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Winding On

An old point and shoot, one roll of film. A week off work. Aeroplane mode, wider world switched off. Perhaps an audiobook in one ear. The sun stays close to the wide crisp horizon, bright light skims the surface of the sea followed by my eyes. Low waves lazily sparkle and ripple towards the shingle. I recall swims between spring and autumn but it’ll be a while before I dare again. We’ve passed midwinter with days easing out again, tilting back towards the sun and warmth but not just yet, overnight the wind flipped from over the sea to across the hills. A stern breeze brings an abrupt decrease in temperature. I’m dressed for autumn but winter has finally arrived and drills into my bones. I turn for home early, not an auspicious start. Warm up and pop out for a sundowner with a G&T in a bidon. Following signposts and memory. I know these ways like the back of my hand, chunks of old commutes, undulating crisscrossing lanes, the meandering long ways home from previous office days. Autopilot allows mind and eyes to wander, things glimpsed, caught out of the corner of an eye. The lack of greenery offers a change of view, a different focus, field of vision stretched. Supine shadows slump across hillsides. Horse riders in hi-viz, stripey scarves and fake fur trimmed Christmas hats, bobbles hanging and swaying along with horses tails. The shuttered concrete of that fancy house on St. Helena’s bend. Forgot how much I like this road. Ways memorised in pedal strokes and wheel revolutions, every incline and dip, where the potholes hide under the flooding, which lines to take through grit scattered bends. Pull my buff up around my ears. Setting off north and west to make the best of tailwinds later on. Sheltering on the lee side of the downs, hugging the coast home. Tacking into winds along the edge of land. Following rivers to use gaps in the hills to save legs for later in the week. A canyon of billboards and logos, cold bright light sliding in at an angle, high pitched picture postcard colours, all the levels pushed. Waves break, the splash and spray taken by the wind. The next day someone has fiddled with saturation settings, the vibrant colour of yesterday stripped back to greys and browns. A heavy leaden sky pushes horizons flat, the sun smothered. Flanders in tone. Mud and gravel and twigs and leaf mulch and water fill the lanes. A glass and concrete cuboid stands out ahead, a modernist lump plonked in a farmyard, the white angles gleam against the surrounding winter drab. Not seen that before but not been this way for quite a while and summer foliage normally blocks this view. The focus is pulled, the blur of drizzle sharpens into raindrops at the furthest point from home. Santa climbs a cottage chimney. Powerlines swing across the broad empty land, framing hills and spires, close cropping views. The languid palette of winter colour flattens the scene further. Bleak cold damp penetrates. Remember that coffee hut on the beach was open yesterday when I passed so swing by for coffee and sfogliatelle, one lemon, one hazlenut. Hide from the wind and neck the coffee and tuck the pastries in my musette. A coastal wander. Kilometres for the sake of kilometres whilst the sun shines. Forgot I changed the focus the camera yesterday. Dark city streets and lit underpasses. Thinking up a route around weather, floods and wind, maps unfold in my imagination, the edges defined by the county borders. Seeking out the rarely ridden ways, less frequented lanes. Delving into memory, thinking which ways are likely filthy and almost impassable in winter. Switching to the alternatives, the back ups and making use of bigger roads out of favour most of the year but quiet now. A hushed service station, a squeeze of hand sanitizer. Double espresso with two sugars and a tepid pasty in a deserted smokers area. Fifty pence bags of manure. Duck eggs and honesty boxes. Swollen streams run ochre with earth. Burst banks, waterways and tarmac become one, puddles stretch across lanes. Mud and gravel washed into the bends, feather the brakes, ease into the corners. Flooded fields, sky mirrors. A tree stands naked, silhouetted against the sky, twice. A dragon with rainbow wings. Reindeer and nativity scenes on the roadside. Queues at tips, backseats full on boxes and wrapping paper. A fridge dumped by a gate, an unwanted gift from fly-tipper to farmer. A kite glides ever decreasing circles before dropping to the ground. Rises again with empty talons, better luck next time. Beech and bracken, concentrated orange amongst dull greens and browns. The last leaves cling to branches, hanging precariously, it’s just a matter of time. A ray of light slips between a gap in the clouds. Sunlight flickers, splinters between boughs. The first shadows of the day pass beneath my wheels. Vacant fields, mud and stubble and scruffy grass, no crops nor livestock. Sitting on a bench between bin and phonebox absorbing as much heat as possible from the feeble sun, warming my hands around a cup of coffee. The final stretch, estuaries and suburbs, cycle lanes and traffic lights, level crossings and traffic, roundabout and junction and roundabout and junction… The payoff for the flat way home is faff. Caught at the lock gates, again. Low tide and dog walkers and a pod of surfers. The first ton for a while. Another day and another almost commute, I’ve ridden past the office more times in the last few days than the last nine months. The flatlands between chalk and clay lumps. Straight angular lanes, field divisions, drove roads. Hedge tops warmed by the sun, riding on the wrong side of the road to avoid the chilly lilac-blue shadows. Vending machine hot chocolate and a reduced vegan sausage roll, the last of the warm food star struck under the bright lights. Standing against a brick wall in the warmth of the diluted sun. Going back into the petrol station for another blast of heat from the vent above the door. Twenty odd kilometres to go. Shudder as I remember these lanes were the stupidly-left-it-to-the-last-day-again finishing circuit of a previous Festive 500. It was vile that day. A brutal wind whipped across the fields and rain lashed sideways but thankfully not now and I finish with a day to spare for a change. One last spin to drop the film at the lab.

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