Thursday, 21 February 2013

Night time and Vikings...

As winter rolls onwards, seemingly never ending, I have found myself confined to the garage and the Turbo-trainer - oh how desperately boring it is - to ride 10 miles on the Turbo is such a relentless bore, after 10 minutes (that feels like an hour) I'm ready to stop, after half an hour I'm mind numbingly frustrated and can't wait for the end to arrive. It is bad.

Last week I took a night ride. I quite like the cover of darkness, there are fewer cars and I like how familiar roads look and feel totally different. An immaculately well-maintained road bike emits very little in the way of sound. The slightly metallic hum of the chain turning the teeth of the cogs and the sprockets and the steady, reassuring flum of the tyres kissing tarmac. For those of us who service our bikes though, this opportunity to enjoy the night sky, and quietness can have its downside. The lack of any other sounds focusses us onto the minutae of our machines. Our ears become tuned in at ultrasonic frequency level. The slightest creak or squeak is a cause for concern, the clatter of cable against frame, the rasp of a chain scraping a front derailleur, the cheeping of a loose cleat - these sounds spell anathema - they are tiring noises that eat away at your initial indifference to them. Riding at night seems to amplify them, the silence and solitude. They become a rousing hymn to my inadequacies as a bike mechanic. A pitted bottom bracket bearing, a worn pedal thread, a juddering brake block - all are seemingly sent to interfere with the soothing soundtrack of a moonlit bike ride.

As I headed down into Congerstone I was joined by a cyclist who joined me silently out of the darkness - we chatted as we rode side by side into the darkness. He had ridden from Hinckley and was aiming at a 50 mile ride. As we ambled along, side by side, moving at about 13 miles per hour, just ahead a dog walker emerged from a field via a stile, his dog wandering, lose in front of him into the middle of the road - my companion let loose a barrage of curses like an invading Viking, for a moment I though he was going to stop, kill the dog and decapitate its owner. As I looked at him, for the first time properly, I realised he could indeed be a Viking - at least he had a beard, and long hair - no evidence of horns on his helmet - but then Vikings didn't wear horns - that's only in the movies.

This is the night ride approaching the border.

I parted from the Viking at the junction of Derby Road in Shackerstone. I moved onwards enjoying the quiet and solitude. I started thinking about the night - what it means to us - how the effect of darkness has changed over the years, the onset of artificial light has completely changed the way we live and interact with night - with darkness.

But night is still night - it's what we have lots of at this time of year. It's when work is done, and some of us go out to play. There's a very good chance that you first made love with your partner at night, because that's when we're free to go on dates. And it's dark, and transgressive. Secretive. Furtive. No one can see what you're up to. Our bodies may prefer that we postpone lovemaking till morning, but the darkness insists that now is the time.

Perhaps this is the reason why we've drawn so much darkness around sex, why it has gone so very wrong, in lots of ways for lots of people. Great loving sex is very close to prayer, a celebration of life and humanity. Yet our society has somehow surrounded it with horror and guilt and smut - why?, for what ends? The Christian church may be held in part responsible - Christianity stands largely alone in seeing sex as filthy, the agency by which original sin is transmitted - its Theology insists on the Virgin birth and the original sin comes down to us from Adam, because we are born out of sin. Sin according to those pillars of Catholic and Protestant theology, Aquinas and Luther, is a sexually transmitted condition. The Shakers, famous now for their lovely furniture designs, were celibate. That's why their furniture remains but they died out long ago. I hope for their sake that they all got to heaven, where they now get to do up kitchens in paradise. Perhaps the idea of living in hell on earth is worth it for some - the guarantee of eternal bliss is enough for some people to postpone bliss here on earth, but it doesn't work for me. I don't believe you.

Oh dear - this blog has turned into a bit of a rant - can't imagine where all that came from - the night time perhaps. It gives you time to think.

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