Wake-Up And?

Wind turbine by the M4, Green Park, Reading

This is quite new. I am not.

A reasonable 30-miler, circumnavigating Reading, taking in Purley, Pangbourne, Theale, Three Mile Cross, Aborfield, Sandford, Sonning and Caversham. It’s a mark of how dismal the year so far has been for cycling, for me at least, that this is the longest ride I’ve done in 2013. With such a badly laid foundation over the winter, the summer’s riding will be harder than ideal.

For large parts of the route south of Reading, the wind turbine by the M4 looms large. Quite simply, that could not have existed just a few years ago. For most of my life, wind turbines like this just weren’t around. It feels very odd to be reminded of the passage of the time in such a blunt way.

Reality, of course, is that reminders are everywhere, from the bikes I ride and the shoes I wear to ride them upwards, and in every other aspect of life. Perhaps it’s the size of the wind turbine that makes it more striking – more forceful as a wake-up call.

Is being reminded that you’re getting old a wake-up call? It probably should be, if only to tell you to make the most of it. The hard part is knowing what constitutes ‘the most’ of any ‘it’ and, indeed, deciding which ‘its’ one should make the most of.

Top-Level Sporty Types (Are Just A Distraction)

A decent-length ride circumnavigating Reading (Twyford, Aborfield, Theale, Pangbourne) and, in truth, it was fine – not much traffic, no wind to speak of, not that cold. However, it was unremittingly dull – that grim uniform grey sky that the Thames Valley in particular seems to do so well – and everywhere is soggy and starting to get a winter sheen of dirt on it. It’s not enticing.

An artist’s impression of today’s sky over Berkshire

An artist’s impression of today’s sky over Berkshire

The Lance Armstrong scandal about doping is raging at the moment. I suppose it’s understandable that people ask me what I think about doping in cycle racing because I ride a bike … but in reality it is of very little interest to me. Besides, in what way is a highly paid sports person cheating really news?

Even if there wasn’t a hint of drug taking in any sport, I can’t seen any top-level sports person as a good role model; they are almost by definition mono-maniacs; freaks, if you like. I can’t see what I’m going to usefully gain by taking an interest in them. You may or may not admire their ambition, their drive and their achievements, but don’t hold them up as people to ‘follow’ or emulate. Enough already – I’ve gone on about this before.

I guess that I get asked my views on doping in pro cycling is a reflection of how few cyclists many people actually know. In reality, it’s akin to asking any car driver his views on Formula One racing drivers: no-one assumes every car driver will automatically have something to say on that front. I don’t mind being asked, it’s just a misplaced thing for people to do and a sad reflection on how relatively rare cycling still is.

Road Kill Has Its Seasons

It’s beginning to feel autumnal now – there was a stiff north-westerly blowing today that had a distinctly cool edge to it. It made for a tougher-than-ideal ride; the colder air is somehow thicker. And, heading out from the Reading area, trying to ride out into a north-westerly means it’s more-or-less uphill from the start. Uphill into a strong wind: not great fun.

But, that said, it was an enjoyable enough 40-odd miles taking in places like Pangbourne, Upper Basildon, Goring and Wallingford. The views from on high, near Aldworth and Westridge Green, were excellent – of a seemingly huge distance. It made me wish I had a very, very high resolution camera and could make a massive print of the resulting photo to show up every detail. A little digital compact isn’t going to cut it.

This is a Horse Chestnut that isn’t dying, despite appearances.

This is a Horse Chestnut that isn’t dying, despite appearances.

I gather that Horse Chestnut trees aren’t native but there are plenty of them around these parts – both ‘gone wild’ and where they’ve been planted, often on the edge of estates. Seeing some of them today, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re turning with the season already but they’re not – it’s the result of ‘leaf miner’ infection. There’s a lot of it about this year, it seems to me. It looks disastrous but I’ve read** that it’s not as bad as it appears.

If seemingly withering Horse Chestnuts aren’t in fact grim, I guess the plethora of dead squirrels and pheasants is also good news if you’re a Red Kite or similar.

I’ve been seeing a lot of road kill lately; perhaps it’s just the time when this year’s young ones are starting to make their own way – or not – in the world. As Tom Waits said, road kill has its seasons, just like anything. ***

Today I disturbed two Kites up near Aldworth attempting to tuck into a pheasant, and another near Woodcote enjoying a bit of squirrel. They’re so ponderous as they fly up I always feel quite guilty for driving them off.

** Forestry Web Site
*** Tom Waits Lyrics

Wild Speculation

As sure as eggs is eggs, the dead man who once owned this lane soon will rise up again, stake his rightful claim and in the spirit of the age, set up a toll booth.

Deadman's Lane, Goring Heath

Although one was near Goring Heath and the other close to Shinfield, in fact both stag beetles I saw today were making their way to a massing of Berkshire stag beetles, a practice run for the national uprising they’re plotting.

(When you can hear that all the Corvids have started to chuckle rather than caw or make the magpie’s raucous death rattle, be worried as that’s the agreed sign for the stag beetle uprising.)

In the not too distant future, red and purple will be declared a good colour combination, by God himself in a personal appearance, and all style gurus will be condemned to wear both, simultaneously, for ever more.

Red and Purple in a field near Theale

Obviously, the small flock of Goldfinches near Three Mile Cross were twittering the way they were because they’d caught sight of all the caravans around there and found them funny.

When grown up, this alpaca will break free from the herd and after a series of incredible adventures actually make it back to the land of his ancestors where he’ll be publicly revered by all the other alpacas, although in private they’ll express some disquiet over his credibility.

Alpacas near Whitchurch

While she can’t imagine it now, the smiling woman near Pangbourne who just couldn’t suppress an almighty yawn as she walked down the high street will, one day, have another ten hours of passion the equal of the previous night.

It will only take a few months for the businessman I saw stomping down a path with a face like thunder, not too far from one of Berkshire’s more expensive villages, to realise that his wife running off with the builder who’s been doing the extension is in fact a good thing, even if she did take his car and make him late for an important meeting on the 17th July.

One day, even though it might seem utterly inconceivable now, the arcane logic of the people who put up diversion signs will be understandable by all road users of whatever age, nationality or creed, whether or not they have been initiated into the Diversionist Brotherhood.

Bizarre diversion signs

Reality Changes

A few days away, no cycling and doing more walking than I normally do, and if legs could make a noise they’d have been creaking today. Mind you, matters weren’t helped by the fairly cold, fairly strong north-westerly wind – it made it a bit of a grind at times.

As I rode by the river in Pangbourne there was a pleasure boat on the river with a family onboard – very much looking the part of holiday-makers. At least it wasn’t raining. Seeing them was a reminder of just how late in the year it actually is, and how early in the year it feels. If you can remove yourself from the dictates of the clock and the calendar and instead go by feel – how time feels to be passing, what time of year it feels to be because of the weather and so on – then ‘reality’ changes significantly.

Photo: Buttercups filling a field in Spring

Yellow in abundance, here near Upper Basildon, Berkshire

On the other hand, if you ignore the temperature and the wind and look at the vegetation then it’s looking like late Spring. Many plants have come on early this year … but some others have made a start but are now ‘on hold’ as nature waits for it to warm up again. Nature is nothing if not responsive – and remarkably adaptable. (It’s also looking very yellow now in parts, complimenting the white hedgerows of recent weeks – buttercups as well as rapeseed fields.)

I guess the foolish thing is how un-adaptable we humans are. In the ‘advanced’ countries at least, we’ve devised such complicated social systems that we can’t respond to anything as elemental as the weather unless we’re forced to – floods or similar. Holidays have to be taken when holidays are taken. Hours have to be worked as pre-ordained. When we sleep, when we eat, when we do pretty well anything and everything is all dictated by external absolutes – clocks and calendars, contracts and commitments and all their concomitant consequences. We’re largely incapable of being responsive in our actions, either to how we feel or how the world feels to us. It does make you wonder how sensible our sophisticated systems actually are.

Neither Left Nor Right

A circumnavigation of Reading – Goring Heath, Pangbourne, Theale, Three Mile Cross, Aborfield, Twyford, Caversham – takes in roads controlled by both Tory and Labour controlled councils. The roads repaired by Wokingham (Tory) are generally pretty well done. Those looked after by Reading (Labour) will be patched but badly – most of the potholes are in fact old potholes, needing repair again. Those looked after by South Oxfordshire (Tory) are often simply not repaired, year after year, and if they are then they’ll be done badly. To be fair, this seems to be particularly true if it’s a minor road; South Oxfordshire will sometimes properly mend bits of more major roads.

Is cycling something for the common man? It used to be a working class sport, perhaps, but nowadays that’s probably not so strongly the case. Anyway, I’m not just thinking about the sporting side of it – there’s the utility aspect too. On that front it’s going to be fair to say a lot of those either riding more or riding for the first time, out of necessity, are those the recession is hurting the most, but that’s not strictly a class thing either. I can think of friends you’d certainly call middle class who are struggling to make the family budget add up.

I know this is fairly flimsy. What I was trying to grope towards as I was riding around is some kind of conclusion about the Left and Right. Would it be fair to assume a Labour council would be more cycling friendly than a Tory one? I think that’s tempting but it’s not true on the ground if you’re riding around Wokingham’s roads after experiencing Reading’s ruts. But the South Oxfordshire experience will quickly disabuse you of any pro-Tory notions.

In the end what that silly little example perhaps helps demonstrate is that notions of Left and Right, if they ever did mean anything in any consistent way, are now completely invalid. There are far better examples: the way both ‘sides’ are so happy to go to war in the service of oil; the way both ‘sides’ are so deeply entwined with the rich, the way both sides are so happy to betray their supporters.

As always these days, now we understand better the role of the media in life, it’s not enough to reject the old divisions, the old ideologies. It’s also necessary to reject their messengers, their propagandists. Lord Haw Haw was hung for a reason.

Rejection isn’t enough though. That’s just negative, and that will get you nowhere. Everything needs reassessing by a different light. We need new positives.