Interesting stuff going on in my village today.
First up, there are England flags starting to appear; however, this goes beyond the usual spate of flags appearing in residential windows and on flagpoles in gardens as a World Cup approaches. We have England flags hanging from quite a height on some of our street lamps on the main thoroughfare through the village.
Given that the street lights belong to the taxpayer, this appears to be a spot of state-funded patriotism going on. I think it's a good thing, as it shows the political class are prepared to show pride in the flag of our country when so many in the recent past have claimed it symbolises jingoism and fascism. The flags aren't on every lamp, just a couple at one end of the main road. It's a smart touch, subtle but still making a point. And the flags have the word 'England' on them in bold lettering, suggesting they aren't some knock-off fabrics with a dubious skinhead past but fresh purchases from Famous Army Stores.
I have an England flag. I hang it out of the window when there's a World Cup on. I've never been asked to remove it nor has anyone accused my blameless, peace-loving self of being some kind of prejudiced lout. It's no big deal. I don't do the flags on cars routine though; just because I think they make your car look utterly dreadful.
Secondly, it was obvious as I walked the dogs past the primary school that it was sports day there. School sports day for me brings back memories of winning the potato race (that one-beanbag-in-a-bucket-at-a-time chasing thing) and being actually quite relieved that neither of my parents felt compelled to take part in an adults race.
I wasn't a dab hand at the sack race, as I could never quite work out whether jumping up and down or trying to do a balanced running action from within the sack was the best method of self-propulsion. Whichever way I tried, someone would always beat me using the other. The skipping race for boys also proved a double-edged sword, as any initial congratulations from other boys for winning the race would be followed by weeks of ribbing for being good at something associated with girls.
Once you get to secondary school, the alleged sports day becomes an all-out athletics event. Despite being an athlete through swimming, and therefore as fit as a fiddle, I was useless on sports day because I wasn't a great runner and I couldn't do goodly deeds in the jumping stakes either. I did the 200m one year and came tenth, and you can guess how many competitors there were. I tried the high jump one year and came fourth by doing leaps and somersaults rather than the traditional Fosbery method, which I was seriously dreadful at.
I didn't really observe what sort of events the kids at the village school were doing - you're conscious of how your actions look when you're a bloke walking near a school while the kids are outdoors - but the amount of laughter and shrilled noises suggested it was fun. So on we walked.
The third interesting thing also occurred on the dog walk a bit later on. I turned a corner and found a woman in a high-visibility jacket standing at the side of the road with a clipboard in hand. The presence a split-second later of small children on bikes doing overstated arm signals made it obvious that it was a cycling proficiency test.
Well, that's what I assumed anyway. As the dogs made me stop, I asked the woman in hi-viz if it was a cycling proficiency test.
"It is, though it's been rebranded now," she replied. "It's now called Bikeability."
That immediately started me singing a certain advert for gas from the 1980s.
Catchy enough a name I suppose, but the cynic and occasional Daily Mail reader in me wanted to ask if the name change was because today's kids could neither spell nor define "proficiency". Being polite, I chose not to.
The test itself didn't seem much different from the one I remember, except all the kids were in helmets and their own hi-viz tunics. Kids taking the test in 1982 didn't bother with those. Otherwise it was still about hand signals, stopping at the kerb and dismounting and flamboyantly looking both ways before turning into the main road.
Worthy stuff, but one suspects that they will fall into the bad habits of all cyclists round my way - riding no-handed, not bothering with lights, riding in bunches of two or even more across, and deciding that the roads belong to them exclusively, even when there are cycle lanes marked out especially for them.