Monday, 3 December 2018

BREXIT - no rhyme or reason


BREXIT: no rhyme or reason

Will Pak Choi from Morocco no longer be in the shops if Britain quits the European Union with no deal on March 29, kissing goodbye to the Customs Union?

Will there no longer be any bananas on the shelves, that staple of British diet, that nutritious fruit from Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil?

We’re told that up 40 percent of food stuffs from abroad may no longer be available.

Not to mention medicines. This is serious.

There can be no rhyme or reason for any of this. But it’s on the cards!

And what about our sport, our pastime of cycling? A hobby for most, important livelihood for many.

Will there be complications with trading, effecting supplies of Campag from Italy and Shimano from Japan and all other stuff from overseas we take for granted?

 Will those beautifully cut cycling bib shorts and jerseys and those exquisite cycling shoes, made in some far flung province, still be available?

Will the import and the export of goods suffer if parliament cannot bring itself to halt the Brexit juggernaut, sort out some half-decent leaving present or, better still, commit to remaining in the EU?

Or will they remain chained to this lunacy born of that fateful day in 2016 when the referendum asked people to vote on whether Britain should remain  in the EU or leave.
And 52 per cent -  many suffering economic hardship as a result of the Conservative government's cruel austerity measures screwing the poor - voted Leave.
While 48 per cent voted Remain.

The three main concerns of the Leavers were:
1,  immigration was too high, foreigners were taking jobs away from the British; 
2, the £350m a week paid to the EU would instead fund the NHS – (this bogus claim by the Leave campaign swung the vote, I understand); 
3, take back our sovereignty, in the belief that the UK should be self-governing and not be told what do by the EU.

Remainers did not share any of these concerns to anything like the same degree. Indeed, they feared economic and political chaos would be the result of leaving the EU and that Britain would be worse off out than in, especially in relation to public sector jobs, in particular the NHS, which rely heavily on foreign nationals.

For instance, I read that 10 percent of doctors and seven percent of nurses are EU nationals. A third of all EU nationals in the NHS work in London.

Since the referendum there has been a 90 per cent drop in the number of EU nurses coming to work for the NHS. Many foreign nationals living here no longer feel welcome.
There can be no rhyme or reason for this mess bequeathed us by the Leave Campaign.
We are told that all sorts of problems now lie ahead. Let’s start off with issues which will be the least of our concerns but nevertheless help form a picture of the craziness awaiting us.

Here’s lightweight one for starters.

Will the British members of the Sky Team need a visa if they are to get to the start of Le Tour for Geraint Thomas to bid for a second consecutive victory? 
Will a British driving licence still be valid over there?   

It may seem trivial, but what about the supply of cycling components? 

We don’t hear much said about the British cycle industry these days, outside of trade circles. Nothing British about my bikes.  My current model was designed in London but made in Italy. All my nice cycle clothing is from abroad.  

However, it does seem that the British cycle industry is alive and well.

Reynolds tubing of Birmingham, for instance.  Brompton bicycles of course.

What about wheels?  Is there an all British wheel? Does anyone know?

Most rims are made abroad, I believe.  Is that right?

As for spokes, are there any British made spokes?

There are certainly hubs – plug now for Royce hubs, very well thought of, I understand.

Insofar as the fate awaiting the UK cycle trade better I refer you to a story published on the Cyclist webpages - http://tinyurl.com/ybnjtsol

It does a pretty good job of explaining the complexities of international trade which is conducted in US dollars and speculates as what may or may not occur after March 29.

To summarise, at present, the current arrangements with the EU allows goods to move freely from one country to another.

And little change to this is expected if Theresa May’s proposed deal - seen as very controversial and expected to be rejected by Parliament  - does actually go ahead.

However, should Britain crash out of the EU with no deal  leaving us outside of the customs union, there is speculation that all trade arrangements will impact heavily on prices and on the availability of brands.

Surely this looming chaos can be averted?

I recently had an exchange of letters with my MP, Sir Paul Beresford on this very matter. He was a Remain man. I asked him to support a Peoples’ Vote on May’s deal.

He couldn’t do that, he told me. He said he is holding to the view that the will of the people who voted leave should be upheld.  He now backs Theresa May to finalise a deal.

The will of the people! The will of the people was subverted, I told him.  He knows this!

I said this to him. “The referendum, fought by the Leave campaign, was anything but honest. They made a host of misleading claims on immigration and at least one outright lie. 

They claimed, in big letters on the side of their Battle Bus,   that the £350m paid to the EU every week would go to the NHS instead! Many people voted Leave on the strength of this bogus claim.  

And almost immediately the vote was cast the awful Farage, who started all this nonsense, admitted it was wrong, that that money cannot simply go the NHS.

Not to mention Boris Johnson spinning anti—EU rhetoric and misinformation in his newspaper column for decades for which, remember,  he was eventually sacked from, oh, which paper was it, the Telegraph, The Times?  Doesn’t matter which.  But the rubbish stories he put out do matter, for he has constantly poisoned minds.

It’s all David Cameron’s fault, for agreeing  - simply to appease the populist call - to the referendum  in the first place,  on matters few of us were equipped to deal with and for this may he never be forgiven.

For he  has set us on a path which, via the ballot box, has presented us with a result which could yet undo the very parliamentary system he is supposed to hold dear. The Leave vote has given oxygen to closet racists and xenophobes.

The Leaver vote has split political parties down the middle.  It has revealed democracy’s Achilles heel as a host of far-right dangerous individuals seek to gain from it.

Sir Paul acknowledged my letter, but declined to comment further.

I imagine the xenophobes must presume they are of pure race when a check of their ancestry may surprise them.  For instance, I am 60 per cent English; the rest is a mix of Irish, Swedish and European, west and eastern.

The current crisis has made me concerned for the rights of foreign nationals living and working here in the UK and British people who live and work on the Continent.


As for Michael Gove MP, is he confused?  As fellow MPs quit the Cabinet over May’s Brexit plans he said, that while he, too, disagreed with May he would not leave the Cabinet because once outside it he would no longer have any influence to argue his point of view. Better to remain to persuade her to change tack.

Pity he cannot apply that logic to European matters, and advocate we remain within the Union.

For once outside we will have no voice over decisions they take which may still impact this side of the water.

Since then, Gove has been quoted as saying he will back May.

And so here we are.  But exactly where are we? 

Who knows what will happen after March 29?

We should delay it three days, to April 1.  And then, just before midday, call out “APRIL FOOL”.

And not leave afterall.

That would be my option. Apparently, that’s no longer an option.

In which case the lack of Pak Choi and of cycle components could be the least of our problems. 

And all for no rhyme or reason.








Sunday, 28 October 2018

Engers - the stylish King of the road


BOOK REVIEW

I LIKE ALF

By Paul Jones

Published by Mousehold Press,

Victoria Cottage,

Constitution Opening,

Norwich NR3 4BD.


£13.95

ISBN: 978-1-874739-81-4





“I Like Alf” is the untold story of one of the most talented, stylish and enigmatic of cycling champions ever to have dominated UK time trialling, London’s Alf Engers,  winner of national titles from 1959 to the late 1970s.

This is about “The King”, the man who wanted to win the Tour de France but whose destiny lay elsewhere.  Officialdom found him too controversial to their liking, this when time trialling itself was controversial, with its reliance on traffic flow to produce fast times!

There were allegations of “white lining” - riding too far out in the road and so impeding traffic when he was often going faster than the traffic - of having following cars.

Two East London officials in particular did their best to have him suspended from racing for the most spurious reasons and succeeded!

Notwithstanding such problems, Engers   would come back and continue to make the headlines with breath-taking performances which saw him win the national 25 title six times and put competition record beyond reach with the first 30mph ride. He could do it all, time trial, road race, the track. He was a big draw at events.

But this book does more than merely recall how Engers came to unleash his undisputed powers on the domestic time trialling scene, taking on class rivals such as Pete Wells, Eddie Adkins, Derek Cottington, Dave Holliday, and Ian Hallam.   Engers dominated like no other. It’s funny, too, with amusing stories  that reveal his lighter side,  with so many anecdotes about the characters among the clubs, frame builders and others of who shared in those heady days.

Chiefly this is about a man who overcame the odds stacked against him. Not the least being he worked full time in a bakery, late into the night. 

His triumphs on the bike brought him brief solace from his troubled memories of a father who had shown little interest in his son; and the ever present threat of disqualification from officials looking for any excuse to ban a guy who was simply different!

This is a riveting read by author Paul Jones who sensitively seeks out the darker recesses of Enger’s soul.

I sensed, too, that Engers clearly found release in sharing his story, especially in revealing the unhappy moments from his youth. That should not disguise a cracking, good fun story, too, which revisits his personal triumphs still talked about today.

For though his records have at last fallen, Engers exploits remain unsurpassed.

This is a joy to read. And it begs the question, is Paul Jones a pseudonym?  Here is descriptive prose worthy of the late Norman Mailler!

It reminds me of noted rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s stunned disbelief upon first hearing the mesmerising guitar riffs of Jimi Hendrix.  “Well,” Becks is reported to have said to Eric Clapton, “we might as well pack it in!” Instead, of course, Hendrix’s style galvanised him.

The title of this book “I like Alf” says it all. Although cycling officials, the “Blazers” had it in for him,  

riders loved this colourful character.  So did his rivals who were so often left behind in his wake!

So someone produced stickers, proclaiming: “I Like Alf”.


Friday, 19 October 2018

Here we go again




HERE we go again, as if in a recurring nightmare.  The government has published plans to build a national cycle route which, like all grand cycling schemes put before them,  they have no intention of funding.

This grand cycle way is to run beside the High Speed Railway (HS2) up the spine of England, as reported by Helen Pidd in The Guardian (Friday, October 19).

And it’s all hot air.  Because apparently – and never mind the  lack of money for the moment - the builders of the railway have even failed to make safe provision for cyclists crossing the route, never mind the new bridges and tunnels supposed to leave room to take the route itself beside the 250-mph trains!

Exciting that, cycling alongside 250mph trains.  Well, it would be…

As ever, Roger Geffen, of Cycling UK, their ever optimistic policy director, thinks it is not too late for HS2 to follow the design for the cycle route.  

Olympic  gold medallist Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner, is disappointed, just as he was at the failure of government to fund the Get Britain Cycling Report a year or two ago.  HS2 is the latest in a long line of cycling initiatives to get the thumbs down when it comes to paying for them.
The government is prepared to sink £billions into the controversial railway linking London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, but they have no intention of funding the cycle route.

As usual, it will be left to Local Authorities to find money they haven’t got - because government has cut their funding.

So the seven million people estimated to be living within a 10-minute bike ride of the “proposed” cycle route should be prepared to be disappointed. 

The most frustrated man of all is surely John Grimshaw, the engineer who helped write the study into HS2 national cycleway.  For Grimshaw is the daddy of them all when it comes to planning cycleways in the UK. He gave us the Sustrans National Cycle Route completed in 2005, comprising 14,000 miles of traffic-free and mostly lightly trafficked roads throughout the UK.

It is the jewel in the cycling crown, albeit the only one, and was Lottery funded to the tune of £42.5m through the Millennium Commission.

Back in 1996, cycling’s friend Steven Norris, then Minister for Local Transport and Road Safety at the Department of Transport, launched an excellent “Cycle-friendly Infrastructure Guidelines for planning and Design”.

But there was never any serious money made available to enable local authorities to implement it, even if their own highway engineers were of a mind to and they never were anyway.

1996 saw a double whammy, for also in that year, the Conservatives gave us the National Cycling Strategy - with no money.

Labour gave it a few peanuts a decade later and Cycling England was formed to spend it – with the likes of Grimshaw and transport and cycling expert Christian Wolmar on the board. They did an excellent job, helping to promote the creation of over 20 cycling demonstration towns all featuring small but successful cycling schemes.

It was too good to last and Cycling England was closed down by Chancellor Phillip Hammond.

Then a couple of years ago the government announced the Get Britain Cycling report to great fanfare.  But hopes were dashed when they refused to give it cabinet backing, once again leaving it to cash-strapped Local Authorities who have done nothing worth speaking of.

Where are they now, these reports?

My bet is they were all confiscated by the Roads Lobby – who see any grand cycling development as a threat to King Car – and all of these cycling reports are gathering dust in the Warehouse of Lost Dreams.








Friday, 5 October 2018

Dutch to ban use of mobile phones when cycling


The Netherlands are ban to the use of mobile phones while cycling, reported a recent edition of The Guardian.

The ban is due to come into effect next July.  The law banning the use of handheld devices while driving was introduced in 2002.

The move comes following an increase in cycling accidents involving riders absorbed in “social media” activities on their smart phones.

The death of a young rider so engrossed with his smart phone led to a campaign for legislation.  

To me, it beggars belief that people do so. Clearly they don’t appear to understand the risks associated with the use of these smart devices to which we have become slaves.

We know, don’t we, that, many people using mobile phones appear to have switched off from their immediate surroundings. It’s what I might call a “disassociated state of mind”, distracting them from what’s going on around them.  

A “disassociated state of mind” was the state a novelist said he desired in order

to conjure up the twists and turns of his story lines.

Clearly, it’s best not to operate in this mode out on the streets.

Research in to the use of this technology when driving was found to reduce the driver’s reaction time to worse than if he or she were drunk.  

This is why they were banned in the first place, not because you would be driving with one arm, but because you would be driving with only half a brain. Or no brain at all, judging by the glazed expressions on faces.

The scientists had wanted hands-free phones banned, too.

Because unbeknown to the user, whether using a hand-held or hands-free, his or her mind is no longer on the job of driving although they think it is.

The essential factor here is in the subconscious connection with a remote voice, said the research.  It’s as if you’ve gone down the line to their place.

Talking with fellow companions in the vehicle is not the same thing at all.  They will be aware of the driving conditions and conversation tends to wax and wane accordingly, unlike the voice at the other end of the line.

Despite this the authorities decided they would allow use of hands-free for drivers.

They were persuaded when the police said they wouldn’t be able to detect if a driver was using hands free or not.  The upshot of this is that hands-free became accepted as safer to use. It reinforced the belief that the danger came from driving one handed, when this is a secondary issue.

Would we have known all this but for scientific research?  Maybe not.  I found out for myself when catching a flight from Heathrow. I needed gate 15 and was talking to someone on my phone, keeping an eye open for gate 15, or so I thought.  And I missed it until gate 20 came into focus and I thought bloody hell.   Pay attention.

Bloody device.  Marvellous things, of course.  We’ve become slaves to this magic. Well, not me. You, perhaps.

Such things were out of this world to me when I was a lad. Talking of which, dare we ponder what has driven this massive development in micro-wave and computer whizkiddery these past 50 years? Some say its harvested technology retrieved from crashed discs!

 (That’s enough of that, Ed).

Sorry. Wrong hat.

Meanwhile, back to the other-worldly Netherlands where the utopian cycling culture has been shaken by the use of the ubiquitous smartphone now implicated in one in five bike accidents in people aged 12 to 25.

Last year, 206 cyclists died in traffic accidents, 17 more than in 2016, according to official statistics.

This figure, however, is still low considering the huge number of people who cycle every day in the Netherlands which has a “population” of 22.5 million bikes and 17 million people.

About four million people cycle every day, and cycle use has increased by some 12 per cent in the last 13 years. The country’s 22,000 miles of cycle paths are becoming more crowded.

On average the Dutch cyclist rides over 600 miles and makes up to 300 journeys a year.

There is now another factor, the popularity of the electric bike which is encouraging inappropriate speed.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Councillor says charge the Pru Ride London to use Surrey's roads!


NOW that the threat of a cycling war with the Highways Agency over their stupid proposal to ban cyclists from the A63 at Hull has been averted, there comes a daft suggestion that the Prudential Ride London should be charged for using Surrey’s roads!

Not just this huge charity ride – billed as the biggest in the world and which donates £thousands to local causes  - but Britain’s biggest pro road race on the same day, which has UCI World Tour status;  plus every other cycling event, the smaller challenge rides, road races and time trials.

Councillor Claire Malcolmson has put forward this idea to the Mole Valley Local Committee, which was the lead story in my local paper recently.

 Mole Valley and Dorking figure on the route of the Prudential Ride London, and the pro races passes through the town four times – a grand sight.

In her view this will help introduce stricter regulation of races and rides in the county, and generate funds which would “contribute to dealing with local congestion and road infrastructure”!

Crackpot idea, of course.

Whatever the local committee may say, Surrey County Council won’t wear it. They are partners with London in hosting this event, introduced as part of the 2012 Olympic legacy.

A spokesman for Surrey said charging had been considered but “has not been taken forward”.

She told the local newspaper that since the Olympic road races came through Surrey, the area has “witnessed a huge influx of cyclists” which brought “more chances of mishaps on the roads to pedestrians, drivers and cyclists.”

Aha. If truth be known the councillor is probably a driver irritated by the road closures for the Pru events. She may also have been held up behind lines of cyclists and wants to get her own back. Here’s some advice: drop into third gear and just potter along until the riders turn off.

As regards solving congestion on the roads, the Pru already contributes to that by closing over 100s of miles of them for their events!

The councillor might like to consider that the obvious way to reduce congestion is for people not to drive as often as they do.

This has become a vital health issue if the pollution from diesel engines is to be reduced.

Britain is among one of the worst polluted lands in the world, it has been reported. Thousands of people are dying from illnesses caused by traffic pollution.

Instead of charging pollution-free cycling events from using the roads, charge the polluters.

Here’s an idea that for tech wizards to develop. Every time a driver switches on the ignition, it activates an app linked straight to his bank account which haemorrhages money direct to a fund to pay for the funeral services of all those dying from illnesses caused by the shit spewing from her/his exhaust.  






Friday, 14 September 2018

VICTORY FOR COMMONSENSE - A63 CYCLING BAN SCRAPPED


AFTER several months in a cycling utopia of endless car free roads somewhere on the planet,  I stir into blog action again with good news. The preposterous plan to ban cyclists from the A63 at Hull has been dropped by the dictatorship, Highways England.
We must thank Cycling UK for their energetic campaign to oppose this ban, raising almost 10,000 signatures in protest.
The highways authority stipulated protests should be by the neglected art of ink on paper and placing said sheet of paper in a sealed envelope affixed with a postage stamp.  Clearly, in this world of electronic data they thought this might deter protest.
It failed. Cycling UK acted as a collection point for letters and a cargo-bike laden with mail was pedalled into Highways England’s Leeds offices last February.
The A63 road forms one of the fastest time trial courses in the country, and although the highway authority didn’t say as such in so many words it was felt that the ban was targeted at time trial events there.
The V718 time trial course on this 15-mile stretch of the A63 is the fastest course in the land.
It is the very course Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins recorded a 17-58 “10” in May 2015.
However, according to Cycling Weekly time trialling on this road now faces an uncertain future.
The last event to be organised there was on August 26 and there are no future events listed.
Highways England says it will examine requests for future events on this section, together with Humberside Police and the East Riding Safety Forum.

Nevertheless, whatever time trialling’s future here, Highways England’s decision to withdraw their proposed ban (announced at the beginning the year) l is a victory for common sense.
It was feared such a ban would be the thin end of the wedge and spark bans on roads deemed by so-called experts as “unsafe” elsewhere in the country.  And if we’re honest many roads have become unsafe because cyclists have been designed out of the equation!
So, design them back in! That’s the problem which is not being addressed because at the root of the problem is this weird idea that roads are “motor roads” when they are not and never have been, they are for all of us to use.
This is the wider battle for Cycling UK.
They said they have been fighting for 140 years for the rights of cyclists, and were not prepared to let Highways England impose a ban when there was no real basis or justification.
Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns, added:
 “One of the arguments put forward was that cyclists couldn’t keep up with traffic, but on that basis they would have been banning cyclists on every A-road and many sections of B-road across the country.
“I’m delighted that common sense has prevailed and pleased that Highways England listened to our arguments.
“I’d like to thank all our supporters who took time to take part in the campaign and respond during the consultation period.”
Highways England
In a statement, Highways England said: “We want people using our roads to be safe and alongside Humberside Police were particularly concerned about how safe cyclists would be with increasing volumes of fast moving traffic on the A63 between North Cave and Hull.
“We’re really grateful to everyone who commented on our proposed ban, especially from cyclists themselves.
“We are already developing more cycling and safety improvements for the A63 and in the meantime we urge all road users to use this route safely.