No Surprises / New Thrills

One night during the week I woke up sometime around three, the house was cold … and it was very quiet; everywhere felt very still. Sleep-befuddled, I briefly wondered if it was cold enough for snow.

Of course it wasn’t – as I knew from the forecasts. Despite the iffy nature of British weather forecasting, it’s rare that weather will be surprising. By and large, the errors are within safe margins.

Mid-week, I had to go Buckingham way for a business meeting, to somewhere I’d never been before. I plotted a route in some detail and printed it out. (As is my wont, if I can find a back-roads kind of way I normally will. SatNavs just don’t give you the flexibility.) I looked up the place I was going on Google’s Street View and fixed that in my mind before leaving. I checked for road works and other problems before I left.

I had a totally uneventful trip and found the place with ease, recognising it from Street View. Hassle free! Stress free!

And I had pretty well no sense of adventure, and no sense of discovery. As with the weather, it seems there are fewer and fewer opportunities for surprises these days.

My first reaction to that thought was that it’s a shame. Of course, there’s the option to wilfully remain in the dark but that seems, well, just stupid – and realising that made me think that having all this knowledge to hand isn’t a shame: it just moves the focus. Whereas once there might have been a thrill in finding something out for yourself and now that’s easy … the thrill, surely, now lies in what you do with whatever it is you’ve been able to find out about.

As for cycling, this week has seen a 40+ mile ride on Monday, a routine circumnavigation of Reading and a shorter one in South Oxon’s mucky lanes today. However, whichever way you tackle it, riding at this time of year doesn’t have a great deal of sparkle.

If you’re trying to keep the miles up and your legs in good shape then you can take the approach I was adopting on Monday and go for longer rides – do the weekly distance, but have to make yourself go out less frequently. The trouble is, that gets a bit of a grind after a cold and grey couple of hours …

So, instead, you can take the ‘several short trips’ option – but then you’re having to muster up the initial will power more often.

You could just stay in of course – but “winter miles equals summer smiles” and all that …

Just merging-in naturally

Just merging-in naturally

What Is To Be Done?

The cover of Lenin's What Is To Be Done

Indeed, what is to be done?

Times flies … I’m surprised that it’s 10 days since I last wrote a ‘proper’ new entry. Today’s ride, with Charli, was essentially a permutation on yesterday’s route – these are reasonably quiet lanes.

There’s plenty of tree-debris around, both from the recent unusually strong winds and just as you’d expect for autumn. It can make for a tricky ride at times, not least because a pile of leaves or thick coat of beech mast and mush can easily obscure the pot-holes. The pot-holes never go away.

Over some unexceptional autumnal rides and a couple of nights away, the last few days’ thinking has been dominated by revolution. From Russell Brand being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman to the day-to-day conversations you find yourself having with friends and acquaintances, increasingly, discontent is in the air. Media figures and celebrities aside, Josephine and Joe Average aren’t happy.

I don’t know where that unhappiness might lead. I doubt there are many who genuinely want revolution in the sense of widespread unrest and violence, a real breakdown of order and social cohesion – civil war, almost inevitably. On the other hand, the need for something palpably significant to change in how we are governed in the broadest sense of that word, and thus how we feel about our lives, is increasingly strong.

‘What Is To Be Done’, as Lenin said. Spare us all the Marxism-Leninism, but, indeed, what is to be done?

Brand, Paxman and Channel Four’s Mason’s views on their meeting.

A Woodcote Cycle Ride (With Route)(Just For Cyclists)

The not-that-great storm yesterday may not have been as destructive as trailed / feared, but nevertheless it wasn’t a day for cycling, around here at least.

Today’s ride was just a short jaunt in South Oxon lanes, chosen mainly because of a very autumnal, strong north westerly wind. Going anti-clockwise and starting out from Caversham, for the most part this offers a classic headwind out / tailwind back trip.

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Autumn Toadstools

Oh yes,it’s autumn

Autumn’s Light

Autumn – for cyclists, as always, it’s the time for horribly strong and suddenly cold winds, slippery roads, more punctures than any other time of year, and unpredictable heavy rain.

True, you can opt for the ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ angle, and on benign days over these few months I can warm to that view. And Keats’ ‘maturing sun’ is often particularly apt; there’s a quality to the light around about now, especially as it’s fading at the end of a clear day, that is unmistakably autumnal.

Is there a touch of melancholy inherent in it? I’m not sure. I’m more inclined to ‘grim resignation’ about the impending tougher cycling conditions than melancholy. We need autumn and winter just as much as spring and summer – remember vernalization!

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Barry, Kev, Tina and Trudi

Today and yesterday saw rides in very changed weather: autumn has arrived in a rush. The winds have been strong, from the north, and the temperatures have dropped very noticeably. Last Sunday I was still wearing shorts … not this week.

Yesterday – annoyingly, without a camera – I passed a Volvo called Barry. I kid you not.

On the back of it, someone had taken a lot of trouble to add to the normal maker’s letters and numbers (Volvo V40 / XC60 / XC90 or whatever) the word ‘Barry’, in metal letters that seemed, at a glance at least, to perfectly match the official ones. You can only admire the trouble that the owner had gone to.

Whether the car was called Barry or whether the owner was and this was his version of a personalised number plate, will necessarily remain a mystery.

Today I rode by two road signs in quick succession that someone had written names on – Kev, who I hope is a cyclist …

Kev the phantom cyclist …

Kev the phantom cyclist …

… and Tina and Trudi, who ought to ride horses if they don’t already.

… and Tina and Trudi, the two horsewomen of the apocalypse

… and Tina and Trudi, the two horsewomen of the apocalypse

I have no idea what motivated the writing on the road signs or on the back of the Volvo. Is it all just for a laugh, or completely thoughtless – neither here nor there in any possible sense? Is it all evidence of how some people struggle to assert their individuality in a loneliness-inducing, alienating culture – consciously or otherwise?

It’s disconcerting to suspect there’s meaning in everything, even something as insignificant as a marker-penned name on a temporary road sign. If you accept that there is meaning in everything, it’s perhaps even more perturbing to realise how ineffective in its consequences so much of that intended meaning actually is. Someone’s crying out to be recognised as an individual – to the utter indifference of the milieu that cry’s being made in.

Just A Speck

A ride including some unfamiliar and enjoyable roads – from Thame down to Reading, taking in places like Tetsworth (great smell of creosote), Clare (to live in which, everyone ought to have to change their name to Clare), Pyrton (no pyres evident), Britwell Salome (nothing to suggest dead saint’s heads served on platters), Ewelme (no sheep, no elms, but watercress beds), Pigs Trough Bottom (I kid you not), Braziers Park (nothing burning), up Catsbrain Hill (no, no brains evident) and then down into the Thames Valley.

OK, I know these aren’t mountains or even particularly tough hills, and I accept that going up Catsbrain Hill is the easy way to climb over that particular hill range. Nevertheless, as I was heading out from Thame and looking south, the sight of that geographic barrier ahead did make me feel a bit dwarfed. I had this mental image of just how small a speck I was, moving across the landscape, powered only by my legs, with hills to climb and so on.

South Oxon hills to climb

I have to get up there

I don’t know if it’s good to feel small – it’s tempting to think humanity needs to be put in its place. It’s also possible to feel vaguely intimidated by big threatening autumnal skies (which thankfully came to nothing).

Cloudscapes dwarfing a mere cyclist

Cloudscapes dwarfing a mere cyclist

But then you look at the cut in the hills made for the M40 and that’s us humans carving nature to suit in a pretty chunky kind of way. And if it had all gone pear-shaped for me, I could have phoned someone to help me out, using mobile digital telecommunications that’s mind-boggling complicated and entirely ‘unnatural’ (if that concept’s at all valid), and there are aerials and what-not all around, including on top of the hills I’m climbing. Etc.

Carving up nature to suit

Carving up nature to suit

We humans do create a lot; we do impose our will to make the world as we want it to a very large extent. I suppose it all comes down to whether we can be sufficiently creative and sufficiently dominant to overcome our ever-present stupidities and failings.