It’s taken the best part of 53 years for politics to finally really please me with something. I thought I was invested. I was a happy little leftie way back when Tony Blair got in, but then there was the Iraq War and I realised that if they ever really cared about my vote they didn’t any more.
Since then it’s been economic crashes, Liberals propping up Tories, bankrupt councils, a punitive austerity regime that came back to haunt us during the pandemic, a hostile environment to foreigners that came back to haunt us after Brexit, Tories propped up by Unionists which came back to haunt them after Brexit and Brexit which will be coming back to haunt us after Brexit, and the pandemic which has come to haunt us after everything.
Jeremy Corbyn didn’t really win me over because I was old enough to remember cardigan fan Michael Foot losing by a landslide to Margaret Thatcher. He didn’t have to win me over because I’m very hard to budge voting wise but if he couldn’t win me over then the people he did have to win over wouldn’t come.
So that’s my sad empty story of engagement with politics. It began with me joining the Bedford Branch of the African National Congress when I was a Sixth Former as an act of solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement. At the time it had seemed like a futile gesture but compared to everything else my meagre effort was bizarrely rewarded beyond all expectation when I saw Nelson Mandela give a speech on the High Street in Bedford after his release. I couldn’t cast a vote that saw this rich land with enough schools and nurses but I could watch one of the most famous people in history speaking less than 20 feet away from me.
Until now I thought that was my highest high. I thought I would never savour the sweet satisfaction of a spendthrift voter hearing that some benefit had been cut, or the xenophobe’s joy at the deportation of someone who doesn’t belong. These things happen so someone must want it but it has not been my cup of tea. My cup of tea did arrive however. It was unexpected. I hadn’t even thought of asking but someone had.
They are going to do a bike park! The council is getting together with some bikey people and creating a series of mountain bike trails on the Hardingstone side of Delapre. Wow. So this is what it feels like if you are a golfer and a new golf course gets built.
I have driven to Thetford, Woburn and Cannock Chase to do things like this. I bimble around our local woodland trails pretending I am doing things like this. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a proper mountain biker as seen on YouTube made from energy drinks and sinew. I’m more like a middle-aged tribute to a mountain biker made from biscuits and fear but I am absolutely ecstatic about this.
I’m not naive about this. Bike parks need maintaining. Someone to some degree will need to ‘own’ it and look after it. Also, dog walkers have a free run in the area at the moment and really the only safe way to do this is to keep mountain bikers and other users of the area mostly separate. So there will need to be some consideration shown but clear signposting and clever landscaping can still produce a space that is as good for walking as it is for riding.
And let’s face it, what happiness is a wheezing old man picking his way cautiously down a mountain bike trail really likely to find in a centre full of talented youths with the latest kit? It will be a wistful kind of happiness about personal unrecognised triumphs that those crazy kids are too busy to notice. Out of the way grandad!
West Northamptonshire Council just kicked some more cash its way but of course the bike park is not built yet, so I must not get carried away but I must admit I am. Not so much by the idea of a facility I can ride my bike at, but I am awestruck by the feeling of the state providing something that I want in a properly selfish way. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s like I got a turn at being King. If they told me I was in charge of everything for a day and I could have anything I wanted, a bike park in my own town might well be the first legal thing I could think of.
What this feeling is, of course, is the feeling that you get when the country is being run for you. I think everyone should have this feeling one way or another. It came to me through random chance. The council has got behind something that is right up my alley but it has opened my eyes up to the potential for all forms of government to rain wellbeing on the population until the last tax penny is spent. For some reason, at the moment, we accept far less.