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A mid-life cycle

May 6, 2014

In an idle moment a few weeks ago, while chaperoning my son in his piano lesson, I scribbled down a few ideas of things I’d like for my upcoming birthday and emailed the list to my husband. Presumptuous as this might sound, I’ve learned that he quite likes to be given some pointers to avoid the dreaded last-minute panic – especially, perhaps, as I’d been feeling rather sensitive about this birthday. It happened to be one of those numbers that spells mid-life…and therefore also a little bit of crisis.

I was in a whimsical mood, so the things I wrote down were dashed off without much reflection. ‘A cherry tree’, I wrote, as they bloom around my birthday and I love them. ‘A blank notebook’, because I can always use them. And at the top of my list, straight from heart to pen without being filtered by common sense, ‘a Pashley bicycle’.


Pashley bicycles are the classic cars of the bicycling world. They are still built by hand in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, birthplace of Shakespeare. (Warwickshire has also given the world the Land Rover and the Massey Ferguson tractor: a proud heritage of engineering design.) The modern Pashley bicycle is modelled exactly on the company’s first designs from the 1920s: they are comfortable, upright bicycles for pootling down a Warwickshire lane for tea at the vicarage. I can’t remember when I didn’t yearn for one.

The bike I rode as a student was a third-or-fourth-hand contraption with no gears which I bought for a fiver. I painted it dark green with some leftover gloss house paint, and forked out for a wicker basket to attach to the handlebars.  I rattled  happily around on it from digs to seminars to library, basket creaking with books, feeling every inch the quintessential Oxford student. Once I walked around a corner of my college to find some Japanese tourists taking photos of each other posing on my bike, so I must have got something right with it. In hindsight, I realise that it was a poor woman’s Pashley.


Oxford's bicycles (Wikimedia Commons)

Oxford’s bicycles (Wikimedia Commons)


A Pashley, however, is to that old bike as a Morgan is to a moped. Designer labels per se hold no interest for me, but beautiful design is very seductive. To own something both useful and beautiful is a quiet pleasure – and Pashleys, to my eye, fulfil both of William Morris’s criteria. This perfection does not come cheap, of course. There was no way I could ever afford one. So I would content myself with the thought that such vehicles exist in the world, and make do with my two legs for getting about the local area.

But my lovely, kind, generous husband read my birthday list. And decided to act upon it.,5.5.14-1


Dear reader, I am now the amazed, ecstatic owner of a Pashley Princess. Glossy dark green, with sweeping, elegant curves which delight my eyes and a ding-dong bell which delights my children. A wicker basket attached to the handlebars with tan leather straps. A brown leather Brooks saddle. It is my perfect dream of a bicycle.

Who needs a sports car for their mid-life crisis? Not me. Any time I’m feeling blue, I can get onto my beautiful green machine and be off for a bike ride with my boys.


My new bicycle, posing beautifully in the hall.

My new bicycle, posing beautifully in the hall.


There is one more happy point to add. The anniversary of my brain injury comes two days after my birthday. My physical confidence took as much of a knock in that accident as my head did, and I’ve been rather timid about any kind of exertion ever since. Two days after this year’s birthday, however, I tried out my bicycle for the first time.*  (I sat on it on the day, but didn’t really ride it.)

It is nearly twenty years since I last rode a bike any distance. ‘I’ll just go a few yards up the drive,’ I told my husband. Off I wobbled. A minute later, with a gleam in my eye, ‘I’ll just try going round the corner, but not down the hill.’ Then my boys appeared on their own bikes to encourage me, thrilled to see their mummy on a bike for the first time in their lives…and we were off down the hill, a wide smile spreading across my face. Then just round the next corner. Then to the crossroads together. And up and down the  next hill…and so on, with shrieks of delight as I rediscovered that ineffable feeling of bowling along on a bicycle.

What a perfect way to spend the anniversary of my accident. I think that my husband has given me, in every way, a most wonderful gift.


*And yes, you bet I wore a helmet!


You might enjoy Cycling in the ballroom: children’s castle memories.

43 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2014 12:26 am

    What a wonderful husband. It’s perfect! A basket and all.
    I only had used bikes as a kid (that’s what you get for being the youngest of all the cousins). Always wanted a new shiny bike – one for girls…sometimes they sawed off the bar on a boy’s bike, but sometimes I had to hop over.
    I’m hanging on to the one I bought when my daughter was bike riding age. It looks similar to yours, but a no longer in production Schwin with little canvas carrier box in back.
    Nothing’s will cheer you up or make you feel fine as a good bike ride. ( and with helmets now here, too)
    Big cheer for husband and that best present ever!

    • May 8, 2014 10:07 am

      Isn’t he great. Lucky me. 🙂
      Childhood bikes are special, aren’t they? You always remember them, whether good or bad – they form part of our memory of childhood.

  2. May 6, 2014 12:35 am

    What a great post! Left me with a huge smile on my face! Enjoy your “wheels”…and Happy Birthday!

  3. hmunro permalink
    May 6, 2014 12:45 am

    Oh, joy oh joy oh joy! Everything about this post makes me happy, DB. What a lovely husband, what a beautiful gift, and what a wonderful way to mark both your birthday and that other anniversary. Hope the year ahead is your best yet. xx

    • May 8, 2014 10:09 am

      Thank you, I feel so lucky, and what an unexpected bonus that my own happiness seems to be a little bit contagious! 🙂

  4. May 6, 2014 5:33 am

    Congratulations, on your Pashley, on your Birthday (Happy Birthday!), the successful 2 year mark and for rediscovering the joys of bicycling! You know i always wanted a Pashley, i didn’t know what it was called or where to get it from. As a child I’d described it to my dad,and even though it wasn’t a Pashley, he did give me one that came really close to it i.e. It was a beauty in sun-popping yellow, with tassels on the side, a bell that rang loud and the best of all a little white wicker basket where i carried books, my walkman (alternate cassettes and CDs) and candy carefully hidden from mum.

    But now thanks to you, I know exactly what I’m looking for and where to get it from. I just got to work, the first thing i read from my inbox is your post and its just the perfect start to my day. Its happy and i wish you more of the same for your days ahead. 🙂

    • May 8, 2014 10:11 am

      I’m so glad it brightened your day, Olympia,and thank you for your kind words. Your vivid description of your sunny yellow bike made me smile. Ooh, tassels too: how I loved those bikes with tassels when I was a child!

  5. Barbara permalink
    May 6, 2014 8:19 am

    Blessings on your lovely husband! May you enjoy many years with your beautiful bicycle. x

  6. May 6, 2014 9:45 am

    Beautiful post, and congratulations on all the many things you have to be congratulated upon!

  7. Toffeeapple permalink
    May 6, 2014 9:48 am

    Simply perfect. You will have endless hours of happy bowling along. Have you a song or a tune that you hum or whistle when happily occupied?

    • May 8, 2014 10:14 am

      Oh gosh, so many songs. A lot of Scottish folk songs, but my happy tune par excellence is, for some reason, the Queen of the Night’s aria from the Magic Flute (my dad’s favourite opera music) – usually whistled!

  8. May 6, 2014 1:38 pm

    Hooray for you ! happy birthday

  9. May 6, 2014 4:46 pm

    This is such a happy post, DB, and I read it with a big smile on my face. Your lovely husband couldn’t have given you a better gift and I wish you many, many contented hours of cycling on your new treasure. I never learned to ride a bike, but even I can see that this is everything a proper bicycle should be. 🙂

    Have a wonderful birthday and remember that life just goes on getting richer and more worthwhile.

    • May 8, 2014 10:15 am

      That’s so kind, thank you. I am over my birthday ‘hump’ now and thoroughly enjoying being a ‘bicycliste’!

  10. Caroline permalink
    May 6, 2014 6:46 pm

    What a wonderful gift for you! And for marking special milestones! Loved the description of your first cautious venturing out, and then taking to the hills with your sons encouraging support. Wonderful, what a blessing for your birthday. Best wishes.

  11. May 6, 2014 7:37 pm

    A belated Happy Birthday and happy 4th anniversary to you – what a fantastic gift! I hadn’t heard of Pashley bikes, but they look so well-designed and beautiful. And he got another dark green one! I found your essay about your 3rd anniversary very interesting, from the point of view of helping my daughter with her slow recovery from ME. Recovering confidence, as you say, is so vital. I wish you many happy hours on your beautiful bicycle!

    • May 8, 2014 10:20 am

      Thank you, Christine. Wasn’t my husband clever. 🙂
      My mother had ME for seven years or so when I was just coming out of my teens (although the legacy remains) and we have often compared notes on the unexpected similarities between our two conditions. In my next life I would like to study neuroscience! Endlessly fascinating and there is still so much we don’t understand.
      I hope and pray that your daughter will, one day, be able to go on a bike ride herself.

  12. May 6, 2014 11:02 pm

    not a cyclist but with our Land Rover I’ll share your delight. What a perfect birthday present for you!

  13. May 7, 2014 7:42 am

    Happy Birthday, and rest assured that there’s plenty of life after these mid-life birthdays! Pashley bikes are gorgeous. It sounds as if you shed decades in your sons’ eyes once you were launched down the drive – as good a mid-life birthday present as any!
    My daughter is currently rattling over cobbles on her bike at your first alma mater – complete with helmet of course.
    So good to hear that this is another step forward in your recovery.

    • May 8, 2014 7:11 pm

      Thank you for all your kind thoughts. Now that I’ve had my birthday, I’m feeling more resolute and optimistic about life again! That’s a good point about how my sons see me: I hadn’t thought of that. Good.
      Hope all is going well for your daughter. I don’t think I ever had a bike there. I do remember walking miles – and having the good luck to find a boyfriend with an old sports car! 😉

  14. May 7, 2014 5:16 pm

    Oh, that’s gorgeous! I just got out on my bike after many years last year and then I fell down (walking) over a curb and broke my wrist, so I didn’t get much riding in last summer. This year I’m back on it. I have a horrible bike, I want one like yours (or an “omafiets” like they have in Holland!) I’m jealous!

    • May 8, 2014 7:14 pm

      So glad to hear you are back on your bike after that nasty accident. I still can’t quite believe I have a Pashley, to be honest – I feel so lucky, having ridden an assortment of rather un-aesthetically pleasing old things in the past.

  15. May 7, 2014 6:16 pm

    Heartwarming. Congratulations and…. be safe!

  16. May 8, 2014 8:38 am

    Hooray for kind, generous husbands! What a delightful present, and it sounds as if you are already feeling such a rush of freedom! Your descriptions of delight make me want to re-discover the joys of cycling, too. I am sure that this will do you so much good in terms of ‘therapy’ – sometimes our hearts/bodies know exactly what is needed! Wishing you a very happy birthday!

  17. May 8, 2014 1:22 pm

    What a brilliant gift and what a beautiful bicycle! Happy belated birthday to you 🙂

  18. Liz Davey permalink
    May 8, 2014 2:39 pm

    Very envious of your wonderful present. It would be my bike of choice. Alas, the lanes of Warwickshire (at least, round here a mere six or so miles from Stratford) are filled with packs of men on racing bikes or silly women in massive 4x4s (mostly German, the cars not the women) who drive in the centre of the road so as not to get their wheels dirty!

    • May 8, 2014 7:33 pm

      Indeed, Pashleys are a relice of a gentler age, I think; at least as far as traffic is concerned. I remember visiting my granny in a Warwickshire village when I was little. It was still charming and uncrowded, with village life revolving around church, the local shop and the pub.
      Scotland is not yet too afflicted by these types in ‘Chelsea tractors’, though I do occasionally encounter one on a single-track road, who doesn’t dare pull off onto the grass like me so that we can pass each other. Honestly, what do they think 4-wheel-drive is for?!
      As for men in lycra…sigh…yes, they get everywhere. In fact, my brother is one! We have tacitly agreed never to be seen together on our bicycles: we would completely ruin each other’s style. 😉

  19. May 8, 2014 7:49 pm

    Happy belated birthday and congratulations on your lovely gift!

  20. Karin Van den Bergh permalink
    May 9, 2014 7:12 pm

    What a joyful post! Happy Birthday and enjoy your vintage wheels 🙂

  21. May 11, 2014 5:21 pm

    What a wonderful gift and a fabulous way to celebrate a double anniversary. So green over here in the states where good bikes like that – not a mountain or racing bike- are hard to find.

    Happy happy birthday whatever year it is. You have such a rich life one which is the kind that is one of my dream lives. Thanks for sharing it.

    • May 15, 2014 2:53 pm

      Thank you for such a generous reaction. More and more I have come to realise that this is indeed a dream life for many people. It’s a pleasure to be able to share a little of it here.

  22. barb permalink
    May 20, 2014 4:16 pm

    Sweet bike!
    I totally understand the rediscovered joy of biking.
    Last yr I purchased an Electra Townie7D from a woman who had it stored for 2 yrs.
    Every time I ride ,off road, is a sheer joy .
    Thank you for wearing your helmet.
    Do not be afraid to ride . The exercise is good but the fact that you are able to take back control of your life post ABI (Aquired Brian Injury) will be life changing.
    Small steps.

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