An Old Revolution

Clenched fist salute

To the barricades

And so another week goes by, with rides largely determined by when they can be fitted-in around work and other commitments. It’s unusual for me to have to demote cycling so far down the pecking order, but needs must sometimes.

What time I have had to think on a bike has been dominated by thoughts of revolution. To explain –

Earlier this week I saw the Mark Thomas show, 100 Acts of Minor Dissent – a good show by a good man and good performer who’s been consistently on the side of good over the decades, at the good venue that is Norden Farm. It was all good and I went with friends so I was in good company too. So, what’s not to like? Nothing – except that we were almost all old.

It’s difficult to say with absolute certainty but I’d be very surprised if the average age of the audience wasn’t somewhere well on the other side of 50. Certainly, I didn’t feel old there. And why that’s perhaps important is that once upon a time dissent (protest, action, radicalism, revolution) was perceived to be and I think actually was, largely, the province of the young.

Once, it seemed only the young had the mental freedom, the energy, the time and the willingness – through having little to lose – to be radical. The older you became, the more you were sucked-in to the system and the more interest you had in maintaining the status quo. And once upon a time there was a not particularly rigorous dole system and there were student grants and they combined to create a certainty of sorts, a broad type of bedrock that radical thoughts could be built upon. That has all been swept away. Enforced vocational training, unpaid internships and student debt will foster nothing.

So, what I’ve found myself wondering is whether it’s now up to us 50+ people to be the radicals. If the broad-brush-stroke picture of getting older and more affluent is right, then perhaps we need to be using our relative security and comfort as a new bedrock, upon which to build change rather than stasis. Speaking in terms of generations, many of us will have had the experience of radical views in our youth, even if only vicariously. Perhaps it’s up to us to (re)discover our once more radical selves and our perhaps lost idealism. If there’s a wisdom that comes with age, then that wisdom is saying very loudly and clearly that there’s one hell of a lot that we should be being angry and radical about.

Killing Children

The other afternoon I was passing a village primary school at the end of the school day – going home time. This one happened to be in South Oxfordshire but I’m sure it’s not unique.

As I rode by there were just a handful of children walking home with one or more parents; none walking alone. Most were being picked up by mothers in Chelsea tractors – large pseudo-off-road vehicles. They are gas-guzzlers – we all know that – so they’re doing nothing for the future. They’re too wide for the lanes they’re being driven down, so they’re at best annoying and at worst dangerous for any fellow road users. The height of the front bumpers on these things makes them particularly dangerous if they hit a pedestrian – they’re more likely to kill than a normal car. Typically, children are the victims in pedestrian-vehicle collisions.

The typical refrain of the drivers of these things is “But I feel safer in it”. That they’re making the world more dangerous, including for their children’s contemporaries, doesn’t cross their mind. That they’re helping to make life in the world less sustainable, less hospitable, for their children in coming years presumably doesn’t occur to them either.

And the banal but no less real thought occurs that that’s the rub: we are all too easily only able to see the very small picture. Our world is one where it’s all about how the individual feels and acts.

Sooner or later the outside world will encroach on the individual. A Chelsea tractor driven by a safe-feeling mother will kill another mother’s kid, but that will be easily understood and palmed off as a one-off, an accident, even though, like most accidents, it could have been avoided if someone had cared enough. And sooner or later the whole world will encroach on the individual when the consequences of climate change start to really bite, but by then it will be too late even if that does prompt any realisation on the part of the individual about their position in society, in the wider scheme of things. Hey ho.

In A Bad Mood

Lousy weather again – gales or very strong winds, a bit of rain, cold – and so the last few days have been short rides to just get out; rides in order to have ridden, to have done something physical, but nothing particularly pleasurable.

With that as the background to the last few days, I just found myself in a bad mood today:

The climate is wrong and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest it’s ever been, but there’s no real noise about it; there’s no decisive action, there’s no leadership. Today I found myself grimly hoping that the world’s leaders, the ones who could have taken action, along with all the nay-sayers, live long enough to see the world worsen significantly and their children inherit it – live long enough to have to look their children or grandchildren in the eye and say yes, I could have done something about all this but I didn’t.

And with climate change, of course, comes the roads. If the councils’ standard excuse for our rotting infrastructure is the exceptionally bad weather and climate change means more and more of the exceptional, then they need to adopt a higher standard of road repairs to cope with it. There’s no sign of that, not the faintest whiff. Let’s keep wasting the tax-payers’ pounds on ‘repairs’ that don’t last a year – we can always repair it again next year, it’s not our money.

Blackbird Egg - broken into by a magpie

Robbed

And that leads to money – the repetitive cries of ‘it’s all too expensive’ – to mend roads properly or to do anything about the climate. It’s even more expensive to do nothing. It was – and still is – possible to find the billions to rescue the politicians’ friends, the banking class. What it comes down to is that it’s not possible to find the money for the common good but it is to line the pockets of chums. Such is the quality of our politicians. Again, about all we can hope is that they live long enough to see their children despise them. The only mystery is why we don’t lynch them all.

And as you cycle around, doing your best to avoid the craters, all around you there are idiots – idiot drivers parking on blind bends; idiot cyclists riding on the paths; idiot pedestrians walking their dogs without leads and getting all surprised when little fido goes running off to bark at horses. I was attracting idiots this time two years ago – perhaps it’s the time of year.

And then you get home and find a pecked-open blackbird’s egg on the grass – robbed by a foul, thieving magpie from the nest under the kitchen window, and it looks like ants have scavenged whatever was left.

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.

Adventure!

A spin off road, taking my chances between showers. Riding down a track near Binfield Heath, not far from Henley, I was struck by a fold in the land and the way the fields in front of me weren’t visible from any roads; that I couldn’t see any roads, houses or people. It’s not wild; the fields are farmed; there are telegraph poles across them – but even so, they’re that bit away from where many will ever go.

Further down the same track there was a plank over a ditch leading off into woods.

It all made me think of adventures, that thrill that comes with exploring, the wonderful way that you can just walk a few yards off from the world you know and feel like you’ll be away from nearly everyone.

Or, rather, it made me regret that I can’t rediscover that sense of adventure ‘hidden’ fields and paths leading off into woodland would have once evoked. It’s just age; you get to know too much and to understand too much.

Perhaps it wasn’t even regret. Perhaps it was just nostalgia. Either way it’s real, in that I did explore fields and woods once. Talking about it with Charli, she said her childhood was the same.

I don’t know if young kids can get that thrill now. They seem to both know too much and to be shut-off and cooped-up at the same time. Perhaps that’s a media myth but perhaps it’s not – I’m always struck by how few people under the age of, say, 18 that I see when I’m out. Perhaps they’re just more stealthy than I was all those years ago. I hope so.

A hidden fold in the land

A fold in the land …

A plank across a ditch, a path to adventure?

A path to adventure …

The Greater Reading List

Today it was forty miles in reasonable summer-ish weather around the edges of Reading.

There’s something to think about in the ‘why’ of what I’ve noticed sufficiently to remember – why is that these things lodged in my memory.

A wind turbine, here next to the M4 passing through Reading

The best we can do

  • A very young couple, him looking totally knackered and pushing a pram, her in a huff a few paces ahead, the pair of them looking like they weren’t coping. His Burberry cap looked something akin to tragically inappropriate. It might be appropriate if it were fake.
  • A pointless wind turbine that costs more to run than the value of the power it generates; a joyless planned environment.
  • A living cliché – a middle aged chap with a beer gut in a string vest, with one of those thuggish dogs on a thick studded leather lead, fussing over it with a fat woman. I imagine he was saying something to the effect of “Oh, he’s lovely; he hasn’t ripped anyone’s face off for a couple of weeks now.”
  • Two late teens/early twenties girls with a lot of flesh on display, holding hands, holding eye contact with each other to an unusual extent as they walked.
  • What looked like a boxer with a boxer’s nose, doing road work in a grubby tracksuit.
  • Some Sloan Ranger throw-back, all back-combed hair and green coloured clothing, totally distracted as she chatted on her phone, barely controlling her Range Rover as she tried to take a corner.
  • Bushes being grubbed up around a building on an industrial estate, when what the whole area needs is more planting.
  • Everywhere, rotting, crumbling infrastructure.
  • Two iffy looking types in semi-combat gear on all-black no-name mountain bikes. If a bike’s been home-painted like that you can almost guarantee it’s been nicked.
  • Flooded roads, flooded fields, hacked off horses.

Yes, that that’s what I noticed is as much a reflection on me as anything else. It’s also all real.

Horses standing in flood water

Perhaps it’s anthropomorphism. Or perhaps they were as unhappy as they looked.