Ninety Degrees

Too hot for me!  Even in Fahrenheit (fatally so in Celsius – or Kelvin, though for a rather different reason) as I’m generally not keen on high ambient temperatures: 75 is pretty much my preferred limit.  I prefer the cold to be honest: you can always add clothing to cope, whereas there is only so much you can take off in the warm (even if you are willing to risk both frightening the horses and arrest).  However, I was actually thinking of angles (π/2 radians, if you prefer) rather than temperature.

The right angle is our friend when dealing with triangles and trigonometry (at least in Euclidean geometry) and allows us to use the more practical portion of Pythagoras’ legacy.  It is often preferred in construction, certainly it makes wallpaper hanging and furniture selection easier, though its use has been somewhat eschewed by Trinity House.  However, there is one area of construction in which I feel it has been over-used to detrimental effect.

Back in the mid-80s, there was a short lived TV series from the stables of Glen A Larson called ‘Automan’.  The eponymous hero was, effectively, a character from a video game and his car obeyed the rules of video games of that era (this was long before the vast majority of the Laws of Physics were implemented in the gaming arena).  This enabled to make instantaneous right angle turns and it could also be merely un-drawn rather than parked, which is perhaps an even more useful facility.  However, this was science fiction (well, fiction certainly) and no wheeled vehicle (unless it has all-wheel steering) can make an (even near) instantaneous right angle turn: the wheelbase prevents it.

I must assume that this fact will come as a shock to the designers of cycle paths in Cambridgeshire, who appear to believe that the bicycle is able to make incredibly tight right angle turns with ease.  Or such is my thesis given the frequency with which such layouts are imposed upon the unfortunate cyclist.  I will admit that my own attempts at turning a bicycle are perhaps not the finest, but I think even those struck more frequently with the ept stick (a stick whose blows I have managed to largely avoid: which must be irony) must struggle with many of these corners.  In most cases, the local topography does not require such tight turns – and in one very local example, three right angles have been created within a few feet where none at all were needed (in fact, the right-angle free solution would have saved a fair chunk of tarmacadam).  Has the county surveyor’s office been infiltrated by fundamentalist followers of Pythagoras?

Whilst I am on my high horse (remember, “never surrender height once gained”) let me shift another peeve about cycle path design from where it current lies: atop my chest.  Many cycle routes hereabouts require the cyclists to cross the flow of traffic far more often than seems necessary.  If I return home from the next village using the cycle paths provided, I have to cross the main road FOUR times, whereas if I follow the main road I never have to cross the flow of traffic.  This makes for an interesting risk assessment exercise for the cyclist: is it safer to remain on the busy road or to travel on traffic-free paths but have to cross the busy road multiple times?  (Answers on a postcard: please show your working.)  This desire to make bicycles cross roads seems a popular choice: even on brand new roads where there is sufficient space allocated for cycling to allow them never to need to cross the flow of traffic, the design still insists upon it.

As a cynic, I suspect a broader policy motive is at play.  It is well established that regular cycling increases life expectancy – and this country is already facing a soi-disant pensions time bomb.  I like to imagine it as spherical, grey (black seems inappropriate) and with the word BOMB printed on the side in large unfriendly white letters.  By repeatedly forcing cyclists to cross busy roads, I assume the powers-that-be are hoping to lose a few to “natural wastage” and so counteract the boost to the number of future pensioners which would otherwise arise (it may also provides some cheap traffic calming).  If true, this would suggest a degree of joined-up-thinking all too rare in the governing classes – so perhaps it could be better explained by the usual combination of stupidity and incompetence…

Animal Crackers

I have known about the desire of some creatures for self-immolation since reading “archy and mehitabel” in the late 1970s – and, in particular, the “lesson of the moth” from 1927. But, as I have discovered over the last few weeks, moths are far from the only animals to seek a rapid escape from this veil of tears.

Infamously, lemmings are supposed to hurl themselves from cliffs – though I believe this is a foul slur propagated by the Disney corporation, who could find themselves in a whole heap of trouble if the rodents ever get lawyered-up (as I believe our American cousins would have it).

However, I refer to creatures rather closer to home – and which I encounter on my bicycle while trolling to and from Cambridge of an evening.  Unlike the electric light bulb which lured Archy’s moth to its untimely end, it is the siren song of the cycle path between Addenbrooke’s and Shelford which has led many a creature to its doom.

In dry weather and generally in the hours of daylight, a host of black beetles scurry across the cycle path – and more than a few succumb to the tyres of a passing bike – but, it is in the hours of darkness where the death toll really rises.  After any rainfall, snails to the left of the cycle path find a pressing need to visit the right, whilst those on the right feel compelled to sample the delights that they believe lie concealed on the left side.  I will admit that as a member of the human race, it is slightly unfair to cast aspersions on snails for this particular behaviour – one has only to look at any major trunk road to find people doing the self-same thing.

Snails are not known for their rapid motion and many hundreds (possibly thousands) choose to make this perilous journey after the sun has set.  As a result, my journey home is punctuated with sharp ‘cracks’ as each snail explodes under my wheel – and at times, these cracks can be so frequent as to resemble the fire from a Maxim gun.  I do not deliberately try and hit the molluscs – though do take some obscure pleasure in their destruction, viewing it is a form of weregild for the plants their kin have destroyed at Fish Towers.  Also, on the plus side, the snails are only endangering themselves – it would require a very large snail indeed to be a serious risk to the passing cyclist (and the Giant African Land snail – achatina achatina – is largely unknown in Cambridgeshire).

Rabbits though are a very different story.  These can be seen at all times – but in the greatest numbers after dusk.  Unlike those creatures lacking a backbone, the rabbits do not spend a significant amount of time on the cycle path itself.  No, as I cycle past, bunnies will stop whatever they are doing in an adjacent field and run tens of yards in order to hurl themselves under the wheels of my velocipede.  They are not easily dissuaded from this action.  Try to dodge them as I might, they are determined to end it all and that I should be the instrument of their destruction.  I’ve tried whistling, singing and extensive use of my bell (well, less mine and more the one fitted to the bicycle – I wouldn’t want you to imagine me accoutered like an Alpine cow as I cycle) – but this only seems to encourage the little blighters to seek oblivion at my wheels.   I know I tend to wear quite dark clothes but I have yet to carry a scythe and wear a cloak while cycling (to be honest, they would add too much wind resistance) and tend to wear at least some fluorescent garb at night, so I struggle to see why I am considered the coney angel of death.  I fear that whilst striking a rabbit would allow it to achieve its aim, it might also unseat me leading to unwanted bruising and abrasions.  Trains can be fitted with a cow-catcher to remove recalcitrant ungulates from the track in areas where they are a problem, but I have yet to see a coney-catcher accessory for the country biker.

I also fail to understand how rabbits have become so numerous (despite their legendary rate of reproduction) given their tendency to throw themselves at any perceived threat or potential predator.  Surely, evolution is supposed to weed out this sort of foolishness from a genome pretty rapidly.  I think Richard Dawkins is local – perhaps I should challenge him with this particular conundrum.  Is the stupidity of rabbits the unequivocal proof of the divine that so many have been seeking?