Monday, 29 December 2014
I Hire A Bicycle
The topic of scars came up over Boxing Day breakfast. M and I compared notes whilst other stories were occurring elsewhere around the table. I was delighted to find something else in common with her: we both have scars on our knees from childhood cycling accidents involving gravel. Come to think of it, I can't remember a cycling accident I've had that didn't involve gravel.
I've had my current bicycle for 25 years. It's the one I inherited from my mother and I am very fond of it both for the sense of connection I feel to her and because it's a good bike. It has an aluminium frame and five gears, which I've always found to be plenty. I don't ride it often as I keep it in the garden shed and bringing it out to the road through the house takes time, involves tricky manoeuvres and, usually, tyre marks on the walls.
One of my ambitions for my stay in London this Christmas has been to hire a Boris Bike. These can be hired from a 'docking station', used and then deposited at any of the other docking stations around central London. The emphasis on short journeys is reflected in the costs: after the initial registration fee (£2 for 24 hours) it's free for the first 30 minutes, then costs £1 for up to an hour, £4 for up to 1 hour 30 minutes, etc.
A desire to own one of each of things we only need to use occasionally - lawn mowers, salmon kettles, carpet cleaners, fitness machines - seems odd to me. Shared ownership of some things makes sense, even if each of the bikes in the Transport for London scheme has to advertise a bank for the initiative to be workable.
Usually with my ambitions, the hardest part is putting on my shoes. Yesterday, my natural inertia was overridden by the enthusiasm of the company I'm keeping. After that it was just a case of following the lead of my longest-serving friend Helen as she wove our strand of cyclists through the warp of London streets, and then through Battersea Park, towards an excellent lunch.
Later, we hired bikes again to cycle along the Thames embankment from Chelsea to Somerset House to see the Egon Schiele exhibition. It was a bright afternoon: the sun confident, already seeming to have recovered from its midwinter low, the London air perfectly dry and cold, the streets, relatively uncluttered for this post-Christmas-excess exercise, still sparkly with tiny lights. My bike felt sturdy, unphased by the occasional flashes of lycra passing us by. Speed is not what a Boris Bike is about.
We reached Somerset House nine minutes before we were due. I can't remember a journey through London I've enjoyed more.