From A Bygone Era

With the prospect of another spell of chilly weather starting tomorrow, it would have been daft to not make the chance to get out for a ride today.

In just under a couple of hours I saw two family groups out cycling – one mother with three children; one mother, father and two children. (It’s half-term for many schools around here.)

Seeing them, the thought that came unbidden was that it was reminiscent of a bygone era. A moment’s reflection and the fact that I thought that struck me as pretty depressing.

I’m a cyclist – I don’t think of cycling as odd or anachronistic. Nevertheless, my unreasoned reaction – if you like, my ‘unmediated by my consciousness’ reaction – to seeing a family out cycling was that it was an event of a time now passed.
That even a keen cyclist like me is thinking that, surely, is a testimony to the power of marketing and how well we’ve all been sold a shiny, motorized, hi-tech and non-cycling life as the norm.

If ‘cycling’ wants to succeed as a lobby group, I fear it has an awful lot of counter-marketing to do.

An Old Evans Fixie (Just For Cyclists)

A short-ish (and cold) ride today, on a fixie just for a change. It was lovely.

For winter I’ve an old (early 80s, I think) FW Evans touring fame (thanks to @Sparky249) which has been converted to a fixed wheel mainly using bits I had knocking around from that era – an SR chainset with a nice drilled black Sugino 44 chain ring for example. Having full mudguards on it makes it a good bet for bad weather and it has the kind of clearances that allow fatter tyres comfortably – for comfort. It’s simply nice to ride.

And old FW Evans

“I’m on an Evans”

The frame and forks are good old 531 and, well, that’s a tubing that deserves its amazingly high reputation. It might even have been built by the legendary Chas Roberts if this excerpt from the Evans Cycles web site is anything to go by:

‘In the seventies the frames were produced by frame manufacturer Chas Roberts, who had his original workshop in Croydon close to one of the early Evans Cycles stores. In many magazine articles from the seventies and eighties journalists would boast ‘I’m on an Evans’. The Evans bikes with their steel frames can still be seen around the U.K, a testament to their robust high quality.’

I guess I’m boasting about being ‘on an Evans’ now, over 30 years later.

I was advised recently to hang on to my old hi-fi as it has a better build quality than most of what you can buy these days. I rather suspect there’s a lot of good things about old bikes that we all too easily overlook too. Perhaps there are advantages to being older …

Wave

The Twyford-Henley branch line. Charli and I were rewarded for our waves with a toot on the horn. Thank you!

The Twyford-Henley branch line. Charli and I were rewarded for our waves with a toot on the horn. Thank you!

When crossing railway bridges, particularly over quiet branch lines, you should always give a friendly wave to train drivers. You just should. They’ll often wave back; sometimes they’ll even reward you with a toot on their horn – which is excellent.

Foolish nostalgia? Harmless whimsy? Who cares?

(There’s possibly something interesting in the fact that when you wave at a train driver, that’s normal. Do the same to passing cars and people will think you’re crazy.)

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 …

Never To Be Weaned

After the busy roads of Thursday, Easter Saturday afternoon was very noticeably quiet. Even Sonning, that normally traffic-choked home of the well-off, wasn’t busy. Sonning golf club car park had more vacant spaces than taken ones. Earlier in the day I’d had to be in Reading and that too was remarkably uncrowded. It made me think I’d hate to be a retailer but perhaps this is standard for Easter. Perhaps it’s the turn of all the out-of-town attractions – the National Trust houses, theme parks and so on.

If I’d hate to be a retailer, I suspect I’d hate to be a publican even more. I saw the pub by the side of the A4 in Knowl Hill has gone. Another one quite probably lost forever – they rarely re-open. It’s very easy to think it’s a terrible trend and that’s my knee-jerk reaction. Maybe it’s just change though.

Photo: The boarded-up former Seven Stars pub at Knowl Hill, Berkshire

Another failed pub, this one at Knowl Hill

Some pubs are thriving and it seems, in the main, it’s the ‘boozers’, the ones relying on drink rather than food, that can’t hang on. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of rising affluence and the high price we pay in terms of available time as a result: we end up ‘time poor’ and spending the money we’re working so hard to earn on going out to eat.

Perhaps it means the old stereotypes of him spending the house-keeping down the pub while she’s struggling to make ends meet at home, him coming home boozed-up and knocking her and the kids about, aren’t relevant any more. Perhaps it’s to be welcomed. Stereotypes exist for a reason, and those stereotypes are nothing to get nostalgic about.

Perhaps there’s some nasty, creeping conspiracy going on, to make us all dependant on the food industry. Since the 80s cookery has become a dying topic for schools to teach, if it’s not actually dead. Fast food / cheap food / processed food / ready meals / chain restaurants / pub food and so on have spread through all walks of society. There are plenty of people who can’t cook at home even if they wanted to. Add longer working hours, relentless media ‘food porn’ that is basically saying ‘you’ll never be able to cook as well as all these chefs, buy their branded meals or go out to eat instead’, and lo! All of a sudden you have a population sucking off the teat of the food industry, a population that will never be weaned.