

I know this is fairly flimsy. What I was trying to grope towards as I was riding around is some kind of conclusion about the Left and Right. Would it be fair to assume a Labour council would be more cycling friendly than a Tory one? I think that’s tempting but it’s not true on the ground if you’re riding around Wokingham’s roads after experiencing Reading’s ruts. But the South Oxfordshire experience will quickly disabuse you of any pro-Tory notions.

In the end what that silly little example perhaps helps demonstrate is that notions of Left and Right, if they ever did mean anything in any consistent way, are now completely invalid. There are far better examples: the way both ‘sides’ are so happy to go to war in the service of oil; the way both ‘sides’ are so deeply entwined with the rich, the way both sides are so happy to betray their supporters.

As always these days, now we understand better the role of the media in life, it’s not enough to reject the old divisions, the old ideologies. It’s also necessary to reject their messengers, their propagandists. Lord Haw Haw was hung for a reason.

Rejection isn’t enough though. That’s just negative, and that will get you nowhere. Everything needs reassessing by a different light. We need new positives.


Today was a bit of a slog. My legs weren’t good; the lanes were busier than I often get to enjoy them and everything about the route and the ride felt a tad tedious.

I did get to see a notably large group of fallow deer, in the middle of a large open field not far from May’s Green. I would imagine they’d been in the nearby woodland and had been startled by something or someone. If they can’t enjoy deep cover then being vigilant in the middle of a field where no-one can sneak up is probably the next best thing. I’d say there were at least 30 of them, and they’re large beasts too.

I suppose it’s unfamiliarity that makes it an automatic reaction to think ‘that’s nice to see’ or something similar. That, and some kind of fairly ingrained attitudes about ‘nature’.  I suspect it must have been part of 60s/70s middle class education somewhere along the line; that and/or the culture of that era – the kids’ programming on television or whatever.

I could tell pretty well everyone I know amongst my contemporaries what I saw today and they’d react along the same lines. None of us are natural history enthusiasts or anything; we’re just going to react positively to ‘wildlife’. The degrees of enthusiasm will vary but we’re collectively unquestioning and ‘in favour’.

Which is pretty ignorant really.


The Horse Index

Today and yesterday were simple, solo road rides around Berkshire. There’s a lot of money around the county and the rides reminded me of an idea I had last year – the ‘Horse Index’ as a measure of a recession.

My theory is simple:

  • horses are kept by the better-off, and a lot are kept on farms that have gone over to offering a livery yard;
  • if times are hard then a horse is going to be an expense some might find themselves needing to do without;
  • thus you might be able to measure the impact of a recession upon the better-off in a given part of the country by the number of horses to be seen in farmers’ fields in that region.

And, sure enough, if you ride around the Reading area – say, a 30 mile radius – there are a lot of empty fallow fields adjacent to visibly under-utilised livery facilities; there are noticably fewer horses.

Empty Stabling

The Horse Index

Just as relevant if you’re looking to gauge something about the society we’ve developed, there are a few properties around that are obviously keeping their own horses on their own land – polo fields and associated stables; large walled estates with paddocks and so on. These seem to be doing as well as always. That’s how it is for the very rich; it’s the classes climbing up the greasy pole beneath them that seem to be feeling the pinch.

It rained at last, overnight 6th-7th. Whenever there’s been a long dry spell you can pretty well guarantee punctures as soon as it rains heavily; the run-off brings down those evil small but sharp flints that will go through anything. Yes, it happened to me today near Remenham. You just have to live with it – take a couple of spare inner tubes and don’t get annoyed.