Prologue—2

To Gatwick today and thence to Inverness and John O’Groats. I hadn’t been on a plane for a very long time, and my flight today was a far cry from the trips I used to do with the Wellcome Trust, where more often than not I would turn left as I entered the plane and then sip (alright, quaff) champagne and try to work out how the seat converted into a bed. No: today I was in a middle seat of an easyJet flight, masked up, and trying to make myself as small as possible lest I transgress inappropriately onto my neighbours’ armrests. At least I was in row 3, and so guaranteed of a quick exit.

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The view at take-off

Once airborne, my view from the plane (or as much of a view as I had from the middle seat) was of a land where the grass was yellow and the temperature in the mid-30s. It looked ominously like the beginning of some post-apocalyptic movie, with citizens going about their sweaty business apparently unconcerned about the future. In this film, the director would go on to depict things going wrong: it would start with hosepipe bans, then reservoirs would dry up, there’d be wildfires, crops would fail, and tempers would flare. When rain did fall there’d be horrific flash floods, people would drown, property would be destroyed and disease would spread. This is the inevitable narrative in such a film and it feels all too likely in real life. To mis-quote Philip Larkin in another context: Why aren’t we all screaming? I sometimes think of future archeologists arriving on earth from some far-distant exoplanet, wondering why the Anthropocene ended so abruptly in the middle of what we call the 21st century.

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The yellow yellow grass of home.

Sorry, that was a bit of a distraction, perhaps brought on by my guilt at being in an aeroplane, by my irritation at the state of our lawn, or simply by a general malaise after a hot and sleepless night.

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Inverness from the air

Anyway, we soon approached Inverness, where I was expecting the land to be greener than in the South. To my surprise, the view from the air wasn’t terribly different from London, but as we landed it did begin to rain, and after the drought in London I felt a little like Robert Benchley reporting back to The New Yorker from Venice: Streets full of water, please advise. It wasn’t quite that bad, of course, but it was raining and 18 degrees, which was wonderful. I had a brief panic that I hadn’t packed enough warm clothing, but 18 degrees is still pretty comfortable, so I think I’ll be OK.

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It’s raining!
Flooded road near Inverness

My bag appeared surprisingly quickly on the baggage carousel. I had just over an hour before being picked up to go to John O’Groats, so I had a toastie to tide myself over to dinner and met fellow cyclist Amardeep in the restaurant, where we compared cycling experiences, said what we do for a living, and so on. Our cycling gang was scheduled to leave the airport at 3:30, but the weather had changed suddenly for the worse. Our coach, which had picked a few people up at Inverness Station, managed to reach us at the airport, but did so in thunder and torrential rain. This also delayed the arrival of Carl and Les’s plane, which had to circle three times before landing. We managed to leave shortly after 4:00, but the flooded roads slowed our journey to John O’Groat’s, which we only managed to reach by 8:00 pm. To give a sense of the weather, Jamie Pocock made a video of part of the journey from the station to the airport. Quite a change from the drought of London.

I said in my last blog that I’d describe the unpacking and re-assembly of my bike, but Rob did the lion’s share of this work before we arrived, and I only saw my machine after dinner, at 10:00. It still needs a few adjustments, though, and I’ll describe these tomorrow. For now…bed.

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