Back in the Saddle

Well! Forgive me dear readers but it’s been 7 months since my last confession.

I’ll cut a long story short; My father was diagnosed with Cancer of the throat, I was made redundant and my marriage decided to implode, made more heart breaking by the fact that we have a 3 year old son. I’ve had better starts to a year, I’ll be honest with you.

However, my father, after extensive surgery and radiology has been given an all clear, I have a new job in a freelance capacity meaning I can also write about what I like and get paid for it (if people like it of course) and everything else is as amicable as its ever been – from buildings 12 miles apart, but hey, every cloud and all that.

Anyway, it’s always reassuring to come back to the wild and wacky world of cycle campaigning after what feels like a long yet fitful doze and notice that everything and nothing has happened at the same time.

Firstly the everything – During the last few months I realised that I could not give The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (which I founded and Chaired) anything like the full attention it needed or deserved so with great regret I stood down at the last AGM. The new Chair is a very capable pair of hands called Mark Treasure, who also writes the sublime As Easy As Riding A Bike so things are trundling along ever onwards and upwards for the only cycling organisation that represents the bicycle as transport in Britain and would like it provided for in terms of subjective and sustainable safety based on examples of proven success such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

Now the nothing – I’d like to start, if I may, with a sermon which I think sums up  British cycle campaigning quite well

Asking for Crumbs

(Adapted for this blog with a combination of red wine and snacks from the Book of Matthew 15:21-28)

There once was a British girl that was in great trouble. Evil thoughts filled her mind about her cycle to school or to friends laid waste by the devil in the form of plagues of cars and lorries which made her life so dark and miserable that her mother didn’t know what to do with her. So the poor woman went searching for help, but all was in vain. No one could cure a devil-possessed girl.

One day she heard of Patrick, a healer from Westminster that was coming through their area. But could this man help her daughter? Was there any power stronger than the devil? “Oh, yes! He has such power that he can even cast out devils,” someone said.

“I must speak to him,” the mother decided. “This man’s power must be the greatest there is.” She left her house and quickly joined the crowds that followed the healer. “They call him the Son of David [Cameron] and a prophet of God. He is an important man, but surely he will show mercy to my poor daughter,” she told herself. But no matter how earnestly she cried after him, Patrick never answered her at all. What a terrible disappointment!

“I can’t give up now,” the poor mother said to herself. “If I have to beg all day, I will, because he is my only hope.” As she pressed in closer, she could hear the man’s followers complaining about the racket she was making. What did Patrick tell them? It didn’t matter, because now she was close enough to kneel before him. “Lord, help me,” she prayed, looking up at the one who had the power to make her daughter well.

His answer seemed quite rude. “It’s not right for me to throw the children’s bread to the dogs,” he said. She knew what he meant. He had more worthy people than her to help. She just wanted her daughter to cycle, and he was a man of God.

“That is true, Lord,” she said, humbly, “but even dogs eat crumbs that fall off of their masters’ table.” It was all she could really ask for. But she wanted those crumbs.

Suddenly a smile broke across Patrick’s face. “O woman, you have great faith,” he said. “You shall have what you want.” Her daughter made well and happy? Tears of joy filled the mother’s eyes as she thanked him and hurried home. She arrived home to find the symbol of the bicycle painted on the pavement. ‘Crumbs’ thought the woman…

If you ask for crumbs, you get exactly what we’ve ended up with now; Barely a mention in the Chancellors Spending Review and piecemeal funding. Again. The Government always likes to announce the money spent on cycling as a Big Headline Figure because it not only sounds impressive but it also comes with the air of ‘and you should be bloody grateful for that’.

Christ-on-a-Bike

This never happened
(Christ on a Bike by Alan Macdonald – click the picture to visit the Kilmorack Gallery Website)

However, it is only when the numbers are crunched that the realisation reappears that; funding for cycling is a perpetual ‘limited time offer’ and that funding is cast out to local authorities and designers with no masterplan, quality design standards and barely any comprehension of what a bicycle feels like combined with their political masters 1980′s belief that more cars means more prosperity to their areas. From experience, as far as Surrey and West Sussex County Councils are concerned, asking them to act as custodians of any cycling budget or strategy is like asking McDonalds to look after your cow. This results in yet more cycle infrastructure that can only make sense on a combination of LSD and White Lightning.

A headline figure also conveniently means not having to compare it to the transport budget. It’s a very neat parlour trick as it allows Government to portray the South Downs as mountainous whilst making Snowdonia disappear from our minds.

snowdonia2

Snowdonia: Move along. Don’t let the scale give you any ideas.

I believe there needs to be a coherent Bicycle Masterplan (a bit like friends of ours elsewhere), there needs to be a systematic review of what design standards we have (as some of them aren’t bad at all) and there needs to be a systemic review on how the bicycle is dealt with at national Government level. In particular, an acceptance, however grudging from the Department for Transport that the bicycle is actually quite a useful mode of transport. Then, and only then, can a commitment to secure, long term funding and strategy be found as the bicycle is released from sports/recreation duties and make a welcome return to serving the people.

It’s always difficult trying to write a blog post after returning from the wilderness so sincere apologies for the scattergun or ranty approach. There have been some positive signs in Britain too which I shall be affording the courtesy of more time  in subsequent posts. Sadly, I think I have all the time in the world to get back in the swing of things.

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