I quite like Americans, the decent ones. I like many of their writers, filmmakers and musicians. I particularly like some of their off-beat funny people such a Bill Murray. I like the way they say that they are angry:
This side of the Atlantic sees a phrasal verb coming into play, ‘pissed-off’. The impact of the phrasal verb is to impart some temporary nature to the state of being angry, whereas ‘pissed’ is ‘pissed’. it’s solid and immoveable. Sometimes, when you are truly ‘pissed-off’, ‘pissed’ is better. There’s also a connotation of being drunk beyond reason and this fits the state that I thought I had left behind a number of months before. When I thought about the harpy, formerly known as Fleetwood, I was pissed!
After fleeing her madness on the previous afternoon, I found myself waking with a lumpen frustration still lodged in my throat. She had reminded me, with her satanic side-kicks, that the world was not sane. We haven’t yet resolved how to live on other planets, it probably won’t be resolved in my lifetime, so there is no escape from THEM. They are amongst us. No, they are us and it is just our sense of denial that stops ourselves from seeing it in brilliant technicolour. Fortunately, the morning was a Mallorcan pallet of glorious hues and it was into this that we set sail (on our bikes-mixed metaphor).
I chatted to Claire, on the phone, and told her that I was not going to be going in to that institution again. I had enough of my own mental problems without catching some more from the others who wandered the corridors, unsupervised. I shared my outraged disappointment about a silly Brodie quip. When I was leaving, storming-out, the previous afternoon, he had joked that he could now be Head of English. That was met by a flatly ‘pissed’ response from me. I think it was meant to be a question, but it never formed itself as such,
“Can you just go and fuck-off?”
Another Anglo-Saxon phrasal-verb. Needless to say, things had got a little heated. I didn’t bump into the harpy on my way out, so there was no need for any further explosions. I did still feel angry at Brodie and my knee-jerk reaction forced me to do something that I will always regret. It came in the form of a text and the content was such that I will not ever repeat what I wrote.
When I finished my conversation with Claire, I truly thought that that was it, the final IT. But, as Stephen King fans can testify, there is never a final IT; just another remake.
That moment also felt as if it was a remake, a recasting of events that had taken place many times before, and it did make me think that there was something in me or in my stars that was responsible. It was at this point that I ought to have renamed Fleetwood, Pennywise.
From Stephen King’s IT.
So, this was my friend’s last full day on the island.
As things would have it, a good day’s cycling beckoned. By eight o’clock, my friend was moving about in a bear-like manner, mumbling, grunting, passing a little piece of judgement here and there. We had had a few words earlier in the week when I thought he was being too ready to criticise the way that I was living. These little fault-lines went largely unnoticed, but they had weakened the foundations.
His mood was quick to turn from something that was merely a satirical observation into something more resentful. The more frequent assertions that his food was better than mine, that my penchant for reading was just an excuse to sit down and miss it all (whatever ‘it all’ was), and his other assertion that I ought to be eternally grateful for the life that I had. Okay, I didn’t have to endure his life, but his life was brought about as a direct result of his own actions. Mine, on the other hand, was as a result of me being a Number 1 ME, something that I couldn’t ever escape. The other thing that probably ‘pissed him off’ was the fact that my bike got a number of punctures.
Murphy’s Law says, be prepared.
Cycling has long-since ceased to be a spontaneous activity. It demands precise preparation, planning, and a plethora of tools and materials for that ‘just-in-case’ moment. Those moments come more frequently the more that an individual cycles. Smashed glass, thorns or flints will do it. A pot-hole also has a knack of stopping a relaxing ride in its tracks. Mad tourists with bottles on cycle paths can play a part whilst any to attempt to mitigate against the whims of wayward motorists is somewhat beyond an individual’s sphere of control. When my friend sets off on a ride, he is a credit to Baden-Powell and his movement. I am not.
Be Prepared. Dib, dob, dib!
If you have a spare luggage compartment, here goes:
1. Spare Tubes
Whenever you go for a ride, make sure that you have spare tubes on hand. Remember; they have to be fitted to your bike. This way you’ll be ready for any nasty flat tire situation. Without these, you’ll have to think about bumming a ride back home! (Not a good look!)
2. Patch Kit
Although it may sound odd to carry both, carrying spare tubes and a patch kit, isn’t such a bad idea. Let’s say worst case scenario happens and both of your tires are busted; you’ll be glad to have both these essentials on hand. (Or, what if a cute girl or guy that you spot along the way happens to be in a sticky situation? You could totally save the day. Just saying… You never know!)
3. Pump or Co2 Inflators
Carrying a good pump or a Co2 inflator is always necessary when you’re heading out to ride. Whether you’ve repaired your flat bike tire with a patch or opted to replace it with a new one, you’re going to have to refill it with air if you want to get up and moving again. (Don’t even think about blowing it up with air for your lungs. Duh!)
4. Tire Levers
Never underestimate the power of this small tool! Regardless of its tiny size, this item is a must when you’re removing a tire. Tire levers slide right under your tire, which will help you remove them from the rim.
Having a multi-tool in your pack is always a good idea. Complete with Allen wrenches, screwdrivers in various sizes, and chain tools, you’ll be ready to adjust anything, anytime, anywhere. Whether it’s to make adjustments on your own bike or to tighten up a friend’s bike, you’ll have what’s needed to save the day. When choosing your multi-tool, remember to keep your riding style in mind as it may influence your purchase choice.
6. Mini First Aid Kit
Always carry a small First Aid Kit. It’s essential. You never know when you’ll need a band-aid to cover up that gnarly scrape on your knees or a sling to rest your sore arm. Whether we like to admit it, accidents do happen.
Remember, be prepared when you go cycling! Now that you’re ready, get out there and ride!
If that is not enough to put you off, I don’t know what will.
So an enjoyable ride is instantly turned into a Saharan adventure on which life, limb and mental wellbeing is being risked at every turn of the peddles. If George Bernard Shaw ever considered cycling instead of golf, he may have said that it was a way of spoiling a good walk.
Ironically, Shaw did cycle. He was one of the original cycling nuts who had caught the bug at the age of 29.
Michael Holroyd described how,
‘For someone physically timid, Shaw’s experiments by bicycle were extraordinary. He would raise his feet to the handlebars and simply toboggan down steep places. Many of his falls, from which we would prance away shouting, ‘I am not hurt’, with black eyes, violet lips and a red face, acted as trials for his optimism.’
I was also surprised to learn that H.G. Wells was also taken with the sport.
‘Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.’
The cover to Well’s book on cycling. He also wrote War of the Wheels, but that was later changed in order to attract the non-cycling readership.
‘There were miles of this- scores of miles of this before him, pinewood and oak forest, purple, heathery moorland and grassy down, lush meadows where shining rivers wound their lazy way, villages with square-towered, flint churches, and rambling, cheap and hearty inns, clean, white country towns, long downhill stretches, where one might ride at one’s ease (overlooking a jolt or two) and far away, at the end of it all- the sea.’
This is what I liked to feel before setting off on a journey. My friend was more robust and, to his credit, I was indebted to him on a number of occasions.
Doesn’t every right-minded cyclist dream of cycling in landscape like this?
We were lucky with the weather. We were in Mallorca not West Yorkshire. Our journey was to be one of my friend’s aptly named, ‘walks on our bikes’. This entailed easy riding, conversation and a steady turning of the peddles. Along the way, we would pass the school that I was working at. I had a mixture of anger and sadness as we cycled past the gates. I was angry with the few who had made it insufferable and sad that they had made it so.
I was on the road to recovery, but that recovery did not mean that I had developed an immunity to the sickness that had almost destroyed me. In physiological terms, it may be that what doesn’t break you makes you stronger, but in psychological terms it is better to steer clear of the source of the disease in the first place. Mental illness is contagious. Cycling, on the other hand, is a treatment that doesn’t infect the patient with even the smallest dose of the original pathogen.
We cycled, we talked. we cycled, we talked. We stopped for coffee and talked. My friend was still a little brittle at the edges and when we had to decide on routes to take (everything was down to a mercurial sense of direction) he would take issue and, for a quiet life, I would follow his lead. Often we would find ourselves turning back upon the road taken to rediscover the one not originally decided upon. For me, this was all part of the adventure. For my friend, I think that it was less frivolous than that.
How can anything spoil a ride like this?
We cycled and cycled and only stopped for refreshments at local cafes or bars just to sample and savour. We did a turn along the coast and then turned up into the foothills before circling around to come down into Palma de Mallorca, where we sat some more to sample the ambiance.
Palma is a surprisingly beautiful city that is often voted as one of the best places to live in both Spain and Europe. There is a cosmopolitan nature to it that supports my belief in all things that are good about people. As I am writing this, I am getting a definite pang of nostalgia. Nevertheless, we were approaching the end of his short holiday and the end of my medium-term contract. I had made the decision that without my family all of this would be empty.
A sad thing happened on our way back from the capital.
We were separated in traffic and while he rode on ahead, I chose a different route, one that I thought would be a short-cut. It turned out not to be the case. I finally found him sitting at an outside table of a cafe in San Augustin. His face had stopped smiling and his manner was not particularly friendly. Later, I realised that the return to reality, for him, was like being dipped back into the waters of the river Styx.
That evening was to prove interesting.