The most irritating thing about living in the Oxfordshire countryside, or “the Cotswolds” as image conscious persons like to refer to the area, is the number of cars that race through it. Not just ordinary cars but huge articulated lorries seeking short-cuts; thundering through narrow hedged roads they are a terrifying sight. Then we have builders’ vans, gi-normous tractors large as houses with trailers and, worst of all enormous, pretentious SUVs like Jeeps, Rangerovers and other cheaper versions of the same. I simply loathe these monsters and cannot understand the need for a sports utility vehicle, but every third car seems to belong to that category.
Going on an errand today to try and persuade the likeable owner of Blake’s Kitchen in Clanfield to donate a meal voucher for the newly resuscitated Bampton Gardening Club, I restrained myself from significant tapping (ineffectual of course) the side of my helmet when vehicles zoomed past me and the bike on blind corners, skirting around at the same speed despite visible oncoming traffic. Where were they all going at 70-80 mph? Had their grannies suddenly died? Were their wives having emergency Caesareans in Swindon hospital? Or perhaps I was witnessing the passage of Zombies, stoked up on coke, hash or alcohol. These are country roads full of passing interest such as trees, barley fields, green meadows, circling kites and the delights of varying light and enormous skies . Do these drivers have a death wish or are they completely oblivious to the landscape around. You don’t get a chance to slow down and savour your surroundings on a motorway, but this is “the Cotswolds” an AONB (work that one out). A very high percentage of people who drive cars who are tuned out to their immediate environment would shed many croc tears about its impending destruction. I am almost completely dependent on my car out in the sticks, but I drop my speed to 20, 30 or 40 where it requires, sensing the impatience of the tailgaters behind me. When they think they have a chance they will accelerate to overtake my little Fiat in a roar of frustration.
So as I pedalled away to Clanfield I cruised past two beautiful horses quietly grazing on the grassy verge. Brindled and graceful against the emerald, and I resolved to stop on my way back home.
After a nice cup of tea and a half piece of cake at Blakes (packing the other half virtuously for the queen of the Bampton Gardening Club) and having secured the meal voucher for a raffle prize at the Bampton Club Show in August, I cycled back. Only one car slowed down for a blind curve, others narrowly missed disaster and me. I dismounted near the brindled horses, who I learned from Ian the Tinker were a cob and a trotter.
His sign proclaimed his trade.
Ian didn’t want his photo taken. He told me he was a “diddy, you know like the French demi. I’m half Romany. My mother was from Scandinavia. My surname’s Smith, but I don’t like surnames- I call them slave names.”
“What do you call your dog?”
“Dog. He’s an American Indian. Like a husky but fierce. Good guard dog for me.” Dog reared up on its leash baring its fangs. “He’ll go for you if he can” said Ian the Tinker.
The picturesque almost-roll top caravan belongs to friends of his who were away somewhere but would be back soon.
A van stopped and the driver asked if Ian would buy some scrap iron. Ian said he would.
“I like reading. Sci-fi. You learn a lot from it. Look there’s a kite.” He screwed up his eyes following its flight path.
I should have asked him about his favourite writers, but I was nervous with the traffic whizzing past.
“Awful weather isn’t it. Its them chemtrails. They’re making the clouds come. It should be warm and sunny. I used to be interested in all that occult stuff, but its dangerous it is. I like being in my van with no windows. I sleep better. Used to live in a proper house but I got mental health problems. Have to be in the countryside and on the move. I put my little caravan on that trailer and hitch the horses, but I get about otherwise on my bike. I like yours- smart isn’t it? Electric?”
It’s very noticeable my blue bike. When I lived in Oxford two of my ebikes were stolen from my house. This one, a Trek, is a real tourer but has crushed my shin with its monstrous 24 kg weight about 8 weeks ago. The scar is still rusty.
I asked if Ian had ever been down to the festival in Saintes Marie in the Camargue, which hosts the gypsies every year (see my blog Romanys and the Three Saints, published 2013). The music is mesmerizing.
“No. I haven’t been. I don’t like France.”
George Borrow was probably like Ian. My dad was a great fan of Borrow’s and sometimes quoted those evocative lines from Lavengro. “There’s night and day brother, both sweet things; sun moon and stars, both sweet things; there’s likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?”
With that thought I said goodbye to Ian and cycled off again. “Drop by anytime you like,” he said in parting, although earlier he’d said “you ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”.
Well, you never have a conversation like that whizzing by in an SUV.