Category Archives: Current affairs

Every time you jump a red light, I get shouted at – on bad cyclists

I am a cyclist. I cycle. Quite a lot. Yesterday night I did 8 miles. On Saturday morning I did 46. Today I did 1.6 to work and later I’ll do 1.6 home (in fact I might go the long way home, and do more). This year I’ve done 1,600+ miles, even though up until June I only did 250, for various reasons. I own two bicycles – a summer road bike, and a winter / commuter bike. The year before last, when I cycled the whole year round, I rode more than 3,000 miles. Since June 2010, when I got a bike again for the first time since university, I’ve ridden more than 7,000 miles. I ride for leisure, for exercise, for convenience, and for pure fun. Riding is great. Bicycle people are great. But I still wouldn’t class myself as an expert, or even a very good cyclist. I’m just, I hope, not a bad cyclist. I also walk and drive a lot, and I don’t want to die, or cause a death, whilst travelling by any of those means.

Which is why I’m getting more and more militant about bad cyclists. Bad cyclists piss me off. Every time a bad cyclist does something stupid, a good cyclist bears the brunt of it. I get shouted at probably 30% of the time when I’m out, generally by dickheads leaning out of car windows. I don’t think I’ve ever been doing anything wrong when I’ve been shouted at; some motorists just hate cyclists, and bad cyclists doing stupid things that piss off motorists, just makes motorists hate cyclists more.

(A note to people who shout at cyclists from cars; we have no idea what you’re saying to us, and you come across as enormous wankers. Just so you know.)

I’m aware that this post could be seen as victim-blaming, and, yes, ideally the cities, towns, roads, and rural areas of this country would simply be a lot more accessible and friendly towards cyclists, with better infrastructure and policies, and we’d all ride bikes more and be healthier and the economy (people who cycle to city centres spend more than those who drive, strangely) and environment (cyclists don’t pollute) would benefit. I hope the popularity of Borgen, where the prime minister and TV journalists and everyone else is shown cycling around Denmark to work and the shops, will make us and our government realise that bikes make cities (and towns, and villages) better places to live in, and that policy and infrastructure will be altered accordingly. But the simple fact is this country is not Denmark or the Netherlands or Germany or any number of other countries where cycling isn’t something done by lunatics, and so you have to ride accordingly, and that means not doing insanely dangerous, stupid, or illegal things while on a bike, like…

Ride without lights in the dark.
By ‘the dark’ I just mean any sub-optimal light; it might be midday and foggy, or dawn, or dusk, or cloudy and under tree cover. If you’ve not got lights on, people cannot see you very well, if at all. You’re also practically silent. This is not a good combination. Most modern cars seem to have slightly tinted windows to minimise glare, which means you’re practically invisible to motorists in anything less than good daylight. I know this because I cycle and I drive. Because I drive, I would never cycle in sub-optimal light without lights for fear that I wouldn’t be seen. Riding without lights is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, you know, illegal.

Jump red lights.
On Saturday I rode up a busy main street in Exeter, which has several sets of traffic lights, both for junctions and crossings. I stopped at all of them, as did another guy on a bike. A girl on a bike rode through on red each time. We’d then overtake her, stop at the next lights, and she’d catch us while we were stopped and jump through on red again. I was exasperated, and I may have shouted. It was busy. Cars and pedestrians were crossing the flow of traffic from all directions, and she could very easily have hit or been hit by something. I include, in this example, people who just nip up onto the pavement for a second to circumvent the lights, and cross with pedestrians. Jumping red lights is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, you know, illegal.

(Slight caveat – sometimes this is unavoidable, for instance very early in the morning when no cars are about, at lights which change on a sensor; most sensors simply don’t recognise cyclists, so you have to ignore them sometimes. But I only do this if there’s absolutely no traffic. Would I do it in a car? I wouldn’t need to.)

Ride on the pavement.
Riding on the pavement is for little kids. Tiny little kids. With stabilisers. It is not for wannabe hipster teenage boys on vintage racing bikes; my wife will shout at you if you do this, and you are an idiot for doing it. Racing bikes, especially older ones, are not stable at slow speeds unless you’re pretty accomplished; riding them very slowly along the pavement, weaving precariously past pedestrians and looking like you’re going to fall off / crash into somebody, is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, you know, illegal.

Undertaking traffic.
You know those t-shirts cyclists wear which say “You’re not stuck in traffic; you ARE traffic”, taunting motorists who are… stuck in traffic? Well, if you’re cycling on a road, you are traffic too. The problem is that neither cyclists nor motorists seem to quite understand what that means when it comes to passing other vehicles when you’re on a bike. And the law doesn’t help, either; it’s not illegal to undertake static or slow-moving traffic if you’re on a bicycle, nor to overtake, but which is best? This is a tricky one because it’s not necessarily insane or stupid, and it certainly isn’t illegal, but it can be dangerous.

As both a driver and a cyclist, motorists, in my experience, are generally not expecting people to undertake them, even bikes. And high-sided vehicles (buses, lorries, vans, even big people-carriers and 4x4s) simply don’t have adequate visibility of small things passing on their left. Even people in cars don’t always indicate their intentions, and can easily cut across cyclists. Unless I’m in a dedicated cycling lane I almost never undertake, and even then I’m loathe, and certainly never anything high-sided.

Ignoring one-way systems.
Again, you are traffic. You are obliged to obey the rules of the road, and that includes one-way systems. Cars will NOT be expecting you coming the other way, because you shouldn’t be coming the other way. Drivers pulling out of junctions into one-way systems probably won’t look the way that traffic shouldn’t be coming from, and even if they do I doubt it will be as thoroughly. Going the wrong way down a one-way street is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, you know, illegal.

Ride too fast where it’s not appropriate.
I like to go fast. I have a decent road bike and I can cap 40mph on it downhill in good conditions. It’s exciting, and going down hills fast is one of the reasons why I cycle up hills in the first place (and I live and ride in Devon, so there are a lot of hills). I will admit to feeling a little shiver of delight when I set off a speed camera, even though I shouldn’t. Let’s blame Strava. Sometimes, speed is just not appropriate or safe. I have seen more than one riding buddy stack it into a hedge or a ditch because they were riding too fast. They’re lucky they didn’t stack it into an oncoming car. Riding too fast where it’s not appropriate is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, if you’re going above the speed limit, you know, illegal.

Pedestrians and motorists are stupid, too.
Pushing baby buggies down cycle paths. Not controlling their dogs around cycle paths. Not looking for cyclists properly at roundabouts. Shouting at cyclists for no reason. For every bad cyclist there are more bad pedestrians and motorists, which is why you need to be a good cyclist, so you can avoid getting hurt or killed by them.

This list is in no way comprehensive; it’s just stuff I’ve noticed a lot – probably because I cycle and walk and drive in and around a university campus a lot of the time, and students, as we know, can be a little lackadaisical about their own personal safety and wellbeing. I want more people to ride bikes, but I want them to ride bikes well, so that it becomes a far more normal and accepted mode of transport. And so that idiot motorists don’t shout at me for not hugging the kerb when I’m doing 30mph on a downhill section of a main road in a 40mph limit.

Here’s some advice on filtering and “taking the road” from Cyclescheme.


Margaret Thatcher RIP

I know next to nothing about my dad’s parents; it’s only in the last few years that I’ve learnt what my granddad did for a job – he made tools in a Sheffield steel factory. This sits at odds with what I know about my dad, and what I understand about politics, because in the late 80s and early 90s my dad was a Tory councillor. We’d moved south to Devon as a family a couple of years before I was born (just days after Thatcher came into power), and my dad worked in sales; initially he sold caravans, but in the early 90s during the recession he was made redundant. I remember, as an 11 or 12 year old, how odd it seemed when my dad started walking me to the school bus in the mornings rather than driving himself to work. I didn’t really understand what was going on, I don’t think.

A few months later he got a new job, managing sales accounts with a clay company. We’ve never properly discussed politics, but I’ve always felt, intrinsically, that the Tories were just wrong, that Thatcher was uncaring and dangerous, and I didn’t understand how my dad was one of them. I assume the fact that we moved south was an aspirational thing, wanting a better life for your family, and in the 70s, during high inflation and the winter of discontent and strikes, if you wanted better for your family, you were a Tory, perhaps.

In early May 1997 I remember James, Matt and I running to the newsagent one Friday morning and buying all the papers, and rejoicing that we had a new government, because we could remember nothing else. 16 years later we all own our own homes (or the mortgages on them, at any rate), we’re all married, we’ve all been to university, we’ve all done OK for ourselves, one way and another. We thought it was a new world order. We thought things would be brilliant. None of us can complain about the way our lives have gone, and yet…

I was the first person at work to hear about Thatcher dying, and I went down the corridor and told people. Most people seemed faintly pleased. One seemed very pleased. I work at a university, after all. I always used to vote Liberal Democrat, tactically, because Labour wasn’t an option where I lived and we desperately wanted the Tories out. I remember being jealous of people who were two weeks older than me and so could vote in 1997 and be a part of getting her legacy out.

I’m not celebrating Thatcher’s passing. As my wife said in an email earlier today, “It kind of doesn’t matter whether she’s alive or dead. She did the damage many years ago.” And, actually, Cameron and Osborne and Duncan-Smith and Boris and the rest of them are still doing damage, wreaking havoc on public services, dismantling the NHS without people realising, letting the markets run free whilst encouraging people to hate the poor. People who are better writers and thinkers than me have covered this in far more lucid detail and reason than I am here; as usual I’m just solipsistically splurging feelings. I feel that Thatcher helped to make this country a worse place in many, many ways. I’m sure she must have done some good, somewhere, for some people. Shakespeare wrote “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is often interred with their bones.” The media seldom lets the good be interred with the bones when public figures of Thatcher’s stature die; Jimmy Savile is a lone public figure to have been thoroughly excoriated in death, and deservedly so. Let’s not forget that Thatcher and Savile were allies. Ken Livingstone was thrown off Sky News today for daring to blame her for some of this country’s current ills.

The overriding emotion I have regarding Thatcher’s death is one of paranoia, that people will see her death as symbolic of something, a changing of times, a death of an ethos, and that the current government will continue with their work, which is in many ways, it seems to me, Thatcher’s legacy (as was Blair’s work, by and large, which is why the 17-years-and-355-days-year-old me from May 1997 feels cheated and lied to). There is no point wasting energy dancing abut Thatcher’s demise whilst Britain is dismantled for the sake of the rich and powerful.

On the long demise of HMV

On Sunday I went in HMV Exeter desperate to spend £20 (that I don’t really have, because it’s January) on season 4 of Breaking Bad on DVD. I vaguely hoped it might be in the fire blue cross sale. It wasn’t, because, they didn’t have any copies of it. I asked at the counter. They didn’t offer to order it in or tell me if they were expecting restock of it. For what are now obvious reasons. (They were pretty obvious then, too.)

I’ve written about my family affection for and recent frustration with HMV before, of course, because this has been a long time coming. If HMV goes, there will literally be nowhere in Exeter to buy a DVD on the high street, apart from Sainsbury’s.

I’m pretty sure I ordered a copy of Ege Bamyasi in my Local HMV, at age 16 or 17, and picked it up from the shop the next week. That’s how things worked then. Not long after that they got a copy of Tago Mago in, possibly inspired by the fact that some enthusiastic kid had ordered in another CAN album, and I bought that, too. I bought the remasters from that bloody rainforest though.

I had a little Twitter spat last September when Grizzly Bear’s album was released and Exeter HMV didn’t have a copy for me to buy until the afternoon, because stock hadn’t come in yet. I’ve been into HMV with a vague wishlist of things I’d like to buy; acclaimed (if sometimes esoteric) new releases, back catalogue stuff. They never had anything. We spend somewhere in the region of £750 a year on new music, on average (at a quick calculation for the last three years or so); my tastes aren’t that weird or leftfield.

I gather HMV moved to central stock ordering sometime in the late 90s, which would have thrown local knowledge and product specialism out of the window as far as staff go, and turn them into little more than cash-register operators and shelf-stackers. Ludicrous. For the last two, three, five years, HMV Exeter piled Kings of Leon albums and Lord of the Rings DVD sets higher than you could reach to pick up the top copy. Doesn’t everyone who could possibly ever want to own Lord of the Rings on DVD already own it? Do people who go into HMV really want JLS badges and One Direction mugs and jelly sweets?

Phil Beeching had HMV’s advertising account for 25 years, and wrote an eye-opening piece last August about how clearly he’d pointed out to them, 11 years ago, what the threats to their business were (online retailers, downloading, and supermarkets, of course), only to be angrily dismissed by the then MD, told that downloading was “a fad”. Three quarters of UK music and movie sales are still physical media, but come on. Consider that HMV decided to try and sell consumer electronics at the same time as the high street retail of consumer electronics collapsed.

We’ve been quietly boycotting Amazon for a few months now, partly because of them remotely deleting customers’ Kindles, partly because of distaste with general e-book DRM and proprietary format issues, partly because their ‘next-day’ service is nothing of the sort, partly because of their massive tax-avoidance, and partly because, these days, they seem like a baddie, and boycotting baddies seems like what responsible people ought to do. I fear that, increasingly, we can justify anything in this country, this culture, by either making or saving money. Tax avoidance? But CDs are a couple of quid cheaper, so who cares. Abusing kids in a hospice? He raises lots of money for us by running marathons, so who cares. Yes, I just compared Amazon to this country’s most evil serial child molester. Like I said, they seem like a baddie.

Before Christmas, on the Monday after ATP weekend, we went to Bristol to see Patrick Wolf, and I nipped into Rise Records and happily, quickly, spent £40 on Fugazi, The National, Liars, and Local Natives records that I’d been vaguely hoping of coming across in our local HMV (or Fopp in Bristol, which I’d checked futilely a few weeks before) for ages, but never seen. The week before Christmas we went to Totnes’ The Drift and spent another £30 on Perfume Genius, Fiona Apple, and Julia Holter albums. HMV Exeter doesn’t have a marker for Fugazi anymore. They didn’t even have the new Fiona Apple album in. Acclaimed, loyal-fanbase, major-label Fiona Apple, appearing high in end-of-year lists all over the shop, and I couldn’t buy her CD in Exeter in December. (To be fair, I could, and did, buy the Deerhoof album.)

We’ve decided that we’re going to make monthly music-buying pilgrimages this year, alternately to Rise in Bristol and The Drift in Totnes; keep a wishlist of what we’re after, and buy a bunch of albums all at once. Chat to the staff. Have a browse. Make an impulse purchase. We might also buy some stuff direct form record label websites, where they’re transactional and I haven’t seen stuff in either Rise or The Drift; we’ll try and support the shops first and foremost. Because they seem like goodies. I’d like to be able to walk into Exeter and buy the records I want, but I can’t.

Because these independent shops have embraced online retailing, have taken to social media, are run by and staffed with people who care about music, who can describe the Perfume Genius album cover to the new girl at the drop of a hat so she can see if she can see if it’s behind the counter because they’ve not put the new stock out yet. They understand that music can (should?) be about community and communication just as much as it can be about anonymous online transactions and listening in commuter silence via headphones. The Drift send a monthly newsletter to email subscribers recommending their favourite records of the past four weeks. Before Christmas they published a list of their favourite 100 records of 2012 online and in printed, fanzine-esque form that you could pick up in the shop. They sell turntables. Their stock is curated like a gallery rather than lumped together like a warehouse or piled high and cheap like a supermarket. They run a listening club (possibly inspired by ours!). They recommend music to you in any number of ways. As NickB asked on ILX, “Can you even listen to sound samples on the HMV website?” No, you can’t. They’d rather sell you some coasters than some records, or so it feels. Has felt for too long.

Michael Hann wrote in The Guardian today about visiting the Oxford Street branch today, and reminisced that he had probably realised the game was up for them a few years ago when Fleetwood Mac were touring and he popped in to pick up Tusk. “The biggest record shop in Britain did not have a copy of a legendary album by one of the world’s biggest bands even as they were on tour in the UK.” I’ve repeated his experience dozens of times in microcosm, the last time being the Fiona Apple failure.

(As an aside, I completely empathise with Michael’s fondness for the big chain in the face of sometimes snooty and elitist indies – it echoes some of my teenage experiences.)

Bob Stanley wrote brilliantly a year ago, and republished today, a piece about the things HMV could have done to stave off what many are talking about as being inevitable. None of these things are outrageous – they’re happening under HMV’s nose, practically next door.

I won’t miss HMV, because I’ve barely bought anything in there for years. But I will miss the act of going in a record shop every Saturday in the hope that something would catch my attention and fire my imagination and make me fall in love. Because that used to happen; didn’t it?

(I know, of course, that the entertainment industry wont let HMV just die, that branches, that the brand, will live on somehow, but allow me this moment of drama and mourning. Even as I write, Canada might be coming to the rescue. Whatever the salvation, though, things will have to change.)

(I ended up buying season 4 of Breaking Bad from eBay. I literally didn’t know where else to get it from.)

(When I say ‘records’, obviously I mean CDs, because they’re just better than vinyl, aren’t they? But there you go. The fact that vinyl sales have been on the up for years, and HMV in Exeter, as well as other branches I gather, failed to stock any vinyl at all, is yet another reason we’re nailing their coffin shut, metaphorically. Let’s hope we bury them with a claw hammer so they can fight their way out.)

So the London 2012 Olympics are over…

Just over two weeks ago I wrote about Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony, how it moved me and made me both suddenly interested in the Olympics and also understand patriotism, in my own funny way at least. For the last 16 days I’ve been glued to the BBC’s coverage, whether on our TV, on my computer at work, or, on several occasions, on the TV and iPad at the same time.

I’ve been as glued to Twitter as the TV, keeping up with the events, the emotions, and the reactions to it all from friends and contacts and people involved. It’s been, frankly, amazing. I never thought I’d be that interested in the Olympics, but I’ve been caught up in it and it’s been wonderful. If anything I feel a little twinge of regret at not being actually present at any of the events or even just at the Olympic Park itself.

I’ve witnessed so many amazing moments, had so many awesome memories of these games, and they’ve all been centered on people. Messy, glorious, flawed, driven, wonderful people. Here is a completely subjective, non-exhaustive list of the people who have made the Olympics awesome.

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning – for winning our first gold and, suddenly, shattering the cynicism and air of curmudgeonly disappointment that so often settles over Britain. We thought we were going to be shit at the Olympics when the men’s road race didn’t go the way we expected, and we were settling in to love being shit. They proved that we could win, and, actually, that winning is awesome.

David Rudisha – for running the most forthright and honest and amazing race to break the 800m world record and drag every other athlete in that race along with him, to personal bests, national records, and reflected glory. That one performance seemed to sum up the Olympic spirit, of doing your best and pushing yourself beyond your limits, more perfectly than any other.

The BBC – their coverage has been wonderful, fascinating, moving, and comprehensive, from the programme titles to the iPhone app to the montages and beyond. Particular mentions for Claire Balding, who’s been especially great, the human warmth at the centre of the Olympic furore; Ian Thorpe, who took it upon himself to drive the legacy of the games personally by coaching kids to swim this morning and who we ought to adopt as an ambassador for sport; Michael Johnson, who is as fiercely intelligent as an analyst as he was astonishingly fast as a runner; and Steve Cram and Brendan Foster, who were marvelous in the athletics’ commentary box – when Cram exploded as Mo Farah crossed the line in the 5000m it was amazing, as was Foster’s crazed exclamation that “this is my favourite stadium in the world: every Saturday night I come here and every Saturday night Mo Farah wins a gold medal!”

Mo Farah himself, born in Mogadishu, made in London, was magical – I’ve never seen a face like Mo’s when he crossed the line for a second time.

Galen Rupp, Mo’s training partner; when Rupp stepped up in the penultimate lap of the 5000m and guarded Mo’s shoulder against his rivals, it made my heart swell to see the power of friendship laid bare in front of us.

Gemma Gibbons, for missing her mum.

Katherine Grainger (ably assisted and more by Anna Watkins) for persevering and triumphing in the end.

Tom Daley diving into the pool, whether it was choreographed and spectacular, or off the cuff celebration. I’ve been vocal about finding him annoying in the past; not anymore.

The gamesmakers, for coming from all over the world to help out of nothing more (nothing less!) than extraordinary generosity of spirit.

Everyone I follow on Twitter, for galvanizing every moment and every emotion, and making me feel not alone when, by appearances, I watched large chunks of the action in a room alone with my wife 100 miles away.

Andy Murray, who I’ve kept tabs on for years since I realised we share the same birthday, and who finally stepped up and took charge in a final at Wimbledon.

Victoria Pendleton, Chris Hoy, Laura Trott, Danielle King, Jo Rowsell, Jason Kenny, and the rest of the track cycling team, for being scintillating and ruthless and inspirational. And Chris Hoy’s mum and dad, for reminding me of every proud mum and dad.

Ben Ainsley, for getting angry, and then getting more than even.

Nicola Adams for making me care about boxing for a split second.

The Brownlee brothers, for extraordinary stamina and determination.

Danny Boyle for that awesome opening ceremony, which seemed, in retrospect, to set the spiritual tone for the whole thing.

Usain Bolt, for being astonishing and extraordinary and fast.

Greg Rutherford for overcoming injuries and unexpectedly adding

Charlotte Dujardin for making me care about horses dancing.

Samantha Murray, for rounding things off beautifully.

Every British medal winner has affected and inspired me; to name them all would, amazingly, take too long, because there were so many – 65 medals in all, and counting team members, I think over 100 amazing people have walked away with medals. Many more people behind the scenes need mentioning too. Just amazing.

I’ve done a lot of welling-up over the last fortnight. Everyone has been talking about crying, from athletes to presenters to random people on the internet. Crying is all too easily seen as a signifier of sadness in our culture, but it’s more than that. It isn’t weakness, isn’t about being soft; it’s about empathy and pride and joy in human achievement. Awesome, inspirational, amazing human achievement. Which is what the Olympics have been about. And they’ve been astonishing.

So what if Andy Murray cried

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a big tennis fan – I watch a few hours of Wimbledon every summer and keep up with who’s winning the majors almost by accident via 5Live, and that’s about the extent of my involvement.

But, ever since discovering that we share a birthday (15th of May – the same as Brian Eno) I’ve kept tabs on Andy Murray more than I ever have any other tennis player. The fact that he’s the ‘great British hope’ certainly makes that easier from a media coverage point of view.

I’ve never understood the antipathy, and seemingly outright hatred, that some English people have towards him, either because of his alleged dour, sullen, and miserable demeanour, or because of the fact that he said he’d never support England at football (which I always took as a deliberately provocative quip, anyway).

With regards the latter, why should he support England at football? He’s Scottish; the footballing rivalry between England and Scotland is deeply ingrained and fun. One can feel (and be) British and Scottish at the same time, and plenty of people do. You don’t change your nationality due to your circumstances. Unless you’re Greg Rusedski.

I find it even harder to understand why people claim not to like his personality. We don’t really know his personality, as tennis-viewers; we know how he responds when asked stupid questions by Gary Richardson (with more civility than I’d manage). Beyond that, we know he’s serious and focussed, which, in my experience, is what high-achieving sportspeople need to be in order to be successful. His job is to entertain us on the tennis court by winning.

Although, to be fair, there’s plenty of (very) dry humour in his comments; asked by Richardson (who is a pillock, let it be said) how his parents must be feeling after his semi-final win over Tsonga, he replied “I’ve no idea. I’m not really that bothered. It’s a lot harder for me, that’s for sure.”

Murray keeps a wall around himself because he has to if he wants to get where he’s going. When that wall chinked after Federer won yesterday, as it was bound to do (and as it did two and a half years ago when Federer beat Murray at the Australian Open final – “I can cry like Roger, I just can’t play like him” was Murray’s comment), I’m not ashamed to say that I had tears in my eyes too. Which isn’t uncommon these days at displays of irresistible, real human emotion, to be fair. Was it the “real” Murray we saw here? It was only as real as when he politely answers inane questions the second after walking off-court. Everything you do is part of who you are, not just the bits that other people decide are profound.

I’ve seen people say that Murray shouldn’t have cried yesterday, that he didn’t win because he just isn’t good enough, and that we shouldn’t celebrate a loser. I think that’s wrong. Murray’s getting better; his four major finals so far have been against Federer (3) and Djokovic (1). Federer is, everyone keeps saying, the greatest tennis player ever, and when Djokovic beat Murray he was in the midst of the single most successful season any male tennis player has ever played. But Federer’s first Major win came over Mark Philippoussis, who never won a Major. Nadal’s was over Mariano Puerto, who only ever reached that one final. Djokovic’s was over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who Murray’s beaten 6 times out of 7; they’re all relatively easy ways to win your first Major. Murray is good enough to win, and will get better. He’s also younger than all of them except Djokovic (who’s exactly a week younger than Murray), so he has the time to get better, too.

So if you’re crowing that Murray’s not good enough, give it time. If you’re crowing that he’s not personable enough, go and Sky+ Alan Carr shows. Murray’s the only person who’s ever made me cry over a game of tennis. (Except it’s not a game for him; it’s a lifetime of ambition and work and hope.)

Hats off too, to Jonathan Marray, who shouldn’t be forgotten in the fuss about his near-surnamesake.

Also, we shouldn’t forget the real last Britain to win Wimkbledon; Virginia Wade in 1977.

Ten years ago

I had just graduated from university two months before. A month after that, I met a girl in the pub in town, and we started seeing each other. Her little brother had his tenth birthday. I was working in a pub. An old schoolfriend had just died, and a memorial service at our former school was being arranged. When I finished the lunchtime shift I drove to my old school and went to talk to our drama teacher. As I got out of the car, just before 3pm, I remember the radio presenter, almost certainly Simon Mayo in his afternoon slot on Five Live, announce that there was breaking news in New York. I assumed, as I imagine a lot of people did, that it was a microlight that had crashed into the World Trade Centre. I got out of the car, walked to my old teacher’s office, and talked about death for 45 minutes. When I got back to the car and turned the radio on I realized very quickly that it hadn’t been a microlight.

I spent the rest of the afternoon glued to the television, watching 24-hour news via satellite. I saw both towers fall. I rang Emma, or Emma rang me, I forget. She was working in a record shop in Exeter. She said the town centre started to go eerily quiet very quickly after news broke and started to spread. The shop emptied. She asked me if this mean there would be a war, and I said yes, almost certainly, but I wasn’t sure who with, or why, or how. It wasn’t really the answer she wanted to hear.

That evening I went to play football in Exeter, as I did every Tuesday night back then. It was a solemn, weird hour. Everybody said that the television news footage had looked like a weird action film. It had. I remember sitting in the car, listening to the radio, trying to figure out what the name was that they kept saying, what the syllables were, how many component words there were, how it might be spelt. I’d never heard of Osama Bin Laden.

My friend James from university was in America. He’d been working at a Camp America thing, tutoring or guiding wealthy American kids during their summer holiday camps. That had finished in late August and he’d been travelling around the states since then. He was in Washington. He had his camera confiscated near the Pentagon, I think, for trying to take pictures. It took him days, maybe even weeks, to get a flight back to the UK. I’ve probably only seen him half a dozen times since. I still consider him a great friend. He came to the wedding when I married the girl I’d met in the pub, ten years and a month ago. Yesterday evening we went out for a meal for her little brother’s birthday. Today he is 20 years old.

I have no memory of the day that followed, or the specific days after that, at least not in relation to what happened in New York ten years ago. I remember buying The Guardian a lot and reading what people had to say about it, what predictions they made, what they identified as causes, while I worked the quiet lunchtime shifts I the pub. But I still remember, distinctly, what I did from 2:30pm onwards. I remember driving home from football, turning off the route I normally took to sit a moment and listen to the radio and concentrate, and then getting a little lost when I drove off again.

A year afterwards I started working in the library. Five years after that we bought our flat. Three years later we got married. Our deposit for the flat came from my father-in-law, who spends a lot of time in Iraq and Kurdistan doing business. Which means, I suspect, that we might not be living where we live if it wasn’t for what happened on this day, ten years ago, indirectly. I suspect there are a lot of people in similar situations. The lines of causality may be blurred and twisted. It’s rare, I suspect, that you get a genuine turning point in history, a fulcrum that alters life for a huge amount of people, in different ways, rather than a slow, evolutionary trend. Sometimes I feel that what happened ten years ago wasn’t all that world changing, that the things which happened afterwards would have happened anyway. But if I think about it properly, consider the ontology of where we are now, not just Emma and me but everyone, society, culture, the west, the middle east, then it seems undeniable that what happened ten years ago changed everything, both brutally and subtly. We honeymooned in New York. We didn’t visit the place where the World Trade Centre used to be. I suspect that the New York we experienced was a very different one to the one that existed ten years and a day ago.

After the August Riots

I didn’t expect to find myself agreeing with Peter Oborne, flagship right-wing Telegraph columnist and opinion-spouter, about the August Riots and what caused them (and who is to blame), but I do, and very strongly.

I have a dark feeling that Britain may respond to the August Riots by shifting to the right, by punishing the active criminals, the rioters, looters, arsonists, and thugs, who torched the streets last weekend, and ignore the social causes of the discontent, anger, and disenfranchisement that brought about the riots.

Let me make a distinction here, that I have gleaned from Bill Tupman; the shooting of Mark Duggan and the Tottenham-based unrest that followed is what occasioned the August Riots, was the spark to the powder keg. Years – 30 or more – of political policies that have encouraged greed and discouraged social responsibility (remember Thatcher’s infamous “there is no such thing as society; only individuals” quote), that have rewarded avarice, and that, in recent years, have failed to (adequately) punish expenses-fiddling politicians and risk-taking, economy-shattering bankers, and which have created a society where we celebrate, and reward with untold riches, attention-seeking celebrities and footballers, are the cause.

Don’t get me wrong; every single person who smashed a window, lit a fire, threw a punch, stole an item from a shop, is a criminal, and is responsible for their actions in the same way as I am responsible for my actions, and should be held accountable for them and be punished for them via due process of the law. I am not excusing this behaviour or condoning it; but if all we do, as a society, is punish the behaviour that we saw last weekend and earlier this week, and not seek to solve the problems that caused it, then all we are doing is leaving festering social wounds that will cause more violence in the future.

We live in a country where the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is a self-confessed teenage arsonist (apologies for linking to a piece by Victoria Cohen – it was that or The Daily Mail); where the mayor of London and the Prime Minister belonged to Oxford University’s notoriously destructive Bullingdon Club, a circle of wealthy, privileged young men who routinely trashed restaurants during epic booze binges. (Sure, they paid for their destruction in cold hard cash at the end of their debauched evenings out, but money does not paper over the cracks of an absent morality. Or it shouldn’t.) These are the people who set the example for the rest of the country to follow. Privileged they may be, but they are still arsonists and rioters of a sort.

25 years on from Clegg burning down an academic’s life’s work, from Boris and Cameron rioting through restaurants, is it any surprise that the people they now govern over, having seen footballers, bankers, politicians, royals, and a host of other people who are meant to be our social elders and betters behaving without morality, taking what they want, when they want, with avarice and greed and wanton destruction, paying for their crimes not with remorse or penitence or punishment but with what is to them mere spare change, is it any surprise that the people who have the least in society, have acted in the same way, on a grand scale, all at once, as a violent reaction to this? If a politician wants what they can’t afford, they put it on expenses. If a banker wants what they can’t afford, they gamble someone else’s money for it. If the middle classes want what they can’t afford, they stick it on a credit card. If those who cannot garner credit want what they can’t afford, what do they do?

The Thatcher and Blair governments (with Murdoch’s help) have spent the best part of 30 years courting the interests of business over the interests of society. Social groups have been eroded, culture has fractured, and all the things that offered a sense of belonging and identity have been broken down into ever smaller and more fragile and less valued parts, from religious groups to trade unions to youth clubs and beyond. Contrary to the befuddled idiot David Starkey’s opinion, this is not about race, or even just about class – the fact that we’ve seen middle class students, teachers, and more culpable of rioting and looting proves that, by showing that idiots of all class can and do behave despicably (also, there were no riots in the North East or Cornwall, the most socially-deprived areas in the UK) – but it might just be, at least in part, about removing responsibility and belonging from people, and replacing it with greed at all costs. You could, and some people have and will, blame the cultural products, the music, the films, the video games, etc etc, but let’s remember Marx’s base & superstructure theory; the economic and political base of a culture informs and shapes the cultural product it creates. The two are intrinsically interlinked, symbiotic. You cannot blame one and not the other.

I’m not pretending to be some social or political expert; I don’t have answers to the questions I’m raising here, but if I, in my flat in Exeter, can see that punishment alone is not going to cure the ills that caused the August Riots, then surely the government can? But the problem there is that the government now is made up of people like Michael Gove, and David Cameron, and Boris Johnson, who don’t need research, and reason, and evidence, because they just know what is right, and what is wrong, and what causes problems, and who is to blame, because they are the ruling classes and the ruling classes are better than the rest of us. This week we also found out that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s community allotments can halve antisocial behaviour; if people have focus, and drive, and connection to the products of their labour, and positive interaction with other people in their community, then communities can and will grow and flourish. If people have nothing, they value nothing.

Who’s in control?

Early Sunday evening the police helicopter was loitering noisily above St. Leonard’s, the area of Exeter, very close to the city centre, where we live. Aware that London was experiencing more than a little strife, and with natural human curiosity, we scoured Twitter and Facebook to see if anyone knew what was going on. We found a couple of references to trouble on Cowick Street, a less salubrious but by absolutely no means underprivileged area of the town. The word “riot” was used.

It was absolute bollocks. A couple of people had been suspected of stealing from a building site on the grounds of a school somewhere near us. Ultimately it turned out that they hadn’t done anything wrong, and the Exeter police helicopter blog (so dull I shan’t link to it – you can google if you want to) stated they’d been given “some words of advice”, or suchlike.

Tonight, after work, we drove to B&Q to buy some compost for our allotment. In traffic at Exe Bridges we saw about five Police vehicles, lights on, weaving through traffic. The police are jittery in Exeter. One of them pulled into B&Q carpark in a hurry, did a loop, and drove out again. B&Q was quiet.

BBC News 24 is reporting that rioters are attacking fire crews. On FiveLive one reporter was audibly shaken because his cameraman had been attacked. My father-in-law is in Baghdad at the moment on business. He’s probably safer there than in Basingstoke, where he’d normally be during the week. They don’t attack cameramen in Afghanistan, do they? Not deliberately?

To someone in Devon, the riots are strange. We’re often isolated from nationwide news down here; London, Birmingham, and Manchester are all far away. Things occasionally creep to Bristol. News is like tour itineraries. They don’t reach Exeter most of the time.

Twitter has kept us feeling involved, to an extent. A friend is a policeman in Manchester; he’s reported tonight that he’s in full body armour and “heading into the warzone”. But Manchester have sent a swathe of their police to London to help out there, and tonight Manchester seems to be kicking off. The Manchester police are asking people via Twitter to “dob them in” if they know anyone involved in the rioting.

This is obviously about way more than Mark Duggan’s killing now. It’s also about way more than Theresa May’s repeated mantra of “sheer criminality” that she wheeled out again and again on the radio this morning. It’s about more than Diane Abbott’s “recreational looting”, a descriptor which feels, to me, to get closer to the heart of the matter than May’s soundbite; still not close enough. It’s about more than austerity measures, too, I suspect. I’m not qualified to say what it is about, but it seems to me that, though the individual acts of rioting, looting, violence, pyromania, and idiocy may not necessarily be political in nature, the culture that exists, that has existed for several years, if not decades, which has nurtured this sense amongst the rioters that it is OK to lash out, to steal, that it is necessary, that there is no other way, that no one and nothing cares about them, is political in nature, in that it is the job of politics to try and nurture a culture, at every social level, which does not condone violence and unrest, and which does not feel as if no one and nothing cares.

There’s an audio clip doing the rounds where a young girl exclaims that this is about “showing the rich people that we can do what we want”, complaining about small business owners as if they were the bankers who tipped this country into recession rather than people struggling with the aftermath of it. Whose cars do they think they’re burning? Who do they think they’re demonstrating against by tearing up the shops that make up their own communities? How are even big companies like JD Sports or Currys the enemy? I guess that’s the thing – they’re not the enemy. They’re the holder of objects that people covet, and they’re smashing them apart to get hold of trainers and iPods and so on and so forth. Because it’s about a fight, and an opportunistic theft, and about not having any fear of recrimination. Is it even about that? I don’t know. I’m sitting in a flat in Exeter, gazing over quiet rooftops, drinking tea, typing on my expensive Apple laptop. I’ve just been at my allotment. Last night I went out for a ride on my nice new bike. I have no idea what these people are rioting for. I don’t understand economics and I don’t understanding recreational looting. I don’t understanding raiding Cash Converters or breaking into Oxfam shops.

I do understand that the warehouse where PIAS keeps all its stock has burnt to the ground in London, that everything inside was incinerated, obliterated, that all the people at all the independent record labels that PIAS work with have had years of work and potential livelihoods destroyed, from sales reps to label staff to the musicians who recorded the music on the CDs that are now so much smoldering lino. I understand that all the copies of Patrick Wolf’s fourth album, The Bachelor, that aren’t in shops or bedrooms or livingrooms were in that warehouse; it’s not a big album, it’s a couple of years old; will it get repressed? Is it worth the bother? It was self-funded with donations from fans. How many other albums melted in that warehouse wont get repressed? Can’t afford to be repressed? Will be lost forever? It makes me sad. Maybe that’s solipsistic of me to think like that about records, but it’s something I love, an industry I know a little about and identify with. It’s just one aspect of one industry affected by this though. The furniture shops, the restaurants, the electrical retailers, the clothes shops, the flats above the shops, the houses next to the shops, the people who work in the shops, who live in the flats, who lived in the houses, who don’t have shops and jobs and flats and houses anymore. Heaven forefend, who might not have lives anymore if things get worse.

There aren’t many of these people, in the scheme of things, who are rioting, looting, setting fire to things. In a county of 60 million people or thereabouts it’s probably only a few thousand, maybe 0.01% of the population. How have we got to this point? I keep thinking about the Arab Spring; is our culture as oppressive, in its own way, as those of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain? Is this crowd of Blackberry Messenger-ites seeking democracy and opportunity, or do they really just want trainers and iPods and a fight? I don’t know. I don’t think anybody does.

Writing on Twitter

(I’m helping someone with their PhD research by keeping a writing diary for them about this blog and other writing I do; this post was written for there originally but got so long and seemed like it might be interesting enough that I thought I might as well put it here.)

At the time of writing (7-8am on Sunday morning) I have made 11,418 tweets. Before the day is out I imagine I will have made many more. At an average of 13 words per tweet (which I calculated by counting the words in about a dozen recent ‘average’ tweets) this amounts to 148,434 words. At 300 words per page, a 300-page novel would comprise of 90,000 words. So, since the start of 2009, which is approximately when I started using Twitter, I have written enough words to make a 500-page novel, give or take. Clearly this is a pretty substantial amount of writing, and it should probably be considered with as much rigour, perhaps, as my long-form writing, be that blogging, reviewing, or anything else. Whether or not it’s possible to analyse my tweeting in quite that depth, I’m unsure.

Some quick facts about my tweeting habits. My Twitter account uses the same online identity or ‘brand’ as my blog ( I currently follow 533 people and I have 736 followers. I tweet from wherever I am using whatever tools are to hand; often this is my iPhone when out-and-about, my work computer or our home iMac when sitting at a desk, but most commonly it is probably the iPad while sitting in the house on the sofa or an easy chair. On the iPhone, iPad, and iMac, I use the official Twitter app to tweet; from work I use the Twitter website via the Firefox browser for my own account, and software called Hootsuite via the Chrome browser for the work account I run (685 Tweets, probably 600+ made by me, 623 following, 503 followers). I have tried several different Tweeting applications over the last two and a bit years and now settled into a comfortable routine for the time being.

My tweets have essentially four different types: conversations, observations, participations, and repetitions. Conversations are replies to and comments at people I know about subjects I’m interested in – most commonly music, but also film, football, cycling, television, cooking, and anything else you might talk about in person or online. I suspect this makes up the bulk of my tweeting, and most of these tweets are between myself and people I know ‘outside’ of twitter – my wife, two key work colleagues / friends, my brother-in-law, a handful of fellow music geeks / writers / fans who I have met online and in person over the last decade or so, many of whom I consider to be friends, plus a few other friends who use the platform.

Observations are (hopefully) pithy, witty, insightful, or clever remarks made at no one in particular, in the hope that people will find them interesting and/or that they will spark conversations. A recent example is the sentence “I am helping Adele to pay less tax by not buying her records” which I adapted from something someone said on a music forum that I agreed with, in relation to the singer Adele’s recent reaction of displeasure to having a big tax bill due to having sold millions of albums.

Participations can be both conversations and/or observations, but they are related to specific cultural events, usually occurring at the time they are being tweeted about. Essentially they are the Twitter ‘buzz’ that gets talked about in media channels, the ‘flurries’ of comments on and discussions about current affairs, be that superinjunctions, the Arab Spring, X Factor, the European Cup Final, or anything else that happens in the world. If enough people talk about these things, marking their tweets with a hashtag to mak them more easily findable and associable with the given topic, they can become trends, locally or even globally. Trends are exactly what you might imagine; lots of people talking about one issue for a time. Trends, and therefore participations, may not be about current affairs, and may just be random memes that have caught favour and inspired amusement amongst people; I don’t tend to participate in these as much as more current affairs based participations. Emma and I both agree that live TV occurrences, such as X Factor, become almost exponentially more enjoyable if you participate via Twitter, chatting with friends, watching the comments of celebrities, and generally being ‘swept up’ in the moment, in the event. While BBC iPlayer, personal digital TV recorders like Sky+, SkyAnytime, and other internet streaming TV solutions make it possible to watch what you want, when you want, where you want, many programmes totally lose their sense of occurrence and enjoyability if you watch them after the Twitter buzz has subsided.

Repetitions are just that; ‘retweets’ of what other people have said that I agree with, or would like the people who follow me to see; these tweets are therefore not actively written by me. I’m not sure what proportion of my overall tweets this makes-up, but it’s not much – I do considerably more of it for the work account I run.

Why do I tweet? Because I like talking to people, I like expressing my opinions, I have a compulsion to write on the internet in various forms, and I like the microscopic sense of affirmation that comes from people replying to you, retweeting something you’ve posted, or deigning to follow you.

How do I compose tweets? I’ve got pretty good at this, meaning that I seldom have to think about truncating things I want to tweet or even use internet shorthand symbols etcetera; I seem to be able to compose thoughts into 140-character chunks without much effort. I guess I’ve had plenty of practice… I rarely if ever compose a tweet and then fail to publish / send it, which is probably why I have posted so many. It would seem like wasted time to me; and I’m not particularly precious about my writing – once it’s written, it might as well be read. Twitter encourages a definite sense of ephemerality in writing.

Replies in conversations come very organically; standalone observations sometimes occur to me in advance and get mulled around a little before being typed, but not by much – I’ve generally got a device I can tweet from to hand. I don’t think I’ve ever emailed my self a reminder of something I’d like to tweet (except for my work account) or ever made a plan of a series of tweets or tweet subjects I’d like to engage in (again, except for my work account, which is approached more ‘strategically’ than my personal account – although, clearly, the fact that I consider it to be part of my personal ‘online brand’ suggests an amount of strategic thinking!).

I think that’s about it…

What I did on my holidays

I’ve always hated people who apologise for not updating their blogs for a while; it seems like such an egotistical thing to do, to apologise for not gifting people with your thoughts and words. I remember Ian Brown, in an interview circa 1995 after The Stone Roses had returned from their 5-year hiatus (how short a gap between albums does 5-years seem now?), saying something like “do you think we’re that important? Do you think people just sat around not breathing while they waited for us to make another record? I don’t.”

Since April 14th I have ridden over 200 miles on my bicycle (some of it in the company of my wife). I have visited The Drift Record shop in Totnes for Record Store Day, and bought some vinyl. I have had a brief, beautiful anniversary holiday with my wife in St Ives (where we stayed in a terrific B&B), visiting Sennen Cove with a friend on the way back (and listening to a certain Ride b-side on the journey), and took a lot of pictures while we were there. I’ve had a family barbecue at the in-laws’ house. I’ve been to the theatre for the first time in a decade (to see The Dumb Waiter by Pinter). I’ve played Brian Eno’s Another Green World at Devon Record Club. I’ve been to the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink. I’ve helped my wife plant some tomatoes, some chillies, some lettuce, some mint, and some other stuff in our yard. I’ve bought a garden chair. I’ve put SPD pedals on my bicycle, and clocked my fastest-ever single mile (2mins 58secs down Honiton Road behind Exeter Airport, without realising how fast I was going at the time). I’ve watched some of the Royal Wedding (despite being a vague republican). What I haven’t done (bar the Brian Eno piece for DRC) is any writing. I had every intention of doing some, given that we took advantage of the cluster of Bank Holidays and extended our break to eleven days in a row, but frankly I haven’t been of a mind to. I’ve pondered writing something about being a dilettante, about cycling, about St Ives, about record clubs, about lots and lots of things, but sitting down at a desk to type has seemed too much like work. I return to actual work on Tuesday for three days before another long weekend (including a trip to Scotland for a friend’s wedding), so maybe… I would say “normal service will resume”, but what’s normal service?