Wednesday, 5 October 2016

How to Feel Like an Eight-Year-Old

Riding a bike’s a bit like walking a dog; everyone smiles at you. Walkers stand aside and drivers stop to wave you across the road. I know this because I always dismount at busy intersections to avoid being crushed by a lorry. I smile and raise my hand rather graciously like the queen then I whizz across a bit smartish to show I appreciate drivers taking time to stop for me.

I have saddlebags, of course, that is, besides the ones that nestle around my hips. They - that is the bike’s saddlebags - don’t carry a lot, but I’m reluctant to exchange them for deeper bags.

There’s something so demoralising about very deep saddlebags; they look, somehow, unpleasantly utility, rather like those old-fashioned droopy school knickers some poor kids wore in the fifties. You know, the ones with loose elastic round the legs, that sort of slithered down below the knees and the poor little kid had to keep yanking the waistband up from behind while she was playing at her skipping games. Big, deep saddlebags defeat the whole point of riding a bike, its lightness, its floatiness. Riding a bike is a way of being in the world, part of the world and of the world, all at the same time.

This makes me think about my friend, Deirdre. We went cycling in a hilly area and suddenly she wriggled and said, ‘I wish I’d worn different knickers,’ and I fell off my bike laughing. Knickers are important when you’re riding a bike. Well, I suppose they’re pretty important most of the time, not only because you might get run over and have to go to hospital, but if you know, in your heart your knickers are inadequate in some way it can have a bad psychological effect on your day.

I had a friend who always bought expensive silk knickers in every conceivable colour so she could match all of her outfits. I wouldn’t go that far. I just wouldn’t feel sexy in bright green or purple underwear. Anyhow, the thing to remember when cycling is, French knickers absolutely never work and might injure you for life.

My bike’s a good make, although not the top of the range. And I’m far from a perfect cyclist. Actually my bike is like my figure. It wobbles a bit and protrudes where you don’t expect it, and it knocks things over and breaks them. I don’t like things being perfect anyway. Not sure why.

No,that’s not true, I know exactly why. I’ll give you an example: My garden. My garden tends to be unruly and surprising, for example, foxgloves that magically appear from stray seeds dropped by the birds, or weeds allowed to thrive just because I like them. Nothing takes itself too seriously and I think that’s important. As soon as you start getting too precious about yourself everything gets complicated. That’s why cycling’s good. It’s simple and it’s hands-on and you don’t get a parking ticket.

Like my garden, cycling’s full of surprises, not always pleasant, but then if you only expect nice things to happen, then you would only be living half a life. I had an accident, not serious, although my bike was poorly and needed a new wheel to replace the buckled one. I was cycling along the sea wall and had to tackle a tricky slalom bit around some bollards over a dyke. The bike sort of wobbled, then I bashed straight into this tall rectangular thingy sticking up out of the concrete.

All I could think of was what shape was my bike in? My own wellbeing took second place. Whispering encouragement, I coaxed my injured machine home, hoping it would not blame me for steering it into the rectangular thingy. Its crooked wheel was going all over the place as though it had forgotten its essential purpose and intention, and what with me limping beside it on my sprained ankles wondering if either of us would ever be the same again, well, it was a grim march home. I was out-of-action for a week or so, but the poor bike took three weeks to repair.

It was only later I discovered I’d hit a machine for counting, automatically, how many bikes pass by.

Besides the bike-counting machine, I’ve also ridden into a couple of bollards that sort of loomed up unexpectedly and I made a dent in my front door which was a little bit further forward than I’d anticipated.

Okay, sometimes it doesn’t go right. Flies don’t always look where they’re going and zonk painfully into your eye. How can something the size of a pinhead feel so huge while it’s struggling for life in the squishy regions inside your eyelid?

Sometimes you might fall off and bruise your body, but oh, the incredible adrenaline rush when the bike starts to tip because you’ve misjudged a bump, but somehow you don’t actually fall over. That’s one of the best feelings in the world, like getting something for nothing, like cheating death.

On a bike you’re a kid, you bounce and wheel and spin and whizz and fly and it’s a happy, happy, happy feeling. If elderly like me, you’ll never again walk like an eight-year-old, never dance like an eight-year-old or run like an eight-year-old, with all the enjoyment and elation of an eight-year-old. But you can ride a bike like an eight-year-old and get all those enchanting feelings. It’s absolutely the same, whether you’re ninety-eight or eight.

If you want those feelings, don’t procrastinate. Do it. Be like me.
On Yer Bike. Go on.

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