Sitting Down Outside

Near Twyford today I had to stop and tighten a cleat (the bit that allows a shoe to clip in to a pedal). That was just sloppy on my part: I’d changed them a little while ago, ridden them since but not checked and tightened them. A basic over-sight but no big deal: a multi-tool will fix most on-road problems.

What it made me think about wasn’t bike maintenance but the fact that I could sit on a bench to sort it out. It, the bench, was just there, on a grassy few square yards near Ruscombe Church.

Public seats near Ruscombe Church

Seats near Ruscombe Church

That’s really quite wonderful. It’s civilised and it’s caring.

Once you start noticing them, there are lots of places for the public to sit down outside, provided by councils or churches or any number of other groups or individuals. If you look further, there are any number of semi-public seats – in National Trust properties and that sort of place – for people to rest on, outside. Add to them all the seats in gardens and it’s obvious that we like sitting down outside.

That’s not something you’d naturally associate with Britain – land of grey skies and showers. Perhaps as time goes on they’ll get more appropriate. Today was another day hovering around the 80F mark and the second day in a row with a very strong wind accompanying it. And there I was, thinking Sirocco-like conditions weren’t for old Blighty.

The saving grace for this time of year is that hot air isn’t so thick, so the strong winds of the last couple of days aren’t so hard to battle against as they would be in winter. It looks far worse than it is once you get out there. The classic ‘out in to the headwind, back with a tailwind’ works well.

Scars Heal

Riding through Sonning today, on the Playhatch side I could see the start of the new gravel pits being formed there. They’ve been digging out a new area for a while now, but today was the first time I’ve clearly seen new pits full of water.

There’s nothing pretty about digging stones out of the ground and from an ignorant stand point there’s not even anything to admire in it. Gravel excavations aren’t something that’s as easy to marvel at as, say, a new road cutting through a hill – you might not like it but you can see a big cutting  is one heck of a thing to have done. I imagine gravel workings are highly skilled and difficult, not least managing the water, but they don’t give you any visible, easily comprehended grounds to be impressed. It’s just ugly: machines digging and moving stuff around; churned up mud, water, pipes and pumps and conveyors.

Just a short hop away, the ‘re-branded’ Caversham Lakes are old gravel pits that the same extraction company’s recently moved on from. They’re only freshly ‘landscaped’ and it shows, but already there’s a significant amount of wildlife making good use of this newly created, newly available habitat. The scars will heal; eventually the landscaping will look natural. The scars being created by the new digging will one day heal too. The end result is a landscape useful for wildlife and not to developers and that, on balance, is going to be a good thing.

Even in the meantime it means we’ve land that can still be allowed to act as flood plain and that’s getting in short supply. Yes, we’re officially ‘in drought’ right now but, inevitably, sooner or later there’ll be floods. Readily visible climate change is the increasing frequency of unusual weather events – and those events may, and will, involve any of the extremes. How it’s come to be that we’re not allowing for those contingencies in every aspect of life defeats me.

Near Wargrave, a horse rolling on its back in a field made me hope that they have a sense of pleasure; it looked as if the horse was enjoying itself, that it was acting out of more than some mere necessity. Perhaps it’s akin to you and I getting someone to scratch an itchy back – it may be a necessity of sorts but having that need met is something to savour.

Crossing the railway line near Ruscombe, I was a handful of seconds too late to get off  and look over to see a steam train go through. I didn’t know it was coming so I can’t complain, but it would have been a bonus. At the time I was mildly annoyed and all the normal things did their taunting – if only I’d gone a little bit faster, if only I’d not hesitated at that last corner, and so on. It’s all just gibberish, of course.  As I went over the bridge the steam was still hanging in the air but more striking was the smoke, the smell.  We can get nostalgic and misty eyed about the age of steam; we conveniently forget the pollution.