Archives for July 2011


Riding through Brightwell-cum-Sotwell today and, if appearances are anything to go by, the recession hasn’t touched it. It seems very ‘comfortable’. On a mid-week lunch time, the pub was busy enough with the retired and ‘ladies who lunch’ doing just that. Perhaps the bulk of the people there have made their money, salted it away sensibly and are more-or-less insulated from the down-turn; perhaps it’s an illusion and a case of ‘kippers and curtains’ for many residents. Appearances can be deceptive.

On that note, today’s route took me up the lane by the chalk-cut illusion of a chalk steeple near Watlington, created because someone thought a church would be better with a steeple when viewed from his house.

Visit Chilterns – Watlington

English eccentricity in a nutshell; I suppose it’s some sort of English vanity that makes me hope that I live in the only nation that’s as quirky. That said, it’s probably a bygone trait, eradicated by empty internationalism.

To Be A Stranger

Riding through Goring and Streatley today, there were numerous tourists about – and I found myself envying them. I ride through there, and around that region, any number of times in a year. I know it’s ‘nice’ but I can’t get overly enthusiastic about it. These people, presumably visiting the once and seemingly enjoying themselves, could see it all afresh.

No matter how hard anyone tries, it surely is impossible to recreate all that comes with seeing something for the first time. Familiarity doesn’t need to breed contempt and there are rewards to be had from getting to know a place well, but the ability to observe and appreciate that comes with having a stranger’s eyes seems to be to be unique.

Not long ago I had a meal in a Thai restaurant in Crowmarsh Gifford and ended up chatting to a family staying at the campsite by the river there, who’d come up from Rye. This wasn’t the first year they’d used Wallingford as a base to explore the region and they couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. With perfect symmetry, I’ve not long ago had a nigh-on perfect holiday in the Camber and Rye area. Obviously, I can envisage going there; I initially struggled to see why someone from there would want to come here.

Wherever we live, from sink estate to stunning coastline, I suspect we’d all gain if we could all see our worlds through a stranger’s eyes. We need to be able to turn it on; go through some kind of mental process to give us a different mindset to better see good and bad aspects of day-to-day quality of life.

More practically, perhaps a useful job of the horde of ‘twinning committees’ that seem to have spread like a virus throughout the land should be to enlist visitors from the twinned partner to write a commentary on what they’re seeing . Perhaps membership of the committee should be contingent on good descriptive powers.

Cycling’s Ethnic Make-Up

I’m not that much of a fan of riding on weekends – I have the luxury (which I appreciate) of being able to ride during the quieter week days – but nevertheless I often end up out and about on a Saturday or Sunday, and today was one of those Sundays. Two things struck me –

Firstly, the high number of cyclists around. No, we weren’t outnumbering the cars but there were plenty of us about – individuals and groups of various sizes, organized or informal. Cycling is, surely, now a far more popular pastime than at any other point in my lifetime.

Secondly, I saw a West Indian lady, kitted out as a ‘serious’ cyclist, riding in one of those groups, and that made me realize how ‘white’ a sport/pastime cycling seems to be. I have no idea why that might be, but seeing this lady today made me realize I can only think of two other occasions in all the recent years I’ve been riding that I’ve seen anything other than white bike riders.

My knee-jerk response to the latter is to hope it’s a by-product of the former, and that as cycling grows in popularity, so how well it represents society’s make-up will improve. And as I think about that response some more, I come to the same conclusion. Everything else aside, and leaving cycling as a serious sport out of it, cycling as a pastime will become safer when cyclists aren’t seen as ‘cyclists’ but are recognised for what they are: fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brother, sisters, friends and loved-ones. And for that to happen, we all need all of society to participate.

The Consequences

It has to be said that the sight of young alpacas running (today, near Whitchurch) is inherently amusing. It’s everything about them – their shape and their gait. Quite what lies behind something seeming funny to me and perhaps not to others is one of those topics that I’d like to think about more.

I guess it’s just as interesting that I can be fairly sure that a reasonable number of people will share that same view of a hurrying young alpaca, should they see one. There must be a lot of common cultural baggage in all this somewhere. Humour is rarely treated as being of consequence in the standard historical narratives, but I suspect tracking unchanging and, indeed, changing tastes in humour in a nation would provide interesting insights.

Talking of consequences, I went to bed late last night – I can’t have turned my light out before 1.30 am. I didn’t sleep that well and I didn’t sleep late to make up for it. So, getting on a bike today for a longer, hillier ride than many I do was bound to be a bit of a challenge. So it proved and the end result is that I was more tired at the end of it than I’d normally be, slower going around it than I’d normally be. And, being human, I kind of moaned about that to myself for a while before realizing the obvious: my bike riding is of no consequence. Nothing hinges on it. Counter-intuitively, that might well make it more enjoyable.

The Real Satisfaction

Somedays, it’s easy to despair. There was some idiotic parking on display today, filling-up a passing place on a lane. There was a idiotic woman in the same lane with dogs out of the control, off their leads. There was a VW Golf with four idiot blokes in and an idiot woman in an off-road 4WD who wouldn’t even put a wheel in the dry mud to make things less of a squeeze.

When met with fools, the hardest thing is to not be a fool in your reaction. If some cretins in a car give you the finger, the temptation is to return it. If some moron can’t keep a dog on a lead and swears at you for no reason as you go by, the temptation is to return the insult. And so on. Not giving in to the temptations is far more satisfying though – the kind of satisfaction that lasts.

Smug? No. Simply, just right? Yes.

A Sense Of Place

A sense of place, of home, of roots, isn’t something that we’re ‘sold’ these days as being desirable. If we’re supposed to be anything, we’re supposed to be globe-trotting world citizens. Perhaps that works for some, but even travellers need a home to return to. You don’t hear much talk about a sense of place, at a local level, being important to people but I doubt that anonymity and rootlessness is a widespread human desire.

Perhaps the real sadness is that people seem to easily under-estimate the importance of a sense of place, of home, of roots, until it’s too late. Once a place’s identity is eroded, it’s almost impossible to reclaim it. If you listen to the concerns of charities and similar, as opposed to the puff of ad-men, you’ll hear that there are plenty of lonely people out there.

These were thoughts that came about after a simple circumnavigation of Reading with Jim, taking in places like Pangbourne, Theale, Three Mile Cross, Arborfield and Twyford. Perhaps not the prettiest of routes but there’s something satisfying about a ride that has a definite focus. It wouldn’t have been long ago that all those places would have been far more distinct from each other than they are now but gradually the in-fill between them erodes their differences. If you’d lived there for a long time I suspect it would be easy to pin-point what’s been lost but harder to say what’s been gained.