“Well are you gonna help me up or not?” asked Jack, calling out from the soft undergrowth he`d somehow foolishly got himself entangled with after suddenly, and without informing anyone, clattered off the road.
I broke off my thoughts. “ I was just thinking why it happens? Is it a law of physics?” I beamed, “why is it that the rider behind always crashes if his front wheel ever touches the rider in front`s back wheel?” He looked at me in disgust.A couple of drops of rain fell, nothing to be concerned about, although, strangely enough, if one thought about them, they did seem rather large. Nothing, let`s press on, I called out to my companions as we wound our way slowly along and up the turning, green-clad country lane. A tiny, startled wren fluttered across our path from one hedgerow to another. One – two, no, three magpies bounded in the heavy tree branches looming overhead. One for sorrow, but there were two – no, three. Three? How did that fit in to the bloody proverb?
“It`s nothing,” I repeated a little later when we were all on our happy way. “A few drops.” Out over to the northern skyline, a mountain of dense black cloud appeared to be gathering in some odd way. Some partridges leapt and fluttered and squawked, one running in the lane just in front of our now increasingly rapidly peddling group before diving terror-stricken through a gap in the high hedge.
“We`ll be back well before that lot comes over.”
A long, jagged line of lightening arched as if frozen above us for a moment before a tremendous bang echoed about the rolling countryside. We fell silent and pedalled harder. How strange, an electrical storm at this time of the year? Surely it`s far too early for – crash! Another bolt of searing energy swept headlong above us. Are bicycles like trees? Should you avoid them like the plague when lightening starts to push and bully and swagger its confident way across the heavens?
The rain fell as if Noah was out in his boatyard making preparations. A heavy stage curtain of water suddenly opened wide before us and just as quickly engulfed us. We donned our rain tops, they would protect us from the carnage now descending, wouldn`t they? We`ll be okay. Keep going, keep riding, don`t take your eyes from the road, never mind that you can`t see the bloody road. Just ride, don`t stop. We stopped. The rain, or rather waterfalls of grey cold liquid, struck and pounded and punched. It invaded our shoes, our pockets, and our imaginations. The ground was water, the air was water, we were nothing but freezing, sodden, dripping amphibians, refugees from water, hauling ourselves out of the evolutionary slime. Crash! My God! That was near, that was here! We screamed. Optimists, we huddled under the eves of a long, dirty cow-shed at the side of the lane as the tempest hurled its aggression all around. Go away, you bully, I called. Leave us alone! I yelled, suddenly alarming my companions who for some reason appeared to be bent over a forlorn, bedraggled bicycle that looked as if it was about to be thrown away. Was someone stricken? Would we all be stricken?
Tony took my arm; he had peeled off his sodden glove, his raw, swollen hand held something precious, something that would heal, that would save. He told me to put this tiny piece of wonder under my armpit. Armpit? Was he going mad? Were we all going absolutely insane? No, inside your clothes, he shouted above the din, not outside, are you completely barmy? I wrenched at my dripping clothes, the zips and the sleeves wilful, not wanting to obey, and stuck a flimsy rubber bicycle patch under my arm.
Crash! Crash! Crash! The cannon of lightening flashes seared the heavy sky, leaving masses of steamy vaporised air in their wake. Tony nudged me back into the world of people and I passed him the slip of rubber that had now been dried and warmed. It might, it just might adhere. Our little group huddled together as stone-age Druids, chanting and protecting as the heavens burst above us. Would the spell work? Would we be saved? The dangling, forlorn, foolish, flimsy bicycle inner-tube was tossed around as one another of us tried to keep it dry, to protect it just for a moment before passing it on to the next witch-doctor. Yes! – No! – Yes! The tiny rubber patch would stick. Oh, hold it tight, press and press and press. Don`t, don`t stop, please don`t stop. Press, you must press. We drew back. Paused. The rain thundered down as if annoyed with us for trying to subvert it The Druid high-priest held out the bicycle tube before us - Yes! Yes! We had triumphed. I shook my fist at the storm, but then Tony, again, took my arm as if he was trying to deal with a sad, upset child. The puncture would be mended. The collective solidarity, the fraternity of the group would save the unfortunate, lost individual; he would not be cast out, he would ride home. We shook with cold and misery. The bicycles, thrown to one side, hated us as we hated them. The lightening swept on, indifferent, the mocking manner of sound infused in its great triumphant crashes, now, mercifully, quickly disappearing. Gone to terrorise some other unfortunates no doubt. But we had come through. I shook my arm at it again, but again Tony took me to one side as if he was guiding a child now lost. We limped home, if not actually in the gutters, for they were flooding with rivers of water, but feeling as if we belonged in the gutters, refugees, wanderers, travellers, without place. The roads and lanes had decided for the present to stop behaving as roads and lanes. Our bicycles became mud, we became mud, forms of flora and fauna of the world had now decided to join together into one huge indistinguishable mass of slimy, slippery mud.
Once back, once allowed to peer inside and gaze on how a civilized Sunday might be passed, one felt and saw the world anew. Oh so deeply, oh so yearningly, oh so vividly, the softness, the dryness, the cosiness, the warmth of customary – modestly attained as modestly maintained – domestic household bliss as it would gesture to you. What had been on leaving several hours’ earlier mere objects of tolerance, of boredom, of forbearance, had now been transformed by sheer magic into welcoming friends. Oh, how soft and dry you are, one said to the settee as one tore off ones sodden clothes and dumped and dripped the hated things as far away from one as possible. Oh, how warm you all look and feel, as one wrapped towels of joy about ones blue and never-to-be-warm again limbs, as ones teeth rattled about ones head like eternally clattering goods trains. Oh, how tantalisingly delicious lumps of gulping cheese and swigs of chin-running milk had now become. Before the ride, one was disdainful. One threw out such stale, way-past-their-sell-by-date items. But now as one tears into them devouring them like starved, castaway savages, rampaging this way and that in order to check out what could be pillaged next, one knows what cheese had always meant to taste like, and that the slurping down of milk had once again become the most fundamental act one could ever wish for.
And the bicycle? That outcast. That pile of disgust. That poor relative, that ignored and unmentionable thing? That machine which had brought you to the tottering edge of despair, and which had secretly begun to unwo/man you. The only solution is to take it into the shower with you. Wash them clean, anew, like their owners. Shower away the cold, the grime. Shower them back to life, resurrect both wo/man and machine together and once again make them fit for polite society.
I did hear later though that in Mick’s part of the city the storm had knocked out the power supply for a few hours. That neither he nor his bicycle had any heating, that neither of them had a hot shower or any hot food between them. However, I was also told that Mick made up for these shortcomings by having a plentiful supply of bad language, lots of black despair and even more coughs and colds and days of sickness taken from his job, much to the scepticism of his employer.