Back in September, when I went to Wales on my cycling holiday, one of the stages of the Tour of Britain came through Brecon, which was near to where I was staying So before setting of for my day in the saddle I positioned myself on a corner where the peleton would be passing with my camera and settled down to wait.
I was not alone. It seemed that most of the locals had come to watch, too. It was not long before the civilised banter of the swelling crowds was drowned out by the arrival of a class from the local primary school waving flags and cheerfully yelling ‘Wales! Wales!’ at the tops of their voices. They were lined up alongside the edge of the pavement by their teacher and equipped with paper caps and Welsh flags. As the race marshalls rode past ensuring the route was clear for the riders and their entourage of support cars to pass through, I found myself talking to some of the children and their teacher. I was wearing my cycling kit – padded shorts and World Champion jersey. Some of the children asked me if I was riding in the race. I fell into conversation with their teacher.
And then the first cars and motorbikes at the head of the peleton appeared round the corner where we were standing, closely followed by the leading riders. I scrambled to aim my camera at the the riders as they whizzed past our noses. Click, click, click.
And then they were gone.
Did I actually see anything? Not really. Yes, I have some pictures, but I was so busy pointing my camera in the right direction that I was at one remove from the scene unfolding in front of me.
My first reaction was one of frustration. I had arrived in plenty of time. I had found a good spot, soaked up the carefree atmosphere as we waited in anticipationof the spectacle about to arrive. But when the moment had come I was all fingers and thumbs, and the peleton had disappeared in a blur. Yes, I did get some pictures, but I was left feeling like, despite all my preparations, I had missed the event.
After the crowds drifted away I cycled off into the countryside that surrounds Brecon. I started to ponder on the theme of lost opportunities, and how so often these can fuel depression. As I changed gear climbing further and further up some relentless hills, it occurred to me that lost opportunities are about speculating about what might have been. If I had been fully focused on the race I would not have become distracted by the engaging and inquisitive school children in the crowd. I would have got some really good pictures of the riders instead.
As I kept pedalling, changed my position on the bike, stood up on the pedals to help me grind out the metres as I climbed higher and higher my perspective on what had happened as the race sped by began to change, too. Suppose I had been totally focused on taking the pictures, had succeeded in not becoming distracted and come away with some superb action shots – shots that had captured the thrill of the race, what then?
I would have missed the banter, the atmosphere of the moment. the police motor cyclists having fun riding past waving at the crowds as if they were the main event. I would have missed out on the amusing questions of the school children, and the chat with their teacher.
Depression puts me at one remove from what’s going on around me. I become – as the professionals like to say – ‘disengaged’. I cannot connect with my surroundings, with people. What I was doing as I waited on the kerb for the peloton to rush past was engaging with my surroundings, being in the moment. When I fumbled about with my camera at the crucial moment I unhooked myself from that and distanced myself from what was going on around me.
Recovery from mental illness is all about connecting, and being able to let some things go – to let events whizz past in a blur, and for that blur to stand as the definitive experience of the moment. Do I regret not getting all the pictures I wanted? A bit, sure. But I wouldn’t be without the people I was with for that short amount of time – the harassed teacher herding his pupils through the centre of town and back in the middle of the school day. The sheer excitement of the children adding to the atmosphere, and the upfront way they quizzed me about who I was, the race and all the razamattaz of the event.
It’s those memories that still raise a smile weeks later.
I Meant To Do My Work Today
I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand,
So what could I do but laugh and go?
Richard LeGallienne (1866 – 1947)