Being Reasonable

A cool Spring day with a noticeable easterly wind and just a sprinkling of a sun-shower out towards White Waltham – not a perfect cycling day but a long way from a bad one. If only my legs agreed.

Alongside most of the roads, there’s the inevitable litter thrown into the ditches and on the verges. It’s ‘just’ the normal depressing trail that humanity leaves, there’s nothing new about it. There’s also nothing reasonable about it.

Litter in a stream

Not in my vocabulary

With Codgertation, I ponder on and I try to be reasonable – the occasional rant aside. Looking at the ‘normal’ litter all around, and reading about the rising tide of rubbish on our beaches, today I found myself trying to be reasonable about being unreasonable.

Littering isn’t the product of a reasonable attitude – toward the environment or your fellow citizens. Wars aren’t reasonable, nor is any other violence for that matter. Corruption – in politics, in the police, anywhere – isn’t reasonable. Our all too prevalent ‘bonus culture’ and the complete myth that you have to pay top money to get top people is manifestly wrong, proven to be wrong, and thus utterly unreasonable. Cults, religions, fad diets, unchecked population growth, demonizing the poor and neglecting the elderly – none of it is reasonable.

The problem is obvious: an unreasonable and unreasoning mind isn’t going to respond positively to reason. That’s akin to two different languages spoken with no understanding on either side, and no interpreter.

Which leaves us with the question: what should a reasonable person do in the face of unreasonable behaviour? Learn a new language – actually be unreasonable? Try and act as an interpreter – understand the unreasonable with a view to explaining the reasonable?

Of course, I’m grappling with nothing new here. Plenty of finer minds than mine have thought long and hard about this and related/similar issues. We’re in ‘it takes a thief to catch a thief’ territory. We’re in ‘Just and Unjust Wars’ territory. But for all that it’s a commonplace topic, it does no harm to remind yourself that your own – supposedly/hopefully -rational, sensible world view is more-or-less incomprehensible babble to many others.

Hi Viz Indictment

Riding back in familiar territory: today it was a spin in the South Oxon lanes. Just outside of one village there was what seemed a quite old chap, smartly dressed in a tweed suit, walking with some difficulty with the aid of two sticks and, quite incongruously, wearing a high visibility waistcoat.

I wondered why.

Perhaps it was a ‘health and safety’ thing: his wife perhaps, or his kids, insisting he wears it because the lanes are dangerous and there aren’t any paths. Perhaps he actually felt safer wearing it; perhaps it was his choice. Whatever the reason, surely it’s sad if anyone is feeling such measures are necessary. That suggests a simple act like walking down an ostensibly quiet lane in daylight is accompanied by real fear, and that cannot be right.

Even if he’s doddering on his walking sticks, too slow to get out of the way quickly and that’s what’s prompted the safety garb, that’s still a horrible indictment of the way we live. It’s a sick society that can’t find the time or make the room for its less able members.

Pensioner Rage

Bright sun, not too cold in theory but a strong and chilly easterly wind: two out of three is about the best you’re going to get at the moment, so a bike ride just had to happen. ‘Make the most of it’ is the only way to respond to the weather these days – and for the future. British weather was never easily predictable or reliable, but it’s becoming ever increasingly less so as the world’s climate gets ever more unstable.

Hey ho, at least I can ‘make the most of it’ on most occasions and dictate my own working hours. I do realise how fortunate that makes me.

Riding through Henley, I suspect I saw the future: two ‘mobility scooters’ coming head-to-head on a footpath too narrow for them to pass side-by-side. (One had to take to the road.) It’s only going to happen more frequently. Presumably, sooner or later, there’ll be a pension-rage incident as a result, the population at large will thus be disabused of the notion that all old folk are lovely old dears and the nation’s feral youth will be treading in fear of the nation’s feral oldies.

The Greater Reading List II

Another circumnavigation of Reading, another reasonable summer day for it and another jumble of impressions:

  • Freshly shorn sheep seeking shade under trees around the edges of a field, the lambs now losing the curiosity they had in such abundance when very young.
  • Tired-looking left-over jubilee bunting. When’s the right time to take it down?  Do you risk accusations of disloyalty from a neighbouring monarchist?
  • A Goldfinch in its prime; strongly coloured and perched close to me as I rode by, perfectly set-off against a blue sky.
  • A ‘vacancies’ board outside a factory, with a vacancy they’re trying to fill.
  • An idiot in a sporty Bentley, taking brainless zero-gain risks.
  • Someone setting-up their easel to paint an old bridge over a stream; were they good at their work; would they come away satisfied or frustrated with their day’s effort?
  • The inevitable rotting infrastructure.
  • Construction at the Atomic Weapons Establishment site – investment, jobs, money: it’s growth of sorts. I don’t know how you’d feel working on weapons that can each kill tens of thousands. Do you believe Mutually Assured Destruction is a good thing? Do you just think of it as a job that if you weren’t doing someone else would?  Do you hope to see them used one day, believe in enemies of that magnitude?  Robert Wyatt’s song, Shipbuilding, came to mind but I’m not sure what I think. I didn’t even understand the so-called moral arguments against the neutron bomb.

Construction work at AWE

Building for better bombs …

  • A large deer’s corpse on a verge; you don’t have to see it – the smell is unmistakeable.
  • Three large blokes by a snack van, shirts off, stopped for lunch. Heads of brawn looking nicer shorn, to quote Bowie.
  • A thin, small, old lady with a walking frame, struggling, alone, each leg shaking as she laboriously made her way, step by individual step. She looked vulnerable and she looked lonely. Perhaps that’s just me. Perhaps she noticed me, a lone cyclist, and thought the same. I hope I’m as wrong about her as that would be about me.

Not Young Again

Governments around the world lurching to the right. The financial mess the whole world is in. Religious revivalism; religious fanaticism. Technology and surveillance; the end of privacy. Finite resources. The burgeoning world population. Climate change.

I could go on.

I don’t think it can be right that I would turn down an offer to be young again. There is nothing about the prospects of the young nor their position in society now that I envy, that makes me wish I could roll back the years and enjoy it with them. That that’s the case can’t be healthy, surely.

A reasonable length if fairly flat road ride with Jim today, with Henley the only town we went through. We were talking the whole way around, a lot of the time about the bigger questions. We know too many people in trouble, one way or another, not to. He’s of the same view about being young again; Charli is too.

A couple of years ago I was in a pub, The Swan in Pangbourne, for lunch. A small group of quite old people were a couple of tables down from us. One of their number was a little deaf and hence prone to speaking quite loudly. She was also the most vocal of them – though not in a bossy or hectoring way. Not overhearing was not an option. At one point she said – and I wrote it down at the time: “Oh, I hope I don’t live too much longer. I don’t like this century at all.”

She was holding forth, as it were. Her companions looked a little uneasy – understandably because what is a suitable response? ‘I hope you die soon too’ is never going to be acceptable. It was just a comment and a moment though; they all carried on yakking happily enough. The chap sitting next to her – I doubt that he was her partner – caught me looking over at them, a glance prompted by that remark, and offered a slightly sheepish comedy grimace by way of apology for his companion. I just smiled but no apology was needed. I could understand her point of view.

Lonesome Pigeon

I think I’m right in saying it’s in winter particularly that you’ll find largish flocks of wood pigeons gathered, for instance in the beech woods north of South Oxfordshire. Today, on the lane heading up to Hook End, I disturbed this single pigeon who’d been runting around in the leaves and it made me wonder, was he alone by choice? Could it be that he’s lost the flock he normally hangs around with, that he’s now lonely and vulnerable and feeling frightened rather than just the normal wary? Or might he be brave and fearless and ready to strike out? Perhaps he smells and has been ostracised, or has some hideous pigeon habit.

I suppose it’s just fanciful to imagine animals having a notion of lonely.  I’m always slightly reluctant to draw that kind of conclusion though; it’s very arrogant. It’s also convenient. I sometimes suspect the gulf between us and animals is nowhere near as wide as we like to think.

It is a mistake to imagine solitude equates to loneliness, of course, but to be lonely and to be isolated so there’s no easy way out is a grim state of affairs. I spend a lot of time totally on my own – a whole day, a day-and-a-half sometimes – and I’m quite happy with that, but I’ve plenty of people that I can and do communicate with, online or on the phone, and I know that if I was struggling with just myself for company there are people I can turn to. Having that fall-back, even if you’re not resorting to it, makes all the difference.

I’ve long made a point of always saying ‘hello’ to people when I’m out riding, and I’m always mindful that my greeting might be the only interaction with another human some people get of a day. Loneliness amongst the elderly is reputedly very common and making eye contact and just exchanging one or two words takes no effort, and maybe it helps. Today I had a 50% strike rate: two of the elderly folk I spoke to today looked at me as if I was an alien, two smiled and replied in kind.

I’m aware that I might look like a fat old alien when I’m riding,  and I’m aware that the two who smiled might be smiling at me rather than with me but hey ho, so it goes.

I’m not saying all this to stake a claim on sainthood. All I’m suggesting is that saying hello is easy to do and  it would be good if more people did it; it might make a little bit of a difference to someone. If it doesn’t then nothing’s been lost.  And if you’re not riding by but can talk for longer, then that’s going to be all the better.