A Human Pace

And just like that it seems we’re in quite settled, quite warm weather. It changes everything, not least how long I feel like being in the saddle. I’m now doing 30+ mile (50-60 km) or longer rides in Berkshire, South Oxfordshire or North Hampshire.

With the warmth comes a change in pace – if they can, people seem to slow down, or at least want to. Where they can, there are more smiles to be seen; people seem happier and more relaxed.

In the villages (numerous) and small towns (Wallingford- or Watlington-sized, for example) that I’ve ridden through lately it seems palpable. People are still doing what they have to do, of course, but there’s less bustle and less hustle.

In contrast, in larger towns, Reading most obviously, the hot weather seems more likely to generate frustration – people want to slow down but can’t. The heat serves only to increase the tensions that come with the inevitable traffic jams or car park queues and so on. You can only pity the slow-cooked commuters on the trains.

And it seems to me the key thing is that it’s not the case that warm weather makes us want to relax and makes us happier and thus makes us slow down. Rather, it’s that we are wiling to slow down when it’s warmer, and it’s when we slow down that we find the slower pace makes us happier.

Obviously, that’s all just unscientific impressionism – it’s how it strikes me, that’s all. But it did make me wonder whether there’s such a thing as a human pace – a speed of things, a speed of life, that somewhere, somehow, deep down, chimes most happily with our internal body clocks or some other internal, instinctive rhythm.

If that were true, the natural conclusion should be that we ought to be trying to match the speed of our collective lives to that pace. As it is, collectively we seem remarkably willing to let any number of external factors dictate to us how fast we must live our lives: from the non-negotiable demands of the working day to the incessant nagging of social media.

PS: Apropos of nothing, I work with ‘unstated.name‘ – newly launched and which you might like.

Fox gloves in the sun

“Time to stop and smell the …”

A Christmas Common Walk (With Route)

A filthy day for cycling, so a six-plus mile walk starting and finishing at Christmas Common. C’mon, it’s that time of year!

The walk in 3D

As you can see from the profile map, there’s a fair bit of up and down but it’s quite an easy route to follow with just short stretches on roads where you need some commonsense caution. This walk comes with the pleasure of going through a door in a wall that I’d always assumed was there to keep the likes of me out.

(And you pass Dumble Dore too – it’s on the OS map, honest.)

View Route Map
Link To GPX File.
About The Route Mapping

And in turn, something will eat the fungi

And in turn, something will eat the fungi

Beech trees on the edge of the Chilterns

Beech trees on the edge of the Chilterns

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.

Care Counts

After all the exceptional warmth of the last few days, today was a shock to the system as it returned to a more-normal-for-the-time-of-year fairly cold and resolutely grey.

Riding a route that took in Chinnor, Watlington and across to Wallingford, I realised I’d forgotten how rural a lot of South Oxfordshire is. That’s somehow surprising. I guess I think of it as ‘home counties’ and thus over-crowded and over-developed. It wasn’t overly attractive in the dull light of the day but its potential appeal was obvious. Didcot power station on the horizon would always be hard to ignore but whether it merits ignoring is a moot point anyway.

Presumably because of its more rural nature, there wasn’t anywhere near the same amount of litter on the verges that you get on the roads I ride more often. That said, in a few places today, on roads closer to Reading, I saw there’d been a concerted litter-picking effort recently – whether by Councils or individuals I can’t say. It’s grim and depressing that it’s necessary; that it’s done is very much appreciated.

And no, that’s not just some selfish middle-aged, middle-class desire to have ‘nice scenery’ to ride through. There have been enough academic studies that demonstrate a visibly neglected environment will spiral downwards. A downward spiral benefits no-one, of any age, class, affluence, background, race, creed … Care counts.

It’s interesting that I feel I have to say that. I’m not quite sure why I do feel that caring for a locale has to be justified; it shouldn’t need to be. I’m not sure what vested interests would lie behind attacking that attitude. There would be some.

Another striking aspect of the route between Chinnor and Wallingford was that there were probably more cyclists about than cars. If not, it was a close-run thing. I guess, too, that I’d forgotten how big a ‘cycling city’ Oxford is, and the territory I was in is in easy reach for anyone looking for a decent route out of the city, and good to ride. Add in high petrol prices and a government / media inspired frenzy about potential fuel shortages combining to make motorists less inclined to take to the roads, and bike riding’s golden age continues.

For all the general lack of traffic, Wallingford looked busy enough, healthy enough, as I went through the centre. The market seemed busy and there were plenty of shoppers about. In recent years I’ve been to many market towns that have seemed to be faring a lot worse.

Appearances

Riding through Brightwell-cum-Sotwell today and, if appearances are anything to go by, the recession hasn’t touched it. It seems very ‘comfortable’. On a mid-week lunch time, the pub was busy enough with the retired and ‘ladies who lunch’ doing just that. Perhaps the bulk of the people there have made their money, salted it away sensibly and are more-or-less insulated from the down-turn; perhaps it’s an illusion and a case of ‘kippers and curtains’ for many residents. Appearances can be deceptive.

On that note, today’s route took me up the lane by the chalk-cut illusion of a chalk steeple near Watlington, created because someone thought a church would be better with a steeple when viewed from his house.

Visit Chilterns – Watlington

English eccentricity in a nutshell; I suppose it’s some sort of English vanity that makes me hope that I live in the only nation that’s as quirky. That said, it’s probably a bygone trait, eradicated by empty internationalism.