...or rather, a return to one of the more frequent topics of this blog, cycling, just to make a change from navel-gazing.
Today, Remembrance Sunday, started out under cold blue skies and a hard frost clamped down on everything. Fortunately, I'd already decided to sit this part of the day out, reading the paper and having breakfast. No point freezing one's nuts off by too early a start. In fact, I didn't get out of the house until 10.30, and, being at first undecided which direction to head in, finally thought aiming for the north would be good.
The trees were putting on their best, and probably final, autumnal display: Beeches and hornbeams were decked with vivid leaves, ranging in colour from pale yellow, through amber and orange to fiery red. I headed edgily down Highdown Hill and the acrid smell of a coal fire somewhere, past the golf course and up the other side, coming out as ever onto Shepherd's lane, then heading up towards Kidmore End. Coming past the New Inn, I saw that there was a Remembrance Day service spilling out of the church and into the road, people greeting each other, some with poppy wreaths held in hands. I made a detour round the back of the church in order to avoid cycling through the crowd, then carried on the Gallowstree road, and down to Reades Lane. The air was cool and held autumn's pungency, a mix of damp soil, leaves, earthy strange growth and animal dung. Bar a few walkers and a cyclist who didn't bother to reply to my hello, I saw no-one. A chcken coop went by, with one animal making a mad racket; I saw a few sad-eyed cattle over a hedge.
Then an extraordinary moment: Just past the crossroads with Wyfold Lane, where theroad dips down through woods, I suddenly saw movement - dun, large shapes, picking through the wood, then carefully crossing the road right in front of me - fallow deer! I was still going downhill at speed, and I wondered if I'd end up hitting one. They spotted me - well, it's hard to ignore someone in a bright orange cycling jacket - and began to run and jump. I found myself right in the middle of a herd of deer, running and leaping in front and behind - a truly extraordinary moment, made all the more so by the silence with which it happened.
I turned back a bit then, and took the woodland road to Checkenden, going past the equestrian centre before going through the village proper, past the cricket ground and the Four Horseshoes, heading towards Woodcote, when I saw an even more extraordinary sight - a giant sculpture in the middle of a field, next to an abandoned barn. I turned off the road, left my bike propped against a tree, and made my way across the field to have a closer look. The air whistled with the cries of red kites as I looked at this weird thing, a statue of two people embracing, or rather, two giant skeletons.
I later found out that it's by John Buckley, and called either The Nuba Embrace or The Nuba Survival.
Well, that was enough weirdness for the day, so once I'd got to Woodcote, I headed back towards Goring Heath and from there to Mapledurham, banging along a rough, muddy-puddled lane until I reached the Warren and from there back to Caversham and finally Emmer Green.