The Cabinet of Curiosities – on a folding bike

It’s been an intriguing day. Welcome to my Cabinet of Curiosities

“The Cabinet of Curiosities, also known as the Wunderkammer or cabinet of wonder, is both a precursor to the modern museum and a way of thinking about objects, knowledge, nature and artifice. The original cabinets of the Renaissance and after were in fact whole rooms, such as those of the seventeenth-century scholars and collectors Ole Worm and Athanasius Kircher. These cabinets housed an amazing diversity of things, both natural and artificial: animal specimens, minerals and crystals, ethnographic objects, fossils, works of art and mathematical and scientific instruments.
Artefacts from all times, places and disciplines might cohabit in the eccentric space of the cabinet; collections were organised but idiosyncratic, each one different and surprising in its effort to picture the world. Cabinets in the modern sense were also manufactured; these contained smaller objects, but were part of the same theatrical attitude to knowledge and its display. A cabinet such as John Evelyn’s, from the mid seventeenth century, opens onto an encyclopaedic and inquisitive vision of the world”

Ok, well here I am. On descending to Toulouse airport, the pilot informs us that the weather is “thirty degrees and fine”. THIRTY degrees – whoopee! On exiting the plane, I quickly realise I have mistaken this for THIRTEEN degrees – and it’s starting to rain. In fact, not dissimilar to Gatwick. Over the next six days I will use the reflective opportunities of solo cycling (this time on my NEW folding-bike Daisy-May – I’ll explain the name later) to ruminate on the curiosities and absurdities of the world we inhabit, selecting along the way my own idiosyncratic collection for this imaginary Cabinet. Each evening, assisted no doubt by “un pichet de vin rouge”, (tonight, rather a big one) I will attempt to preserve my rambling thoughts for posterity by posting a daily blog. You have been warned – anyone of a nervous (or discriminating?) disposition should perhaps leave now!

So, without further ado may I invite you ………. to step inside my Cabinet. Human Beings must surely rank as the most unlikely curiosity of all creation. After all, in a mere 2000 or so generations since emerging from the forests of Africa (yes – that’s all it is) Homo Sapiens has come to dominate every corner of the planet (except Antarctica), and successfully reach for the moon. And to think we share 98% of our genes with chimpanzees! What is it that has made us so curiously successful?

Perhaps first, I can pick up a few loose ends from last year’s ramblings?
You may remember that I tried to address the BIG QUESTIONS? On the last day I considered the existence (or otherwise) of God; I concluded that in the absence of clear evidence one way or another I believe because I choose to. I believe it enhances my life. I hope you will indulge me if I recount briefly a spirited discussion on this subject I had with my family on Sunday. “There are 3000 gods – most people only believe in 2999 of them. Atheists go one further!” Good one Greg – thanks for that. However we all agreed that this does not counter the notion of a personal god. “Institutional church is either inept, corrupt – or both” Possibly true: but what of the many dedicated and inspirational individuals working within those churches? At the end of the day, we must make our own minds up. One way or another we are certainly the only creatures on the planet to have/invent a personal/universal god. Curious! Anyway, enough of that for the moment – back to the journey.
Getting out of Toulouse is a nightmare. For a start I have to find the Canal du Midi – a mere five miles, or so, away. This takes me at least 45 minutes – and in the rain. Things do, however, brighten up; the rain stops, the sun shines, and the canal tow path has a good quality surface. Now for the bad news: whisper it quietly, but the famous long distance route is rather ……. dull! At the end of the day, it’s just a canal: a big canal; with big locks; and big boats; but just a canal. In addition, and not surprisingly, it shares the valley with a 3-lane autoroute rarely out of sight and never out of earshot. All in all, rather disappointing. It reminds me of a similar disappointment five years ago in the Camargue; my son Richard describes this as the Norfolk Broads with flamingos! Actually, I think that is an insult to the Broads!

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I follow this for some 25 miles (at least this gets me out of Toulouse) encountering along the way an organised group of Australian pensioner cyclists (I overtake them!) and two organised groups of walkers, complete with hi-viz leader and tail-end-charlie

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Some good moments, however: banks of poppies; a constant accompanying chorus of singing nightingales; and – magic moment of the day – a fleeting glimpse of a golden oriole; the first I’ve ever spotted. After 30 miles, though, I’ve had enough and head north-east into the hills.
What a joy! The sun now shining I meander through “trees, scented breeze, and fields of waving corn” – a brownie point for anyone who can identify this quote – towards Revel. On the way I detour to visit a 13th century Cathar fort.

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At about 18.45 local time, I pull into this pleasant, understated town and find a perfectly acceptable two-star hotel. After a good meal (and that rather large pichet of red wine I mentioned earlier, I settle down to write this blog.
An intriguing day. I wonder what’s in store for tomorrow.

Distance travelled 49 miles
Average speed 10.4 mph
Max speed 31 mph

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