Sloppy Journalism, Death And Cowardice

A largely sunny day and the drear of the weekend’s quickly banished. The brightness overcomes the cold.

Cat sunning itself on a car

A sunny day has to be made the most of.

Today’s was a flat ride taking in Sonning, Wargrave, the Walthams, Hurst and Sandford. It was all pleasant enough though everywhere’s sodden and a few ditches are overflowing onto the lanes. I was thinking about what the area would be like to visit and concluded it would be fine to pass through but you probably couldn’t justify stopping. It’s a bit feature-less; you need to get north of the Thames before it starts to be more routinely picturesque.

I guess because of the wind direction, the planes for Heathrow were loud overhead today. I’m lucky to live to the west of the airport; the prevailing wind is from the south-west and so for the most part the planes are across to the east, wrecking the lives of Londoners.

The misery caused by that racket, day-in and day-out, is rarely mentioned when they talk about expanding Heathrow; it must be one heck of a blight on the lives of anyone living much closer to it than Reading; it can be bad here on the wrong day.

The BBC web site managed to report 34% of tourism chiefs (whoever they are) being in favour of expanding the airport as “Tourism chiefs back Heathrow expansion, poll claims”. If that’s the case then presumably if 66% of Americans vote for Obama in the US election that’s underway now, the BBC will report it as “Americans back Romney for President”.

What’s genuinely grim is that the utterly dismal quality of the journalism isn’t remarked on. People will go away with the headline in their minds and nothing else. It would be helpful, too, if that ‘build another runway’ opinion was put in context. Just the other day the BBC also reported that expanding Heathrow will lead to numerous extra deaths from pollution.

Yes, that’s a speculative conclusion but so’s the optimism of ‘tourism chiefs’ that a third runway will bring benefits.

What we need are journalists willing to ask ‘tourism chiefs’ to justify their stance in relation to those deaths. You could – perhaps – respect the voice of a ‘tourism chief’ if he or she were willing to say ‘yes, I know I’m backing the premature deaths of innocent people, but I think it’s worth it, and I’m willing to meet the families and loved ones of those who die and tell them so personally.” One rather suspects that cowardice will prevail – unchallenged. Such is how we chose to live.

Cowardice

Heading through Kidmore End today going north, part of a decent road ride on a classic story-book blue-sky-big-white-clouds English summer day, I passed a ‘Community Grocer’ van.

Blues skies and white clouds

Blues skies, white clouds

Firstly, I thought what a sensible idea that was – that has to be a help to people who’d otherwise be cut-off in villages like that, now that rural bus services are so dismal. Secondly, it made me smile a little bit at the way so much that’s seemingly new isn’t – when I was a very young lad living near Plymouth there used to be a commercial (as opposed to community) greengrocer’s van coming around, and a bread van too. And thirdly, I wondered if the chap driving it was dying.

As I rode by, I caught out of the corner of my eye the sight of a man kneeling in the driver’s seat, seemingly doubled-up as he faced backwards, with his arm across his chest. It was a totally unnatural position to be in. This was as I rode by; by the time I’d reached the village nursery – just a few yards further along – I’d concluded I had to turn around to see if he was OK.

As I rode back I was working out whether it would be quicker to turn my mobile on to call an ambulance or ask the nursery school teachers I could see out in their garden to dial 999. When I drew level with the van I could see the chap was fine: false alarm.

Not long later I was riding through Nuffield. There was a baby bird – probably a blue tit – in the road. I would guess it had just fledged or perhaps been disturbed from the nest. As I rode by a car overtook me and the draught from it knocked the bird over. As it struggled to right itself, I thought it looked injured.

I rode on. It worried me just as much as the chap in the grocer’s van but unlike in his case, I couldn’t formulate a plan of action. I didn’t know what I should or could do if I did go back.

I doubt I could have rescued it; I doubt any bird charity would have taken it in if I had been able to pick it up. I had some vague idea in the back of my mind that if it was fine but I touched it, it would be abandoned by its parents and I’d be making the situation worse. (I have no idea if that’s true.) I feared that if it was injured then the kind thing to do would be to kill it – but that I’d be too much of a coward to do it. And so I rode on – which is just as cowardly.

I can’t say I felt happy with myself; I still don’t. Cowardice isn’t a great trait – to witness in others or to find in yourself. What it boils down to is that I only went back to the grocer’s van because I would have been able to call on the resources of others – the emergency services – to sort it out.

Bravery In The Fading Light

The coldest night of the year so far, followed by a very slow-to-warm-up day – blighted by lots of patchy cloud. It wasn’t quite that foul uniform blanket of grey that’s enough to depress anyone, but it was doing its best to bring you down.

I suppose in my defence I can say that riding in cold weather has played havoc with the general chronic sinus-related grief I’m cursed by, so my wariness about going out when it is in the low 40s Fahrenheit, or lower, is justified.

So it was that I rolled out at around 2pm, just as it reached 46F, with the intention of getting in a 40 mile trip.

I don’t go well in the afternoons. I don’t really like riding after lunch at all. Needs must – it’s a full week this week with a patchy weather forecast too. And in truth I did OK for the most part, but at about 30 miles the light started to drop rapidly and I had to make a judgement about whether to keep riding with just a couple of small ‘safety lights’, or whether to call it a day and call on a friend for a lift home. I went for prudence and called Charli; I carried on riding and we met up at about 33 miles. It was very dull by then, and the decision was the right one. By the time we pulled in to my place it was, well, late dusk and dusk is probably the worst time to be out on the roads – it’s a far more dangerous light than when it’s properly dark.

So, why this humdrum tale? I thought the unbidden considerations that just turned up in my mind as I was wondering whether to stop or not were interesting, albeit in a not very satisfying way. For a start, I don’t think anyone would ever call me proud but I was wondering whether I’m somehow failing for giving up. I wondered, too, whether I was being somehow cowardly or a bit of a wimp, but I’ve never thought prudence was cowardly nor the prudent wimpish.

Initially I thought the question to consider is where do those thoughts come from; why do I give them any mental time when I know I disagree with them. But really, I guess, that’s easy enough to answer: ‘macho values’, for want of a better shorthand, are all too commonly held desirable, particularly for males. On the whole they’re stupid but that’s never stopped a notion from having currency.

Perhaps a more interesting angle to ponder is why I was happy to ‘fail’ and ‘wimp out’. I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe it’s age and the lessons of experience, but I’m not sure I’d have behaved any differently 20 years ago. Perhaps it’s rooted in the way I’ve rarely felt the need to prove myself to anyone other than myself – I just never have. (For that matter, I’m not interested in competing with others either; the only person I ever feel a need to beat is me and all the limitations I come with. If I beat someone else at something – so what?)

Perhaps I’m really very macho; perhaps it would be more sensible if we all recognised that knowing your limits, knowing what’s prudent, knowing when to stop as well as when to carry on, is harder than just ‘toughing it out’ or ‘carrying on regardless’. Perhaps.

And then you read of someone like Tommy Godwin, who in 1939 set the record for the most miles ridden in a year – a record that still stands. His utterly staggering 75,065 miles – yes, seventy five thousand – makes any notion of effort, endurance, bravery or anything else on my part that I might even vaguely think of as laudable into a permanent and very deep shade.