Time To Cycle

125 cyclists stopped over in Brighton on Sunday evening. They arrived late afternoon at my church, Brighthelm, where there was a reception for them, a meal and overnight accommodation.

Most were cycling from London to Paris, to arrive there at the end of the COP21 climate summit. Like the other pilgrims (see my last post, “Paris”, to which this one is pretty much a supplement), they are inspirational in their commitment to demonstrating their support for a good deal from this summit for the climate and for the world’s poor, and in acting a better world into being.

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100 bicycles tucked up in bed

 

I asked one young man if he’d cycled from London. “Sort of,” he said. He’d been studying this last term in London, but comes from Seattle. “But you didn’t cycle from Seattle, ha ha,” I joked. “Actually, I did,” he replied. He had cycled from Seattle to New York, then travelled by ship to Southampton. I was seriously impressed, not only by his epic journey but by his story of the kindness and hospitality he had received from strangers as he made his way across the States. People can be amazing.

One of the resources that was essential for this man’s journey was time. Everything in our culture is fast. I complain when the broadband is slow – I say, “It’s like the old days of dial-up”, but before that I had to go to the library for information. I don’t have any more leisure time now, but I spend much more of it in front of a screen. The train from London to Birmingham takes just 80 minutes, but this isn’t fast enough for us and we are going to spend an awful lot of money to rip through some beautiful countryside to put in a high-speed line. Our hunger for more speed comes at a huge cost, financially and environmentally. If I want to travel halfway around the world, say from Seattle to London, why should I expect to be able to do it within a day? It’s a very long way and perhaps it should take a very long time. It’s only natural. We don’t need a third runway at Heathrow – take the bike instead. It’s a simple choice between spending time or saving it.

Spending the money and the oil buys speed and saves time. We have built a whole way of life around this approach and it seems to have many benefits. But we are realizing that debt and climate change are high prices to pay. It may be, too, that we lose on the one hand at least as much as we gain on the other. Spending the time buys … a new world: scenery that you’re travelling slowly enough to take in; encounters with people whose simple hospitality forms new friendships; space to think deeply and encounter yourself; a sense of place in the wide world; a sense of achievement at making a journey fuelled by the burning of glucose in your cells.

These cyclists and pilgrims show that an alternative approach is possible. They make it possible. They make it happen. Every step, every turn of the chainwheel, is a choice to think differently, to spend time and save this beautiful planet and its inhabitants.

 

Along life’s cycle-path, remember to stop and smell the sea

My daily ride to work has to be one of the best, if not the best commuter routes in the world.

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The sea looks different every time.  Even on dull, damp, autumn mornings, it’s something worth looking at.

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It’s so easy to rush by it.  I may be late for an appointment.  There’s stuff to do in the office.  It’s raining.

I am trying to establish a new habit – to stop for a minute and watch the waves and breathe in the salty air and smell the seaweed.  It seems somehow disrespectful to rush by something so utterly beautiful and wild.  The emails won’t go bad and I’m already wet. I can stop for a minute – in fact, perhaps I don’t have time not to pay attention to the sea and there be some point in being alive.

 

Why don’t I get out into the countryside more often?

On Monday, it was my day off.  My older son (just back from university for Easter) and I set out on our bikes.  We went down to the sea-front, along the eastern arm of Shoreham Harbour and crossed at the lock gates.  At Shoreham, we turned up the old railway line, now a trackway, and cycled along the river bank to Bramber.  Then through Upper Beeding, Edburton, Fulking and Poynings, where we had lunch at Rushfields Garden Centre and stocked up on supplies at their farm shop. Then we toiled up Devil’s Dyke and then coasted down back into Hove, barely having to pedal.

It was a dull day but mostly dry.  These little Sussex villages are so pretty and the countryside is just super, breath-takingly beautiful.  We really enjoyed our ride.   One of the things I love about cycling is that if you want to stop and look at something, you can.  You don’t have to find a parking space.  The freedom is half the exhilaration.  Physical achievement and going fast down a long hill combines for the other half.

Most of Sussex is covered by licences to explore for oil and gas through fracking.  I know that the landscape is already post-industrial (it used to be covered by trees – hence “Weald” from the Saxon for wood – which were cut down for ship-building, construction, iron-smelting and cleared for agriculture).  However, I think that it would be a crime and a sin to turn this beautiful countryside into a gas field – not to mention the harm that would do to the environment at large by burning all that gas and by the extra road traffic on the little winding lanes.  It seems a bit simplistic, maybe even sentimental, but is the beauty of the earth the best reason to look after it?

Talking of sentimental, I took some pictures and put them into a film.  It’s a bit rough and ready, but I enjoyed putting it together and I hope you’ll enjoy watching and listening.  One day I might part with some money to upgrade this blog so that I can embed video.  For now, you’ll have to click this link.

 

Get thee behind me, shiny new bike

Here is Mrs Mabbsonsea’s shiny new bike.

Her bike

 

It was fair enough. Her old one, which had carried each of our 3 children and all sorts of baggage as well as Mrs M herself over its 18 years, had stopped co-operating.

Here, by way of contrast, is my bike:

My bike

 

It’s just over a year old and it’s proving to be a trusty, reasonably fast workhorse and I like it very much.  But it’s no longer very shiny and the problem with spending time in bike shops is that they are full of shiny new bikes.  I liked the look of a smart single-speed city bike with drop handlebars.  I like the idea of the simplicity of not having gears, and a fixie would take that simplicity even further.  On the other hand, it might be fun to have an off-road bike and get out into the countryside.  The temptation was all too much and I had to retreat to a cafe to read my book about the non-growth economics of ‘Enough’ over a coffee and chocolate croissant while Mrs M took a couple of bikes for test rides.

How many bikes is enough?  (There’s a similar question to be asked about guitars, in my opinion).  The reality is that I don’t need more than one bike.  It won’t thank me for being taken off-road, but it’s fine – it’s enough – for what I want to do, really.  But I am a sucker for shiny new.  It alarms me how strong is my urge to acquire stuff – and I’m someone who doesn’t spend much time in shops and doesn’t look at much advertising and doesn’t worry much about my image.  If I find it so tempting, it’s no wonder that, as a society, we are consuming our way into oblivion.

The concept of ‘Enough’ is a good one, but I suspect it needs quantifying at a much lower level than most of us would like if we are to achieve a world in which all people and nature can thrive together.

An hour with some soapy water and a rag might restore shiny-ness to my bike, after all.

 

Out with the old, in with the new

This past week I had to say goodbye to two faithful old companions.

The first was my fault.  At Easter, I took my lovely 6-string guitar out into the driving rain to play at an early morning outdoor service.  It’s never been the same since, and in particular, won’t keep tune.  So, after 25 years of pleasure and pain and every emotion in between, and nine months of umming and ahhing, I’ve replaced it.   I feel like a traitor.  That old guitar has been brilliant.  It’s seen me through some hard times, and accompanied me through many good times.   Sometimes I’ve thrashed it as hard as I could while splattering it with tears and finger-blood.   Other times it was sweet and gentle.  It just took what I gave and was always ready for more.   Until I got it soaked, idiot that I am.

My trusty bike was simply old and worn out.  I’ve tried hard to keep it going, but it got to the stage where it was making less and less sense to keep spending money on it.   It’s been a faithful workhorse over fifteen years, for nine of which it was my only means of private transport.  It carried all three children (mostly not at the same time), groceries, books, timber, small trees … and me, of course, for miles and miles and miles.

Happy memories.

Their successors have a lot to live up to.

It’s amazing how attached I have become to a wooden box and an arrangement of steel tubing.

 

Cycling is the future

Three cheers for Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome!

The media here is talking about the greatest sporting achievement ever – an over-statement, surely, but the performance of these three outstanding British cyclists in the Tour de France cheers the hearts of ordinary British cyclists like me.   Maybe if I were 20 years younger and did more than cycle to the shops at a leisurely pace, I could be in with a chance of winning the Tour.

More importantly, this great result raises the profile of cycling in this car-obsessed country, and it may even have an effect on this car-obessed city.  Who knows?  Even if the euphoria only lasts a day or two (although maybe Olympic success will prolong it), it’s a boost and lifts us out of our general feeling of being unloved, oppressed and endangered.

As someone said on the radio this morning:

“Cycling is the future!”

Perhaps now is a good time to get ready for that future.

Drivers of the world, get on your bikes!  You have nothing to lose but that middle-aged paunch.

 

Life in the bike lane

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Life in the bike lane …

… take it at your own pace.

… stop and admire the scenery.

… stop and chat to an old friend (or make a new friend).

… see the world from a different level.

… slightly separate yet at the same time part of the general flow.

… the sun on your face, the wind in your hair and the blood in your veins.

… free.