Wake-Up And?

Wind turbine by the M4, Green Park, Reading

This is quite new. I am not.

A reasonable 30-miler, circumnavigating Reading, taking in Purley, Pangbourne, Theale, Three Mile Cross, Aborfield, Sandford, Sonning and Caversham. It’s a mark of how dismal the year so far has been for cycling, for me at least, that this is the longest ride I’ve done in 2013. With such a badly laid foundation over the winter, the summer’s riding will be harder than ideal.

For large parts of the route south of Reading, the wind turbine by the M4 looms large. Quite simply, that could not have existed just a few years ago. For most of my life, wind turbines like this just weren’t around. It feels very odd to be reminded of the passage of the time in such a blunt way.

Reality, of course, is that reminders are everywhere, from the bikes I ride and the shoes I wear to ride them upwards, and in every other aspect of life. Perhaps it’s the size of the wind turbine that makes it more striking – more forceful as a wake-up call.

Is being reminded that you’re getting old a wake-up call? It probably should be, if only to tell you to make the most of it. The hard part is knowing what constitutes ‘the most’ of any ‘it’ and, indeed, deciding which ‘its’ one should make the most of.

Charity, chaps and dead squirrels

I’m not a great fan of riding weekends – it’s always busier – but the forecast is grim for the coming week(s), so it’s a case of grab the chance while you can.

I rode past two cycling charity events going on today, and the aftermath of one charity run. I respect and admire the people taking part – especially when I catch sight of those that are visibly doing something that’s hard for them. Some of the riders looked like it was a real effort.

The same goes for those helping to make it all happen. One of the rides was being marshalled by Rotarians and those chaps – for they are chaps, not blokes – were out there spending an awful lot of time in very mediocre weather to ensure it all went smoothly, and for everyone time’s so hard to come by these days.

Once again it makes me think about our collective, public values. Once again, I find myself suspecting the world would be far better if these charity supporters were the ones being lauded the most loudly; their motives and deeds trumpeted as being truly admirable; their attitudes and actions held up as genuinely desirable. I rather suspect the average charity-helping Rotarian would be far better company for an evening than any two-bit ‘celeb’.

And that different set of values would be to the good of all. After all, the things that make us happy aren’t things. Now things are so widely available, and now there is so much discontent, we badly need to learn that lesson.

Not far out of Reading, on the edge of Emmer Green, there was a freshly dead squirrel on the road. I don’t know what had killed it – it wasn’t squashed. Perhaps it had just fallen out of a tree. Nature does make mistakes.

A dead grey squirrel

Fertilizer? A meal?

When I drew close, I noticed a woman coming out of her house with a shovel. I looked back to she her scooping the corpse up. I could only speculate as to what she was going to do. Did she just want to bury it out of some notion of decency? Was that an act of charity too? Are dead squirrels good fertilizer? Did she simply not want an unsightly dead squirrel – doubtless soon to be squished by a car tyre – outside her house? Did she feel burying it was decent thing to do in some unspecific but deep-seated way? Was there some kind of religious angle to it? Do squirrels make a decent meal? I have no idea. I think I hope it was for fertilizing.

Enough Is Enough

It was almost warm enough for shorts today; nothing’s really warmed up yet but the temperature was in the high 60s. In the shade it’s cooler than it would be if it were a summer day, but even so, that’s nicely warm. What was perhaps more notable is the dryness; a couple of times today I was tasting dust after lorries passed me. It seems a bit early for that. The prospect of drought gets ever more real.

Twice today, near Christmas Common and then on the outskirts of Henley, the birds that caught my eye were buzzards rather than red kites; they’re a very distinctive shape and they often seem to be flying higher than the kites do. In a first for me, the kites near Stonor caught me out by calling their distinctive call but being nowhere to be seen – until I noticed three of them on the ground, several yards apart in a field. I’ve never before been aware of them calling to each other when they’re on the ground.

I guess because of the combination of the foliage not being out much yet but the weather being good enough to encourage looking around, today I noticed a few obviously expensive houses that I’d either not seen before or hadn’t really registered. Most of them are the old stately pile type of place but not all – there are some more modern ones in amongst them. What I wasn’t sure about was how they made me feel.

Jealous? Not really. Angry? No, again not really. Some of them will probably be the result of old money being handed down. So it goes – that’s not going to change overnight. Some will probably be owned by people who’ve made a packet by doing something anyone would call honest and decent. I’m not going to carp at that. And some, probably, will be owned by grotty, greedy individuals who’ve climbed the greasy pole grabbing whatever they can, crapping on anyone they can, and not giving a damn along the way, and I wouldn’t want to be like that.

And there’s the question of sufficiency too. Even if I was behaving thoroughly decently throughout, I don’t want to put the time in to earn more to just buy more – more rooms, more garden or whatever. I’ve a roof over my head already. It’s a long way from great but it’s sufficient. I’d rather be able to take advantage of a decent day like today, go for a bike ride and pass the gates of these places than be bogged down in earning more money to buy a ‘better’ house.

I think I’m just becoming more aware that time is far too finite to waste on acquiring possessions I don’t really need. I’m not preaching a life of sack cloth and ashes – far from it. I’ve plenty of luxuries in my life, by any sane measure. I hope I know what constitutes enough though, and I can’t help but suspect a lot of people would ultimately benefit – be happier – if they assessed what’s sufficient more rigorously. It’s easy to get sucked in to buying more for buying more’s sake.

The Things You See And Hear

You’d have thought with all the local riding I do that I’d have noticing most things by now, but no. I’ve ridden through Goring Heath any number of times, but I’ve never before noticed that one of the lanes at the crossroads there is called Deadmans Lane.

As with nearby Gallowstree Common and numerous other places, I’m struck by how macabre so many older place names are; for a Council to call anything something even slightly other than anodyne these days is unthinkable. What that shift signifies, if anything, I have no idea.

Shortly before the crossroads, as I was going by Gutteridge’s Wood, some tree-felling was going on – large beech trees. I was lucky enough to be passing just as one toppled to the ground. Hitherto that’s only a sound I’ve heard second-hand, on television, but it’s still unmistakable. It’s an evocative and unique noise that it makes – powerful and, I guess, a bit sad. All those years of growth ended by a few minutes work with a chain saw. Still, woods need to be managed; I imagine it was being done with good reason.

A few miles further on, just past Tidmarsh, I saw a stone mile-marker on the side of the road showing the number of miles to Basingstoke. That’s the first time I’ve seen that too, despite riding by it dozens of times. I wonder if they are at all relevant or useful to anyone anymore. Distance is nowhere near as significant as it once was, at least for drivers. And even for other travellers, walkers and cyclists and whoever else, with GPS and good maps and so on, a stone saying such-and-such miles to somewhere is really of little consequence. It all moves on.

I’ve thought before that making up totally fictitious, fanciful stories about the origins of place-names in Britain might be good fun; they are so often so strange.

To continue the anachronistic theme that the day seems to have, near Sulhamstead I joined a small queue of traffic that had had to stop to wait for a canal boat to pass through the narrow little swing bridge at Tylemill. Barges are so gloriously slow in comparison to rail and road. I’m as prone as anyone to hustling along when I’m driving and I’ve never been known for my patience in any sphere of life, but I do wonder whether all the hurrying we seem to do these days brings any real gain. If everything took longer, so what? What are we hurrying towards?