Archives for December 2012

(Finding Form Amidst) Stygian Amorphousness

A dismal little ride, for the sake of it, on sodden roads past saturated fields, on a route partly determined by which roads aren’t impassable.

Doing it means I’ve done 4,400 miles this year – the same as last year. That means I’ve met what’s been a moving target. I started out aiming for 4,500 but cut it to 4,250 in the light of the miserable start to the year and subsequent soggy summer.

I upped it to 4,400 towards the end of November when I was thinking I should easily meet it. Then December’s rain happened – and continues to happen. Add to that a couple of bouts – one still continuing – of feeling quite lousy with throat/sinus problems, and hey presto! All bets are off and plans are awry. As it is, I have now just scraped in.

There are lessons to be learned. There’s the obvious one: human plans are feeble. That’s not a revelation. A more interesting one is what we should learn about living with climate change.

As local climates get ever more unpredictable, given how much of what we want to do is governed by the weather to some extent, we probably ought to be adopting a much more proactive ‘make the most of it’ culture, in all spheres. If March turns out to be hot and sunny again, then we should all be geared to grabbing that opportunity and making up for it later. If August is wet then let’s not bother with taking the main school holidays then. And so on.

It would need a vastly more flexible and cooperative attitude across the board – the public sector, the workplace and so on – and, of course, it won’t happen. It’s very easy to imagine to cries of “It’s too difficult”; “it would be impossible to organize”; “it would harm profitability” … etc.

And yes, I’m not a fool and I know it wouldn’t be a simple thing to adopt a different approach to how we’re organized. But, if the will was there, ways to make it work could be found. A lot would come down to the question of whether we live to work or work to live. We are by-and-large organized around the former principle when, arguably, we should be guided by the latter.

As for meeting the 4,400 mile target – I’m all too aware that means precisely nothing in any significant scheme of things. But if you’re going to set a target, to then not take it seriously would be akin to cheating whilst playing a game of patience.

As for the act of setting targets / the need to set targets – ‘fumbling for form amidst Stygian amorphousness’ perhaps sums it up. Something like that.

A Future For Individuals

Four walkers in a group in the far distance, one farmer out with a sheep dog and another driving up a track: a wet, windy, grey Boxing Day on the Ridgeway doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for anyone or anything, even if going for a walk is what the middle classes feel they are supposed to do to blow away Christmas cobwebs. It’s all in the name of quality time and bonding, don’t you know.

The Ridgeway, the day after Christmas. No religious symbolism intended

The Ridgeway, the day after Christmas. No religious symbolism intended

Apologies; sarcasm is rarely attractive.

A few Red Kites circled around and, it seemed, Blackbirds were uncommonly numerous, darting about the scrubby bushes and the brutally machine-pruned hedging. That was it.

At times the cloud was low enough to obscure Didcot, just a few miles away; other times it lifted. It didn’t rain hard but it might as well have. At least for the most part it was a case of fairly decent surfaces rather than gloopy mud.

As nearly always, it was worth the effort. I can’t say I was feeling full of seasonal merriment before I started out and the trip didn’t change that, but that’s a problem with the season and not me. I can’t turn on merriness on the turn of the calendar.

Over the weekend I was chatting with a lady whose husband died just over two years ago. She wasn’t maudlin or depressed about a Christmas alone; she wanted a break from work and to relax. What she was struggling with, what she resented, is the presumed and often forced bonhomie – of the season, of so many people, of the media.

It’s hard to be yourself when there’s so much commonplace pressure to be otherwise – that much is obvious.

Plausibly, in future, as ‘mass media’ fragments into ever smaller parts to be consumed by ever smaller audience segments, and as societies become ever more diverse in the composition of those segments, that pressure will lessen.

A Little Bit Of Sunshine

Around this time last year I was thinking about the mood-altering properties of cycling; this year it’s the mood-altering properties of some sunshine.

Yesterday was another day of downpours. Today is a respite from a succession of rain-laden weather systems lining up to soak an already saturated land over the next few days.

I expected today’s ride in the general direction of Henley to be a case of getting out while I can, ‘making the most of it’, but overall nothing too enjoyable. I was pleasantly wrong.

The sun shone enough to pick out some of the colour that is still to be found if you look; the major puddles had largely receded and while I was riding through an obviously saturated countryside, the sun shone most of the time and it wasn’t cold. (It was busy but hey, it is the Friday before Christmas; heavier traffic was inevitable.) It was a good day to be out, good enough to make me feel decidedly better for the experience.

Wet winter woods, with just a dash of colour

Wet winter woods, with just a dash of colour

Consciously, I’d say it was the sunlight and the mildness that made it positively enjoyable, that lifted the mood beyond merely making the most of it.

Beyond that obvious, conscious level though, it’s hard to get any sense of what – if anything – I might have been responding to. Perhaps colours trigger something; surely it’s not solely for the lack of crops, say, or the colder weather that we describe the generally colour-free mid-winter as bleak. We humans seem to have always sought to decorate our constructed environments – and, often, ourselves – with bright colours.

Flint Mapping (Just For Cyclists)

Yes, Flint Mapping, not Flint Knapping.

It occurred to me today, riding in the territory south-east of Reading, that even during ‘puncture season’, when there’s lots of washed-down debris on the roads, I’ll rarely get a flat if I stick to the roads south of the Thames.

Climb north on the other hand and the phrase ‘puncture season’ all too readily comes to life, and more often than not it will be a shard of flint doing the damage.

With a realization that just serves to emphasise how slow on the uptake I can be, north of the Thames, around here, you’re heading into chalk hills – and with chalk comes flint. Simple, blindingly obvious, and I’ve never thought of it before.

That did make me wonder whether it would be possible to get a statistically significant number of cyclists to report on when they puncture and where, and to map that against the geology of the underlying land. That might prove very interesting – and possibly useful too. Correlating that data with the tyres are being used would also be helpful, I’m sure there are any number of other variables that could be usefully fed in to the data set too.

Now, all we need is a network of cyclists, a statistician and a programmer …

Big Issues and Bentleys

At last, a day when you’re not going to fall off your bike because of ice, and it’s not lashing down with rain either.

Bentleys and Big Issues

Bentleys might be common in Berkshire but Big Issue sellers are an even more common sight.

Going through Marlow today, I saw the precise moment when a new Bentley passed by a chap selling the Big Issue. Also today, I saw some claim that if the top 10 richest people in the world pooled their money, that would fund feeding the world’s poorest one billion (yes, billion) people for over 200 years.

It’s very unlikely the chap driving the Bentley is directly responsible for the Big Issue seller’s plight.

I know the claim about the richest people funding the poorest would need to be heavily qualified – that it’s glib and easy to pull apart.

But despite all the essential caveats and any reasonableness, you can’t help but wonder at how wrong the values of society commonly are, world-wide, when there’s such obvious gross inequality reaching right down to the basics – food, water, shelter.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to be one of those richest people in the world, knowing I could do that much to make such a big difference to so many people. I cannot imagine knowing that but not acting on it.

If you can’t put yourself in someone’s shoes, does that make you unimaginative or lacking in empathy somehow? I don’t know how I should respond to that inability on my part. On the other hand, is it only by dint of not being able to adopt that mindset that I can see it’s wrong? Perhaps a lack of imagination or empathy has a value.

A Problem Of Consciousness

Rendered nonchalantly gung-ho by temperatures in the balmy mid-40s (F), today I merrily went for a short-ish spin winding my way up towards Woodcote, having failed to take the strong wind into account.

A headwind for pretty well all the climbing soon makes one realise the stupidity of gung-ho actions.

I could have studied the weather forecast or studied the trees, but I didn’t. It wasn’t windy immediately outside of my front door so no alarm bells rang.

It’s a trivial example, but nevertheless it did make me think about consciousness – the question of how much you can be conscious of; the breadth of things in life you can ‘in tune’ you can be to any meaningful degree, at any moment in time.

I was predisposed to be thinking on those lines after two recent parties – nearly 100 people coming together to mark Charli joining the ranks of us 50-plus-ers.

Many of them were people we don’t see very often; often a year or more can go by with no contact other than, perhaps, an email or two. Years slip by easily. Then you bring a roomful of friends and family together and you’re conscious of that passage of time, of the friendships, of the reasons why these people are people you like to spend time with.

You know there are cancer sufferers there and cancer survivors; people with heart problems and mental health problems and all sorts of joint problems, not to mention money problems and any number of other problems you’re not aware of, but they’ve made the effort to be there despite it all.
And there are people who would have been there but have been called away, by their work to the Middle East and to the Far East and, more prosaically, to different bits of the UK; by other unexpected commitments – not least caring for the sick. Life intervened to ruin their plans, but you’re conscious of them in those circumstances precisely because of their absence.

You know there has to be some chance that you might never see one or more of those people ever again because that’s just the way the world is.

And you know you can’t keep them all in your consciousness but these are the times you feel you ought to be able to. But you can’t, so you just get on with it in the same way as you just get on with riding uphill into a headwind. The tailwind downhill makes you smile.

An over-sized garden chair - great for big thoughts

A big seat for thinking big thunks.