A Vision for “Remain” (cont)

  1. Openness

What is our view about change? Do we regard it as an exciting opportunity, or an unfortunate necessity? Do we embrace it or shrink from it? Do we think that the future is a blank sheet under our collective and individual control which we can mould to the greater good, or do we believe that “things were always better in my day”?

How do we treat visitors (temporary or permanent)?

Do we welcome them, treat them with respect and assume the best? Or do we regard them as a threat – they’re after our jobs; here for the benefits; on the scrounge?

How do we describe our identity? Am I a “Londoner”, a Sussex man, English, British, European ….. or Sapiens? How would I rank these, if asked to?

I am proud to be British (not specifically English) …… but also proud to be European. Of my four grandparents, one hails from Ireland and one from Switzerland. I am thankful that these two were welcomed into the late 19th/early 20th century “English” community. I hope that we and our children will have an equally welcoming attitude into the future.

Above all, of course, I consider myself a member of the human family Sapiens; I’m pleased to consider all fellow members my brothers and sisters.

Brexit? No thanks

 

  1. Co-operation

Let’s acknowledge from the start that competition is generally a good thing. However, surely this is even more true in the context of an overall co-operative framework.

Some questions:

  • When seeking access to increasingly limited resources (whether in trade, natural resources, services or whatever), is not working together in partnership better than aggressively fighting for “our little bit”.
  • Are we really still wedded to the notion of Might is Right? Do we care about those with whom we compete? Or about the weak, who will inevitably lose out?
  • Many would acknowledge that working together in science, medicine and technological research is self-evidently a good thing; why not in education, trade, industry, defence and security?
  • Our lives are increasingly dominated by networking (social and professional); why do we shy away from the national equivalent?
  • We increasingly live in a world in which all the important issues are global; if the issues are global, should we not move towards co-ordinated, global responses?
  • In any event, does it make sense to fragment back to a national (or indeed, sub-national) mindset?

Has the concept of the nation state, fundamentally a 19th century construct, had its day?

To be continued

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A Vision for “Remain”

In writing this political blog I am breaking a long-standing promise; to blog only once a year on my annual folding-bike adventure. Why am I departing from this? Because it’s something about which I feel very strongly. I’m sure that I am not alone in finding the possibility of  “Brexit” to be intensely depressing.

Am I the only visceral “remainer” to find the interminable pro-EU arguments lacklustre, negative and lacking vision? I don’t believe the campaign should focus on nitty-gritty: the economy; migration; borders; centralisation or de-centralisation; whether we will be a few pounds better or worse off etc. “Experts” will argue these factors with equal conviction, on both sides, till the cows come home. What we need is a vision for the future.

In the absence of this from the great and good, I will try to present my own in ten stages.

A vision for the future

 I believe we should be building a family/society/country (choose whichever collective noun you wish) which moves forward into the 21st Century on the basis of:

  • Trust
  • Openness
  • Co-operation
  • A quest for equality
  • Mutual support, including through difficult times
  • Pursuit of happiness
  • A belief in the need to protect the weak
  • A willingness to sacrifice some aspects of control for the “greater good”
  • A belief in, and commitment to, international law
  • A commitment to protecting the environment

Over the next ten days I will endeavour to elaborate on each of these ten factors in turn.

  1. Trust

A traveller came upon a wise old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment. “What sort of people live in the next town?” asked the stranger. “What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer, answering the question with another question. “They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too; the most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I’m happy to be leaving the scoundrels.” “Is that so?” replied the old farmer. “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town. Disappointed, the traveller trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.

Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. “What sort of people live in the next town?” he asked. “What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again. “They were the best people in the world; hard working, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”

“Fear not,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.”

One of the saddest aspects of the modern world is the lack of trust: stranger danger; distrust of “foreigners”; always assuming the worst, every situation a “Health and Safety” risk; suspicion and danger around every corner.

In reality, isn’t the truth is that most people are good; most people can be trusted; most people are just like you and me; risk is there to be managed, not eliminated? Surely it is better to lead our lives in this belief, than to shrink into isolation through distrust of our neighbour, or constant fear of lurking danger. We may occasionally be let down – ok, live with this, manage the risk and move on.

The relevance of this for the Brexit argument is, I think self-evident.

To be continued

 

 

 

 

 

Sapiens on a folding bike – Day 5

gable47's Blog

It’s been a long, but ultimately rewarding day.
The saga of my lost phone triggered a complete strategic rethink. I had wanted to see Freiburg, but couldn’t see how I could work it in. Yesterday, the answer became clear – go by train. Thus it was that I spent the half-hour journey  from Titisee chatting to a fellow folding-bike enthusiast, albeit a Brompton owner, who had recently cycled from Freiburg to Basel! He was able to give me detailed guidance as to what route to follow, where to cross the Rhine (much further north than I had spotted on my map, and points of interest on the way. He also, brave man, promised to look at my blog. If you are reading this, my friend, many thanks – another fine example of German hospitality.

This morning the sky is grey and threatening, but it is not actually raining. Once on…

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Sapiens on a folding bike – Day 5

It’s been a long, but ultimately rewarding day.
The saga of my lost phone triggered a complete strategic rethink. I had wanted to see Freiburg, but couldn’t see how I could work it in. Yesterday, the answer became clear – go by train. Thus it was that I spent the half-hour journey  from Titisee chatting to a fellow folding-bike enthusiast, albeit a Brompton owner, who had recently cycled from Freiburg to Basel! He was able to give me detailed guidance as to what route to follow, where to cross the Rhine (much further north than I had spotted on my map, and points of interest on the way. He also, brave man, promised to look at my blog. If you are reading this, my friend, many thanks – another fine example of German hospitality.

This morning the sky is grey and threatening, but it is not actually raining. Once on my bike, my spirits rise. There are two possible routes out of Freiburg towards Bad Krozingen: one, busy, direct and flat; the other, hilly, scenic, quiet and longer. Which do you think I take? This photo should answer the question

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Once more unto the breach.
Without the sun my trusty Silva compass, craftily fixed to my bike so that I can always see it, is my constant guiding light. Even more important, I suggest than my map. It will always take in the right direction, but not necessarily on the route I might have chosen. Much more interesting, don’t you agree?
At Bollschweil I have my first view down to the Rhine valley across to France. I feel a deep sense of loss as I descend from the hills.
Bad Krozingen turns out to be disappointing. I continue straight on to the Rhine crossing recommended by my friend on the train. There are effectively two rivers running side by side: the “wild Rhine, fast flowing and natural (who’s for Pooh sticks?) ……

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……..and the navigable Rhine, wider and tamed.
I’d better get my passport and visa ready. Oh no – not necessary yet!
Into France. Immediately, an overwhelming smell of wild garlic, the song of a nightingale and the first sight of my absolute favourite flower ….

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You think I’m joking? Oh no I’m not.
It has started to rain. At one point, when I retrace my steps to look at a village just off the road, I discover my good fortune: on a vexation scale of 1 to 10, light rain might score about 2; light rain, with the wind in your face would score 10!
Onwards, ever to the south. Time is on my side. I decide to pop back across the Rhine into Germany for lunch. Better get my passport, visa and Deutchmarks out! Sorry guys, but that really is how ridiculous it would be; surely we’ve moved on – and for the better.
It’s also raining in Neuenburg, but lunch is good.
Back into France
I continue southward on a tree-lined country road with pretty villages anybody familiar with France would immediately recognise

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It’s stopped raining and the sun has started to shine. I pass a mediaeval tile-kiln

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Apparently tile-making was important in this region of Alsace in Roman times and continued as a craft industry until relatively recently. Reaching Kembs, within sight of ‘planes descending towards Basel airport, I make a spontaneous decision: it is only 4.15 and my ‘plane is not till 9.40. I turn north towards Mulhouse. An hour later, I’m strolling its historic heart searching (unsuccessfully) for holiday presents. Oh well, I tried. On the way into the city I had seen hills rising to the north-west, the Vosges; I make a resolution to return on my bike one day to explore.
Rather than retrace my steps, I choose a scenic (yes you’ve got it!) hilly route back towards Basel. I’ve done my map research well – I progress seamlessly right up to the terminal of Basel airport arriving just before 7 pm.
It’s been a long, but ultimately rewarding, day.

Distance travelled 81 miles
Elevation gain 1,748 ft
Average speed 10 mph
Maximum speed 29.1 mph

A final fling for Sapiens! What to say, with so little time?
I decide to change my script. If you’d like to explore more of our fascinating anthropological history, with all its psychological (and in my view, philosophical) implications, I could do no better than recommend you read the excellent “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari. It covers issues such as ” imagined and constructed” orders – justice, money, capitalism; and major historical movements – the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions.
And it looks, intriguingly into the future.
For my part, I will summarise my feelings: I am proud to be a member of Sapiens and believe we are unique amongst species (this, of course, implies unique responsibilities); I believe my consciousness endows me with genuine free will, which once again, is unique on the planet (and possibly in the universe). Life is a wonderful privilege which we should treasure and enjoy. Sapiens is special! I also believe that, although science has answered many of the questions, there are still some crucially important ones which remain.
There is so much more that I could say – but it will have to wait…… until next year!

Watch this space.

Total distance travelled 261 miles
Elevation gain 24,401 ft !!

Sapiens on a folding bike – Day 4

Leaving the hotel I determine to tackle the road up the Kandel. Let me provide a context: on the map this is a minor lane which wiggles and wiggles, lined with green and with ominous view points marked.The map key explains that green lining means scenic: for me, the alarm bells ring. Steep! Little do I know that the Kandel is (I think) the second highest mountain in the Schwartzwald. Would it have made any difference if I had known? Probably not. It’s the only road going the way I want to go. And anyway, what the hell – bring it on.
The sky is laden, with low clouds obscuring the peaks, but not actually raining …yet. As I start climbing my mind becomes a streaming of random ephemeral thoughts: human rights: snails; kuchen; zig-zags. All will, I hope be revealed in due course.
It occurs to me that this is the joy of solo cycling – sensual indulgence overlayed with ephemeral thoughts. I know that I am alive! As Descartes said, “Cognito (sensual indulgence and ephemeral thoughts) ergo sum!”
The hill gets steeper …and I get slower. I start wondering how slowly I can go without falling off. This is the answer:

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I should say that there are more of these on the road than people or cars. It is deserted.
The road gets steeper still and I start to zig-zag. This doubles the distance but halves the effort. I start analysing the zig-zag. Why is one or other always the harder of the two? (He’s gone mad, I can sense you thinking). The answer, of course, lies in the camber. Try it – or perhaps don’t.
I enter the clouds, and it starts raining. My imagination starts running riot; what about those wolves and bears? It’s just like a scene from a Grimm fairy tale. I stop to view a waterfall

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The only company I have are the songbirds: goldcrests flitting from tree to tree, jays, and one buzzard who rises in front of me as if to say “this is my territory, not yours. Be off!”
Eventually, I get to the top. It’s taken over two hours, but worth every moment. There’s a fantastic viewpoint and a rather grand Biergarten. The only trouble is …. the Biergarten is deserted, and I can’t see beyond my hand. Disappointed? No. Anything else would almost have devalued the effort.

Back to Sapiens. I left you pondering “human rights”; well, I’m sorry, they don’t exist – at least, not as an absolute. No more than “animal rights”, which are governed by the biological imperative – right to be born; to try to survive; to pass on genes; and to die. We might like to think that human rights are inalienable – let’s not kid ourselves!
Of course, society has constructed a system of rights to protect the collective interests of the community (unless, of course, you’re Maggie Thatcher!). But this is what Harari would call an “imagined order”.
And what’s more, there’s clearly no consensus as to what they are. Some may seem straightforward: liberty, access to justice etc. Others are much more nuanced: gender; right to travel freely; right to free speech: right to reside in s place of one’s own choice. Oh dear! A few raw nerves here, I suspect.
Seriously though, it seems to me that this is an area where International agreement and cooperation is essential – to build a common understanding and affirmation of individual rights within society. We should be building bridges not walls.
There is however one, and I think only one scenario in which “inalienable human rights” can be genuinely promoted and understood – that they are endowed by a “Creator”. God?

I commence the descent. I suddenly realise …. it’s cold. If you don’t believe me look – and look carefully

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I stop for Cafe (or is it Kafe) and kuchen at Sankt Peter

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Thereafter, the rain digs in. I take a forest track. Am I miserable? Far from it. Somewhere, from a dim and distant past a tune enters my head. What is it? I know – “Oh Joy of Pleasure unforeseen”. This comes from a G&S show I conducted many years ago (probably 40; yikes!) for the Hemel Hempstead Operatic Society. Where did that come from? I now can’t get it out of my head.
In any case the forest track is a beauty.

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Before long I arrive in Titisee, where I intend to get a train to Freiburg.
But enough – more of that tomorrow
It’s been a day of few miles, but much quality

Distance travelled               32.7 miles
Elevation gain                          5629 ft !!
Average speed                          6.8 mph
Maximum speed                       32 mph

Schwartzwald – Day 3

I’ve got my phone back. Huzzah!! – courtesy of a helpful hotel receptionist and the wonderfully efficient German integrated transport system.
It went like this: yesterday I sent a message from my tablet to my phone; an hour later I had a reply (in perfect English) telling me where I’d left it (25 miles away over the German equivalent of the Khyber Pass!): the receptionist found out that a taxi would cost €100 but that I could get there, with loaded bike, for about €8 by train and bus. Hey Presto, catching the 8.14 local train, I had the phone in my possession by ten past nine. Not bad, hey!
By the way, it was a “no brainer” yesterday – the annoyance of the phone loss was easily outweighed by the pleasure of the pastry. You can buy another phone; but a pastry that hits the spot at the right moment …..

This necessitates a change of plan; I had not intended to be starting from Schramberg. But, you know what? This might actually be better. I can explore more of the Kinzigtal, arguably the most sumptuous scenery of the entire region – and this time, gently down hill. Serendipidy strikes again. In a trice (how long is a trice?) I have retraced my steps through  Shiltach to Wolfach.
Today there are more leisure cyclists around including the stony-faced Brunhildes, reminding me of the Moselle valley

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On reaching Haslach I ponder over a coffee and a delicious banana split laced with fresh cream. This cures my nascent indigestion. After slapping on the sun-cream I decide to break free, heading into the hills to the south. There follows the most wonderful ascent. Now some of you may feel that these two words form an oxymoron. Not so! If you don’t understand the idea, you would be wise not to cycle in the Schwartzwald. No traffic; the sun starting to shine strongly, and a gentle breeze on my back. I pass a typical local farm farm.

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Towards the top where the tarmac surface degenerates into a rough track and then a steep stony path, I happily get of and walk. Why not? I’m in no hurry.
This part of Germany is devoutly Catholic with many roadside icons and crucifixes. I stop to photograph a rather OTT example

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Let’s pause the journey a moment and return to Sapiens.
Yesterday, I left a question hanging. The eruption out of Africa was stunning. Having led a parochial existence for almost 150,000 years Sapiens conquered the entire world within 50,000: Australia 45,000 years ago; the Americas 16,000 years ago.
How? Why?
I shall endeavour to leave you with another unanswered question.
Having existed happily as hunter gatherers for 140,000 years Sapiens suddenly converted to agriculture about 10,000 BC. Research suggests that this happened contemporaneously over many parts of the world. Why?
The consequences were momentous: permanent settlements, possessions, dependence on only a very few plants and animals, dependency on the vagaries of the weather, population explosion. Were human farmers really better off/happier than their “primitive” foraging forebears?
Additionally, the Agricultural Revolution signalled the development of many human “constructs”: hierarchy, rules/laws, myths etc. These rapidly became the glue which held society together. But they are only constructs. They have no absolute validity – indeed they show huge historical/geographical disparity. Let’s look at one relatively recent example – the American Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal … that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights ……the pursuit of liberty and the pursuit of happiness”
Putting on one side the use of the word “Creator” (without which the whole thing actually falls apart!), and the obvious historic irony of “equality”, is it not simply an imagined order created by fertile human imagination and held together by social cooperation?
So humans have rights? Do animals have rights? If they do, surely they are endowed by us?
Who endows our rights?

Back to the journey.
The wonderful ascent is followed by an exhilarating, but much shorter descent down to Elzach, where I enjoy another cup of coffee. I suspect that this glorious up-and-over, from Holsach to Elsach via Bierich will be the single highlight of the entire trip.

But the wind has changed and clouds are blowing in from the south. An early finish me thinks. Ten miles down the valley on a cycleway alongside the road, now in light rain, leads me to the pretty town of Waldkirch where I manage to find a decent, stylish but not too expensive hotel. Herewith, the corridor outside my room:

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It’s been day learning and appreciation. I’m a fortunate member of Sapiens

Distance travel           42.9 miles
Elevation gain                   4095 ft
Average speed                9.2 mph
Maximum speed         39.8 mph (!!)

Sapiens on a folding bike – Day 2

Well, why am I here?
Let’s leave the flippant answers (cycling, boozing, skiving  etc) on one side and go back to Sapiens. Humans first evolved about 2.5 million years ago in East Africa, from an earlier genus of apes, Australopithecus. Subsequent migration and settlement resulted in an assortment of primitive humans throughout Europe and Asia. One of these was Homo Neanderthalensis, mainly in Europe; another was Homo Erectus, mainly further East. By about 300,000 years ago most were using fire on a daily basis. By about 150,000 years ago our own species, Homo Sapiens, was present on the world stage but minding its own business in a corner of Africa.
About 70,000 years ago something very strange happened – Sapiens leapt out of Africa and within a very short time overran the entire Eurasian world, (probably) hastening the demise of all other human species
Why?
Many interesting theories have been put forward; for a summary of these, and for an interesting new insight I would recommend “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari (to whom I must give credit for much of the anthropology in this blog). But more of that later.
So that gives some answer to the question “how” I’m here. But still not “why”. Surely there must be some point to our lives … some purpose?
Three broad  attempts have been made to answer this question, to ascribe a sense of purpose to our lives, on a humanist basis:
Liberal humanism – which attempts to endow Sapiens with inalienable rights; endowed by whom? A creator?
Social humanism – humanity is collective, rather than individualistic, seeking equality between all humans;
Evolutionary humanism – let’s not go there: Hitler, eugenics etc!
Some may find satisfaction in one or more of these. Me? I’m not so sure. But the question of “purpose” must be answered .
Of course, there’s one more possibility – belief in a creator. God.
When I read “The Life of Pi” I never twigged that the tiger represents God.
The writer has said:
“Life is a story
We can choose our story
A story with God is a better story”
Food for thought!

Back to journey
It’s been a day of intertwining madness and glory.
Leaving the hotel I discover it’s drizzling. Oh yes, I did find a hotel last night in Herrenberg – it seems such a long time ago.
The first hotelier welcomed me with a smile and a handshake ….but had not yet opened for the summer. I later returned, though, for an excellent meal in the restaurant – which was open. His friendly hospitality made me proud to be European (sorry!!)
The second greeted me with a frown, and a single word – “Nein!”
The third, a Chinese couple, opened a room especially for me …. €20!
Back to the drizzle; it’s remarkably refreshing!
A few miles down a gorgeous country lane lead me to ……. a few miles along a dual-carriageway with thunderous traffic!
Gratefully diverting to a forest track, a few wonderful miles lead me to ….a rough ascent resembling the Snowdon Pyg Track! On a folding bike? I don’t think so.
As I said, the madness and the glory. I’m now officially in the National Park

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Eventually, with the drizzle receding, I embark on a stunning descent to Wolfach. 6 km without touching the pedals …. and then another 10 down to Schiltach. What did I do to deserve this? I have a feeling I’m going to pay later. I pass a “Wolf and Bear Park” Par

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I wonder if any are still to be found in the wild throughout the Forest?
For the first time in two days I encounter other touring cyclists: three elderly gentlemen complete with white beards and Ortliebs …. but no helmets. They give a cheery wave
After lunch (a cheese-burger and a beer) I continue to Schramberg 

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Although I don’t realise it until I’m 20 miles further on, over what must be the longest, highest hill-climb in the entire Forest (I told you there would be a payback) another moment of madness strikes – I leave my phone in a shop!
Serendipitiously, I discover this just as I buy a pastry after what seems like hours of yearning for one. I can’t decide which is greater – the anguish of the phone loss … or the pleasure of the pastry!
Half an hour later, I reach Triberg, my destination for the night
Madness and glory intertwined

Distance travelled         59.7 miles
Elevation gain                  8,562 ft !!!
Average speed                    8.9 mph
Maximum speed             35.1 mph