Recently, I saw two sleek, lycra – clad men turning the pedals of their titanium racing bikes up the hill by my house, that leads to the countryside. I was several metres behind them. Did they spot my lingering gaze as they turned their heads briefly to check on the traffic behind them? If they did, who did they see? A cyclist, sure. One who’s riding a tourer, the kind of bike that means that this is not a machine that is only used to pop out to the shops. Either way, I don’t suppose that they wouldn’t have given me a second thought.
I’ve been thinking about them ever since.
A little background information would be useful at this point. Regular readers will be well aware that I live and ride on the south coast of England, fifty miles south of London. Some of you may also have picked up on the fact that I am a practicing Jew. While living where we do has much to recommend it, the Jewish life here is not as vibrant as it is in London, say. My Long Suffering Spouse has a Long Term (ish) Plan to move back to north London, something to which I am not opposed. But there are practicalities other than the whereabouts of synagogue at which I would feel at home to consider. Most notably, for a cyclist, how far away is the countryside? A couple of years ago we stayed in north London to go shopping for Passover (O.K. that’s a whole other topic that I am not getting into here.) We met up with friends who have bikes, and I asked them how far away the countryside was. ‘Ten miles,’ was the reply.
My heart sank that far at the thought of it. I can ride through 9 miles of countryside from my front door to a tea shop in a village. To have to navigate 10 miles of London’s roads to see grass and trees, never mind sheep and horses! What I saw in those cyclists I mentioned at the beginning of this post was 2 people who had had to cycle some distance to get to my neighbourhood, to reach the countryside. The sight of them made feel anxious about our projected future plans. We lived in London (although we never cycled there.) I am excited at the thought of leading a more energetic Jewish life. But miles of roads where the only green on view is part of a traffic light? I find myself trying to calculate the time it wold take to get to the countryside from various points in north London. I usually stop after about 3 uphill miles at the beginning of a ride. That’s about 25 minutes pedalling in the countryside from my house.
So, I’m worried about the future.
Since that conversation I have had others. They haven’t helped, either. I mentioned the business of being 10 miles from the countryside to another friend. She was excited to show me that, really close to her house, there was a traffic – free cycle path that goes through a wood. Her enthusiasm haunts me still.
The World is Too Much with Us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)