Sitting down outside – again. I’ve been noticing outdoor seats ever since I first did back in 2012.

This one caught my eye in Shurlock Row for the perfect way the hedge was engulfing it. It’s a short leap to imagine someone sitting there just a bit too long, ne’er to be seen again.

A bench being engulfed by a hedge

Don’t stay still too long

Who’s Me?

A decent length ride looping around East Berks and South Oxon, including Sonning, Maidenhead and Marlow; Henley and Checkendon – with Sonning Common to bookend it nicely.

Big Tree, small seat

Sitting down here, I could feel quite small

As regular readers will know, I’ve long been noticing seats outside – don’t ask why. ‘Sitting Down Outside’ has become something of a theme.

Today was no exception and seats in Checkendon caught my eye. I stopped to take a couple of photos and while doing so heard a very tuneful bird song. I can recognize a couple of common birds by the noises they make but mostly it is just noise – some of tuneful, a lot of it not. This one I didn’t recognize at all but, more interestingly, I am also willing to bet that I’ve never heard it before.

If you like, what I’m saying is that I don’t know what I heard, but I do know I’ve not heard it before. And that seems quite an odd thing for the brain to be able to do: I’ve not been able to categorize or ‘file away’ most bird song because I can’t attribute it, but that unlabelled mess of aural experience is nevertheless sufficiently understood, somewhere way beneath my consciousness, to enable me to notice a new variation.

As with ‘Biggles’ and the low smoke over the fields the other day, it’s another example of not really being in control of yourself, given that you are your brain: I might be able to claim that ‘I’ have learned to recognize a blackbird’s song, for example, but there’s no way I can claim to consciously know which noises I don’t know.

High Jinks

Hoo-bloody-ray! A bike ride. A short, easy, tentative and cautious ride on a still weak ankle and bruised foot, but a ride. The first for 10 days – and a pleasure. It was grey, windy, it rained for half the way around and I’m to be found grimacing if I try and move my foot sideways (for instance, to release a cleat), but it wasn’t cold and it wasn’t hammering it down. And it is so, so nice to be outside again.

The pleasures of being out are many, and among them it is always a real treat to watch Red Kites. Today there were four, flying low, jinking and jostling for position against each other and against a gusty wind as they all tried to drop down to a recently killed pheasant on the road near Henley. Their agility in flight, their physical control and skill, is something you can only admire.

Whether they are intelligent is another question: while they were engaged in their high jinks overhead, a Magpie was getting on with it – darting out from the verge between the traffic whenever it could and grabbing mouthfuls of the same road-kill.

The route took in Bolney Lane, Lower Shiplake, and someone’s put up a new bench there. It looks home-made, privately done. It’s no masterpiece of seat design, but looking at it and the hand-written message on its back rest made me realise how bland so much public furniture is. The same seats, the same type-face for the message on the back … Functional isn’t the sole purpose of design.

A bench with inscription - have a rest

I suspect the writing on the back is sincere

A Problem Of Consciousness

Rendered nonchalantly gung-ho by temperatures in the balmy mid-40s (F), today I merrily went for a short-ish spin winding my way up towards Woodcote, having failed to take the strong wind into account.

A headwind for pretty well all the climbing soon makes one realise the stupidity of gung-ho actions.

I could have studied the weather forecast or studied the trees, but I didn’t. It wasn’t windy immediately outside of my front door so no alarm bells rang.

It’s a trivial example, but nevertheless it did make me think about consciousness – the question of how much you can be conscious of; the breadth of things in life you can ‘in tune’ you can be to any meaningful degree, at any moment in time.

I was predisposed to be thinking on those lines after two recent parties – nearly 100 people coming together to mark Charli joining the ranks of us 50-plus-ers.

Many of them were people we don’t see very often; often a year or more can go by with no contact other than, perhaps, an email or two. Years slip by easily. Then you bring a roomful of friends and family together and you’re conscious of that passage of time, of the friendships, of the reasons why these people are people you like to spend time with.

You know there are cancer sufferers there and cancer survivors; people with heart problems and mental health problems and all sorts of joint problems, not to mention money problems and any number of other problems you’re not aware of, but they’ve made the effort to be there despite it all.
And there are people who would have been there but have been called away, by their work to the Middle East and to the Far East and, more prosaically, to different bits of the UK; by other unexpected commitments – not least caring for the sick. Life intervened to ruin their plans, but you’re conscious of them in those circumstances precisely because of their absence.

You know there has to be some chance that you might never see one or more of those people ever again because that’s just the way the world is.

And you know you can’t keep them all in your consciousness but these are the times you feel you ought to be able to. But you can’t, so you just get on with it in the same way as you just get on with riding uphill into a headwind. The tailwind downhill makes you smile.

An over-sized garden chair - great for big thoughts

A big seat for thinking big thunks.

The Animal Within

A nuthatch on a feeder in my garden as I left; a close encounter, certainly closer than I’d expect, with a female Roe deer and one youngster near Exlade Street; considerate drivers; cheery-enough cyclists; one of those fleeting eye-contact moments with a builder when he dropped a tool as I rode by and the mutual smiles that provoked; the rain holding off and the wind not getting up. All in all, a decent ride. My legs weren’t up to much but you can’t have everything.

Following on from yesterday’s musings about the lack of connectivity with our geographic environment, today was all about being alive to the weather. There’s a low pressure system coming in and you can sense the change coming just as much as you can see the cloud building up off to the west.

It’s hard to say just what it is you’re sensing; I have no idea if you’re able to actively feel varying air pressure. Perhaps it’s something more obvious – a temperature change maybe. As a rider I think there’s more to it than that – the air can feel thick some days – but there’s something over and above that too.

Whatever it is, as with the geography of an area, there’s something satisfying about realising you’re aware of these more elemental aspects. Why that should be satisfying I don’t know. I think it’s fair to suspect that animals are more aware of what’s going on around them; perhaps tapping in to our own awareness is to put us more in touch with the basic, fundamental, animal that we are, and perhaps, in turn, being in touch with animal nature is somehow deeply … what? Comforting?

Empty bench in a park: And sometimes it's good to just sit

Perhaps we should all spend more time sitting and staring, just being, just being an animal.

Sitting Down Again

A late morning short leg-stretcher on a fixed-wheel – some exercise on an otherwise enervating hot spring day when it would be all too easy to just do nothing.

Nothing much was happening; there weren’t a lot of people around; nature – animals, birds, even vegetation – was remarkably still on a hot and quite calm day.

And now I’ve started noticing them, there were seats for the public cropping up all over the place – in Emmer Green, Sonning Common and in Binfield Heath. There was an elderly couple sitting on the bench at the end of Kiln Road, and families on the seats in the park at Binfield Heath.

Benches in a park, here in Binfield Heath

Benches in a park in Binfield Heath

These seats, they’re not just tokens or left-overs from a bygone era. I wonder if they’re more important than anyone might give them credit for; if they – in some quiet way – represent a really very basic decency that’s too easy to take for granted.