Musings of a Septuagenarian Cyclist

Conversation with a rough sleeper

 

What a fantastic day!

Astride my bike on top of Box Hill, a blazing sun in sky so blue, a nip in the air it’s true but with bursting lungs and hope in my heart

All’s well with the world.

What a shitty night!

The ground so cold, my fingers are numb and I can’t think straight, my mind is so dumb. Why does no one think to ask

What’s up with the world?

 

Down the hill, with a wonderful view, I sweep through lanes, not a care in the world. The leaves on the trees with autumnal hue

My heart soars on high.

I can’t sit here, they’ll move me on, I’ll plod round the town till I find a spot to squat and stare at passers-by

My heart sinks to my boots.

 

Towards Epsom Town, past the RAC, a gin and tonic in the clubhouse bar? Perhaps next time I pass this way.

No harm in drink on a beautiful day.

Past Pirie’s Bar and the Anchor Tap, the pain in my gut gives a lurching leap; thank God for the kids who throw a can

To see me through this bloody day.

 

Down in the square I choose a place to enjoy a drink and a bite to eat. I use my phone to find a train to return me back

To my blissful home.

I sit in pain on a wall of stone, and look at geezers as they wander by; will they, or won’t they toss some food

To lift me out of this bleeding mood?

 

I must get back, catch up on the chat; there’s Brexit, and the election news, so important to know as soon as we can

Which way the big money is going.

Brexit? Who gives a fuck; whoever wins won’t put food on my plate. And as for the election, I ain’t got no vote and if I did

Who would care what I might think?

 

With Christmas approaching, two moods fight their corners; all the presents to buy, and the food and the wine, but at its heart

There’s the family and love.

Christmas? Family? Love?

What are they?

 

Musings of a Septuagenarian Cyclist

“Almost all aspects of life are engineered at the molecular level, and without understanding molecules, we can only have a very sketchy understanding of life itself.”

Francis Crick – English scientist

I was flicking through a book entitled “The Meaning of Life” (whilst sitting on the loo, if you must know!) when I came across the above quotation. Whilst later out cycling, it struck me forcefully that this is, at the same time, both profoundly true ……. and therefore profoundly untrue!

Science tells us that the entire matter/energy of the universe came into existence at moment of the Big Bang; matter formed of a multitude of fundamental particles which, for the sake of convenience I will call “molecules”. I am, of course aware that this term is a gross simplification, but this should not alter the fundamental flow of my train of thought. Everything that has subsequently happened in the universe is a consequence of the interactions between these “molecules” – their number, positions, type and modes of interaction.

Our understanding of these interactions has of course refined over the centuries. Gone are the days when Newtonian physics would have condemned us to a world of utter predictability. Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle and the ambiguities of quantum mechanics have introduced much welcomed doubt in the way in which one set of scientific circumstances will lead to another. This does not change the fact, however that the new set of “molecular circumstances” will be a direct consequence of the immediately previous set of “molecular circumstances” – even though the connection may be one which we don’t yet fully understand. To this degree, therefore, the above quotation must be profoundly true. All aspects of life are engineered at the molecular level

Let’s compare this however, to the world we inhabit and observe: a world, yes of complexity and uncertainty; but a world of personality, beauty, diversity, love, hatred, joy, suffering, free will(?), art and literature; a world encompassing millennia of human history. Can we accept, believe, that this is all the result of the unthinking subsequent interactions between the initial “big bang molecules”?

If so there is an inescapable question. What determines, guides, these interactions?

Some might say “scientific law”; but what does this mean. Does it mean guiding principles which lead the universe (and its inhabitants) to some predetermined outcome? It seems to me that this is a binary question – there is no middle ground: either these molecular interactions are random and mindless; or they are guided in some way towards a purpose.

Others, no doubt will disagree, but I cannot, perhaps will not, accept that every aspect of my life, from deciding what to have for breakfast, to my innermost thoughts are determined only by a sequence of purposeless throws of a molecular dice. Given, therefore the binary question I believe we are faced with, I choose to believe in a universe that is controlled by some principle which provides direction towards a greater purpose.

What shall we call it: scientific process? Spirit of the Universe?

I’ve got an idea; let’s call it ………. God

 

I choose to believe in God

finger of god

A Vision for “Remain” (cont)

  1. Equality

Not only is the UK a nation with one of the highest levels of inequality in the world, this is ever increasing. This is scandalous. Is this anything to do with Europe? Well, most EU countries do better than us.

A few statistics (GINI coefficient after Tax):

Austria             0.261               Belgium            0.259

Czech R           0.256               Denmark          0.248

France              0.293               Germany          0.295

Greece             0.307               Hungary           0.272

Ireland              0.293               Italy                  0.337

Luxembourg     0.288               Netherlands      0.294

Poland              0.305               Portugal            0.353

Slovakia           0.257               Slovenia           0.236

Spain                0.317               Sweden            0.259

UK                  0.345

 A figure of zero represents total equality; a figure of 1 represents total inequality

Research establishes very clearly that our contentment depends significantly, not on absolute wealth, but on the perception of our position in relation to others: it is relative wealth which is important. The notion that wealth somehow trickles down from the super-rich has also been thoroughly discredited. We should unequivocally be committed to striving for a more equal society.

It would be too simplistic to suggest that the EU is intertwined with this one way or another. However, I would suggest that our culture encourages the growth of an embedded elite of the rich and powerful more than most other countries, and that the EU is a positive influence in keeping this in check. Do we want to throw this away?

  1. Mutual Support

This question, of course, depends very much on how you choose to view it. Some would say that the EU institutions interfere with our “sovereignty” and remove our control over our own affairs.

Others would say that that they provide an essential check on possible abuse of power and the maintenance of conditions and rights in fields such as the justice system, the family and the workplace.

Let me pose a question: it is entirely possible that Brexit would fundamentally damage the EU and the individual nations of which it is comprised; do we care?

Well I do.

I would view it as running away from a partnership which, although not perfect, we should be able to make to work. As with all partnerships, there needs to be a degree of give and take. We should be moving forwards together. Do we really get such a bad deal?

  1. Pursuit of happiness

I should acknowledge from the outset that I consider myself very fortunate: I feel I have sufficient portions of wealth and power not to have to worry about this too much! However, I applaud the belated trend to include happiness/well-being measurements and data alongside other indicators of the “state of the nation”. Happiness and well-being are crucially important. Psychological research suggests that the more connected we are, the happier we are. The obsessive pursuit and collection of “friends” on social and professional media would appear to support this.

Statistics in this area must inevitably be accompanied by a caveat of uncertainty. That said, here is a selection of published data for some European countries (out of 10)

Denmark                      7.527                           Netherlands                  7.339

Sweden                        7.291                           Austria                         7.119

Germany                      6.994                           Belgium                        6.929

Ireland                          6.907                           Luxembourg                 6.871

UK                              6.725                           Czeck R                       6.596

France                          6.478                           Spain                            6.361

 

Do these figures tell us much? Possibly not.

In any event, let us consider the pursuit of happiness an important national and international goal.

  1. Protecting the weak

This morning I heard a brief discussion on the European Convention of Human Rights on the radio. Attention focussed on such issues as voting rights for prisoners (do we really care that some prisoners may have the right to vote?) It occurred to me that our obsession with such relative trivia, is taking place alongside a number of humanitarian disasters which are unfolding throughout the world: political, environmental and social.

Are voting rights for prisoners, one way or the other, of greater concern to us than the thousands fleeing political and environmental disasters at risk to their lives? Indeed, many thousands have been killed in the process. Reading much of the (right wing) press, the answer is “yes they are”. Surely, this is egregious.

The whole point of the ECHR (of which we were a founder member) is to protect the weak. Unfortunately, we have slipped into a mindset which believes that this is OK as long as it doesn’t affect us. Protection of the weak should be unconditional.

I will say no more.

  1. Shared control

There is a well-known saying “Problems shared are problems halved; Love shared is love doubled”. I would suggest that substituting the word “control” for “love” would render the saying equally true.

We choose to surrender some degree of control in every aspect of our lives, professional, social and personal – and are all the better for it. Do not the advantages of co-operation and partnership outweigh the drawbacks of some voluntary surrender? It is mistakenly believed by some that “sovereignty” implies complete control over our own affairs. Not, I’m afraid in the 21st century global world. To quote from a recent article in the Observer:

“In the protectionist camp there is now a wide range of political parties from extreme left to the extreme right……The common element for all these parties is that they dream of returning to a time when “we were in control”; when we could easily open or close our borders; when the world was manageable and small and we did not have to compromise. That is why they want national rules rather than international ones; and that is also why ultimately most of them despise the EU, because it is based not on direct control but on compromise.

The problem with that notion is that such a cosy world does not exist any more. The new generations expect to talk, travel and trade with each other all over the world, no matter where they are.

Fluidity, speed, seamlessness and complexity define the 21st century. Fighting these trends makes sense only if you are of such an age and means that you can afford the luxury of whingeing about the present and dreaming nostalgically about the past, but if you are still trying to make your way in life, you have to embrace change and adapt.”

Left-wing rubbish, I hear you say? Well, I’m not so sure.

  1. International Law

Why are we so scared of International Law? Do we believe we are the sole arbiters of what is right and what is wrong? Or is it that International Law is OK unless it happens to conflict with our own vested interests?

The strange thing is that in any other context, subjugating the rule of law to vested interest would be (rightly) called “corruption”.

Are we so blind that we can’t see the thread of vested interest, up to the very highest level, weave its way through national business and politics? Or perhaps we don’t care.

Well, I’m afraid I do.

When Tony Blair discontinued a criminal investigation into alleged Saudi corruption in “the interests of British industrial relations” were you not outraged? Well, I was.

The fact is that we only have anything to fear from International (or European) law if we have something to hide, or some vested interest to protect.

Not good enough, I’m afraid

  1. The Environment

Until recently this would have been considered a peripheral issue. Not any more. The point about major environmental concerns is that they can only be effectively tackled through agreed international intervention. A piecemeal, national approach is hopelessly inadequate.

Once again vested business and other interest is inclined to get in the way. International co-operation and regulation is probably the only way to ensure that individual nations toe the line and put concern for the planet at least alongside concern for national wealth and growth.

I understand why the corporate fat-cats, supported by sections of the right-wing media, might rail against this, but why should we be wary of it? Surely the watchful eye of the EU, amongst others, must be a good thing?

And finally:

As the Pope recently suggested, we should be building bridges, not walls

Sapiens on a folding bike – Day 5

gable47's Blog

It’s been a long, but ultimately rewarding day.
The saga of my lost phone triggered a complete strategic rethink. I had wanted to see Freiburg, but couldn’t see how I could work it in. Yesterday, the answer became clear – go by train. Thus it was that I spent the half-hour journey  from Titisee chatting to a fellow folding-bike enthusiast, albeit a Brompton owner, who had recently cycled from Freiburg to Basel! He was able to give me detailed guidance as to what route to follow, where to cross the Rhine (much further north than I had spotted on my map, and points of interest on the way. He also, brave man, promised to look at my blog. If you are reading this, my friend, many thanks – another fine example of German hospitality.

This morning the sky is grey and threatening, but it is not actually raining. Once on…

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Sapiens – on a folding bike

Basel, here I come! Well, perhaps not just yet.
It’s been a fascinating day. Leaving Gatwick there is a touch of deja-vu. Let me explain; last week, on our way to Vienna (yes, we really are jet-setters) we encountered technicians working on an engine as we boarded the plane. Not something to bolster confidence in the flight you may say. Within an hour, courtesy of Lufthansa, we had been transferred to another plane and had duly taken off.
This morning, as I board my EasyJet, technicians are working on the on-board computer; nothing trivial, you understand – it’s not for the pilot to play solitaire. This is the computer which is programmed to control the entire flight. I wonder what part the pilots actually play in the process. Not to worry, though; it’s sorted within half an hour, and we take off – and do actually reach our destination, Stuttgart, safely. So, as I said, Basel here I come.
My intention is to cycle across the Black Forest, or the Schwartzwald, as I shall call it, on my trusty folding bike. Oh yes, the title? What’s Sapiens got to do with it? Well, apart from the fact that I’m a proud member of “Sapiens”, as well as a proud Brit and European (sorry!!), I shall from time to time introduce some philosophical anthropology to raise the tone of the blog. You have been warned!
Having assembled the bike, I leave the airport at about 10.45 local time. Quite late. Can I get out? I always have been able to in the past but I have this fear that one day I won’t without hopping on a bus or getting a taxi. All is well however; I exit without event. But which way to go? A young lad working on telephone wiring, puts me right …. in perfect English. Sickening!
Within twenty minutes I’m sweeping down a sinuous wooded valley with all my senses being sumptuously feasted: buzzards and kites overhead; the sound of cuckoo’s and woodpeckers; the buzzing of bees in a field of rape-seed oil; the intoxicating scent of pine trees; and a warm but gentle breeze in my face. And the sun is shining. This is what it’s all about!

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I pass an advertising sign saying, in English, “Inner balance, Wellness (sic) and Massage” What a load of crap – and people pay good money for it. They should try a bike ride instead.
Soon after I encounter a forest track going my intended way. Should I take it?
“Beware, beware the Forest of Sin
Few come out though many go in!”
It certainly looks creepy – and it’s 18km long!
Well, as you’ve guessed, I do take it ……and it’s fantastic!  18 km encountering only one horse rider.

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And I do get out!

I enjoy “lunch”, a triple portion ice-cream and a coffee in Herrenberg, a delightfully traditional small German town

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Continuing into what turns out to be a long, anything but lazy, afternoon, I discover more forest tracks; they’re hard to spot, but once you’re on them they’re fantastic – impeccably signposted at every twist and turn. And, being Germany the kids don’t fool around with the signs.
I encounter a slow-worm and a black squirrel. Black, I hear you ask? Surely you mean grey, or perhaps red? No – it was definitely black; or very dark brown. I shall have to look it up. Oh yes – and the flies. Somebody told me the Schwartzwald can be plagued by flies. Well, at this time of year they don’t constitute a problem, but you certainly do notice them. Of course, at the speed I cycle they don’t, in any case stand a chance!
Stopping for an “afternoon tea” consisting of an iced doughnut and a yoghurt bar washed down with a drink of water, I continue to the attractive town of Dorn-Stetten, my intended resting place for the night.
But will it be?
Well, you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out.
And what about the homespun philosophy? That will have to wait till tomorrow as well. Perhaps a double dose!
It’s been a fascinating day.

Distance travelled        53.4 miles
Elevation gain                      4,477 ft
Average speed                    9.3 mph
Maximum speed             35.8 mph

Curiosities of the Mind – Day 2

I fear I might have short-changed you yesterday: no photos; and not the slightest reference to my chosen title. Absolutely no philosophical musings (ramblings?) My excuse is a long day and my late arrival at Fayence.
Well, the photos I have belatedly been able to add. And the philosophical ramblings? Fear not dear reader – I will not let you down. “Oh no!” do I hear you groan?
Today I have been reflecting on a theme: “Long distance cycling – a metaphor for life”. I have distilled my thoughts into what I will call “The twelve pillars of CE42”. For those of you who don’t understand this reference, I will explain at the end of my final day’s blog. These can be summarised as follows:
   – Focus on the journey, not the destination
   – Try to keep moving forwards without continually looking/going back. We get further on our journey
   – Uphill is a necessary and integral part.It can be productive; try to enjoy it
– Do things while you can. Loire Valley, Netherlands etc can wait: today it’s Alps, Jura and Pyrenees.
   – take time to pause; enjoy the rests, overnight stops etc.
“What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”
   – Learn to focus on the little things, not just the grand sweep – especially when going uphill:
            the single flower by the side of the road
            the intoxicating scent of a pine forest
            a singing nightingale.
We do, by the way, have to learn how to do this
   – If the going gets tough, set a sequence of short-term targets. It doesn’t matter how short-term. “The greatest journey starts with a single step”
   – Don’t overplan: the best things are often discovered where we least expect to find them
   – View barriers as opportunities: they often come from within and are rarely insurmountable. Overcoming them can become a satisfying part of the journey
   – If in doubt – do it: it is better to have the occasional small regret, than to never know (split infinitive!) what fantastic things you might have missed along the way.
   – Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it enhances our journey.
   – Are comfort zones boring? (This question applies to attitudes, opinions and mindset (think of the latter syllable of this word) as well as activities. What about the BIG questions: religion; politics? Thank you Greg for challenging my mindset. Challenge adds some spice to life.
   – Look and listen deeply. Whilst on the journey try to move from knowledge (easy and accessible) through understanding (requires effort) to wisdom (the holy grail)
   – Sometimes, choosing to believe the apparently unbelievable can enhance the journey. A wild card, but explanation and examples (both from life and cycling) available on request.

Whoops – I’ve just noticed that’s fourteen!

Every one of these “pillars” I can relate directly to experiences on my long-distance cycling. Elaboration available.

But what about today’s journey?
Well, it won’t surprise you to hear me say it was near perfect. Hot, sunny (but with a light haze protecting me from its ravages) and little or no wind.
A gentle “up-and-down” to Seillans, on a quiet, inevitably scenic road, sets the tone. This is followed by a long but friendly climb to Bargemon. On the way I encounter a lone “sports cyclist” who looks at me quizzically as though to say “who on earth is this aged guy on a folding bike with none of the gear?” He does, however, give a friendly wave.
A wonderful long descent commences, but yes – I know this will be followed by another climb. Bring it on!

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In Bargemon I enjoy a grande creme and an Ice The. I realise I’m sitting next to an English couple. On enquiring, I learn that they’ve travelled 926 miles from Milton Keynes. “Oh, the place with the plastic cows and a ski-slope” I retort. For this stereotype I am roundly (and rightly) told off.
From Bargemon, I climb up a quiet road labelled “Route des Gorges a velo”. Sorry Mary! I quote this from memory. The spelling and syntax could well be wrong. But it does illustrate that the whole area is riddled with wonderfully scenic gorges. Clearly a feature of the underlying geology. Gorgeous! (Sorry)
Another climb and long descent between banks awash with wild roses leads me to Ampus and then to Tourtour where I stop for lunch.

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A short post-prandial foray leads me to Villecroze and then Salernes, a bustling, attractive small town – and my intended stop for the night.
A visit to the Tourist Office confirms …….. there’s no hotel in Salernes!
Following 20 minutes of phonecalls I retrace my steps 7km to Villecroze, where I check into the best hotel I’ve encountered in all these trips.
A perfect ending to a perfect day.

Distance travelled            41.2 miles
Elevation gain                         5,362 ft.
Moving time                            4:31:59
Average speed                       9.1 mph

13th May 2015

Cabinet of Curiosities – Sixth, and final, Day

It’s my last day.
I wake up to an overcast sky; quite a relief after three days of unforgiving sunshine – no need for the protective lotion today. Thinking back over the week, and revisiting my daily blog I realise I’ve touched on only a fraction of the curiosities I had intended to put into my Cabinet. The truth is that I’ve been so taken with the physical reality of being here, with its constantly shifting spectrum of sensation, that I’ve had little time for cerebral contemplation. It just goes to show the futility of detailed planning; I’ve long since learnt on these trips to “go with the flow” and trust my instinct.That said, however, I must try, in the remaining hours, to cram as many idiosyncratic items in the Cabinet as possible.
Let’s go back to Homo Sapiens – an endlessly fascinating and curious creature. For a start he (no gender significance) is bi-pedal. That in itself is a curiosity; imagine the geometry of a tall person, and the continuous and subtle adjustments to balance which need to be made to remain upright. Other curiosities include: our lack of body hair (a startling contrast to all other primates; our limited ability to swim (difficult to understand in the context of Survival of the Fittest); and the unusually long dependence period of our offspring (again, making us, one would think, very vulnerable). And then, the almost miraculous properties of our skin: elastic and flexible, but with structural rigidity; amazingly sensitive to touch; waterproof when needed; and with a remarkable ability to heal quickly when damaged. Our physiology has undergone many adaptations to make us “fit for purpose”; do you realise, for example, that the 300 million alveoli in our lungs provide a staggering 100 square metres of surface area for the efficient absorption of oxygen?
Above all, of course, there’s our brain. Its striking enlargement in comparison with other primates opens up boundless possibilities for abstract reasoning, language, introspection and emotion, with an appreciation of beauty through the development of art and music. And then, of course, curiosity; without it, where would be the fields of science, technology, philosophy and religion? Homo Sapiens, a truly remarkable and miraculous creature, must take pride of place in my Cabinet. Anyway, enough of this for the moment; I have to get to Montpellier.

I used the dreaded word! Having spent the week having to get nowhere, today is different; for once, the destination is more important than the journey. Horror of horrors – it gives the day an entirely different feel.
The first part is grey and dull. I take my time along a number of long straight roads, with an industrial backdrop, into a fresh but warm headwind.
Once I’ve left Sete I enter an expansive landscape of inter-locking lagoons now imbued with a hazy sunlight.

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A short detour to a beach-side tourist office confirms that there should be a series of cycle-ways taking me generally in the direction of Montpellier Airport – a peaceful, if uninspiring start to the day.
Glancing to my left, I spot a flock of pink flamingos

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Not surprising, I suppose; after all, we’re no more than 20 miles from the Camargue.
Detouring into the village of Vic-la Gardiole I discover a Sunday market in full swing

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Its function as a meeting point is clearly as important as its function for retail.  I enjoy a late breakfast consisting of a pain au chocolate, an eclair and a fruitjuice. Sounds revolting? Delicious!
The sun now comes out – it’s getting warm, almost hot. Many local Sunday cyclists are now out and about, probably on the way to the beach.
I pass a Muscat Domaine – one of my favourite dessert wines. I never knew it comes from around here.

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A few miles further on, a bizarre sight: half a dozen men engrossed in model aeroplane flying. If you look closely, you might make out the mini air-sock or even the scaled down runway.

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I’m not sure that photo worked!
All, though, is not what it seems. 100m down the road I come across a memorial plaque – this was the site of the original Montpellier Airfield (1920 – 1926) and is preserved to commemorate the early pioneers. Perhaps, not so bizarre after all.
At Lattes I encounter another, this time mega, market. I’m in good time, so stroll around and enjoy a delicious snack of fish mouth-bites, deep fried in a spicy batter. It has a name, but I forget to make a note.
From here to the airport is entirely uneventful. After checking Daisy-May and panniers in, I start writing up today’s blog.

Distance                                 27.3 miles (a short day)
Av speed                                9.2 mph (I’m being lazy)            
Elevation gain                      278 ft

For the whole trip
Distance                                  274 miles
Total elevation gain              15,388 ft
Average speed                         9.9 mph

Oh yes- my age?
Well, 2450 has a surprisingly small number of prime factors: 2x5x5x7x7.
If you play around with these, you will find only a small number of possible permutations for the ages of the family. In fact, after you have eliminated all those that are biologically impossible, you will find that only three remain. The vicar, being a good mathematician, would have reached this stage quickly.
Having a good eye for a pretty woman, he eliminated one immediately.
The remaining two (ages for the mother) were very close together – hence his difficulty. When, however, he was told that he was the oldest person present, he knew their ages immediately. This last piece of information must have been a discriminator. Logically, there is only one age the vicar can be!
As I said before, in a few weeks, I will be 17 years older than the vicar.

That’s all ’till next year.
It’s been a good one – one of the best.
Thank you.