If Only (Again)

Some 27 miles ridden in decent enough weather – over to Henley, across to Knowl Hill and then the lanes thereabouts. Coming back in to Reading, the last three or four miles were in a properly heavy shower – bouncing up off the road, cars with wipers on double speed stuff.

It’s all too tempting to moan. If only I’d set out just a few minutes earlier, or gone a little bit quicker.

On the other hand, I got to smell that great smell that you only get with rain on roads and pavements that have been dry for a little while; I got to talk to a small and seemingly quite old Asian lady in a bus shelter near Sonning as I shared the shelter with her while the worst of it passed over; and I got to feel rain on my face – which is rather enjoyable once you stop thinking it’s terrible.

I don’t think it’s me; I think it’s a fairly common response to grumble about ‘bad luck’ and think ‘if only’. If that’s just human nature, perhaps the most interesting thing is that giving in to human nature isn’t an inherently positive thing.

Chairs lined up on the edge of a field

And if I’d gone a shorter route I wouldn’t have seen these chairs …

Fill Your Boots

Fill your boots … but not with rain. I went ahead, took an opportunity, took a chance, and ended thoroughly soaked and cold. When I was thinking about fitting in 100 miles this week I’d hoped to get 30 in today. Looking at the weather forecast I thought 25 would be fair enough. Looking out the window I figured I’d be happy with 20. I ended up less than overjoyed with 14. (A Full Hengistbury on the Hengistbury Scale*)

The curse of ‘if only’ strikes again. If only I’d gone out an hour earlier, if only I’d not taken that phone call, answered that email, waited until it warmed up a little … if only I’d done something different I’d have stayed dry.

As it was, it hammered down when I was less than seven miles out and when it gets so that you’re cold and wet to the skin, if only in part, then if you can easily give up you might as well. You’re not going to dry out or warm up, and there’s precious little pleasure to be had from carrying on.

‘If only’ is an evil little thought. It can be endless. Me staying dry is neither here nor there. A day or two ago I was watching a TV report about a young lad killed on a night out somewhere south of here – from what I gather, a pointless fight and a needless death. I can all too easily imagine all the ‘if only’ thoughts that crowd in on those that are left behind. I don’t know if that’s just human nature. Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it – not in those quiet times.

It’s not just ‘if only I or he or she hadn’t …’ though. You need to remember that. It’s just as important to take opportunites. You don’t want to go to your grave thinking ‘if only I had’ either. Fill your boots. It’s a lovely expression.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

A Pall

Jim’s father, who I’ve known, liked and got on with since I was a teenager, is in intensive care and it seems borderline whether he’ll live. An elective surgical procedure seems to have gone wrong.

I went for a ride with Jim today, feeling a bit rough but not so bad to not ride. A bit of a sore throat, a bit of a tight chest – niggles present to some extent since last Thursday. I’d been looking forward to getting out for over a fortnight. Jim needed a ride after a morning spent at the hospital; a morning after much of the previous day doing the same thing.

And we talked about this and we talked about that and we talked about his dad. He understands more about hospitals and health care than I do and we were able to talk factually, but the emotional pall cast by a potential, unnecessary death was there.

It happens, we all know that, but that doesn’t make it OK. And I’ve never been any good when it comes to death.

‘What ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ rear up – ugly, misplaced and emotionally deforming.

I think I’m what they would have called an ’emotional man’ once upon at time, back when they had ‘confirmed bachelors’, ‘spinsters of the parish’ and other such euphemisms and terms. Nowadays they’d probably say I’m in touch with my feelings. God help me if I’m a ‘new man’.

The temptation for me is to always hanker after avoiding the extreme emotions that come with a death. I don’t know if that’s universal; I suspect not. It’s certainly how I’ve been for as long as I can remember.

There is, of course, a natural order in these things, whereby those older than you are supposed to die first and, I guess, I can just about countenance that. Just. But even then that’s not something I’m wholly sure I can face with any equanimity. And when it comes to contemporaries I’ve always been happy with the thought of ducking out sooner rather than later, certainly sooner than those closest to me, and if that makes me a coward then maybe I am and maybe that’s just the way it is.

I suppose the interesting thing in all that is that I’m scared of tearful times. I don’t know why I should be; it’s just the way I am. It’s something learned, I guess. On the whole, society prefers bottled-up emotion. I can cry all too easily – a story, a song, a news report. I get annoyed with myself that I do and that I’m always – to some degree – living in anticipation of being emotionally … what? Weak? Demonstrative? Vulnerable? Honest?

So, not a great bike ride for reasons wholly unconnected with riding. And now I feel like that tight chest and bad throat is going to mutate into a full-blown stonkin’ cold. What joy.