Cyclists: Saving A Loved One’s Life

Yesterday, I watched an ambulance, blues lights flashing, struggle to get through heavy traffic in central Reading. I don’t know what emergency they were hurrying to: a heart attack perhaps. Quite possibly, seconds and minutes lost on the over-crowded roads will have made a difference to whoever they were trying to get to.

If more people were cycling, there would be less traffic. Ambulances would be able to get to emergencies a lot more quickly.

If you’re not the person in need of the ambulance, it might be someone you know – relative, friend, loved-one.

And if you cycle yourself, you will be healthier than if you don’t. You’ll probably be less likely to have a heart attack.

So, why not cycle whenever you can? And whether you’re cycling or not, why not always look upon every cyclist you come across as a good thing, making the roads that little bit less congested, and ambulances that little bit more able to come quickly to the help of someone you care about? You’d have to be daft not to.

Some things are just so starkly simple … it seems faintly ludicrous that you have to say them.

Soundscapes (The Sequel)

A ride around the major and minor roads between Reading and Windsor, mindful of yesterday’s musings about the sounds that are around us.

Quite possibly, we’re not that conscious of our aural world because to be so is not that enjoyable. Good grief, we have made ourselves a noisy environment.

Stop and stand by some traffic lights on a busy road and just listen: the discordant racket is appalling. This hit me while waiting at the lights in Sonning; why anyone would want to pay top-dollar to live there defeats me. I guess money doesn’t buy sense.

Listening out to the background noise riding around today, and the M4 pollutes with far more than just exhaust fumes: it’s audible for miles. The wind was an south-westerly today so Heathrow’s flight paths are all directly over London (like that’s a good idea); nevertheless light aircraft coming in to White Waltham aren’t exactly stealthy, and there was a smattering of helicopters making a din too.

Of course we – as a society – could act to mitigate all this. Roads surfaces can be quieter; roads – especially motorways and similar trunk roads – could be tree-lined; airports could be built so their approaches are over the sea and so on. You could require motor manufacturers to fit narrower tyres – low profile wide tyres kick up far more noise. (The argument that they’re safer is, of course, rubbish – they enable cars to go faster and faster isn’t safer.) None of this will happen.
That none of this will happen is a reflection of how our society values the quality of the lives of its citizens. These are choices being made by human beings.

Because of those choices, that we seem to be able, at least to some extent, to blank out the soundscapes of our lives is probably a good thing. That said, it does mean we tolerate what we should not have to tolerate.

A Worthwhile Legacy

There are enough words written already about the London Olympics and, now, about the ‘Olympic Legacy’. I’ll try and keep my bit brief.

As a nation we’re proving very good at cycling; I’ve heard punters on television talk about this being a great time for cycling and cyclists. When riding today, what I wanted to hear about is a legacy goal that would be meaningful for all cyclists whatever their motivation, age or ability. I wanted to hear of someone taking up the cudgels for applying a decent national standard to road repairs and maintenance.

Reality? Reality is that no-one will take up that fight because it’s not glamorous. The cretinocracy we live in has promoted ‘leaders’ who only do ‘sexy’. The chance of anyone high profile, with power, fighting for something as basic as a decent standard of road mending is nigh on impossible. It is easier to imagine little Martians cleaning the lens of the camera on the Curiosity Mars rover than it is Lord Coe using the momentum of the games and his new role as ‘legacy ambassador’ (whatever that might be) to achieve something meaningful, that will help people other than elite athletes.

Away from the glitz, what’s happening is depressingly criminal in the amount of money being wasted. Councils, private contractors and anyone else with the power/responsibility to dig up and/or mend roads need to be held to account. It is that simple.

Out today, thinking this, I stopped along a lane and took some pictures (below). I didn’t have to hunt to find examples – this was just where I happened to think of taking photos. Looking at them now, here are a few draft regulations, made up as I write:

  • The surface of any road works must be within 5mm of the adjacent road surface, measured six weeks after the repair was carried out to let it settle.
  • The edges of any road works must be sealed with a liquid tar to make it waterproof.
  • The practice of smearing tar and stones over a road surface without it having been properly mended first must end.
  • There needs to be a national standard of road repair, not a council-by-council patchwork of varying quality.
  • Whatever the minimum size hole currently is (bigger than which they have to repair it) needs to be reassessed so that it reflects the needs of cyclists.

And so on and so on and so on. As it is, a depressingly high proportion of those responsible for digging up/mending the roads are trashing the national infrastructure and getting away with it.

It’s not an argument about cycling that has to happen. This could be about the health of the nation. If that’s not good enough, then focus instead on the need to safeguard future generations by reducing greenhouse gasses. If that doesn’t ring your bell, then try the cost-savings to industry by reducing congestion by dint of having more cyclists and fewer cars. Or reducing costs to industry by having healthier workers. Or reducing the costs of local government by having more cyclists and fewer vehicles on the road and thus less wear-and-tear on the roads themselves. And so on and so on and so on.

For funding all this, the lesson from HS1* should be applied to HS2** and the plug pulled on the latter now – before the pockets of any more lawyers, consultants or other leeches are lined. Everything else aside, more people would benefit from diverting the money to decent national road surfaces than will ever gain from the HS2 new rail link, even if the forecasting isn’t blindly optimistic.

Roads. Ugh. How boring. It’s all so worthy and dull. What’s daft is that if a big league politician took up that fight for real and delivered on it, they and their party would win more votes than they can possibly imagine. They’d also be doing real good for real people.

But as we all know, politicians with brains, bottle or vision are in horribly short supply. Politicians in the pockets of the road transport lobby or the oil industry or any other of the big hitters in the current status quo … they’re two a penny.

Please, someone, prove me wrong.


The same problem in the road, mended four times.

This is the same problem mended (at least) four times. The joins aren’t sealed so it will be a falling apart again shortly. You might as well just burn a few hundred quid – perhaps have a ceremony on market days in town centres: “Look, this is how much we’re wasting this week”. Whoever’s doing the mending must struggle to not laugh all the way to the bank.

A fresh hole in a road at the site of an old problem

A new hole appearing along the line of a previous mend. The sun comes up. The sun goes down. The previous mend wasn’t sealed so water gets in. A new hole appears. Heaven forfend that someone might do a job properly.

Smearing tar and gravel on a road achieves nothing for any road user

Take a road in need of repair. Don’t bother to repair it, just waste a load of public money smearing tar and gravel over it. It won’t last a few months. It will be difficult to cycle on and it will mask problem holes, thus making it dangerous too. It won’t even be safe for motorists as that sort of surface offers poor traction. Never mind, some quota’s been filled, some box ticked, some bonus earned somewhere.


Riding around the Winkfield Row, Maiden’s Green area, getting towards Windsor, there are plenty of houses that you can readily imagine belong to city types – obviously expensive, near to London, ‘nice’ area. Fine, it makes for a decent area to cycle around too – during weekday daytimes it’s amazingly quiet.

What it made me wonder about though, was about the character types of the people who own them.

The media are making a thing at the moment about emails purportedly written by Syrian President Assad and his wife which, if they’re true, seem to demonstrate very well callousness and gross self-indulgence on the part of the pair of them. In a nutshell, she’s shopping for shoes at nearly £4,000 a pair while their country seems to be sliding towards civil war. This is a woman Vogue once called the ‘freshest and most magnetic of first ladies’; Paris Match said she was a ‘ray of light’. In general the West seems to have liked to think of her as a reformer because she grew up in Acton and worked as an investment banker for JP Morgan.

What I found myself considering was whether, in fact, her career as an investment banker might instead suggest that she’s now acting true to type. I can’t think of anything about anything connected with the absolutely phenomenal bail-out of the banking industry that has brought to light any meaningful contrition on the part of bankers or has shown them to be concerned, socially aware and community-minded citizens. I can’t help but suspect President Assad’s wife is merely acting true to character, and that if there had been a clearer evaluation of the character seemingly needed to be a banker, there wouldn’t have been any false hopes about her. Nor would so much trust have been placed in bankers.

I’m not saying the character type is inherently bad. Maybe it’s needed in that professional role. All I’m saying is that that character type probably doesn’t lend itself to issues of social justice and reform, and it may well be naive to think otherwise.

And talking of types, I fail to understand why Councils employ staff who are the type of person to spend money on so-called anti-skid road surfaces when a short drive around pretty well any locale will find any number of instances where these surfaces have deteriorated to leave a pitted, pot-holed road that results in less traction for motorists and thus more danger for all road users. The net result is that they’re spending money and doing their constituents no favours. At the same time, they’re closing services like libraries on the grounds of saving money, which is also doing their constituents no favours. It makes no sense.

Neither Left Nor Right

A circumnavigation of Reading – Goring Heath, Pangbourne, Theale, Three Mile Cross, Aborfield, Twyford, Caversham – takes in roads controlled by both Tory and Labour controlled councils. The roads repaired by Wokingham (Tory) are generally pretty well done. Those looked after by Reading (Labour) will be patched but badly – most of the potholes are in fact old potholes, needing repair again. Those looked after by South Oxfordshire (Tory) are often simply not repaired, year after year, and if they are then they’ll be done badly. To be fair, this seems to be particularly true if it’s a minor road; South Oxfordshire will sometimes properly mend bits of more major roads.

Is cycling something for the common man? It used to be a working class sport, perhaps, but nowadays that’s probably not so strongly the case. Anyway, I’m not just thinking about the sporting side of it – there’s the utility aspect too. On that front it’s going to be fair to say a lot of those either riding more or riding for the first time, out of necessity, are those the recession is hurting the most, but that’s not strictly a class thing either. I can think of friends you’d certainly call middle class who are struggling to make the family budget add up.

I know this is fairly flimsy. What I was trying to grope towards as I was riding around is some kind of conclusion about the Left and Right. Would it be fair to assume a Labour council would be more cycling friendly than a Tory one? I think that’s tempting but it’s not true on the ground if you’re riding around Wokingham’s roads after experiencing Reading’s ruts. But the South Oxfordshire experience will quickly disabuse you of any pro-Tory notions.

In the end what that silly little example perhaps helps demonstrate is that notions of Left and Right, if they ever did mean anything in any consistent way, are now completely invalid. There are far better examples: the way both ‘sides’ are so happy to go to war in the service of oil; the way both ‘sides’ are so deeply entwined with the rich, the way both sides are so happy to betray their supporters.

As always these days, now we understand better the role of the media in life, it’s not enough to reject the old divisions, the old ideologies. It’s also necessary to reject their messengers, their propagandists. Lord Haw Haw was hung for a reason.

Rejection isn’t enough though. That’s just negative, and that will get you nowhere. Everything needs reassessing by a different light. We need new positives.

It Didn’t Just Happen

Riding along what I call Harpsden Bottom today, in fact on the lower stretch of road between Perseverance Hill and Chalk Hill, three horses looked for all the world like three wise judges passing verdict on me as I rode by. They were perfectly lined-up in near identical poses; it has to have been by chance but – stupidly – it’s somehow more pleasing to imagine it was deliberate. Why such an unlikely incident of chance shouldn’t be as pleasing is a failing.

Something ‘just happening’ is how South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) would like us to believe the roads come to be in the state they’re in. I saw a road sign today that I’d never seen before: ”Failed Road”. It isn’t, therefore, closed. It’s not restricted. It’s just “Failed”.

Firstly, there are plenty of worse roads than that one (Blackmore Lane, Sonning Common) within their jurisdiction; I presume they feel they can get away with labelling this one as such because it’s so minor.

Secondly, it did not just fail. Roads need to be maintained. Roads fail when they are not maintained. It is that simple. The sign should read: “Road Users Failed By The Council”, or “The Council Has Failed To Maintain This Road”, or similar.

Would that there could be such honesty.

Instead, we get this passive “Failed Road” sign, as if it somehow just happened, with no human being responsible. SODC aren’t alone among councils in this sort of approach. Councils aren’t alone in society in this sort of approach. It’s like a pox that’s spread far and wide, first among the leaders then amongst the led. The people we have allowed to assume any kind of authority welcome every opportunity to take the rewards without any responsibility. The people who are victims of this callow, venal class have fallen for the lie and are all too happy to apply it to their own existences.