Issues Behind Issues

The prospect of western involvement in Syria’s civil war looms; it’s a prospect that inevitably loomed large all this week, filling the space for idle thoughts that bike rides create.

Above all else, it seems to me that too many questions aren’t asked. Why are chemical weapons ‘bad’ weapons that can’t be tolerated; death by bomb or bullet is preferable how? Why now? Why just Syria? Why should the west be seeking to punish this particular crime, given all the other crimes being committed by so many other regimes? Why does Britain imagine it’s still a world player? Why are we worried about a ‘special relationship’ with the US given that we know, as plain as plain can be, via Wikileaks, that it’s unreciprocated? Who stands to make any money out of intervention? Why did our political parties and politicians act the way they have this time around, given the way they behaved with Iraq? Which lobby groups – here or elsewhere – are going to be most pleased by action against Syria – and how likely is it that they’re influencing the decisions being made? Should we laud the Prime Minister for allowing and respecting the vote that went against action by Britain against Syria? How do you judge your local MP come the next election – by local issues or by how they voted on this?

And so on.

As always, it’s the issues behind the big issue that are most interesting, the most important. And pretty well as always, they’re issues that aren’t being aired. We all owe it to ourselves, as intelligent adults, to ask these questions and more; accepting the headlines is rarely wise.

And perhaps the most salutary – albeit depressing – thing I find myself thinking about all this, is that none of this is in any way, in any respect, new.

The Joy Of Didcot

A good length English summer’s day ride with Jim and the talk included climbing Mont Ventoux (as he’s done, more than once) and the importance of being able to see what you’ve achieved when you’re cycling – where you’ve been – when the going’s hard.

Of course, nothing in southern England is on a par with the so-called Giant of Provence but the principle is the same. It doesn’t have to apply to just major climbs; climbing up on a lane through a beech wood, for example, as we were today, doesn’t give you any sense of how well you’re doing.

Whether you think it ugly or otherwise, Didcot power station looms large (and often quite unexpectedly) on most rides going immediately north of Reading. It may be in the distance, just poking over the horizon, or close-up and dominant. It serves the cyclist well as a kind of benchmark to measure progress against, in the same way as looking down from a mountain road might.

Didcot power station peeping through the trees

Didcot, sometimes unexpectedly appearing

It’s curious to think that I’ll miss it when it’s not there – but I think I will. It’s curious to have that thought, I guess, because disliking big and imposing man-made things is so ingrained in us.

I don’t know if those who are doing that ingraining are necessarily to be trusted; society, the media, the establishment … A lot of what’s taken for granted perhaps shouldn’t be.

Make Your Own Mind Up

Level Two Heatwave Warnings! Level Three in places!! Rooms can get hot on hot days so do be careful. Outside can be hot too if it’s hot out. Drink plenty if you’re sweating, especially if you’re thirsty. Don’t wear warm clothes in warm weather, wear cool clothes instead. Consider opening windows to cool a room down. Watch out for the coming crime wave because there’s always a near breakdown of law and order whenever there are a few sunny days.

If you’re not feeling scared by a spell of hot weather you should at least be worried. If you’re neither then you haven’t understood the risks so we’ll say it again – there are Heatwave Warnings! Official Warnings! Real life Experts and Scientists are issuing Warnings!

A moment’s thought and it’s obvious that the fear industry is actually quite ludicrous. It gives idiot journalists something to write. It gives officialdom reasons to justify itself. It merits only ridicule. There are people vulnerable to health problems in hot weather but they are a tiny proportion of the population. They do not justify the scaremongering.

The alternative, that all the trite advice and warnings actually are necessary, requires that we be a nation of imbeciles. If that is true, then that self-same officialdom has an awful lot to answer for regarding the nation’s education over the past several decades.

As it is, contrary to all the indications, today I enjoyed a bike ride that included The Bell at Aldworth for lunch – and that can’t be bad. Happiness is making your own mind up.

Shady Woods

A welcome bit of bosky shade

Mad June Hares

A surprising ride for wildlife:

  • A decent-sized flock of starlings in a field near Nuffield – far more than I normally see around here at any time of year;
  • Red-kites play-fighting below Swyncombe, including one ‘bombing’ another on the ground – which later flew up, seemingly fine, reinforcing the impression that it is all play-fighting and nothing else;
  • A hare jumping around in field near Benson – I know their breeding season is longer than just March but you don’t often see them much later than that;
  • A ferret-weasel-stoat type of animal, dragging a dead baby rabbit across a lane and into a hedge. Now, I’m not saying this with any certainty, but judging by the colouring I’d say this was a polecat I saw – near Checkendon – but I’ve read they’re mainly to be found in Wales, with some sightings in Hampshire and Wiltshire. So … I’m totally unsure about this, but it looked very polecat-like.
  • And a fair few swallows hurtling around on their low-level sorties in the quieter lanes, often within just a few feet of me – but I think there are fewer than normal.

And you can still go for walks down bluebell-lined paths, weeks after they should be over. They’re saying it’s the coldest spring in 50 years but I fear that sends the wrong message. Instead of that feeling alarming, it’s reassuring – oh, it’s rare but it’s happened before so it’s nothing to worry about. It doesn’t put it in context – the context of the increasing frequency of unusual weather events of any type.

Everything else aside, it’s another dismal example of the media selling its audience short.

Bluebells in June

This is not normal


An idiot bottle-blonde mutton-as-lamb fake-tan woman in an open-top car trying to steer around parked vehicles on her side of the road (and thus squeezing me cycling towards her) while she’s drinking from a bottle of mineral water. How do you protest? I can shout out that she’s an arsehole – which is more or less my instinctive reaction – but I know that is totally pointless. Everything about her says that she is wholly and utterly incapable of learning.

Struggling up, on a verge near you now

Struggling up, on a verge near you now

And talking of protests, today is local election results day in England and Wales, and UKIP, a bunch of ‘clowns’ in the eyes of the Tories and quite probably the other two parties of the establishment, has done far, far better than expected. And predictably, one way or another the other parties are trying to reinforce the message that this was ‘just’ a protest vote. And, predictably, the establishment – politicians and media – are now feverishly re-grouping to disparage UKIP and the vote they’ve attracted, to try and maintain a system that suits them so well.

Even if every single vote for UKIP has been made as a protest, that doesn’t somehow diminish those votes or make them irrelevant – that is an awful lot of people feeling the need to protest, because the mainstream doesn’t represent them. Add in to the equation all the people for whom politics feels so alien and irrelevant they don’t vote at all, and we are governed, at all levels, no matter which party is actually in power, by a very small clique that is anything but representative.

The real issue of the day is whether this sizable UKIP protest vote, if that’s what it is, can struggle against the dead hand of the status quo, can actually make a difference. The fear is that it will not. Yes, the Tories might say they’ll now listen, as UKIP is primarily taking their vote, but talk is cheap. (And no, don’t imagine Labour any more inclined to listen to the popular voice – remember the anti Iraq war protests.) The fear is we might as well all be shouting ‘arsehole’ at passing politicians for all the good it will do.

The next question is, what happens when parliamentary democracy fails?

Reclaim Yourself

It is, of course, absurd to be pleased to get home after a ride no more than five minutes before it starts raining heavily. It was a fluke. Be that as it may, it’s still rather smile-inducing. And, with one short ride tomorrow, I’ll have done 100 miles this week – the first time this year I’ve managed it. Hurrah!

Talking of absurdities, I read a summary of an essay that – in a nutshell – tells you to give up consuming ‘the news’ because by doing so you’ll be happier. (Read the summary) I think I’ll be reading the book shortly.

As someone who used to work ‘in news’ and who still consumes a lot of it, I can wholly see the point. Consuming news is all too absurd. Charli’s given up with all newspapers and no longer has a TV. I suspect that’s the way to go.

As soon as you start on that route, any number of other absurdities cross your mind. Celebrities. First-pass-the-post politics. Our politicians. The whole ‘you have to pay top money to get top people’ argument. House prices. Bankers. Population growth. Religions. Consumerism. It soon spirals … If rejecting all these absurdities comes with reclaiming yourself as an individual, it takes effort to be an individual, to work out your own views.

As far as I can see, the only danger with cutting yourself off from all news is that you’re then giving up monitoring – and acting against – the corrupt. There’s a big protest against expanding Heathrow airport being held today; without ‘the news’ we wouldn’t know what the few are planning to inflict on the many for the sake of lining their own pockets still further. There must be a sensible way of knowing enough, without consuming pointless ‘news’ for the sake of it.

A black sheep, thinking

Free yourself; be yourself; look away from all the rest, find your own direction.