A Real Challenge

A short ‘rehab ride’ with Charli on the 12th, a ‘grab the chance while I can’ ride in very so-so weather on the 13th, yesterday was a wash-out and all of a sudden it’s midweek again. If all things are relative, given how much time seems to be speeding up, whatever it’s relative to must be slowing down to a snail’s pace.

Today’s jaunt was just a quick 20 miles – Sonning-Wargave-Henley territory – but it turned out OK; I dodged the showers and there was even a bit of sun, which was something after a dismal morning. The only thing that can be said for weather like today’s is that sometimes the light can be striking – bright sunshine and dark clouds, and everything is greening-up abundantly now.

I was moaning about idiot road users, both the other day and two years ago. I was thinking today that in reality, all road users fall into four categories:

  • the ‘helpful’ – the ones who go out of their way to be helpful and courteous;
  • the ‘normal’ – the ones who just do what they do without causing anyone any problems;
  • the ‘irritating’ – the ones who don’t do any real harm but who are sure to get someone’s back up, at least some of the time; and
  • the ‘dangerous’ – the ones that genuinely put lives at risk – their own or other people’s.

The helpful and the dangerous are quite rare. Most of us like to think we’re in the normal category; most of us would probably benefit from remembering that to others we’re almost certainly irritating, at least occasionally. I think we need a road user manual – a R.U.M. – to explain this, to drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and everyone else. Essential reading along with the Highway Code.

It occurred to me, too, that if it’s true that we’re all often unwittingly irritating to others, then a real challenge would be to try and think positively, or at least kindly, about the strangers that it’s all too easy to find irritating. I think I’ll see if that’s possible in coming rides: the TK (Think Kindly) challenge!


Green trees and threatening skies

Green trees and threatening skies


Nature's relentless optimism

Nature’s relentless – but blind – optimism.

After the fun and frolics of a rim failure, the rest of the week has seen three short and gentle road rides on the flatter parts of Berkshire, still easing my ankle and foot back in to riding. It’s getting better.

And, of course, the week also saw the funeral of Thatcher, the Prime Minister in power when I was first looking for a job and unemployment was even higher than it is now. I remember writing the best part of 300 job applications to get two offers. It seemed an appropriate memorial to her that this week the number of unemployed increased again.

It seems appropriate, too, that Mutually Assured Destruction is back on the agenda. Although our ever-shallow media has moved on, the threat from North Korea hasn’t just gone away because our journalists and editors are preoccupied with a dead politician and how they might revise history to suit their current agendas.

If you look back to the 60s and the Cuban missile crisis, for example, the realities of the nuclear tensions then are hard to comprehend for someone of my age. Cruise missiles in the UK and all the nuclear sabre rattling of the 80s must be similarly hard to understand for anyone much younger than me.

Living with that kind of shadow being cast provided a very different context for all of life’s decisions. That so many just carried on carrying on is either testimony to human resilience or to human stupidity. History is full of praise for the triumph of hope over adversity but no-one ever recalls or tots-up the number of times that hope proves false.

I guess nature would be the perfect embodiment of the triumph of hope over everything else, if nature was exercising any choice.


It’s another year. What are we celebrating? That we’re still here? That the past year’s now gone – done and dusted and good riddance? That we’ve another year that we’re looking forward to?

Party balloons on a pole.


It would be interesting to know what people feel en masse – an accurate snapshot of how many people are happy to see the back of what was for them a bad year in the hope the next one will be better; how many people are looking at the coming year with dread; how many people really don’t give a damn either way and see it as just another date in the diary … and so on. I don’t know what I’d wager would be the outcome.

If there’s one thing I learned – and heard articulated in the last year – it’s that negativity is all too often just low blood sugar and tiredness. It’s been a long and busy year that’s hurtled by and I’m too tired to make a sensible judgement about how I feel about the last year and the coming year right now, certainly too tired for positivism.

Today’s was a short ride largely on-road, but on an off-road bike because the conditions under-wheel are a long way from good. I know it’s been equally yuk during winters before but nevertheless, on the day, it’s hard to imagine how the countryside is ever going to dry out and nature look anything like attractive again. Which, I guess, might just be testament to how poor my imagination is.

Mis-sold Optimism

There was heavy rain last night and more of the same forecast’s for the 24th, so today was an attempt to make the most of it and get a ride in.

This was a mistake.

I was surprised to find low-lying, very cold fog spreading across the fields and lanes the further north I headed. I knew the roads would be filthy and flint-strewn but I still somehow imagined they wouldn’t be that bad. I didn’t expect the subsequent puncture even though it was a perfectly logical outcome. If I picked out five flint shards then I picked out a dozen. Only one of them had gone through, but one’s enough.

The sun’s now low enough to the horizon to not warm anything appreciably, even if the sky might be clear – as it was today. It means there’s little recovery from a deluge; nothing bounces back with the shot of life the sun imparts at other times of year. It means optimism is ill-founded.

That optimism can be ill-founded is fine; that it feels wrong that it should be so is just a testament to the power and pervasiveness of the positivism industry – because industry is what it is. It’s a foul corruption of reality on any number levels. Things don’t always turn out well.

 ‘Sick Life’ graffiti.

The question is, did the person who wrote this do so with a positive or negative intent

Think Old

After an unseasonally strong storm yesterday, today was merely very windy – not too bad to ride in with a carefully chosen route. I was surprised more at the lack of tree debris strewn around than the amount of it – after the storm I expected it to be far more apparent.

Dropping down one of the back ways from Woodcote, the hedges provided good shelter from the cross-wind and it was fine to cycle in – despite that being about the most exposed part of the ride. You needed to remember as you came to a gap in the hedge that there’s likely to be a sudden ‘shove’ from the wind, but that’s about the only unusual thing to bear in mind. You only need to experience that once to remember it.

Later, rolling in to Peppard Common from Stoke Row, and with my ‘noticing seats’ mindset, I saw an outdoor bench commemorating the Coronation – 1953 and not ’52, despite this being Royal Jubilee Year. Let’s not quibble: it’s a sixty year legacy, give or take. The seat is something lasting; something that has been and is being used; something that’s been cared-for. Presumably, some of the many who’ve sat on it have consciously appreciated it too.

Public seat in Peppard, commemorating the Coronation in 1953

A positive, lasting legacy

The 50s were tough times; to imagine we’re experiencing austerity now is to do all those who endured  those years an insulting disservice. War time rationing didn’t completely end until ’54. It’s likely that the cost of erecting that bench would have been significant for those who chipped in. Their efforts were worthwhile: they created something lasting and of value to the public, to absolutely anyone who cares to make use of it.

It’s not hard to imagine that sort of cost-sacrifice and effort being sneered at today; that would fit in with the zeitgeist all too readily. I couldn’t help but wonder what positive, lasting legacy those who’d sneer will leave.

I can’t help but wonder, too, whether thinking about issues such as lasting legacies is very much a function of getting older. Given that we’re living longer and we’re forever being told that what was an old age isn’t any more, perhaps there’s a side effect of a lack of people thinking about positive, lasting legacies; nowadays there’s never a ‘right’ age to start thinking like that. Allegedly.


Circumstances conspired so I ended up doing an afternoon ride. I go better in the mornings but so it goes. At least I had a decent, dry and warm afternoon for it. One should be thankful – it’ll rain again tonight and tomorrow.

It’s easy to forget just how much traffic the school run generates.  A loop taking in Woodley, Twyford, Wargrave and Henley at school chucking-out time reminded me forcefully enough. Of course, that’s absolutely nothing new.  What did strike me was the number of men doing the driving: I’d make a small wager that it was more than it would have been, say, two years ago.

Photo: A young Horse Chestnut

A young Horse Chestnut, near Shiplake Cross

If I’m right then I’d guess it’s because men are finding it harder to get jobs in this recession. Men ‘normally’ want ‘proper’ jobs – full time, a proper salary or wage and so on.  Women, for better or worse, are more readily pigeon holed into part time posts with less remuneration. As a result they’re often easier to sack – sorry, ‘downsize’ – but they’re also easier to re-employ.  If you like, many women are in a sort of flexible fringe which can expand or contract easily. So-called ‘male’ jobs or ‘proper’ jobs may be cut less willingly by employers, but once they’re cut they stay cut until there’s a very, very real need again.  There’s nothing about the economy that’s on a firm footing and we’d be fools to pretend otherwise.

I don’t know how that might feel if you’re a bloke on the school run – all other things being equal. If you’re managing to make ends meet and your partner’s out to work, you could feel liberated … or emasculated. It could be very hard to break out of the traditional way of thinking about yourself, your household budget, your role in the domestic set-up. It could be necessary. It might not be a bad thing – one day.  There’s nothing inherently right about traditions.

If any of all that is accurate, then if society wants to play a positive role it should be helping people adjust – men and women and children too. National and local government, charities and other not-for-profits, churches and media channels and any other organisation with a stake in society – they should all be working to help people adjust to changing roles.

Just writing that – and hopefully just reading that – brings home how little positivism there is in society. Society’s voices are largely carping, criticising, point-scoring, bemoaning … If you have something to moan about, do something about it – even if it’s only pointing up the need.