It was in St Louis, Missouri in October 2003, after witnessing a motorist strike and kill a cyclist, that Patrick Van Der Tuin placed a white-painted bicycle with a sign saying ‘Cyclist Killed Here’ at the scene of the accident that Ghost Bikes first started to appear. Since then these bicycles have cropped up across the globe at the scene of a cycling fatality.
What do these stripped down, stationary, painted bicycles represent? A memorial, for sure. A reminder to cyclists and motorists alike to take care. One aspect of these bikes tends to go unnoticed, however. They have been stripped of several vital parts before being placed at the scene. The rationale behind this is that it will deter thieves.
When I cycle past one of these bikes I give it a nod. Out of respect to the dead cyclist, one of my tribe. Yes. Yes I should say that. But that’s not the real reason. The real reason I acknowledge these ghost bikes is that they concentrate my mind – and that’s something that takes some doing. I do not mean that they serve as a reminder to me to take care on the road – that’s a topic for another edition.
No, what they make me think about is … is the basics. These are bike frames that are meant to represent their riders and they call to mind basic feelings in me which I choose to identify as those devious fiends: facts. It’s easily done. Any out of breath rider will agree that how they feel ( burning chest, sore legs, numb feet) are facts. How these physical feelings impact on our mood (elation, despair, a sense of achievement/failure) are also facts.
They are true.
So, for me, feelings are facts. Thinking back over the years, all my counsellors (1), psychoanalysts (2) and psychiatrists ( 4 or 5 ) have tried to persuade me that my feelings (despair, suicidality, hopelessness and guilt) do not fit the facts. The only people involved in my recovery that do not try this approach, by the way, are peer support groups. And, you will be interested to hear, they are the most effective form of treatment I know.
So what are these facts of which I write? It is the fact, the fact, as bloody – minded and as selfish as it is, that I envy them. I envy them their death, I envy them their stark tributes, their lack of responsibility that life demands, their air of mystery, the absence from suffering that their crushed bones bring.
While I, all I have, are slow legs and a passionate intensity that can only end in stony sleep.
THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)