Little Fluffy Clouds

Riding southern English counties this week, I always think England looks its best around this time. The vegetation is lush – there’s been enough rain and enough warmth, and it’s rained recently enough that everywhere is still relatively clean. (Lots of the uglier sides of humanity, not least littering, are also being hidden by all the growth. It’s only a fig leaf, but it’s better than nothing.) And on good days, with a little warmth combined with blue skies, just a few clouds, The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ for a mental soundtrack and the ability to get outside – on foot or on a bike – to appreciate it, and you could think ‘what more could anyone ask for’.

OK, the little fluffy clouds Rickie Lee Jones was talking about in the song were in Arizona. OK, a fair distribution of wealth, an end to racism and bigotry and prejudice of any kind, an overwhelming rejection of greed as a worthwhile value, an end to patriotism and religion, the rise of rationality and empiricism, the outbreak of peace through negotiation worldwide and global cooperation in the face of climate change could all be asked for, quite legitimately, but you know what I mean …

Little Fluffy Coulds

Little Fluffy Coulds

God Waning

Up riding on the Ridgeway with Charli this morning for, I think, the first time this year. Events have conspired against us. Today’s route included a stretch I’d not ridden before, nearer to Wantage than we normally go, and this obviously Christian cross – presumably a memorial – caught my eye. Religion used to get everywhere.

Cross on the Ridgeway near Wantage

Religion used to be everywhere

This afternoon at Reading Festival, Frank Turner sang his ‘Glory Hallelujah’, a celebration – and that is the right word – of there being no God.

From being all-pervading to Frank Turner being cheered by tens of thousands – and being nationally broadcast too: we do make progress. If you don’t know it, this quote from Ricky Gervais might be apposite:

‘Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6,000 years ago, historians have catalogued over 3,700 supernatural beings, of which 2,870 can be considered deities.

‘So, next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say “Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra? …” If they say say “Just God. I only believe in the one God” I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 Gods and they don’t believe in 2,869.’

‘Glory Hallelujah’ lyrics

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.

Essence of English

One of those all too rare ‘proper’ English summer days – warm but not stifling and no wind to speak of. Perfect weather for a longer ride so today was a circuit taking in Caversham to the north, Theale to the west, Aborfield to the south and the edge of Windsor Forest to the east – just over 50 enjoyable miles.

Near Tidmarsh there’s an old pillbox in a field. (For younger readers, a pillbox is a reinforced defensive position. Any number of them were built in the Second World War; the threat of invasion was very real. Don’t be fooled by ‘Dad’s Army’ re-runs.) Seeing it now, the whole notion of them seems to be faintly ludicrous but very heroic, examples of a dogged determination and a thoroughly irrational ‘to hell with the odds’ response.

Just a few yards from there, there were horses standing in the shade of an oak tree in the middle of a field. The summer-blue sky was full of those ‘little fluffy white clouds’ and further around the route it was easy to see white sheep set-off perfectly against lush green fields.

From the attitude behind the construction of pillboxes to the scenes to be found seemingly everywhere, it all seemed quite ridiculously English in any number of stereotypical ways.

The Almshouse Association

The Almshouse Association: pure Englishness?

The fifty miles took in duck ponds, babbling streams complete with ramshackle wooden footbridges and a fair smattering of picture-perfect old churches. Chocolate-box-ready thatched cottages? Two a penny. Near Maiden’s Green there was a lady wearing a summer dress and straw hat, riding a beautiful-looking sit-up-and-beg bike with poise and style and yes, ‘Maiden’s Green’ exists and no, I’m not making any of this up.

As I rode I kept looking for a photo to best illustrate all this Englishness I was being faced with. Everything I’ve mentioned could have been snapped but then I saw The Almshouse Association. My instant thought was that both ‘Almshouse’ and ‘Association’ are perfect words for conveying so much about the English: charity, care, the establishment and the church; history, patronage, doing the right thing and an unspoken order to the way things are done; volunteers, donations and genteel goings-on.

I don’t want to know anything about the realities of The Almshouse Association. I want to leave it to exist as I imagine it is. I don’t want to reflect any more on Englishness. Now, sitting at home, I don’t want to ponder and come up with something better reasoned. For today, today’s scenes were enough.

That said, it would be very interesting to hear what anyone else thinks about what sums up England and/or the English on a summer’s day. Do leave a comment.

Herded

Work sometimes gets in the way so today it was just a short afternoon spin to remind my legs that pedalling’s what they do best – the roads between Reading and Maidenhead. If work hadn’t been intrusive I probably wouldn’t have bothered, it wasn’t weather to entice anyone out – relentlessly grey, fairly windy and on the cold side.

The roads were busy and I admit it took me a while to realise why – Easter. I’m not cursed with the dreadful arrogant certainty of any religion, one that recognises Easter or not. So, as a significant event, festival, rite, fable or whatever you want to call it, it’s not on my horizon. And working for myself, with no kids, means I’m not overly alive to the rhythms and routines imposed by bank holidays, school holidays and the like.

Easter – the first break of the year and with it all the grief and aggravation that’s associated with trying to compress presumed pleasures and imposed duties into a few precious days. The family holidays that half the family don’t want to be enduring; the visits to relatives that all agree are important but for half of those going along are always tarnished by the nagging knowledge that free time’s precious and there are almost certainly better pleasures to be had.

I’m very lucky in that I like my family; they are people I’d socialise with as friends if they weren’t relatives. Perhaps my cynicism about Easter – or any other holiday – is unfounded. But it’s all too easy to think of so many examples of far less happy family situations amongst friends and acquaintances, let alone the stories abounding in popular culture. It’s quite possibly unwise to trust popular culture, but that doesn’t account for all the anecdotes and moans that you can hear first hand.

Even with questions of family set aside, it’s at times like this that I feel sort of defeated. I don’t understand how we can have organised ourselves so that we’re so pressurised; so herded, corralled and controlled; so squandering of our time, our lives, our riches. We – Joe and Josephine Average in the West – are incredibly well-off. We have so much – health, longevity, possessions, security, the basics and all the comforts and luxuries. But, for so many us, too much of life is screwed up, wasted. There are options, but thinking of them and then taking them is rarely the path of least resistance.

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.