Archives for February 2012

And Sad

Today, riding with Jim up the back way to May’s Green from Harpsden, we couldn’t get all the way up because someone had dumped an immense pile of rubbish in the middle of the lane. Just that fact is, to me at least, stupefying. Someone had come along, in daylight, and felt it was fine to just dump a huge pile of building waste, household junk, mattresses and whatever else in the middle of a road and then drive off.

I do not understand how to be that selfish and, presumably, greedy as money will be involved somewhere along the line. And this is one of those cases when I don’t actually want to be able to understand.

While we were trying to walk around it a council contractor turned up. Talking to him, he said it had just happened, that he knew who’d done it and the company they worked for, and that the police were after them as we spoke. He said he’d seen the bloke driving around with the load and knew he’d be looking for somewhere to fly-tip it.

The whole episode is just so depressing. I don’t know if it’s sad or what else it might be. Maybe it is sad that someone would want to foul up the countryside for what’s bound to be just a few quid. Maybe it’s sadder still that it’s worth it for someone to do it.

It’s certainly depressing that the chap from the council can know who the culprit is – and that it was going to happen before the event – but that it still can’t be stopped. It seems so little is proactive or preventative.

It hasn’t always been like this. It’s not the case that I’m more aware of it now than I once was. I’ve ridden lanes around towns on and off all my life and the fly-tipping you see now is new. Something systemic has happened to either make it worthwhile to do or just acceptable practice, or both.

Even aside from active fly-tipping, there’s far more litter than there used to be too and there’s enough evidence around that that’s a slippery slope – once a place looks unkempt then people will feel it’s OK to abuse it further.

It is very sad that it’s come to this. I think we all know that it will lead to bigger problems. It’s easy to say that there are bigger problems than this in the world and there are, but that’s to miss the point about the slippery slope that basic neglect of the context in which people live stands atop of.


I appreciate I’m being flippant about a real condition, but I sometimes do wonder whether seasonal affective disorder might be bringing me down on grey days like today. It was grey but in all other respects it was a reasonable day for riding and I had a reasonable ride, but for no discernible reason I just felt ‘down’.

The seasons are all wrong these days – it’s currently stupidly mild for February – but at least it does mean there are positive signs about that we’re coming out of winter. There are buds on some plants already. The snowdrops are looking good and there are a few daffodils to be seen even though it’s too early for them. The birds I’ve noticed lately, over and above the ‘regulars’, are all reasons to be cheerful too – Bullfinches, Blackcaps, Red Kites moving in ever closer … and I’m hearing owls at night which is normally something reserved for summer. I can think of plenty of reasons to be cheerful. The gulf between intellect and emotion, however …

Imagined Impotence?

It seems churlish to complain about nice weather after all the moaning I’ve been doing, but it’s not a thing to celebrate, not in the big scheme of things. If it’s not unseasonably cold it’s unseasonably hot. The explanation that climate change means, day to day, not a wildly different world but a world seeing unusual weather ‘events’ more often, and a slow, creeping change over the long term, rings all too true.

A friend’s just come back from a week skiing in the Alps and he was saying the weather there is fluctuating wildly. He’s not someone I’d call particularly ‘in tune’ with nature and he’s certainly no left-leaning ‘green’. For him to be saying it’s worrying is a good measure of how askew things are getting.

What to do about it is the moot point; ‘about it’ or in the light of it. From the mundane to the global, how to act is the hard part.

I was genuinely hacked off today, riding around the so-called Royal County and seeing so much neglect – the roads are rotting and the ditches and verges are strewn with rubbish, from the deliberately dumped piles of tyres to the carelessly slung fast-food trash. Fine, so it’s annoying or depressing or both … now what?

Whether about the planet’s climate or the local rubbish, am I / are the majority of us too passive? Or is it a very vain day-dream to imagine that anyone can make a difference? Or is our impotence imagined, what anyone who benefits from the current situation wants us to think, so we don’t all challenge the status quo?

Death And The Cyclists

What a difference a day makes – it’s now stupidly warm for the time of year. And Jim’s Dad might, just might, be pulling through.

I was riding with Jim today and, of course, the next fear is how his Dad will be when he comes around – he’s been in an induced coma for days now. He wasn’t in peak physical shape beforehand but he wasn’t in bad nick either, and his mind was as sharp as it ever was. Jim was saying he’s not looking good but then, no-one looks great in hospital.

Age, mortality and all those related issues formed the bulk of our conversation today – as you’d expect. Jim, too, often thinks about death. Not in a melodramatic or morbid sense, not in a way that brings you down. As he said, he’s aware that when he goes out for a ride he might not come back – and that’s precisely how I think.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else say that, and I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that’s how I think to anyone else. I suspect most people would describe that as unhealthy or depressing or something equally negative but I can’t see it in those terms. As long as you keep it in perspective then, surely, having death in mind is positive – it helps you keep everything else in a proper perspective.

A Hard Ride

One day I’ll have an enjoyable ride again … But not today. There are levels of not enjoying it though; today was one of those rides where, on the whole, it was nice when it ended – but it was good to have done it. I didn’t enjoy doing it, but I enjoyed the fact that I did it, if that makes any sense.

A terrifically strong wind and a sky full of rolling grey clouds, coming on top of the lingering remnants of last week’s cough and cold and the fact that I’ve hardly ridden a bike this month made it hard going. I cut it short by about eight miles just because I was tired but that worked out well as it was raining within 10 minutes of getting home. A happy accident. I guess just a .2 on the Hengistbury Scale*.

There’s a small but significant pleasure that comes with escaping something undesirable by chance, through an uninformed or unrelated choice. The feeling of, for once, fate being on your side. It’s daft but real.

On the little lane running along the bottom of the hill from Henley towards Aston I disturbed the biggest flock of chaffinches I’ve ever come across – I don’t know about hundreds of them but certainly many 10s. I don’t know if that’s unusual or not in the big scheme of things but it is in my experience.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

A Pall

Jim’s father, who I’ve known, liked and got on with since I was a teenager, is in intensive care and it seems borderline whether he’ll live. An elective surgical procedure seems to have gone wrong.

I went for a ride with Jim today, feeling a bit rough but not so bad to not ride. A bit of a sore throat, a bit of a tight chest – niggles present to some extent since last Thursday. I’d been looking forward to getting out for over a fortnight. Jim needed a ride after a morning spent at the hospital; a morning after much of the previous day doing the same thing.

And we talked about this and we talked about that and we talked about his dad. He understands more about hospitals and health care than I do and we were able to talk factually, but the emotional pall cast by a potential, unnecessary death was there.

It happens, we all know that, but that doesn’t make it OK. And I’ve never been any good when it comes to death.

‘What ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ rear up – ugly, misplaced and emotionally deforming.

I think I’m what they would have called an ’emotional man’ once upon at time, back when they had ‘confirmed bachelors’, ‘spinsters of the parish’ and other such euphemisms and terms. Nowadays they’d probably say I’m in touch with my feelings. God help me if I’m a ‘new man’.

The temptation for me is to always hanker after avoiding the extreme emotions that come with a death. I don’t know if that’s universal; I suspect not. It’s certainly how I’ve been for as long as I can remember.

There is, of course, a natural order in these things, whereby those older than you are supposed to die first and, I guess, I can just about countenance that. Just. But even then that’s not something I’m wholly sure I can face with any equanimity. And when it comes to contemporaries I’ve always been happy with the thought of ducking out sooner rather than later, certainly sooner than those closest to me, and if that makes me a coward then maybe I am and maybe that’s just the way it is.

I suppose the interesting thing in all that is that I’m scared of tearful times. I don’t know why I should be; it’s just the way I am. It’s something learned, I guess. On the whole, society prefers bottled-up emotion. I can cry all too easily – a story, a song, a news report. I get annoyed with myself that I do and that I’m always – to some degree – living in anticipation of being emotionally … what? Weak? Demonstrative? Vulnerable? Honest?

So, not a great bike ride for reasons wholly unconnected with riding. And now I feel like that tight chest and bad throat is going to mutate into a full-blown stonkin’ cold. What joy.