I have three memories of Spencer John; which is probably three more that he has of me.
The first is that he was caned by the headmaster. This was rare at my primary school and the shock which reverberated through the school community was rather thrilling. Someone was smacked most days in our class – but to be cane was a sign of true wickedness. His crime? I can hardly bear to write it; I’ll put in asterisks so as not to offend. He sp*t at someone. I understand if you need a break now.
My second memory is that he was immensely scornful the day we had our Cycling Proficiency test. I was a pretty miniscule Jellygirl and my lovely blue bike had 20” wheels to accommodate my shorter-than-the–average legs. He and his mates found this hilarious and said so at some length.
My third and favourite memory is of him is during the test itself. The examiner had set up a track; the starting place being by an imaginary kerb. I can hear now the examiner’s voice ringing across the girls’ playground: “Spencer John, you didn’t look over your shoulder before taking off. That is an instant fail. Go back to class.” I think it was then that I discovered the joy of Schadenfreude which is, even now, one of the reasons I so love going by bike.
Blow Westminster Bridge; believe me, Earth hath not anything to show more fair than a rush-hour of cars lined‑up and fuming beside the cycle lane on my route to work. As I whip down to the front of the queue, zipping ahead as soon as the lights change, I know it’s gonna be a lovely day.
Smugness is not the only thing I love about cycling, though. It’s the way that it appeals to all the senses that also hooks me in. When I opened the front door last Monday, there was the first Autumn mist with just a slight chill and that very distinctive smell of late summer shrubs. My journey to work does take me through the centre of our town but also there is a long lane which is heavily wooded. On my bike, I have time to notice how the leaves are changing colour and are starting to carpet the street as I circle the pot-holes, which add an extra thrill to the journey.
On the bike, I am not bubbled away from the community. I can greet and be greeted by friends walking to work and ex-pupils, now turning into beautiful young men and women. I am on nodding terms with other regular cyclists: the lady with the rather splendid tricycle; the old chap who always calls out ‘nearly there’ as we pass on the crest of the hill by the church. I can hear the geese as they take their morning constitutional above my head.
And my final leg to school is all downhill. I’m not brave enough to emulate GrannieBorders and Lily leaning back, hands in my pockets, but the free-wheel down to school is the most effortless part of my day.
There was an immensely heartening article in the most recent edition of The Parkinson magazine. Apparently, there have been a number of studies to show that if you are a cyclist before you get Parkinson’s then you retain the ability to cycle, even if you become otherwise very wobbly on your pins. Which means that I can carry on being unbearably smug, even into my dotage.