Archives for December 2011

Any Certainty Will Do

A ride taking in Christmas Common and that’s it for 2011, my year’s target of 4,400 miles by bike met. A northerly route to go by Christmas Common just seemed appropriate for the time of year.

(No, it’s not 100 miles a week but that’s the way a whole year works out – life intervenes. From work to holidays, illness to bad weather, there will always be some weeks where riding 100 miles just isn’t possible. This year ended up with 4,400 miles as a target that was achievable – as long as I remained reasonably disciplined.)

So, is meeting that target satisfying? How does the year feel, generally, looking back now? What for next year? And so on – all those normal ‘end of year’ issues.

Perhaps it would be better to ask if reflections on the past and goals for the future matter. What’s done is done, the future’s unknowable and plans are all too often overtaken by different realities.

What I should be taking time over is the prior question of how best to live life. If there is a ready formula for striking the right balance between living for now and allowing for the future, I’ve yet to hear of it.

All the world’s more onerous religions, in part at least, seem to be about not living for the now nor the reasonably knowable future, with just the uncertainty of some promised afterlife as bait. The only certainty they do offer, of a corporal life lived to the benefit of an establishment – and thus a small caste of individuals – of one sort or another, is rarely given much attention.

I can’t see that that’s hard to deduce. I can only assume the persistence of religions nevertheless is testimony to the difficulty of finding an alternative set of rules –and any certainty, for many people, is better than none. That’s understandable.

Mood Altering Experiences

Just a short-ish flat ride taking in the Walthams, a ‘leg-turner’ while I can amidst the normal end of year compaction of too many activities into too short a time frame.

It is, of course, wholly self-inflicted and unnecessary, and probably counter productive: it is supposed to be a time of ‘good cheer’ and all that, but there’s an awful lot of visible and obvious unhappiness caused just by the fact of it. And that’s no great revelation, but still we collectively keep on keeping on with it. Such is life. And the same could be said about many holidays.

Getting out on a bike for a while is a mood-altering experience, just as much as, say, alcohol. I don’t know if that’s the exercise or the fact of being out.

The results of drinking alcohol seem to vary: some people get belligerent, some laid-back, some loquacious and so on. I suspect getting out for a ride (whether it’s the fact of getting out or the fact of taking some exercise) is more reliably positive in its consequences.

Black Wood

A nondescript ride on a nondescript day, taking in Sonning Common, Checkendon and then back in to Caversham via Woodcote, Greenmore Hill and what was The Fox on Horsepond Road.

We’ll be saying ‘that was the …” about many more pubs. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing in the big scheme.

About the most striking thing of the day was just how black so much of the wood in hedgerows and the like is looking now; nature does winter with a fair ol’ degree of bleakness.

Credit where credit’s due corner: a Kuhne + Nagel lorry was particularly considerate today. It is appreciated.

The Taste Of What, Exactly?

Relatively short off-road jaunts are the order of the day. It’s muddy. By and large you don’t get that much mud splattered on your face – the clip-on mudguards do their job quite well and besides, mud’s heavy so it doesn’t always flick up that high unless you’re going fast. Or, unless it’s particularly wet.

Today it was wet.

So, the mud’s hitting my face and no, that’s not that pleasant but it’s not the end of the world. However, just occasionally it would land on my lips … and so you get to taste it … and so you get to wonder, just what is mud, exactly?

Of course, it’s going to vary in composition depending on where you are. Fine. But, on the whole, I concluded it’s a topic that’s you’re better off not contemplating.

Mud and leaves

Just don’t think about what might be in there.

Don’t Remind Me About Nature

As I’m writing there’s a fair ol’ storm passing through outside – strong winds and plenty of rain. Later on this week there’s supposed to be another, worse one.

I’m sometimes struck by how much time I spend looking at weather forecasts online and making the best guess I can as to how to plan the week to get some riding in. I’ve heard it said that if you could know the future you wouldn’t really want to – it would make life too dull. If I could have certainty about the weather over the next seven days I’d take it without hesitation.

This morning’s jaunt was very much a case of grabbing the opportunity as the rest of the week isn’t promising; but then, neither was last week and I nearly did my regular 100 miles.

Anyway, that’s why I was out riding when it was slightly colder than ideal, later in the day than I like, on roads that were greasy-slippery in town in places like junctions and roundabouts, and wet and debris-strewn out in the country because of fairly heavy overnight rain. The latter makes perfect puncture conditions and so it proved – a rapid deflation near Sulham.

As I was pulling up to fix it I was forming an appropriate curse for the Vredestein tyres I put on the other week as this is the second flat in just a few days but it was quickly obvious that that wouldn’t be fair. The flint that did the damage was still in the tyre and was vicious enough to do damage to a car tyre, let alone a high pressure bike tyre.

I fixed it in the entrance to a house’s driveway, with a Robin watching me from the top of a wall – slightly above my head, not three feet away. It’s tempting to say something anodyne such as ‘it’s a privilege to be able to look at a bird from such a short distance’, or to make some kind of comment about the bird being trusting or something. That would all be bunkum, of course.

There was no trust involved – I was probably invading its territory. That, or it thought I might be a source of food. And if privilege was involved, who was granting it? How’s it been earned? It was just one of those things.

But it did give me pleasure to be able to see a wild bird up close. The closer you can study one, the more you can see how subtle and intricate the markings are on even a ‘common’ bird like a Robin; the better you can see how delicate they are.

A problem with getting up close with ‘nature’ is that it reminds me, reasonably forcefully, that for the most part humanity’s relationship is with it is truly foul. And the pessimist in me thinks it’s too late to redress the balance. Ignorance, bliss, out of sight, out of mind and all that.

Christmas Fever

A short off-road ride before the weather turns windier and wetter. The lanes are dank and dirty and there’s just a general lack of colour in nature now.

A blow-up Santa Claus

Be afraid, be very afraid

I think I’m right in believing Robins get redder breasts this time of year but I’m sure they appear redder still, are all the more striking, for the dull backdrop they’re exhibiting in front of. All things are relative.

Talking of relativity, the route today took me past a garden centre. Normally, you expect it to be reasonably busy on a Sunday. Today it was manic – cars queuing to get in; customers either pushing forward with purpose or dithering hopelessly everywhere. Ho ho ho – Christmas is upon us once again, like a fever.

It’s hard to begrudge business owners who need to make a living and depend on this seasonal spending spree to survive the rest of the year. It’s hard to look at frenzied shoppers and the manifest lack of pleasure on display and not think that there must be something better than this.

Of course that’s all trite and obvious, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Given that resources – time, money, energy, lives – are finite, wasting them on the – almost now traditional – unnecessarily unpleasurable seems a tad daft.

It is very difficult to make alternative actions stem from the familiarly unpleasant.