The Stang

There was a slightly southern theme to my August bike riding with trips to London and the South Coast without terribly much in between so it’s good to be back on my own turf. The air maybe cooler than I remember and the hills have definitely got steeper since I left them but equally the fells have got lovelier from being away from them and the downhills more exhilarating. It’s like falling in love all over again, if love made your legs hurt…

Gangplank Style

During the recent temporary relocation of global media headquarters to a wi-fi free location on the south coast I was standing on a beach looking out over the English Channel, desperately trying to pick up a whiff of moules marinières or a few bars of La Mer from over the horizon when I got chatting to some local fella and he said, gesturing to the sea, ‘I bet you’re not used to all this, coming from up north’. I explained that the North does indeed have a coastline and I had seen the ocean before. I didn’t like to ask him if he realised that we were in fact living on an island and the water typically kind of goes all the way around in such cases, nor if he had heard of the likes of Cook and Collingwood in a maritime history rather than a cricketing context. Anyhow, these old ships are great, not for the military stuff but for the glimpse into the lives of the ordinary folks, everybody living, working, eating and sleeping so close together like a kind of heavily armed floating youth hostel but with fewer rules. So much of our preserved tangible history is National Trust Downton Abbey themeparkland that often only when they are getting shot at does even the existence of anyone without a title ever get remembered and even if these vessels were designed solely to blast each other out of the water and life on them was harder than we could even imagine today they still possess a certain style, especially, like so much else, when set against a background of their modern counterparts.

Canal Dreams

Running secretly, silently, almost unseen through the suburbs of southern commuterland is the fifty kilometre by five metre strip of tranquility which is the restored Basingtoke Canal. Canals in the North of England can a brutal affair; blasted through hillsides, bounded by industry, an early battle between man and the landscape but this is a more sedate rural meander through gentle country, more of a compromise than a conflict between us and nature. That isn’t to say this arcadian scene hasn’t seen friction. The eighteenth century constructors ran up against unenthusiastic landowners, had the german army landed on the south coast in 1940 this would have been the site of our last stand, the volunteers who restored the canal in the nineteen eighties with the dream of reinstating a working waterway found their intentions hampered by public authorities who declared the canal a nature reserve and today, as in many places, I expect the towpath doesn’t always easily accomodate the wheeled and non-wheeled users of it’s narrow track. Fortunately easy-to-squeeze-by drop handlebars, a tourist’s slow pace and concern not to upset the natives and looking even less like the characters who adorn the covers of cycling magazines than normal meant I never exchanged any words other than good afternoon with folks out for a stroll except for when I stopped some distance short of a lady pushing an old fella in a wheelchair who, after a grinning mexican stand-off worthy only of the lamest spaghretti western you ever saw insisted I come on through promising faithfully she wouldn’t push me in the water. Who knows, maybe there is still a chance we can all get along with one another after all.