As an A level student studying English Literature back in the 1960s, I found myself immersed in the rich offerings from DH Lawrence. I remember the set text on my syllabus was Sons and Lovers, but the national debate that had been raging over the Lady Chatterely trial, when Penguin had published the unabridged edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, only served to excite the interest in young testosterone-driven teenagers, who could easily secrete small Penguin copies into bags and pockets, and find some quiet corner to assuage their curiosity.
All of a sudden, semi-literate and reluctant readers found their interest stirred by the closely printed pages of the paperback, and dog-eared and well-thumbed copies were circulating amongst the masses until they fell apart from overuse. Of course, now in the 21st century, with all that we are exposed to by the multi-media, we wonder how we could have been so excited by such developments. But the Lady Chatterley trial was a key moment in literary history when literature that had formerly been labelled as ‘pornography’ (ie. the sort that you wouldn’t want your wife or servants to find in the house) was formally sanctioned as a serious art form. In other words, it heralded a new age………
The Virgin and the Gypsy is a novella from Lawrence’s later years, and was only discovered after his death, and explores the burgeoning sexual curiosity of a young country vicar’s daughter, Yvette, who tries to break the chains that have locked her into the conventional existence that she despises so much. Like many of Lawrence’s women, she is wilful and headstrong, and her attraction to a local gypsy causes her to strain at the leash. This short story is a powerful insight into Yvette’s struggle to break free from the Victorian mores and unforgiving rigidity of her upbringing.
Hardly serendipitous, more a question of misadventure. Life throws up many happy chance encounters, but some encounters are a little less welcome.
My wife, Jenny, recently had the dubious honour of requiring the services of the blue-flashing-light taxi service to our local heart hospital. The initial ECG readings taken by the paramedic flagged up enough concern to call the ambulance. Further checks in our local A&E prompted a quick phone call to Papworth Hospital……and without more ado, the blue-flashing transfer took Jenny to the HDU of our local distinguished heart hospital.
We had to wait 12 hours for the blood test that would reveal the critical enzyme pointing to a heart attack. And yes, it was there, and a heart attack was confirmed.
But behind every misadventure, there will be a few positives. We had caught Jenny’s condition at the very early stages, and didn’t make the mistake of imagining the pain was just heartburn or indigestion. The blockage turned out to be in a minor artery, too narrow to take a stent, but which can be unblocked through medication. The prognosis is very good, too. With the aid of continued medication and a gentle return to exercise, she will be able to return to most of her previous activities.
And given that in the few days previous to her mini-crisis, she had attended an exercise class, ridden 33 miles on the tandem, and had been swimming and nordic walking on the morning of the mishap………. we all have to come to terms with the certain knowledge that, however secure we feel about our own lifestyle and health, life will always be full of twists and turns.
There are times when the barriers to starting yet another 400-600 page tome seem insurmountable. One of the great attractions of newspapers, periodicals and magazines is the ‘bitesize’ nuggets of information, easy to read and digest, requiring no long term commitment on the part of the reader. In musical terms, it’s like listening to the ‘sound bites’ of Classic FM compared to the full, unabridged, pieces of Radio 3.
When I came across Stephen Weir’s History’s Worst Decisions, it looked like an ideal text for filling the reading vacuum, without the need of long term commitment to a lengthy narrative. His text is made up of some 50 short ‘vignettes’ of what he claims to be the most disastrous decisions made in the past: beginning as far back as Eve’s seduction of Adam, through Hannibal’s disastrous march over the Alps, to the European introduction of rabbits to Australia, and the missing hyphen that caused NASA to abort the Mariner space mission.
Fortunately, the author assumes that his readers are not fully informed about any of the incidents. In fact, some may appear a little esoteric to the non-historian (for example, Johan de Witt’s exchange of Manhattan for some small Indonesian island, where he thought he could grow nutmeg), but Weir makes them accessible to the lay reader by describing the background of each incident, before exposing the catastrophic nature of the action taken.
An ideal book for reading on buses and trains, or those late few minutes at night before your head hits the pillow.
I don’t regard myself as a pedant, and I try to avoid conversations that begin with “now, when I was a lad…” or “in my day…..” or even worse “in the good old days……”, when English was written and spoken properly…….but I have to confess that I am frequently amused by current uses and abuses of language.
We’ve all seen, by the roadside, garages that advertise “MOT’s while you wait” or signs that warn you a road is “Unsuitable for HGV’s”. Now the abuse of the apostrophe is so gaily rampant these days as to prompt a group of language conservationists to form the Apostrophe Protection Society…….I kid you not. If you are guilty of abusing an apostrophe in a public forum, they will hunt you down, ridicule you in public, and make an example of you before the international English-speaking community. If you get away with just a life-sentence in a high security lock-up, count yourself lucky!
Now, as some of you know, I take a ‘moderate’ interest in all things cycling, and I read a lot from a variety of periodicals, memoirs, travelogues, reviews and biographies. Cyclists, in general, are a relatively literate bunch. Some may lack imagination when it comes to writing about their reflections on a route or journey they have enjoyed but, generally, they can form sentences and
paragraphs, know roughly where full-stops, commas and apostrophes go, and get most of their spellings correct…….
Now, I did say only “most”, because there are a lot of pedallers out there who still can’t distinguish their ‘peddle’ from their ‘pedal’, or their ‘peddlers’ from their ‘pedallers’. I have just this minute read the following in an article: “….a tandem does really need two peddlers”. Now I really want to know if a pair of tandemists “will peddle their tandem to a car boot sale, so that they can pedal their wares”……or is it the other way around?
Excuse the unintended puns, but I hate tinkering with people’s (or is it peoples’) thinking, because to do so can mess with their ‘cycle-logical’ equanimity, but I really do need to know, when I climb on my bike, am I ‘hawking’ or ‘spinning cranks’?
Elsewhere in the world of cycling, there have been other developments in the use of language (and not just in cycling either). I’ve always thought of ‘podium’ only as a noun, but I now have to bow down to the superior intellect of our celebrated TV commentators who will quite happily say things like: “….now has Chris Froome done enough to podium at the end?”.
And if you always thought that ‘medal’ was only a noun……well, think again. It does actually exist as a verb meaning ‘to decorate with a medal’, but its usage has now been stretched to mean ‘ to win a medal’. Throughout the 2012 Olympics, we kept hearing things like: “….Wiggins is approaching the finishing line, and it looks as if he’s done enough to medal…..”….or is that to meddle? (Now I’m really confused).
So, what would the BBC’s erstwhile Brains Trust (or was that Brain’s Trust?) have said about all this?
“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live”(Mark Twain)
Harsh words from the pen of Mark Twain, but even if you do live, you may still have some regrets.
Evidence that women may have special problems with saddle comfort was amply demonstrated at the recent N.E.C. Cycle Show when they staged a special teach-in, addressing comfort problems for women. As I mentioned in a previous post, it was interesting to see that many in the audience were men….. no doubt, gathering important information for their wives and partners in absentia.
Fittingly, the talk was led by a knowledgeable lady from Trek Bicycles who had personal experience of everything she referred to, and was not timid about employing all the appropriate vocabulary for describing the nether regions! She got into those ‘dark corners’ of the human anatomy, and called a spade ‘a spade’.
Most tandem stokers (ie. the one on the back) know all too intimately the challenges of being at the rear end…..and no, I’m not just referring to the monotonous view of the pilot’s back, nor being able to steer and brake. I am, of course, referring to the amplified bumps and divots felt much more by the stoker than the pilot. Exactly the same as sitting at the back of a long bus…..except much more painful.
So, among the various issues being addressed, we have recently invested in a Cane Creek Thudbuster which, according to what it says on the tin, should make a significant improvement to stoker comfort. Watch this space……..
If you had been wondering why I should come on an idiotically flat route across the Fens, spend two nights camping in early October (which, incidentally, has so far been pleasantly warm and dry), then now you know…..solely because (of) fat birds don’t fly. And only here in Hunstanton, nowhere else. Still intrigued and bemused…..?
Well, there is a niche business, in a niche market, called ‘Fat birds don’t fly’
….to be found in a simple industrial-looking building on the outskirts of Hunstanton. Unprepossessing in almost every respect, but they happen to be the best titanium bicycle retailer in the country…..bar none.
The N.E.C. Cycle Show last weekend had further whetted my appetite regarding titanium bikes, and I was ready to dip my toe in the water. Fat Birds carry an almost comprehensive sample of the best on the market, so where better to go to trial several on the same day? Especially reassuring was their willingness, not only to indulge me, but to set up each of the three bikes I trialled to my own specification. So, numbers and measurements featured heavily in the day’s proceedings, as I first trialled a Van Nicholas Yukon
…followed by a Lynskey Sportive
….and finally, a Kinesis Racelight Grand Fondo
I’d like to say they all performed impeccably, and that a final choice would go down to the wire (based on minor aesthetics, perhaps), but there were important differences to the feel, surety of performance and levels of long-term comfort. Most of the differences were down to quality of build, but some could be the result of micro-adjustments to the set-up. It was an intriguing day of scrutiny and analysis.
Of the three I tested, if I were to make a choice, my money would go on the Lynskey…..which happens to be a little known American brand which, I was told, attracts a niche market here in the UK.
Well, there’s a first in my life…..I’ve never thought of myself as a niche buyer. So here is a closer view of the Oscar-winning machine….
I now go home to spend (probably) several months in deep meditation……backed up, of course, with extensive research ……..in other words, the joy of the hunt.
Savvy cyclists have now guessed where I am…..yes, you’ve got it……the Fens. That infamous swathe of land that shouldn’t exist, were it not for the ingenious engineering skills of the Dutch, which now sees the majority of their population living on land that once lay beneath the waves.
The biggest elevation threat to any cyclist are the bridges going over drains and railway lines….well, you can imagine the challenge they pose. I might have changed down a gear all of half a dozen times crossing this vast flat expanse
So, a delectable campsite near Kings Lynn is where I will rest my weary head tonight, but not before checking out the nearest “watering hole”….which I believe is called The Gate….and before you second-guess me, it is (of course) primarily for food! Banish those unkind thoughts……
Now I haven’t come over here just for the ride. If that had been the case, I would have chosen a route that might have seen some grinding of gears (and teeth)….somewhere like the Peak District or the Chilterns. But no, irrevocably, I have had to come over this way. Yes, on a bit of a mission……..d’yuh wanna find out why?
Stay with me for the next post…..;0)
There is no escaping this man Bryson. Everyone’s bookshelves will eventually reveal at least one copy of his books. And I have a fatal weakness for his style of writing, even though I find myself occasionally getting impatient with some of his flights of fancy, with sentences that suffer from over-intensive verbiage, and the knowledge that his memory can’t be so sharp as to remember, in box-camera kodachrome detail, all the nuances of his childhood. I know he makes some of it up…..but what the heck!
Staying in a friend’s house on the Yorkshire coast recently, I found a copy (amongst others) of The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and I had all of 36 hours to read it before we left to go home. But a great blessing in Bryson’s writing is that it usually makes for quick reading, and missing the odd detail here and there makes little difference to your appreciation of the subject matter.
It goes without saying that the Thunderbolt Kid was a childhood comic hero of Bryson’s, and whenever anything went awry in his life, he simply applied the powers of his super hero to solve the problem……which usually meant exterminating, in some prolonged and painful way, the person (or persons) who had caused him grief.
Bryson was a child of the 50s and 60s, and this volume is his attempt to paint a picture of life in the middle America of that period through the eyes of a child and teenager. Of course, being an adult when he pens the account makes him an unconvincing mouthpiece for his generation in the 50s and 60s, but Bryson is a word-artist, and the pictures he paints are both endearing and amusing.
If you like Bryson, this is worth adding to your reading list.
A major reason for going to any major product exhibition is usually to view the width and breadth of the product range, and to update yourself on the latest developments.
Our visit to the N.E.C. Cycle Show today saw us walk into a huge arena of hundreds of exhibitors, displaying everything from bicycle hubs and bearings to complete custom-builds costing £thousands.
Absorbing and distracting? Yes, absolutely………but we only spent imaginary money as we hovered around the stands, especially as I found my attention locking onto some of the titanium offerings from Kinesis and Van Nicholas. All very tempting…..
But behind the scenes, there were stories to listen to. On a stage in the corner of the hall, we heard first hand of the experiences of some of the riders in the recent Tour of Britain, both old hands and young ‘rookies’.
There was a technical session on how women can make the cycling experience more comfortable for themselves……but astonishingly, about a third of the audience were men (including me!…….but then I was only accompanying my wife….).
The most absorbing session, for me personally, was to listen to the inspiring story of James Golding. At the age of 28, he was diagnosed with cancer and, at one stage of his treatment, was given only a 5% chance of survival. His weight plummeted from 14 stones to 6 stones, and his treatment was long and painful. I won’t try to tell the story of the cycling endurance records he has attempted to break (and will break in the future) because you can read about them for yourself here, but he is a truly remarkable character. Not only is he a survivor of cancer (twice), but he has risen above his fear of death to push his body to the limits of endurance in pursuit of huge goals, and has raised in excess of £2m for cancer research.
In 2015, he hopes to set a new 7 day record, cycling in excess of 1,547 miles. And then to tackle the Round-the-World record of 108 days, riding in excess of 18,000 miles. As an endurance cyclist with much humbler goals, I was delighted to meet this man and listen to his story.
I will be telling the story of the thrills and spills of my 2,500 mile cycle trek to Istanbul at the Mandeville Hall, Kimbolton, Cambridgeshire on Friday September 26th at 7.30pm.
You are cordially invited to come and join us if you live nearby…….and if you really have to fly in from Australia or the US, the welcome will be so much warmer…. ;0)
Entry is free, and refreshments will be available.
Driffield to Bridlington to Filey 38 miles
Some people have cool jobs! Over our final full English breakfast of the trip, we chatted to a young ornithologist who was spending a few days in the area studying specie numbers on a given patch allocated to him. This meant that he had to get out of bed before dawn, drive for half an hour, and spend an hour observing and counting species and varieties of birds. We assumed he was having his second breakfast of the day. At first I thought he had an enviable way of making a living……but then I wasn’t considering the variable weather he would have to endure to complete his studies. Perhaps spending a lifetime in the classroom wasn’t such a bad option after all.
This was a day of crossing, and re-crossing the same railway line…..some 7 times in all, and it wasn’t always straightforward. Two of the crossings were closed to traffic, but allowed access to pedestrians and cyclists. Well, that’s all fine and dandy….but they hadn’t allowed for tandems! I mean, how do you get a tandem through two kissing gates…….? And yes, we had to unload the panniers and part-lift the machine over the barriers. Hey ho…….the trials and tribulations of double bikers.
One of the delights en route to Bridlington was stopping at the Manor House of Burton Agnes, where we found one of the most perfect tearoom terraces. It was tempting to linger longer in the pleasant surroundings, but we decided to look around the medieval Manor House, cared for by English Heritage, and free to enter. An unexpected little bonus.
And so to Bridlington, where we found that the signs marking the finishing post were exactly the same as the ones across the other side of the country, in Morecambe. We coincided with two chaps who had just finished the same route, and they were beginning to ponder: what next? I dangled the prospect of doing LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats) in front of them, but they thought it sounded a bit too tough. But then they were still feeling the aches and pains of the ride just completed……
Then joy of joys, we may have completed the Way of the Roses, but we had saddled ourselves with an extra 12 miles to Filey, having been kindly offered the use of a holiday cottage by a friend and former pupil. It turned out to be a beautifully refurbished (and extended) fisherman’s cottage, with a bait house that perfectly fitted the tandem, and a bedroom view of the sun rising over the sea. As I opened my eyes on the first morning, I was greeted by an autumnal sun rising through the mist over the water.
Dunnington to Driffield 43 miles
One thing you must understand about the National Cycle Network……it seldom takes the shortest route to a given destination. Why? Well, you could say that cycling between any two points should be about the quality of the experience and not about the speed of arrival…….I know some will say that is a moot point, but SUSTRANS (the charity that creates and maintains these routes) seems to have a clear philosophy…..which is borne out by the indirectness of many of their routes.
Today’s was a case in point. A Googlemap cycle route shows that it should be no more than 28 miles, but the SUSTRANS option takes you off-road and on huge dog’s legs, keeping to minor roads. At one point, Driffield was only 8
miles away (according to a signpost), but 15 miles later, we found ourselves entering the outskirts of the town.
No sooner had we left Dunnington, we found ourselves heading east on Route 66. I think it was no accident that SUSTRANS chose to christen this Route 66: like its more famous sibling it runs east to west (Spurn Head to Manchester), but I am sure it has never been used as an important migratory route in the demographic history of this country. I could be mistaken.
Going through Stamford Bridge made us realise that we have passed a lot of battlefields in the last few days. If King Harrold had not had to rush north in 1066 to stamp down a rebellion led by his brother Tostig, who knows what the outcome of the Battle of Hastings would have been. The history of the last 1000 years of this country could have had a very different complexion. And I know many would say ‘for the worse’…….
As we headed further east, we were reminded that climbing was not just a thing of the Pennines….we had the Yorkshire Wolds to climb over. Not as brutally steep as the Pennines, but there were some long arduous climbs. And as we were recovering from our exertions in a garden centre tearoom, our attention was caught by this mural of the Way of the Roses. We liked it so much we enquired about the availability of paper copies……but no, the mural had cost them £400, but it was just that……a painting on a wall.
When we arrived in Driffield, I was intrigued by the name of our accommodation: Hotel 41. Disappointingly, however, the number simply referred to its door number: 41 Market Square. But you can imagine our further ‘disappointment’ when they informed us our room was being decorated, and would we mind having an upgrade? I do like the dry humour of Yorkshire people.
Boroughbridge to Dunnington 30 miles
Unbelievably, we had the prospect of a whole day without any significant hills! And what’s more, the breeze was in our favour…..surely we hadn’t died in the night and gone to cycling heaven?
The pace was brisk, we followed the Ouse in the direction of York, when I remembered there was a café on the site of old railway sidings near Shipton. We found it, sat in the conservatory, and vacantly watched trains speed by along the East Coast line. But this was no ordinary café……..it was also a restaurant and B&B….but the accommodation for both was in old train carriages that had been specially refurbished. I wondered if a night’s stay included the rhythm a sway of a train in motion, and the clickety clack of the rails under-wheel…..now that would have been original.
When we arrived in York, to continue the theme of railways, we spent 3 very enjoyable hours loitering with intent in the National Railway Museum. Not only can you enjoy a meal in a re-creation of a restaurant car, but you can also go for a guided tour of the famous royal carriages, and if your stomach is in order, enjoy a simulated experience of the Mallard breaking the world steam locomotive record of 126 mph. When we read the long list of precautions (heart problems, high blood pressure, pregnancy…….etc) we wondered if anyone actually ever qualified to enter the capsule…….
And then a quick zoom into the centre of York to have one of those very irritating “we woz ‘ere” photos taken outside the Minster, and then we battled our way out of the city, joining the homeward surge of commuter traffic, to find our overnight stay outside the village of Dunnington, and later to join our friends David and Marion for an evening meal. Perhaps the best day of the ride so far.
Pateley Bridge to Boroughbridge 27 miles
Breakfast this morning revealed a group of cyclists who were doing the Way as a supported ride….in other words, they had a sag-wagon carrying their luggage, and a leader arranging café stops and meals in the evening, as well as all the accommodation. We chatted to a lady in the group (riding a small-wheeled Alex Moulton) who was feeling the strain of being over-organised…..which only served to confirm for us that doing these rides independently is the best way. Or in the words of the pessimist: “you make your bed and lie on it”. Well, given that we had just spent 8 hours lying on a super-comfortable bed, it was now time to consume the full English and get back on the road.
So, were the big climbs now behind us? Well……kind of, but not quite. One more remained, over Brimham Rocks, and I knew it well……I had climbed it only two weeks before on my solo, and I knew it was going to be touch-and-go on the tandem. And sure enough it was….so for one final time (?), we dismounted, but this time safe in the knowledge that the rest of the day would be a ‘breeze’…….after all, there would be several miles of descent to the Ouse valley and, of course, we all know that rivers never flow uphill……..
A refreshment stop at Fountains Abbey saw us join a ‘confluence of tandems’, which I craftily inspected while the owners were putting miles back into their legs inside the café. Very nice machines, indeed. Two Santanas and a Thorn…….roughly with a combined value of some £25,000. Yes, we are talking about serious investments here…….not the sort of things you randomly leave outside of cafés without a secure lock. And when the owners emerged to mount their steeds, they all had the air of being life-long thoroughbred tandemists…….there was effortless coordination in their mounting and taking off, and an ease about their style of riding.
We couldn’t pass through Ripon without paying a visit to the Cathedral, and had heard beforehand that it was hosting an exhibition of local artists. I have to say that our attention was captivated as much by the art as by the building…..the two together made for a fascinating hour.
And so to Boroughbridge, close to the scene of the famous battle of 1322 between Edward II and his rebellious barons, and roughly the halfway point of our own ‘battle’ of the Way of the Roses. And the sun was shining……..
Giggleswick to Pateley Bridge 30 miles
To have only one wet day on the entire ride, but for that day to be the biggest climbing day……..where’s the justice in that? We gingerly set foot outside only to be greeted by the dull, grey promise of what was to accompany us for the rest of the day. On went the rain tops,
and the day’s ride was to take us to the highest point of the entire route, 1300 feet, at Greenhow hill (just outside Pateley Bridge). As promised by the local man at the bar, the climb out of Settle was murderous. No way could we ride it on the tandem. Even young fit riders were walking, pushing their solos. But this was just the start of things to come……
The Pennine hills usually have a nasty sting in their tails. Every time you go around a bend, hoping the climb is about to end, you realise it is only a false summit. On one occasion, we were at our limit, slowly grinding our way to the top of a long drag. Around the bend was a suggestion that we were topping out…..but no, the climb uncomprehendingly continued for as far as the eye could see. We had hit our limit……. Jenny (bless her) had a few moments of tears, but quickly recovered, and we hauled the tandem to the top.
And when you look for the payback, the welcome descent after the long climbs, it can be disheartening to discover the drop is just too steep for a laden tandem that relies entirely on two V brakes for its stopping power. The drop down into Pateley Bridge approached 20% at times so, guess what? Instead of throwing caution to the wind and hurtling down into the town, we actually had to walk down much of the descent. Adding insult to injury?
However, the saving grace at the end of the day was to check into the Harefield Hall hotel in Pateley Bridge, discover we had a room with panoramic views over the open countryside and, after a challenging wet day, find we could sit by a blazing log fire and let the warmth of the flames soothe away the aches and pains. And the tandem? We simply wheeled it, over beautiful carpets, into the one of the front lounges of the hotel…….spoil the tandem, spoil the customers.
And tomorrow was to be another day……..
The wanderers have returned. In many ways, this has been an epic journey, especially for Jenny. It is 33 years since she has done a multi-day unsupported tandem ride of this length. Why so long? Well, I’m sure there are a few good stories to tell there, but suffice to say ‘life just got in the way’.
This was not going to be like one of my own solo treks. It was not going to be a mad dash over the Pennines, ‘busting a gut’ to get to Bridlington in two days, by-passing everything of interest on the way. It was calculated to give both of us a good daily work-out, but with time to have relaxing stops for refreshments, pay the odd visit to passing landmarks, and stay comfortably in a B&B at the end of the day. I wanted Jenny to finish this trip with a sense of achievement, but with a smile on her face……… ;0)
We shared the planning: I sorted out the logistics of the ride itself, the projected stopping points, and how to get to and from the start and finish (always a problem with linear routes, especially with a tandem). Jenny sorted out the accommodation which, given that it coincided with the first week of term, should have been easy……but far from it. September is the time for the silver generation to head off on late summer breaks, so there was much competition for just about everything.
Day 1 Morecambe to Giggleswick 37 miles
It was just by chance that we met Gary at the start of the ride. He happened to be one of the volunteer route designers for Sustrans, and he was waiting for a colleague to arrive to confirm a bridge closure on the route. Thanks to him, we set off forewarned of a diversion which could have made a big difference to the projected day’s mileage.
The first ten miles were a delight, following dedicated cycle paths along the River Lune. At the Crook o’Lune, we climbed away from the river and started heading up into Bowland Forest. This was where the serious climbing began, but not before negotiating this odd tunnel that seemed to be designed for a badger run rather than a cycle route
Astonishingly, we managed to climb a 16% hill, but then thought the better of such lung-busting exertion when more such hills presented themselves. There’s no shame in walking. Many solo riders were doing the same. If you have never ridden a tandem, you need to know there is a law of physics which will limit your success at climbing hills but, conversely, that same law will see you descending at break-neck speeds, hurtling down much faster than the average solo rider and, sometimes, much faster than your brakes will safely permit.
And so to Giggleswick, just outside Settle, to the Craven Arms, where they were able to squeeze our tandem into their shed, and provide us with a comfortable room. Chatting to one of the locals in the bar, we were quietly informed of the challenges of the next day’s route. The climb out of Settle, he told us, is difficult even in a car! But more of that in the next post…….
One of the great benefits of using an e-Reader is the quick availability of foreign language texts. I remember waiting several weeks for Spanish books to arrive from source, but now I can access them in seconds, and carry several around without adding volume and weight to what I carry, other than the reading device itself.
This over-view of the history of Spain in the 20th century is much more than an ‘everyman’s version’, diluted and simplified to attract a wider readership. It takes us from the rural, agricultural economy in the late 19th century through to Spain’s integration into NATO and the EEC in the late 20th century. Through the upheaval in politics in the 1920s, the devastating period of the civil war 1936-39, the brutal aftermath followed by nearly 40 years of authoritarian government……then it emerges in the late 1970s into the gradual process of democratization, the shedding of the painful memories of repression, and the growth of a country with a new constitution into the country we know today.
The narrative has pace. Many of the less digestible details of politics are made accessible. The reader is taken deftly to the conclusion that Spain is now ready ‘to remember’ its recent past, now that the generations caught up in the struggle have passed away.
Some of the most celebrated English naturalists seldom strayed far from their homes to make their astonishing discoveries. On my cycle route to Santiago de Compostela a couple of years ago, I chanced by the home of Gilbert White in Selbourne, Hampshire, and learned that through painstaking observation of the behaviour of swallows in his own village, he concluded that they migrated to other lands during the winter. From that seed of observation sprouted the theory that many species of birds (and animals) followed the same patterns of behaviour.
Charles Darwin, the man celebrated for having the wisdom to unwrap the mysteries of evolution, spent 40 years living in Downe House with his wife and children. Apart from his 5 years travelling the globe with HMS Beagle, the bulk of his study took place in his home, and out on the 18 acres of land purchased with the house.
He spent 40 years patiently observing and conducting experiments, and the theory of evolution was only one of hundreds of theories that emanated from that small domestic environment. In fact, one of his major studies concerned the huge impact of the humble earthworm on the well-being of the planet. The last book he published before his death contained the results of his life-long study of the worm…….and this from a man who was being celebrated (and vilified) the world over for the ‘earthquake’ he caused amongst the thinking classes.
Darwin had the wisdom to publish and then withdraw to the peace and quiet of his home environment, allowing the intellectuals of his time to ‘clear up the mess’. So it is astonishing to discover that his theory of evolution, in the hands of opposing intellectuals of the time, was used to justify the arguments of opposite camps.
‘Social Darwinists’, on the one hand, argued in favour of the theory of ‘the survival of the fittest’ being applied directly to human society: allow the weak and the poor to die off, and the strongest and wealthiest will propagate the earth. (The foundation of the Nazi final solution…..?). On the other hand, Karl Marx himself embraced the theory in proposing the class struggle. If the poor and the weak are likely to suffer and die at the hands of the rich and powerful, then they should rise up and fight for survival.
If you visit Downe House in Kent, allow a whole day to take in the length and the breadth of this fascinating house. More than just a home to the Darwin family, it was the laboratory from which new thinking was to change the way we viewed the world.
They came out in their ‘droves’ today………
No doubt it had something to do with everybody being back from their summer holidays, it being the last Sunday of August and the sun happened to be shining……..all little (but important) factors in the process of deciding whether or not to climb on that bike after an early breakfast.
As I normally do, I headed directly out to the café-stop to meet up with the groups, thus neatly avoiding adding the extra 20 miles to St Ives, and then only to find the route actually goes through my own village on the way out……..
Most Sundays there seem to be 2-3 groups, riding at their respective speeds, and the café seldom has more than 20-25 to serve. Today, however, there seemed to be 5 groups, plus a few independents like myself, and the Old Barn garden in Wadenhoe turned into a sea of red……..
I think the staff were somewhat stretched to serve the 40-50 that turned up, when they were only expecting about 20. But……it was all good for business. I am convinced that the regular business that cycling clubs bring to country tearooms keeps them thriving. And long may it last……