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

Gender Equality Made Real

A cold and fairly strong south-easterly wind, but the sun was out and it was warmer than it’s been most days of late so a ride was simply irresistible. It was enjoyable enough but, that said, riding now is ample proof that time on a turbo-trainer over winter is no substitute for the real thing. Anyway …

As we all know, the cliché of the bloke in the vehicle, picking his nose seemingly oblivious to the world’s gaze, is all too real. Today I couldn’t help but register a woman (middle aged, in a green Peugeot, approaching a roundabout joining the A4) doing just the same, and with some gusto.

With that experience fresh in mind, near Wargrave I was witness to a woman in a “onesie”. Some might say that’s bad enough, but this was no ordinary adult romper-suit-by-another-name, strictly to be worn in private. Oh no, this was a very bold all-over-print Union Jack onesie … and she was wearing it outside.
Yer average bloke is supposedly oblivious to his fashion faux pas. Women, on the other hand, always were supposed to be far more self-aware than dumb ol’ men. Times, it seems, have changed.
For better or worse, one suspects this is all evidence of gender equality as it transpires in the ugly real world.

There are times when you have a camera to hand and get the photo you want; times when you have a camera but miss the moment. There are times when you wish you had a camera but haven’t brought one along. And there are times when you don’t have a camera with you nor wish that you did.

Noticing Smells; Appreciating Drivers

Making the most of it – another reasonable road ride before the weather takes a turn for the worse, from tomorrow onwards. For no conscious reason, I was noticing the smells.

  • A faint odour of sewage as I neared Sonning – not as bad as it has been, but there.
  • The distinct smell of stagnant water, also near Sonning, as the floods recede, and again near Remenham church.
  • The stench of diesel from a bus on the road to Wargrave. As I understand it, the only reason for an engine to belch diesel smog is through poor maintenance. That seems likely – cutting maintenance costs would please accountants, and they run the world for short-term gain these days.
  • A nose full of two-stroke from somewhere, something, along the A4.
  • An unpleasant, thick, over-strong fug of cooking fumes being churned out of the fans on the side of The Little Angel, on the corner of Remenham Lane. You really wouldn’t want to live near that.
  • The unmistakable smell of cigarette smoke coming from an open car window – the car stuck in the normal queue to get in to Henley. It is surprising how rarely you smell cigarettes these days. As for seeing or smelling a pipe or cigar – I can’t remember the last time I’ve come across either in use in public.
  • And, several times, a faint smell of gas. I don’t know if each whiff is a leak that I should be reporting. It seems unlikely: it happens so often on a cold day.

There was also the distinct sense of cold air but that’s more a nasal sensation than an odour.

Now, I know my sense of smell isn’t great – too many years of being a smoker myself, and too many years stuffing sinus ‘cures’ up my nose – but what is, perhaps, most surprising about modern life is how few smells there are. Over the course of the entire ride there were those instances but otherwise, nothing.

I couldn’t find a way to photograph today’s smells, so here’s a clichéd image of someone holding their nose.

I couldn’t find a way to photograph today’s smells, so here’s a clichéd image of someone holding their nose.

And talking of specific instances … Over and above all the perfectly appropriate interactions with traffic – which must number in the hundreds over a ride – three incidents stand out.

A chap driving a ‘Volume/Print Ain’t Dead’ van gave me all the slack I needed to safely negotiate the huge pot-hole craters along the road to Sonning. A lady driving a blue ‘people carrier’ type of vehicle also gave me lots of room along the narrow lane up near Crazies Hill, and an unbranded blue-grey bus hung well back so as to not hassle me as I had to wait to turn, just outside of Henley.

These are people going out of their way to make my life as a cyclist easier – it’s appreciated and I often think it needs mentioning specifically. Too many cyclists are too quick to moan about bad driving but they never mention the opposite; they also all too rarely mention bad cycling.

Sloppy Journalism, Death And Cowardice

A largely sunny day and the drear of the weekend’s quickly banished. The brightness overcomes the cold.

Cat sunning itself on a car

A sunny day has to be made the most of.

Today’s was a flat ride taking in Sonning, Wargrave, the Walthams, Hurst and Sandford. It was all pleasant enough though everywhere’s sodden and a few ditches are overflowing onto the lanes. I was thinking about what the area would be like to visit and concluded it would be fine to pass through but you probably couldn’t justify stopping. It’s a bit feature-less; you need to get north of the Thames before it starts to be more routinely picturesque.

I guess because of the wind direction, the planes for Heathrow were loud overhead today. I’m lucky to live to the west of the airport; the prevailing wind is from the south-west and so for the most part the planes are across to the east, wrecking the lives of Londoners.

The misery caused by that racket, day-in and day-out, is rarely mentioned when they talk about expanding Heathrow; it must be one heck of a blight on the lives of anyone living much closer to it than Reading; it can be bad here on the wrong day.

The BBC web site managed to report 34% of tourism chiefs (whoever they are) being in favour of expanding the airport as “Tourism chiefs back Heathrow expansion, poll claims”. If that’s the case then presumably if 66% of Americans vote for Obama in the US election that’s underway now, the BBC will report it as “Americans back Romney for President”.

What’s genuinely grim is that the utterly dismal quality of the journalism isn’t remarked on. People will go away with the headline in their minds and nothing else. It would be helpful, too, if that ‘build another runway’ opinion was put in context. Just the other day the BBC also reported that expanding Heathrow will lead to numerous extra deaths from pollution.

Yes, that’s a speculative conclusion but so’s the optimism of ‘tourism chiefs’ that a third runway will bring benefits.

What we need are journalists willing to ask ‘tourism chiefs’ to justify their stance in relation to those deaths. You could – perhaps – respect the voice of a ‘tourism chief’ if he or she were willing to say ‘yes, I know I’m backing the premature deaths of innocent people, but I think it’s worth it, and I’m willing to meet the families and loved ones of those who die and tell them so personally.” One rather suspects that cowardice will prevail – unchallenged. Such is how we chose to live.

Being Happy With Crumbs

The sky remains threatening, though there are small patches of blue. The ground is saturated, roadside ditches are full and there’s plenty of standing water where there shouldn’t be. It’s not very warm. The air’s quite thick. It’s nothing like July should be.

Meanwhile … people everywhere today were – I am sure – downright chirpy. The numerous cyclists were cheery, the walkers waved, motorists were merry and horse riders were happy. Sonning – Woodley – Hurst – Twyford – Wargrave – Henley was a route lined with people cutting grass, trimming hedges, doing a bit of weeding, a spot of digging. A school fundraising sale was heaving. A riverside ice cream kiosk was doing a brisk trade.

The swamps of Central Berkshire, nowhere near a river.

The swamps of Central Berkshire, nowhere near a river.

It’s a lesson in human nature. The weather’s been dismal for weeks and is set to continue to be as bad. This is a one-day break in it, a brief respite, and we’re all out there grabbing the opportunity, making the most of it and, most importantly, actively enjoying it, even though it’s not a particularly nice day by any regular measure of a summer’s day.

We, humans, are very good at adjusting, at being grateful for small mercies, at picking up crumbs of comfort. We become accustomed to a situation and then are pleased whenever it’s not as bad as we’ve become accustomed to. It’s what allows humans to survive when they’re in extreme circumstances.

It occurs to me, that’s also how the rich can continue: as long as the system doles out a few crumbs of comfort to the masses, it’s human nature to just get used to iniquities and be happy with the crumbs. It occurs to me to wonder how long governments can continue to maintain this system on behalf of the rich – the crumbs are getting harder to give as the rich fail to see they need to pay enough to maintain that status quo, as their greed overtakes any sense of self-preservation.

It occurs to me, too, that the very, very rich operate the same ‘crumbs’ approach when reeling-in politicians. It’s easy for billionaires to butter-up actual and wannabe millionaires, the graspers who make up our political class.

Wrong Again?

Today, somewhere in the Wargrave – Crazies Hill area, I rode by a dead deer on the verge – quite large, with antlers, looking remarkably intact.

A badger in a garden at night

Badger in my garden

Last night, by hanging out of my bedroom window, holding a torch with one hand and a camera in the other, I managed to get a picture of a badger in my garden, happily stuffing his face with bird food.

I often hear foxes at night but that should be no surprise as the urban fox is finding life very easy.

I sometimes see muntjac and occasionally bigger (live) deer. Otherwise, the rare sighting of a vole or something similar aside, that’s about it for wild animals. Hedgehogs have disappeared, I’ve heard it said because of climate change. Every other mammal you see is farmed or kept. Riding off-road, riding ‘away from it all’ on the Ridgeway or into deeper country closer to the Thames Valley doesn’t change that at all.

If you stop and think about it, that all suggests there are very few wild mammals.

The BBC has carried a report about how little – yes, little – of England is urban. The final reckoning is 2.27% percent. When I asked friends to guess, the figures they picked were all massively higher – from 40% upwards. I’m wondering if my impression of how few wild mammals there are is similarly wrong. Sometimes, being wrong can be good.

BBC item on the extent of urbanization in the UK