Archives for January 2013

That’s OK, It’s Only Awful

A road ride on a route that I mapped out beforehand as likely to be reasonable through a sopping, sodden Berkshire landscape. I didn’t have to alter my route, but several lanes and B-roads were close to being impassable – and these weren’t ‘the normal suspects’.

Riding and looking around, these ‘weather events’ are not the normal exceptions to typical weather, if that makes any sense. Yes, this road or that road, this field or that field might have flooded before, but not this often, not to this extent, not as a part of this broader weather pattern.

I’m not sure there’s anything new to be said about climate change.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that’s left to observe in connection with it is how it will be reported and presented by the media and government; how the public are manipulated or managed, depending on your point of view.

It seems to be a recognised ploy to soften us up with terrible predictions so that when something merely bad happens, that’s seen as a bonus. If you start thinking about news reporting in those terms, a lot of it makes better sense than it might otherwise.

(This PR related blog touches on the subject.)

Climate change might not be quite so manageable though. If the reality is going to be awful, are we going to be happy with that if we’d previously been threatened with the apocalyptic?

A public bench, part submerged in flood water

At least it’s not apocalyptic.

Be Thankful

Both rides yesterday and the day before were of the ‘good to be out’ but ‘boy, is it yukky out there’ variety.

Both were short-ish, partially off-road excursions in the territory between Caversham and Henley. Both times, I came back mud be-splattered with a bike caked in the particularly finely textured gloop you seem to only get after it’s been frozen. I don’t know if the freezing and thawing process somehow breaks mud down more.

After today’s excursion I did wash the bike down and as I was sprucing it up it crossed my mind how well it had kept working despite all the abuse it was enduring, and how little I appreciated its reliability.

Mud-covered bike parts

Somehow, it just keeps working

It’s like a lot of things – when they’re working they’re ignored: things mechanical, things electrical, things biological – not least your body. Now, 50+, it’s getting harder to ignore my body. I’d be lying if I denied having more aches and pains – niggles, but frequent niggles where there once weren’t any.

Presumably, things will continue to deteriorate. Possibly, there comes a point when the deterioration is so bad that it’s unpleasant enough to want it all to cease. Prior to that, be thankful for what does work.

Unalloyed Pleasure

A bike ride – a real, out of doors bike ride; the first for over a week. The roads are in an appalling state; the rain and melting snow means flood waters are rising again; off-road the mud is deep and there are puddles everywhere with who-knows-what for potholes lurking beneath the dirty water. There was some evil slippery grey-black slush on some of the shady parts of the route. And I loved every minute of it.

You can't have enough firewood

If cold weather’s due, it’s good to have a few logs in stock.

It’s just the being outside that’s so simply, purely pleasurable. You don’t have to be riding a bike. It is the fact that the weather’s just that little bit better to make being out reasonable – not so cold you have to be wrapped up just that bit too much to be comfortable; not so slippery that you’d justly call yourself daft if you fell over and broke something.

Talking it over with Charli, she says she feels the same and reckons being outside has some deep appeal to the animal in us. If that’s true, I suppose it’s probably not a good thing that we’re still responsive to the instinctive. If civilization is about anything, it’s surely about the triumph of intellect over instinct.

Watching Life And Death

There’s not a huge amount of inspiration to be found on a ‘turbo-trainer’, and snow’s been keeping me off the bike for a few days. (I suspect if I never saw another snow flake I’d be quite happy about it.)

What is interesting to watch is what goes on outside the window in harsher weather – the bird life.

Birds in the snow

‘This too must pass’

At the various feeders and bird tables:

  • There’s one super-aggressive male Blackbird who’s willing to have a go at almost anything else – the other two male Blackbirds who are visiting, and any other nearby smaller bird.
  • The plumped-up female Blackbird more-or-less does her own thing but studiously avoids the males.
  • There are a few Starlings who descend as a group whenever there’s any fresh food that’s not mixed grain out. These aren’t afraid of the aggressive Blackbird – in fact the reverse is true, even though Starlings are smaller.
  • Unusually, I’ve had two Jays visiting simultaneously, but they’ll only barely tolerate each other and most of the other birds flee when they arrive. Any that stay keep their distance.
  • Magpies don’t tolerate anything else, and, as with the Jays, nothing else wants to be anywhere near them.
  • The Collared Doves have just kept on doing what they always do: hanging around, seemingly a tad gormless but always attentive, and carefully picking their time to feed.
  • There’s one Pied Wagtail who just does what he or she wants, neatly side-stepping the other birds as necessary and – it appears – getting the food it wants and needs.
  • The Blue Tits and Great Tits are like the Wagtail – canny feeders who can look after themselves.
  • There are pair of Bullfinches, relatively recent visitors, and they also seem self-contained, not fussed by any of the other birds except, occasionally, the Greenfinches who’ll have a bad-tempered go at them if they’re close enough.
  • There are more Wood Pigeons than normal – which is to be expected as they come in to the suburbs looking for food.
  • The solo Song Thrush I’ve seen is, I guess, doing the same as the Wood Pigeons, but he or she’s often chased-off by the stroppy Blackbird.
  • There are two Robins who fight as much as they feed but only seem interested in each other.
  • Greenfinches appear as contentedly greedy once they’ve settled on the feeders as they are all year round. They’ll squabble amongst themselves but, seemingly, without consequence.

And all of the ‘interest’ I’m seeing outside my window, one way or another, is about survival – no more and no less.

If I were describing starving humans fighting for scraps there would be an outcry. The same would be true if I were talking about domesticated mammals that people feel some affinity with, dogs perhaps.

Watching birds struggling to live though, that’s OK. I don’t think that I’m putting food out makes it any better or changes anything. They’re still struggling. As always, everything is relative.

Vernalization As Sufficient Justification

Back on the ‘turbo-trainer’ – it is better than falling off on ice. Just.

(Trevor Woodford put it in context very well in his blog.)

Natural rhythms, natural processes, natural events: it’s supposed to get cold in winter. This current cold spell is not a surprise event.

Charli says I should be happy that it’s freezing at the moment because I’m someone who likes various specific foods, including blackcurrants and garlic, that require vernalization to do well. She has a point. It just doesn’t feel like anything to be chirpy about.

I’ve never been a fan of winter but I can’t really remember enough to be able to say whether I dislike it – and moan about it – more now than I used to. I suspect I do, which I’m sure is tedious and I know is thoroughly pointless.

Conversely, I find myself increasingly intolerant of pointless activities. Thus my moans amount to yet another shortcoming to add to the list. Ah, the joys of self-examination.

Noticing Smells; Appreciating Drivers

Making the most of it – another reasonable road ride before the weather takes a turn for the worse, from tomorrow onwards. For no conscious reason, I was noticing the smells.

  • A faint odour of sewage as I neared Sonning – not as bad as it has been, but there.
  • The distinct smell of stagnant water, also near Sonning, as the floods recede, and again near Remenham church.
  • The stench of diesel from a bus on the road to Wargrave. As I understand it, the only reason for an engine to belch diesel smog is through poor maintenance. That seems likely – cutting maintenance costs would please accountants, and they run the world for short-term gain these days.
  • A nose full of two-stroke from somewhere, something, along the A4.
  • An unpleasant, thick, over-strong fug of cooking fumes being churned out of the fans on the side of The Little Angel, on the corner of Remenham Lane. You really wouldn’t want to live near that.
  • The unmistakable smell of cigarette smoke coming from an open car window – the car stuck in the normal queue to get in to Henley. It is surprising how rarely you smell cigarettes these days. As for seeing or smelling a pipe or cigar – I can’t remember the last time I’ve come across either in use in public.
  • And, several times, a faint smell of gas. I don’t know if each whiff is a leak that I should be reporting. It seems unlikely: it happens so often on a cold day.

There was also the distinct sense of cold air but that’s more a nasal sensation than an odour.

Now, I know my sense of smell isn’t great – too many years of being a smoker myself, and too many years stuffing sinus ‘cures’ up my nose – but what is, perhaps, most surprising about modern life is how few smells there are. Over the course of the entire ride there were those instances but otherwise, nothing.

I couldn’t find a way to photograph today’s smells, so here’s a clichéd image of someone holding their nose.

I couldn’t find a way to photograph today’s smells, so here’s a clichéd image of someone holding their nose.

And talking of specific instances … Over and above all the perfectly appropriate interactions with traffic – which must number in the hundreds over a ride – three incidents stand out.

A chap driving a ‘Volume/Print Ain’t Dead’ van gave me all the slack I needed to safely negotiate the huge pot-hole craters along the road to Sonning. A lady driving a blue ‘people carrier’ type of vehicle also gave me lots of room along the narrow lane up near Crazies Hill, and an unbranded blue-grey bus hung well back so as to not hassle me as I had to wait to turn, just outside of Henley.

These are people going out of their way to make my life as a cyclist easier – it’s appreciated and I often think it needs mentioning specifically. Too many cyclists are too quick to moan about bad driving but they never mention the opposite; they also all too rarely mention bad cycling.