A quiet day for us today. Etape (without the acute accent over the 'E') is on. As the gateway to the Highlands, North Perthshire has long endured lowland civilian invasions of various sorts. Encouraged by petty bureaucrats seeking political and pecuniary bonuses, the indigenous population is, as ever, hopelessly divided by such extravaganzas - between the greatly inconvenienced and the greatly favoured.
Etapestart2WebA local hotelier commented to me recently that their Sunday carvery business was expected to take a nose-dive as regular customers stayed away and the cyclists all cycled. Yes, they had a few rooms booked out for the lycra legionnaires but their chef was having to walk some bizarre and circuitous route to work, on account of all the bollards and barriers.
On the other hand, the spa town of Pitlochry itself would not exist if were not for a Southern bourgeouis preoccupation with health.

Cycling Evangelism
Since the eighties, outdoor sports have been attracting a growing tribe of city professionals of a certain age who like to be over-quipped for 'well-earned' forays into the wilderness playground of Scotland - and Highland Perthshire has benefited from the trade, selling all sorts of over-priced kit and caboodle to those whose mid-life hunger for adventure is evenly balanced with a paranoia about safety. Many of these people, I imagine, will be members of laudable organisations like the John Muir trust, fail to see the complete farce of a national park not owned by the, um, nation and be fully subscribed to the concept of global warming; their self-powered, Shimano lights flickering away diligently as they toil their way on Etape training runs through biting April blizzards. 
But what really gets my goat is not the one day of road closures and to hell with human rights of those trying to go about their daily business, or even the 6,000-odd city slickers in silly outfits streaking through hill and glen; it's the compulsory, preaching, do-good, evangelical cult that has grown up around cycling in Highland Perthshire in a projection of local government zeal to make it a centre for cycling. And the vast sums of money squandered on things like providing free plastic folders with a dozen or so beautifully printed and explained cycle routes. It's the indoctrination of small schoolchildren by council-backed companies whose impending annual cycling workshop is flagged up with a request to bring bicycles to school that day. The underlying assumption is that children as young as five should have their own bicycles (although if they do not, they can still join in on foot or beg/borrow a shot of a bike from a more privileged friend.)
There is a covert message that families should have bike racks on their cars and that Mummy and Daddy ought to be out cycling too. The vision for Highland Perthshire is to turn it into a giant 'Centre-parc' idyll, with families cycling about everywhere, lowering their collective risks of high blood pressure and diabetes. Babies and toddlers can be accommodated in special trailers with little jaunty flags while older children can have little half-bikes specially hooked on to adult bikes. For every excuse, there is a nifty piece of equipment - at a cost, of course. Soon, I expect, a parent who hasn't got their kids out of stabilisers by the age of six will be getting a visit from the authorities.

A Pre-occupations of a Perth-Centric Local Government
For children, a bike used to be a mode of transport to get you by until you were old enough to acquire something motorised. My husband hasn't really cycled since he did a paper round. Paper rounds, now regarded by the establishment as unsupervised and uninsured child labour on wheels, have pretty much been consigned to history, an 'in my day' sort of anecdote told to wide-eyed youngsters by misty-eyed elders. The sight of young children cycling around on their own on street corners is equally rare and meets with much middle-class disapproval (hinting at negligence) for those who ever have occasion to pass (in a car this time) through a council estate where this sort of thing still goes on.
No, better to have children clad in Joules or Boden, cycling 'en famille', straggled along twisty Perthshire B-roads, buffeted by the slipstream and fumes from coaches and delivery vans and landrovers. The bicycle is becoming a symbol of social mobility again and nowhere is this more distastefully apparent than in leafy Highland Perthshire, where cycling has become one of the principle pre-occupations of a Perth-centric local government keen to 'civilise' the rural hinterlands and tackle childhood obesity. You never see an old man, smoking a pipe while taking a leisurely bike ride through a village any more, on his way for an evening pint. It's probably banned.
I'm not against children learning to ride a bike; I am against four-year-olds cycling along pavements while their parents cycle along the road. I read somewhere that this is illegal, as I always remind my children when we are out for a walk and we have to step off the pavement to make way for the Healthy. I'm not against using a bicycle to get to work or even for leisure purposes; I am against Tour de France-style road closures in some sort of alien cultural mass imposition, and publicly funded 'Highland Perthshire cycling co-ordinators', and preachy days encouraging women to take to two wheels with initiatives like a guided tour with plenty of stops for 'chat' and 'coffee and cake'. (The sort of stuff that, paradoxically, provokes an Anglo-saxon response from a feminist like me.) One expects the gals are advised to wear suitable bras for their introduction to a better way of life.
Highland Perthshire has always been first in line to experience the full force of organised 'progressive' social and cultural influences from the South. Good for some business, bad for the soul. While waiting at the traffic lights to cross Wade's bridge in Aberfeldy (part of another deliberate and successful movement to 'civilise' and control the Highlands), I found myself behind a puckle of cyclists in full lycra, ray-bans and those shoes that clip on to the pedals. Most unfortunately, one of these gents failed to disengage his pedal from shoe when halting and in marvellous slow-motion, while emitting a strange high-pitched squeak, he cowped onto the grass verge in spectacular comic style. His companions expressed great consternation.
So, you see, there is an upside to all of this cycling mania. Laugh at it - and join the large and welcoming fellowship of people who enjoy complaining about it. There is a health benefit to both activities that easily surpasses mild hypothermia, a sore bottom and the indignity of spending a fortune to wear unflattering fancy dress in broad daylight.

Georgina Farron
 

 

 

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