Recently I tried to teach someone to fix a puncture via Skype. In the interests of National Security I will call this Student of the Dark Arts of the Inner Tube, Princess Consuela. Regular readers may be somewhat surprised to hear this. Whatever my cycling skills may be, getting a tyre on and off the wheel rim is not one of them.
Princess Consuela, never having fixed a puncture before, was undaunted. In her relaxed hands the tyre slipped off first time. I decided to keep it to myself just how much bad language I need, and how sore my fingers become, in order to perform the same activity.
Now for the easy part – or so I thought.
So, now to locating the pinprick in the inner tube that had caused all the bother. Having failed to locate it by inflating the tyre to hear the tell-tale hiss, his eponymous member of royalty used her own wits and without a word from me, immersed the tube into a bowl of water.
The next part wasn’t quite so simple. She had all the equipment required – self – adhesive patches. After having taken off the tyre, extracted the inner tube, located the puncture the hard part was over. Not quite. This sort of thing should take one patch, a little patience while waiting for it to stick to the inner tube, and then the small matter of easing the inner tube and tyre back on the wheel rim. Not this time. Hopes were raised with the first patch in place. But the air was still escaping from the edge of the patch. A second patch seemed to have fixed the problem until she heard another hiss, a third patch, a fourth and still no satisfaction. It was at this point that I offered her the sum total of my experience in bike repair. Go to a bike shop and ask them to fix it.
She didn’t do that. She fixed it herself.
When she told me what she had done I remembered Moshe. Moshe Teller was my first mentor when I first had the temerity to secure a job as a mental health worker back in 1995. Hang around me for fifteen minutes or more and you are bound to hear me explain that not a week goes by without me relying on lessons I learned from him. What lesson did I recall when she fixed the puncture herself, finally?
We were sitting in a an office, with the manager and one man who used the mental health service, that was really too small for the four of us. We were gathered there to tell him that we had to bar him from the Day Centre for intimidating some of the women who, along with him, used the art studio. They were not alone in feeling nervous around him. Add a few kilos and a paunch and you had an older version of the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara who was killed in 1967 aged 39. I don’t recall the details of what was said other than the outcome which was that he was not to attend the Centre until we met him again some weeks/months hence to review the situation. no gunfire was exchanged, he left the building quietly and I cannot recall ever seeing him again. Once he had left we sat together to discuss what had happened. We talked about what we would require of him if he was to return. We talked about the behaviour that had led to him being barred from the service. I cannot now remember if it was me or the manager who asked the next question. Actually, I draw a blank as to what that question actually was other than it was something to do with Che’s behaviour once he was allowed to return. With his customary brevity Moshe observed: ‘that’s for next time.’
Over the years I have been on various interview panels when recruiting mental health workers. The question I am always itching to ask is: ‘are you a patient person?’ Princess Consuela was more patient than me about the puncture. Moshe taught me, time after time, that before we can embark on the road to mental health recovery we face a series calamities that repeat, revisit and walk with us every day. They damage and dispirit us – and some of us they destroy.
I many times thought peace had come,
When peace was far away;
As wrecked men deem they sight the land
At centre of the sea,
And struggle slacker, but to prove,
As hopelessly as I,
How many fictitious shores
Before the harbour lie.
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)