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

A Future For Individuals

Four walkers in a group in the far distance, one farmer out with a sheep dog and another driving up a track: a wet, windy, grey Boxing Day on the Ridgeway doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for anyone or anything, even if going for a walk is what the middle classes feel they are supposed to do to blow away Christmas cobwebs. It’s all in the name of quality time and bonding, don’t you know.

The Ridgeway, the day after Christmas. No religious symbolism intended

The Ridgeway, the day after Christmas. No religious symbolism intended

Apologies; sarcasm is rarely attractive.

A few Red Kites circled around and, it seemed, Blackbirds were uncommonly numerous, darting about the scrubby bushes and the brutally machine-pruned hedging. That was it.

At times the cloud was low enough to obscure Didcot, just a few miles away; other times it lifted. It didn’t rain hard but it might as well have. At least for the most part it was a case of fairly decent surfaces rather than gloopy mud.

As nearly always, it was worth the effort. I can’t say I was feeling full of seasonal merriment before I started out and the trip didn’t change that, but that’s a problem with the season and not me. I can’t turn on merriness on the turn of the calendar.

Over the weekend I was chatting with a lady whose husband died just over two years ago. She wasn’t maudlin or depressed about a Christmas alone; she wanted a break from work and to relax. What she was struggling with, what she resented, is the presumed and often forced bonhomie – of the season, of so many people, of the media.

It’s hard to be yourself when there’s so much commonplace pressure to be otherwise – that much is obvious.

Plausibly, in future, as ‘mass media’ fragments into ever smaller parts to be consumed by ever smaller audience segments, and as societies become ever more diverse in the composition of those segments, that pressure will lessen.

Nature Notes From On High

Up on the Ridgeway for a ride with Charli – it seems like a long time has drifted by since our last ride up there. The difference is marked.

Of course, rain falls everywhere and it’s been very wet of late, but somehow you expect it to be dryer up high. It wasn’t, and the combination of chalk, flint and clay can make for more sideways travel than is ideal, but it wasn’t that bad; neither of us fell off.

The wind was strong and cold; all in all it would be easy to call it unwelcoming and, certainly, there were even fewer people around than normal, but it was by no means a hostile day. As always, making the effort has its rewards.

Cycling in the cold, with Didcot A and B power stations working hard as a backdrop.

Cycling in the cold, with Didcot A and B power stations working hard as a backdrop.

The change in the wildlife is marked. In addition to the ‘normal’ hedgerow birds you’d expect to see there were flocks of Starlings and Red Wings, plenty of Crows and any number of Rooks – in the main rooting about on the ploughed fields. There were more of both Buzzards and Red Kites than I’d noticed before too, and a few Kestrels around to complete the compliment of hunters. It’s been a good year for Pheasants; they’re everywhere – including up where we were.

Depressingly, humanity doesn’t change. A fair way away from anywhere, someone had gone to a stupid amount of trouble to dump a fridge. Pretty well where ever they’d come from, it would have been just as easy or easier to take it to a council tip. It is possible to despair when you think about who you have to share the planet with. People like this can drive cars, vote, breed …

A dumped fridge on the Ridgeway

We share the planet with the idiots who do this.

Just Yuk

It doesn’t happen often, but today’s was a grotty ride and I’d have been quite happy not to have done it.

The sign to Bury Down on the Ridgeway, near Wantage

A bad day on the bike. You could have put us out of our misery and buried us just down there.

The intention was a ‘blow the cobwebs out’ trip on the Ridgeway up and around the Wantage area with Charli. The reality was a hard slog on a very windy day with lots of mud and water around after the downpours of yesterday – the ‘worst September storm for 30 years’, apparently. I fell off – albeit slowly and without doing any damage, Charli nearly did and both of us were happy to cut it short and go home. Neither of us had ‘anything in the legs’ as they say – for some reason we were both running on empty.

Hey ho – so it goes. It’s rare that there’s a day I’d rather have not ridden. Of course, as is always the case, a bad day is far more memorable and makes far more impact on your consciousness than all the good ones. That seems fairly natural: that makes it yet another example of natural not always equating to good.

Knackered Clichés And Worse

Up on the Downs again with Charli. A farmer up on one of the hills waved as he went about ploughing a large, rolling field, all the time followed by gulls.

Gulls following a tractor as a field's ploughed in Autumn

Farmer, ploughing, gulls: tired, uninspired, uninspiring yet nevertheless somehow pleasing.

Gulls and the plough – it was a classic, clichéd image; that doesn’t make it any the less true or valid.

The trouble with much that we’re over-familiar with is that we become inured to it. A clichéd rural scene just ends up being a tad boring. Becoming inured to child-molesting priests, bent policemen, greedy bankers, corrupt politicians, rapacious corporations and all the rest of it – that’s far, far more dangerous.

These might not be thoughts befitting a ride on the Ridgeway; they are thoughts appropriate to the truth about Hillsborough finally being officially acknowledged.

It’s interesting to ponder, too, whether you can become over-familiar with your own lot in life, no matter how good or otherwise that might be. Familiarity dulls; that is in itself something we’re inured to.

Nothing’s Wrong, Except Everything

I was cycling ‘up on the downs’ (a phrase that I’ll never tire of) today, with Charli. It was a lovely day – a warm clear day in England in September does tend to be far better than a mid-summer day; it can be hot but somehow fresher.

The path down from up on the downs

The path down from up on the downs

As you’d expect for the area (near Wantage), it’s all very ‘nice’. The average car’s on the new side; the typical house is a long way from cheap. There are plenty of horses in the fields and let’s face it, they’re purely luxuries. There was nothing ‘wrong’ with anything we saw at all – nothing, except everything.

Save The Children is having to start operations in the UK. I do not know how that can not be a screaming headline in every form of media. No, poverty’s not a simple problem to tackle. Yes, surely, there are problems to address in how society might and does try and tackle poverty.

But all that should, surely, pale into insignificance against the bald fact that Save the Children is starting work in the UK. That headline should be screamed until it is no longer true – until the problem is effectively tackled.

That anyone with any influence at all over the levers of power, the levers that could be being used to address the ludicrous, gross inequality of wealth distribution, can be failing to respond to that bald fact says pretty well everything you need to know about those with their hands on those levers.

As much as I’m a happy little cyclist mooching around the comfortable rural idylls of middle England, we need different people to operate the levers.