One thing which perhaps helps to distinguish England’s north east from some other parts of the country is the sky, also our balance of payments surplus in manufacturing, so two things, and when we go out for tea it’s because we like the food and not because the restaurant is owned by some gurning celebrity cokehead off the telly, three things then, but the sky must be one of the main ones. Other places have sky too but sometimes it’s not as obvious and visible and the north east has recently received official confirmation of the sky’s general quality and awesomeness. Of course that whole dark skies star gazing reserve thing is very much centred up in Northumberland and essentially all it means is the county council there is too tight to turn on any of the streetlights. In my own area though we contribute to the science of intergalactic study in our own way by riding around with bike lights which are bright enough to be seen by astronomers on other planets. I’m sure I should be getting a grant for that or something. Maybe if I ever set up my own bike racing team using my encylopeadic knowledge of the professional scene it will have the word sky in the name and I’ll make a few bob that way.
I haven’t seen much of the sky recently, mainly because I took the bike down to BBC headquarters and have been riding around its deserted corridors while they have all been in South Africa. It’s not just me that misses the sun. Lack of familiarity with the concept of sunshine led to advisory articles in the local press when the weather turned warm for a spell back in the summer reassuring local people not to be alarmed and go calling the Ministry of Defence UFO hotline. This certain disappointment amongst north east folk with the star we orbit is possibly why we are so keen to see if there are any better ones a bit further away. It also means we get quite excited when our absentee giver of all warmth and light does make an appearance. On Thursday there was a quite spectacular sunrise, a real humdinger (genuine meteorlogical term), an all encompassing glowy pinkness which seemed to wrap around us from horizon to horizon instead of just teasing us from somewhere out over the North Sea as it usually does. ‘Did you see the sky this morning?!’ asked the person with whom I share my life when there is no cycling on TV when I got home from work. ‘Did you see the sky yesterday morning?!’ asked my boss as we drove to a Friday meeting in the bossmobile, which is like my car except stuff doesn’t fall off it if it goes over forty five.
Hoping there would still be some sky this weekend when I had some time to hang out with it at more length I rode out expectantly on my bike. It didn’t look hopeful. I rode up through the string of little villages that follow the line of the big east-west road as it heads off over the hill but which remain unknown to the wagons and caravans heading to Cumbria and it was cloudy, then I rode up the hill which climbs through the dreary conifer plantation between nowhere in particular and nowhere else very important and it was grey, then I headed down into the valley which joins onto my valley and it was gloomy but then just before turning onto the last bit of road which leads down to the main drag which takes me home the sun came out. The light shone coruscatingly perpendicular to the angle of the hillside on the high eastern bank, bathing every contour, every terrace, every hillock and hollow, every stone wall, every boulder, every brown patch of dead bracken, every shivering bare hawthorn, every grey abandoned level, tip and hush, every particle of chimney smoke from the farm between the road and the fell, and every tired, fed up and disillusioned bike rider on their way home in that glorious warm fabric-conditioner-advert softness that only the December sun can give. Half an hour later it was raining, not long after that it was dark.