Bridges Aren’t Just For Cars (With Route)

A reasonable if windy ride – hard going in places but I guess that’s what autumn’s all about.

The route took me through Sonning, out to Marlow and then back to Caversham via Henley. Sonning bridge is “closed” during the daytime at the moment. You don’t have to be local to realize that a bridge across the Thames is important in the overall scheme of things – there aren’t that many of them. Finding an alternative route is a big deal on a bike – it means quite a few extra miles.

That’s how the local newspaper reported the closure:

Reading Chronicle on Sonning bridge closure

I thought it sounded like it wasn’t major work, emailed the council, and was told cyclists could get across throughout the day.

The Reading Chronicle is avowedly pro-cycling and as a cyclist I’m pleased about that. For example:

Reading Chronicle on 20mph speed limits

… but they didn’t find out if cyclists could still get across the “closed” bridge. The paper is by no means alone. On the ground, the Council (presumably responsible for the signs on the roads) totally ignores cyclists and pedestrians (who can also walk across all day) alike.

Bridge closed sign in Sonning

Spot the missing information

None of this is a big deal – worse things happen at sea. What it does show, though, is how far commonplace thinking has to change if we’re really going to move towards being a pro-cycling nation.

Marlow Bridge in autumn sun

Marlow Bridge – looking good in the autumn sun

The Route:

In essence – Reading – Sonning – Wargrave – Marlow – Henley – Reading. It’s what I’d describe as a good one for a reasonably confident solo cyclist – there’s a fair bit of main road work that’s fine if you’re relaxed about it, but not necessarily for the nervous and they’re roads that rather limit conversation if you’re riding with someone! Inevitably, some of the lanes are pretty rough – stones, pot-holes etc.

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About The Route Mapping

Who’s Me?

A decent length ride looping around East Berks and South Oxon, including Sonning, Maidenhead and Marlow; Henley and Checkendon – with Sonning Common to bookend it nicely.

Big Tree, small seat

Sitting down here, I could feel quite small

As regular readers will know, I’ve long been noticing seats outside – don’t ask why. ‘Sitting Down Outside’ has become something of a theme.

Today was no exception and seats in Checkendon caught my eye. I stopped to take a couple of photos and while doing so heard a very tuneful bird song. I can recognize a couple of common birds by the noises they make but mostly it is just noise – some of tuneful, a lot of it not. This one I didn’t recognize at all but, more interestingly, I am also willing to bet that I’ve never heard it before.

If you like, what I’m saying is that I don’t know what I heard, but I do know I’ve not heard it before. And that seems quite an odd thing for the brain to be able to do: I’ve not been able to categorize or ‘file away’ most bird song because I can’t attribute it, but that unlabelled mess of aural experience is nevertheless sufficiently understood, somewhere way beneath my consciousness, to enable me to notice a new variation.

As with ‘Biggles’ and the low smoke over the fields the other day, it’s another example of not really being in control of yourself, given that you are your brain: I might be able to claim that ‘I’ have learned to recognize a blackbird’s song, for example, but there’s no way I can claim to consciously know which noises I don’t know.

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.

Trapped In Our Modernity

Dropping down into Marlow today, from the Maidenhead side of the Thames, and then climbing back up again heading towards Henley, once more I was struck by the geography of the area. In places the Thames is running in a steeply sided – picturesque – valley that you’re just not that aware of as a driver.

Dog lazily looking out of a car window

Well, I’m in touch with my surroundings.

Once you’re out of a motor vehicle you become much more aware of the lie of the land. You wouldn’t have to go back that many years to enter an era when everyone must have been much more alive to their surroundings; when surroundings would have been far more of a barrier and travel wasn’t something to undertake lightly.

Life in the bottom of the valley would have been different from up on top and while their respective inhabitants wouldn’t have been alien to each other, even moving such relatively short distances would have required a significant effort.

Remember that this was a time when there was far less knowledge of the world beyond what you might have personally witnessed – no Internet, no TV, no radio, no photography let alone moving pictures, few books and so on – and you realise that from our modern standpoint you cannot even begin to imagine what life was like then. You cannot unlearn and it’s futile to even try; your brain has been formed by different influences; you can try to be empathetic but you’re doing so from a modern start-point.

We can’t go back, we can only move on. Insofar as progress implies change for the better, it’s important to not confuse moving on with progress; ‘moving on’ is merely change.

Litter And Racism

A longer ride and some greasy roads, but it was good to be out. As I set off I was reasonably confident I’d remember the route through Pinkney’s Green to get down to Marlow, as I’ve done it once or twice before. That confidence proved optimistic and I needed the reassurance of two helpful walkers somewhere near Bigfrith (I think) that I was on the right road. I was … although I had no recollection of it.

The hairpin bends on the descent were horrible – really slippery. That sort of thing makes you realise how brave you’d have to be to ride a bike professionally, where you’re expected to go down mountains, quickly. Everything else about pro cycling aside, I’m just not brave enough to feel for a nano-second that I missed my vocation.

The hill out of Marlow, heading back to Henley, was as bad as ever.

There’s an awful amount of litter about these days – it’s everywhere; quiet country lanes are no exception. I completely fail to understand why anyone would drop litter – the unthinkingly discarded sweet wrapper or similar. How people can do something like actively dump a take-away meal on a verge or in a hedge beggars belief. At least fly-tipping – builders’ rubble and tyres most typically – I can sort of understand as a money-making / money-saving act, however grotesque it is and however depressing it might be.

A friend who’s Polish and who’s lived here for years but still visits relatives at home fairly often, blames ‘bloody East Europeans’. He says they just don’t have the same view of these things as the Brits do.

I have no idea if that’s true. I have no idea if that’s racist. If a Pole says that of Poles then I suspect most people will say that’s not racist, in the same way as if a Brit says Brits are insular and yawn-inducingly obsessed with the weather no-one gets up in arms. But if someone says something – something broadly true – of a group they’re not a member of, or even if someone reports another’s comments, as I’ve done with a Pole’s comments about Poles … that’s a different territory altogether. I don’t know if that has any logic at all.

Talking about it with Charli, her experience of it being drummed into her at school to never drop litter was formative and powerful – and exactly the same lesson that I received. I wonder if they teach anything like that in schools now. It should be core; that kind of small-scale respect for what’s around you is an important building block. There have been plenty of studies to show that litter begats more litter which begats fly-tipping which begats vandalism which begats other crimes. A neighbourhood that looks uncared for rapidly becomes uncared for, and people live in neighbourhoods. No-one deservers to live in an uncared-for neighbourhood.

Plain Wrong

There is so much to get angry about.

The fighting in Libya continues, and the media continue to trot the government line out and try and demonise Qadhafi. They’ve all conveniently forgotten that just a few years ago we were willing to deal with him. Watch what happens in the coming years – follow the money. It’ll all be about oil.

We’re being taken for fools again.

It’s the same as with bankers, the same as with public sector pay packets for the elite – there’s a whole culture of taking the public for fools while they rob us blind.

You don’t have to pay top dollar to get top people. All that attracts is people motivated by money – foul, venal individuals who are just out for themselves. The kind of people who’ll happily back a war if it makes them money. The kind of people who’ll get their noses out of the trough long enough to make an apology for whatever departmental failing they’ve been caught responsible for, but will then just go on failing for as long as they can pocket the money.

We are mugs. Absolute fools.

The bankers are particularly foul. The prospect of reform is looming so, as predictably as a seemingly endless stream of liquid shit comes after a stomach bug, so bankers and their mouthpieces are being given endless media time to tell us that reforming them is just all wrong and will damage the economy. These are the scum, the people working in a “socially worthless” industry (to quote one independent report), who’ve saddled the entire world with endless debt for years and years to come. To give them any credence whatsoever beggars belief. Expecting them to help with the rebuilding needed after the collapse they’ve caused is on a par with asking a rapist to baby-sit your daughter. And the media that gives them air-time, and the politicians that listen to them for a nano-second, are such transparently pathetic, supine stooges, I cannot bear to listen to them. Full stop.

All of which begs questions – not least, does anyone outside of the media-political-big business circle listen to them anyway? We all know we’ve been shafted, we all know the people are the top are filthy liars that you wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire. If you took their media stooges away (also not worth pissing on) then they’d have no advocates and no audience.

The other question that always intrigues me is whether their mouthpieces believe what they say. It’s akin to religionists, “faith healers” and any other snake-oil pedlar. There is a vast difference between someone knowingly lying and someone who genuinely believes what they’re saying, however wrong it may be. I find it very hard to believe spokespeople for banking are anything other than liars, members of the same venal class that they’re speaking for.

Riding around today up Stokenchurch way and down to Marlow, I was struck by how many expensive private properties are having building work carried out. The recession only hits some of us – as always. Tour around the rich bits and they’re all doing fine.

Meanwhile, we can’t even get the roads mended. There’s a stretch of road near Hambleden on the way to Henley that’s just had the gravel-smeared-on-tar treatment. It was atrocious beforehand and it still is. Just a few days after all that money was wasted on it, the holes that were there before are already showing through and the new surface is disintegrating. To rub salt into it, just a few miles along, nearer Henley, the road surface was treated the same way, probably two years ago or thereabouts, and that’s a rotting mess. Why the common-sense-forsaken morons in charge of spending this money keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again defies any logic or analysis of any of the ostensible aspects to it. The suspicion has to be that we ought to be following the money to find the real reason. Always follow the money.

And all of that anger set me thinking, why am I getting worked up about it? I’m not doing that badly despite the bankers and the damage they’ve done to my future finances. The war in Libya hasn’t had any direct impact on me. Bad roads may rattle me around a bit but they’re not the end of the world. Sure, it’s my tax money the scum are blatantly wasting, whether it’s on road ‘mending’, military ordnance, inflated salaries or bailing out banks, but tax is unavoidable, and I can always pretend my contribution goes to something useful.

So, why do I get angry? The only answer I could come up with is because all these things are just plain wrong.

It’s as simple as that. It really is. No relativism, no sophistry, no excuses. Some things are just wrong.