Advent is for me simultaneously the most fun time of the year—almost nobody else I know is as Christmassy as me—and a time of finger-drumming and waiting around. All the fragments of what you have to do, want to do and ought to do, that you’ve swept along with you all year, bump up against the sill of the end of the year and take up space, padded with tedious gaps, in the timetable of the year’s remaining days.
It was into one of those gaps that I managed to neatly drop a cycle ride with the local CTC people this weekend. I could have filled it instead with something I ought to have done, but a cycle ride—along with being something I wanted to do—was also a vague obligation, supporting some of the few cycling enthusiasts we have in West Oxfordshire. Also, I hadn’t actually cycled for the two weeks of the cold snap, preferring to take buses and cars, and at least arrive at work with my kneecaps and ankles intact.
In the end the ride was fantastic. Our leader took us on a fairly leisurely route, down almost deserted roads near Bablock Hythe and Northmoor, then across to Aston for lunch at the pottery and a quicker journey back through Curbridge. Off the main roads we saw as many oncoming cyclists as car drivers, and the scenery was eerily flat around the river floodplain. Aston Pottery, which I’d never been to before, was a bit like Burford Garden Centre without the outside bits, but with a lovely, bright, inexpensive, tasty cafe.
The whole experience reminded me how enjoyable cycling can be when it’s not a five-day-a-week slog. For miles and miles there was just our chat, the hum of our wheels on the road and the occasional, panicked, flappy hoots of game birds; the feeling of pure movement through geography, and the green, woody scenery whirring by.
Sometimes I cycle to work by choice, despite discomfort, because to do so is an affirming, political statement, a projection of the values, priorities and responsibilities that I want to see treasured and promoted. That sort of activity ends up bent double under its own symbolism, a symbolism that’s often quite hard to explain: in summary, not particularly enjoyable.
But even people who don’t get the politics would probably understand and appreciate that, at other times, even the most mundane cycling ride can be an emotional and almost spiritual experience. My weekend journey reminded me that, next year, I need to concentrate a bit more on what I want and less on what I ought.