Between the months just passed when the sun sets when I’m already in bed and the months to come when it sets in the middle of the afternoon when I’m at work and I only get to see it at weekends like a divorced parent there are nights like tonight when we’re in the same place at the same time. It only happens for a couple of weeks before we go our separate ways again so got to take a moment to take it all in just in case it doesn’t come around again for a while
In the handful of weeks between around about the autumn equinox or maybe the August bank holiday or perhaps sometime in between and some time before the day when the return of GMT shunts what daylight remains to these islands over winter to well before most of its citizens finish their working day is a short period when darkness falls at a time that is it is available to some of us at least, sometimes, to watch it happen without skipping work early or staying up a bit too late for a school night. It is as satisfying to be out as the day turns to night as it is to be around for the reverse process. A kind of calm descends on the fells; livestock seems less skittish, hobbit-footed grouse venture from the heather to pad around the grazed-short road verges, the soft rustle of breeze through bronze leaved branches or a stoney-bedded beck tumbling down an unseen gully come to the foreground of the senses, the echo pings of bats hoovering up bugs bounce unheard around the sky, and then there are owls; the to-wit-to-woo from the woods of the tawny variety, the silhouhette of the short-eared version gliding gracefully across the rough grassland it timeshares with the miltary training school or the one that hangs around barns, rare as it is becoming, underwings white and a yard across catching the light leaking from a bike headlight like the ghosts they were once thought to be. Soon all this will happen unseen, during the week at least, and evening bike rides, starting out in the dark as they will be, as dependent on will power and motivation as on time or weather or being able to find my left hand glove, although having a certain strange appeal will be by comparison joyless utilitarian affairs but these glorious few weeks, nearly over now, of seeing the day to the end are to be made the most of while they last.
Upon speculating whether a move to the southern hemisphere for six months would be one way of preserving the long days now fast becoming a wistful memory a bit of research revealed a slightly restricted choice of holiday home locations at fifty four south, the likely seasonal neighbours being some gauchos on the Tierra Del Fuego or the penguins of South Georgia. Although the spanish I picked up from Gustavo in Breaking Bad
might be enough to ensure I didn’t spend too much time trying to entrar through the salida door the prospects for an english stranger affecting a questionable chilean accent in Argentina might make a diet of raw sardines at the arse end of the Falklands the price that has to be paid for the dream of late night sun so for this year at least it’s looking like I’m stuck in the dark with the rest of the northern half of humanity like Huis Clos
with the lights turned out. It’s not over yet though. Although they may be selling out fast with no resupply due till spring there are a few evening glimpses of daylight left on the shelf so I will drink slowly and deeply, savouring every drop. Don’t need to go far, don’t need to go fast, just need to go out, to see the day through, to say don’t be away too long.
The road is closed at one end so tonight it’s just me and the sheep and the blissful warm still silence of the end of summer.
Yorkshire writer Simon Armitage wrote a poem Evening
about the passing of time, and of life. You should check out his stuff. He writes as he speaks; softly and with thought. It’s getting late in the summer now. Dusk falls earlier and by increasing increments each day. It’s still not properly dark until nine of a night but it’s the sense of movement, of the direction of travel, accompanied by those few extra degrees of coolness on an early morning or late afternoon that have the effect, the journey not the predictable and familiar destination. The awareness and sensation of the passing of time is one of the joys of spending a lot of time outdoors, and one of the poignancies at the same time; like alcohol it accentuates the mood it finds you in, lifts the high, the positive, the optimistic and accentuates the low, the melancholy, the reflective. There were a lot of bike riders out this evening. I don’t know whether they were experiencing a ‘crikey let’s get out there quick because in a few weeks it’ll be pitch dark and freezing cold at this time in the evening’ kind of vibe or if the ‘it’s still August, it’s warm, it’s light for ages so let’s make the most of it’ call was what they were answering. Probably they’re like me, the same awareness as every other day of the lateness of summer, but whether riding with sense of grim urgency or of joyful seizure of the moment very much depending on where they are in terms of the rest of their life; work, family and all that other less important than riding their bike stuff.
This time last weekend I’d just arrived in London for a large ‘Olympic Legacy’ bike ride from the retro-soviet grandiosity of the old Olympic Campus in the East End out into the Surrey suburbs and back into town for a grand finish on The Mall. It was a great ride; a ‘big day out’ feel, wide city boulevards closed to traffic, people supporting the ride from the roadside and loads and loads of bikes and bikeriders but one thing I didn’t seem to share with the other participants was my disappointment at the ride being shortened at the last minute because there was some rain forecast. Alot of southern riders saw this as an opportunity to get a faster average time and to miss out what to me are very minor bits of uphillness but to them seem to be some kind of forbidding mountain range. Southern riders were also perhaps less concerned as they hadn’t had to travel very far or pay for hotels and with income differentials between London and the North East being what they are the entry fee was probably not a lot of money to them. Coming from a part of the country where folks like to get what they’ve paid for and where hills and bad weather are a part of normal life whether you ride a bike or not seemed to set me apart quite distinctly from the locals down there, even the bike riding ones, in a way which I found quite surprising at an event for people with whom I appeared to have so much in common. Sadly I ride fast for the wind in my hair not the time on a clock, I ride up hills for the heart beating out of my chest and for being closer to the sky, not for the strava segment, and I ride at all to be outdoors, whatever is happening outdoors at the time, not to get a sun tan, so I don’t really seem to fit in down south.
It’s strange because on the face of it London ‘gets’ cycling: there are blue-painted bike lanes on some busy roads, little boxes at traffic lights for bikes to stop in, you can take your bike on the train across town much more easily than around my neck of the woods and they organise the biggest bike ride in the country. I think however that non-cycling southerners are not perhaps so accepting of sharing the highway with bikes as they are here at home where folks are used to stuff on the road which isn’t neccesarily going at 60mph in the same direction them; sheep, cows, horses, tractors, combine harvesters, ramblers, deer, cyclists, squaddies on foot or in large and very slow military vehicles, fallen trees and collapsed stone walls in the winter, and at this summer holiday time of year lost tourists lugging huge camper vans and caravans around the narrow lanes desperately prodding the sat-nav for inspiration and there isn’t the level of anti-cycling sentiment that you hear about down south, although there is a bit it has to be said. Drivers and people in general round here, mostly, even if they don’t get cycling per se get being outdoors and get that driving in real life is a constant negotiation with others and that the empty roads beloved of car adverts are not what you are ever going to get in real life. A city like London where there’s so much conflict, despite all the apparent advantages offered to cyclists, can’t really be said to get cycling and the organisers of a bike ride who shorten (and nearly cancel if the web chitchat is to be believed which I appreciate sometimes it isn’t) the ride because it might rain are a million miles from getting cycling as I know and love it.
It was great to visit London last weekend, it’s a terrific city in so many ways, but it’s good to be back home. Home is what this post is intended to be celebrating rather than being a stereotypical northern moan about soft southerners which is why I have put up these pictures from my ride this morning and home, as Christian Morgenstern said, is not just about where you live, it’s about where they understand you and I don’t think they really get, either geographically or philosophically, where I’m coming from down in the big city.
It’s good to go fast and feel the wind in your hair but sometimes you don’t even need to be moving at all; just sit on your bike on a windy day and watch the cloud shadows crossing the fells; the perfect antidote to watching all those serious looking folks rushing around Glasgow on their bikes in the rain today, well, the perfect antidote to lots of things really.