Thursday, February 10, 2005

Cycling for the first time in years. I suddenly remembered I haven't swam in a while, and the most exercise I've had recently is cursing speed bumps vehemently. I discovered this while trying to remember how the gears work. On a sandy hill. With bricks in (they have been used for centuries to fill the potholes in, except they have most come out, and embedded themselves elsewhere).

I finally realise why I can never get to grips with gears on a bike. Because the only time I experiment with them is when I've got stuck on some sandy and lumpy hill. Which given I can never restart, once I've stopped on one of these hills, means I end up not being able to find any difference between any of the gears. Managing to confuse the laws of physics, I try to start off in - I can never remember which is high or low - big cog, little cog (front and back respectively). I jerk forward half a crank's worth, and fall sideways. I try middle-middle. The same. I try small-big. I get slightly further, but don't have enough momentum not to fall over. I keep trying, and after many attempts in which I lurch between flanking brambles, I get off and walk up to a shallower bit of hill.

Eventually, after walking through a hole in the fence, round the padlocked, but much run-over, gate which blocks the bridleway, I get to proper road. And it's downhill. As I approach the junction at the end, I start slowing (which given I'm not very keen on going very fast on a bike). On the finally bit of road, it starts sloping much more, as it's effectively the inside of a hairpin. My rear wheel starts making gravelly noises. This is not good. I pulse both brakes on and off, hoping I am emanating ABS. I stop just before the junction, largely thanks to using a foot as well. The bike is still trying to slide out sideways from underneath me.

I pull off, slightly sedately, and am pleasantly surprised by the cars overtaking me. Last time I cycled it was in Exeter, where drivers often try to save cyclists energy, by hooking cyclists on their wingmirrors, and giving them a tow for the next 50 yards.

I'm not sure if this is in any way connected, but this bike is much taller than my last one. Admittedly I've probably grown as well. It is very odd suddenly being so high. Perhaps because of this, mothers ferrying their precious beings round in Range Rovers tend to give me an unexpectedly wide berth. Maybe they don't like me being able to peer down on their ugly children (who look shocked to be seen).

Other than chickening out round the cluster of schools, and so walking past, and overtaking, all the Volvos-at-dawn, coming back down the hill was fine, and I even had people being nice and waiting for me.

Two problems cropped up on the way home though. The first was that I thought I had just ridden over some broken glass, as small shiny things skittered away from the wheels. Only when that was followed by a purring and a clatter, despite their having been nothing in the road, I realised something was wrong. Dismount. Check bike, especially the lights I have only just put on. Walk back up to the scene of the clatter, and find front reflector with adjacent nut and washer. Walk back up to where the broken glass apparently was. Find nut and washer. Unable to see how this fits on the bike. The mount for the reflector is curved at the back, suggesting it is held against the front post. Still cannot see any way of connecting it. Hunt up and down the road for the black plastic ring, like the ones that hold everything else onto the bike. Fail to find it. Head home, a bit annoyed.

The other unfortunate thing was getting ready to turn right into the road where I live. I'm nearly on the white line, and slowly slightly. The red van which roared up behind me changes down a gear and revs. Looking over my shoulder I see he's trying to overtake me. I mouth something along the lines of "where the hell do you think you're going?" with great gusto. I repeat my signal, and am very tempted to rotate my hand and make a further signal, but decide that such move is not a good idea when cycling with a badly driven van close behind me. He drops back a bit. I pull into the road, and the van follows me. He is already overtaking me on the blind bend at the bottom, and hares up the hill in a mess of revs.

And that's when I remember who drives that van. Oh yes. Mr X. Fairly thick and usually drunk. And not the type to let mere arrest get in the way.

Getting home, I try to work out how the reflector fitted, and finally notice a pointless plastic loop connecting the two sides of the fork, with a hole in the middle. Ah, now I see. The reflector is a standard fitting on the front pillar of the bike, hence the curved mount. This bike, what with the front fork and all, does not have enough pillar to fit the reflector on. So they bolt it onto an arch of plastic just above the wheel. The curving of the mount means that only the very edges make contact. So there's minimal friction to keep it in place. It twists slightly with each jolt, and so undoes the bolt. Bolt falls apart, reflector catches on the wheel, hence the purring, and then falls off. It all makes sense now.

So now we know that Raleigh's, whilst being good bikes, tend not to do so well on the details (the bell was so loose it swung round to hang underneath the handlebars).

But anyway, that was cycling, and the inaugural ride of my thanks-to-Weetabix-Raleigh-not-what-it-was-supposed-to-be-but-I-think-it-is-probably-better-Firefly. It only took me two months.

Oh, and did I mention how great it is (in one sense at least) to have absolutely no work to do, and be sent home early, safe in the knowledge that I'm still getting paid. I think it might have been devising a game with the Canadian temp that did it. Or more precisely me having hysterics because his attempts at making the game fairer meant he ended up with a plastic cup of water poured into his crotch.

That last sentence only makes sense if one knows the game. Basically, on a table, and in front of the opposing players, are two plastic cups which serve as goals. The ball in this game isn't a ball, it is one of those rubber thimble things people use when seperating paper. Stood hollow-side down on the table, and pressed lightly, it can be made to jump. With practice the range and direction can be controlled. The aim of the game was to get it in the opposing cup. Getting into the cup, and it staying there, scores 5 points. Hitting the cup scores 2. Getting it to land upright on the table scores 3. Other rules are invented whenever someone scores a goal. The cup I was aiming for had water in it. The cup he was aiming for had the dregs of machine hot chocolate in it. After a while he noticed that his cup skittered away when hit, but mine didn't move, and therefore he would get near misses where I would get goals. So he balanced out the levels by splitting the liquid between the two cups, so now both contain dilute hot chocolate. He still isn't managing to get goals. But realising the risk if he does nearly get one, I move back. By fluke I get the thimble into the cup. But because he's taken half the liquid out, it falls over backwards, spilling gunky water and thimble into his groin.

I laugh inappropriately. But he's laughing too. It is after all largely of his own causing. I struggle to stifle the laughter, and he stops laughing when he realises he has now got an embarrassingly positioned, large, damp patch, which, due to the mixed in dregs with probably leave a mark when it dries.

I know I shouldn't have laughed, but it was the funniest thing to have happened in that office in a long time. Annoyingly, because the thimble fell out, I only scored 2 points from that shot.

Shortly after this and the office began being emptied by those on high. Which meant I got to drive home in surprisingly warm milky sun. I later realised I had left the heater on in car after trying to keep the windscreen clear in the morning. But it was sunny, and that's all that matters.


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