Nearly Killed

Let’s not mince words: today I was nearly hit by a Range Rover travelling at speed around a blind bend on a narrow lane. Range Rovers being as they are – high, square – it could easily have killed me. I heard and saw her/him before s/he was aware of me, took the few remaining inches of tarmac to the left and squeezed by – handlebars in the hedge; s/he swerved but too late to be of any use to me.

I could go on about moronic Range Rover drivers but that’s surely a tautology. I was riding in the Windsor area and, this being Ascot week, the roads were filled with the bloatocracy in those ‘top end’ vehicles that, everything aside, are just plain pug-ugly: the very expensive Mercs and BMWs; those hopeless Porsche 4WD efforts and, inevitably, lots of Range Rovers. The percentage of them that are driven badly is always far higher than other classes of vehicle, and that includes ‘white vans’. These are vehicles that can hold the rich and corpulent comfortably but have no other merits. Money doesn’t buy taste. As someone else said, if you want proof that God despises money, look at who he gives most of it to.

But anyway, I could rant on and on about all that but sod it – it would only blight my day and possibly yours too. So, instead, here’s a picture of some trees in summer – a quiet lane just perfect for cycling. If you ever find ‘Codgertation’ falls silent and it transpires I’ve been wiped out while cycling, find a way of planting a decent sized tree or two for me.

Beech trees in summer

Plant a tree for me

Biggles

A flat Berkshire ride, thirty-odd miles in the familiar region between Reading and Windsor, with a noticeable easterly wind blowing. Still, while it made for a noticeable headwind at times, it’s not ‘thick air’ yet so it wasn’t so bad.

Seeing the smoke from a fire near White Waltham made me think of Biggles. Yes, Biggles – in particular,the First World War stories. I am pretty sure that somewhere in those books the author (Capt. W.E. Johns) talks about judging wind speed by how long and how close smoke stays to the ground – which is pretty obvious when you think about it, but you have to think about it.

Now, I’ve not read those books for years and I can’t remember the plots of the stories or much else, which begs the question: why did that snippet about smoke come to mind today of all days? That in turn brings up questions about the degree to which you’re really in control of yourself, given that you are your brain. And that is intriguingly scary.

Smoke blowing low over a field

Capt. W.E. Johns says …

Invest? Pull The Other One

An artist’s impression of the future

An artist’s impression of the future

Another decent-length ride – 30+ miles largely in the territory between Henley and Windsor. It feels good to be riding properly again.

Nearer to Windsor, I ended up riding with a chap – as you do – who said he was out from west London. We chatted for a while – as you do; it turned out he was something I think quite senior in a commercial property company. He was on a very nice Pinarello, as in Campag Super Record equipped Pinarello. All sorts of people cycle.

Talk inevitably turned to pot-holes because there were so many we had to avoid, and that prompted my temporary companion to tell me that in the last few days he’d been ‘doing the whole buttering-up lark’ for some potential investors, what he called ‘high value low profile’ people, from India and China. I gathered that basically involved taking them on jollies and showing them the sights, Windsor, quaint old pubs and all that, as well as the more business-like stuff.

I’m not sure I’d be much good at that sort of work but it’s interesting to hear about it. What was particularly eye-opening, and depressing, and perhaps even chilling, was that he said –

  • after the touring around and what-have-you, the two people he’d been showing around from China had told him outright that they’d decided to not invest in Britain, not least because the infrastructure was so bad. In their view, so he said, if we cannot keep something as basic as our roads properly repaired, that says we are likely to be unable to do anything else well.
  • the person from India had said the same thing as the two from China about the roads, but had added to the equation that the amount of litter to be seen everywhere spoke volumes about how the British don’t even care for themselves and their own country; he thought with that attitude they were probably going to care even less about a foreign employer. And he said he was looking elsewhere instead too.

I said I can see their point of view and Mr Pinarello agreed. I said I didn’t know what anyone could do about it; he said in the Chinese view British politics was too corrupt and self-serving to be able to fix the problems, that he agreed with them and that he was planning to leave the country. He turned off and headed back towards London; I rode home, avoiding the pot-holes, passing fly-tipping and litter, wishing I knew where I could emigrate to.

Perceptions Of Cycling: Question Everything

After a sopping wet night there’s something ‘oo eck missus’ delightful about riding along a road surrounded by full-to-the-brim water courses. The lane leading to Sandford Mill was only just above the rising Loddon and all the lakes and channels around there.

Afer the rain of yesterday, today was a gorgeous day for cycling – just the right temperature, no strong wind and for the most part a classic English blue-sky-with-a-few-fluffy-white-clouds.

I spent a lot of the 40-odd miles in the territory between Reading and Windsor thinking about the issue of ‘who’s the victim’ that I started musing on after the last ride. As soon as you start unpicking things, things always get complicated.

Necessary complication isn’t inherently bad. Perhaps the best thing you can realise is the need to question.

I’d say it’s wrong to paint a picture of cyclists as actual or potential victims – vulnerable and ‘at risk’ whenever they’re out. There are millions of miles cycled without incident. There are millions of bike-car interactions that pass off perfectly happily. It’s easy to believe that ‘it’s very dangerous’ view of cycling, to feel it as a rider and to repeat it, but it’s wrong.

Once you start questioning the idea of who is the victim, then you quickly (should) start asking other questions too. Where does this perception come from? Is it in anyone’s interests to promote that perception? (When questioning interests, it’s always a good policy to ‘follow the money’ – i.e. think about who might gain financially.) Where did the perception originate and who is spreading it? Who’s influencing who’s spreading it?

And so on.

You have to be wary of your own questions and your own conclusions – they all need to be questioned too. (Developing into someone who sees a conspiracy in everything won’t do you or anyone else any favours.)

Ultimately, the question becomes: how many questions should you ask?

And the answer to that one should be: until you’re your own person, making up your own mind on the basis of verifiable evidence. And if we all did that, we’d end up with a very different and I dare say far happier society.

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.

Dogs Being Wagged

I presume because of the wind direction, there were relatively few aircraft flying over East Berkshire today, as I pootled around the lanes between Reading and Windsor. It makes a difference: the resulting quietness is something to savour.

I was especially mindful of it because some Tories have been calling for a third runway to be built at Heathrow**. The focus of the talk is about how it can be done without upsetting regulations about CO2, and about how it will do wonders for trade.

Leaving aside climate change, no-one mentions the people who’d be further blighted by increased air traffic – all those who live under the flight paths. There’s no attempt – by any politician of any note of any hue – to evaluate human happiness. There are assumptions that economic growth is good when, patently, endless growth in a world of finite resources is impossible and we should probably be trying to organise society to contract. There are assumptions around trade, earnings and wealth that are at best untested and certainly aren’t put out to public examination, and in fact they’re being made in a context where we’re increasingly aware that the things we buy don’t buy us happiness.

(Yes, minimum standards that come with a degree of wealth are needed, sure, but if there was anything even nudging toward a fair distribution of wealth in the West and perhaps even globally, they’re achievable.)

And so it was that the obvious struck me: the tail is wagging the dog. The only point of work, of trade, of wealth and all the rest of it is if it brings benefits. Get to the point where it doesn’t, and it all needs re-evaluating. There’s a lot that says we’re at the point where a lot of work is pointless and we need to re-order society to put work in its rightful place – there, but in the service of life, not dominating it.

We’re not put on the planet to work. That’s just a myth put about, very persuasively, by those who ‘gain’ the most from that work. Quite possibly the most bitter irony is that there’s plenty of evidence that suggests those ‘gaining’ from all this work aren’t happy either, despite – or perhaps because of – their greed and riches. It’s lose-lose. It’s a funny old world, but no-ones laughing.

An aircraft overhead: shattering the peace or in pursuit of our greater good?

An aircraft overhead: shattering the peace or in pursuit of our greater good?

** Telegraph report on calls for a 3rd runway