Cycling week 31: London edition
This week I handed the reins once more to my brother Neil Young, for a London edition. Let's ride!
I don’t ride today. While degreasing my chain I listen to a radio feature about the bioacoustician Bernie Krause, who’s spent decades recording the sounds of nature. Krause discovered that a natural environment unaffected by species and habitat loss occupies the full frequency spectrum, but as things fall out of joint the orchestra begins to break apart; the range of frequencies becomes gap-toothed. Often the landscape doesn't look different at all – it's the soundscape where the devastating changes are first evident. The insects’ rich thrum drifts away. The frogs fall silent. The hedgehogs no longer rustle.
I rotate the chain and peer out of the sliding doors at my little garden. I've put out fat balls in a feeder for the sparrows. A pigeon makes a forced landing on the conservatory roof and waddles in the direction of the balls, and the sparrows dart away.
The week’s cycling starts in earnest! An uneventful ride to my office in Farringdon and back again in the early evening. I ride about 9 miles or so each way, but I’ve been taking a longer route to avoid the worst of the traffic, and it seems to be working. I haven’t had a close pass in a few days.
One of the kids comes home from school claiming to have an upset tummy so I work from home.
Back on the bike and to the office again. Once again I enjoy a commute free of feelings of imminent car- or SUV-death. Once home I sweatily wrestle my bike along the narrow hallway and step into the conservatory. I notice I’ve left the sliding door open and as I enter, a pigeon steps inside. I step forward, hands raised, and it takes a step forward, too. We look at each other. I step forward and the pigeon takes another step.
'Listen, pal,' I say. 'Don’t do anything stupid.'
The pigeon regards me. Its beak falls open. It takes another step. I try to herd it out the door, but it easily evades me, bobbing past at a swift march. Then it flies down the hallway and crashes into a window.
At lunch I cycle from my office to tokyobike London, home of beautiful bikes and beautifully useful bike gear. I buy a cycle camera strap.
After work I go for a longer ride, wending my way up to St John’s Wood and then Primrose Hill. On my way home, I cycle through Bloomsbury, stopping at the Waterstones near UCL to use the toilet. I don’t want to make it seem like I’ve only stopped to use the toilet, so I look at some books about Auschwitz for a few minutes, then walk smartly to the toilet, my cycle shoes clacking. The graffiti in the cubicle is full of positive, life-affirming statements. Now this is what London’s all about, I think. This is what I came here for! I slowly cycle back down to SE26, crossing London’s best bridge, Waterloo, on the way.
Today I go on a ride outside of London, following a route in Jack Thurston’s brilliant Lost Lanes, part of his ongoing series of lovingly curated bike rides.
The journey includes a stop to see the Crowhurst Yew, a gnarled ancient tree which stands in hoary immensity, arms held up by wooden poles, next to St George's Church. Estimated to be 4000 years old, the yew was a mere 2000-year-old adolescent when Julius Caesar came ashore. I stand there for a while, trying to get my head around this. I’ve been reading Rebecca Stott’s excellent novel Dark Earth which opens with a quote from Mrs Dalloway: 'Perhaps at midnight, when all boundaries are lost, the country reverts to its ancient shape, as the Romans saw it, lying cloudy, when they landed, and the hills had no names and rivers wound they knew not where.' I wonder who stood beneath the tree then. The surrounding graveyard, its stones gently blurred, is eerily quiet.
Cycling back towards Lingfield, the road suddenly narrows, squeezing through a bridge before my turn-off at Furnace Lane. Just as I pass through, a car roars into view, swerves, and close-passes me with an inch or two to spare. I let out a scream and veer off the road, turning upside down on the grass verge. The car continues onwards without pausing.
My bike is okay. I’m okay.
Balance is restored.