Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Column, May 13, 2008

IT’S a good job we’ve got the mountains.
Because when the globally-warmed waves, swollen by the molten ice-caps, come lapping at our ankles, we will at least have somewhere to retreat to as civilisation crumbles around us.
I know we don’t always see eye to eye with our English neighbours, but watching them slowly become and archipelago seems a slightly extreme way of settling our differences.
But why should the Welsh blame themselves for these impending ecological disasters?
Well, it might have something to do with the latest figures to be released by the Office for National Statistics, which looked at just how ‘green’ we were all being.
Here we are in Wales, a nation criss-crossed by quiet country lanes with barely a motorway worthy of the name in the entire country, and just how many miles, on average, do you think we cycle?
I’ll tell you – just 20.
The only people who cycle less then us are those who live in the West Midlands, But at least they have the excuse of the fact that pretty much every road in their neck of the woods is a motorway.
Of course, you could argue that Wales being, well, a bit on the hilly side, is somewhat offputting for the would-be cyclist. And that argument might hold water just long enough for you to see that the Scots, with more and higher mountains, cycle more than we do.
Safety then, that’s the reason, it’s simply not safe to cycle, it’s madness out there, you’re taking your life in your hands just putting on your bicycle clips.
Again, that sounds convincing until you notice that the residents of London, smoggy, traffic-choked, barbaric London, beats us as well, where people cycle an average of more than 50 miles a year.
Personally, I think we’ve got it into our heads that cycling isn’t safe. And in some circumstances that’s right. The increase in traffic has made many major A-roads simply unpleasant to be on because of the volume and speed of traffic and the pollution that comes with it.
But that doesn’t mean we should abandon bikes altogether. With a little thought alternate routes can be found away from heavy traffic and as long as you keep your wits about you cycling is not the white-knuckle danger some imagine it to be.
But in a way it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – the fewer of us there are on the roads, the less prepared drivers are to cope with us. This when confronted with a cyclist drivers either tail you for miles, nervous of passing you lest you get sucked beneath their wheels; or else they are oblivious to you and pass you at 70 with millimetres to spare.
This is the ethos of the Critical Mass movement which forces drivers to acknowledge the existence of cyclists by arranging demos involving such huge numbers they outnumber the motorists.
By penning cyclists into cycle lanes and traffic-free cycle paths it all looks very safe, but it is counterproductive if it gives drivers a giddy fit when they see someone on two wheels.
The other figures that make for depressing reading from the ONS are those for the percentage of children who travel to school by car. Once again Wales tops the league, but not in a good way, with 38% of our children travelling to school this way.
I know we have managed to convince ourselves that there are predatory paedophiles lurking on every street corner and that our children walking or cycling to school is an unacceptable risk (despite the fact that the number or children killed by paedophiles every year remains an unacceptable five, while the number of children killed by their parents remains an even more unacceptable 100, so you do the math as to who is a greater risk to your child).
This is yet another reason not to close village schools, as if there weren’t enough already. But closing village schools and opening super-schools will only result in more children being ferried by mum and dad taxi service.
Mark my words, in a few weeks we’ll get another set of figures telling us how fat and indolent our children have become and we’ll wail and gnash and send them to after-school clubs to try to shed the pounds and then pitch up at the school gate in the Chelsea tractor to ferry them home to their video games and wonder where it all went wrong.

THOSE of you with long memories and an enthusiasm for chapel on a Sunday may remember my comments some time ago about Cliff Richard and the monster he released in our midst when he set the Lord’s Prayer to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.
I wasn’t a fan, but the many, many people who took the trouble to write in clearly were. I didn’t like Cliff’s evangelising, they clearly did, and my can they put pen to paper when they feel the need.
So of all the people you’d guess you would find in church, leading the singing, I don’t think I would be top of your list. It doesn’t stop there though, I was playing guitar, and, as we were heading to the beach straight afterward…wearing sandals. I admit, I could have grown a beard for the occasion just to complete the stereotype, but there are some lines which cannot be crossed.
Quite how I ended up there has something to do with living in a small village tended by a persuasive vicar, and being the only guitarist available. There may have been a brief moment of temptation when I could have given them a rendition of AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells, or Van Halen’s Runnin’ With The Devil, but was persuaded instead to gently strum along to ‘One More Step Along The World I Go’.
Still, no bolts of lightning descended to despatch me into the great hereafter, which shows that should the Lord indeed exist, he has a well-developed sense of irony.

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