A mid-life cycle
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.
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.
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.
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!
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