A Trashed Home

Inevitably, I ride the same relatively small geographic area a lot. I’m on first name terms with most of the pot-holes. Sometimes, before setting out, I can struggle to feel much enthusiasm for any route I can think of: they’re all too familiar. That said, once I’ve set off, I generally find the simple fact of ‘being out’ is more important than where I’m riding.

Thus far this year, I’ve ridden far less than I normally do: some exceptionally bad weather combined with niggling problems with joints and what-have-you have conspired against me.

So, getting out a bit more now, there’s an element of looking afresh at the familiar: I’ve not seen a lot of it for quite a while. And that’ s both quite refreshing and depressing.

I know I’m contributing nothing new by noting that you see things differently if you’ve been away from them for a while; it’s just human nature. Another side of returning to somewhere familiar is the feeling of ‘home’: the pleasure to be had in the sensation that you’re back on home turf – in ‘your patch’.

So it is, then, mildly alarming to be back out re-visiting home turf, only to find there’s a lot of damage around. Woodland, particularly, has taken a fair old bashing in the last few weeks. Where the flooding has persisted – indeed, is persisting – it’s obvious that nature’s not going to be doing a quick bounce-back – it’s gone on too long this time. And that’s all to leave aside the damage to the infrastructure – the pre-existing rotting has accelerated.

Damaged forest trees

Home turf, under attack

No, it’s nothing as dramatic as finding your house has been burgled and trashed in the process, or anything similar, but it is nevertheless in that same general area. If not my home then my ‘home patch’ has been under attack, from the weather and from institutionalized neglect, it’s not bouncing back readily and it doesn’t look as if it’s likely to. Depressing? Yes. Disturbing? I think ‘yes’ to that too. Somehow, by some historical accident, my 50+ years of living in Britain have seen generally improving standards in pretty well all aspects of day-to-day life. The implicit, unquestioned assumption had been that that was normal, that it would continue. That now feels unlikely.

And today a leaked draft of the next IPCC report on Climate Change confirmed the worst fears in that area.


What if something terrible had happened?

Work being hectic, today’s spin was just a quick jaunt taking in Twyford, Wargrave, Remenham and Henley before heading back over the hills to Reading. Coming out from Remenham Lane to cross over Henley Bridge, late morning … and there was just no-one around – no cars, no people.

Of course it was just a momentary freak of circumstance – in probably less than a minute ‘normality’ returned. However, what struck me in retrospect was that my first thought was ‘what’s happened?’ I’m immediately imagining some unspecified disaster has occurred and I’m unwittingly riding into a town deserted as a result. That has to be an odd response.

I’m no horror film fan – this isn’t something I’ve learned from the cinema; rather, I suppose it betrays a deep-seated fear that’s a legacy of growing up in the Cold War years and the ever present threat of nuclear war. We may have all joked about it, I certainly don’t recall ever losing sleep about it, but it was real. You can only wonder what other sub-conscious thoughts and attitudes I might be harbouring as a result of those years – me and everyone else of my generation.

You Can Only Wonder

Red Kites in the sky

Several Red Kites…

Incongruities abounded:

  • A retirement ‘event’ at a garden centre;
  • Red Kites wheeling around a tractor hunting … worms;
  • A South Oxfordshire country lane and the strong smell of … WD40;
  • A old-ish, very middle-class-looking couple, seemingly stealing firewood from a forest;
  • Hoodie-wearing kids on bikes politely apologising for inadvertently getting in my way;
  • A pair of mud-bespattered and scruffy-looking middle-aged women wandering out into the road; loudly exclaiming with cut-glass incredulity as they saw me.

You can only wonder at the extent to which things aren’t as they seem.

Tractor working the soil

… were following this tractor, hunting worms.

Rose Tinted: Is It So Wrong?

I wear glasses and for cycling I use one of those interchangeable lens systems that sit in front of prescription lenses. It’s all-plastic and shatter-proof – not cheap but I think on balance money well spent. The thought of glass lenses shattering in your eyes isn’t nice. Even if I didn’t need glasses for vision, I’m an advocate of wearing them for cycling anyway, for protection.

Today was so dull and grey that wearing sunglass-type lenses while out riding would have been daft. So, instead of sunglasses I put in some pink-ish tinged ones, good for dull days, and lo! The world looked a lot better. It really did.

Of course, the phrase ‘seeing through rose-tinted glasses’ came to mind. Generally, it’s used as a criticism, as in ‘you’re just seeing everything through rose-tinted glasses’, to mean that you’re seeing something in a falsely good light.

What today made me wonder was whether that’s a universally valid criticism. The world genuinely looked better for me today, and after all this relentless rain and grey that was a good thing. Yes, I was seeing something supposedly bogus, artificially altered, but that question of ‘reality’ versus ‘artificiality’ is a very tricky one. We’d all do well to remember that we all look at the world through different eyes all of the time, regardless of glasses.

Yes, by-and-large self-delusion is going to end in tears if the delusion is going to have consequences, is going to be brought to an end at some point; but if it’s harmless? Would all of the rain-soaked British be feeling just a little bit happier if they were looking through lenses that made the world just a touch brighter, and would that be bad? Does seeing the world in a rosier light trigger some basic instinctive reaction, nothing to do with conscious thought?

As it was, I grabbed an hour’s ride in the dry, in a seemingly quite pleasantly bright countryside.

Grey sky with a rose tint

With …

Grey sky without a rose tint

Without …

Water, Water

For reasons various and tedious, I was out today without any water. It’s unseasonally warm. Fortunately I was out on a fixed wheel bike with just time for a short ride so it wasn’t a big deal.

Coming in to Emmer Green, my thirst and the water tower combined to remind me of the looming drought. There’s been hardly any rain for ages and there’s none forecast either. Apparently other parts of Europe are even more parched, already.

The Emmer Green Water Tower

Water, Water, Up A Tower

It doesn’t bode well.

Water, by and large, is something we take for granted. This is England – the land of wet summers and wetter winters. It’s hard to switch from a normality of viewing water as something plentiful and ‘just there’ to a new context where it’s something to be conserved. That’s not helped when water leaks aren’t fixed by the self-same company that’s telling us all to have shorter showers or whatever. There’s a major leak on Kidmore End Road that’s been there for weeks now. Yes, quite possibly there are valid reasons for it not being fixed and yes, quite possibly the amount leaked is still small beer in comparison to the amount to be saved by every householder spending a couple of minutes less time in the shower. That’s to miss the point though. If Thames Water, the responsible company, want us to respond to their exhortations to save water, they have to be seen to be treating it as precious themselves. Perceptions matter.