a collective noun for Cyclists in a quiet lane?by
Zsolt Kerekes -
Chiltington Lane -
November 5, 2020
During the first UK wide covid lockdown
in March, April and May...
Those are words I've had bouncing
around in my head for about 5 months now - which I was going to use as the
introduction to a lightweight piece about how traffic conditions had changed in
Chiltington Lane during those sunny dark days.
But for various reasons
I never got to write them down and post them here before.
One of the
things which stopped me was the symbolically loaded nature of the word word - "first".
Should I use it - or not?
"First" implied or
admitted the posibility of a "Second". As in WW1 was called the Great
War until WW2. Better - in the intervening period - not to dwell on such a
I had adopted some
peculiar habits of
writing as a result of seeing 26 years of my commentaries about the
computer market composting at various speeds from news into history -
added to which a bad case of writer's block - prevented me from simply
typing this:- "during the first UK wide covid lockdown in March,
April and May the pattern of traffic in Chiltington Lane changed markedly."
it's - November 5, 2020. And I write this - here and now - we are indeed in
that ancipated second lockdown.
In one sense I can feel relieved
that it wasn't any bad magic or accidental invocation of that first sentence of
mine which caused it. Because I didn't write those words before the second
lockdown came to pass.
What I was going to write about - in that
unwritten article (while I was writerly self blocking) were some comments
based on my own very limited observations of external changes in the lane during
the first lockdown.
Others have already done much better jobs of
writing and talking about their external environments - in real-time. How they
could hear birds more clearly. Their greater awareness of nature etc. So I won't
waste too much more of your time by stretching this out. But these are some of
the little things I noted while being safely tucked up in Chiltington Lane...
were the changes in traffic during lockdown #1?
traffic went down. No surprise. There was little of it here before. And during
lockdown #1 there was nowhere interesting you were allowed to go.
- horse traffic along the lane virtually disappeared for months too.
I missed the sound of steel shoes on the tarmac and the sight of tall
riders passing like ships above the hedgeline.
A neighbour - Jayne -
told me this was because the main horsey ORG in the UK - the BEF - had (in March
riders and owners to cut down their riding to a minimum to avoid adding to
the workload of the NHS caused by accidents - such as people falling off their
horses. (Such things do happen. Even to experienced riders. A gust of wind blows
some litter in the air and the horse you're following gets spooked and the
horse you're on joins in the unscheduled race without bothering to tell you to
duck under the branches of that tree which has just lept out of nowhere and
knocked you out.)
The skies became more natural too.
traffic dropped down to levels I hadn't witnessed since the grim days
immediately after 9/11 - the images I could see in the daytime sky were no
longer dissected by the bleeding white lines made by the razor cuts of jet
engine vapour trails.
Walker traffic picked up too.
never seen so many people walking the lane. It was like all the people who you'd
normally see at Christmas - except it was hot and sunny.
residents had to choose the time of their walks carefully - because while
motorized and horse drawn traffic had virtually disappeared - a bigger factor
had mushroomed into shape.
The swishing scythes of
cyclists streaming down the lane.
In 2006 when I first visited
Chiltington Lane to look at a
here which was for sale I hadn't noticed cyclists as being a particular
My wife and I were deadly serious about the issue of
road traffic because we had been living in a dead end road on a farm in North
Hampshire and had gotten used to quiet roads.
In my house hunting
visits covering a wide spanse of rural arcs which were not too far from
and Hove (where I had family) but which were far enough away (so as not to be on
the doorstep) I had found many prettier looking houses virtually online - whose
attractions had been blown away in actual viewings by oppressive road noise
which hit me as soon as I had switched off my own car engine.
it quiet enough?" we asked. After the estate agent had shown us around
Chiltington House on a damp late summer Sunday in 2006.
So we stayed
parked in front of the house for another hour to count the passing traffic.
that hour there were 2 cars (one of which was the estate agent leaving). And no
That was our scientific method. And in the 13 years we've lived
in the lane - (so far, in 2 houses including downsizing along the lane) -
speaking from the car traffic density point of view... I don't things have
changed much in that part of the lane.
In 2006 - we didn't hear much
of the trains either.
But that house is in a bendy loop of
Chiltington Lane which is about as far away from the railway tracks as you can
be - and there were more trees along the tracks in those days before
decided to improve the stability of the embankments by scalping them - and
the trains are mostly electric - and here's another sampling bias in our noise
survey - it was on a Sunday. (Less trains. Often buses. And the the buses don't
come down the lane.)
Anyway back to the emergence of cyclists in
At first 2007, 2008, 2009 or so - I wasn't aware of
bikes down the lane as a thing.
OK I had noticed something.
was odd. But sometimes when I was in my garden - which had a high wooden fence
so I couldn't see what was on the road - I would hear snatches of loud
conversation. Almost like shouting.
And thus spake Spokes-u-Lycra.
voices which descended on my (quietly raking up the leaves from the lawn type
of) leaf sweeping sounded very high minded and philosophical.
as few words. Maybe a phrase.
They weren't voices I recognized.
at that time I didn't know many people in the lane. And surely I would have
noticed people who talked so loudly. I had the feeling hadn't encountered
these same voices before.
A few years later I discussed snippets
of loud conversations from people unseen with a neighbour John A.
cyclists" he said. He'd given the matter much thought already - and said it
was fascinating to think about where some of these fragments of conversations
might have begun and where they might end.
The fragments of cycle-speak
- which we heard in those days were at a level of gravitas and philosophy which
seemed loftier and more interesting than those of mere mortal shoe plodders like
us. Perhaps if we could collect all their wisdom and join the pieces up it might
make an interesting book.
My wife and I were driving back home one day
- maybe 2010 / 2011 - when we noticed the arrows.
They were on signs
along the way pointing towards Chiltington Lane.
"What do they
mean?" - we asked each other.
"Is it that time of year? How
come we missed it before? Could it be the
to Brighton cycle race or something?"
"It wouldn't come
this way - would it."
Whatever it was. The arrows and the cyclists
had discovered Chiltington Lane.
The same attributes which we had
attracted us to buy the otherwise unattractive "plastic house" (we
called it - because of the white clapperboard) - the quietness of the lane and
its charming mixture of oak trees and wild flowers and views of the South
Downs (if you stood in the right place in the garden) and the background hum of
birdsong - had been noticed by others too.
The cyclists had arrived.
the old days you might see one or two cyclists peddling valiantly towards
prospects new. They weren't always going in the same direction. Sometimes they'd
be going from left to right (Lewes to Plumpton). Or right to left (Plumpton to
Lewes). And on any given day there wasn't any particular sense that there was a
single preferred direction.
Those were free range cyclists going their
The coming of the arrows were like the footprints in the sand
seen by Robinson Crusoe and warned us Cassandra-like (if we had taken heed)
that large invasions of bicyclists were in our futures.
the undiscovered days of our lane's cyclist exclusion when pioneering two
wheelers were seldom seen and incompletely heard.
The direct cause of
our lane's growing awareness in the maps of cycledom was the growing adoption
of smartphones and internet based social media like Facebook.
2016 when I looked around the web for cycle groups and recommended routes for
cyclists which mentioned Chiltington Lane - I easily found 5 or 6 without
I was delighted to see that strangers I had never met -
but who had coursed through these lanes balanced finely on their muscle-powered
metal chargers - had been among the many invisible knights and spirits who had
defended and upheld the unspoiled integrity of this lane in that strange
battle which is narrated in wrongthingwrongplace.com
a resident who didn't get out much - and was locked down here by choice long
before covid (because I worked from home on the internet for over 20 years and
like where I live) I've encountered a range of views about the coming of the
I can't help but admire people - who I see making such a
physical effort to pedal up the slope between the Chiltington House and Upper
Burrells. I once tried pushing a car up this little slope which got stuck in
the snow in 2009 and didn't succeed. It's only a short stretch - but it's hard
On the other hand - those going down the slope - whizz down
faster than I would choose to go in my car - knowing - as I do - that if I
encounter a car coming the other way at the bottom of the slope then the ditch
one the left hand side makes passing another car quite risky and someone has to
kick the cobwebs out of their reverse gear.
In 2018 Jayne B. invited
me as a newbie to attend a small meeting with some neighbours I knew who
unbeknownst to me were already seasoned campaigners on a subject dear to my
heart to designate Chiltington Lane as a quiet lane.
The idea was
to discuss new ways to petition to reduce the speed limit from the legally
permissable but crazy 60mph to something safer for walkers and horses and dogs
and cyclists and cats and ducks and
I didn't realize that so much work had already gone into this.
They had done so much already.
I suggested tentatively that maybe in the future we (as residents)
should try to recruit the voices of the cyclists that came through our lane.
are more of them (cyclists) than there are of us (residents). And a lot more of
them than the horsey people who tried this before."
I didn't do
anything practical to follow this up however.
Because sadly after
having some delightful companionable get togethers with tea and cakes in a
pretty garden we soon concluded that the government was not at all likely
to do anything about quiet lanes - because it had already declined a well
petition to do something like this not long before.
And - as we
now know - the government in the following year struggled to get anything done
at all because of the overwhelming complexity of boggy details which had to be
wrangled in its pursuit of Brexit. Which with the benefit of hindsight was
easy peasy compared to the existential challenges of coronavirus / covid 19 -
which is closer in time to where I started writing this.
Let's get back
to cyclists in the lane.
They like our lane as much as we do. So they
are natural allies in any future efforts to calm down traffic speeds in rural
lanes - when things get back to a healthier normal.
During the first
lockdown the regular sweep of cyclists taking their legally allocated slots of
outside exercise did have to be taken into consideration when taking a walk.
"How far have you come?" - I called to a lady cyclist when
she was passing by at a moderate cycling pace along a level part of the lane
with her son behind.
"20 miles" - she said.
That's how seriously fit some other people are.
OK - I know from
online research that dedicated cyclists think nothing of going 30 or 40 miles.
But those are the people who are too intense to talk to people they whizz past
in their pursuit of the revs counter.
In the strange new times of
lockndown #1 - cautious residents had to choose their times carefully to fit
in with the new traffic patterns and avoid the new crowds of cyclists who
suddenly discovered they were sharing the same tight space in crowds of other
unscheduled arrowless cyclists going in the oppsoite direction at more or
less the same random time - with no possibility of distancing more than than a
couple of inches measured from the edges of their respective handlebars.
on foot felt obliged to hop into the nearest ditch to keep out of harm's way.
safest times to go out for a walk and avoid the rush of cyclists passing by
seemed to be very early in the morning or late at night.
This is just
the way things were.
Now here's a surprise
I was putting out my wheelie bin when I saw a cyclist in the full gear but
unmounted and pushing their bike up the slope towards my gate. I was going to
say something polite like - good evening. But she said something first.
That confused me. How did a random cyclist know my
As she got closer I realized it was my next door neighbour. I
hadn't recognized her because of the disguise. (The cycling gear.)
own household also owns two pedal bikes which didn't see the light of day
during lockdown #1. Partly because we really were locked down seriously hard
- as in going nowhere. And partly because in 2019 - before these difficult
times - we discovered that due to saddle shape, comfort factors and not
sticking with it to get through the saddle sore barrier we can walk in
comfort farther than we can pedal.
That doesn't mean to say we have
given up however.
Having heard good tales of such things - and having
reached a certain age - I can reveal we have an electric bike on a back
order placed in August 2020 which sounds like it might arrive by next Easter.
So that's something to look forward to.
OK - so what is a collective
noun for a bunch of cyclists swishing down the lane?
A swooping? - of
cyclists. When they come down the hill.
A scything? - When they mow the
lanes clear and you have to leap into the long grass or the nearest ditch.
rising? - When - like swans - they appear effortlessly to defy gravity and glide
A Socratic dialogue? - When you hear some words of wisdom
flashing by and wish you could chase after them and instantly become their best
friends and join in their conversation.
I'll leave that to you.
- It's November 5th. And I haven't told you the story of how I discovered when I
moved here that Lewes does traditionally take bonfire night seriously.
year - sadly being different.
Maybe I'll get around to telling you
before another year or decade have passed.
I spoke to John A. on the phone after writing the above to ask if he remembered
our 10 years ago conversation about cyclists in the lane and the mysterious
nature of words - not quite a sentence - spoken loudly. He told me - there's
more to it than that.
John said he'd discussed the phantom cyclist
conversations with another neighbour Neville M - who lived at the end of the
lane. John suggested that between the 3 of us we could almost sample more.
could be:- a bit of the beginning, then a gap along the long straight, then a
sample of the middle followed by no gaps at all (as they picked up speed
going down the slope passing John's to mine) and amounting nearly a half a
It's not just the older inhabitants of the lane who have
commented on this. John said the youngest inhabitant of the lane L... (who
isn't disturbed at all by the regular sounds of passing trains) has her naps
disturbed by these random loudly talking sounds. She wakes up and says "cyclists".