Category Archives: Civil liberties

He Rides a Different Road

He’s in his fifties, yet leather-clad, his grey hair proves his years,

His tattoos long since faded, and his belly fat, from beers,

With chains, and studs and heavy boots, his presence here is awesome,

The patch upon his back is clear, he is an iron horseman,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

 

You’ll see him up the Ace Cafe, or at a bikers boozer,

He spends less on food and clothes, than he does upon his cruiser,

In his mind he’s easy rider, he’s Brando on the run,

Mad Max on the Highway, Terminator with a gun,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

His summers packed with ride-outs, just cruising with the HOG,

In a roaring stream of metal, they look a fearsome mob,

But behind the beard, and denims, the leather and the chrome,

Is a bloke who’s’ taking Christmas toys, to the local children’s home.

So when you sit in judgement, from your shiny, ivory tower,

On your dull commute to office land, where you wield such puny power,

Of the old bloke on his noisy bike, In his jacket, jeans and scarf,

Remember that he’s just chosen, to ride a different path

 

acecafe20th-2013-03

Mark Charlwood 2019©

Forced to Wear a Cycle Helmet? I Don’t Think So!

I was sitting in the office the other day, when I overheard a conversation between two of my colleagues.  Now, I should probably explain here, that one of the protagonists is a keen cyclist, and commutes to work by bicycle every day, regardless of weather  – a distance of some thirteen miles.

The other party to the discussion was a self-confessed petrol head, and drives a very powerful, sporty muscle car.

He was remonstrating with my biking colleague, criticising him for not wearing a cycle helmet.  Quite rightly, in my opinion, the cyclist was defending his position by saying that there was no legal requirement for him to wear a crash helmet, and as such he wouldn’t.

This got me thinking.  Over the past three or four years, there has been some serious lobbying by some safety motivated pressure groups[1] to make it a legal requirement for cyclists to wear crash helmets whilst riding their bicycles.

As a free thinking adult, and a free spirit, I normally baulk at any sort of legislation that attempts to regulate aspects of my private life, and this includes the “Nanny State” mentality of coercing me to stop engaging in activities that are perceived by others (in all possibility non-participants in those activities) to be either dangerous or unhealthy.

So I decided to conduct a little research into the subject, and this is what I came up with.

Statistics.  Lots of statistics, all of which can be distorted and twisted to put a particular slant on a story.

However, I have done my best to strip the spin and hyperbole from the stats and explain it as it is.

Firstly, one has to first understand why a cyclist may need a crash helmet.

Advice to wear a helmet, means that the person or organisation offering the advice feels that there is a great risk that a head injury may be sustained by the individual when taking part in the activity – in this case the relatively safe pastime of riding a bike.

So, to put this into perspective, there is a need to assess the element of risk associated with cycling, and compare it with other common activities.

A little research throws up some interesting facts that the proponents for mandatory crash hats don’t tell you.

Firstly, according to Her Majesty’s government, there were over four times as many pedestrians killed on the roads in 2016 than cyclists[2]. If we are to accept the pro helmet lobby’s argument that helmets should be mandated for the riskiest activities, then they should be advocating that pedestrians should be compelled legally to wear helmets!  This is obviously ludicrous.

Bicycle helmets manufactured to comply with the older BS 6863 are designed to protect the rider from falling from a stationary riding position – not for crash impacts with vehicles moving at speed. The newer standard – EN 107, has progressively weakened the requirements due to lobbying from the manufacturers themsleves!

Naturally, everybody wants human activity to be as safe as is reasonably practicable.  However, there is a fine balance between protecting people and demotivating them from being involved in an activity.

The health benefits of cycling are well known; excellent for cardio-vascular fitness, aerobic fitness and the development of muscle bulk and stamina. Add to that the psychological benefits of riding a bicycle  – greater hand/eye co-ordination, a very good stress buster, and a great sense of personal freedom and independence, and you have a formula for good health.

Using the World Health Organisation’s Health Economic Assessment Tool, Cycling UK estimates that a UK-wide helmet enforcement law would result in an extra 263 deaths per annum as a result of the decrease in physical activity resulting from a reduction in cyclists. This would lead to an estimated increase in public health costs of £304M to 451M per year.

Given these stark warnings of an impending obesity epidemic, it would appear to be common sense for governments to encourage as many people as possible to ride a bicycle, not only as a leisure activity, but also as a means for commuting, and even a way of conducting commerce.

A second great driver for the encouragement to cycle is the government’s commitment to comply with EU emissions reduction targets.

Reduction in the use of hydrocarbon-powered transport is central to this theme, and increasing the number of bicycle journeys is an excellent way of both improving national fitness levels, and reducing pollution and greenhouse gases.

To facilitate this, there have been a number of initiatives set up to encourage cycling in the UK.  Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London, launched a public cycle hire scheme, now administered by Santander Bank – still colloquially known as Boris Bikes, to encourage Londoners to cycle.

This has proved to be a great success, with over a quarter of a million active members[3] and this has now been complemented by the provision of a London-wide cycle network, consisting of Bicycle Super Highways – with an orbital route, and cross city routes.

Sadly, all of these initiatives may prove to be worthless, should the pro-helmet lobby get their way, and legislation is passed to enforce cycle riders to wear crash helmets.

The statistics indicate that in every country that has instituted compulsory helmets for cycling, there has been an immediate and irreversible reduction in the number of active cyclists on the roads[4].

For example, in Perth, Western Australia, cycling rates plunged by 30 – 40% immediately after the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets became law.

Statistical analysis emphasises that the benefit of cycling, in terms of life years gained through better health against life years lost as a result of serious injury risks is a factor of about 20:1.

To put this into context, in the U.K., there is one cycling death per 29 million miles cycled – so tiny as to be almost irrelevant.

In fact, in 2012, an average person was three and a half times more likely to be killed in a road accident as pedestrian than riding as a cyclist!

I have to confess that I do wear a helmet – occasionally.  The big difference is that I make the decision whether to wear one based on my own assessment of the risks associated with the type of ride I am about to embark upon.

If I am about to ride down a well-maintained canal towpath, or ride on relatively quiet country lanes then I most definitely leave the helmet at home. However, if I am riding in a busy city, commuting to work, or riding in a cycling event, then I grab the bash hat from the cupboard, and reluctantly wear it.

Some charity cycle events insist that a helmet be worn by participants, despite there being no legal obligation to wear one on the public roads of britain. At busy and well subscribed events such as the London Bridges Bike Ride, or the London to Brighton Bike Ride, I will wear a helmet, as I believe that the risk likelihood of coming off as a result of the density of riders is high.

Conversely, on smaller, rural rides, I will wear a bash hat at the start to comply with the organisers requirements, and as soon as I am under way, I stop, remove the helmet, put on my cloth cap, and ride accordingly.

If legislation were enacted tomorrow, then I admit that I will consciously disregard it, and continue to ride without wearing a helmet when I think it appropriate to do so.   I have ridden bicycles since I was five years old, and as an adult have suffered numerous cycle crashes, where I sustained injuries to arms, legs, and knees, and in most of them I was not wearing a helmet.

I was in fact wearing a helmet when I sustained a particularly bad knee injury, (having lost control of a mountain bike, and being unable to unclip from the pedals before impact) but it was as useful as an aqualung is to a buffalo

More recently I survived a near fatal cycle accident – and in this case I was yet again not wearing a helmet. Furthermore in all of my accidents, wearing a helmet would have had no influence on the outcome.

We also need to consider the financial costs of the introduction of such a law. Cycling UK has calculated that initial costs for helmet acquisition could be around £180 million, and subsequent renewal costs of about £45 million every year – all of which falls onto the rider to provide.

An unintended consequence of this, is that there may be a degree of social exclusion, with poorer members of society not being able to afford a helmet, and therefore being prevented from gaining the health and cost effective travel benefits, or continue to ride without a crash helmet, and face being criminalised for committing an offence.

The same logic applies to,wearing a high visibility jacket or tabard.  There is currently no robust supporting evidence to suggest that wearing a high viz jacket will actually prevent a collision.  Evidence so far seems to suggest that whilst a high viz jacket is useful to a cyclist being seen by other road users in daylight, they are only 15% effective at night.

The use of high intensity stroboscopic lights fitted to a bicycle will make the rider 47% less likely to have a daytime collision with a vehicle, and at night, the use of frame mounted lights  together with flashing lights built into anklets or fitted to pedals make the rider 90% less likely to be killed or seriously injured.

So, as far as I am concerned, I will continue to wear sensible brightly coloured clothing, and ride a well-lit, and well-maintained bicycle, taking into account where I will be riding, and at what time of day.

Time for Nanny State to take a back seat!

[1] www.headway.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/cycle-helmets/

[2]  www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/ras30-reported-casualties-in-road-accidents

[3] www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/cycle-hire-performance

[4] www.cyclinguk.org/sites/default/files/document/2017/11/helmets-evidence_brf.pdf

 

Is the Carrot Wagging the Horse?

It’s a cold, brisk, yet crystal clear Saturday morning, as I sit here in Costa, with my habitual Java in my hand. I have been people watching for a relaxing half hour, just chilling out, and enjoying the weekend. 
The tidal ebb and flow of pedestrians on East Grinstead’s London Road pass before the window, snuggled against the cold in thick jackets and scarves. However, in the main, they appear happy, probably due to the azure blue skies, sunshine and the lack of any sort of wind. 
I have been idly reviewing the week of newsworthy items, and I spotted an article that was definitely worthy of my consideration and subsequent fact-based ridicule. 
It seems that the UK’s population of Vegans and Vegetarians have got their delicate knickers in a twist over the discovery that minute traces of tallow have been used by the Royal Mint in the production of the UK’s new polymer five pound notes. 
Amidst the electronic squawkings in the twittersphere, it seems that a petition was raised to have the Bank of England change the manufacturing process of the notes. Predictably, the Bank of England is now “Looking into alternatives”
Now, let me try and put this into perspective.
The current working population (16 – 64 years old) of the United Kingdom is 38 million according to the Office of National Statistics. A page on the National Health Service website states that there are around 1.2 million vegetarians in the UK – about 3.5% of the adult working population. (www.nhs.uk) and less than 1% of that population are Vegan.
A quick tap on the calculator shows that the vegan population is estimated as a staggering 380,000,  
The petition managed to gather 120,000 signatures, enough to be considered for parliamentary debate – but this tiny figure represents just 31% of the vegan population if considered in isolation, or 0.1% of the total vegetarian population.
Pardon me if I come across as being just a little incredulous here. But Really? Truly? 0.003% of the adult people within the UK can trigger such a furore over a matter largely unimportant for the vast majority of people, and subsequently for a major institution to commit a sudden volte-face on the issue. 
I wonder how much this will cost the UK government? Any project changed mid course and without warning will incur costs, and these costs will be recovered from the taxation of working people. 
Whilst I am generally very respectful of the opinions of others, and having three or four vegetarian friends for whom I have cooked meals, this is, quite frankly, ludicrous.
Engage Grumpy Old Git Mode….
I am now looking forward to seeing the next Vegan/Veggie revolts on other highly contentious issues such as banning Beer and Wine due to the brewers use of Isinglass – a clearing agent made from fish bladders. Naturally, they will all enjoy the new alcohol free world in which they will live. Or maybe pay far more for beer and wine cleared with synthetic (and possibly much more dangerous to health) substances.  
Those Vegan ladies will have to stop using a great majority of perfumes due to the addition of Castoreum used in the manufacturing process. (Interestingly, castoreum is obtained from the Beaver’s castor sac).
Many plastic items, including supermarket carrier bags, and bicycle tyres use stearic acid in the production process. It is used as a “Slip agent” to prevent plastics sticking together, hence its use in banknote manufacturing. 
No Vegan Parents will be able to have soft and cosy laundry, because fabric conditioners contain dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride in them, in order soften the fabric’s fibres. This product is obtained from the rendered fat from cattle, horses and other livestock.
No more sugar either in their brave new world, as most sugars that have been refined use bone char during refining. Bone char is the residue collected from the ashes of burnt animal carcasses. 
Protected Lovemaking? Well, that’s out too… condoms are made from latex, together with casein a product extracted from animal milk. This product is used to lubricate the condom.  
Oh no! More bad news for Vegan women. No more nail varnish ladies. This is made with Guanine, known commercially as “Pearl Essence”. In reality it’s made from fish scales, and is one of the four base components of RNA and DNA, the building blocks of life.
Crayons have animal fats in them as well, and whilst thinking of children, let’s consider confectionery. Red coloured food products are tinted using the crushed bodies of the Cochineal Beetle. Glazed chocolate confectionery uses an edible shellac known as “Confectioners Glaze”. In reality, it’s extracted from female Lac Insects. 
Breakfast will never be the same again in Vegan households, as a number of Orange Juice suppliers are adding Omega Three fatty oils to their products. Omega three is extracted from fish. This is a relatively new thing, and is known as “Nutraceuticals”, the addition of products essential to well being into food. 
I shall never eat another bagel again either, as researching for this article revealed that a product called L-Cysteine is used in their production. This product is manufactured from bird feathers and human and pig hair. Yuk!
Toothpaste contains Glycerine another animal product.
The list is almost endless. 
Man has been involved in animal husbandry, farming and cultivation for thousands of years. Homo Sapiens are biologically optimised to operate on a mixed diet, hence the provision of teeth such as incisors and canines to enable the cutting and ripping of flesh, and molars for the grinding of pretty much everything consumed. Stereoscopic vision enables man to be an effective hunter of lesser life forms. 
Naturally, man has also evolved philosophically and culturally, and many now consider the taking of animal life for sustenance as unacceptable, conveniently overlooking the fact the vegetation is also living matter. 
Everyone can make their own choices in terms of their ethics. If you don’t want to eat meat, that’s fine. If you make that as an ethical decision rather than a dietary one, then you should also stop wearing leather, stop riding a bike, driving a car, in fact doing most things that are an intrinsic part of living in the 21st century. 
I do have some sympathy with the protestors. Regardless of the minute amounts of animal product being used, individuals are effectively being forced by the state to handle something which they find offensive and over which they have absolutely no choice. 
In due course, I guess the fiver will become so devalued it will eventually become a coin, in the same way that the old pound note did. This will stop the whinging, unless of course, a way is found to make base metal out of old cat pelts.
So, at the end of the day, in our topsy-turvey world, the process of society is being driven by a loud, vocal, and possibly ill -informed minority, and political correctness means that fewer people feel able to turn round and say “Suck it up Cup Cake”. 

Education And Aiports – Are we Losing the Plot?

Grumpy – And With Good Reason!

It may be because I am getting older, and therefore less tolerant of the idiocy of others, or it may be that other people really are becoming more cretinous and idiotic.
To prove my point, let me share some thoughts with you.
A few weekends ago, I had to make a short train journey to meet up with some family members for a genteel lunch, at a beautiful quiet country pub, nestled snugly in the Surrey countryside, in a fold of the peaceful and wealthy Surrey Hills.
In order to enjoy my journey to its fullest extent, I made a quick excursion into the pleasant little town of Haselmere, where I was to catch the train.  I left myself time to take a gentle stroll into the quintessentially English High Street where Costa Coffee is located, so I could buy my usual Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot.  

Meandering back to the station, I popped into W H Smiths and bought a paper to pass the time.

Standing on the sun dappled platform, I began to peruse the news of the day.  Amidst all of the hysteria about the forthcoming General Election, and the sad stories relating to the earthquake in Nepal, I found some cause for an element of grumpiness, which cheered me up considerably.
It seems that London’s Goldsmith College have banned Caucasian men from attending an “Anti Racism” event, because according to the “Diversity Officer,”  in order to attend you have to belong to the BME. It appears that the BME, far from being some supremacist group, stands for “Black Ethnic Minority”. 
Mind you, there is good news here as well, because the event also positively welcomed those who are “non-binary”. 
You could be forgiven for thinking this was some form of computer phobia, or an inability to count in base ten.  
I was a little amused to discover that those amongst us who are “Non Binary” do not know what sex they are.
Is it not somewhat ironic, that an event that is intended to break down barriers, and stop people discriminating against others based on racial background should fall into the trap of banning others from attending because they come from a different racial heritage.
You couldn’t make it up could you?
I did have to chuckle at the next article, concerning yet another bastion of the British Education system –  this time Queens University in Belfast.  Why has such a respected seat of learning become the target of my grumpiness (albeit mirthful grumpiness)?
Well, the scholarly leaders have decided to ban a conference on Free Speech, Self-Censorship and the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Who employs these people?  Are they specially selected for being stupid, so as to make the scholars feel clever?

So, it was with a mood of cheerful grumpiness that I met up with my family, and enjoyed an excellent lunch, with good company and good food.
Having to a certain extent, forgotten the previous evidence that modern educationalists are sillier than primary school children, I awoke the following morning early, as I had to take a trip to London to attend a business meeting.
Driving to the station, I grabbed a coffee, and picked up a Metro free newspaper at the station entrance.
Skimming through it, – amongst the latest daily doses of pre election hyperbole and more sad stories of the earthquakes and avalanches around Everest I spotted what I was subconsciously looking for…..my morning fix of idiocy to fuel my impish inner self.
Now, I work in the aviation industry, and have done for the best part of my working life, having previously served as a security officer, VIP services manager, an aircraft cleaner, a passenger services executive, and have been flight crew.  I have been exposed to much witless behaviour on many occasions from both passengers and colleagues, but I did draw a sharp intake of breath at the story published.
It seems that a little boy, of four years old was travelling through East Midlands Airport with his family, who were flying out to Lanzarote for their holiday.
All would have been well, but for the four year old carrying a plastic toy gun. It was promptly confiscated by airport security staff because “it posed a security risk”. A spokeswoman for the airport apparently said “No items may pass through security that resemble a prohibited item”
Having seen a Nerf gun in a photograph, it’s quite difficult to see what part of a bright yellow and orange plastic toy could cause anyone but a certifiable lunatic, (or maybe a user of psychotropic drugs) or someone of less than normal eyesight and common sense to mistake it for a real weapon.
Are these people actually recruited for their simplistic interpretation of a regulation that is obviously designed to stop people wandering round the departures lounge with replica AK-47s and similar.  
Mind you, a few years ago I  personally witnessed another situation whilst passing through to airside as a passenger.  The lady in front of me was asked to cover up her tee shirt….it was camouflaged and had an image of a Hand Grenade on it.  
She was justifiably irritated, but was told that the image could be distressing to other passengers.
We live in a very strange world these days, where reality is skewed to accommodate flawed thinking, and four year old children can’t take their favourite toy with them on holiday.
Welcome to brave new world.
Discuss! 
Mark Charlwood © 2015.  Mark Charlwood holds the intellectual property rights associated with this article. Please contact me if you wish to use it, or quote from it.

Welsh Rugby Fans want to sing “Why Why Why, Delilah”

I was just settled down in my local Costa Coffee last week, my favourite Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot in my hand, and the Daily Mail (thoughtfully provided by Costa) on the table.

I browsed through the major news stories, which all seemed so boringly predictable, and was about to shove the paper back in the rack when another, more interesting article caught my eye.

Upon reading the story, it became apparent that a “Senior Politician”, in this case, Mr Dafydd Iwan, the former president of the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru, has objected to the Tom Jones hit ballad “Delilah” being sung before Welsh Rugby Matches.

I stifled my laughter, as there were other customers nearby, and I didn’t want to be regarded as weird, even although some may say I am.

What nonsense!

It seems that the noble politician has got his knickers in a twist because he regards the song as offensive, because it “is about murder, and it trivialises the murder of women”

Well, I can see his point – to a certain extent. Not, however, to the extent that I believe it should be banned.

For pity’s sake! It’s a song! A very well written song, as evidenced by being awarded the Ivor Novello award for the “Best song musically and lyrically” in 1968. It was so good that it reached Number 2 in the UK top ten in the same year.

Now, using the same sort of skewed logic that our Mr Iwan uses, maybe we should stop singing “God Save the Queen” as this may be construed as sexist, elitist, and theologically unbalanced. Jingoistic, and appealing to the might of empire to obtain wealth and status.

Or maybe we should ban the genteel ladies of the Women’s Institute from opening their meetings with the wonderful Hymn “Jerusalem”. After all, it is condoning violence, “Bring me my bow, of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire, bring me my spear, oh clouds unfold, bring me my chariot of fire”.

The next verse implores the middle aged ladies to wage what amounts to a religious war, with quotes like “Nor shall my sword, sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land”

Maybe Liverpool City football fans should be prevented from singing You’ll never walk alone” as it could be suggesting that it’s encouraging stalkers to follow fans.

What about Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”. This is an anthem in praise of the larger lady, but if Mr Iwan and his ilk have their way, it will be suggested that this trivialises and marginalises the chunkier ladies. – better ban it as we can’t have that sort of suggestiveness!

Rod Stewart will certainly be banned, due to his chart topper Maggie May….in the dreary, dark, PC world that Mr Iwan wants us all to inhabit, this lyrical wistful ballad will be consigned to the Naughty Step, relating as it does, to the seduction of a schoolboy by a mature woman. In his world, this no doubt trivialises such actions.

The rest of us are mature enough to understand that the lyrics are merely a light hearted reflection on the types of adolescent fantasies that most schoolboys (myself included) have about older women.

Dean Martin – well, Little Ole Wine Drinker Me will be scuppered, as this obviously mocks the very real problems of alcoholism, and marginalises the needs and requirements of the alcoholic.
Nursery Rhymes shouldn’t be exempt either, most of which have lyrics that are of questionable integrity.

Jack and Jill famous for decades due to their hill climbing abilities? Banned! Why? Because it condones child labour. Fancy making little kids climb a steep hill to collect water. They obviously haven’t been adequately trained, and a proper risk assessment doesn’t seem to have been conducted. Furthermore, they weren’t wearing any form of protective clothing, or using the correct equipment for manually handling heavy buckets.

Ding Dong Bell doesn’t do well either. Think about it. “Ding dong bell. Pussy’s in the well, who put her in, Little Tommy Flynn”

Sounds like it’s trivialising the abuse of animals doesn’t it?

I could go on, and maybe research even more songs that should be banned using the flawed logic of Mr Iwan.

Ultimately, it’s all too silly for words. So, the lyrics of Delilah tell the story of a man pushed too far. It’s no worse than watching a modern police series, or, dare I say it, a contemporary soap series. You can see it happening for real every night on the TV news.

It’s a great song Mr Iwan. It’s a wonderful powerful stirring ballad that is sung by one of your countrymen, a man with a great voice. It’s been adopted by the Welsh Rugby fans because it is FUN to sing along as a big crowd, and Tom Jones is a true Welsh icon.

Quite unlike Mr Iwan, who I’m sure will sink into obscurity long before Delilah stops being sung by us ordinary, cheerful adults who are able to discriminate between political comment, and a good song.

Discuss….

If Music Be the Food Of Love, Play on…

I was just settled down in my local Costa Coffee last week, my favourite Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot in my hand, and the Daily Mail (thoughtfully provided by Costa) on the table.

I browsed through the major news stories, which all seemed so boringly predictable, and was about to shove the paper back in the rack when another, more interesting article caught my eye.

Upon reading the story, it became apparent that a “Senior Politician”, in this case, Mr Dafydd Iwan, the former president of the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru, has objected to the Tom Jones hit ballad “Delilah” being sung before Welsh Rugby Matches.

I stifled my laughter, as there were other customers nearby, and I didn’t want to be regarded as weird, even although some may say I am.

What nonsense!

It seems that the noble politician has got his knickers in a twist because he regards the song inappropriate, as it “is about murder, and it trivialises the murder of women”

Well, I can see his point – to a certain extent. Not, however, to the extent that I believe it should be banned.

For pity’s sake! It’s a song! A very well written song, as evidenced by being awarded the Ivor Novello award for the “Best song musically and lyrically” in 1968. It was so good that it reached Number 2 in the UK top ten in the same year.

Now, using the same sort of skewed logic that our Mr Iwan uses, maybe we should stop singing “God Save the Queen” as this may be construed as sexist, elitist, and theologically unbalanced. Jingoistic, and appealing to the might of empire to obtain wealth and status.

Or maybe we should ban the genteel ladies of the Women’s Institute from opening their meetings with the wonderful Hymn “Jerusalem”. After all, it is condoning violence, “Bring me my bow, of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire, bring me my spear, oh clouds unfold, bring me my chariot of fire”.

The next verse implores the middle aged ladies to wage what amounts to a religious war, with quotes like “Nor shall my sword, sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land”

Maybe Liverpool City football fans should be prevented from singing You’ll never walk alone” as it could be suggesting that it’s encouraging stalkers to follow fans.

What about Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”. This is an anthem in praise of the larger lady, but if Mr Iwan and his ilk have their way, it will be suggested that this trivialises and marginalises the chunkier ladies. – better ban it as we can’t have that sort of suggestiveness!

Rod Stewart will certainly be banned, due to his chart topper Maggie May….in the dreary, dark, PC world that Mr Iwan wants us all to inhabit, this lyrical wistful ballad will be consigned to the Naughty Step, relating as it does, to the seduction of a schoolboy by a mature woman. In his world, this no doubt trivialises such actions.

The rest of us are mature enough to understand that the lyrics are merely a light hearted reflection on the types of adolescent fantasies that most schoolboys (myself included) have about older women.

Dean Martin – well, Little Ole Wine Drinker Me will be scuppered, as this obviously mocks the very real problems of alcoholism, and marginalises the needs and requirements of the alcoholic.

Nursery Rhymes shouldn’t be exempt either, most of which have lyrics that are of questionable integrity.

Jack and Jill famous for decades due to their hill climbing abilities? Banned! Why? Because it condones child labour. Fancy making little kids climb a steep hill to collect water. They obviously haven’t been adequately trained, and a proper risk assessment doesn’t seem to have been conducted. Furthermore, they weren’t wearing any form of protective clothing, or using the correct equipment for manually handling heavy buckets.

Ding Dong Bell doesn’t do well either. Think about it. “Ding dong bell. Pussy’s in the well, who put her in, Little Tommy Flynn”

Sounds like it’s trivialising the abuse of animals doesn’t it?

I could go on, and maybe research even more songs that should be banned using the flawed logic of Mr Iwan.

Ultimately, it’s all too silly for words. So, the lyrics of Delilah tell the story of a man pushed too far. It’s no worse than watching a modern police series, or, dare I say it, a contemporary soap series. You can see it happening for real every night on the TV news.

It’s a great song Mr Iwan. It’s a wonderful powerful stirring ballad that is sung by one of your countrymen, a man with a great voice. It’s been adopted by the Welsh Rugby fans because it is FUN to sing along as a big crowd, and Tom Jones is a true Welsh icon.

Quite unlike Mr Iwan, who I’m sure will sink into obscurity long before Delilah stops being sung by us ordinary, cheerful adults who are able to discriminate between political comment, and a good song.

Discuss….

Should Cyclists Be Legally Obliged To Wear A Crash Helmet

I was sitting in the office the other day, when I overheard a conversation between two of my colleagues. Now, I should probably explain here, that one of the protagonists is a keen cyclist, and commutes to work by bicycle every day, regardless of weather – a distance of some thirteen miles.

The other party to the discussion was a self confessed petrol head, and drives a very powerful and sporty muscle car.

He was remonstrating with the cyclist, criticising him for not wearing a cycle helmet. Quite rightly, in my opinion, the cyclist was defending his position by saying that there was no legal requirement for him to wear a crash helmet, and as such he wouldn’t.

This got me thinking. Over the past three or four years, there has been some serious lobbying by some safety motivated pressure groups to make it a legal requirement for cyclists to wear crash helmets whilst riding their bicycles.

As a free thinking adult, and a free spirit, I normally baulk at any sort of legislation that attempts to regulate aspects of my private life, and this includes the “Nanny State” mentality of coercing me to stop engaging in activities that are perceived by some unelected bur to be either dangerous or unhealthy.

So I decided to conduct a little research into the subject, and this is what I came up with.

Statistics. Lots of statistics, all of which can be distorted and twisted to put a particular slant on a story.

However, I have done my best to strip the spin and hyperbole from the stats and explain it as it is.

Firstly, one has to first understand why a crash helmet may be needed by a cyclist.

Advice to wear a helmet, means that the person or organisation feels that there is a great risk that a head injury may be sustained by the individual by taking part in the activity – in this case the relatively safe activity of riding a bike.

So, to put this into perspective, there is a need to assess the element of risk associated with cycling, and compare it with other common activities.

A little research throws up some interesting facts that the proponents for mandatory crash hats don’t tell you.

Firstly, according to Her Majesty’s government, there were over three times as many pedestrian killed on the roads in 2013 than cyclists. If we are to assume the pro helmet lobby’s argument that helmets should be mandated for the riskiest activities, then they should be advocating that pedestrians should be compelled legally to wear helmets! This is obviously ludicrous.

Naturally, everybody wants human activity to be as safe as is reasonably practicable. However, there is a fine balance between protecting people and demotivating them from being involved in an activity.

The health benefits of cycling are well known; excellent for cardio-vascular fitness, aerobic fitness and muscle bulk and stamina. Add to that the psychological benefits of riding a bicycle – greater hand/eye co-ordination, a very good stress buster, and a great sense of personal freedom and independence, and you have a formula for good health.

Given the stark warnings of an impending obesity epidemic, it would appear to be common sense for governments to encourage as many people as possible to ride a bicycle, not only as a leisure activity, but also as a means for commuting, and even a way of conducting commerce.

A second great driver for the encouragement to cycle, is the government’s commitment to comply with EU emissions reduction targets. Reduction in the use of hydrocarbon powered transport is central to this theme, and increasing the number of bicycle journeys is an excellent way of both improving national fitness levels, and reducing pollution and greenhouse gases.

To facilitate this, there have been a number of initiatives set up to encourage cycling in the UK. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has set up a public cycle hire scheme, administered and funded by Barclays Bank – colloquially known as Boris bikes to encourage Londoners to cycle.

This has proved to be a great success, and has now been complemented by the provision of a London-wide cycle network, consisting of Bicycle Super Highways – with an orbital route, and cross city routes.

Sadly, all of these initiatives may prove to be worthless, should the pro helmet lobby get their way, and legislation is passed to enforce cycle riders to wear crash helmets.

The statistics clearly show that in every country that has instituted compulsory helmets for cycling, there has been an immediate and irreversible reduction in the number of active cyclists on the roads.

For example, in Australia, there is a. Lear link between the decline in cycling journeys and the introduction of mandatory helmet law

I have to confess that I do wear a plastic hat – occasionally. The big difference is that I make the decision whether to wear one based on my own assessment of the risks associated with the type of ride on which I am about to embark.

If I am about to ride down a well maintained canal tow path, or ride on relatively quiet country lanes then I most definitely leave the helmet at home. However, if I am riding in a busy city or commuting to work, then I grab the bash hat from the cupboard, and reluctantly wear it.

If legislation were enacted tomorrow, then I admit here and now, that I will consciously disregard it, and continue to ride without wearing a helmet wherever I think it appropriate.

I have ridden bicycles since I was five years old, and as an adult have suffered numerous bike crashes. More recently I survived a near fatal cycle accident – and in most of these cases I was not wearing a helmet. Furthermore in all of my accidents, wearing a helmet would have had no influence on the outcome.

Additionally, there is always the potential for behaviour to be altered when wearing a helmet.
Riders may feel much less vulnerable when wearing a crash helmet, and may, therefore ride in a less cautious fashion, thereby increasing the chances of them being injured in an accident.

Drivers of vehicles may also be less considerate to riders who appear to be more “professional”

In a study conducted in 2006 by Dr. Ian Walker of the University of Bath, it was found that drivers of motorised vehicles passed much closer to helmeted riders than riders without. This would appear to support the idea that helmeted riders give the impression of being more competent and regular riders than those without.

Naturally, this places the rider at more risk through drivers being less tolerant of their vulnerability, and thereby increasing the chances of an accident.

Dr. Walker, a traffic psychologist, used a bicycle fitted with proximity detectors and a computer to enable him to establish how closely traffic passed him whilst he was cycling.
The research was conducted on public roads in the cities of Salisbury and Bristol.

In order to assess whether the wearing of a helmet influenced driving behaviour, he conducted half of the study whilst wearing an approved cycle helmet, and the other half bare headed.

During the study, data from over 2,500 overtake manoeuvres, was analysed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was found that passing drivers were twice as likely to get particularly close to the cycle when he was wearing the helmet. The analysis showed that drivers passed closer by about 8.5cm than when he was bare headed.

It would appear then, that a drivers perception of a rider, is influenced by their appearance, and will affect the amount of safety margin they are willing to provide.

Due to the increasing popularity of cycling, and the Renaissance of larger sporting group rides, the study suggests that drivers (as a group) tend to perceive cyclists as a separate sub culture to which they don’t belong, and don’t understand.

As a result, unfair stereotyping, classifying cyclists as “Lycra-clad urban street warriors” prevails, and anyone riding a bicycle wearing part (or all) of the “uniform” are regarded to be more competent, experienced and predictable than those who don’t wear a helmet.

The flawed acceptance of this sub conscious fact, would go a long way to explaining why drivers pass extra close to helmeted riders.

There is an interesting dichotomy here. Most adult cyclists are also licensed car driver, and therefore know what it is like to drive a car, but relatively few motorists ride bicycles in traffic, so don’t understand or identify with the problems that cyclists face when riding.

Interestingly, the study also found that larger commercial vehicles such as buses, coaches and lorries pass even closer than cars.

The average car passed 1.3 metres away from the cycle, whereas the average truck passed only 1.14 metres from the bike. Buses were even bigger offenders, passing with only 1.1 metres of clearance. Not a lot of “wobble room” for the cyclist in the event that evasive action needs to be taken to avoid riding into a pothole, or drain head.

Despite their frequent bad press, the drivers of larger SUVs, 4x4s and People carriers passed no closer than the drivers of standard cars.

And what of “White Van Man”?

Well, the urban legend of white van man is still living up to public expectations, and will, on average, overtake cyclist 10cm closer than drivers of cars.

In order to further explore driver psychology, Dr. Walker tested if drivers would demonstrate more consideration to female riders. He therefore conducted part of the study wearing a long wig.

Whilst wearing the wig, the data clearly indicated that drivers passed with an average extra clearance of 14cm more space!

It is not clear from the study whether this is because drivers subconsciously regard female cyclists as being less predictable riders, or whether it’s due to some other factors not yet ascertained.

Whilst this is respected research, having been published in The Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention, it does not seemed to have been offered the same level of media attention as the vociferous pro helmet lobby, which has been given under the guise of complying with the Health and Safety fixated and risk averse culture that is the norm in Britain today.

One of the major collateral problems of legislating for helmets to be worn by cyclists, is that it implies that cycling is an intrinsically unsafe activity. This affects public perception adversely, subtly persuading potential riders that they must be coddled up in high visibility clothing, helmets and so on in order to commute a few miles to work, or to make a quick trip to the shops. A lot of people therefore give up cycling, because of the extra inconvenience of having to take so many steps to protect themselves in what is really a quite benign environment.

This is also reflected in the usage statistics of various city bike rental schemes, such as the Boris Bikes operated in London. The public cycle rental system in Melbourne, currently gets used for just 150 journeys a day. Melbourne operates a mandatory cycle helmet policy. Conversely, in Dublin, (where the climate is far less conducive to riding a bike) where there is no helmet law, the scheme enjoys over 5000 journeys a day, despite Dublin being hilly, and full of old cobbled streets.

I believe the two sets of factors are linked.

I re iterate my previous statement, that statistically, more pedestrians are killed every year on the roads of Great Britain. If we are to legislate purely on injury rates, then pedestrians should be legally obliged to wear walking helmets, and wear high visibility clothing, and maybe should carry approved lights during the hours of darkness.

This is plainly ludicrous, but you can see where I am going with this.

It seems that even the respected organisers of charity bicycle rides have been caught up in the scientifically flawed argument that helmets must be worn as a condition of riding, despite the fact that the Road Traffic Act, and the Highway Code makes no such stipulations that riders should wear a helmet.

I have a helmet for such occasions, and wear it at the start, when there is high traffic density and other hazards that I have personally assessed for risk. However, once away from the start, I will pull over, and confine the helmet to the saddle bag, where it belongs and ride with either a baseball cap or nothing at all, depending on the weather.

I have ridden on many rides in this fashion, including the London to Brighton road ride, the London Bridges ride, and The London to Oxford ride.

Last year I participated in the London to Brighton Off Road ride.

This ride is truly off road for a distance of eighty miles, and involves the rider in traversing rough country, fields, woodlands, river beds, grassy heathlands and the South Downs. It takes place in September, and when I did it, the weather was cold, wet, and windy, and the conditions were muddy and treacherous, particularly when riding down trails with tree roots, exposed stumps, loose shale and mud.

I wore a helmet for the whole ride, as it was immediately apparent that the chances of crashing and coming off were very high, and the nature of the terrain made the chances of subsequent injury quite high.

Furthermore, due to the relative remoteness of sections of the ride, getting quick medical assistance would be difficult.

In essence, I believe it is the responsibility of the rider to establish whether a helmet is required, or in the case of a child, the parent should make the assessment.

Too many children are growing up in a heavily risk-averse society, where they are paralysed to take any sort of action, or participate in any kind of sport or activity without the psychological prop of some sort of “Protection”

If I feel like riding down hill on my road bike, with my nose on the handlebars and nudging the speedo past 40 miles an hour, with no helmet, then it is my inalienable right to do so, and I don’t require the permission of some do-Gooder to do it.

Naturally, it’s up to me to ensure that I am carrying adequate insurance in the event that I sustain an accident, but I carry that as a matter of course.

There is, of course, another, more sinister aspect to this, and that is the actions of the judiciary.

The judgements passed in some recent cases relating to cyclists make interesting reading.

A cyclist who was knocked off his bike and seriously injured was deemed to be partially responsible for his own “accident” as he chose not to ride on the cycle path provided, but instead opted to ride on the road.

Whilst there is no legal requirement to ride on a cycle path, it is apparent that the judge in this case decided that he should have used it as it was there.

In another case, Mr. Justice Griffith Williams stated “I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that a cyclist who does not wear a helmet, runs the risk of contributing to his/her injury”

This in my humble opinion is poppycock. Cycle helmets have a design limit to protect the head in a crash situation at Impact speeds of a maximum of 12 miles per hour. I frequently double that speed whilst cycling. It may protect if I were to fall on my head from a stationary condition, but that is not a very likely scenario is it? Unless of course I had ridden down the road to my local, and imbibed six pints of old and grungy.

My recent near-fatal cycle accident actually happened on a cycle path – where the fence (topped with barbed wire) had fallen over the path due to inadequate maintenance. The path was strewn with debris, and was littered with ruts, potholes and overgrowth. In hindsight, I would probably have been safer using the road.

However, should I have been riding in the road, and suffered another type of accident, would I have been apportioned an element of blame due to not riding on what was proved to be a highly dangerous piece of cycle way.

You decide.

But my point remains. As an experienced rider, and a free citizen, with a democratic right to free choice, I will continue to make my own assessments on the requirement to wear safety equipment.

I am solely responsible for my safety. I will NOT be wearing a helmet anytime soon, unless I feel it is warranted.

Now…….where is my long blonde wig?

Mark Charlwood
November 15th 2014

The Internet of Things – Sinister Threat, or Powerful Friend?

Ask most people what they understand by the term “Internet”, and the majority will respond by explaining that the World Wide Web is accessed on their laptop computers, tablets, or smart phones to enable them to shop, communicate, and maybe conduct some research for business or educational purposes.

The expression “internet-enabled” is casually bandied about, referring to maybe a camera that will download photos automatically to a social networking site via the internet.

At the moment people access the internet, using a fixed dedicated interface device such as a desktop PC, Laptop, or smart phone.

However, the exclusive status is about to change, as more and more “inanimate” objects are being Internet enabled, becoming what is known as Ambient Intelligence.

The humble fridge in your kitchen may soon be able to assess stock levels, and reorder supplies when a preset level is detected. The vacuum cleaner may soon be able to communicate with a centralised home computer to decide which rooms require cleaning, and in what priority.

Your shopping basket may soon be enabled, and will monitor what products you are buying, and may look at patterns – maybe you are buying unhealthy food combinations, and may then upload this data to your medical centre, where your Doctor may be able to assess your diet.

Maybe government departments will monitor your spending habits to see if you are buying things that when used in combination may be dangerous.

Checking care labels on articles of clothing before loading the washing machine may soon become a thing of the past, as the item will have a microchip woven into the fabric which will communicate to the washing machine the required cleaning programme.

Already home management systems are on the market that enables a multitude of tasks to be automatically conducted with many of the functions being controlled remotely using a smart phone or a tablet computer, via the Internet.

The development of the Radio Frequency Identity Device (RFID) tag has had a profound and dramatic effect on the way we live our lives.

Initially developed for stock control and security purposes, this small chip may be programmed with a unique code that is associated with a particular product. The chip is passive, and will activate and transmit its code when interrogated by a reader device.

Stock may then be tracked within a warehouse, on board transport, and ultimately into the supermarket. It may be tracked again at checkout, and once paid for may be deleted from the system.

The same technology is used in bank cards, credit cards, Identity Cards, and documents such as passports and official documents.

If this technology is taken a step further, RFIDs may be attached to small inert chips, and placed under the skin of animals, and ultimately even human beings.

Even more chilling is the development of the Internet for security and control purposes. In the past, Governments had fairly limited means at their disposal to monitor its citizens.

Closed Circuit Television Cameras have been in use for decades, but have always relied upon human operators to monitor the captured film. Up until recently, the UK had the greatest number of cameras per capita than anywhere else in the world.

However, that is all about to change, and not necessarily for the better. The new Chinese city of Shenzhen already has a network of over 200,00 cameras monitoring its population of 12.4 million. Over the next few years, this is expected to increase to about two million.

In itself, this may not be so alarming, but when coupled with biometric data and RFID chip technology, this will enable a whole new concept in government control, and state intervention into private lives.

Facial recognition software has now been developed to the extent that it’s possible for computers to not only recognise an individual face, but also to interpret the mood or emotional state of the individual.

The covert monitoring of an individual’s body language and emotional state may be conducted by government agencies, and uploaded to powerful computers. Behavioural algorithms will analyse the data, and appropriate measures may be taken I. The event that adverse behaviour is detected.

This has both positive and negative aspects. A severely depressed individual, contemplating suicide by jumping off a bridge will naturally display strong emotional and physiological signals, which would be detected, enabling trained paramedics to be called to assist.

An individual contemplating criminal activity will also display behavioural markers that will trigger police officers to atend the scene.

However, what of the innocent individual who may be bored, mildly intoxicated, or awaiting a romantic liaison? They too may be targeted for intervention at some level.

In future, it may be possible for your local supermarket to monitor your internet enabled shopping trolley, and capture your facial image at the check out. The image may then be stored in a database containing your shopping profile.

It would then be possible for a network of cameras located in public places to recognise your image as you go about your daily business, and using your stored shopping preferences, display personally targeted advertisements on screens located, for example, on bus shelters, or mounted on the walls of buildings.

Individuals with medical conditions could be monitored effectively without the need for attending clinics at hospitals. Imagine if a pacemaker could monitor the state of a patients heart, and uplink real time data to a medical team. Early detection of a problem could result in the patient being called in for treatment before the condition becomes life threatening.

We have all become quite blasé about the internet, but it is very much a double edged sword. Used intelligently, and in a benign and sensitive way, it can improve the lives of everyone, empowering them to live a better quality of life.

Unscrupulous use of the internet by state governments for controlling the population leads to the undeniably sinister erosion of personal freedom.

Big Brother is out there – just waiting for the right moment to step in and take over our lives completely.

It is up to us, the general public to remain aware of the risks, and not allow ourselves to sleepwalk into computer controlled servitude.

You decide.

Mark Charlwood
17/06/2014

Mark Charlwood MSc reserves the intellectual copyright to this work. Re publication of this work is prohibited without seeking permission.