The Beauty of the Bike.

Thank heavens for cycling.

Since most foot-dependent activities are currently out of the question, cycling is the option that remains. [Regular readers will know of my aversion to water submersion-hence swimming is off the menu].

So cycling is becoming vital to maintaining an amoebic level of physical activity and to this end Husband has been rising to the challenge of hauling me around various routes and tracks in pursuit of improving my corporeal condition.

Of course the bikes are always on board when we are out and about in the van and were transported all around Italy, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica despite being rarely employed. This was mostly due to the terrifying nature of the Italian roads, although in Sardinia there was a modicum of driverly care un-encountered anywhere else in Italy.

On the subsequent [most recent] trip to Brittany there was more cycling. Travelling by ‘velo’ in France is a whole different experience surpassed only by bicycle use in The Netherlands or Belgium. So we undertook some pedal routes-quiet lanes and tarmac tracks, not all of which were totally flat. As I’m aware that Husband is not over-fond of complaints during cycle rides I took pains not to comment that my knees were creaking, my wrists numb and I was becoming generally knackered.

Such are the nuances of marriage however that once returned he announced that I’d been ‘complaining silently’.

On another afternoon I opted to stay behind, not so much as to spare him my silent complaints as to get down to revising poor, neglected Novel Two. Thus I was heavily engaged in the task and oblivious to anything else when Husband reappeared after what seemed an unusually brief spell. ‘I came off’ he said.

He’d come off in spectacular style, judging by the holes in his elbow and his knee. In the customary manner of husbands he was eager to minimise the event, the effects of which were not a pretty sight. Novel Two went back on the back burner while I delved into the eclectic mix of items I call the First Aid Box.

Back home now, I’ve managed to cycle without complaint, silent or otherwise, ascended some hills without dismounting to push and achieved staying within sight of Husband’s bike most of the time.

I’ve also come to realise that the bike has other uses besides the exercise factor. If I need to nip up the road for a loaf of bread I can do so without needing to suffer the excruciating attentions of Neighbour, a man who speaks to me as if I am a miniature toy poodle and who I tend to avoid at all cost.

So bike is the way except for when it’s raining-which it is-a lot-at the moment…

 

Oil or Nothing

On the face of it to us proles, it seems like a wonderful, unexpected gift that oil prices have fallen to such an extent. We take our vehicles to the pumps and Whoopee! The price of filling up to the brim has dropped like a brick in a mine shaft.

It doesn’t stop there. Prices of things, dependent on transport costs are also down. Hoorah! Rejoice! This leaves more cash in the pocket. We can travel further, travel more often, buy more stuff, throw old stuff away, make journeys we don’t need to, buy new, bigger vehicles and use more fuel. This is all marvellous…isn’t it?

Actually, while I am as pleased as anyone else at how cheap it has become to fuel the car, I have to confess to feeling uneasy about the falling petrol prices. Yes, we are all enjoying the benefits, but when the price of petrol and oil was prohibitive who didn’t rein in accordingly? There can be few ordinary people who didn’t count the cost of superfluous journeys or make other, thriftier arrangements for regular travel. During a particularly expensive period of fuel prices and shortages when I was still travelling for work I car-shared. Since then I’ve made every attempt to get to places by bike or on foot.

During the recession people bought less ‘stuff’. They made do. They decided they didn’t need the gargantuan flat-screen TV, the new Land Rover or the bespoke kitchen. They could fling a colourful throw over the tired sofa, buy a cheerful rug to cover the worn carpet and make the ten-year-old hatchback do the school run a bit longer. It was bad news for the retailers of course, but if it had continued, wouldn’t new, re-conditioning industries have sprung up? Years ago appliances could be repaired. Now there is no one who will mend a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner.

I’m not saying I want to go back fifty years in time. Heaven forbid! But isn’t it time we progressed past the ‘petrol-head’ stage? The car manufacturers ran out of inspiration for their ads years ago. It is time to make green, clean and mean on fuel sexy, not fast, enormous and petrol-glugging.

I know I’ve banged on about the odious ‘Top Gear’ and its moronic presenters before, but it is dispiriting that it should be one of the best-selling TV shows around the world. If the BBC can’t ditch it because of the revenue, surely it could be given a more eco-friendly slant? But now that oil is cheap this is even less likely to happen.

It has been proposed that the view that our house faces, the English Channel, should house an extensive wind farm. The forest of turbines would be visible like a distant swarm of insects from our decked balcony. It is a scenario that many cannot contemplate but myself, I would welcome the construction of the plant. We are all accustomed to electricity pylons-why not wind turbines? And after all, what alternatives are there?

Smaller is more beautiful…

                In a somewhat treacherous and hypocritical move, we have executed a kind of ‘upgrade’ of our travel vehicle and are now using a slightly larger camper van. I say this because I’m aware that I posted on the pecking order and the relative sizes of travel vehicles at around this time last year. We were always the smallest unit in the village, the runt of the litter, dwarfed by the gargantuan motor-homes that surrounded us. The ironic outcome of this change is that we are still the smallest camper van wherever we go, owing I presume to the fact that everyone else has acquired a larger one also.

                Husband mourns the tiny van and was reluctant to exchange it for the current home-on-wheels. I accept it is trickier to manoeuvre and cannot be used as an extra car at home, but the advantages are undeniable. It has a large, comfortable bed constructed from the two plush sofas lining the walls, a walk-in shower and toilet cubicle, a cooker complete with oven, swish windows complete with blinds and pull up insect screens, skylights and a wondrous amount of storage. All this luxury is quite enough two people. It makes me a little curious to know why other couples would need such enormous wheeled dwellings. And how much must it cost in fuel? And where on Earth do they keep it, assuming they have a bricks-and-mortar house elsewhere?

                How bizarre it is that in the present day, when technological advances seem concentrated on producing ever smaller devices- tiny ‘watch’ style internet consoles, Google’s strange glasses with internet screen [won’t everyone be bumping into each other?] etc, other items become larger and larger. TV screens, lattes, beds, cruise ships, aeroplanes, McDonalds’ meals and people are growing bigger by the day.

                Wouldn’t make more sense for the collected, obvious genius behind such marvellous and desirable, tiny objects such as slimmer tablets and phones to direct their talents into technology that reduces our need for so much power to use them?

                The French have constructed a cunning new law for owners of motor-homes so massive that little cars needed to be towed behind them. A HGV licence is necessary for the additional vehicle to be hauled along behind the mother ship. The lack of these small cars rolling along behind is starkly noticeable, although how the inmates are coping with their daily needs is not altogether clear. For us, little in this respect has changed. We shop in between one destination and another, we park up, we free our bikes from the back and use them to collect what we need. We also get to cycle around the lanes in the Provencal sunshine looking at the rural landscape and stopping at an occasional hostelry for a glass of vin [me] or a beer or two [Husband].

                We have learned not to dash around ticking off sights in an ‘if it’s Wednesday it must be Rome’ way, getting to know a small area; the beautiful, medieval villages, the vineyards and the orchards-currently clouded with pink blossom. Small [even if a modicum bigger] really is better.