Flint Mapping (Just For Cyclists)

Yes, Flint Mapping, not Flint Knapping.

It occurred to me today, riding in the territory south-east of Reading, that even during ‘puncture season’, when there’s lots of washed-down debris on the roads, I’ll rarely get a flat if I stick to the roads south of the Thames.

Climb north on the other hand and the phrase ‘puncture season’ all too readily comes to life, and more often than not it will be a shard of flint doing the damage.

With a realization that just serves to emphasise how slow on the uptake I can be, north of the Thames, around here, you’re heading into chalk hills – and with chalk comes flint. Simple, blindingly obvious, and I’ve never thought of it before.

That did make me wonder whether it would be possible to get a statistically significant number of cyclists to report on when they puncture and where, and to map that against the geology of the underlying land. That might prove very interesting – and possibly useful too. Correlating that data with the tyres are being used would also be helpful, I’m sure there are any number of other variables that could be usefully fed in to the data set too.

Now, all we need is a network of cyclists, a statistician and a programmer …

Road To Nowhere

A track leading off to flooded fields in the distance

On A Road To Nowhere

For better or worse I work from home. Days can go by before I genuinely need to leave the house.

I cycle for pleasure. I cycle to get out the house; I cycle to keep vaguely fit – but primarily I cycle for pleasure. If I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t do it.

There are floods up and down the country. People are losing a lot. People have died.

The floods have reached this neck of the woods and they say it’ll get worse before it gets better. The Thames and all the more minor rivers are full and overflowing on to already saturated ground. It’s that simple.

That my bike riding is curtailed is neither here nor there. Perspective is important; all things are relative. A new, brutally realistic perspective on climate change is going to be very necessary from now on.

Colour and Death

The strong sense of fullness in the lanes continues – that’s the best way I can think of to describe it. The combination of mild and wet weather seems to have made everything growing at this time of year grow that bit extra.

All this growth is overwhelmingly green – very little other colour strikes you at a casual glance. Look more closely and there is variety but by and large it’s subtle, tucked away amidst all the other vegetation in its many shades of green.

Red poppies are an exception: they do grab your attention. It seems to me you’ll find them as stragglers in hedgerows and verges, en masse in some fields – I think mainly, but not exclusively, among cereal crops.

Striking red poppies

Red amongst the green

In the context of a field of crops, poppies are, of course, weeds. I’ve been told that if you see a field without them it more-than-likely means they’ve been poisoned to death. Pesticide is just a selective poison, going by a marginally nicer name.

When you see acre upon acre of weed-free field, as you can around these parts, it is probably masking a lot of poisoning. I suspect that’s another of those things we’d all do well to bear in mind. No, that’s not a knee-jerk ‘old hippy’ thought: that our collective long-term track record on poisoning land isn’t great isn’t really open to dispute. What’s been deemed safe at one point in time has often turned out to be quite the opposite a few years down the line.

More personally, I once met a government scientist in Henley who told me he wouldn’t eat anything grown on flat land near the Thames because of the amount of pesticide run-off from neighbouring hills that’s now accumulated in the soil. Chance encounters like that stick with you. He had no axe to grind, nothing to gain in telling me that.

Free / Shame

The sky seemed on the verge of ominous for most of today; it could easily have rained at almost any time. As it was, Charli and I fitted in a decent enough road ride taking in places like Sonning, Wargrave and Henley, criss-crossing over a now much subsided Thames in comparison to just a few days ago. All that precious water running away and the threat of drought still remaining – all for the want of some forward-thinking investment, for the want of something other than short-termism and greed.

The thought that struck me today was that Charli and I were free – free to ride where we wanted, when we wanted. Free to get outside and ride. That’s something to appreciate on so many levels, but today it’s just hit home in the most basic way: we’re not in prison. Fair enough, we’ve done nothing to merit being in prison. But nor did Sam Hallam, who it seems has spent seven years in jail for nothing and who’s only been freed this week.

That’s seven years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Police didn’t investigate his alibi. Evidence, including mobile phone data and CCTV footage, was never disclosed. People made those decisions; people, not ‘the system’.

I don’t know how I’d cope with that kind of injustice. It’s one thing to be being punished legitimately; it’s quite another to be framed. And as Patrick Maguire said, while there’s plenty of state help for former, genuinely guilty, prisoners, there’s none for the framed innocent if and when they’re released. Patrick Maguire should know – he spent four years in prison for something he didn’t do.

The enormity of how wrong that all is, I don’t think it can be over-stated. This is the apparatus of the state knowingly persecuting an innocent man. It’s not the first time – far from it. In Britain, we’re taught that this is the kind of thing that happens in tin-pot countries ruled by corrupt dictators. In Britain, we’re taught lies.

The enormity of how wrong that all is, is haunting. The absence of a major media-led outcry about it is shaming.

Today we rode past the Henley Regatta grounds – the marquees are going up already. The preparations take weeks. High society will gather there – the great and the good – and they’ll have been totally unruffled by what’s happened to Sam Hallam. As long as it doesn’t involve them it doesn’t matter.

I also read today that the government, after a Freedom of Information request, has had to reveal that over 1,000 Civil Servants have ‘snooped’ on British citizens’ private data. Against that backdrop, the government wants the power to pry extended even further. Again, there’s no concerted national outcry and, again, the great and good won’t worry about it – they’ll imagine it will never concern them.

One day it will.

One day, security services will use the powers granted to them by government against a government or against a potential government. More people will be framed, and unless we are very, very careful, sooner or later we’ll get to a point where the framed are never freed.

Photo: A Hawthorn hedge in full flower

A Hawthorn hedge in full flower. Up to 200,000 miles of Hawthorn hedge were planted during the Parliamentary Enclosures, from 1750.

Sam Hallam and Patrick Maguire.
Civil Servants snooping.
Government plans to monitor electronic activity.
The Innocence Network – working against wrongful convictions.

This Day Is Your Last

More Mayflies today, and the first (what I think were) House Martins of the year too – feasting on them not too far from Sonning Common. If many Mayflies live for just a day, and if there’s a fair chance of a predator eating you before your day is up, then that all puts the need to get the most out of life into a fairly harsh perspective.

If there were such as thing as reincarnation, I can think of a few people who merit no more than a day back on the planet. On the other hand, perhaps it be more fitting for such people to be condemned to be born again to a long life, albeit of suffering and misery.

It was very windy today; the Red Kites were keeping low. I saw another bird of prey up near Christmas Common that wasn’t a Kestrel, but I’m not sure what it was. A Sparrowhawk perhaps, or a Hobby.

Photo: The River Thames at Sonning

A full River Thames, here in Sonning

Today’s was a longer ride that crossed the Thames a couple of times. I like to think of the river as just a big ditch – which, fundamentally, is what it is. After all the rain it’s a very full ditch. I guess quite a few of this seasons’ river bank nests will have been washed away. I don’t know how resilient the birds in question are in terms of trying again.

I hadn’t quite realised just how windy it’s been lately either – there was a fair bit of wind damage to be seen, broken branches and the like. Some low lying fields were flooded but only the usual suspects; it’s not dramatic yet and here’s hoping it stays that way. Drama is pretty well always misery for some.

I see on the news that a chap has died in his car trying to cross a deep, fast-flowing ford, not too far from here. Everything else aside, what often strikes me about a death like that is that it was surely the furthest thing from his mind when he set off to go wherever he was going. There’s a starkness to that, a bluntness, that I’m never sure how to react to.

I don’t know if you can, or should, live as if every day might be your last. It’s easy to say it but living it in any practical way … ? I don’t know. Or perhaps that’s just laziness.

I think I hope if a genuine, freakish accident happened to someone close to me that I could more-or-less shrug it off as just that: surely it would be something that there’s nothing to think about; something that just happened. I know that that’s how I’d like others to think if I was the victim.

The Smell Of Water

A day of quiet roads and bad road surfaces. I thoroughly detest the gravel-smeared-on-tar approach to road maintenance, which achieves nothing for any road user. It soon gets pitted and rutted for both four- and two-wheeled vehicles, and for two-wheelers particularly it’s dangerous because the new uniform veneer of a surface hides holes and lumps. There’s no attempt to fix these before the new layer is smeared on top – the faults are just hidden.

Crossing over the Thames at Goring/Streatley, the smell of the river was strong today and for me that’s very evocative – of nothing specific I don’t think, just ‘nice days’ by river sides. The smell of the sea is similar.

Of course I know I’m not alone in finding the smell of water – sea, (clean) river or both – redolent of unspecific good times. What I don’t know is whether that’s a simple cause-and-effect: we’re an island, we traditionally take holidays by the sea, that’s what we associate with happy childhood days and so on. Failing that we often gravitate to other water – rivers on moors, lakes and so on. Or, if it’s not cause-and-effect, whether there’s something deeper going on there, whether the smell of water strikes a more primitive chord somehow, something beyond mere association, even if it is sub-conscious. I don’t know. I’m waffling.

Plenty of Red Kites around today, and a couple of buzzards circling up really high. I only saw the latter in Cornwall. I don’t know if the lack of trees down that way will stop the spread of the Kites. I suspect I’m seeing more dead badgers than I used to – I saw two today. I don’t have the information to be able to say if that’s indicative of their success and spread, or of there being more cars on the road to kill them, or of farmers shooting them on the sly and dumping the bodies.