Posts Tagged ‘bike’

Wimbledon Common and I

One of my first encounters with Wimbledon was when I was asked to go and work there. I worked for a coffee company which had kiosks in train stations all over the country so I would often get sent somewhere else for a day. I had been to a bar in Wimbledon before, years ago, with a friend, but I knew I wouldn’t still recognise anything.

I cycled there because I had recently decided I was going to exercise more and had purchased one of those little fold up bikes. I lived ten minutes away from Wimbledon Common and knew that all I had to do was get onto it from my end, cycle across it, emerge on the Wimbledon side and find the train station. Simple, right?

This is what actually happened. I got onto the Common and started cycling. I realised that my little fold up bike with its mini wheels was ill-equipped for stones and grass. I was thrown about all over the place, which I blame for loss of concentration. It was summer too so when I cycled through a patch of low hanging trees, there was all this nature-stuff all over the place and sticking to me, petals and bits of leaf and spiderwebs.

I had allowed an hour to make the journey and by the time I was forty minutes in and still on the Common, I started to worry. I just couldn’t find my way to the edge! I’d follow one certain direction in a straight line, figuring I would have to reach the outside soon, then I’d see something in another direction that I was sure must lead to Wimbledon so start off in a different direction. I felt like perhaps I had entered an enchanted land which was huge and inescapable. The Common was like the wardrobe which led into Narnia.

Eventually, after about an hour, by which point I am definitely going to be late to work and am becoming frantic, I emerged from the trees onto a large rugby playing field and a road on the other side of it. The edge of the Common! I had found it. There was a man walking his dog and I bumped over there on my bike and asked him directions to Wimbledon. He indicated back into the trees and said going round by road would take far too long. He gave me directions so I took a deep breath and plunged back in.

And I was lost again. I cycled round helplessly, looking for the tree stump or the split in the path that he had told me about. I couldn’t see any of it. I was lost. Again.

Eventually, I saw some flat grass and two people playing golf. I peddled over, panting and panicking and covered in nature. They pointed the route out to me and said I was near.

As I turned to go, one of them, a guy a similar age to me, said, “Wait a minute.”

Ah! thought I. This is how it is in the films. A damsel in distress, a young gallant man, rescues her and falls in love with her. His heart strings are pulled by her youthful naivete. He will ask me for my phone number now. Be cool. Be calm.

I turned back to him, expectantly.

“You’ve got a spider on your top.”

I looked down to find that he was right. I did indeed have a spider on my top, just by my shoulder. Acting as though I wasn’t even bothered, I brushed it off and hurried away, embarrassed.

I came to a little road and went into it, until a stern lady came out and made it clear that this was a private road and I needed to go that way, the other way, anything to get me out of her road.

After another half an hour or so of cycling and looking and feeling helpless, I eventually emerged and found my way to the station, exhausted and traumatised. Later that night, I finished my shift and decided to confront the Common again, face my fears head on. It took all of ten minutes for me to somehow, do a semi circle and end up coming off the Common a stone’s throw away from where I had entered it. I gave up on the Common then.

As a P.S., when I eventually decided to tackle Wimbledon Common again and figured out the route across it, it took fifteen minutes maximum, to get from end to end. On the day mentioned above, it took me two and a half hours.

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Wimbledon Hill and I

Wimbledon Hill has meant many things to me. It has defined my relationship with my bike. And with myself. There are hills that are difficult to get up… But I manage it most of the time. There are hills that only super-fit triathletes would attempt. One of these hills is on the cycle route from London out to Reading. I like to call it The Hill Of Resting because all you can do is get off your bike and rest.

But Wimbledon Hill is different. It is difficult. But not too difficult. If you get into the right thought process, you can just about get up it. If you think you won’t do it, then you might as well not try, because you’ll give up so quickly. But if you can talk yourself into believing you can do it, you’ve crossed the first hurdle.

There are a few things which need to happen to get up Wimbledon Hill.

1. You need to believe you will make it.

2. You need the traffic lights at the bottom of the hill to be on green.

3. You need to look down at the road and not look up to check your progress until you go past the second drain and are in sight of the Cath Kidson shop.

4. You need to stand up to approach the hill but sit down after the first drain.

5. You need to keep your speed up.

Once you have worked this out, you can attack the hill every time, because you have a method. But all it takes is the slightest inclination that your legs ache, or you feel lazy today, or you’ll never make it… and off you climb, feeling like a let down and convincing yourself that next time you’ll do it.

Life is a bit like Wimbledon Hill. Occasionally it is like the Hill Of Resting. Realistically, I will never alleviate world hunger single handedly. It is more than likely that I will end up pushing my bike up the hill, making small efforts here and there where I can but unable to attack the whole thing alone.

But sometimes it is like Wimbledon Hill. It’s hard but going for it and having a method could see you through, so long as you don’t hop off with a faux injury, saying you’ll do it next time.

My efforts to be greener have so far been a little more like a gentle incline, the long slow hill in Richmond Park from Roehampton Gate to Richmond Gate (minus the steep bit at the end, of course). I quite like Richmond Park and a gentle incline is at least heading in the right direction.

But the other day I decided to jump in with both feet and attempt a little Wimbledon Hill. I put my money where my mouth is. I went looking for things I care about, causes and projects that I feel passionately about. While I couldn’t be at the abolitionist march in Austin today, I donated some money to the organisation leading it. I also read up about the British Red Cross and, remembering someone in my neighbourhood who needs help, gave them some money too. I bought two books from the Friends of the Earth website. And in town last night, meeting a friend for dinner, I saw some street musicians and emptied my purse into their guitar case.

I may be a little short at the end of this month but I’m going to ride it out. I felt poorer financially but better for it. Lighter. Like I’d emptied my pockets and now I was more relaxed. The money had been given wisely and I was absolved of the responsibility of spending it.

And that was also my Wimbledon Hill, being ok with giving money away again. I used to do it loads when I didn’t have much, because I didn’t have anything to lose. But then after a while, the bank and the government wanted all that money back. And you have to keep hold of it. Think before you spend. Withhold frivolity. Watch the pennies.

And this past few days, for my one good thing every day, I have given money away in a useful way. And it has been fun. Try it.

Falling off my bike whilst moving at high speed

The first time I fell when moving fast, I was cycling along the side of the road through Brompton, on my way into London. I was in the cycle lane and there was a bit of a traffic jam. The cars were stationary but the cycle lane was clear so I was cycling quite fast. I was approaching a section of the road that had a Keep Clear sign, for cars to turn into a car park on my left. As I approached that section, I looked but nothing was turning so I kept cycling. All of a sudden, a big jeep thing swung quickly into the Keep Clear section and across my path into the car park. A millisecond before it would have hit me, I pulled on my brakes and skidded around so I was side on to the car. By the time it had disappeared into the car park, I had fallen sideways off the bike and skidded along the tarmac road, leaving the majority of my leg skin there. As this fall was post-cleats, the sudden pull of my body off the bike had been too fast for the shoes. I stood up, in my socks, and noticed that my cleats were still attached to the pedals on my bike! People rushed over, offering support and cursing the jeep driver. I stalked after him into the car park, in my socks, pushing my bike. I caught up with him and poked my head in the driver’s side.

“Are you going to say sorry?” I demanded.

“What’s wrong? Are you ok?” The man seemed worried.

“You just pulled in front of me and I had to brake really hard and I came off my bike.”

“O god, sorry! I didn’t see you.”

“EXACTLY!” I said, self righteously.

“But I, I didn’t see you.”

“Thats not ok. That doesn’t excuse you,” I ranted. “Why weren’t you bloody looking!?”

After a long rant, I mounted my bicycle, awkwardly because of the shoes on pedals and because I now realised that the seat had been shunted out of place, and flounced off, as best I could given the situation at hand.

The next time I fell off my bike whilst moving at speed was a similar situation. The cars were still at a set of traffic lights but the cycle lane was clear so I was cycling quite fast. A lazy mother was dropping her child off at school and instead of driving her into the school car park, she had obviously told her to jump out at the lights. The little girl, not looking of course, opened her car door just as I passed and almost knocked me out. I was thrown clean off my bike and onto the pavement. The edge of the door had ripped the skin between my little finger and ring finger apart and was bleeding all over. My arm felt broken and my leg had taken a bit of a pull in the wrong direction.

“What the fuck are you doing?!” I yelled at the little girl. In hindsight, this may not have been the best thing to say to a little girl.

Shell shocked, I struggled to my feet as the Mum came around from the drivers side and asked me if there was anything she could do.

“I think you’ve done enough!” I snapped, as I got on my bike and gingerly cycled away.

I had a bruise on my arm from shoulder to elbow which was deep purple and yellow and lasted for weeks. It wasn’t broken but I couldn’t really use it for the next two days.

Bloody kids.

Falling off my bike whilst barely moving

My first big fall happened whilst moving at almost no miles an hour, on a pavement, with no-one around. My friend Joe and I were cycling to his home in Reading so had just set off on our epic adventure early in the morning. My bike was newish and I was itching to give it a trial run on a long ride. I was having one of those monthly spacially unaware days (women, you know what I mean) and as I cycled around a little bollard thingy on the pavement at a dead end road with no cars or pedestrians, I just went a little too slowly to stay upright. Something about my spacial unawareness made me totally unable to cope with the situation at hand and I just wobbled slowly toward the bollard, crashed the front wheel sideways into it and fell on the ground. The brake was broken for the whole ride and I grazed my leg.

The next falls were all after I’d had different pedals fitted and had started wearing cleats, shoes that have little blocks on them which click into a space on your pedals. The fall I had whilst cycling in the busy centre of London was because I hadn’t yet worked out how to get out of them while moving slowly uphill. It’s harder than you think because of your weight being on them. So as I got to a red traffic light, I couldn’t unclip and I fell, in front of the dozens of people waiting to cross the road and looking uncertainly at me to see if I’d stop and let them across. I was going no miles an hour. There were no cars. There was no almost-collision. I just went slower, slower, slower, right down to a halt, then fell off on to the ground. The handle bar turned sideways and stabbed me in the boob so I had a bruised boob for weeks afterward. And people really looked strangely at me. Someone hurried over and asked if I needed help but I just brushed her off, rather gruffly and stalked off, pushing the bike, mega embarrassed.

The next fall was similar to this. I was cycling slowly uphill so couldn’t unclip and was cycling with a friend who had looked down to adjust his gears and drifted sideways into my path. I braked, a natural reaction to stop the inevitable crash. But I hadn’t unclipped. So I fell in the opposite direction and really bashed up my legs, hitting the curb. My friend didn’t even realise any of what had happened. He just looked down to change his gear then looked up and I’d fallen on the ground.

Another time I had a plastic bag with some stuff in but I had a new bike with very short handlebars. As I turned a corner, the bag swung into the spokes and stopped my wheel dead. I tried pushing down on the pedals to keep moving but I ground to a halt then fell sideways into the road. To onlookers it must have looked very stupid. I turned a corner, stopped, then crashed to the floor. Again, no-one was around, no cars, no pedestrians. Nothing had jumped into my path. I just fell on the ground.

Maybe this is why I am not the world famous sporting star you probably all expect I should be by now.

The igloo

One snowy day in Liverpool, my brother and I decided we were going to make an igloo. No snowman-based nonsense for us! We were going to build a full-on snow house. I’m not sure how old we were. I was probably about nine or ten and my brother is three years older.

In our back garden, there was a gate in the fence, which led out onto a massive field where football and cricket competitions were played. At the far side is the athletics track where my brother took me with a bike and taught me to ride without stabilisers.

So when it snowed, all the kids with gardens which backed onto this field would be there, rolling massive snow balls and building snowmen and having snowball fights. It was loads of fun.

It was on one of these days that we decided to build the igloo. We used our fence as one wall and got to work on three more walls. It took a looooong time. We brought snow, packed it onto our little walls, getting ever so slightly higher each time.

After a while, we came up with an energy saving scheme where I would be Wall Builder and my brother would be Snow Bringer. We did this for a good while longer, making slow progress. Snow doesn’t actually go that far when squashed down onto a wall. This is what I learned that day.

To become even more efficient, we brought a long board type thing from the garden and put it on the ground, pointing in to the igloo. The plan was that my brother would put his snow on the other end of the board and slide it along to me at the igloo door, thereby saving him the vital energy that he otherwise would have expended in those two steps to the door. We are geniuses.

The funniest moment of the igloo building session came when my brother emerged through the gate from our back garden onto the field. He had scooped the hugest pile of snow from our lawn and was carrying it toward the igloo. It was so big that he couldn’t even see over it. He approached the board, which by this point, was wet and slidy and, you guessed it, couldn’t see where it started.

He stepped on it and a loud squeak announced his error. In a second, he had fallen flat on his back. His pile of snow, however, moved a little slower. He had thrown it in the air so it took another second to come back down to earth… and landed all over him lying on the floor!

It’s probably the funniest thing that I had ever seen up until that point in my life!

After ten minutes of breathless shivery laughter, we got back to work but we had been out for ages by now. After the wall was a little bigger, we balanced our slidy energy-saving board on the top of the walls, to make a roof. We went inside and boiled a kettle of water to melt the snow on the igloo floor.

Once it was habitable, we got inside and lay down, for it was far too small to do anything else.

We had a little chat about what fun it had been, maybe we read books, I’m not sure. What I do know is that it took us about five minutes to get bored of it, get out and go back inside the house to watch television.

The time I cycled to the Cotswolds

A few years ago, my family and I were having a long weekend away in a cottage in the Cotswolds and I was quite recently into cycling so decided to cycle there from London. The journey was about 150 miles and I had two days to do it. I had booked into a youth hostel two thirds of the way along and was very excited. An entire day spent on my bike. It promised to be great fun.

I set out first thing in the morning and of course forgot the snacks I had put aside the night before. So at my first snack stop, an hour or two in, I found a few sweets from a pack of Starburst, an apple and some Softmints. I had a Starburst and a Softmint and wondered if I might die of starvation on this journey.

It was November and the weather was starting to get colder, which was fine by me actually, as I warm up very quickly when cycling, so find it uncomfortable to cycle in summer and nicer in winter. One thing that wasn’t great about cycling in winter, though, was the wind. It made things unnecessarily difficult. This day, it was windy most of the time. Not enough to slow me down but enough to irritate. It was in my face and it was constant.

I took a total of three breaks that day, each shorter than the last as I had less and less left to eat. I demolished the sweets and ate the single apple, savoring every juicy bite.

As I got closer to the town where I was stopping overnight, I saw on my map that I would need to go a few miles down the road I was on then come back the same distance, around the edge of a field, like following two sides of a triangle.

“So,” thought I, “I will cut down the work here and just cross this field. It will be much quicker.”

By this time, 11 hours after first starting out, I was getting quite tired. My bum hurt, my legs ached, my arms and hands were fed up of being outstretched and longed to relax. Mentally, I was getting a bit cabin-fever-y on my bike, constantly checking my mileage, the time, my speed etc.

My quick across-country shortcut, therefore, seemed perfect. I was only a few miles away and just wanted to get there, desperately. It was really dark by this point so I used my bike light and found a path across the field. It was quite a muddy path, enclosed by two rows of hedges. As I bumped along, I was suddenly pitched forward into a little ditch and thrown off the bike. Determined, I got up and started cycling again. Thirty seconds of muddy cycling later, I was thrown off again. I screamed into the wind which, by now, had become loud and fierce. I mounted the bike again, ready for a fight. This time, I didn’t fall into a ditch. Instead, the two rows of hedges ended and I was suddenly out on open field. No longer sheltered, the force of the wind hitting me knocked me off my bike again.

“FUCKING WIND!” I screamed, like a madwoman. “FUCK OFF!”

If anyone had been out walking their dog that evening, they must have thought there was a lunatic walking around.

I started to worry that I would be eternally lost in these fields. They went on far longer than I had expected and I couldn’t see any sign of the road on the other side. It was dark and windy and I was lost and alone, wandering the moors like Cathy looking for Heathcliffe.

Eventually, bumping my way across the fields, I saw a glint of a car light and headed straight for it, my heart pounding. As I emerged from the fields and onto the road, I saw a hill to my right and headed straight down it. According to my map, my youth hostel was down a road off this main one and I would be there in just a few minutes.

Off I went, down the hill, gliding and enjoying not having to cycle. I got to the bottom, looked around and realised I couldn’t see the road I was looking for. I knocked on the door of a nearby house to ask for directions and yes, you guessed it, it was back at the top of the hill, directly opposite, in fact, the path I had come out of the fields on.

So up the hill I went, found the road and, ten seconds along the way, was my home for the evening. I dismounted, at long last, locked the bike up and entered the reception area. By this point, I was ravenous, dirty, exhausted and aching. I was greeted with the news that dinner had stopped 15 minutes ago and no, there was nowhere else to get food unless I wanted to go down that hill again. After some grovelling and begging, they agreed to throw something together for me and I scurried off to change out of my cycling gear.

And that’s when I discovered the windburn. It was everywhere, my shins were especially bad as it meant I couldn’t sleep unless I had them out of the blankets which, in winter, isn’t the nicest thing. As I ate, I found I had windburn on the roof of my mouth and couldn’t quite swallow properly because of it. It was on my knuckles and face and tingled like crazy when touched.

So after my thrown-together dinner of tuna, pasta and vegetables, I sat reading a book, making sure none of my windburn was touching anything. It was very awkward!

The next day, apart from adding 8 miles on by cycling in the wrong direction for a bit, I had a relatively newsless journey, arriving at the cottage in the afternoon.

It was a good thing to have done but, honestly, I’ll think twice before I do it again…!

Upstairs or Downstairs: A Downton Dilemma

So last night, as I was watching Downton Abbey, I was thinking about where I’d most like to be in the house. Not forever, just for a short stay to hang out.

Upstairs would be fun cause you could just hang out doing not much but you would have to deal with Soppy Edith. I was slightly impressed with her new direction in last night’s episode but still, she was an idiot in the first series, which put me firmly in Camp Mary in the Mary-Edith face off. So Edith gets no sympathy from me. And if you lived upstairs, you’d have to hang around and smile nicely at her.

You would get to hang out with Cousin Violet though, who should write a book of wisdom. One of her recent quotes always makes me laugh. The others are looking at the massively overdressed table before the guests arrive and going, oo is it too much, have we gone over the top? And Cousin Violet just glances over, looks pleased and says, “My dear, nothing impresses like excess.”

You’d get to hang out with Mary and Matthew, who I was really rooting for the whole first two series. Then they finally got together and it was very exciting but the excitement needs to come from somewhere else now. I think Matthew is fun and he’d be good company. I’m still working out whether I just really love Mary’s dresses or whether I’d like to be friends with her or whether I’m a little bit scared of her.

I like Lord Grantham too. He seems wise. And Sybil’s nice, although I do not like Sybil’s new haircut.

After a while though, you’d want something to do. That’s the problem with Upstairs. You’d be much frowned upon, I think, if you pottered off for a swim or a bike ride. I think you wouldn’t be allowed to, Lord Grantham would look deeply disappointed, as he did when Sybil married Tom.

Downstairs though, you’d want to go for a bike ride or a swim but you probably wouldn’t have any time. But a lot of the gossip is from Downstairs. I love how Carson is very proper and slightly gruff, to the extent he’ll tell the members of Upstairs off if he needs to. And he totally fancies Miss Hughes.

There’s the Anna and Mr Bates excitement which kept things going a bit in the other series. But now Mr Bates is incarcerated, the excitement factor has been reduced somewhat.

Thomas The Meanie is an exciting character because I’m constantly waiting for his demise. I can just feel it’s going to come sometime soon.

There’s always something brewing with Daisy as well. She works in the kitchen, preparing the food, so obviously I feel an affinity with her. That’s the thing about being downstairs as well. I’d get to be around the food and cook.

It’s tough. It’s a tough decision. Upstairs…. Downstairs…. I guess in terms of cooking, which is high on my priorities list, I’d have to be downstairs because there’s no kitchen upstairs. Do you think Lord Grantham would allow me to have a little kitchen upstairs? I think he’d say it’s not proper.

Maybe I’d go downstairs. I’m someone who likes to have stuff to do so Downstairs would be busier. Do you think they would have any truffles for me to cook with? But actually, when you’re Upstairs, you can take holidays and stuff. I like holidays. Hmm…. I’m now sure now….