The Return of the Whetted Knife

As I am sure you will know, this was John Masefield’s description of the wind in Sea Fever – a poem memorably parodied by Weekending in a critique of Sellafield way back in the sea frets of time (which you will recall gust with plutonium dust in that Cumbrian town).

Wind has been much on my mind over the last few days, and not as a result of any gastric infelicities on my part.

In my last couple of days in Wales I experienced – and in large part enjoyed – some really serious wind speeds when at altitude (so probably wouldn’t count if the wind has its own Stout-sponsored book of records).  I decided that this wind, in my then role as a hiker, should be classified as “bracing” – though in my role as cyclist, my views would have been rather earthier (and could lose this blog its family-friendly rating).  This did cause me to wonder where “bracing” might fit on the Beaufort Scale – I’m thinking somewhere in the force 8 to 9 range (at least for relatively modest temporal exposure). Certainly, the wind was sufficient to render a middle-aged man entirely cobweb free.

The wind seems to have followed me home, as it has been rather breezy of late in South Cambs – and today, rather excitingly, really quite wet (though my green plastic rainwater depository does not quite runneth over, it’s close).  Last evening involved both wind of the outdoorsy, fresh air variety and that of the instrumental (wood and brass).  Cycle rides bracketed a fun time with CUWO (the Cambridge University Wind Orchestra) introducing me (within a range of delights) to a whole new side of Shostakovich – the wholly unexpected cheerful one.  The wind orchestra (or band) is much under-rated – or at least was by me, until I went to a previous CUWO gig on the sole basis that it was very cheap – and perhaps slightly mis-named as it included percussion (one item of which was a grand piano) and a double bass.  As a result, I fear the pieces would be beyond all but the strongest of marching bands – luckily CUWO had a stage and chairs, only the percussionists were required to move.  Very enjoyable and uplifting it was, or it was until the second half when the more conventional (or at least, string-heavy) orchestra which is CUMS II (sharing many of the forces of CUWO) gave us Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead which is a very fine piece, but not exactly cheerful.

I have decided that I ought to take up a wind instrument (and not just the descant recorder), they are much more portable (as well as much cheaper) than a harpsichord.  I’m leaning towards the woodwind as they are more neighbour-friendly for those of us living a semi-detached existence – and don’t appear to need such frequent draining of the player’s saliva (or perhaps their wielders are more subtle about it?).  The piccolo seems too small for my hands (and pitched rather too close to the aforementioned descant recorder), and whilst a wonderful-looking and sonorous device the bassoon (or worse, the contrabassoon) seems to have a somewhat limited repertoire.  The cor anglais does have an amusing name, but I’ve only seen it buried in a very full orchestra, so it seems to be oboe, clarinet or flute (very much the Cetacean of the woodwind world) for me.  The big question is thus what sort of reed (if any) should I opt for?  Am I too old to master the double reed?

Saddle the Wind

A perfectly serviceable western of 1958 from what I have read, perhaps most notable for being written by Rod Serling who went on to find fame with the Twilight Zone. However, in this instance it is merely being used as a small artifice to introduce today’s ramblings.

Most of my shorter journeys (sub 10 or so miles) I tend to make by velocipede, not through any great virtue on my part but because I much prefer cycling to driving (and in these traffic-choked isles it is often faster – and always cheaper). Living near Cambridge my life awheel is pleasingly free of major gradients – but is oft afflicted by the blight of wind (not a reflection on my largely vegetarian diet but on the local weather). Friends have suggested that they would prefer more varied topography but lower average wind speed – to which I tend to reply that a hill is there every day, whereas sometimes the wind dies down and (very occasionally) a passing zephyr can provide assistance.

This morning the wind was in its more typical mode of hindering the cyclist – in fact, at the time I headed out to the west it achieved its greatest force in 2011, gusting to gale force from (yes, you guessed it) the west. This was rather hard work for my ageing limbs – to be honest, only the two lower ones were doing much work, the other pair were very much hangers-on.

The Beaufort scale is a handy method for describing wind strength (this morning’s gusts were force 8, Whole Gale) – but the old Admiral was a naval chap and the descriptions of wind speed do have a rather nautical bent. I feel someone needs to create a Beaufort scale for the modern cyclist, for whom, knowing that the sea has “moderately high waves with breaking crests forming spindrift” is of rather limited utility. Based on this morning’s experience, force 8 equates to “hard work cycling down hill” (describing the up hill portion of my journey would lose this blog its PG rating).

I’ve often wondered about the possibility of using the wind to my benefit on the bike – to, as it were, saddle the wind (see, this blog isn’t just thrown together, it has production values!).  However, I have yet to work out how to tack successfully, which would be vital for successful bicycle sailing given the frequency with which the wind is agin me. I am also rather worried about gybing – it looks scary enough in a boat. If anyone has any ideas to make my wind assisted cycling dreams come true don’t hold back…