Leaving the kid at the nursery

My bike

I didn’t do the usual cycle route. The thought of traffic careering past me in Acre Lane at that fateful spot was sufficient to undermine my previously resolute determination. Instead I followed the quieter route past the Cutty Sark, through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and past Canary Wharf this morning. I finally emerged in central London around Tower Bridge.

Quite justifiably, London Transport don’t allow people like me to take their bikes on to the tube network. (If I was cycling on a fold-up bike then I would be able to, but really, I do want to preserve what butch-image I have and cycling on a fold-up bike isn’t going to achieve that.) My remaining options were either to pedal the rest of the way from Tower Bridge to White City (it’s an additional 6 miles which would make my total for the day a staggering 24 miles – that isn’t going to happen) or to chain it up somewhere.

Despite having spent £30 only the day before on a second lock for my bike, paranoia still kicked in. I needed to find somewhere where my bike was seen by as many people as possible. Perhaps outside a reputable City company, I thought. In a position like that no opportunist thief is going to entertain the idea of trying to break both bike locks and walk off with my slightly damaged bicycle.

I still felt a little bit of fear. With lorries and buses thundering past and this being a relatively unusual part of London I started to feel a little bit sorry for my bike as though it was a member of the family. I didn’t like the idea of my bike being in an unusual place. I didn’t want it to be on it’s own. I didn’t want it to be intimidated by some thug looking for a thieving opportunity.

I checked the locks four times and then shuffled off in the direction of the tube station, feeling for the first time ever like I had left my non-existent child at the nursery for the day.

Time to dig out my therapist’s telephone number, I think.

Nothing to do with the Tour de fucking France

bike2.jpg

It is exactly two years ago that I bought my bike. The one I’d had before that had been stolen from our back garden, but this one is a testament to the 7th July bombings London. It was after that rather bizarre day I resolved to buy myself a bike so that I could avoid the crush of tube life in the mornings.

Well, the reason was that I had been scared off somewhat by the tube trains. It was only a matter of time before terrorists would target London’s tube network. In fact, I’m not entirely certain why they’d never done it successfully before then.

Many people dismissed my sudden purchase. Amid the cries of “you’re not paying for that with a credit card, are you?” there were a multitude of raised eyebrows and wry smiles. “So, you’re going to cycle all the way to White City from South East London, are you? What, so that you can avoid being blown up by a bomb?”

They were right of course. I was replacing one risk with something far greater. While Ken Livingstone and his team spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on promoting a healthier lifestyle in order to reduce the burden on London’s overstretched transport system, those of us who brave the capital’s busy streets have an entirely different experience.

Buses, lorries and white-van drivers are the worst contributors to a feeling of unease on the road, so too London’s black cab drivers who are, for the most part, largely intolerant of cyclists. One cab driver pushed me against his vehicle in a bid to demonstrate to me and all of the other motorists in the queue of stationary traffic around him exactly who was boss.

Regular readers may remember too that a recent cycling trip turned into a bit of an accident as I pedalled my way along Acre Lane near Brixton only to find myself pushed off the road by a driver who’d spectacularly misjudged the amount of space available to him. Over the handlebars I went, my bike falling on top of me. A great deal of soreness ensued – my knees were a picture – although a full recovery was made within a few weeks.

It’s only now – a couple of months after – that I feel able to hit the road again. It’s got nothing to do with the cyclists charging through the Kent countryside on the first leg of the Tour de France. No, the real reason can be found in vanity.

The scales in the bathroom say I’ve put on half a stone (I’m now skirting 12 stone) and I’m convinced my shorts aren’t quite as baggy on my arse as they were a couple of months ago. It’s time to get on my bike and work off some of the calories.

I’m undeterred. The same gruelling bike ride from Lewisham to Clapham Junction and back again for afew weeks should just be enough to raise the heart-rate and burn off all that unwanted fat. I won’t be scared off by that scary spot on Acre Lane. I’ll keep looking behind me as much as I possibly can and I’ll be wearing my cycle helmet the whole time as well.

And yes. I’m a gay man in my 30s. Of course I’m neurotic about my waistline.

Hard-disk TV

Sensitive Skin

Simon and I have seen a few good things on the hard-drive this week. We include them for you here:

Sensitive Skin
Joanna Lumley stars in touching new comedy
BBC2, Episode 2, Tuesday 3 July 2007

Fonejacker
Inventive, fresh and entertaining take on prank calls
E4

Graham Norton Show
Cagney and Lacey join Graham Norton
BBC2, Thursday 5 July

Cherie’s Story
Fiona Bruce talks to Cherie Blair
BBC1, Wednesday 4 July

Classic Britannia
Excellent introduction to “classical” music in Britain
BBC4, Saturday 7 July

We’ve scheduled in the following gems from next week’s schedule:

Doctor Who (The Runaway Bride)
Another chance to see Catherine Tate’s Doctor Who debut in this repeated Christmas special
BBC3, Monday 8pm

Thoroughly Modern: The Typewriter
BBC4, Monday 8pm

James May’s 20th Century: 747
New Series guaranteed to appeal to boys who like to understand about things.
BBC2, Tuesday

Bernard Manning
Channel 4, Thursday

First Night of the Proms
Elgar Cello Concerto and Walton’s Portsmouth Point Overture
BBC2, 8pm, Friday

A story in it and surrounding it

There’s a book by the side of the bed. I dip into it from time to time.

It’s a book I bought at the end of a week I spent in Riga, late spring 2003. It had been a monumental trip for me. At an embarrassing 30 years old this was the first trip I had ever embarked on alone. I hadn’t known I was going until three weeks before and when I was actually there I got to interview people I never dreamed I’d even get an opportunity to meet.

The trip was billed as a research exercise for a “little” challenge I’d set myself earlier in the year. I’d tentatively broken the news of this foolhardy project to my parents back in January the same year. Concerned they would roll their eyes skyward and dismiss my intentions as yet another hair-brained scheme, I picked my moment carefully.

We had Sunday lunch. I got them to sit down. It felt like I was telling them I was gay all over again.

“I’m going to write a book,” I announced, “about the Eurovision Song Contest.”

They’re going to laugh, I told myself. Everyone will laugh. After all, I haven’t written a thing ever. I’ve no experience and precious little ability. I can write a good letter, for sure, but letters and books are two very different things. And even if I could write a book, surely I could have picked a slightly more interesting subject, couldn’t I?

“Fantastic,” replied my Mum, “Have you found a publisher yet?”

An enormous sense of relief passed over me. I hadn’t found a publisher – I hadn’t even considered how I would get it published more that writing it was the most important thing but still, in that split second my life changed considerably. Years of wondering what it is I enjoy doing and what it was I could do for a living were suddenly nothing but a distant memory. I had taken the risk to confess my airy-fairy goals and I’d met with absolutely no derision.

We carried on talking about the book, Mum asking me a few interesting questions about the Eurovision I hadn’t thought of before and me asking both of them about the beginnings of television and live link-ups between London and Calais. I didn’t have to ask many questions. Both Mum and Dad were more than willing to provide me with an account of their experiences from the 1950s.

At the end of my week in Riga, a mixture of total elation and isolation draining my dwindling energy levels, I skipped around the closest peckish little souvenir shop I could find. As it happened there was one right outside the hotel and there in the window was this very book.

Beautifully bound with thick leather-clad covers and cartridge paper inside, I knew in an instance that this was an excellent token souvenir to give to someone who really liked her cartridge paper. My mum adores cartridge paper largely because she’s an artist.

Mum squealed with delight when she unwrapped her parcel. She held the book tightly in her hands and whispered, “This has come all the way from Riga, hasn’t it?” I nodded.

It was the smallest of gifts, it crossed my mind some days afterwards. I’d always felt that the closer the person the bigger the gift should be, as if the strength of our love for one another is measured only by the monetary value of the present.

And yet my mum was, without doubt, excited to receive the strange looking notebook from a distant city. I was gratified by that fact alone. There, on the blank pages of a heavy Latvian notebook, was everything that is Thoroughly Good.

What I hadn’t expected was unwrapping a parcel 18 months later with the very same book inside it…