Sometimes when I go missing from writing any new blog entries for a while, it is because I am not feeling well. I am glad to report that this is not the case at the moment. In fact, I am feeling very well at the moment because I have been very active.
Having a puppy helps, there are demands Gwynnik makes of me during the day, of playing times, walking or beach-based ball and chase exercise times which also exercises me. You fellow dog owners know this, particularly when we meet another one or two dressed from head to toe in some soaking waterproofs with a howling wind making it difficult to actually keep your pet from flying like a kite. We nod to each other, silently saying “Look, I know we signed up for this when we got a dog as a pet but bloody hell, I’d rather be at home in front of a roaring fire right now”. But we are exercising whether (or indeed, weather) we like it or not.
All of which gives me an excuse to post a recent picture of Gwynnik on the blog. Guaranteed to get an “Awwww…”
Thank you, yes, she’s very pretty, for a demon. I’d imagine that I am experiencing and very much enjoying a version of what my children’s mother had; I was generally working while she was enjoying the youngsters growing up, getting used to the sleeping and eating routines, exploring their world with fun and innocent curiosity, experiencing the things that are ‘for the first time’ and trying to eat or at least chew everything, particularly slippers, socks and any dirty laundry items that happen to be on the floor of a bedroom.
That last one might be just dogs.
The other thing that has kept me active is a return to cycling. Now I know, from the figures of readership when there’s is an entry tagged with Cycling, and from looking at the subject matter of new followers blogs, (I do visit everyone who gives an article a ‘Like’ or becomes a ‘Follower’, a puppy-like curiosity obviously and some very interesting and enjoyable bloggers discovered) this talk about cycling is probably not what my readers now come here for, but it was why I originally started writing it and I’ve sort of wandered away and done lots of other things since. So I’ll do a full-on gallic shrug and have a rant anyway.
We are planning a cycling based holiday with some friends, and I hadn’t really addressed the issue of “but am I fit enough and can I actually cycle 50-80km a day for nearly three weeks now,” so I decided that I needed to get myself in training, to try to get in to the sort of shape that lets the feeling of the actual effort involved be easy and natural instead of nearly dying and wishing it all over already from the first day. There was a small matter of a kilo or five of the extra fats not used up during the long and cold hibernation season which might benefit from burning off too.
So I’ve managed to combine some static bike trainer riding into the dark and hooley days of March (translation for non-English English readers; hooley – a day in which the wind strength might result in portions of a garden shed appearing in your garden when you didn’t actually have a garden shed yourself to start with and rain is blown strong enough to threaten to bore through the glass of the windows it’s hitting… ) and have now, with the fairer weather, moved up to actually riding out in the sunny fresh air in the lanes.
It didn’t take long, my first ride of the season out and about, to receive some free advice from a passing supermarket delivery van driver. I was stopped for a glug of water, stood at the side of a junction with my bike where I had judged I could be out of the way of any vehicles. A van approached and indicated to turn in to the junction I was stopped at, there was plenty of room so I just continued my resting as it approached. As the driver made the manoeuvre a voice came from the wound down window as he passed.
Where’s yer helmet then mate? Gonna be a vegetable when you get knocked off aint’ya…
L’esprit de l’escalier comes into operation here, the intelligent, witty and cutting reply you come up with after some thought that you should have given at the time but it’s much too late for that now given the last words of his considered advice were fading into the diesel noise and fumes of his passing. This not being an option now then the perhaps rather unfair “Well, you’re not going to ever need one, you fat exercise-shy bastard…” actually muttered in the heat of the moment, to no one but myself, is not really considered or eloquent enough for a man of words, despite being reasonably accurate.
I really don’t know why the sight of a cyclist should elicit this sort of ‘helpfulness’. Being inside a van all day with the window wound down, stopping and carrying big crates of toilet roll and tinned tomatoes to houses before driving off again must give you some sort of valuable insight to add to a cyclists day, should you see one out enjoying themselves while exercising in the sun and fresh air.
Perhaps I am doing the van driver a discredit, perhaps he has spent all day in his cab listening to a factual audiobook made from all the papers and articles I myself have read about the most up to date actual science of cycle helmets and their effectiveness, before making a decision based on the available data and facts and therefore feeling he can offer his advice from a position of a strong scientific and evidence-based education.
Probably not though.
People who choose to cycle are always beset and pestered by people who choose not to, insisting we do our cycling as ‘safely’ as possible. Which largely seems to mean that we should do everything possible to not get ourselves killed or hurt by those people who are choosing not to cycle.
In this case then, it was my lack of a proper cyclist-uniform helmet on my head that offended him somehow. Instead, I had on what I always have on, a cap. That apparently made him think that it was me not taking responsibility for my own feeling of safety that was an issue, not that he should simply take more care and avoid driving over cyclists. He, as far as I could see, didn’t have a helmet on his head either, nor any hair.
I saw a tweet which made me smile ‘My rule: I will wear as much safety gear as a car driver or a train passenger has to wear. If I need more, then the roads need fixing, not me‘. To which I’ll add “and probably drivers need fixing too.”
It seems to me sometimes that the driving test is the only time that drivers feel they are being scrutinised closely for their knowledge, skill and behaviour at the wheel. Those teens learning to drive, that society berates for their attitude sometimes, are the only ones actually studying the Highway Code intently and trying to memorise it and then absolutely concentrating 100% whenever they are driving with their instructor.
Then, once they have their driving licence they are free to forget the Highway Code, can have nonsensical opinions about the conditions and other users on the roads based on hearsay, myth and fallacy and drive like a distracted idiot without fear of losing that licence.
That is their ‘right’ and they will tell you that they, unlike you cyclists, have earned it by doing six months proper, by-the-rules handbook driving first and passing one test to prove it. Even a Magistrate will rarely take a Driving Licence temporarily away again, even less often permanently, even if it’s so full of offence points you have to get an extra page on it to fit them all in and you have become demonstrably and gradually more incompetent over time.
So the comments underneath newspaper articles announcing yet another ‘driver education’ campaign – or indeed the campaign by the law enforcement agencies I recently re-blogged to tackle close-passing – are inevitably filled with brutal, victim-blaming, fallacy-spouting what-aboutery. All from people that originally drove everywhere with courtesy, within the speed limits signposted, indicated their direction of travel on and off roundabouts and at junctions studiously, knew how to park a car in a parking space and not on a pavement and possibly even what all the signs and markings in the Highway Code actually meant, in order to prove they were competent enough to be allowed to drive.
When I ride a bike, I choose not to wear a helmet, it is not mandatory so it’s a decision I can make for myself. I trust myself to ride the bicycle (despite the difficulties I have with balance without one) and all I want while on the road is for drivers to concentrate on what they are doing, not what they think I should be.
For further reading on cyclists and the possibility of making helmets mandatory, should you have a strong opinion yourself backed only by anecdote, feelings or ‘common sense’, I can provide two links to good sources of information. Firstly the Cycling UK In Depth report (from which they have a link to a PDF summarising all available studies) and then to a brilliant piece by helmet wearing writer Peter Walker for The Guardian.
Anyway, I’ve missed my cycling and am glad to be back in the saddle for spring and looking forward to our trip in Europe. I blogged about our last trip through France on a separate site, I haven’t decided yet whether to do that again or integrate it here, either way I’ll post the information here.