Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Union met in secret on the dark side of the hill

I've got a theory about something. I was having one of those jokey text exchanges the other day with a good friend. I shan't name him because I don't want to expose him or his anarcho-capitalist views to ridicule.

Anyway, last Sunday I rode the full Monty of the Grand Fondo of the Dragon Ride. All 131 miles of it. If you want a detailed description of the climbs etc.,  you can find it here. It's last year's report but much the same.  The route was much the same, no, exactly the same, but my time was slightly longer, riding and total. It was sunnier and dare I say hotter (considerably), drier (even more considerably) and windier (much).

I am very, very, very grateful to have the privilege of riding with Mark, aka the velopixie. (Also available to follow on Twitter).

This picture was taken at the lay-by, just below the top of the Rhigos climb. We were both pretty knackered by this stage, and had been taking it in turns to feel rough and tow each other in equal measure. What a great jersey he had on though, put my dull red and black to shame.

I should have known it was hard, I had re-read my description from last year after all. But just like I imagine having a baby to be, the memory of the pain fades and the joy of the finish remains. So it was this year, the further away last Sunday gets, the more enjoyable a ride it was.

So back to my theory. South Wales is extraordinary. The scenery of much of the ride was breathtaking on Sunday. With no clouds, azure-blue skies and wide open views, you could see mile upon mile of gorgeous countryside. The climbs were challenging without being super steep (except for one!) and the descents fantastic, unless you were one of the four or five people taken to hospital in an ambulance after various crashes.

But in between all that, there was a lot of urban riding, much of it dull, and much of it populated by, err, characters. At 8.15 on a Sunday morning there is something disconcerting about a man taking a pit-bull for a walk with a can of Stella in his hand. The man not the dog.

Or the massed ranks of teenage girls looking like they are auditioning for a part in a kitchen-sink drama. Or the crowd of boys (probably aged about 10) actually chucking stones at us at the base of Glen Neath climb. And hit one rider's bike.

Fifty years ago these valleys were full of proud working men, labouring all the hours to dig coal out of places like this. That wrecked piece of infrastructure is all that remains of Tower Colliery, the last working deep coal mine in South Wales, which closed in the last decade.

Taken from the same spot as this:

Is it all about perspective? Am I being too harsh on the people who now live in those places? At the time of the strike, those fighting for their jobs claimed that pit closures would destroy their communities as well as take away their livelihoods. Now, most people accept that money and economics should prevail and that the state or the taxpayer shouldn't support failing industries.

Unless they are Banks of course. Or Universities, after all, how much do they cost? Or Hospitals, with all the money they absorb, and why can't the Army generate some of its own revenue?

Your money, my money, it goes where the politicians dictate,  and the values of the strong seem to win out over the values of the weak and poor. I don't like it. But I don't know what to do about it. How to respond?

Feral children, wild teenagers and drunken old men. That is some of what I saw, so maybe those strikers were right, after all, is that a community? But then again, perhaps that is the exception, and most people in those valleys are happy with a consumerist, materialist, modern culture, who am I to judge?

You see, one thing my friend didn't spot, and unfortunately I think is probably true, is that the only people nowadays who actually want real change, a revolution if you like, are nice comfortable middle-class kids like me. Unlike in the 1830s, 1840s, 1890s, 1920s, 1970s and 1980s, no-one really feels like challenging a depressing status quo.

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