Little Fluffy Clouds

Riding southern English counties this week, I always think England looks its best around this time. The vegetation is lush – there’s been enough rain and enough warmth, and it’s rained recently enough that everywhere is still relatively clean. (Lots of the uglier sides of humanity, not least littering, are also being hidden by all the growth. It’s only a fig leaf, but it’s better than nothing.) And on good days, with a little warmth combined with blue skies, just a few clouds, The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ for a mental soundtrack and the ability to get outside – on foot or on a bike – to appreciate it, and you could think ‘what more could anyone ask for’.

OK, the little fluffy clouds Rickie Lee Jones was talking about in the song were in Arizona. OK, a fair distribution of wealth, an end to racism and bigotry and prejudice of any kind, an overwhelming rejection of greed as a worthwhile value, an end to patriotism and religion, the rise of rationality and empiricism, the outbreak of peace through negotiation worldwide and global cooperation in the face of climate change could all be asked for, quite legitimately, but you know what I mean …

Little Fluffy Coulds

Little Fluffy Coulds

Native Triumph

Rapeseed plants may be native but rapeseed as a cash crop is a relatively new development – and hence so too is the overpowering and fairly unpleasant smell the fields of it are generating at the moment.

So, it’s been pleasing to find the scent of native (as opposed to Spanish) bluebells dominating a few times this week – out cycling near Waltham St Lawrence for example or, as in photo below, during a walk on the Mapledurham estate. Whatever else the recent wet winter and, so far, warm spring has given us, it’s certainly created ideal conditions for bluebells – I’ve rarely seen so many.

Bluebells in woods

A Blue Jungle

Feeding Kites And Growing Sheep

Hurrah! A happy conjunction of available time, good enough health (joints) and decent weather means 100 miles ridden – and enjoyed – this week. That’s a welcome change.

Getting out at this time of year is slightly different because a lot of the hedges and stands of shielding trees aren’t in leaf yet, so you do get to see (pry) into properties you’d never otherwise catch a glimpse of. Seeing the homes of the rich with another parliamentary expenses scandal dominating the news, and yet another bank’s massive losses making headlines, and the immediate thoughts are inevitable. The issue is what to say or do that’s not mere moaning. For now all I’ll say is that I’m working on it; merely moaning is tedious.

In the meantime, in South Oxfordshire today I saw a large Red Kite swoop down, grab something from the edge of a rapeseed field and then proceed to either eat or at least investigate whatever it had in its talons as it was taking off. It was all very ungainly – it almost had to stop flapping to reach down to peck at whatever it was – but that’s definitely what it was doing. Presuming it was prey, I hadn’t realised they’d feed on the wing.

Also in South Oxfordshire in spring, the fields sprout lambs. And there I was, thinking they were mammals.

Field grass with lambs

Lambs Sprouting

The Joy Of Self-Delusion

Cycling around South Oxon today, in lovely but unseasonably warm weather, I found myself wondering about the distinction between us and rats.

To explain: the latest IPCC report confirms what we already knew – because of climate change, the planet faces a bleak future, and thus so do we all.

It’s that simple. This made top story in some news outlets … for a day. And that’s it. The scale of news media’s response is a good measure of how we are collectively going to respond to this looming calamity. We’re not. We know it’s coming, but it’s not going to set any meaningful national or global agendas. It’s not going to make any significant difference to how we all behave. And then, sooner or later, the problems will force themselves into our lives (if they haven’t already), and then we’ll struggle on, and cope as best we can – or not.

Perhaps some did, but none of the news reports I saw made mention of the screamingly obvious elephant in the room: population growth. If you really want to tackle both the causes of climate change and help mitigate the consequences of it, there would be a world-wide drive to discourage the human population from growing. There’s as much chance of that happening as there is of us all decamping to a new planet to live there happily ever after.

What I did see in the news reports was the inevitable clutching at straws – the mentions of ‘perhaps this report by the IPCC might be alarmist’, or ‘perhaps some crop yields will increase’ or ‘perhaps human ingenuity can come up with solutions’.

Crops in unusually warm spring weather

Perhaps all this unseasonable warmth will mean bumper crops. Perhaps.

Ignoring problems and instead clutching at straws: this isn’t surprising behaviour. It’s akin to smokers believing that they won’t get lung cancer, or the obese not believing it’s what they eat that’s the problem. (Said the over-weight ex-smoker.) There are any number of examples of how humans like to and, more importantly, are able to deceive themselves.

There’s a famous – if pretty grim – experiment from the 1950s by someone called Curt Richter. In a nutshell: if you put rats in jars of water that they can’t get out of, they’ll give up struggling fairly quickly and drown. If you set the same conditions up but take a rat out before it drowns, then put it back in again, it will struggle on for far longer, before – of course- it eventually drowns too. Such is the power of hope.

The distinction between us and rats is that the rats need an external cause to have hope – they need to be rescued (albeit briefly) before they feel they have a reason to struggle on. That is to say, they can’t fool themselves that there’s hope. Unlike rats, we can fool ourselves and have hope despite all the evidence to the contrary. Whether that makes us the superior of a rat or not, I’m not sure.

Being Reasonable

A cool Spring day with a noticeable easterly wind and just a sprinkling of a sun-shower out towards White Waltham – not a perfect cycling day but a long way from a bad one. If only my legs agreed.

Alongside most of the roads, there’s the inevitable litter thrown into the ditches and on the verges. It’s ‘just’ the normal depressing trail that humanity leaves, there’s nothing new about it. There’s also nothing reasonable about it.

Litter in a stream

Not in my vocabulary

With Codgertation, I ponder on and I try to be reasonable – the occasional rant aside. Looking at the ‘normal’ litter all around, and reading about the rising tide of rubbish on our beaches, today I found myself trying to be reasonable about being unreasonable.

Littering isn’t the product of a reasonable attitude – toward the environment or your fellow citizens. Wars aren’t reasonable, nor is any other violence for that matter. Corruption – in politics, in the police, anywhere – isn’t reasonable. Our all too prevalent ‘bonus culture’ and the complete myth that you have to pay top money to get top people is manifestly wrong, proven to be wrong, and thus utterly unreasonable. Cults, religions, fad diets, unchecked population growth, demonizing the poor and neglecting the elderly – none of it is reasonable.

The problem is obvious: an unreasonable and unreasoning mind isn’t going to respond positively to reason. That’s akin to two different languages spoken with no understanding on either side, and no interpreter.

Which leaves us with the question: what should a reasonable person do in the face of unreasonable behaviour? Learn a new language – actually be unreasonable? Try and act as an interpreter – understand the unreasonable with a view to explaining the reasonable?

Of course, I’m grappling with nothing new here. Plenty of finer minds than mine have thought long and hard about this and related/similar issues. We’re in ‘it takes a thief to catch a thief’ territory. We’re in ‘Just and Unjust Wars’ territory. But for all that it’s a commonplace topic, it does no harm to remind yourself that your own – supposedly/hopefully -rational, sensible world view is more-or-less incomprehensible babble to many others.

Spring Encounters

A short ‘rehab ride’ on a wider-Q fixie and not feeling too bad in the joints. The weather’s doing that very pleasant ‘English Spring Sunshine’ thing that it pulls out of the hat every year but which, in the depths of a grey winter, it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever see again.

Quite a lot of blossom’s out already; buds abound and the blackbirds are noticeably frisky. In other ‘nature notes’:

  • today saw a very close encounter with a Red Kite – he was engrossed in a splatted squirrel and didn’t see me until I was within 10 feet of him. The ensuing flapping was spectacular – they don’t get off the ground easily.
  • in another contest for a branch, it seems a Magpie trumps a Crow, which is news to me.
  • and deer – how do they find each other? I came across the local herd today trying to cross a lane. They were disturbed by a van and so about eight made it across, with the remaining 15 or more (one Stag, the rest seemingly all Does) frightened away. I stopped to see what would happen and the eight in one field ran to safety in the middle, stopped there and just waited – very obviously very alert. After several minutes, the rest of the herd appeared from a completely different direction, so they must have run in a fairly broad arc, found an alternative place to cross one or perhaps two roads, and come back up to where they’d originally intended to be. Fine … but I didn’t hear a thing the whole time, which left me wondering how they communicate.

Once again, I find myself wondering about my learned relationship to nature. I don’t have a clue what the equivalent feeling is amongst those who are decades younger.

And let’s not forget the light at this time of year – another aspect of nature, after all. (OK, there’s the atmospheric pollution aspect, but let’s overlook grim realities for once.)

That soft spring light

That soft spring light