Nearly Dead Angry Cyclist!

How to approach life? Now, that’s a question-and-a-half. Today, for part of the ride, I was following a cyclist who was pulling on the bars, rocking his body and stomping on the pedals; everything about him oozed anger and frustration. Over Henley bridge and turning left to Remenham there’s a sharp bend. He lined up to take it fast and thus swung wide; a small Peugeot came around – perfectly reasonably positioned on the road and slowly enough – and Mr Angry missed being sprawled on its bonnet by a whisker.

Mr Angry let loose a stream of hollered invective and stomped on. The driver pulled a ‘what the hell was that all about’ face and I could only shrug my shoulders in sympathy.

And I’m relating this simply because it made me think about anger (again). I get angry; I think anger can be a useful force for change – but it needs to be positive and it needs to be directed. Going through life with a generalised unspecific rage isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. I don’t want to go out splattered on someone’s bonnet, with an unspecific rage as my final emotion.

It often seems there’s a widespread feeling that anger’s inherently bad but that seems to me to be promoting a neutralised and ultimately ineffectual response to a world in which a lot of things genuinely merit a more powerful response than that. We shouldn’t be condemning or trying to nullify anger; we should be learning to focus and direct it, gaining energy from it, using that energy where it needs to be used … and then approaching the rest of the world with appropriate equanimity.

I found myself wondering, too, about whose interests are safeguarded by the promotion of this notion that anger is somehow bad. The answer is the obvious one: those who are gaining most from the iniquities of status quo.

Enjoying Inequality

Cycling and walking around the Stonor Park estate near Henley, on a good, warm but not stupid-hot day, and

  •  yes, as claimed, it is a beautiful setting for a house;
  •  yes, the whole valley is lush and attractive; English Chilterns countryside at its best;
  •  yes, the whole area is criss-crossed by footpaths and bridle paths and so there’s plenty of access for the likes of Josephine and Joe Public (albeit some of it in a fairly poor state – broken stiles, overgrown tracks etc); and
  •  yes, for sure, the whole area wouldn’t look the way it does if it hadn’t been owned by the same family for centuries: the land doesn’t just look after itself; it has been managed to end up the way it is; it has been kept the way it is only because this particular ownership model (repeated with variations all over England) has allowed it to happen.

And it’s disconcerting to realize that something I’m enjoying and valuing can only exist by dint of extraordinary inequality. I have no ready response to that realization.

Stonor House

Stonor: made possible through inequality

I suspect the extent that that inequality is acceptable hinges on the social quid pro quo between the rich and the rest of society. I also suspect the newly rich in our current society don’t understand that implied contract. There seems to be a grubby, base greediness about today’s ‘fat cats’ and many other ‘successful’ people in the news that puts them at odds with those who society rewarded in the past.

But then again, time mellows things: quite possibly the people who first established Stonor and all the similar estates were just as venal in their day, and it’s only over the years that any kind of social responsibility developed.

Quite possibly though, I’m simply thinking about the wrong thing. Perhaps the real question is whether any general, to-be-enjoyed-by-all gains only possible through such gross inequality are worth the social and human costs, and that’s a question that can be asked at any and every stage of the acquisition of wealth, a question that doesn’t mellow over the years. It’s a question that could do with being asked now, of an awful lot of people.

Gender Equality Made Real

A cold and fairly strong south-easterly wind, but the sun was out and it was warmer than it’s been most days of late so a ride was simply irresistible. It was enjoyable enough but, that said, riding now is ample proof that time on a turbo-trainer over winter is no substitute for the real thing. Anyway …

As we all know, the cliché of the bloke in the vehicle, picking his nose seemingly oblivious to the world’s gaze, is all too real. Today I couldn’t help but register a woman (middle aged, in a green Peugeot, approaching a roundabout joining the A4) doing just the same, and with some gusto.

With that experience fresh in mind, near Wargrave I was witness to a woman in a “onesie”. Some might say that’s bad enough, but this was no ordinary adult romper-suit-by-another-name, strictly to be worn in private. Oh no, this was a very bold all-over-print Union Jack onesie … and she was wearing it outside.
Yer average bloke is supposedly oblivious to his fashion faux pas. Women, on the other hand, always were supposed to be far more self-aware than dumb ol’ men. Times, it seems, have changed.
For better or worse, one suspects this is all evidence of gender equality as it transpires in the ugly real world.

There are times when you have a camera to hand and get the photo you want; times when you have a camera but miss the moment. There are times when you wish you had a camera but haven’t brought one along. And there are times when you don’t have a camera with you nor wish that you did.


Upturned Chair

Perhaps we need to upset the whole order of things

A cold wind today but plenty of sunshine and it’s still dry – which seems something notable after all the rain of late. Hence a decent length ride was in order, taking in Sonning Common, Henley, Remenham, the Walthams and thereabouts. Even the road by the gravel workings in Sonning is looking a little less like a causeway.

I spotted two big ol’ Mistle Thrushes in a field today, I guess foraging in the mud for worms and what-have you. Also, a very plumped-up Song Thrush rootling about in dry leaves on a verge. You don’t see either very often but whether that’s a reflection of their numbers or their camouflage I don’t know. Perhaps the drab state of the vegetation at the moment means they stand out a bit more.

Talking of camouflage, at this time of year you can see all the houses (mansions and similar) of the seriously rich dotted around these parts far more easily, simply because trees and hedges aren’t so dense. It occurred to me today that I don’t really know what it makes me feel, seeing all these examples of quite high end wealth.

Even if you conclude it all comes down to how the money’s earned, there’s still a lingering doubt. Perhaps the business that generated the wealth was fair and decent; perhaps the money came through creativity – being an author or something – and it’s all been above board in every way imaginable. However honest the toil, there’s still the doubt about whether we collectively benefit from a society that tolerates – let alone lauds – a class of super-rich people; people who, in turn, are happy to be so rich when there’s so much that needs funding for the less well off.

I know it’s complicated and messy. If you’ve earned a huge sum by honest and fair means, given 50% away but found that left you with more than enough to buy a mansion – what then? Giving away half of your earnings would be generous by any measure – it’s more than I donate. Yes, it’s messy. That doesn’t mean it’s intractable.

I can’t say seeing such wealth makes me angry or indignant. It does make me question how we’re living though. Perhaps I don’t get angry about it because I’m comfortable enough; indeed, because I’m comfortable with the idea of ‘enough’. Perhaps it’s because so many of us are more-or-less comfortable that a critical mass hasn’t formed, angry enough to lynch the bankers and the politicians that have permitted the bankers to thrive.

Big Issues and Bentleys

At last, a day when you’re not going to fall off your bike because of ice, and it’s not lashing down with rain either.

Bentleys and Big Issues

Bentleys might be common in Berkshire but Big Issue sellers are an even more common sight.

Going through Marlow today, I saw the precise moment when a new Bentley passed by a chap selling the Big Issue. Also today, I saw some claim that if the top 10 richest people in the world pooled their money, that would fund feeding the world’s poorest one billion (yes, billion) people for over 200 years.

It’s very unlikely the chap driving the Bentley is directly responsible for the Big Issue seller’s plight.

I know the claim about the richest people funding the poorest would need to be heavily qualified – that it’s glib and easy to pull apart.

But despite all the essential caveats and any reasonableness, you can’t help but wonder at how wrong the values of society commonly are, world-wide, when there’s such obvious gross inequality reaching right down to the basics – food, water, shelter.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to be one of those richest people in the world, knowing I could do that much to make such a big difference to so many people. I cannot imagine knowing that but not acting on it.

If you can’t put yourself in someone’s shoes, does that make you unimaginative or lacking in empathy somehow? I don’t know how I should respond to that inability on my part. On the other hand, is it only by dint of not being able to adopt that mindset that I can see it’s wrong? Perhaps a lack of imagination or empathy has a value.

Theft And Avarice Abounds!

If you ride around some of the quiet, well-off neighbourhoods – today in Berkshire but this could be anywhere – one of the ubiquitous things is security. It’s generally reasonably unobtrusive but it’s there: alarms, dogs, formidable gates, barbed wire intertwined with thick hedges for discretion’s sake and, with some of the really large houses, watchful people trying hard to look like ordinary staff rather than ‘security’.

A rusting padlock and chain

I might not need it, but you still can’t have it

You could argue that it’s a sad reflection of the inequalities of society, the hopelessly unfair distribution of wealth. Perhaps it is. The indefensible grossness of the wealth gap is no secret.

The trouble is, I’m not rich but I’ve locks on my doors and anyone reading this almost certainly has as well. The need to protect property comes with all property ownership. “All property is theft” might be a resounding battle cry but you’ll struggle to find many who can live by it.

It’s just one of those grotty facts of life: whatever the unjustifiable iniquities of wealth distribution, wholly aside from unchecked avarice as a source of social decay, a lot of people are given to theft if they think they can get away with it, and as a result all of us need some form of security.

Perhaps it’s all just one and the same thing at root: maybe unchecked avarice is just what common-or-garden theft matures into if it gets half the chance.