Sunday, 29 January 2012

Reclaim the Pavements

Two events came together in my mind last week, each concerning cyclists.

There were reports in the press of another  'reclaim the streets' gathering by cyclists seeking to draw attention to their concerns.  I have a measure of sympathy with them, not least because of the worrying number of fatalities in London and other cities.

But there is a danger in a mindset which decrees all cyclists 'good';  all drivers 'bad': demonising the majority --of careful, considerate drivers -- is patently unfair.  And it is naive to paint all cyclists as faultless victims.

Just as vehicle drivers must take on board a need for greater awareness of cycles, so cyclists need to recognise those behaviours which reflect badly on them or cause great frustration.

This was brought in to sharp focus for me this week.  I was walking in Glasgow's Bath Street at a point where wide pavement narrowed because of the basement railings and steps on my left; cars were parked on my right. I paused briefly to glance up at the numbers above doors.  Suddenly, a cyclist flew past me ... on the pavement.... at a speed which would have been questionable on a busy city street.  Having barely missed me, he swerved to avoid two other pedestrians and rode on.  He was a heavily built young man; had I stepped six inches to my left as I paused he would have hit me and the combination of his substantial body weight and the speed at which he was travelling would have led to my serious injury; you will understand that had he injured himself I would have had no sympathy for him.

I was very shocked; arriving at the tearoom I had been looking for, I know I must have seemed garbled and semi coherent.  As the shock faded, I felt increasingly angry. This is the closest I have been to serious injury for a very long time.  What if a baby or toddler in a buggy, or a frail elderly person had been walking where I had been?  When he had arrived at the traffic lights, did this selfish man choose to be a 'pedestrian' or 'vehicle' depending on what suited him best?  Any vehicle driver will have seen the cyclist who breaks the lights, drives the wrong way on the one way street. These are not rare occurrences.

I am fighting the urge to think of this man as the representative of all cyclists.  He is, no doubt,  as much of an embarrassment to decent cyclists as the speeding, exhaust-roaring, baseball cap wearing car driver and bullying white-van-man are to responsible motorists.

But the selfishness and arrogance of this one cyclist made me feel vulnerable and dented my confidence; and for that I cannot forgive him.  Sadly too, he has dulled my ear to the pleas of the cycling community.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Outing My Inner Meldrew

There is something about January that brings out my inner Meldrew!  I find my tolerance of the arrogant, the bullying, the silly, the mediocre, the unnecessary, is at its lowest ebb.  Given that one of my targets this year, as ever, is to be a better and more compassionate human being, I am acutely aware that such intolerance is going to be a problem.  Therefore, I have decided to air the issue.  Why keep secret one's serial grumps when one can spread the misery and act as a beacon for other Meldrews?

I have already started my grumping day on a relatively serious note by dashing off an email to Ruth Davidson, MSP and new leader of the infinitesimal Scottish Conservative and Unionist parliamentary flying wedge, drawing her attention to the bully-boy tactics of her shiny faced colleague the Prime Minister, with regard to who is 'the boss of us' , just in case she hadn't noticed his incursion.  There is an irony here, given that few physogs so invite a skelp as the smug visage of Scotland's First Minister, but by comparison with the man I call 'botoxboy', he has a lot to recommend him.

Thus limbered up, I am of a mind to rant on other topics as well.  Last week, just when I thought I had entirely detached from my former calling, I found myself rising to the bait of a bit of sloppy language.  An 'Advisor' I had never heard of to a Commission I have never heard of appeared to find that most Scottish schools are 'bog standard'.  Being in a position to know this is not true, I dashed off a quick rejoinder to that little bit of slapdashery!  No response yet: what a surprise!

One of my usual targets, the Met Office, is lying fairly low at the moment but I am alert to possible future opportunities.  It was also disconcerting to find that recently the Police seemed to abandon their much vaunted  " ...not to undertake a journey unless it is really necessary", which is incomprehensible as advice, in favour of the more useful "Stay off the bloody roads! They're all shut anyway!  And that's you tell't!" which presumably means that if your employer demands that you skid 25 miles to get to your snow-buried place of work, you can at least sue them should you or your vehicle suffer injury.

While I'm scanning the horizon for other prey, could I just draw attention to the fact that even when they are two years old and repeatedly washed, M & S's navy blue bath towels shed enough fluff to intimidate the dust in any self respecting bathroom, and that is in addition to the dust other people are somehow leaving around our house ... it can't all be ours!

Then there are the people who stand in groups in the middle of the swimming pool, having a conversation!  I accept the social function, but I'm fed up swerving round them when I'm puffing my way through my lengths; and that's before I encounter the single person who is doing breadths so as to maximise the irritation of all his fellow swimmers!

And what about 'recent research'?  Isn't it comforting to know that scientists, having spent millions in funding on their research, are now in a position to tell us that people who report themselves to be happy tend to smile more; that children who are never cuddled by their parents tend to do less well in their Higher exams; that some men are taller than some women; that starving in a developing country makes you less likely to watch reality TV.  If I hear one more po-faced stating of the blindingly obvious I will ..... well, I don't know what I'll actually do, but it won't be pretty!

I could go on for hours about the mining of January irritations and grumps, but I've decided the best way to deal with this is to get into the cage with the lion!  So I'm off now, to meet with three representatives of different replacement window companies to decide who gets the job of fitting four new windows for us!  Yippee!  What a source of Meldrewing material!  And if just one of them says "I just need to phone my Manager ....."!!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

In the Teeth of a Storm

A few weeks ago Scotland experienced a day of very strong gales which caused severe disruption and structural damage.  With immense good humour, we called the gales "Hurricane Bawbag" and posted very funny video footage of an escaped trampoline and of flying Greggs' bags.  It was the country's way of taking the "Smeato" approach to weather; a kind of "Here's tae us! Wha's like us? Damn few, an' they're a' deid!" attitude, applied to the wind and rain.

Today, the younger folk who thought there had never been a wind like that before;  who didn't remember the death toll of the 1968 hurricane, who thought only snow could stop us in our tracks, have discovered that December was just the practice run!

It is a frightening thing to be woken by the ever-louder howling of the wind; to hear the roof creak and groan and bounce as though ready to fly away; to hear thumps and crashes in the darkness as bins capsize and gates bang; to scan mentally for lantern torch, candles, matches and think how cold it will be if the heating goes off.

 The 76mph breezes of December are replaced by gusts of up to 100mph;  the ever-open Kingston Bridge closes in both directions as do the Forth, Tay, Erskine, Skye. Trees crash through cars; walls blow out.  On Facebook the word 'apocalyptic' surfaces through the storm.

BBC Radio Scotland gives over its daily phone-in programme to the weather situation and folk call in with tales of terrifying abandoned car journeys, closed roads, cancelled trains and power outages.  There is no humour this time, not yet.  In many of these voices there is real fear.

And then comes the call from a priest from Bridgeton who tells the programme's host that he has been 'praying hard' since 6.00 a.m. because he is in an old house and this feels like the end of the world!  At first it sounds like a hoax call, but perhaps not?  Then he announces that "as Christians, we believe" that this could be a sign of "God's anger"!  And he seems to be serious; the host shuffles him quickly off the line.

There are the usual criticisms of the government and the met office forecast;  who is to blame?  We seem to believe that someone could have prevented this.  Even with my snow phobia and resultant ongoing animosity towards the met. office, I can see that they were caught out by the sudden escalation in the ferocity of the wind. Most callers to the show also accept that.

As we wait for the winds to die down, I am left with the unsettling sensation that weather displays such as this carry a salutary message.  I may consider the priest ridiculous and abhor his citing of 'God's anger' ; I may remain sceptical of the excesses of the environmentalists' direst warnings.  But a primal fear is engendered by our inability to carry on with our hi-tech, urban, commuting, materialist lives in the face of a storm.  We can build walls and bridges and even storm barriers, but the wind will win.  We can sit on our beach mat and tweet across continents, but the tides will come and go.  We can travel miles to our 'plum' job everyday, but blizzard or flash flood will stop us.

We are very small.  We really do need to reflect on that. On a day like this, we don't even need Professor Cox to remind us of our place.