Sunday, 8 July 2012

Why you'll never see me on a bike!

I was looking through some old photos the other day and realised that there wasn't one of me on, or even with, a bicycle. My parents were keen cyclists. They met through being members of the CTC (Cyclists' Touring Club) and their honeymoon was spent cycling round the Isle of Skye on a tandem, Dad with boils on his bottom and Mum with a heavy period. Not the most romantic of times! Here are some old photos of Mum and Dad with their bikes.

Definitely lost!

No cars around in those days

Wet, wet, wet!

Soggy bum from Scottish rain?

When I was small, I had a tricycle, which my sister inherited. (There's a photo of her on it somewhere, but darned if I can find it!). Once I had outgrown my trike, Dad gave me a blue two-wheeler which was cheap because it had been cobbled together from parts of dead bikes. I didn't care. Once I had learned to balance and ride it - I can still remember the heart-stopping moment when Dad gave it a push and let go, and off I wobbled under my own steam - I could cycle round to visit my friends, who of course had bikes of their own. 

Everything was fine until the day when I hit the patch of gravel in Brodie Avenue, skidded and came off just as the bus was bearing down on me. I shall never know how it stopped in time. I remember people bending over me - maybe the driver or conductor was one of them - and asking if I was all right. I was only two minutes from home, so I hobbled off, bleeding from the gravel grazes, pushing my bike. Arriving home, I pushed it into the garage, which was a store for everything including Dad's collection of newspapers going back to the war years, and vowed never to ride it again. I think my sister inherited it. I must ask her.

Scroll forward seventeen years. On holiday in Paris, I met a sporty American called Joel, who was working in Paris. He was the complete opposite to me. Where I sat up till all hours quaffing wine, strumming the guitar and smoking illicit substances, he was up at 6.30am every day, working out in the gym before work. This was the 1970s, for heaven's sake! It was the post-Hippie loon pants era, yet this guy was ahead of his time, with a work and fitness ethic worthy of the 1990s.

We spent a night together in a brothel, which we thought was a hotel, but that's another story. The purpose of this one is to continue the story of me and bikes. A year after our Parisian bonk, Joel rang me and asked if I would like to come on a sailing holiday in Loosdrecht, Holland, with him. Loosdrecht is a beautiful part of Northern Holland featuring several wonderful lakes (see below).

The idea sounded great. I was looking forward to a repeat bonk in beautiful surroundings, so I booked myself on a flight and Joel met me at the airport. It was raining. It rained the next day, too. Not just rain, either, but howling gales that whipped the lake up into a veritable Camargue full of white horses. I would have been happy to stay in bed, emerging only for food and drink, especially alcoholic, but superfit Joel had other ideas. 

"It may be too rough to sail, but we can still cycle," he said, opening the boot of his car and producing two collapsible bikes.

My heart sank. Cycle? Me? My lack of enthusiasm must have been obvious, but I was desperate to look good in his eyes, so onto the bike I got, and we cycled... And we cycled... And we cycled some more. We went to Hilversum. We came out the other side. We rode through woods, down roads where barges sailed above our heads on raised canals. And all the time, as I lifted each knee up with my hand and thrust it down onto the pedal, as it was incapable of independent movement, I kept thinking, 'We've got to do the same distance home.' I raised my eyes to the skies, praying for an alien abduction, but none came. All I could see was Joel's bum on his saddle, a mere speck in the distance, and his bronzed hairy legs pounding up and down, leaving this unfit English weakling far, far behind.

I'll never know how I got back. The furthest I had ever ridden before was a mile and a half to the riding stable and the same distance back. That day, Joel told me we'd ridden a mere 50 kilometres. When we finally arrived at our hotel, I got off the bike and crumpled to the floor. He had to help me indoors, whereupon I crawled up the stairs on my hands and knees and collapsed celibately into bed. I have never, ever, ridden a bike since. Talk about aversion therapy!

There is a P.S. to this story. Next day dawned bright and clear. Stiff and aching though I was, Joel hired a sailing dinghy like the one you can see in the photograph. I had never been in one before. Of course, Joel was an expert. While he manned the sails, I steered. What a joke that was! Within half an hour, helped by the wind that was blowing everything sideways, I brought us too close in to shore, where a tree branch speared the sail and left us dangling at a 45 degree angle. We had to be rescued and he probably had to pay for the damage to the sail.

I have never been on a sailing boat since, either! Nor did I see Joel again. Indeed, he packed me off on the plane next day and I have never been so glad to get back to London and a nice, safe, unhealthy bottle of wine.