1,004 Words

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then herewith 1,004:

Cycling and walking curtailed by flooding

Cycling and walking curtailed

Rotting, Not Wasting

A ‘hard work’ kind of ride – nothing in the legs and not a lot of inspiration or motivation; nature’s closing in and it seems to be making me feel the same.

A dead fox - rotting but being eaten by something

Rotting, but not going to waste.

Where I was today around Shiplake, the Thames Valley floods are all too obvious but away from the noise of the media, what’s going on isn’t anything that out of the ordinary in its own right; floods of this magnitude have happened many times before.

The issue, from a climate change perspective, is the frequency of these events; that and the combinations. We’ve run the gamut of floods and droughts already and the year’s not out.

A bright spot for the day was a close encounter with a Buzzard. He was just sitting on a hedge, no higher than five foot, on the side of the road. As I came up to him he merely looked at me. I stopped, we looked at each other and only after a while did he decide to stretch his wings and languidly take off, to wheel away across the field behind him.

I rode away, he was soon overhead and then ahead of me, crossing over to the other side of the lane before landing higher up in a tree.

The dead fox we both passed can’t have been fresh enough for him – it looks like it’s been there for a while. I guess it won’t go to waste; even at this time of year the corpse will be being consumed by something or things.

The fox is a missed meal from a Buzzard’s perspective if he’d come across it earlier, but give it enough time and there’ll be nothing to show that fox ever died there – just like you and me; just like all those householders battling the flood waters. Sooner or later they’ll lose; sooner or later the water will win.

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.

Trapped In Our Modernity

Dropping down into Marlow today, from the Maidenhead side of the Thames, and then climbing back up again heading towards Henley, once more I was struck by the geography of the area. In places the Thames is running in a steeply sided – picturesque – valley that you’re just not that aware of as a driver.

Dog lazily looking out of a car window

Well, I’m in touch with my surroundings.

Once you’re out of a motor vehicle you become much more aware of the lie of the land. You wouldn’t have to go back that many years to enter an era when everyone must have been much more alive to their surroundings; when surroundings would have been far more of a barrier and travel wasn’t something to undertake lightly.

Life in the bottom of the valley would have been different from up on top and while their respective inhabitants wouldn’t have been alien to each other, even moving such relatively short distances would have required a significant effort.

Remember that this was a time when there was far less knowledge of the world beyond what you might have personally witnessed – no Internet, no TV, no radio, no photography let alone moving pictures, few books and so on – and you realise that from our modern standpoint you cannot even begin to imagine what life was like then. You cannot unlearn and it’s futile to even try; your brain has been formed by different influences; you can try to be empathetic but you’re doing so from a modern start-point.

We can’t go back, we can only move on. Insofar as progress implies change for the better, it’s important to not confuse moving on with progress; ‘moving on’ is merely change.

World Views

Up on the Ridgeway with Charli, a good place to be on a hot sunny day: not quite the same as enjoying a cooling sea breeze, but better air than in the Thames Valley.

I’d expected to encounter more people than we normally do – after all, it’s holiday time – but it was as pleasantly quiet as other times of year – a couple of horse riders, two walkers, a farmer working in a field some way off.

A dried-up path on the Ridgeway; an accidental photo snapped as we stopped to let a horse and rider go by.

A dried-up path on the Ridgeway; an accidental photo snapped as we stopped to let a horse and rider go by.

Seeing the farmer, the rather obvious thought occurred that his world view is almost certainly going to be wholly different than mine, shaped not least by the solitude of his day to day life and the openness of the space he’s working in. It is very hard to remember the variety of world views that there are; the fallacy of believing your own world view to be common is far easier to accept.

Perhaps we should try a system of government by a parliament of deliberately selected differing world views – with the key element being ‘deliberately selected’. Membership should be akin to jury service; a duty to society. At present, parliament is self-selecting and thus peopled by similar individuals. For all their variation and allegiances, all politicians share a drive for power, an urge to govern others, a belief that they are fit to govern others.

Arguably, possessing any kind of drive for power over others should be reason enough to bar an individual from any kind of office. The trouble is, that sounds glib and thus easily dismissed. The real trouble is, it might be true.

Wrong Again?

Today, somewhere in the Wargrave – Crazies Hill area, I rode by a dead deer on the verge – quite large, with antlers, looking remarkably intact.

A badger in a garden at night

Badger in my garden

Last night, by hanging out of my bedroom window, holding a torch with one hand and a camera in the other, I managed to get a picture of a badger in my garden, happily stuffing his face with bird food.

I often hear foxes at night but that should be no surprise as the urban fox is finding life very easy.

I sometimes see muntjac and occasionally bigger (live) deer. Otherwise, the rare sighting of a vole or something similar aside, that’s about it for wild animals. Hedgehogs have disappeared, I’ve heard it said because of climate change. Every other mammal you see is farmed or kept. Riding off-road, riding ‘away from it all’ on the Ridgeway or into deeper country closer to the Thames Valley doesn’t change that at all.

If you stop and think about it, that all suggests there are very few wild mammals.

The BBC has carried a report about how little – yes, little – of England is urban. The final reckoning is 2.27% percent. When I asked friends to guess, the figures they picked were all massively higher – from 40% upwards. I’m wondering if my impression of how few wild mammals there are is similarly wrong. Sometimes, being wrong can be good.

BBC item on the extent of urbanization in the UK