The Pilot on Our Tandem

Pottering along a country lane recently I saw a couple on a tandem cycling in the opposite direction.  I am fascinated by bicycles.  I peer at commuters’ fold up bikes on the train, watch them closely to see how, in a moment, they fold them up ready to carry into the carriage.  I would love to have a go on a recumbent model – although I’d be quite nervous taking it out in traffic clogged streets.  And as for a Penny Farthing…..

But, for me, the ultimate bike is the tandem.

Here’s why.  I first saw riders on a tandem the first time I rode the Capital to Coast charity bike ride from London to Hove (60 hilly miles).  One of the charities involved in the ride was Norwood – a charity for people with Learning Difficulties.  A volunteer was the Pilot – the rider in front, and a person using the Norwood services rode behind.  I use the word ‘rode’ loosely.  I saw a number of these tandem pairings during the ride – one overtook me on a steep climb.  I never saw the back riders pedalling……

Thinking of those tandem riders makes me think of my wife.  I wrote about her in one of the early editions of this blog, called ‘The Long – Suffering Spouse’.  You can find it in the archives.

She is my Pilot.  True, she is not a cyclist, as such.  Her bike sits stubbornly in the shed and refuses to budge.  She prefers the sweaty passion that is Bikram Hot Yoga; which is fair enough.  But she is the one who rides in front most of the time, pedalling uphill, changing gears as need be, and signalling as and when forks in the road appear.  I, on the other hand, mostly resemble those back – riders I recall from the London to Hove rides.  Happy to balance on the back seat holding the hndlebars, but not turning the pedals much.  On one of those rides I was overtaken by one such Tandem.  I can still remember the flexed forearms, the heaving chest and the puffed out cheeks of the Pilot as he turned the pedals for both of them.

We all need a helping hand from time to time.  And so does the Pilot.

Over the years I have regularly attended Peer – led support groups. From time to time, a partner, parent, spouse or sibling will come along, too.  They come for various reasons: to support someone who is nervous about attending for the first time, to understand better what the loved one is going through, and, more rarely, for support themselves.

Since the NHS and Community Care Act 1990, which revolutionised mental health care in ways that could not have been forseen, the support for sufferers by their families and friends replaced the Long – Stay Victoirian (mostly) asylums.  These were often situated on the outskirts of towns and cities, away from the public gaze.  My point here is not to digress onto the benighted path of the history of Psychiatry, but to emphasise the changing complexion of care for people living independently in the heart of the community supported by – if they have them –  family and friends.

While support for sufferers of mental health problems has grown, developed, shrunk, receeded, and re – invented itself over the past 22 years, can the same be said of the needs of people who care for and support these same people?

Living with me certainly means coping with a steep gradient most of the time, hairpin bends and unannounced steep descents.  And I’m the only one wearing the helmet, the cycling gloves and the padded shorts.

The Hum

 ‘There is not yet a single word, but the poem

can already be heard…’

– Osip Mandelstam

It takes all night to turn the page –

no offence to the poem – its image

sets up so bright a mirror

the room moves towards it, vaster

for all the darkness I’m left sitting in.

By mid-morning you were fathoming

how to decant me from one vessel to another,

his to yours, replace the stopper

and drink. But what you drank was laced

with a distance, like moonlight traced

back to the moon at her most explicit,

so much so you have to listen for it

close to my mouth. Then, in that way you have

when you persist, like a siderostat,

in fixing me in your view,

what I’ve kept hidden becomes visible to you

Rachael Boast (1975 – )

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