Variable Density Mizzle

Allegedly, there was a 20% chance of running into rain today. I spent 35 minutes of two-and-a-half hours riding in either light mizzle or something very close to a soaking but light rain. At least it’s still quite mild. Cold is one thing. Wet is another. Cold and wet together is when it gets genuinely unpleasant – hard to dress for and hard to ignore.

By and large it was only enough to make the roads greasy, not enough to kick up a proper spray. Damp roads can be reasonably evil to ride on. I don’t like slippery stuff – snow, ice and what-have-you; skiing has never appealed and even as a kid I was never one to like snow slides or similar. When I’m out on greasy roads, on or off road, I don’t know if I’m overly cautious and imagining it’s more hazardous than it is, or whether I’m genuinely in touch with and sensitive to the conditions. I can readily believe either.

Today saw what might well have been a misunderstanding on my part. I had a BMW behind me along a lane for a while; I had no where easy to pull over so he had to wait for a few minutes before he could get around. As the road widened he hit his horn twice and pulled up to go past. From the sound of the horn, the way it was hit, I presumed he was angry and said ‘what’s your problem’ as he went by. He shouted back that he ‘was only being polite’. Maybe he was, in which case I owe him an apology. The trouble is, so many BMW drivers are aggressive, it’s hard to shake off that preconception. That he had his window down on the passenger side, and that he was so ready with his reply, also made me suspicious. Perhaps I’m too suspicious. I don’t know. Apologies if apologies are due.

Not long after, near Hook End, I came across three older ladies walking abreast and filling the lane. I said ‘good morning’; one of them heard and turned, said something to the other two and they stood back to let me pass. Fine. It just struck me that their expressions summed up so much. One was smiling at me; the second seemed mildly bewildered at what was going on and the third appeared reasonably irritated, if not angry, at having to get out of the way for a cyclist. I know looks are very deceptive and I’m probably totally wrong in how I judged them by their expressions, but a better summary of the typical range of encounters available on the roads is hard to imagine.

Assumptions about mental states are dangerous to make, and it’s unwise to use facial expressions to base them on. The second lady probably was no more bewildered than anyone else; I probably look tense on a bike on greasy roads when I’m only being cautious. I do wonder, though, what it means to have assumptions made about you all the time – what the long term consequences are.

There was a report in The Telegraph today about MPs suffering from mental health problems because everyone nowadays presumes they’re fiddling their expenses – that is to say, presuming guilt. The validity of the report I’ll leave aside. Let’s imagine it’s true. What strikes me is that if that’s how MPs are feeling, and obviously that’s not a good thing, then isn’t that how a large proportion of the population is also feeling too? After all, significant aspects of the way legislation and the bodies of the state operate presume guilt, whatever the ‘rule of law’ might say. Look at business and tax law, look at anti-terrorism laws, look at how the police treat all sorts of people – photographers being good examples – that don’t bring up any questions of race or creed. Look, even, at something so theoretically trivial at the TV licence and their whole attitude of presuming you must have a TV and therefore are lying if you say you don’t need a licence. (Charli has first hand experience of this.) All of this is the result of legislation, a legislative attitude. If MPs want to moan about being presumed guilty, if it’s damaging their mental health, then perhaps they’d elicit more sympathy if they’d thought for a moment about the health of the population at large.