I have become stuck in a rut. For months now when I have headed out on my bicycle it has been to the same place. The same 3 mile climb, the same 2 mile descent (that’s right, I live in the French Alps) the same fields, the same sheep, the same horses. Don’t get me wrong, I like that route. And that’s the problem. For a while now, I have hardly been out in the countryside, and when I have it’s been 9 miles north, a coffee at the same deli in the same small town, and back home again. Beautiful views, for sure – but they’re the same views.
In the 2000s I was also a creature of habit; but I had a several rides that I would go on regularly. The routes were out of a couple of cycling rides books that I had. Then, at some point the books got forgotten in a drawer somewhere and I set off elsewhere. Sometime last year I found one of the books. The pages were curled at the corners, some stuck together. Browsing in a bookshop a few weeks later I came across a copy. That copy replaced the dog – eared one in the drawer (can someone please explain?) A few weeks ago I came across it. I chose a route that I hadn’t been on for, what must have been nearly 10 years, took the train out to a station on the route and wheeled my bike out onto the pavement. The station was familiar enough, but which direction do I take? I had the sense to ask a passer by and off I set. The route was vaguely familiar, I had to refer to my route book every few miles. I had completely forgotten – but managed to complete – the mile long climb halfway through. I clattered through the last few miles to catch the one – an – hour train back home.
I felt exhilarated
I had gone back to somewhere, done something I had no done for years. I returned to a place I had discarded. I will be there again. I will ride other pages of that book, too. And soon. And before I ride out 9 miles north to the deli again.
Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?
Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.
Lots of folk live on their wits:
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers;
Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
they seem to like it.
Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets – and yet
No one actually starves.
Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on:
For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,
And will never allow me to blarney
My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.
I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both.
Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)