I want to ride my bicycle…

January 26, 2007 at 2:34 am (Uncategorized)

Okay, I hate Queen, I think their music’s utterly painful, but I do at least share the late Freddy Mercury’s sentiments on this one. I have been ogling, coveting, lusting after other people’s bikes lately. I’ve really, really missed having one in the years I’ve been back in Sydney. I last owned a bike in London, and I’ll share that little story with you now.

We were living in Clapham Common, on the notorious Northern Line, and I was starting to develop some evil mix of claustro- and agoraphobia from travelling on the tube to work near Covent Garden and back every day. One morning, I got down into the bowels of the earth, and something was horribly, horribly wrong. There were people everywhere, and it was hot, damn hot. There was some problem or other, and all the little commuting sardines were standing rigid on the platform and up the stairs, and there wasn’t even enough air for the ritual canary, let alone the thousands of us. It was so awful. I somehow wormed my way to the far, far end of the platform, thinking that if I could just get to the tunnel opening, I might be able to smell freedom. No. No freedom there, just the sweaty and the damned.

Tightly packed tube after tightly packed tube started rolling through the platform, and the shuffle was interminable. Waves of sickness and panic kept ebbing and flowing through and around me – you could sense the despair. Then a tiny window of space eventually opened up in front of me. A tube pulled in, and a door stopped right in front of me and slid open. There was a guy so tightly jammed in there he half fell out when the door opened. He looked at me, gave me a wry smile, and gave me a little “C’mon” gesture with his hand. I cocked my head at him as if to say “You’re joking, right?” and he gave a helpless “Or…you could stay here” shrug. I looked to my right, looked to my left, and then launched myself at the door like a fly going SPLAT on a windscreen. This suited stranger basically had to grab me to stop me simply falling out again, that’s how tight a fit it was. The door slid shut behind me, and I took a deep breath.

That was my mistake. B.O. Reeking through the airless carriage. The kind stranger gave another “Oh yeah, that…” smile, and we looked around feebly trying to identify the source and move away from it (ha ha – move??!!). Then something happened. I snapped. Somewhere between Clapham Common and Clapham North, in that dead, defeated silence, my near-hysterical voice boomed through the carriage:
“I CAN’T STAND THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Wordlessly, people around me evacuated the immediate area. It was just like in a cartoon, when the dust cloud hovers for a few seconds after Tom and Jerry have taken off. No one was near me. I was the crazy person. I suddenly had all the room in the world. I could have star jumped on the spot had it taken my fancy. I briefly regretted not screaming my head off sooner, it sure gets things done, then noticed we were pulling in at Clapham North. I gathered myself, held my head high, and strode purposefully off the tube.

Back up there in the real world, breathing fresh-ish air, I called work.
“I’m going to be late. I’m waiting until the tube clears. It’s just not civilised.”

Coming from the convict classes, they probably thought that was a bit rich, but they accepted my explanation, and I sat in a cafe in Clapham North and had a coffee until it was safely past peak hour. After work that day, I bought a little red bike, and for the remainder of my time living in that great city, I pedalled around everywhere, loving London more once I started to know it as a bike rider.

So. Yesterday I bought a bike. It’s fantastic. It’s called a Townie 21 – it’s like a little retro beach cruiser. A seriously comfortable ride, and a serious sweetie as far as I’m concerned. I rode it home from the bike shop yesterday, but that only took a half hour, so I stayed on it for a while, coasting down the beach front a couple of times actually singing to myself. I feel great on a bike. It’s like being 10 years old again. So that’s my Australia Day, people. I’ve already had one swim, and I daresay I’ll have another, and Llew and I are going to go ride our bikes down to the harbour side for an afternoon beer in the sun.


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