Terribly, Terribly English

Riding around the lanes, villages and small towns like Henley today and yesterday, it was surprising how few people there were around. I don’t think they can have all been indoors, retreating from the relentlessly dismal weather. (If it’s not raining it will be soon.) I don’t think they were all at Jubilee parties.

There have been endless attempts to market on the back of the Jubilee – from the connected to the desperate. I’ve been offered ‘Jubilee Guitar Strings’ (at 10% off, no less) by email. The pubs are the ones I fear for; they’re nearly all trying to get punters in the door for some Jubilee-themed event or promotion or something but I doubt there are that many punters to go around – or even that there would have been if the weather had been glorious.

Today, riding past a seat provided to mark the Golden Jubilee 10 years ago, along the Harpsden Bottom road, I realised I’ve not heard anything at all about longer-lasting community ‘Jubilee Projects’, whether as small (but significant) as the seat or anything more grand. Perhaps they’ve just not crossed my radar.

The Queen's Golden Jubilee - anniversary bench

Something lasting …

I confess I’m finding it a bit tedious now – as ever, the media are giving the whole thing such an overkill treatment. I suppose it’s the same underlying issue as the pubs’ events: the media are just as desperate to attract punters, and just as imagination-free in their efforts. It’s very hard for anything to retain any semblance of being in any way ‘special’ when it’s flogged to death.

I can only have praise and affection for the people of Goring and Streatley, their 1km long table for an outdoor Jubilee lunch and the way they just got on with it in the rain, including an attempt at baking the most scones (4,000) in one sitting. It’s just so terribly, terribly English in every way that’s wholly admirable. (Of course, that should really be a .62 mile long table.)

Perhaps the way the weather’s brought out such classically English ways of carrying-on is a blessing – albeit well disguised. Perhaps that’s just sort-of de facto twaddle and we’d have been ever better in our Englishness if the sun had shone.

Talking of the praiseworthy – my heartfelt thanks to the (possibly quite elderly) lady in the Honda on the road out from Henley today. Without excessive detail: the situation on the road was out of the ordinary because of a large lorry; I wasn’t correctly positioned as a result; the lady understood perfectly what was happening, gave me all the space I needed and passed me with a cheery wave. It’s appreciated – and should be acknowledged.

Some photos from BBC Berkshire, including of Goring’s Jubilee party.

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.

Black Wood

A nondescript ride on a nondescript day, taking in Sonning Common, Checkendon and then back in to Caversham via Woodcote, Greenmore Hill and what was The Fox on Horsepond Road.

We’ll be saying ‘that was the …” about many more pubs. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing in the big scheme.

About the most striking thing of the day was just how black so much of the wood in hedgerows and the like is looking now; nature does winter with a fair ol’ degree of bleakness.

Credit where credit’s due corner: a Kuhne + Nagel lorry was particularly considerate today. It is appreciated.