thirsty work

I hear “I don’t do politics” a lot. We all know people who wont vote, don’t know why it’s important. There may even be a few people in your life that look at you blankly when in return, you ask why. Sadly, for some of my friends, I never take the opportunity to ask why. I tend to get high on my horse pretty quickly, and vibrate with barely-controlled emotion, as I extol the need for EVERYONE to do politics.

The attempted avoidance isn’t a modern phenomenon. This attitude isn’t new, and it’s widely discussed these days. With fever building and media rarking up the masses for headlines and market share, you can guarantee the portion of non-voters is an ‘of the moment’ kind of subject. Posters, and advertising, and government rhetoric are telling you to form an opinion and give it action. Challenging you to get to the ballot box.

I am frequently taken by surprise when I speak to otherwise intelligent, sensible people, and hear they just aren’t interested in politics. Either about specific aspects, or in general. They do not know the issues, the background to the debates, or care. I wonder, how is this possible? It’s not like not liking cats. Or being uninterested in participating in a discourse on Greek architecture. It’s not a personal taste thing. You can’t NOT DO POLITICS.

Let me explain. Briefly. Without a rant about voting or taking responsibility or the infantisation of young adults by their doting parents (another time, my friends).

Melvyn Burgess, the British author says “How do you escape politics? You have no choice. It is all around us. It defines our relationships with government, with our employers, it shapes the exchanges we have with our friends and our families. Politics helps define what we think and even how we feel. In these days of massive industrialisation, it is present in the water we drink and in the air we breathe. We are social animals and since politics is the study of the power dynamics in how we organise society, it’s there right at the base of all culture, including literature of all kinds, whether it’s novels, plays, poetry or advertisements. Even your shopping list has a political nature”.

That’s it really. Everything you do, believe in, care about, choose to ignore, dislike, or love beyond measure, is affected by politics. The legislation that allows you to drive your car. The policeman who returned a lost ring. Your right to sing in the street if you wish. These things are all made possible through the course of politics.

In New Zealand’s 1893 general election, new legislation allowed women to vote. The first country in the world (yeah, ok. Of those with modern democracies, in the form we accept as standard across The West). I am so incredibly proud of this legacy. It was a sign that we could control our destiny. This, this is politics.

In England, in a nation where we take our freedoms for granted, and are beginning more and more to demand things as a right rather than a privilege, we must continue to help people understand the importance of their political awareness. We freely choose our Leaders, move around our communities with confidence, and are given a channel of complaint that ensures we have protection. We have a democracy (yes, yes… in degrees, depending on which way you swing)… and our greatness is clearly determined by the political influences within which we exist.

In an ideal community, politics allows us to develop dreams, to insist on our life path. It is the safe environment that lets your needs and wishes be nurtured.

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lemon, lime, and bitters

So I try to refrain from commenting on many many threads that appear on a number of FB groups… It’s not because I couldn’t annihilate the idiocy with a few easy key strokes. In fact a couple of quick weblinks and a point in the right direction would probably stun a few in to silence. But the others? Well, there are just too many stoopids.

Recently I noticed a thread on TT Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. An FB group I have been part of for a while; I love bikes, lived on the Isle of Man, and my ex is one of it’s administrators. To be honest, the site is all a bit blow-hard and narcissistic – with random strangers posting questions like: “I want to buy a bike, what should I get”? Seriously, if you have to ask an FB group that kind of question, you really shouldn’t be thinking of going out on the road. Or comments that include slagging off racing personalities or other peoples’ bikes. It can get aggressive, offensive, and just damn stupid. But you ignore the silly banter and ignorance because it is one of the largest memberships for bike enthusiasts on Facebook… and sometimes there are interesting gems posted that help others, or make you ponder. Though more rarely of late.

Last night’s thread however, made me angry. There’s a portion of riders that feel being on a bike is the ultimate in freedom. And they aren’t wrong – the open road, the camaraderie, the adventure, the customsing of their bikes for individual need and aesthetics… but at this time of year the subject of what to wear on a bike gets brought up frequently. The dissing of those that choose to get out on the road in just a tshirt and jeans or even more controversially, shorts. It’s an interesting topic and people who rarely comment can be seen making strong statements; some extreme and some very very stupid. Now, the majority of mature bikers with mileage under their belts know what it feels like to hit the tarmac at pace. It hurts. It scars. And it makes people think twice about how they fell, how exposed they are to injury, and how to protect themselves in the future.

Yesterday’s thread began with a guy suggesting a bike rider he saw on the motorway wearing just a tee and shorts was a Prick. Of course he is a prick. A prize idiot. But unsurprisingly it kicked off a long list of people saying things like, “It’s his choice” and “wrap up in overboard life-numbing health and safety bubble-wrap cotton wool and never leave the house..” rants in protest at the postee’s original assertion. And I don’t necessarily disagree. Riding bikes is a beautiful, crazy, thrilling experience. A great way to get around. And a pretty special leisure time activity. As a commuter, doing many miles amongst cars that pull out, don’t indicate, don’t look, or veer across your path purely to restrict your safe maneuver..? Well, that’s when the ride becomes a whole lot less fun. And a much more risky way of moving from A to B.

So as a rider, is there an element of responsibility to ensure you take precautions? Of course. You are always paying attention. Your roadcraft becomes detail-orientated and hazard perception is finely tuned – you want to stay alive. But is someone who wears a tshirt and flip-flops taking the piss? Being a prick? Yes. Yes, very much so. Not because he is being free and choosing a spirited way of life, but because the results of that car pulling out in front of him, or the melting of cotton into his backside as he slides down the road, means that it is not just about him. Not just about HIS choices.

While the pressure on the NHS is global news, and an important political tool for this election, we are all very aware of the limited resource; the cost of this creaky old ship to our communities, indirectly to our pay cheques, and our economy. I wonder at the blase attitude these guys have for the emergency services and healthcare communities, that have to mop up and sew up, so many of them every day.

I suggested they contemplate this aspect, that if they had to pay for their healthcare, would they behave differently? They didn’t like that. Almost to a man (yup, no women in this thread) they responded quickly… with justification like, but smokers put more pressure on the NHS, or stabbings and car crashes put more pressure on the NHS… or some other utterly divergent irrelevant argument. Much of the following rhetoric was knee-jerk reaction to the suggestion that their freedoms were under attack. They weren’t. I was merely pondering the idea that as a community, there was an element of responsibility to be thoughtful, to do what they can for the greater good – I’ve seen the hours dedicated hospital staff commit to bike crash victims, have lost friends through ‘accidents’ on the road, have tweezed out melted denim from the thigh of a lover… not all injuries can be avoided. On a bike you are so damn vulnerable. But sometimes, and with just a little care, you can limit the impact, try to ensure the scars are lessened, and just be sensible.

This doesn’t take away your right to ride. Or your freedom. But it may just save the tax payer some pingers, mean that a nurse can finish her shift on time, allow the blood bags to go to a person who had no choice in how they were hurt. Or may be… even save your life.