Brain Bugs

I don’t think I have particularly large or ‘jug’ ears but today they were acting as very effective bug catchers. If, however long down the line, they find me going gaga and discover my brain’s being munched on by bugs, today’s the day they set-up home. I’ve never known them to be quite so irritating. Yeah, wildlife might be wonderful and yeah, we probably all ought to learn that the insects are just as valuable and marvellous as the big mammals and what-have-you, but there are limits to my enthusiasm.

Plenty of cyclists out today and yesterday; as normal the Friday riders are friendlier than the Saturday ones. Strange but true – so much for the weekends being a time of relaxation.

That’s also fairly true of drivers – weekdays outside of rush hour will generally entail encounters with more considerate motorists than the weekends. If you can tolerate a crude stereotype, I’d advise being particularly wary of slightly pudgy, often quite pale males in BMW never-been-dirty 4WDs with kids in the passenger seats on a weekend day. Mother is rarely there – presumably she’s having some ‘me time’ and he’s having some ‘quality time’ with the sprogs after a week in an office somewhere. Somewhere, presumably, that pays him well but costs him dear. If you want a safe bet, it’s that he’ll be looking very sour about it and driving distractedly, unhappily.

It’s easy to sneer but that’s not appropriate. Pity is probably a more suitable reaction; that and the hope that they can somehow get out of that rut. It can’t be nice for anyone involved.

All the cyclists looked able, experienced and happy enough on their bikes. That applies just as much to the quite elderly lady on a regular ‘sit up and beg’ bike as the lycra-wearing blokes on road or mountain bikes. I came across one group of po-faced club riders who doubtless wouldn’t deign to acknowledge anyone at all, but everyone else was cheery – a mood buoyed up by the weather of course. I’m not misty eyed and romantic about it and ‘community’ is a word that’s knackered and meaningless these days, but I think it’s a positive thing if new riders feel welcomed by more experienced ones.

I don’t know if cycling is in any way intimidating to a newcomer and, obviously enough, I can’t put myself in that position. I fear it might be because it can easily seem to be getting more and more technical and there’s far more kit and clobber to go with it than there ever used to be. If there are barriers to riding, those with experience need to work to either demolish them or help others over them.

Not Young Again

Governments around the world lurching to the right. The financial mess the whole world is in. Religious revivalism; religious fanaticism. Technology and surveillance; the end of privacy. Finite resources. The burgeoning world population. Climate change.

I could go on.

I don’t think it can be right that I would turn down an offer to be young again. There is nothing about the prospects of the young nor their position in society now that I envy, that makes me wish I could roll back the years and enjoy it with them. That that’s the case can’t be healthy, surely.

A reasonable length if fairly flat road ride with Jim today, with Henley the only town we went through. We were talking the whole way around, a lot of the time about the bigger questions. We know too many people in trouble, one way or another, not to. He’s of the same view about being young again; Charli is too.

A couple of years ago I was in a pub, The Swan in Pangbourne, for lunch. A small group of quite old people were a couple of tables down from us. One of their number was a little deaf and hence prone to speaking quite loudly. She was also the most vocal of them – though not in a bossy or hectoring way. Not overhearing was not an option. At one point she said – and I wrote it down at the time: “Oh, I hope I don’t live too much longer. I don’t like this century at all.”

She was holding forth, as it were. Her companions looked a little uneasy – understandably because what is a suitable response? ‘I hope you die soon too’ is never going to be acceptable. It was just a comment and a moment though; they all carried on yakking happily enough. The chap sitting next to her – I doubt that he was her partner – caught me looking over at them, a glance prompted by that remark, and offered a slightly sheepish comedy grimace by way of apology for his companion. I just smiled but no apology was needed. I could understand her point of view.

Honestly, The Kids Of Today

Another ride with Charli off road.

Towards the start we came across three kids. I’m no good at guessing the ages of children; I’ve reached that apocryhpal point in life that’s supposed to come to everyone, where most policemen look young enough to still be in school. I would imagine they were early-mid teens. We were heading down a single-bike-width bridle path and these three lads were coming towards us. We pulled over, they went by and thanked us.

That should be no big deal but it occurred to us both that it was. What made it so was its rarity value. I ride thousands of miles a year; I rarely see kids out and about. Sometimes, yes, in urban areas you’ll see one or two, but out in the country? Almost never.

We – Charli and I – can both remember having the run of our respective childhood neighbourhoods and the surrounding areas too. I know I’m saying nothing new here, but it does seem that something’s gone horribly wrong when that kind of freedom just doesn’t seem to be available to many anymore. We all did a lot of learning in that very unbounded context, as well as having a lot of fun.

I suspect quite why that’s happened is more difficult to pin down than it might appear.

There’s the much-cited fear of child abuse and child abduction but that’s grossly distorted and I imagine a lot of parents are able to work out for themselves that it is. (An irony of keeping kids indoors – and online – is that ‘online grooming’ of children seems to be a growing and real issue. Hey ho.)

There’s the volume of traffic issue, and that’s real, but cars were no less lethal when I was young than they are now, and dealing with them safely is a) a necessity of modern life that the sooner you get to grips with the better; and b) not so difficult that a teenager can’t cope with it. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that young teenagers were legally adults.

There’s the widely made allegation that parents don’t want to risk their children hurting themselves in the woods or something, but proving that allegation is another thing entirely. It’s not something I see with the friends I have that have kids. And besides, now everyone has a mobile phone, the risk element is far less than it ever used to be.

Of course, there’s also the question that doesn’t get mentioned much, which is whether going out to muck about in the woods or down by the canal or something is at all attractive to teenagers in the way that it used. Maybe it’s too easy to blame molly-coddling parents when the real issue is that the kids themselves aren’t interested, that they’re finding online gaming and what-have-you more attractive.

It is quite conceivable that online / indoor activities have been marketed so well that most kids wouldn’t dream of ‘going out to play’. It is also more than merely conceivable that the people who are doing that marketing, or commissioning that marketing, are amongst those who are lamenting the fact that kids never go out to play any more.

What it all means that it’s probably more appropriate to question the parents of the kids of today, rather than to so readily criticise the kids themselves.