Archives for April 2012

This Day Is Your Last

More Mayflies today, and the first (what I think were) House Martins of the year too – feasting on them not too far from Sonning Common. If many Mayflies live for just a day, and if there’s a fair chance of a predator eating you before your day is up, then that all puts the need to get the most out of life into a fairly harsh perspective.

If there were such as thing as reincarnation, I can think of a few people who merit no more than a day back on the planet. On the other hand, perhaps it be more fitting for such people to be condemned to be born again to a long life, albeit of suffering and misery.

It was very windy today; the Red Kites were keeping low. I saw another bird of prey up near Christmas Common that wasn’t a Kestrel, but I’m not sure what it was. A Sparrowhawk perhaps, or a Hobby.

Photo: The River Thames at Sonning

A full River Thames, here in Sonning

Today’s was a longer ride that crossed the Thames a couple of times. I like to think of the river as just a big ditch – which, fundamentally, is what it is. After all the rain it’s a very full ditch. I guess quite a few of this seasons’ river bank nests will have been washed away. I don’t know how resilient the birds in question are in terms of trying again.

I hadn’t quite realised just how windy it’s been lately either – there was a fair bit of wind damage to be seen, broken branches and the like. Some low lying fields were flooded but only the usual suspects; it’s not dramatic yet and here’s hoping it stays that way. Drama is pretty well always misery for some.

I see on the news that a chap has died in his car trying to cross a deep, fast-flowing ford, not too far from here. Everything else aside, what often strikes me about a death like that is that it was surely the furthest thing from his mind when he set off to go wherever he was going. There’s a starkness to that, a bluntness, that I’m never sure how to react to.

I don’t know if you can, or should, live as if every day might be your last. It’s easy to say it but living it in any practical way … ? I don’t know. Or perhaps that’s just laziness.

I think I hope if a genuine, freakish accident happened to someone close to me that I could more-or-less shrug it off as just that: surely it would be something that there’s nothing to think about; something that just happened. I know that that’s how I’d like others to think if I was the victim.

Disturbing Another’s World

With the weekend looking like it’ll be foul for riding, today was a quick off-road dash out between the showers, before the deluge.

I know it’s only a few days before their due date, but I was surprised to see Mayflies in the lanes near Kidmore End today; if anything April’s felt colder than it should be.

On the lane from Cross Lanes down to Mapledurham, I disturbed a large, presumably adult, Red Kite, feeding on the verge. I couldn’t see what the carrion was in the grass. When one of those birds flies up just a few feet in front of you, it’s pretty spectacular – both the colouring and sheer size of it.

Perhaps strangely, I felt quite guilty. The showery, soggy day meant there was no-one around apart from me and I felt like I shouldn’t be there – I was intruding in to that Red Kite’s world, and doubtless really hacking him off too as I forced him to leave his meal.

Photo: Crumbling roads in South Oxon

Crumbling roads in South Oxon

I then thought that was stupid: it’s not that bird’s world at all. This was a Red Kite in my, human world – on a roadside, next to a field that’s farmed, probably feeding on something that’s been killed by a human, and so on.

And then you look at the crumbling road surface and the plants poking through the holes – it’s yet another testimony to the local council’s failings – and think about how nature’s permanently poised to overcome everything and anything we impose on the planet and undo all our efforts at control. And then you think about how dependent and frail humans are these days. And then you realise your first thought is right – I was disturbing a Red Kite in his world.

Knowledge And Corruption

Photo: English Bluebells

English Bluebells, not to be confused with Spanish invaders

Yet another fairly windy, fairly showery day, and another off-road run with Charli. On one stretch we were on a track skirting the edge of a Bluebell wood; the contrast between the gentle scent of Bluebells and the thicker, slightly sickly smell of the Rapeseed fields of the other day makes you wish there was a commercial need to grow the former.

Coming in to Caversham along Kidmore End Road I noticed Thames Water had fixed the second leak there. For a good many weeks there was bubbling spring of a leak at the bottom of the hill; they fixed that but shortly after there was a strong steam of a leak further up, which was allowed to flow freely for some weeks too. Both have now been sorted out.

Charli said something critical about the time it takes them to fix problems and it’s tempting to agree. We know about their profits and their bonuses and that they can cream off so much, tell us all to save water and meanwhile waste so much of it seems simply, unavoidably, unarguably wrong.

What it also might be, though, is evidence of how much more we know these days. It would be easy to think that’s a good thing. We know about bonuses; we know about MPs fiddling their expenses; about lobbyists, back-handers, official lies and economies of truth. We know about greed and we have measures for the still-widening wealth gap. We know how little tax the rich pay and we know how many ministers go on to be well-rewarded directors on companies they ‘helped’ while they were in power.

And we forget all the positives.

Perhaps we know too much. Perhaps it’s made us too cynical, too judgemental; too willing to look for and to believe in the bad in everything.

Past The Sell-By Date

The other day I crouched down to take a photo (of the Herb Robert); as I did so I felt the big muscle on the side of my left thigh pull. No big deal. I rode on, didn’t think anything more of it. That night it hurt, quite a lot. Yesterday it hurt quite a lot all day – walking wasn’t pleasant. I woke up today, limped around the house and set off for a ride quite expecting to turn back.

As it was, apart from a couple of times – starting off, trying to stand on the pedals – I hardly noticed it and it turned into a good long run with Jim; one of those where we kept extending it as we went, just because we could.

That said though, the ease with which the injury occurred and the other little niggling aches and pains I get these days are all doing a good job of reminding me that I’m past my sell-by date. Anyone beyond their mid-40s is; that’s all our bodies are designed for, or so I’m told. It quite definitely feels like that some days.

I can’t complain: I’ve hardly been ill or injured and I’ve escaped major ailments to date. I’m just increasingly aware that time is not on my side, not with regard to physical health or anything else. It’s sobering, and it’s worth remembering. Anyone over 50 should be thankful that they are just that – over 50.

Non Natives

Off road with Charli – picking a not too muddy route to stop it being a slog; there’s mud to be had if you want it, now there’s been rain for a while. The Rapeseed fields are pretty well fully out around here – Charli says she’s heard this is early. It wouldn’t surprise me; nothing about the weather or the seasons is as they were.

Photo: Rapeseed field in April

Rapeseed in April - coming on early this year

Rapeseed’s an old plant in England but a relatively new crop: you see a lot more of it now than even just a couple of decades ago. When you ride by a whole field of it, it has a strong and not that pleasant smell – something you’d just never have experienced once. That is a slightly odd thought.

Something else that’s new is the spread of ‘English Flags’ or ‘Flags of St George’. The desire to mark St George’s Day (23rd) seems far more common now. There were a fair few flags around today – cars, some pubs, some houses.

Photo: The English flag, on a bag, dumped

The English flag on a bag, dumped

I can’t have anything but a knee-jerk mistrust of patriotism. It seems nothing good is ever done in its name. It’s generally built on bogus foundations. (St George was a Turk. Most of what people think of as Scottish ‘culture’ is a Victorian English invention. And so on.) All too quickly it lurches into racism, discrimination and persecution.

Surely, some of those who want to celebrate aspects of a localised culture are doing so out of genuinely good intentions, but their intentions, and ultimately their emotions, are all too easily hijacked. There are any number of examples, world-wide, of racism being stirred up where once there was none or what did exist was contained. From the former Yugoslavia to the Rwandan genocide, you don’t have to look very far to find out how easily passions are poisoned.

And make no mistake, the culture of any country is a localised thing – and the fundamental inappropriateness of a localised view is accelerating as economies and communications become ever more global in scope.

Make no mistake, too, that any propagandized notion of what a culture is, is false. Cultures are built on shifting sands.

The people who’d profess to be leaders – politicians in the main – who invoke anything to do with patriotism are always out for their own aggrandisement – the only thing that varies is how well they disguise it and how long it takes for the truth to come out. They always do damage: invoking divisions always does and always will. The damage can be horrendous – war, genocide, slaughter – or ‘just’ the creation of mistrust, the emphasis of difference. Even if you want to downplay the damage these people cause as they seek to gain power, any ‘leader’ invoking an inward-looking parochialism when globalism is a simple, bald fact of everyday life will do those being led no favours at all.

Applied Intelligence

The relentless chain of April showers continues. The wisdom is, ride out in to a headwind, back with a tailwind. Today, I could look west, where the rain’s coming from, and see a clear spell followed by shower clouds. So I set off heading east and got a good way towards Maidenhead before starting to loop around below Reading.

Photo: Shower clouds over South Oxfordshire

April Showers ...

By that time the clouds were piling up and sure enough I hit a shower near Shurlock Row but the smart thing was that I was riding in to it. That meant I was riding through it – and yay, it wasn’t long before I was in the dry again. OK, that meant riding into a headwind as I was heading home, complete with rain in the face, but that’s far better than riding for a long spell with a shower cloud following you, dumping on you.

OK, that’s not the greatest insight ever afforded to mankind, but I was pleased to have thought of it and even more pleased to have acted on it: going against conventional wisdom is never as easy as it ought to be.

Perhaps ‘conventional wisdom’ is a red herring of a juxtaposition; too much of what we do does no-one any favours. Well, no-one but those who profit from the status quo. Perhaps we should consider it akin to ‘sex and violence’ – a conjoining no more or less valid than ‘corruption and politics’ or ‘perversion and religion’.

If yesterday saw a mild but persistent case of the ‘if only’ blues, then why aren’t I celebrating my good fortune today? There should be an equivalent ‘didn’t I do well’ sense of satisfaction. Once again, I’m wholly unsure whether that’s just me or something more common. It seems easier to remember failures than successes, the bad than the good. But then again, perhaps writing about it is a mild celebration.