Sunday, 28 May 2017

To the Tatsfield Churchyard...

Saturday's weather was fantastic. I had planned a drive to and from Sussex so I didn't ride out because I needed to conserve my energy. Andy rode alone to Godstone and the surrounding area.

Sunday and the weather was still fantastic: bright, blue skies early in the morning, a glowing sun for most of the day and then, by late afternoon, there was a strong downpour. "Good for the garden," my dad might have said. When the rain ceased there was a wonderful smell of rain in the air. I love the summer.

But let's get back to this morning's ride. I met Andy at the green and we initially planned a ride to Westerham, but as we made our way along the 269 Andy changed his mind. "Let's go to the churchyard instead," he said, so we did.

Along Clarks Lane a squirrel went crazy. Andy said he (or she) fell from a tree, which is odd when you consider, as Andy later explained, that a squirrel's key behaviours are 1. Climbing trees and 2. hiding nuts for a winter's day. Well, on point 1. this animal wasn't doing well. He scampered across the road as I might have done if I had a wasp up my arse, and then careered out of the undergrowth and into the road again, this time hitting my back wheel as he hopped his way back to the other side of the road.

With tea and BelVita biscuits at the ready we stretched out on the park bench to enjoy the good weather. Since we last met, however, there had been a terrorist bomb tragedy in Manchester and naturally it became the main subject of conversation. I mentioned how my local railway station sported two armed coppers on Thursday evening and while it was reassuring for the public to be given the impression that the UK security services were 'doing their bit' to calm the nerves, news that MI5 had the killer on its radar prior to the atrocity, but did nothing, and the fact that those who knew the killer had expressed their doubts about him – they were concerned he might engage in an act of terrorism – then suddenly that word 'flabbergasted' surfaces. With so many dead and many more seriously injured and still in hospitals in the Manchester area as I write this, then to know that the security forces had more than their suspicions about the killer, well, what can I say?

A report by the BBC claims that the security services were warned three times of the killer's extremist views, but failed to take further action because he was 'under review'.

Manchester has fallen victim to terrorist attacks in the past and has pulled through; this time round it appears to be coping well in the aftermath of the tragedy. It's a fantastic city full of great people and amazing musicians and I hope it remains that way – I'm sure it will.

As I passed those two armed officers on the railway station last Thursday night I couldn't help but wonder how they would deal with a similar terrorist attack if it took place away from the station in the centre of town, in the mall, for example. The truth is that they wouldn't be able to deal with it at all and not through any shortcomings of their own, just that nobody can be in two places at once and when you're dealing with an enemy that cares little for its own lives, let alone those of its victims, then you quickly realise that the whole situation rests entirely on intelligence and not so much an outward 'show of force', although I guess it helps.

It all sadly leads to what some call 'the standard response' of the establishment to terrorist atrocities of this nature: condemnation by leading politicians; a shrine to the fallen, thumbnail portraits of the victims in the newspapers; shots of ordinary-looking houses where suspects are being rounded up; and, of course, news that the suspect (or suspects) were known to the security services.

We discussed the forthcoming general election. During the week Andrew Neil, a leading political broadcast journalist and former newspaper editor, had interviewed the leader of the Conservative Party, Theresa May, and the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn performed better than May, who dodged virtually every question Neil fired at her in what was later described as a 'car crash' interview. Corbyn had a few wobbly moments when Neil challenged him on his views about the IRA, but he stood his ground a little more than May. This afternoon Neil interviewed Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish Nationalist party. Up until this afternoon, I can't say I've really warmed to her, but after May's awful performance, it was refreshing to note that Sturgeon wasn't taking any prisoners. Furthermore, she never once avoided a question and put across her case perfectly. I must say that she went up in my estimation.

In the UK it's what is known as a 'bank holiday weekend', which means we get Monday off in addition to our weekend. So far the weather has, as I said, been absolutely brilliant. All week the sun has been out, but nothing lasts forever and it's certainly true where the British weather is concerned. This afternoon we had the aforementioned big downpour, and more has been promised for tomorrow. Uncertainty about the weather prompted Andy and I to hum and hah a little bit about whether we'd be riding tomorrow. All I know for certain (well, relatively certainly) is that thunder storms are on the agenda 'up north' but I think it will be heading our way too around noon. If this proves right then we should get out for a Bank Holiday Monday ride, but right now it's anybody's guess.

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