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Sunday, 25 March 2012

On Zombies and Cycling.....

Just back from a few days cycling with my Dad in the Cotswolds.

For those not native to the UK, this is an area of outstanding natural beauty and ancient villages, often made from Cotswold stone which seems to change colour with the season- orange in the spring, pink in the summer, grey in the winter. A bit like a woman who uses a sunbed. Except she's always in Spring. And other failed analogies.

This post isn't much more than a travelogue with photos, but I did have some profound thoughts as I went around.

Fathers and sons

Its good for sons to be with fathers. At every stage of their life, and especially when adults. I try and see my Dad every year, for at last a long weekend. We have a unique sense of humour and the unrefined strain we use on ourselves, mainly because nobody else would get it, or they would be offended. And root memory family stories surface. Heres two involving my maternal Grandparents; just after the end of WW2, my grandparents were living in Letchworth. Locally interned German prisoners of war were allowed to go house to house selling toys they had made from wood and bits of metal. Some genuis let them do this in their German uniforms, minus insignia. So of course when two of then knoced on my grandma's door trying to sell cottonwheel tanks, she screamed. She thought Hitler had launched a new offensive. It was just humerous the thought of my little Irish grandmother screaming at these two worried German ex stormtroopers. And then Mrs Tizner, this Austrain woman who lived two doors up (what are the odds- seriously? And why wasnt she in an internment camp? I think because she was so scary), starts berating them in their mother tongue and they leg it. I felt really sorry for them, actually. I wont tell you the punchline my dad and I added.

Hi, is that Mr Smythe? No, they're not selling. Can I take my helmet off, at least?

The other story is that because my grandma was Irish, from County Cork, she was seen as possible hostile to the British Empire. And thus apparently, and dont ask me how they found out, a Nazi spy approached her at Winchester railway station and asked her to work for the Nazis! She duly shouted for a policeman and he melted away. I never heard how she explained it to the Policeman.

Third, bonus story. In about 1937 my grandma worked in a photo development lab in Letchworths iconic Spirella building. Her boss was a German who was very pro Hitler, and he left soon after to fight for the Third Reich. In a hilarious turn of fate, he was captured almost immediately by the British Expeditionary Force in France, and ended up in a local prisoner of war camp just up the road. Images of the Tango "that went well, I thought" slogan there.

Empty Cotswold villages

We cycled through all these amazing Cotswold villages. But nearly all of them were utterley deserted. I thought at one stage that here had been a zombie apocalypse and the next shop we went into to buy water would end in me having to ram my Kona Dew hybrid into the cranium of undead Mrs Miggins, cake shoppe proprietor, undead. Fortunately it wasnt the case. But what I suspect was the case is that these vilages have become so expensive to live in, only London lawyers can. And they work such long hours that the places are deserted nearly all the time. Its an indictment on British society and a cancer on social capital when local people and their children vanish from the land. Mind you, I know of a village called Ashwell where this doesn't seem to be the case. People I went to college with all still live there, althlough there the problem is reversed- they never leave the pub.



Root vegatable honesty stall- for Zombies?





Drunken Gothic?




No one lived here......



Kindness of strangers

An amazing thing happened on day one. I had cycled a mile from our accommodation, the superbly named "Hollow Bottom "pub when I found my bike wobbling. It wasnt the vodka I poured on my shredded wheat. My back wheel had buckled. I think it had happened pulling my son in his bike trailer to school, and having a "Dad crash" crash negotiating a bridge. Dad crashes are accidents that wouldnt happen to children in the care of their mothers. It involves accidents with toys, dogs, empty buildings you were told not to go into, and new toys their mothers wouldnt have bought them. Like the mini Moto, the petrol powered Monoploy set, or the sentient teddy. Anyway.

The wheel got worse and worse until I could hear clown music wafting across the fields. We were in the middle of nowhere, and about 5 miles out of Broadway, where I hoped there was a bike shop. My Dad asked this man talking to another man over a gate if he knew of a bike ship in Broadway, but the man said there wasn't. The nearest was Cheltenham, staffed by intelligent trail nerds who sucked their teeth when you asked them to do any work and quoted insane prices because its Cheltenham. Or there was another with the prospect of Service Today (Trade mark) but you had to go to Stroud and meet a series of Alpha Male pushbike mechanics. After pushing through a line of mountain bikers with six packs. By the time you got them to hoist your bike on the celing rack to start work, you had lost your mojo because you feel fat and old. What I'm saying is our bike ride that day was almost certainly off, or at least delayed three hours.

Then something incredible happened. This man- Rob- offered us his own bike! To use for the day!

I felt the answer "no" bubble up. No because I'm introvert and the emotional energy needed to interact with kindness of this was in the red. No because it invaded my "Im a bloke" thing. My problems are mine to solve, even if it involved not solving them and not riding. And mainly because I'm used to (often) being nice to people and trying to be a blessing, but I'm too proud and too set in routine to receive. I heard God say "accept this" almost audibly. So I did.




We walked about 200 metres back up the lane and into a lovely detached Cotswold house. And lo and behold, past the lovely Land Rover Defender Diesel, was the white Schwin of salvation.

Schwinns are American and quite rare in this country. It turned out Rob used to live there. He hadnt used the bike in a year or so, but the last thing he had done was service it. I was saved. He pumped up the tire, I leant my Kona against his wall, and we were off. It was a great bike and it did the job.

You just dont see kindness like this anymore. I was moved. And from the only human I had seen in miles!

I was, and am, so thankful, because otherwise my day with my dad was ruined. If you're reading this, Rob, thanks again.

The Old Church

We stopped at this amazing old church (see the pictures). People have been worshipping here since prior to the Norman Conquest, I would hazard. Thats a lot of prayer and nice stuff in one small building. It was cool and refreshing in there and I loved the simplicity and the great wall drawings, which would have been vivid when first painted.












What we miss in the rat race/ what blesses life/ whats in the woods

My last thought was just this heading, really. Every day in work we miss this beautiful country, and all that goes on. We work far too long hours in a far too pressurised job to live in cotswold cottages, but ironically we cant really experience them because when we finally get home its dark, and the weekend is spent shopping in a city and then working from home in a beautiful kitchen next to an Aga we never have time to fire up. My Dad bought me a book as a belated birthday present called "Timeless Simplicity; Creative Living In A Consumer Society" (from Stroud- where else). Its about having less and enjoying more- something I have began to do.

I mean- who wants to pay £960 for a rusty pub sign?

Zoom on the price tag...


Whats in your local woods? So far I have found parts of a morris Minor, possibly parts of a Truimph Spitfore, old bricks, a sink, an old motorbike, an old BMX, a ruined toilet block, an abandoned tennis court. And peace.

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