The Comfort Of Strangers

Seven rides in the last eight days, including two short partially off-road ones, just for a change. There’s been a fair bit of talking to strangers, which always adds something, and the weather’s been pretty good by-and-large – with all the improvements to everyone’s mood that that brings.

Even drivers snarled up in Wargrave (road works) and Sonning (the usual mid-day-even-though-it’s Saturday queues) gave me plenty of room; hats off in particular to one chap in Sonning who edged over to let me work my way down the middle of the road more easily. Pleasingly, he had his window open so I was able to thank him in person. On Sunday I inadvertently made a jogger jump – I just said ‘morning’ as I went passed him. I was going slowly enough for a brief conversation, something like:

‘Oh, morning! You made me jump then …’
‘Sorry! Nice day to be out.’
‘My fault – I was in a world of my own … thinking about the pain to come!’

And that’s it; totally inconsequential and fleeting. Nevertheless, that kind of interaction-with-smiles and a few pleasantries is strangely satisfying. Just a few hundred yards further up the same road I had another similar exchange with a cyclist I overtook. Just greetings and, on my part, a couple of words of encouragement as he was struggling a bit. That’s all.

Perhaps it’s just that humans are innately social animals, pack animals.

I also chatted to a cyclist making his way from Barnes to Cane End, which is a reasonable trek although in the main it’s flat. I passed him when he was stopped; he caught up with me to ask for directions and we rode together for a short while. Again, just a few pleasantries. Again, an easily overlooked ingredient going towards making a day a good day. I hope he made it to Cane End in time.

Perhaps it’s some kind of substitute for that sense of belonging, sense of community, that’s all too easily lost as we shuffle between our houses and our jobs.

‘Community’ – as knackered a word as ‘iconic’. Meaningless. Attributed far too freely.

On one ride I came across a cyclist stopped by the road side. The convention, if it can be called that, is to always ask a stopped cyclist if everything’s OK. It’s (perhaps surprisingly) well adhered to, particularly among so-called serious cyclists. I asked; he asked if I had an allen key; I did; I stopped; we chatted and he fixed his front mech. Is that evidence of a community of cyclists? We talked a little about helping out fellow cyclists; giving out inner-tubes and so on. It happens. What goes around comes around – that works for the good and the bad.