I bought a bike. It is a bit of an old heap, rust here and there betraying its age and some neglectful ownership. I wouldn’t mind betting it belonged to a teenager who left it out in the rain. Its gears are a bit clanky too. It only has three, but sometimes it slips from one to another of its own volition which can be a bit disconcerting when going up a hill and suddenly you find you are pedalling like mad and getting nowhere!
Its main virtue is that it folds in the middle. There is a little lever which you pull up and a nut to undo, and hey presto! You can fold the bike in half and stow it in the boot of the car! At least that was my desire and plan.
A few weeks ago, I visited my son Ben who lives in Tower Hamlets with his wife and six children. From time to time they will cycle en famille along the tow path of the Regents Canal near their home, down to the Thames and along the Thames Path to Canary Wharf. A spare bike was found for me and we all trundled merrily along, ringing our bells and generally endangering the population.
It was glorious fun! I had forgotten how much I enjoyed riding a bike! I did draw the line at having a small child strapped on a seat at the back as it drastically altered the balance; after all, we were cycling along a narrow path next to a canal, and I haven’t ridden for at least 20 years. But it is amazing that you get into the saddle and start pedalling and it all comes back…..just like, well riding a bike!
Cycling along on a sunny afternoon through Victoria Park, then on down past Mile End, on to Limehouse Basin and eventually the wide Thames itself you see London in a whole new way. There is a river culture: people sit on their barges patiently waiting at lock gates for the level to rise; wild roses and buttercups grow along the path where cottages once stood; twos and threes enjoy drinks and a fry up on the decks of little cruisers, or lie back listening lazily to Mozart as they chug along slowly in the afternoon sun, behind blocks of flats backing on to the river. Then suddenly you can see the iconic silhouettes of the Shard and the Gherkin and you are on the bank of the Thames itself, wide, majestic, with police launches and barges full of freight and pleasure boats carrying tourists down to Greenwich.
We arrived at a small park on the Isle of Dogs, and unpacked the picnic that had been carried in various panniers. While sausages were cooked on one of those disposable barbecues the kids ran around playing football or played on the slides and swings nearby. It was fabulous!
As we cycled back in the evening, I thought to myself, “I could do this! I could get a bike and cycle along the river.” I live on the other side of London in Kingston, further up river. The Thames path goes for miles! The trouble is, I live in Surbiton which necessitates travelling up a very long hill. The only thing to do is get a bike which I can fold and put in my car. Then I can park at the river, get it out and cycle along the flat path!
I looked in a few shops. They cost a fortune new. Eventually, Paul from Thailand who runs a second hand bike shop found this rather ancient beaten up old thing. However I don’t want anything fancy: just as long as it works. He wanted £45. I offered forty. “And a pump.” “Done” he said after a proper show of reluctance, which I now strongly suspect hid unholy glee.
I rode it around the quiet streets a few times to get accustomed to it. Then yesterday, Saturday, was the day to try it out by the river! I managed to stuff it in the car eventually. It was harder getting it out; it is heavy as well as ungainly. I unfolded it and tightened the nut, and mounted my steed…oh no! The chain had fallen off! Forlornly I up-ended the bike and poked around getting oil all over my hands. This was the side I had forgotten from my youth: the perpetual problems of tyres, chains and brakes. I had no tools, no memory of how to get the chain back on!
Suddenly a welcome and cheerful voice said, “Everything OK?” A kind man and a lady cycling by came to my rescue and in seconds he had replaced the chain and the lady had given me a tissue to wipe my hands. At last I was on my way!
It was everything I had hoped, and I felt very happy as I cycled along the tow path. The river looked beautiful, glinting in the sun. There were boats and locks, and pretty pubs, and neat gardens, and families wandering along, and rowing teams flashing by or pulling their boats out of the water to go and have a pint after an exhausting practice. There were swans and ducks, willow trees and clumps of wild yellow iris, shady banks and wide open spaces, and I felt exhilarated by the sights, the sun, and the speed, and the sound of the tyres swishing along.
So what is the point? I am an elderly lady riding an elderly bike: nothing new. I am not an old dog learning new tricks, I am an old dog re-learning old tricks! Interesting that at nearly 70 I am enjoying doing what I did at the age of 10! I reflected as I rode back to the car, that its never too late to pick up things once enjoyed, often forgotten or crowded out.
The question I asked myself was: “Are there other things I used to do that have got crowded out for no very good reason?” In Revelation chapter 2, John the apostle reminds the church at Philadelphia that they have forgotten their first love. He doesn’t suggest they do anything new, find a new bandwagon to jump on, a new fad, a new method. He simply says, “Do the things you did at first.” I wonder what things he was referring to? Basic things such as praying, praising, prophesying? Speaking in tongues? Talking to people about Jesus? Keeping a journal? Taking time to give your wife a cuddle? Buying some flowers for your mother? Sending a card to someone to say you haven’t forgotten them? Making a pie for someone who needs cheering up?
These are things any old dog can do, and young ones too! Like riding a bike really.