(I Played And Lost) Rain Cloud Roulette

April showers are here. We all know this is a good thing given the drought. However, the gulf between what we know and how we feel is often huge.

Setting off for a decent length ride, taking in the frighteningly quaint-sounding Stanford Dingley as well as Upper Basildon, Goring and Woodcote, that it was going to be random whether I’d get rained on or not was obvious from the clouds. The bigger question was whether it would be a real cloud-burst of a soaking if it did come; yesterday saw some proper, if brief, deluges around Berkshire, complete with a couple of loud claps of thunder.

Despite heavy legs the ride went well enough. An oil tanker driver, Pinnock Brothers, encountered on the hill near Upper Basildon went out of his way to give me room to descend safely and that’s always appreciated, and I did make it as far as the bottom of what I know as Cleeve Hill, the road up to Woodcote that goes by Elvendon Priory, before anything came out of the sky. And on the plus side when it did it wasn’t heavy … but it did start off as hail.

Hail is surprisingly loud when it’s hitting you, and you’re not going to forget it’s ice when it goes down the back of your neck. It’s an experience; it didn’t last long and as with most instances of this kind of thing, the thought is worse than reality. I don’t think it’s masochism – or stupidity – when I say there’s something enjoyable about it. It lets you know you’re alive. Being always dry, always warm, always comfortable is very numbing – far more so than ice down the neck.

Being out in it also gave me that real pleasure of the smell you get when it rains (or hails) on warm-ish, dry roads that haven’t seen any moisture for a while, that unique … what? It must be some kind of chemical reaction or something, a gas of sorts being given off? I have always thought of it as a hot summer day smell but it was definitely to be enjoyed as I started to climb out of Goring on this not that warm April day.

Given the weather, I was surprised and pleased to see a chap out with a very little lad on their bikes, on the roads near Woodcote and Goring Heath. As I said to the chap, he – the lad – was going really well, particularly for such a youngster. I hope by saying ‘hi’ to the lad too I was at least a little bit encouraging. I have no idea if that’s a naive pipe-dream. I think an adult cyclist saying hello to me at that age would have made a positive impression, and that’s about all anyone can go on: what is true for you.

I finished reading Richard Mabey’s ‘The Unofficial Countryside’ the other day. It’s a good read on more than one level, but if it did nothing else, it emphasised to me how little I know about our plant life. I don’t think I have the drive in me to become an amateur botanist, but I would like to take more interest and know a few more names. I think I’ll be relying on Charli for help in the coming months – she’s far stronger in this area than I am.

I suppose it does beg the question – why do I want to know? What does it matter if notice and know the name of a plant I ride by? Curiously, I’m not able to answer that. I’ve some vague notion that I ‘ought’ to notice and know but why? Where does that come from?

Perhaps it’s true that life is richer if you know and understand more about what you’re surrounded by, that if you notice and are able to appreciate what’s around you, your place amidst it all makes more sense. Perhaps.

I sometimes feel curiosity is itself a measure of how alive you are – when you’re not taking an interest in things for no other reason than that you don’t know about it, that feels to me like you’re starting to die.