So I have been taking my 8-year-old daughter on the road to cycle quite a bit just recently. She is possessed of a determination, a wilfulness of spirit, that I almost entirely lack, and her progress from struggling up the smallest hill to making her way up to Fox House or Owler Bar from our house, a full five miles and a really big hill for each, has been quite gratifying. She is not, though, a road user in the most robust sense. She can cross a road, but really wants an adult there to help. So I fulfil roughly that same function - being the road user - when we're out cycling. And I am consistently disappointed with the decision-making of some of the drivers who use those same roads, going for tiny gaps that they shouldn't have, overtaking when there's something coming the other way, and generally not accepting the small delay in their journey that we present. Here's a thought for anyone who is a driver and not a cyclist: your insurance won't be happy that you wrecked your car and the one coming the other way because you were too impatient to wait for a decent gap and a straight bit of road. That's if you choose to do the right thing and drive into the other car. If you choose wrong and knock me off to avoid hitting the other car, then you might just have to deal with the hysterical 8-year-old as you scrape me off the road, and a lifetime's guilt (and a prison sentence) for ending a life just to save 15 seconds. And that's the least worst outcome. Cars seem to armour people against consequence, whether that be using weapons-grade swearing to describe someone who slowed you down or came out of a junction when they shouldn't, right up to failing to consider the potential effect of splattering through a couple of cyclists to overtake when there wasn't room. It doesn't seem to occur to people that they are, in all honesty, endangering the lives of more-or-less innocent people, particularly small ones who perhaps don't need to be intimidated off the road. Even if the sole purpose of our journey was to slow down a bunch of cars - even if we set out with that specific intent - it wouldn't make smashing a little girl off the road morally acceptable. And, of course, all we were actually doing was a bit of exercise. So there you go. Be nice on the roads, even if the other person is a thunder----. I have a bit to learn from my own rant here, I'll own. When your child asks you, "Daddy, what's 'fuxache'?", you know you've gone a bit far. Children are often instructive in this regard, and very rarely anywhere near as judgemental as adults.
On the subject of flowers, I have been bemoaning the fact that I am old and decrepit for some time, occasionally even forcing kind people into saying something to the contrary. I wonder whether the fact that I now not only stop to look at flowers when I see them, but that I am actively trying to grow my own in the back garden, is a symbol of my growing old. There's something almost spooky about flowers. Why has nature evolved this extravagance of beauty? What evolutionary purpose does it serve? Are bees connoisseurs of aesthetic magnificence? On a side note, the fella next door 'keeps' bees, so we do have plenty roaming around our back garden. I say 'keeps', but what I really mean is 'facilitates the occasional mass escape on a hot day'. I think, like some people's cats, the bees are in charge, and the notional human owner is no more than an unintentional slave to their world-domination plans. Flowers seem, in a way that would be unimaginable to my teenage self, to have a calming effect. I've mentioned before the way my brain sometimes overdrives, thinking in bizarrely expanding circles to encompass every bad thing that I have ever experienced, either as the victim or the perpetrator. Flowers seem to allow me a moment of calm, although what is interesting about that is that they trigger happy memories of times past without the associated guilt or sadness that those times have gone, or that I might not have made all the right choices. As a teenager, the notion of going to a garden - Rosemoor is the one that I was dragged to by my parents - just to look at flowers all day did in fact send me into the mother of all face-on mards. No more, and I don't know what's changed.
Interesting point of comparison is the fact that I've started to develop a desire to do some of the things that I did as a late teenager, at least partly in response to having a lot of time in lockdown to think, reminisce, and play guitar. I will - and I don't yet know how - get started with a band that plays my music, by which I mean all the stuff I used to dance to at Corporation 20-odd years ago. It'll be heavy, it'll be immature, it'll be great. Once I've managed to find a bunch of other people who are willing to do the same. I bet it'll be just a touch easier when lockdown comes to an end and everyone just wants to do stuff rather than sit at home playing on Facebook/Twitter/Insert your preferred web-based mechanism of wasting shitloads of time.
And the magpies? You see a lot of them when you're out riding a bike around SW Sheffield. And for some reason, as a broadly not-superstitious person, seeing one on its own makes me think something is wrong with the world. And seeing two together can lift my day. In particular, I find myself wanting to write just that bit more often when I see a pair than when I see one alone. Perhaps the effect is the cause of the superstition... It's as though there is a warmth filtering through nothing, that I am in the thoughts of some unseen power a long way distant, but that nevertheless makes me happy. For whatever reason, I think this is Edward Strelley's only concession to superstition as well. He is a sort of intellectual magpie, as I suppose I am, collecting little trinkets and treasuring them. It feels just right to me that he, an atheist in a much more religious time, should have a little superstition. For him, it is Elizabeth's thoughts that he wants to be in, and yet as he says himself, he wishes to free her of him so that rather than think of him and be sad, she should forget him and smile.
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought