Pink World

Rolling out at the start of a ride and cycling through Caversham, I saw a young female runner. She had on a pink top and pink-and-black calf-length leggings. She had bright pink shoes and her long blonde hair was tied up with a pink band. She was running with supreme, enviable ease. She had white headphones on, attached to whatever her chosen mobile device was, which in turn was strapped to her arm. In one hand she had a clear-with-pink-bits water bottle while the other was holding a shiny black-and-silver dog lead, at the other end of which was a not-quite-handbag-sized-but–small dog, running along as fast as it could to keep up.

And it occurred to me that this person’s world is just amazingly far away from my own. We can share the same streets, the same town and country but surely we’d have almost nothing in common if you sat us down in a room together to chew the fat.

It’s election time in England at the moment – European MPs and some local councillors. Inevitably, you’ll see some political activists have put up posters for parties and hence beliefs that you simply do not share and cannot understand why anyone else would want to adhere to.

It’s easy to wish for a world in which one’s own political beliefs were universal, but I’d hate it if the world didn’t include runners in pink and any number of other strangers living different lives to me. Which I guess is a way of saying the politics I really want is the politics of consensus – a world where different views are accommodated and respected.

For some, it's a pink world

For some, it’s a pink world

A Real Challenge

A short ‘rehab ride’ with Charli on the 12th, a ‘grab the chance while I can’ ride in very so-so weather on the 13th, yesterday was a wash-out and all of a sudden it’s midweek again. If all things are relative, given how much time seems to be speeding up, whatever it’s relative to must be slowing down to a snail’s pace.

Today’s jaunt was just a quick 20 miles – Sonning-Wargave-Henley territory – but it turned out OK; I dodged the showers and there was even a bit of sun, which was something after a dismal morning. The only thing that can be said for weather like today’s is that sometimes the light can be striking – bright sunshine and dark clouds, and everything is greening-up abundantly now.

I was moaning about idiot road users, both the other day and two years ago. I was thinking today that in reality, all road users fall into four categories:

  • the ‘helpful’ – the ones who go out of their way to be helpful and courteous;
  • the ‘normal’ – the ones who just do what they do without causing anyone any problems;
  • the ‘irritating’ – the ones who don’t do any real harm but who are sure to get someone’s back up, at least some of the time; and
  • the ‘dangerous’ – the ones that genuinely put lives at risk – their own or other people’s.

The helpful and the dangerous are quite rare. Most of us like to think we’re in the normal category; most of us would probably benefit from remembering that to others we’re almost certainly irritating, at least occasionally. I think we need a road user manual – a R.U.M. – to explain this, to drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and everyone else. Essential reading along with the Highway Code.

It occurred to me, too, that if it’s true that we’re all often unwittingly irritating to others, then a real challenge would be to try and think positively, or at least kindly, about the strangers that it’s all too easy to find irritating. I think I’ll see if that’s possible in coming rides: the TK (Think Kindly) challenge!

 

Green trees and threatening skies

Green trees and threatening skies

Simple Decency

Fifty-plus miles; hot summer sun; plenty of hills: a harder ride than I’m used to. It’s good to know I can do it; I’d like to do it again when it’s not so hot and I’m not so tired before I even set out.

I was, again, struck by how quiet the South Oxfordshire lanes immediately north of Watlington / Wallingford are – it’s recommended cycling territory and, riding aside, remarkably pleasant if you’re at all partial to a spot of rural England looking like rural England ought to.

English countryside looking like it should on a warm summer's day.

English countryside looking like it should on a warm summer’s day.

A talking of archetypes, not far from Nettlebed I witnessed an older bloke who appeared to be not quite in full possession of all his faculties, walking down the main road with his back to the traffic. I’m not sure if he looked distressed or not; he certainly wasn’t safe there. (I’ll apologise now if I’m misjudging him.)

Just before I came across him a car had pulled in to the side road I was emerging from. As I drew level with the guy in the road, the driver of the car got out and called across to him, offering him a lift to Nettlebed. I looked back and it looked like the lift was being accepted.

I would place a reasonable wager, on the basis of how he called out, that the driver didn’t know the bloke in the road and that he was acting purely out of simple decency: a classic ‘good Samaritan’.

I hope I’d have done the same if I’d have been the driver. In the few moments between seeing the bloke in the road and the driver calling out, I had started to try and think what’s best to do – it was obviously not a good situation. The problem was resolved before I’d thought any more than that. If you like, the driver got me off the hook.

I don’t know if helping a fellow human is innate and that we’ve learned to be wary or if it’s the other way around – we need to be taught to overcome natural wariness and be forthcoming in offering to help.

Innate or learned, perhaps wariness isn’t an issue. I don’t know if acts akin to what I witnessed – acts of simple decency, basic human kindness towards a stranger – are as rare as it’s tempting to imagine, or if that’s a media-generated illusion. I hope and suspect it’s the latter.

The People You Meet

Another decent length ride today, and in the three hours I was out I found myself thinking about the people I was meeting.

There are always any number of interactions with vehicles during a ride which are neither here nor there: the vehicle passes you going one way or another. There are often a few where I’ll do something considerate and that will be acknowledged with a wave or similar, or a driver will be helpful to me and I’ll acknowledge that. That was true today on four different occasions and that’s fine, but what’s to note is that there’s never any person-to-person communcation of any sort in the normal run of things; there has to be some (relatively) unusually considerate act first.

There were plenty of cyclists around today and the normal way of things is that cyclists acknowledge each other. (Po-faced club riders are the only regular exceptions.) That was true today – I lost count but I greeted and was greeted by riders of varying abilities and ages.

There were very few pedestrians on the non-urban parts of the route. Of the ones I came across, all of those that were alone – a lady posting a letter, a jogger, a chap cutting grass and a walker – said hello.

I think the interactions with drivers are probably in their own class because they’re born out of what I’d call normal politeness in response to a specific event. That’s not to say they’re unimportant.

Talking of importance, I know none of the other interactions – the ones with cyclists or pedestrians – are hugely significant in the big scheme. These aren’t people who’d come to my funeral. They might help if they saw me crashed by the side of the road but so would many a driver.

What’s interesting in all this is that I also rode by dozens of people in built-up areas – Wallingford, Henley, Caversham – and I doubt if I even registered in their consciousness in anything other than the most fleeting way. Certainly, there were no greetings – and just as interestingly, I didn’t expect any and nor did I make the first move either.

I can only conclude that ignoring each other is a function of the context, the urban environment. I rather doubt that says anything good about urban living – or at least urban living as we currently live it. I can’t see it inherently has to unfriendly. It is how we expect it to be and thus make it.

The real issue to explore is why we expect it to be like that; it does nothing for the overall quality of life.

The Path To Hell (Is Paved With Good Intentions)

Perhaps we should all sit down on a public seat at least once a week and say hello to a passing stranger. I could sit here and ponder how the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

The January Blues

The January blues feel real. Perhaps it’s the January Greys that are the issue. At least today wasn’t that awful slab grey; there were grey clouds scudding across a different shade of grey sky.

Grey clouds on a grey sky

Grey on grey

Over 30 miles – Henley, Remenham, Maidenhead, Shurlock Row and interconnecting lanes – and nowhere was it busy. Perhaps it’s just the normal lean January bank balances that lie behind it.

Today and one other time recently I’ve come across what can only be called a cliché of road cyclist. He has all the top-drawer expensive gear (and he’s riding around on it in winter …). Note that I’m saying he has the expensive gear; that doesn’t always equate to it being the best. There’s something about him that just oozes that attitude of wanting the most expensive stuff. Maybe he has even higher-end stuff for summer.

Sure enough, you’d expect someone who’s oozing that attitude to be stand-offish and far too up himself to talk to strangers and hey, what do you get but just that. Stereotypes exist for a reason. I’ve said before about mid-week riders being a different bunch than the weekend crowd, and if there’s one thing that distinguishes them it’s their friendliness. This chap should ride at weekends.

I suppose what that says about me is that I’m, what? Sort of resentful that this kind of rider is out and about mid-week? Vaguely depressed by the fact that stereotypes prove valid sometimes?

After the recent incidents of helping other riders / being offered help, I did find myself wondering whether I’d bother to help this chap if I came across him on the roadside. I suspect I would; I don’t want to end up at his level.

Maybe he’s a weekend rider who’s on holiday. Maybe he’s just been made unemployed. Maybe he’s shy. Maybe I just shouldn’t give a damn.

Strangers

Windy again and the fun of grinding slowly up to Nettlebed into a headwind somehow escaped me. Still, the homeward leg was reasonable and the end result was that I’ve ridden more miles this week than I did in the whole of January last year – wrecked as that was by a mixture of ‘flu and snow. It feels positive to get the year off to a good start.

Up near Nettlebed I ended up helping out a chap who’d punctured. Another rider had stopped to help too but his pump was playing up; between us we sorted the flint-victim out. No big deal: it cost me a few minutes of my time and an inner tube. In return I got to chat with strangers I wouldn’t have ever spoken to otherwise, and it’s somehow just plain nice to be able to help someone.

What I want to know is what that says about me. I could be just a mug – someone’s gained an inner tube for nothing and I’m out of pocket. I like to think that what goes around comes around but there’s no guarantee of that.

“It’s nice to help” is awesomely limp and meaningless. I’m sure it’s not buying me a ticket to heaven: I’m not doing it out of fear of a god looking down and judging my actions for some future reckoning.

Taking some satisfaction from knowing that you’ve somehow made the world a slightly better place than it was is pretty well as unenlightening as it being “nice to help”. Frankly, “the world” doesn’t care.

I don’t know why I don’t hesitate to offer help. I don’t know the source of the satisfaction it brings me. That’s a big hole in any claim to self-knowledge. It needs to be returned to.