The woman who served me was like a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat. There were no sandwiches on the shelves, but she rustled up a ham and cheese one from the back for me. When I confessed that I had an Eccles Cake craving, she produced a packet. I didn't know you could buy them in Oxfordshire. Eccles Cakes in Oxfordshire don't taste like Eccles Cakes in Lancashire, despite what it says on the packet, but never mind. I wolfed them down under the shade of a tree, then started on my sandwich. Happiness is easily achieved with food.
I saw my friendly magician leaving by the back door. She was heading home for lunch. I was going to wave to her, but another woman was striding purposefully behind her. She sped up and overtook her, then turned round to face her and block her path. She started jabbing the air with her finger. "I'm your manager!" she shouted. Jab, jab, jab. "Don't forget that!" Jab, jab. The magician tried to walk past, but the manager grabbed her by both arms, pinning them to her sides. "Who do you think you are? I'm your manager! Grow up!" The magician said nothing. As far as I could see, there was only one person who needed to grow up and it wasn't the magician. Give me my 60 hour week and three out of every four weekends any day. I wouldn't want to work 9-5 for a woman like that.
I do a lot of counting when I'm cycling long stretches trying to ignore a headwind and aching shoulders. I make lists. Here are the birds I heard and saw:
There were even more species of litter:
MacDonalds fries cartons
jumbo crisp packets
Diet Coke bottles
Diet Coke cans
Red Bull cans
used condoms (well, better used than not, I suppose)
red bottle tops
and a rather nice blue gingham handkerchief
For the record, I put my Eccles Cakes and sandwich wrappers in the bin. The Coke can I chucked over a fence into someone's garden. Only joking. Of course that went in the bin.
There was a spectacular array of roadkill too:
1 badger, 1 fox, 2 white doves, 1 pigeon and 1 hedgehog swollen, rather alarmingly, to the size of a football. You wouldn't want to hit that with your front wheel. I think it must have exploded, because it was splattered right across the road on my return journey.
The view from White Horse Hill was more edifying. I have to get off and push my bike these days. All the things I missed when I was younger and able to dance about on the pedals - orchids and harebells, scabious, pink broom, beetles, dragonflies, simply taking a moment to stand and look behind me to see where I've been, allowing the wind to blow through my hair, hearing a distant skylark, watching the way the clouds stack up, just being - and being conscious of being. I can almost hear the grasshoppers when I look at the photo I took.
One of the joys of cycling is that for every uphill climb there's a freewheel down and, because you're burning up so many calories, you can happily eat your way from one pit stop to the next. So, ice cream under the shade of another tree, a stop off at Aston Pottery for tea and then home to a long, cool shower and a few stretches before the sun begins to dip and the fairy lights come on in your garden. Finally, there's always that deep unspoken gratitude you feel - thank you legs for still taking me places after all these years and thank you providence for not letting me end up like that hedgehog.