Monday, 24 January 2011

Rare Steed of the Urban Proletariat...... or social leveller?

I wondered if I had taken leave of my senses today? For I rode a bicycle up to a car showroom in order to buy a car.

Having parked the velo outside, and after absent-mindedly chaining it to the stanchion of an awning I ventured into the petrol-heads holy of holy's.

Riding up on a bicycle to a car showroom is a rather foolish thing to be doing I have decided, especially  if you want to be taken seriously by anyone inside.

I had decided that after nine years of not owning a car there were journeys that I really needed to undertake, and having a car was pretty much the only way I was going to be able to take them. So having sorted out sufficent cash to go and buy myself one, I strode into the showroom full of glistening metal and decided to do the dirty deed.

I stood........I looked about me......bored sales people with not much to do avoided my gaze.....I saw a sign. "Reception" it said.......I walked over and said......"I'd like to talk to someone about buying a car." We went through a farce of me being asked to sit ......the receptionist made a fuss of standing and then looking about her for less than 15 seconds she announced....... "Ah this young lady might be the one for you"....and pointed over to a woman at a desk (rather odd verbage for a car showroom I thought more like a bordello? .......although judging from the ill fitting grey sweater dress that a rather plump "thirtyish" woman sales person was wearing, barely concealing rolls of her fat and rounded out.....and I do mean cheap faux leather shoes, I assurred myself that car buying was all I was likely to be doing here).

Miss Clingy Plump Sweater Dress 2010 sassied over....I averted my eyes from the blancmange like wobble of the advancing hips... "Which model sir?" I was asked . "New or uuuuuuuuuuused" The distain at the word was palpable. I did not know.....what "uuuuuuuuuuused" cars of the model of my choice did they have available? "When would you like to buy this caaaaaaar?"....... "Well I rather thought I'd buy it today?"

I could tell that the woman could not concieve of anyone riding a bicycle having the wherewithall to buy a car. I'm not sure what sort of customer I came across as but even a cursory glance at my attire, bicycle, watch, shoes, bespoke waistcoat or the 28,000 quid in my back pocket might have told her differently? Whatever sort of customer I was .....she was a pretty useless seller, and did not possess the wit to make any sort of assessment of me.

She dealt with me with utter distain. I clearly appeared to be wasting her time.  "Leather or Cloth?" "Diesel or Petrol?" ......She ploughed through the hundereds of variations as if they were the labours of Hercules......and I wilted........what on earth was I doing here?

I made my excuses and left, vowing never to give that premises the benefit of any of my cash. Was I doing something wrong? I was courteous, direct, interested.....why did she not respond to the opprotunity of fleecing me for my 28K?

Is the bicycle a "social leveller" I mused on my way home....or is it seen as the "Rare Steed of the Urban Proletariate"? My attire might have been expensive, my shoes exquisite, my watch a rare master-time-piece....but in the eyes of the automotive masses.... am I a poverty stricken prole?

What a soulless thing it was to buy a car from one such as her. I dare say there are excellent salespersons in the employ of VW.......but not apparently at this branch. So if anyone knows where I might buy myself a manual silver VW Golf with SatNav from a sales person who might offer even the humble owner of a bicycle a modicum of courtesy I'd be rather thrilled to here from you.....or am I likely to reamin another 9 years without a car?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Of Bicycles and Personalities

The other day I was waiting at a set of traffic lights, (yes..... I realise that this is an increasingly unusual activity for cyclists in English towns and cities, but I really was) when I began to pay particular attention to the reaction of passers by, motorists and fellow cyclists to both my bicycle and I.

I was wearing what I believed to be a natty corduroy jacket, moleskin trousers with matching moleskin cap, a scarf together with brown brogues and a pair of finest Italian leather brown lambskin gloves. Simple enough attire you might think but the reaction I got standing there with my vintage style cycling machine was entirely different to the reaction I would have achieved without its presence.

Let me elaborate. Man in corduroy jacket, moleskins and cap on foot would merge in with the average crowd quite without reaction from his fellow pedestrians. I mean to say, look at some of the outfits you quite often see people wearing in an English town on a Saturday afternoon - the urgency of their scream for recognition of their individuality - is often much more overpowering than can be achieved by corduroy and moleskin, yet put that same classically clad chappie on a vintage style bicycle and hey presto you have more attention than is often comfortable. Why is this?

Do people think they can tell more about you from what you ride than from what you wear? Do they imagine that the choice of bicycle tells them something about the rider? Do they think that with your choice of bicycle they have a unique insight into your soul? Does a well clad cyclist on a venerable machine give the hint to proof positive of a decent character?

Women seem to universally approve. The sight of a man so clad and mounted seems to break down the usual "bitch shield" adopted by many pretty women in an effort to stave off the most obvious attentions of passing male admirers. A number of attractive women have struck up brief conversations with me at traffic lights and road crossings, touching their hair and adjusting clothing. Matrons smile and sigh. Women ferrying children in rather horrible box like "people carriers" or "mini-vans" smile, nod and let me have right of way, often pointing me out to their juvenile charges too busy with their gaming consoles to pay much attention to anything less than imminent nuclear devestation.  Veteran females look up and smile perhaps remembering past fondlings and fornications al fresco with uniformed beaux amidst bicycles as horizontal and abandoned as they were once themselves.

Men take a more cautious and less open and obvious line. Many in mid-life cast a furtive yet slightly admiring glance, taking in the detail of garments and mechanicals to make an objective assessment of the suitability of the approach to cycling for themselves. The elderly ignore, thinking "What other attire would someone wear on a bicycle?" and reserve their distain for the lycra clad traffic light ignoring cohorts soon to pass them. The youthful and boreish look vaguely daggers or feign distain, one or too have scorned, but suprisingly few do it that openly. Homosexuals ravish. "White van man" is strangely cowed.

So does the bicycle you ride tell others something about you? I decided to play the game myself and spying a rather classically beautiful bicycle propped up in the antechamber to a tea room I tend to frequent on the way back from a certain lunch spot (yes dear reader, tea after a two hour lunch is rather piggy...but I still think form should be maintained) I began to muse upon its owner.

Classic bicycle, two whicker baskets, small ladies frame, some replacement non-standard parts, half chain guard. What did this tell me? Well the owner was female of course, of adventurous and open personality, partaking of tea alone. She would be of slight build, with short bobbed hair wearing a chic coat and had good dress sense. I further felt she wore leather gloves of a coat matching hue and had a pair of rather fine legs which she was not adverse to displaying.

What struck me was the accuracy of my predictions.  There on a corner table, wonderfully long crossed stockinged legs beneath an above knee length skirt sat a woman with a classically cut military style coat slung over an adjoining chair and with matching green leather gloves on the table in front of her. Her hair was shortish and her look in my direction open and unphased. I looked about the room and saw one or two free tables but decided to try my luck.

"I like your bicycle" I said "Do you mind if I join you for tea? .....I have this theory that a tea tastes better shared and I feel a bit self concious sometimes on my own."

"By all means" she said "But how did you know I had a bicycle?"

"Ah......I am begining to develop a theory on that too........."

Monday, 3 January 2011

New Year's Resolutions....

It is that time of year again. The time when cycling along the waterfront one sees a few more joggers, a few more people out for a stroll, dare I say it ......a few more people out on their bikes (albeit new, rather garishly coloured ones and often of the most bizarre modernist design...but I will not have them gainsayed...they are after all on two wheels...BRAVO!).

Realising the foolishness of their over-indulgence during the festivities of the past few days, they make an effort and decide to try to reduce their bulk acquired over the past 8 years in a single month of exercise madness. It is a familiar scene.....come Feburary 28th, with the wind lashing at their clothing and the freezing rain cutting horizontally into their faces it is only a truely loyal band that remain at their toil.

I remember very well how whilst out in the tropics in Service to Her Majesty I became struck by the innate foolishness of our western style of exercise for exercises sake, rather than as exercise as part of living. Stay with me for a while gentle readers for I shall get to my point.

Every day I would get up early and with little more than a mug of chai inside me run around our particular section of the boondocks thinking myself the most wonderful of chaps for making such an effort to stay trim. Everyday at the same time I would see this old man ride past me as I ran. He was on the most antiquated of bicycles loaded with cut fodder for his livestock. When I say loaded I mean absolute ton of the stuff piled high on the back and front. He would wind his way back and forth for four or five trips during the day...bags of grain, bales of hay, everysort of animal feedstuff. I could see him clearly from my desk and at other times when my driver took me hither and thither. Each day I passed this man, (and yes I grant you that from a security point of view setting such a pattern is asking for trouble), he would look at me and shake his head in wonder. I could see him thinking...."that idiot, allah be praised, making work for himself when there is more than enough work to be done in the world!"

Suffice to say when returning to Blighty and freedom from indentured slavery to the government I represented overseas, I made my mind up to learn the lesson of the old man and his bicycle logistics. One New Years Day I binned the shorts and running kit and steadfastly refused to take another step in the pursuit of exercise for exercise sake. Surely to God I thought there must be a way of exercising without exercising and so my quest began to try to exercise without doing so.

As I mentioned, I binned my running shoes and set aside my speedos. Having been a lycra clad cycling Johnnie myself once, I put away the fair Colnago, put away thoughts of Campagnolo derailleurs and of Shimano brake levers and took up the Pashley as the very ideal of the "lifecycle".  I rode to work, to the shops, to cafes, for a beer, to my accountant, to my solicitor, to meet friends, on dates, over to my fathers house, up to my tailor, to the airport, on the ferry,....but no longer did I ride to exercise...I rode to live!

The funny thing about this change was that actually I seemed to get fitter without even weight reduced (I have developed this rather odd theory that gyms actually make you fat.....just look at all the fat women on step machines...I tell you its true!) my girth shrank, my muscles developed (try getting a fully ladened Pashley with a weeks worth of steak and potatoes up a 1 in 4 gradient; something I did for the past two years...legs like steel steel hawses!).

My point?

Well it would be churlish and more than a little hectoring to make one really...but you probably get the idea.

Oh and my New Years Resolution? find a butchers somewhere without a 1:4 hill to climb after making the purchase!

Bonne chance mes amis!