Free / Shame

The sky seemed on the verge of ominous for most of today; it could easily have rained at almost any time. As it was, Charli and I fitted in a decent enough road ride taking in places like Sonning, Wargrave and Henley, criss-crossing over a now much subsided Thames in comparison to just a few days ago. All that precious water running away and the threat of drought still remaining – all for the want of some forward-thinking investment, for the want of something other than short-termism and greed.

The thought that struck me today was that Charli and I were free – free to ride where we wanted, when we wanted. Free to get outside and ride. That’s something to appreciate on so many levels, but today it’s just hit home in the most basic way: we’re not in prison. Fair enough, we’ve done nothing to merit being in prison. But nor did Sam Hallam, who it seems has spent seven years in jail for nothing and who’s only been freed this week.

That’s seven years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Police didn’t investigate his alibi. Evidence, including mobile phone data and CCTV footage, was never disclosed. People made those decisions; people, not ‘the system’.

I don’t know how I’d cope with that kind of injustice. It’s one thing to be being punished legitimately; it’s quite another to be framed. And as Patrick Maguire said, while there’s plenty of state help for former, genuinely guilty, prisoners, there’s none for the framed innocent if and when they’re released. Patrick Maguire should know – he spent four years in prison for something he didn’t do.

The enormity of how wrong that all is, I don’t think it can be over-stated. This is the apparatus of the state knowingly persecuting an innocent man. It’s not the first time – far from it. In Britain, we’re taught that this is the kind of thing that happens in tin-pot countries ruled by corrupt dictators. In Britain, we’re taught lies.

The enormity of how wrong that all is, is haunting. The absence of a major media-led outcry about it is shaming.

Today we rode past the Henley Regatta grounds – the marquees are going up already. The preparations take weeks. High society will gather there – the great and the good – and they’ll have been totally unruffled by what’s happened to Sam Hallam. As long as it doesn’t involve them it doesn’t matter.

I also read today that the government, after a Freedom of Information request, has had to reveal that over 1,000 Civil Servants have ‘snooped’ on British citizens’ private data. Against that backdrop, the government wants the power to pry extended even further. Again, there’s no concerted national outcry and, again, the great and good won’t worry about it – they’ll imagine it will never concern them.

One day it will.

One day, security services will use the powers granted to them by government against a government or against a potential government. More people will be framed, and unless we are very, very careful, sooner or later we’ll get to a point where the framed are never freed.

Photo: A Hawthorn hedge in full flower

A Hawthorn hedge in full flower. Up to 200,000 miles of Hawthorn hedge were planted during the Parliamentary Enclosures, from 1750.

Sam Hallam and Patrick Maguire.
Civil Servants snooping.
Government plans to monitor electronic activity.
The Innocence Network – working against wrongful convictions.

Knowledge And Corruption

Photo: English Bluebells

English Bluebells, not to be confused with Spanish invaders

Yet another fairly windy, fairly showery day, and another off-road run with Charli. On one stretch we were on a track skirting the edge of a Bluebell wood; the contrast between the gentle scent of Bluebells and the thicker, slightly sickly smell of the Rapeseed fields of the other day makes you wish there was a commercial need to grow the former.

Coming in to Caversham along Kidmore End Road I noticed Thames Water had fixed the second leak there. For a good many weeks there was bubbling spring of a leak at the bottom of the hill; they fixed that but shortly after there was a strong steam of a leak further up, which was allowed to flow freely for some weeks too. Both have now been sorted out.

Charli said something critical about the time it takes them to fix problems and it’s tempting to agree. We know about their profits and their bonuses and that they can cream off so much, tell us all to save water and meanwhile waste so much of it seems simply, unavoidably, unarguably wrong.

What it also might be, though, is evidence of how much more we know these days. It would be easy to think that’s a good thing. We know about bonuses; we know about MPs fiddling their expenses; about lobbyists, back-handers, official lies and economies of truth. We know about greed and we have measures for the still-widening wealth gap. We know how little tax the rich pay and we know how many ministers go on to be well-rewarded directors on companies they ‘helped’ while they were in power.

And we forget all the positives.

Perhaps we know too much. Perhaps it’s made us too cynical, too judgemental; too willing to look for and to believe in the bad in everything.

Water, Water

For reasons various and tedious, I was out today without any water. It’s unseasonally warm. Fortunately I was out on a fixed wheel bike with just time for a short ride so it wasn’t a big deal.

Coming in to Emmer Green, my thirst and the water tower combined to remind me of the looming drought. There’s been hardly any rain for ages and there’s none forecast either. Apparently other parts of Europe are even more parched, already.

The Emmer Green Water Tower

Water, Water, Up A Tower

It doesn’t bode well.

Water, by and large, is something we take for granted. This is England – the land of wet summers and wetter winters. It’s hard to switch from a normality of viewing water as something plentiful and ‘just there’ to a new context where it’s something to be conserved. That’s not helped when water leaks aren’t fixed by the self-same company that’s telling us all to have shorter showers or whatever. There’s a major leak on Kidmore End Road that’s been there for weeks now. Yes, quite possibly there are valid reasons for it not being fixed and yes, quite possibly the amount leaked is still small beer in comparison to the amount to be saved by every householder spending a couple of minutes less time in the shower. That’s to miss the point though. If Thames Water, the responsible company, want us to respond to their exhortations to save water, they have to be seen to be treating it as precious themselves. Perceptions matter.

Enough Is Enough

It was almost warm enough for shorts today; nothing’s really warmed up yet but the temperature was in the high 60s. In the shade it’s cooler than it would be if it were a summer day, but even so, that’s nicely warm. What was perhaps more notable is the dryness; a couple of times today I was tasting dust after lorries passed me. It seems a bit early for that. The prospect of drought gets ever more real.

Twice today, near Christmas Common and then on the outskirts of Henley, the birds that caught my eye were buzzards rather than red kites; they’re a very distinctive shape and they often seem to be flying higher than the kites do. In a first for me, the kites near Stonor caught me out by calling their distinctive call but being nowhere to be seen – until I noticed three of them on the ground, several yards apart in a field. I’ve never before been aware of them calling to each other when they’re on the ground.

I guess because of the combination of the foliage not being out much yet but the weather being good enough to encourage looking around, today I noticed a few obviously expensive houses that I’d either not seen before or hadn’t really registered. Most of them are the old stately pile type of place but not all – there are some more modern ones in amongst them. What I wasn’t sure about was how they made me feel.

Jealous? Not really. Angry? No, again not really. Some of them will probably be the result of old money being handed down. So it goes – that’s not going to change overnight. Some will probably be owned by people who’ve made a packet by doing something anyone would call honest and decent. I’m not going to carp at that. And some, probably, will be owned by grotty, greedy individuals who’ve climbed the greasy pole grabbing whatever they can, crapping on anyone they can, and not giving a damn along the way, and I wouldn’t want to be like that.

And there’s the question of sufficiency too. Even if I was behaving thoroughly decently throughout, I don’t want to put the time in to earn more to just buy more – more rooms, more garden or whatever. I’ve a roof over my head already. It’s a long way from great but it’s sufficient. I’d rather be able to take advantage of a decent day like today, go for a bike ride and pass the gates of these places than be bogged down in earning more money to buy a ‘better’ house.

I think I’m just becoming more aware that time is far too finite to waste on acquiring possessions I don’t really need. I’m not preaching a life of sack cloth and ashes – far from it. I’ve plenty of luxuries in my life, by any sane measure. I hope I know what constitutes enough though, and I can’t help but suspect a lot of people would ultimately benefit – be happier – if they assessed what’s sufficient more rigorously. It’s easy to get sucked in to buying more for buying more’s sake.