Galileo

The Bard of Avon truly said that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date” in sonnet number 18.

On Sunday, I found myself in Brighton in a heat wave (neither of which came as a surprise as I had journeyed in a purposive manner to the south coast and the heat had been forecast by the Met Office: I merely used the verb “to find” in a futile attempt to leaven my leaden prose) – despite the best efforts of London underground to seal Victoria station off from the rest of the city.  Whilst in Brighton, I enjoyed a rather sparsely attended gig by the Esterházy Chamber Choir entitled Summer Romance followed by a sun-drenched picnic in Preston Park.  Yesterday, summer continued with the temperature and humidity in Sawston soaring and trains in the east delayed by the wrong sort of heat on the line (the catenaries in this case) for the first time in 2011.

Today, the lease expired in spectacular fashion – thunderbolts and lightning galore reminding those d’un certain âge of Bohemia and the persecuted populariser of the heliocentric universe who so kindly contributed our title.

Unlike the recent heat, the Met Office did not forecast today’s thunderstorms – well, not until after the event and as a professional in the field of divination, I can assure you working ex-post makes it much easier.  As a consequence, I went out on my bicycle well-prepared for heavy rain but not for electric death to descend from the heavens.  To be honest, beyond an up-to-date will and recent confession, I’m not sure there is much the cyclist can do to prepare for a lightning strike.  In this field, the car is definitely the superior form of transport providing, as it does, a Faraday Cage which keeps the charge away from the user.  The inch of insulation which the rubber of my tyres offers (and even the 3 layers of Kevlar contained within) would, I fear, do little to dissuade an errant bolt from selecting me and my steed as a viable route to earth.  Back in my schooldays, a simple silk net was sufficient to provide the Faraday Cage effect – but I will admit that this was challenged with little more than the static generated from a polythene rod rubbed with some fur (real or faux I never asked).  I somehow doubt that a silk net would protect me from the fury unleashed by a cumulonimbus in its pomp.

This made for a nervous journey home from Cambridge.  Luck, or more likely random happenstance, was my friend.  I had a stop-off to make on my return journey and reached that temporary sanctuary just as the first thunder shook the skies over Cambridge.  By the time I came to depart, the vanguard of the storm had passed and I was granted just enough time to return home before its full force arrived.  And what a storm it was!   Even without the electric content I was jolly glad not to be caught outside during it – being British I have been drenched before and will, no doubt, be again (unless carried off rather suddenly to my eternal reward) but it is always very pleasing to dodge that particular bullet.  It somehow puts a positive spin on the whole day which is, of course, the same spin as would be offered by two electrons – though I never find a Cooper Pair quite as satisfying somehow.  On the plus side (something an electron would find rather attractive), portable super-conduction might one day protect the cyclist from an unwanted discharge (and lightning strikes!).

But let it whistle as it will

Another poet describing the wind, but from here Sir Walter Scott goes on to strike a festive note – well, it’s never too early to start thinking about Yuletide, especially with the days starting to shorten next week.  However, as I’m sure all but the very slowest of students will have guessed by now, I digress.

On my way into Cambridge this very e’en, my bicycle (one of the four – hereineafter referred to as the workhorse) decided to start whistling – much as butcher’s boys did in days of yore.  The note varies with speed, but is very far from tuneful – tunempty, if you will.  Yes, whilst the workhorse carries me in a degree of comfort and style – and with its rack and suitable panniers can carry a surprising amount of cargo – it cannot carry a tune.

Fortunately, upon arriving in Cambridge, I found that CUMS I and the CUMS Chorus were very much able to carry a tune (several in fact) at the May Week (yes, I know – in Cambridge May Week is in June, but with weather from April) concert in King’s College Chapel.

Prior to the gig, I partook of a couple of flutes of champagne with some of the local glitterati – oh, it’s a gay social whirl as a patron of the arts!  I don’t like to name drop, but I was chatting with the opera correspondent of the Daily Express (yes, I didn’t know they had one either) who looked the very spit of the man who taught me how to play chess as a boy (via the media of TV and print).  A little research upon my return showed it was indeed the very same man, William Hartston, who looked barely older than when I was a boy – the combination of opera and chess must be better than a painting in the attic!  As the moisturiser is proving of rather limited benefit in holding back the ravages of time (think King Knut and the incoming tide), I think I should go fetch my chess set down from the loft and pop the Ring cycle into the hi-fi…

The View from the Bummel

Mr (or perhaps Mrs) Collins has let me down badly with the title, but I have the word “bummel” on no lesser authority than Jerome K Jerome, so it stays.

As has previously been alluded to, I cycle around quite a bit – it’s a great life awheel!  With nothing between you and the world, you see a great many sights – and you can also get quite wet and exposed to vicious wind chill (but I’m British, and my ancestors built an empire by totally ignoring the weather).  You see a lot more of nature than in a vehicle – and because nature isn’t quite sure what a bicycle is, you frequently have to swerve to avoid it.  The wildlife I’ve nearly hit with my bike would fill an episode of Springwatch (or a very tasty casserole) – though perhaps a rather rabbit-heavy one.

However, rather than turn into tales from the riverbank I was planning to waffle on about road safety (thus helping to fulfil the public service remit of this blog).

I often wear glasses with polarised lenses and these help you see into vehicles very nicely.  What you see is often rather scary!  I have often seen lorry drivers using one hand to hold their tab and the other to hold a mobile phone.  They are usually also breaking the speed limit (presumably as a result of the dilution of attention) and so each of their two hands and their right foot are simultaneously breaking a different law.  I have racked my brains, but have been unable to think of any obvious law they could break with their left foot – which seems a pity.

Of course, it is not only some lorry drivers who have only a nodding acquaintance with the laws of the land.  My fellow cyclists often seem to feel that the red, orange and green lights that you see mounted on poles near junctions are attractive street art or early Christmas lights – certainly nothing to trouble them.

Whilst at times of perfect visibility during the hours of darkness many cars have enough lights on to stage a Premiership football match or support an ack-ack battery, it’s a rather different story during the hours of nominal daylight when visibility is poor.  Many drivers, especially those of drab or tarmac-coloured (tautology perhaps?) vehicles, feel that this is the time to save energy (very laudable in these carbon-conscious times) and run in “stealth mode” without a single light showing.

Around Cambridge, a worrying number of cyclists feel that night is the perfect time to try out their ninja skills – removing all reflective surfaces from their mounts, using no lights and dressing entirely in black.  This makes driving, and even cycling, in Cambridge during the hours of darkness really quite exciting.

I take the opposite approach when astride my steel (or aluminium) steed, wanting to be as visible as possible.  If I am mown down by a passing vehicle, I want them to really mean it.   I take the view that you never want to be the victim of an unprovoked attack as the provocation is where the fun is to be had; it would be like having a hangover without the preceding night on the lash.

However, I would not want to give you the impression that cycling destroys your faith in humankind (though, for rabbit-kind you should definitely leave with that impression).  On the contrary (and a bike) you are very well placed to see lots of acts of everyday kindness and courtesy on our public highways.  Oddly, perhaps, the people who commit these acts always seem to be so much happier than their fellow road users – and often spread that cheer as they go on their way.  There might even be a lesson here for us all – though I fear that several of the world’s major religions and a fair number of its heavyweight philosophers may have beaten me to that particular revelation.

OMG, a moral – even I didn’t see that coming.

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…