Friday, 5 June 2015

On yer bike, son.

Yesterday I did something I haven't done for at least a year. I went for a bike ride.

Yes, my poor unloved bicycle had been sitting in the shed all that time, neglected and unloved, with tyres going flat and a colony of spiders building webs among the spokes.

This is a crying shame, because for as long as I can remember, I've loved riding my bikes, and there have been a fair few over the years. Why haven't I ridden it for over a year? Because it's just turned into one of those many things on the ever growing list of things that I "used to do".

Growing up and growing older is a strange thing. There are all manner of things that we stop doing at various points in the process, without perhaps realising at the time we last perform them that it is in fact the last time. For example did I know, growing up, that I was having my last game of "tig" with my mates? I can't remember when the last one was, but I subconsciously stopped at some point. It's quite sad looking back at these things and realising that maturity takes away so many of the unbridled joys of youth. Thankfully, I'm still a big kid at heart which stands me in good stead as a father - I love joining in again now with my kids and doing these things all over again - though some of them are a little trickier now than they were in my youth. Hide and seek is definitely not as easy when you're my size and trying to wedge your ample frame onto the windowsill behind the curtains without leaving too much of an obvious bulge.

So what about bikes? I loved them. There's a famous family anecdote that apparently when I was about two, my parents went out for an evening leaving me with a babysitter. When they came back about midnight, I was out in the front year riding round and round on my tricycle, the legendary "Crazy Driver".How accurate this story is, I don't know, it seems to get more exaggerated over the years like the size of an angler's catch. But clearly I loved my bikes from a young age.

By the time I was primary school age, my friends and I biked everywhere, all over the village. There seemed to be very little in the way of supervision then, but it was in the 1970s and that was just the way things were. From about the age of 7 I could go wherever I wanted. Bikes formed a large part of games with friends as we got older, including a fantastic scrambling track we created around a felled tree, a victim of Dutch Elm Disease. It even had it's own pits area. Happy days.

When I got older, it was the only way to travel. When I chatted up a girl on my CB radio in 1983 (we didn't need the internet), I cycled over to meet her in Kidlington, a few miles away. I was only 13 at the time, and rather inexperienced in such matters so confident chat on the CB turned into awkward teenage shyness - needless to say, it didn't go anywhere. On another occasion, my mate and I staged an elaborate accident outside the house of two sisters we fancied in order to get them running to our mercy like young Florence Nightingales. Unsurprisingly this was not successful either, and a waste of £1.50 spent on fake blood from the joke shop in the Covered Market. Just two early examples of the many amorous disappointments destined to plague my life during my teenage years.

In the absence of a driving licence, my teenage years were spent cycling all over Oxfordshire. What a lean, mean, flying machine I was then. And I really could shift it. Once I bet a friend I could beat the bus back from Oxford to Eynsham (about 5 miles), and I did it - that's no lie. It nearly caught up with me as I entered the village, but all that time wasted at bus stops in Oxford had given me the head start I needed. Thinking about it now, the first thing that springs to mind is that the road to Eynsham was incredibly dangerous, but did I wear a helmet? No. Why? Because I had a deathwish? No - because no-one ever did back then - this was the 1980's and hardly anyone did. These were the days when health & safety was in its infancy and I was possessed with the arrogance and immortality of youth so didn't give it a second thought.

In the 1990's my trips grew shorter, my most regular one being from my house on Southwold down to The Plough, and then back again, six pints later in a somewhat less than straight line. Sometimes it was further afield. Drink driving was something I never did and never will - but somehow drink cycling seemed acceptable. However, after a lengthy session in the Red Lion at Stratton Audley one Saturday evening that ended with the bike somewhere in a ditch on the other side of the A421, I decided to review this strategy. When I came back the following day and saw the jagged rocks and broken glass all around the entry point of the ditch I realised how amazing it was I hadn't done myself serious injury. Somehow my beer coat had saved me, but it was a sobering scene.

After that, things started to tail off a bit. I still went out on the occasional bike ride, but it was no longer a necessity. I still tried to use the bike as much as possible for local trips, such as nipping to the supermarket with a rucksack in tow to carry the goods, but all that went out of the window when the kids came along.

Me on my bike, about three years ago.
Not done much mileage since then,

Now they are a little older, and I desperately want to persuade them to join the cycling fraternity. It would be so much better for all of us. Our school is relocating to a new site over a mile away in January and I know it's going to become much more difficult to do this trip on foot every day. If they could both cycle with me it would be so much better for us all round, but Ollie remains resistant. His autism makes him incredibly scared of trying any new experience, and cycling is no exception, but we conquered his swimming fear so I live in hope. Jamie is getting a bike for his birthday next month, complete with stabilisers and I'm hoping if I can catch Ollie in a good mood, with the bribe of some sweets I can encourage him to take the plunge.

Just before I go, an update on my 1,000 book sales in June challenge.

Day 4 Sales: 18
Running Total: 86
Running Target: 133 (behind by 47).

MTYY UK Rank: #6255 (down from #5,555)
MTYY US Rank: #22,820 (up from #26,071)

More tomorrow!

 Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

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