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.

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.

Being Happy With Crumbs

The sky remains threatening, though there are small patches of blue. The ground is saturated, roadside ditches are full and there’s plenty of standing water where there shouldn’t be. It’s not very warm. The air’s quite thick. It’s nothing like July should be.

Meanwhile … people everywhere today were – I am sure – downright chirpy. The numerous cyclists were cheery, the walkers waved, motorists were merry and horse riders were happy. Sonning – Woodley – Hurst – Twyford – Wargrave – Henley was a route lined with people cutting grass, trimming hedges, doing a bit of weeding, a spot of digging. A school fundraising sale was heaving. A riverside ice cream kiosk was doing a brisk trade.

The swamps of Central Berkshire, nowhere near a river.

The swamps of Central Berkshire, nowhere near a river.

It’s a lesson in human nature. The weather’s been dismal for weeks and is set to continue to be as bad. This is a one-day break in it, a brief respite, and we’re all out there grabbing the opportunity, making the most of it and, most importantly, actively enjoying it, even though it’s not a particularly nice day by any regular measure of a summer’s day.

We, humans, are very good at adjusting, at being grateful for small mercies, at picking up crumbs of comfort. We become accustomed to a situation and then are pleased whenever it’s not as bad as we’ve become accustomed to. It’s what allows humans to survive when they’re in extreme circumstances.

It occurs to me, that’s also how the rich can continue: as long as the system doles out a few crumbs of comfort to the masses, it’s human nature to just get used to iniquities and be happy with the crumbs. It occurs to me to wonder how long governments can continue to maintain this system on behalf of the rich – the crumbs are getting harder to give as the rich fail to see they need to pay enough to maintain that status quo, as their greed overtakes any sense of self-preservation.

It occurs to me, too, that the very, very rich operate the same ‘crumbs’ approach when reeling-in politicians. It’s easy for billionaires to butter-up actual and wannabe millionaires, the graspers who make up our political class.

Leaves In The Face

It was blowing a proper autumnal wind today, but it’s unseasonally mild at the same time. If nothing else, it makes dressing appropriately for a bike ride next to impossible. For some reason, today it really jumped out at me that all the ponds I went past – Hurst and elsewhere – are low. Is that unseasonal too? I don’t know.

If you think about it for even just a moment, if nothing else it’s very odd to be living with this spectre of climate change.

Leaves in the face can hurt. What a wonderful thing to be able to write. That’s how strong the wind was.

A properly strong wind, particularly now the air is that much thicker, means it’s all the more important to plan the route sensibly – both in terms of out into the wind and back with it behind you, and with regard to ‘is that a particularly open stretch of road’ or ‘does that stretch have good hedges to provide protection’, and so on. I sometimes find riding the same area for so much of the year tedious; at other times having good local knowledge is a real asset.

I was tired again today but perhaps that’s not surprising. Yesterday was a bad day of sinus problems and headaches and all the associated probably useless but who wants to risk it medications that go with that, followed by a bad and partially sleepless night for the same reason.

It’s hard to know how these things make you feel after the event; hard to be properly in touch with your body.

A Waste Of Life

Today I went on a sort of circumnavigation of Reading which just went to demonstrate that if you want to avoid the busy bits then nowadays you have to go on a fair old trip to do a complete loop. It’s a big town. Mind you, there was noticeably less traffic around today because the schools are on holiday.

The other day, returning from Mudeford – mid-week, mid-afternoon, no special event going on – the thing that struck me coming up the M3 was the simple fact of the high number of vehicles on the road: the number of trips being made, even at that nondescript time. It’s a very odd situation we’ve arrived at, that society seemingly needs so many journeys to be made, ordinary day in and ordinary day out.

Leave aside any issues about pollution and global warming and finite fossil fuels and anything similar – it’s just a not very nice way for a lot of life to be spent.

Of course some travelling is good, for valid and laudable reasons, but surely not a vast proportion of all those daily trips that are being made – delivering, picking up, getting to work, getting home again, ferrying about … For all those trips, it is more than likely that nothing’s being gained from the journey itself – it’s just a process that’s endured for a result. After all, most driving in Britain is a pretty dismal experience – bad roads, bad signage, overcrowding and all the rest of it.

If you ponder it, it seems quite incredible that we don’t seem able to organise ourselves more efficiently, so that more of life is spent more enjoyably by more people. We are very good at forgetting that each individual life is finite.

And, making today’s part of my finite life that little bit better, particular thanks to the Anglian Windows van driver in Caversham and the driver of the blue Skoda near Hurst, who went out of their way to make my ride easier. It’s always appreciated.