Published on 2 Mar 2011

God, Mammon and Bicycles

I was in one of the Church’s Holy of Holies yesterday morning – Church House, which occupies the whole of one side of Dean’s Yard, Westminster. It’s soon to host the nuptials of nuptials at the end of April.

I cycled to the Victorian arch that leads from the front of Westminster Abbey into the lawned square. ‘Cyclists dismount’ – no problem with that, I thought, as I pushed my bike in. There are, after all, a lot of people wandering about the square – many of them boys, following in the footsteps of the Deputy Prime Minister, once a pupil here.

I’m in a hurry on my way to chair a secular meeting about ‘young offenders’. I pass the more than 40 car parking spaces, but nowhere in the square is there a single rack to park a bike. Rather, there are unpleasant notices stating that the police, no less, will remove any bicycle left in the square.

So, for God’s work, the car rules, some of them very large gas-guzzling cars – a Merc, a Range Rover. I was under the illusion that the Church had spoken out on ‘green issues’. Surely, in these trendier greener times, many of those 2,000 guests to the nuptials may want the option of cycling to the Royal Wedding – the father of the groom at least – no-one greener.

Alas, they will find they have to do what I did – search for a lamppost 500 yards away. But that turns out to be outside either the Department of Education, or the Home Office … from which bicycles are also banned – for, er, security.

God, and Mammon in unity! The Gospel today reads: cars good, bikes bad. And I’m old enough to remember the local vicar tottering along our village high street on his own trusted steed, making house calls. No more. Ring out the bells!

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21 reader comments

  1. Susannah says:

    It’s a big problem leaving bikes anywhere near the govt buildlings. When I am in that area occasionally visiting the FCO I leave my bike on the railings by the traffic lights near the entrance to Westminster Abbey (have they gone?), but it is still a good walk.

    How many of the wedding guests will arrive by bike? I will not be there to count.

  2. Saltaire Sam says:

    Jon, that’s the first royal wedding mention that I’ve enjoyed so far – the image of Prince Philip biking to the ceremony will cheer me up all day.

    I think you should have Boris on tonight and ask him why he is not doing more to provide bike parking. What’s the use of all those Barclays bikes if there’s nowhere to leave them.

    And as for the Archbishop of Canterbury – clearly the church has oil company shares :-)

  3. Meg Howarth says:

    In this part of north London, far from promoting cycling, the local council is encouraging short car-trips across the borough. These are known to be the most polluting as engines not working at max efficiency. The majority of residents, according to report from council officers, reject this ‘residents’ roamer’ scheme, but that hasn’t stopped it being imposed from on high. And this in spite of the borough having the sixth worst air-quality in London, with an excess of 150 deaths a year from air-pollution.

    Council has as many different ‘reasons’ for this unwanted antediluvian idea as it has ‘executive members’, ranging from enjoying the borough’s many excellent [expensive] coffee shops – one tube stop from St P International – to helping ‘ordinary working people’ during difficult economic times. NB the scheme operates between 11am-3pm, when those ‘ordinary working people’ – words beloved of politicians when they want our support – lucky enough still to have a job will presumably be at work.

    Yes, Boris lives here but the council is Labour-controlled. NB Sam: Boris’ Barclays bikes have their own stands – just in case he reads this blog and shakes his blond locks at you!

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      Saw the smiley face and thought it was Adrian, Sam!

    2. Meg Howarth says:

      For absolute clarity, sentence above – ‘The majority of residents, according to report from council officers’ – should have read: ‘The majority of residents who responded to a consultation, according to report from council officers’…

  4. Y.S. says:

    The problem with bikes is you cant tax it, put up speed traps for it, put parking charges for it or put a number plate on it to register it. So they are not interested in it as there is no money in it for them.
    Perhaps if they can tax the high energy bars and drinks you bikers use then they might get interested.

  5. Philip says:

    Jon, haven’t you heard of the al-Qaeda plot to attack government buildings with bicycles whose frames & wheels are packed with high explosives? (That’s what i was told by an al Qaeda spokesperson)

  6. Britt_W says:

    I’ve been to Church House many times, too – for flood conferences. I’ve parked my car in the underground Parking next to House of Parliament and walked the rest – sometimes whilst carrying flood barrier equipment by hand… back and forth. When exhibiting a flood barrier, a bike just isn’t adequate, sadly.

    Anyway – a lovely little square, like stepping into another world. I agree it’s sad there is so little space for bikes in our cities.
    A friend of mine who often works in governmental buildings around Whitehall uses a collapsible Brompton to move between the buildings and – I guess – carry the bike with him inside.
    Ever tried a Brompton, Jon?

  7. adrian clarke says:

    Saltaire i hope the smiley face does not mean you are stirring it :) .
    Jon as for old enough to remember the local vicar on a bike , were there any cars then ?
    I remember our vicar bicycling around the countryside getting gradually drunker at each port of call.
    Perhaps the church is not as poor as the church mice ,or were the restrictions for the day , with all the talk of “young offenders”?

  8. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Jon, be realistic…to the Royal wedding on a bike indeed.

    You can’t even use a lampost these days for everyone marking out their legal boundaries.

    I bet your tottering local vicar was in his 50’s.

    Now the news.

  9. Bob says:

    I think Airwalk bikes would be the best bet. More compact and they can fold up to bring into the church. The are cheap. Cost is always an issue without transport funding things would be very difficult.

  10. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Holy,holy, moly,
    I am tired and tightly,
    Joined to channel 4’s news,
    a blogger who is lowly.

    Holy ,holy, lowly
    Morally and slowly
    Making way to end my time
    In thoughts which are sublime

  11. Jim Flavin says:

    While bikes are a good idea – I have never had the privilige of seeing a clergyman on one – even in the 50s and 60s in ROI . They had cars – we had bikes . Cycling is geat exercise – and surely where possible we should aim to be like Holland is or was .
    Re these nuptials – still amazing . Surely if there is one institution that has failed it is marriage . In the wild males and females have many partners – and human efforts to the contrary have not been a great sucess by and large .Thomas Hardy put it well in ” Jude the Obscure re Jude and Arabellas marriage .
    ” And they swore that bright Summer morning to feel for each other for the rest of their Lives as they did that morning – and the strange thing was that nobody thought that this was strange ”.

    Re Churches – the best ones are the ones that are falling apart from disuse . Yet these sometimes huge buildings are all over the Planet [ churches , mosques , syngogues etc etc -] all built to honour a being that does not even exist – pure witchcraft.
    No wonder the planet is in a mess – if people believe some rubbish – they are in danger of believing a lot of it .

    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      Sometimes Jim I think you forget that some folks are happy in deluding themselves, they feel a goodness spring from within from acting piously.

      Non religious beings find a reason to blame religion and not the people in religion.

      Some of the religious buildings are the best thing about christianity. The are places where people can step out of the guilt they carry , refresh their souls and continue living. Allow them that.

      As far as marriage goes I have longed all my life for someone to commit themselves to a partnership with me. These married are the lucky ones, even if they fail sometimes, it must be beautiful for someone to say ‘always’…what comfort in this changeable world.Marriage is past attraction and sex an polygamy, it is a bond.

  12. Saltaire Sam says:

    I have just watched the Red Nose Day film about living in the slums in Kenya. Nothing could be more graphic about how some people have to live. Families living on next to nothing, next to open sewers. Women forced into prostitution just to buy food to feed their children. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to get on Iplayer.

    Meanwhile bankers walk away with millions in bonuses on top of huge salaries and massive perks. How can anyone justify such an obscene disparity in the two ways of life? I want every one of those bankers to watch the film and then justify their earnings.

    Is this really the best humans are capable of? Is this really what has to be the ‘reality’ of life?

    What the hell are the religions – the wealthy Catholic and Anglican churches – doing about it apart from praying (and in some cases taking money off the poor)

    What are our politicians doing?

    What am I doing? I am seething with anger and the sheer frustration of being powerless to change anything. My small donation will be like a single raindrop in a desert.

  13. adrian clarke says:

    Saltaire in some ways you have it wrong.Your donation ,and others will as you say make little difference.If it goes to the right charity and not all is swallowed up in their admin charges, it might provide some clear running water for drinking.Yet in five years , in ten years those slums will remain .They were there 45 years ago when i was in Mombassa.
    If the programme makers go to most parts of Africa , S.America ,India and parts of the ME they will find the slums dying out for our donations.
    You can not compare the bankers,to the slums of Kenya or elsewhere except here and America.Their salaries are obscene,never mind the unwarranted bonuses.
    Teresa May hit it on the head when she said Police bonuses are unjustified when they get paid to do the job.
    All bonuses are unjustified ,when you are paid a salary for doing a particular jobs.The bankers more than most.
    My advice remains if you believe in donating to any charity , do it , but do not expect your money to change the situation.
    If you believe the bonuses are unjustified, move your money to where huge bonuses are not paid.

    1. Saltaire Sam says:

      You may be right, Adrian. It might indeed be the reality. But I don’t think we can call ourselves civilised when half the world lives in poverty-stricken slums, with open sewers, little (and expensive) clean water and little food while some sections of our society live in almost unimaginable luxury.

      I use the bankers as an obvious example. If their salaries/bonuses were capped at £250k pa around the world, that would leave many millions that could be used to aleviate poverty and still give them a fabulous lifestyle.

      And think of the billions we waste on Trident, a weapon that is of no use against terrorists and certainly doesn’t deter people like Gaddafi because they know we won’t use it.

      Think how many decent houses with flushing toilets and clean running water we could build with that cash.

      I may be a dreamer but one of the lessons of the current middle east situation is that oppressed people will only take it for so long before they decide they have nothing to lose. We already have many enemies. Perhaps we could avoid making more by reducing the cavernous gap between their lives and our own.

    2. Mudplugger says:

      The problem with most charitable donations is that they are focused on saving life, usually children. And what’s wrong with that ? Well, all it does is creates yet more survivors for whom there will then be no education, no work, no income and no future.
      The current uprisings in the Arabic world are much to do with growing populations, surviving infancy, only then to discover that their various rulers have not created the commercial infrastructure to support the life they expected.
      It may seem cruel to those currently starving and infected children, but the underdeveloped nations would turn out better if the West’s aid was all spent on long-term structural development, rather than such immediate sticking-plaster, which may make the donors feel better but only makes the real problem worse in the long run.

  14. adrian clarke says:

    Saltaire i regret to say i agree with much of what you say about poverty.I certainly agree with you about the bankers.You know my feelings on bonuses and i believe it is a myth to say that they need to pay the salaries they do to obtain the best.The same goes for the public sector top jobs.
    As for poverty in countries like Kenya , it is not the whole country ,it is certain parts.Perhaps they need to rise up against their leaders , for wherever there is poverty there is also great wealth ,even if spread around a few.
    That is the same in this country even though there is no real poverty ,there is an unequal distribution of wealth.It is even more striking in communist countries.
    I wish i knew the answer to it but i do not,
    Those in the ME countries fighting for a better fairer future must beware the consequences of their success.I would refer anyone to “animal farm ” to see the probable outcome

  15. pat says:

    Once you start to talk about religion, people get passionate about the subject for or against.
    Religion is a centre for community life it brings people together in a common purpose to let people belong and feel they belong to a community and may together help others as a caring body or charitable group. I think that’s what religion is about, having the kind of people around you that help you get through life and everything it throws at you.
    The bike part made me remember a local priest visiting his parishioners on his bike with his bicycle clips carefully positioned to protect his trousers from the oily chain. He was a real mensche, the one before him and the one after didnt reach the height of his bicycle clips.
    As to modes of travelling and parking i wish my job was close enough to reach by bike i have to get up at 5:30 for a job that starts at 8:00 just to avoid traffic jams and to find a place to park.
    Sam about Mammon it seems to creep its way in everywhere, its like wherever there’s an angel there’s a devil lurking in the wings waiting for his cue. So if there is someone handing out money there’s always somebody ready to take it gladly.
    So who is doing the handing out.

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      ”Religion is a centre for community life it brings people together in a common purpose to let people belong and feel they belong to a community and may together help others as a caring body or charitable group. I think that’s what religion is about, having the kind of people around you that help you get through life and everything it throws at you.”
      Why do you need religion to have a community life ?????????. The only purpose of religion is to control you and keep you quiet – In this it has been all too sucessful. If you need constant approval – again – what has religion got to do with that ??. Basically belonging is a herd thing – we are a herd just like any other – and we behave as such – fighting , marking out our territory – wanting more territory – in fact in many ways we are below the apes we are cousins to . They are satisfied when they have enough – many humans want more than is necessary to live a ” normal” life . They want to be millioaires , then billionaires . Its easy know the religous – here anyway – they talk about money so much . One would have thought they would be glad to be poor or sick or wahtever and go to their Paradise !!

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