In My Back Yard

On a ride starting at Beaulieu Heath, perhaps because the weather wasn’t great and perhaps because I was generally a bit disappointed with the cycling in the New Forest, rather than focussing on the pleasures of the area I found myself thinking the place has something in common with home turf: a lot of my home rides have Didcot power station as a backdrop; rides in large parts of the New Forest have Fawley oil refinery’s towers poking up in the distance.

I rely on electricity as much as the next man, so I can’t complain about Didcot; I drove down to the New Forest so I can’t moan about an oil refinery. But that said, I’m very aware that I don’t live under their shadows or that of anything similar. It’s easy to be sanguine about eyesores and dismiss ‘not in my back yard’ arguments when it’s not in your own back yard.

Sobering for a different reason, it’s perhaps also worth bearing in mind that the view from the top of one of Fawley’s towers of a load of holiday-makers with their cars and tents and what-have-you, moaning about the towers ruining the view, wouldn’t be too edifying either. There’s something to bear in mind the next time you’re on holiday …

Fawley oil refinery in the distance

It has to be in someone’s back yard

Surprising Solitude

A welcome little jaunt around local lanes and tracks after a week of being cooped up – cold weather, some mild sniffles for a couple of days and all the fun of sinuses playing up made staying indoors sensible.

After this one there’s just two more weekends until Christmas … and I can only assume that’s why there were so few people around. Here I am, cycling around in a particularly congested corner of generally over-crowded England, and people in cars aside, I came across just two cyclists and two walkers.

If you want some peace and quiet to make you happier, go out when everyone else is frantic. It’s obvious when you think about it, but it’s sort of counter-intuitive. Just make sure you go out to where everyone else isn’t going.

Two empty chairs in the sun - surprising solitude

Surprising Solitude

Culture Of Fear

Today was a nondescript day and a similar ride really; a forty mile trip heading out from Reading towards Maidenhead to start with, wending a way through lanes south of there for a bit and then coming back in to Reading via Hurst and then Sandford. The weather was overcast and the air felt thick – stuffy. Dirty, perhaps? Humidity is high, there’s no wind to speak of and it’s neither cool nor notably hot.

For a large part of the ride I was in quiet country lanes. I was passing streams, woods, rivers … I saw one group of four teenagers riding bikes on the path near Woodley and that was it – not another kid to be seen anywhere.

Perhaps they are all on holiday, having great times in exotic climes. Perhaps they are all indoors. Maybe they’re doing stuff they want to do and my notions of a good time, outside, free of parental oversight are outmoded and laughable in their eyes. Perhaps, but I can’t help but doubt that.

We seem to exist in this horrible culture of fear; this adult-media-created climate that has made most or all notions of childhood grim. On the one hand ‘yoof’ is readily demonised – ‘feral teenagers running riot’ comes to mind. On the other, kids have to be molly-coddled and kept not safe from harm but away from all perceived possibilities of harm.

These views of the young are all media constructs and perhaps my adult perception of the nature of modern childhood is just a media creation too. The trouble is, constructs or not, it all seems to be or to be becoming real; today it all chimed all too well with what was observable.

It’s real enough that I wouldn’t have anything to do with children. I wouldn’t want to work with them because of all the suspicions, hassles and legalities that wanting to do so seems saddled with. The same goes for volunteering to help out with anything to do with anyone under the age of eighteen.

If I had seen some kids playing, say, in a country stream today, I wouldn’t have taken a snap of them to illustrate this, for fear of that having some kind of repercussion. I have no idea what that might be or from what quarter is could come from, but that sums up the feeling that surrounds anything to do with the young: it’s all fraught.

A society that believes young people are either a threat or under threat, and that all adults are predatory towards them unless proven otherwise, isn’t healthy or happy.

There’s a media drumbeat that grossly distorts and exaggerates any real threats and politicians are callow enough to want to be seen to be marching in line with those exaggerations rather than challenging them. Hence the whole panoply of government then falls into line. And there you have it: one sick society, created just to sell a few more newspapers.

I’d like to hope that’s all a product of some bogus nostalgia on my part and it’s all been ever thus, but it doesn’t seem like that and it doesn’t look like that, out and about in southern England on a summer’s day in the school holidays.

Herded

Work sometimes gets in the way so today it was just a short afternoon spin to remind my legs that pedalling’s what they do best – the roads between Reading and Maidenhead. If work hadn’t been intrusive I probably wouldn’t have bothered, it wasn’t weather to entice anyone out – relentlessly grey, fairly windy and on the cold side.

The roads were busy and I admit it took me a while to realise why – Easter. I’m not cursed with the dreadful arrogant certainty of any religion, one that recognises Easter or not. So, as a significant event, festival, rite, fable or whatever you want to call it, it’s not on my horizon. And working for myself, with no kids, means I’m not overly alive to the rhythms and routines imposed by bank holidays, school holidays and the like.

Easter – the first break of the year and with it all the grief and aggravation that’s associated with trying to compress presumed pleasures and imposed duties into a few precious days. The family holidays that half the family don’t want to be enduring; the visits to relatives that all agree are important but for half of those going along are always tarnished by the nagging knowledge that free time’s precious and there are almost certainly better pleasures to be had.

I’m very lucky in that I like my family; they are people I’d socialise with as friends if they weren’t relatives. Perhaps my cynicism about Easter – or any other holiday – is unfounded. But it’s all too easy to think of so many examples of far less happy family situations amongst friends and acquaintances, let alone the stories abounding in popular culture. It’s quite possibly unwise to trust popular culture, but that doesn’t account for all the anecdotes and moans that you can hear first hand.

Even with questions of family set aside, it’s at times like this that I feel sort of defeated. I don’t understand how we can have organised ourselves so that we’re so pressurised; so herded, corralled and controlled; so squandering of our time, our lives, our riches. We – Joe and Josephine Average in the West – are incredibly well-off. We have so much – health, longevity, possessions, security, the basics and all the comforts and luxuries. But, for so many us, too much of life is screwed up, wasted. There are options, but thinking of them and then taking them is rarely the path of least resistance.

Mood Altering Experiences

Just a short-ish flat ride taking in the Walthams, a ‘leg-turner’ while I can amidst the normal end of year compaction of too many activities into too short a time frame.

It is, of course, wholly self-inflicted and unnecessary, and probably counter productive: it is supposed to be a time of ‘good cheer’ and all that, but there’s an awful lot of visible and obvious unhappiness caused just by the fact of it. And that’s no great revelation, but still we collectively keep on keeping on with it. Such is life. And the same could be said about many holidays.

Getting out on a bike for a while is a mood-altering experience, just as much as, say, alcohol. I don’t know if that’s the exercise or the fact of being out.

The results of drinking alcohol seem to vary: some people get belligerent, some laid-back, some loquacious and so on. I suspect getting out for a ride (whether it’s the fact of getting out or the fact of taking some exercise) is more reliably positive in its consequences.

Squeezed

Driving down to Devon for a few days in the South Hams region, I was looking forward to riding some new roads. Life is what happens to ruin your plans.

I did do one ride, and the road by Slapton Ley first thing on a hazily sunny, unseasonally warm autumn morning was a pleasure; the climb up to Strete was a satisfying one, and the lanes along the top of the ridge were fine. It was a real pleasure to ride with the sea in view, and almost as good to be up high with great views over the rolling countryside. The trouble is, once I hit the main road and starting heading back towards Kingsbridge (to then head back to Tor Cross), things rapidly because less enjoyable.

Riding main roads around the home counties might not be fun but it’s rarely that unpleasant, and it’s very rare that I’ll feel at risk doing so. In Devon it’s a different matter. Even the ‘A’ roads are pretty tight – two cars passing each other simultaneously don’t leave much room for a bike – and that makes for some nasty squeezes. Make the problem worse with a wider vehicle, compound it further with plenty of drivers from out of the region who aren’t that familiar with the hazards of driving on narrower-than-they-are-used-to roads, and for the first time for a long time I found myself feeling vulnerable just cycling along normally. That’s not something you’ll hear me say very often. It’s not a nice feeling – and it’s sufficient to put me off riding the area any more.

Speaking purely from a cycling perspective, I’ve been happy enough to visit the area but happy, too, to not live here. Studying the maps, I’m not sure even an intimate local knowledge of the roads would help that much. All in all, that’s all a quite surprising outcome given how much more over-crowded the home counties are. It’s also a bit disappointing coming on top of the lack of good riding in Cornwall earlier this year. So it goes.