keep cycling, nothing to see here

The sun is shining. The rain clouds have moved on. For now. That’s the decision made: blue sky through the sky light / cycle to work. Non-negotiable. My head agrees. My body is protesting. Still protesting from being hauled to Brighton on Friday evening. Three days of lazy recovery isn’t enough anymore.  After performing some half-hearted and medically unproven stretches I creak out the door, blinking into the still bright morning sunlight. Often it’s started raining in the time from 1st sight of blue sky to eventual departure.

It’s my 1st time cycling past Westminster since the EU Referendum result. The Media gantries in Abingdon Street Gardens are empty, with the BBCs standing grandest – I assume it’s the BBC’s as it’s the one where Laura Kuenssberg and Co. have been camped out since Thursday. The smallest one, a cheap ‘purchased at Homebase’ gazebo, squeezed in at the back, is labelled ‘BBC Radio Scotland’, like an afterthought. I’m disappointed, I had expected crowds, protest marches, maybe even riots, at least some milling around. Instead, all quiet, for now, perhaps politicians and protesters don’t get out of bed this early. Even when the future of our nation is at stake.

The road outside the Houses of Parliament is pockmarked with potholes and canyons in the tarmac, circumnavigating Parliament Square requires concentration. The makeshift memorial to Jo Cox has been hidden away, shunted to the back of Parliament Square Gardens, between Ghandi and some other bloke in a gown, I can’t tell who it is as I’m busy concentrating on following the new designed for cyclists cycle path, whilst not being mown down by a juggernaut in the process. The newly constructed cycle paths are meant to make cycling safer and easier, a grand plan that sounded better in Boris’s Mayoral sound bites than it works in real life. Wait a minute…

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swan central

It’s started. The Gathering. Outside my house at early o’clock on a Sunday morning.I prise open the door ever so quietly so upstairs wake at a more agreeable hour. The weather has turned for the better, just not turned by much, we’re still wearing tights and full finger gloves. It’s bright outside, cold too, very cold. The cloudless sky means it’s not raining but it’s cold. Most cyclists would take that correlation.

Today’s RB is the Doog. An Aussie triathlete who just when you think he’s gone, blown up, comes right back, he never gives up. His road sense and his bike handling skills however are terrible, it’s safer to be in front rather than following his wheel, but keeping in front is easier said than done with the Doog.

We’re going flat but fast, out along the Thames to Chertsey and back. There won’t be much talking between us, just a silent focus on our pushing up the average speed. It’s not a social ride. It was never going to be this early in the morning. If the pace drops one of us will surge forward to take the wind and push the pace back up, the other does their best to stick to the back wheel, until it’s their turn to repay the ‘favour’.

I need to check the route map as I’m not sure exactly where it is, somewhere just after the smooth bit of tarmac coming out of Sunbury-on-Thames, through the hedge, there are hundreds of swans, a blanket of white feathers on the water. Why? Are they ‘flocked’ together? Can swans ‘flock’ on water or only in flight? They’re definitely not a herd or a pack of swans – so a grounded flock it is.

The problem with cycling fast – obsessing on the average speed – is you can’t stop to find the answer to your questions. Instead that ‘why’ bangs around the inside of your cycling helmet, ricocheting randomly. Maybe the Doog is trying to figure out why too, as he inexplicably swerves across the road.

What’s so special about the bit of Thames just there, just outside Sunbury-on-Thames, just before Shepperton? Why has given way to scrambled hypotheses inside my helmet. Is it calm water, with no current to disturb their rest? Or the perfect ecosystem for swan food to thrive? Or maybe swans just like each other’s company, to gather together – in a sort of swan commune.

I always thought of swans as a compact family unit, mum & dad and 5 or 6 cygnets with a defined territory they share with subjugated ducks. Are they flocked by necessity, convenience or a social bond like humans do? Have they consciously chosen to live together? Or is just outside Sunbury-on-Thames, just before Shepperton some kind of ‘paradise’ for swans that every swan knows about?

I can’t answer any of these questions, what I do know is that I don’t know much about swans and I’ve stop obsessing about average speed which was ruining the ride anyway.

(I’ve since checked my route on Strava.com and I think it’s Shepperton Marina – Paradise for swans).

suburban paradise

suburban paradise

If you could choose to ride your bike anywhere in the world, suburbia would not top the list. It probably wouldn’t even make the list. Typical then that my 1st blogged ride trundled through Kingston-Upon-Thames, Thames Ditton and inevitably Surbiton. Ironic even, when last week I was cycling in the French Alps. That’s cycling. We’re always chasing the perfect ride but happy to take what we can get.

Besides, last week the idea for a blog hadn’t materialised. It was still locked deep in my subconscious. Besides I couldn’t think. Subconsciously or otherwise. I was too busy sucking in every last molecule of oxygen from the thinning mountain air, too in awe of the awesome mountains, just too damn scared to think as I plummeted back to the valley floor on ragged roads beaten up by the brute winter.

I’m doing suburbia a disservice. Start in Richmond Park, cut along the River Thames at Ham, speed past Sandown Park, past Hampton Court Palace, through Bushey Park and up Richmond Hill – wondering as always which town house is Mick Jagger’s, slowing for the famous view from Richmond Hill (the only view in England to be protected by an Act of Parliament, a view that inspired the works of Wordsworth and Turner amongst others). Not bad for suburbia.

I had to enjoy all of this on my own as I’d broken the Golden Rule of our cycle club: never leave anyone behind. (Again).  My ride buddy had suffered 3 punctures and we’d agreed to part by mutual consent as he resorted to tracking down a taxi that would take a bike as well as a sweaty man dressed in Lycra at 8am on a Sunday morning.

When is it OK to leave someone? When you’ve been together for too long? When you just fancy a change? The United Kingdom joined the European Union on 1st January 1973, over 30 years ago.  It’s been a difficult union, a dysfunctional marriage marred by petty spats. I think there’s a very real chance that the UK will vote to leave not because the Get Britain Out camp presents a compelling argument for exit but because we’ve been in the EU for a long time and we all just fancy a change.  Which is a lot less reason to leave someone than 3 punctures.

check out my ride

on Strava.com