I haven’t been for a proper ride since before we went away to the New Forest last month. It’s not been for want of thinking about it, though. Only a couple of days ago I was once again taking out my maps and choosing routes.
But I didn’t ride.
It was raining; I had things to do; I slept late (that’s another story); when it came to it I didn’t really feel like it. You get my drift.
Why is this? A keen cyclist not side stepping his responsibilities, cancelling plans and generally putting things on hold, to pedal?
Let’s call it safety first. Car drivers often say to me ‘be careful’ when they find out I am a cyclist. Can’t think why. I guess they think they’re dangerous but think: why do anything about it? Thoughts and behaviour. You can relax – this isn’t going to turn into a tutorial about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (I think I did that in an earlier edition). Where was I? Oh yes, the link between our thoughts and how they may (or may not) influence our behaviour. I’ve got used to noticing when my thoughts become dangerous. So, when I catch myself thinking that all it would take is for me to jerk the handle bars a fraction to the right for me to be gone I (so far) have taken the bus.
Regular readers will recognise the Catch 22 situation here. I opened this blog back in August 2010 with a shy, muttered, barely audible understatement: ‘Cycling saved my life.’ Over the years I have blathered on and on about how important cycling is for me to keep a toe hold on my (at best) skittish interior life. And now this: Cycling nearly ended my life. I just have to think back to a cycling holiday I took to visit the First World War sites in Picardy, northern France that fateful summer to remind myself how dangerous a pastime cycling is for me. I was actively suicidal and in charge of bike cycling (some of the time at least) on main roads with juggernauts clattering past me.
And yet. And yet no matter how flabby my motivation to step outside, no matter how many more important things there are to do (or with increasing frequency, I find) to avoid doing, the minute I am on my bike it takes me – at most – ten strokes of the pedals for my soul to surge once more, for my heart to finally start beating again.
There’s safety in that.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
Abel Meeropol* (1903 – 1986)
This poem, written in 1939, was written under his pen name Lewis Allan and published in the Marxist journal The New Masses. It was set to music and made famous by Billie Holiday. You can listen to her sing the song here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Web007rzSOI