Archives for September 2011

Falling Off

A sanity-preserving ride off road with Charli – sanity-preserving because we’re both horrendously busy and it’s too easy to feel overwhelmed, with an awful lot of demands piling up now and queuing up to pile up for the coming weeks. It’s counter-intuitive, but sometimes it’s best to just take a break from it, so that’s what we did.

And Charli fell off.

As is so often the case in of life, the thought of something – in this instance falling off a bike – is, generally, far worse than the reality. I’ve fallen off a few times since I’ve been riding again – always off road – and, thankfully, never ended up with more than bruising and minor cuts. Charli’s the same. This time around, after misjudging a steep uphill section with some awkward tree roots making a bend trickier than it might be, Charli ended up stranded on her back in a large bramble bush. That it was a large bush meant it was a springy landing. That it was a bramble bush meant she was thoroughly prickled. Lycra ain’t no match for brambles. Scratches, prickles and a bruise from a pedal on her shin and that was it.

Mind you, she’d have struggled to get up if I hadn’t been there to lend a hand and that could have been a little bit more painful. And it must be said that nature’s defences are very impressive: she’s been picking little thorns out of her arms and legs ever since. But no, on the whole it’s all no big deal, and once again we’re back in the territory of our fears and worries and apprehensions being far worse than they need be, and seriously impinging on your happiness. I can readily imagine plenty of people being put off from giving riding a go if they knew they were going to fall off at some point, just as we get put off from going out in the wind and rain. That’s just human nature, but the reality is that falling off is no big deal most of the time and if it happens to turn out a bit worse than that then at least you’ve been living life in the meantime.

And talking of taking breaks, next week I’ll be in south Devon for a few days – new cycling territory!

Cancer

No matter how adult or mature one tries to be, ‘cancer’ is still a scary word. I know enough to know that it’s a pretty well meaningless term. The different forms of cancer are just that – different, and radically so. I guess if it has any real meaning outside of some very specific medical usage, then what it means is ‘scary’.

Right now, I’ve three close friends or relatives who have cancer or who are still undergoing treatment for it. I also have one friend waiting a diagnosis and someone else who’s not quite a friend but is more than an acquaintance who’s just been given the all-clear after several months of treatment.

Once cancer is on the agenda, it’s surprising how quickly you learn of how many people it touches. If it’s not though, it’s one of those things no-one likes to even mention, let alone talk about.

All these cancer cases aren’t a reflection of increasing cancer rates. Rather, they’re a reflection of greater longevity and earlier detection; a reflection of better health care. That’s the rational truth. The emotional reaction is something different.

We – humans – seem very prone to being able to focus on the bad at the expense of the good.

For the three close friends or relatives, it is very, very likely that two of them will undergo their respective treatments and that’ll be more-or-less it: the prognosis for their specific types of cancer is very good. A tough few months but once it’s done it’s done. For the third, the treatment has been life-changing and the consequences will always be there but, again, the prognosis is excellent.

None of that is bad news. Put it in a rational context and it’s quite the opposite: potentially fatal diseases have been detected early and will be cured before they’ve killed anyone. Maybe cancer shouldn’t be so scary. Perhaps it isn’t for people who work with it day in and day out, the doctors, nurses, carers, patients.

It’s odd then that I cycled around today with a heavy heart, having just heard about the third of those people being diagnosed. They say one in three will get some form of cancer and where ever I rode and saw people I couldn’t help but look at them and wonder which of them it would be, how they’d cope, whether they’d be cured, or not. By any measure, that has to be a strange way to look at people.

I know I’ve no reason to be so down about it; it’s a useless emotional reaction that’s wholly misplaced. I suspect that ultimately it’s purely selfish, more to do with me feeling somehow weighed down by worrying about the plight of my loved ones than their actual plights. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s really is something that’s best not talked about.

It’s odd, too, that any strong emotions feel like an intrusion. So much of adult life, particularly anything to do with business, is – in theory at least – deliberately devoid of emotion.

Take Me Away

Today’s was just a short spin heading north towards Wallingford – a needed break away from it all.

There is something absolutely wonderful about closing the door, cycling off and knowing you’re completely out of contact for however long you’re riding. (I have a mobile phone with me in case of a problem, but it’s turned off.) No matter how mediocre the ride might be, just to be alone and out of reach of the constant communication we’ve collectively immersed ourselves in, is relaxing. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

There are very, very few things even remotely likely to crop up that are so urgent you have to be always in reach, wherever you are. And by and large, even if something did come up, being informed of it instantly isn’t going to make much, if any, difference. Take a break and improve the quality of your life – switch it all off and enjoy some solitude.

Gore

On some rides there seems to be an unusual amount of gore on the roads. This time of year seems particularly prone to it – with young rabbits and young squirrels the frequent victims. There’s always an upside – judging from what I saw today in the lanes of Berkshire and South Oxon, it’s a good year for carrion feeders like Rooks and Red Kites. Some of the rabbits you see on verges look blind and/or ill; I don’t know if myxomatosis is still about.

I know they’re not carrion feeders, but I also saw three Kestrels near Fifield today. It’s unusual to see so many.

Going back some decades and when I used to do a bit of time trialling, I can remember trying very hard, feeling a bit yuk as a result and having that borderline nausea quite definitely exacerbated by having to ride over or by the gore of squashed animals on the road side. As I recall, the old ‘10’ course near Abingdon was especially grim for that. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

Positive Austerity

Riding on the road today, I was sure there were fewer vehicles around than there would have been once. I know it was was just a nothing special Wednesday morning, but I’ve ridden on plenty of similar mornings before and I’m sure they used to be busier – the run of the mill daytime traffic.

From a cyclist’s point of view I’m not complaining. For what it might signify for the economy I’m not so happy. I’d also say my horse-index* is still showing a downward trend.

I suppose it’s not surprising if it is true: the price of petrol is stupidly high, inflation’s growing, uncertainty is rife and just today the unemployment figures showed yet another rise. If we’re all less sure than we used to be about the future being generally good, then of course we’re all going to cut out the unnecessary spending. And there’s been a terrific amount of that. If you look at what’s being sold with anything like a dispassionate eye, then it’s starkly clear that the vast bulk of it is a long way from being anything like necessary or essential.

It sounds glib, but buying stuff doesn’t equate to buying happiness either. It’s a difficult one: I mean, good grief, I have a lot of stuff. But I like to think that at least the majority has been bought for a purpose – books, music, bikes even; I’d say they all are enabling products. Have a need then find a product to fill it. In contrast, it seems an awful lot of products are made and then a need has to be created to make people buy them. There was a tragic UN report published today about how kids in Britain are the most consumerist and the most unhappy; that they ‘have’ to have the ‘right’ stuff or else they’ll get bullied, but having the right stuff doesn’t bring them happiness. If that’s not grim reading I don’t know what is.

So, maybe you can posit a silver lining in austerity. Maybe being forced to buy less will lead to some re-evaluation and some good will come out of that. Maybe.

The trouble is, there are an awful lot of people making a living out of the selling of stuff. The same is true of the consequences of a declining horse-index: fewer horses means fewer jobs looking after them, one way or another. It’s all very well to think that fewer animals being kept for leisure may be no big deal, but the knock-ons might well be.

It’s difficult to imagine what will fill the resulting void in the job market if we all end up buying less stuff. A degree of austerity is one thing; abject poverty is another. If you look ahead far enough, it’s not hard to see that the really huge underlying problem that’s looming – on so many different fronts – is that there are too many people.

* The Horse Index

When Does It Get Daft? (Just For Cyclists)

There was the tail-end of a hurricane sweeping across the north today, with the rest of the country getting some unusually strong winds too.

So, we went up on the Downs again. Is that daft?

It was stunningly windy at some points and it made the riding more than a little hard at times, but we weren’t at risk from anything – it wasn’t going to blow us over or bring down trees – and besides, there aren’t many trees up there. But, again, it would have been very easy to say it was too bad to go out. As it was, it was a good experience – one we’d never normally get if we listened to ‘reason’. I think reason, these days, is too soft an option some times. We’re awfully partial to our comfort.

Riding on a seriously windy day does require some care and some techniques to be safe – more than just riding out into a head-wind and back with a tail-wind. If you can pick your route and you know the territory, hedge-lined lanes are a major bonus. If you are going along a hedge-lined road and that’s protecting you from a strong cross-wind, then be cautious when it comes to gates and other gaps – the sudden strong gust can catch the unwary out.

Vehicles, too, need more care than normal. On a windy day there’s often quite a sucking effect as they go by, pushing a hole into the air and creating a lower pressure area behind them. If you know it’s coming you can counter it easily; if you’re not alive to it then it can be a bit alarming.

It’s worth bearing in mind that a very strong tail-wind will push you along significantly, and you can help the process along. So to take today’s ride for example, as we were climbing up to the top of one hill the wind was strongly behind us. It was a struggle up, but I accelerated a little at the bottom and the force of the wind was enough to mean I could maintain that extra momentum, with a net result of an easier and faster climb than it would otherwise have been. The extra effort at the bottom paid off handsomely.

And then there’s the question of noise. A strong wind can make it very difficult to hear. If you’re used to being able to hear what’s going on around you, it’s perhaps surprising how much you rely on it, even if not consciously. Thus, to then be denied that extra input into your ‘picture’ of what’s happening can be quite significant. Riding into a strong headwind can mean a vehicle coming up from behind might be on your shoulder before you realise it’s there, whereas normally you’d have heard it and been aware of it.