2012: It Really Has Been a Different Summer

The exquisite peacock butterfly

Forgive the hint of smugness, but having been away from the blogsphere for a couple of weeks, re-reading my last post – The Olympics and their Legacy – brought a self-satisfied smile this morning.

So, for the next couple of weeks, let’s put aside the many negatives about the London games and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Olympics at close range. Let’s support our amazing athletes…..

Well, it’s not often that you get what you hope for, but even the most curmudgeonly critic of London 2012 would have to admit the games far exceeded all expectations: the mind-blowing opening ceremony; the medal count; the marvellous volunteers; the non-materialisation of the expected transport meltdown; even the change in atmosphere in and around the capital itself.

Team GB’s cyclists proved once and for all that they are the best on the planet and the continued dominance of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Laura Trott and co has intensified the debate about how we can translate their success into encouraging more of our population to take to their bikes, not just in the velodrome, or the time trial, but everyday in every way, in our towns, cities and villages.

Of course, the idea of success leads inexorably to legacy and for the past week we have witnessed the inevitable, but unedifying, spectacle of politicians and other interest groups jockeying to see who can claim most credit for, and benefit from, the success of the games. Well, all sides can throw around statistics for their own advantage, but it’s pretty obvious that if you sell off playing fields, scrap the minimum requirement for PE and abolish the School Sports Partnership, then you are hardly improving your chances of fostering the next Jessica Ennis, or Mo Farah.

And the same applies, of course to cyclists and pedestrians (runners and walkers) because if conditions are deemed too difficult/dangerous to travel on foot or by bike, then you are far less likely to encourage future generations to leave their computers and take to the great outdoors.

Only time will tell if success at 2012 will generate a more holistic approach and consideration for those who use their own power to travel our roads, streets and paths. But it’s essential we keep up the pressure and continue to lobby. Why not start with a full-on advertising campaign showing the benefits of having Bradley, Jessica, Laura, Jason, Mo as our role models, rather than some bloated, paunchy petrol heads, like Clarkson and his gang? Indeed, what about challenging the Top Gear adolescents to ride down the Marin Trail (I suppose they would need to be winched to the top), or round the Velodrome? That should satisfy their speed obsession.


So, with the Olympics over, what now for what little remains of the summer? When still in my day job, I always disliked this time of year: the dog days of summer; fading blooms and colour; the obvious signs of encroaching autumn along with the dreaded return to work. This year, however, it’s been a bit different: the first week in September will not mark another new term, but the longed-for opportunity to attempt the West Highland Way.

A rare visit from a red admiral

But, in other ways this mid-August seems a bit different from usual. The end of constant Olympic TV watching has coincided with one of the best weeks, weather-wise of the summer. And, while usually our flora looks rather tired by now, the appalling weather in early summer has resulted in some luscious, late flowering colour in our hedgerows and gardens. So the buddleia, usually over and done with by late July, is still attracting a flutter of peacock butterflies and the odd red admiral. And, as long as we don’t have any sharp, early frosts, we should be enjoying fruits and berries well into the autumn. You never know, if last year is anything to go by, we might just be rewarded with summer then as well.

Fingers crossed for some clear weather on the way to Fort William and, please no rain over Rannoch. Will tweet the pics where and when I can.

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The Olympics and their Legacy

Forget the hype, forget the cost (for the moment), forget the farces about security, traffic lanes and flags. Let’s embrace the Olympics and make sure theirs is a legacy worth having. And let’s ensure they don’t just benefit the corporates and the capital – fully deserving as their immediate vicinity of East London is.

The biggest sporting show on earth may have been tainted with commercialism and corruption long ago, but it won’t be back here in our lifetimes, so, whatever our reservations, let’s be positive and use its success to ensure the legacy benefits everyone, from whatever age, cultural, economic or geographical background.

Modern Britain is a country of contrasts and nowhere is this more evident than in the vistas from the Olympic Park, taking in both the conspicuous (and many would consider repugnant) wealth of the City, as well as some of the most deprived boroughs in the country.

The last week has reminded us of some other, equally shocking, contrasts. The marvellous performances of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, hopefully augmented by Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and co in the coming weeks, reinforced Britain’s status as the current number one nation for cyclists of all disciplines. But in comparison to some of our neighbours, notably the Dutch and Scandinavian countries, our provision and infrastructure for cyclists (and pedestrians) is risible and ensures that those who walk, run and cycle through our cities and countryside face unacceptable  dangers.

We may have some of the fittest cyclists, tennis players and athletes in the world, but as a nation, we are the most unfit and inactive in Europe, as well as having the highest level of obesity. And, if that isn’t bad enough, London now suffers the worst air pollution of any city in Western Europe and last week statistics revealed that the number of serious road casualties in the UK had risen for the first time in 17 years.

Could these factors be, in any way, related?  You bet they are. You don’t have to be a statistical genius to work out that busy, dangerous roads – made even more deadly in the last two years by the removal of speed cameras and ending of “the war against the motorist”, whatever that was – do nothing to encourage parents to allow their children to walk and/or cycle to school, or elderly, disabled or vulnerable people to venture outside at all. Earlier this year, a survey by Sustrans  revealed that 56 per cent of the population considered urban roads unsafe to cycle along and 70 per cent wanted residential speed limits reduced to 20 mph. Factor in the withdrawal of public transport (and the relentless rise in fares, where it does still exist) and you have all the ingredients for a society that has become increasingly car-dependent, with catastrophic consequences for our health and safety, to say nothing of the impact on the quarter of the population who simply cannot afford access to a car.

And this is where it is vital that we utilise the legacy of the Olympics. We need to get out more, but we also need to be able to get out more and feel safe when we are out. Forget new swanky, high-tech gyms and the latest fitness/diet fads. For the majority of our population, the best way to get fit, stay fit, save money and help the environment at the same time, is to walk and/or cycle more.

Sometimes negatives breed positives – think the Addison Lee case where the idiocy of its CEO galvinised thousands of cyclists to highlight how powerful the cycle lobby has become  It’s great to see Living Streets, for example, using the expected transport chaos as a fantastic opportunity to encourage more people to get walking, with their Get Walking During the Games challenges and the Times continue its Cities Safe for Cycling Campaign  following the tragic accident to one of its journalists in London

So, for the next couple of weeks, let’s put aside the many negatives about the London games and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Olympics at close range. Let’s support our amazing athletes and ensure that the lasting legacy of these games helps re-build a society where, once again, it is the norm to travel, safely and enjoyably, to work or school, to the shops, to social events, on foot or on yer bike.



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