Your First Bike
Getting your first ever bike is like a right of passage, something you rarely forget, even if you don’t recall all the intricate details. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old when I got my first bike, dark red, with shiny gold stickered letters ‘RALEIGH’ on the frame. I must have run my fingers along those letters so many times as a kid, whilst waiting on street corners for friends to arrive, or when cleaning my bike with Fairy Liquid and polishing the metal bits to make them shiny, or adding spokey dokeys to the wheels (remember them? They made a ting, ting noise as you cycled slowly!).
I don’t know where my first bike came from, whether it was new or second hand, those things don’t matter, though I suspect it was a birthday gift, and my grandparents likely had a hand in it. I think I owned a BMX at some point too, or I might just have memories of riding my friends’ BMX bikes and Choppers over a building site which offered large bumps made from soil, and which were perfect for jumping over, apart from rainy days when it was muddy and your wheels got stuck and caked in red, clay like gloop. It may not have been a building site at all, just next to a building site, who knows? Memory is a fickle thing sometimes.
But, I do remember being interviewed by the press at the tender age of about 7 years old. Angrily protesting about how the council shouldn’t take the park away and how they should ‘save our park’, a chant we shouted loud and clear (and had writen on banners someone gave us), myself, a bunch of parents and adults (who likely put us up to this), and a large group of children, many of whom I’d never seen before at the park. It was important though. It was the only place we could ride our bikes and play safely, and the only essence of a park for miles, and way better than trying to play and ride our bikes on the street, having to stop for cars and not being able to get in the flow of playing, jumping over ramps, and racing properly.
I must have spent hours on that bike, every day after school, on weekends, long summers, me and my little gang of friends, mostly boys for some reason, though there weren’t many girls who lived near me and they tended to wear dresses and stay home and do more sedate things anyway. I don’t remember falling off too many times, just as well since I don’t think cycle helmets existed back then, and it wasn’t even law to wear a seatbelt when driving. Once, I cycled along a wall on a narrow passageway and scraped the length of my arm, that was pretty sore, and I broke my coccyx a few times with the BMX jumps, but other than that I was pretty lucky.
My only ‘proper’ injury was when my brother accidentally crashed into me when we were cycle in a car park by our house, and he somehow managed to knock a hole in my shin, probably with his pedal. That bled a lot, and I remember very clearly looking into the hole at the bone in my leg, telling my mates (boys) how cool it looked, before the delayed pain kicked in, and when I next looked down it was gushing blood, and the boys started crying and looking pale. So began an evening in accident and emergency, seven stitches in an awkward place on my shin, and much parental anger at ruining their evening. I doubt they would suture that area over the shin these days, research has shown its a poor area for healing, and they would probably butterfly it with tape these days. I was proud of that scar, my first ‘war wound’, though it did get in the way a bit, especially when tree climbing, and a second outburst of parental anger and refusal to visit accident and emergency again, when I caught the wound on a tree. It looked absolutely fine to me, but I think the adults were concerned with the what ifs and my ruining their drinking plans.
As a teenager I enjoyed cycling much less. I cycled 4 miles to school and back each day, come hail, wind, or snow, invariably it seemed to be raining, and I became a cynic, realising that the earlier gift of a bicycle was probably just a ploy to get me cycling to school in later life so as to save on effort and petrol. Cycling became a chore, especially as cycling on the pavement was made illegal, and all school children were made to take a cycling proficiency test, which once they had passed, meant they were destined to cycle on the road, for fear of knocking down old ladies or not paying attention to where they were going. Having spent my then, short lifetime, cycling around makeshift pebbles in a row for an obstacle challenge, I can tell you hand on heart that I’d easily have been able to avoid old ladies, who were a lot larger than stones, and moved equally slowly! But no, it was deemed dangerous, and we were told to cycle on the roads (cycle lanes did also not exist back then!).
Worse still, we had these things called ‘dynamos’ that attached to the back of the bike, and were supposed to work like lamps and keep you safe so that cars could see you. At that time, they were no flash bands or vests that reflected light to help cars see you at night, so you had to rely on the dynamo, unless you were rich and had a battery powered bike lamp. The stupid thing was, just had to be peddling all the time, in order for it to work, and for some reason I only had one on the front of my bike, so a car coming from behind couldn’t see me (in black school uniform), and from the front, the light it gave off was so poor, that even I couldn’t see more than a metre in front of me, not to mention that the light stopped as soon as you stopped pedalling, so was rubbish at roundabouts and junctions and things, and no one could see you holding out your arm to indicate that you were going to turn left or right!! And if you got too knackered to cycle or your bike was falling apart, you’d be fighting the whirr and friction of the dynamo as you struggled to push your bike along. Somehow that stupid dynamo that used friction to create a piss poor amount of light, actually made you more knackered as you had to pedal twice as hard to combat the friction it used!!! If only solar powered batteries were made back then, so that they could store up sun light whilst in school all day, and be used when it got dark super early when cycling home! I love solar power!!!
Fight for Survival
So it was, the race for life began, and cycling lost its fun and charm. Each day, my heart would sink to my feet at the prospect of a 4 mile ride home, after a day at school, a cross country session, and in my way too small black school uniform which was too hot in summer, and utterly freezing in winter, and I never seemed to possess a coat that was actually waterproof, or a backpack that wasn’t falling apart and held together by safety pins.
So there I was, cycling along the road, in the rain, my glasses covered in raindrops and steam, so I could barely see, coat hood leaking icy cold water down my back between my shoulder blades, knowing my backpack with homework in would be all soggy, and wobbling around in the gutter, trying to avoid the pavement and drains and potholes, and all the time getting sucked into the main road by speeding lorries, and getting splashed by passing cars, filled with rich kids getting driven home. Some might say this was all just character building, but I can assure you, it wasn’t, and I’m sure it contributed to my knee problems, given the frequency at which my knees would dislocate, often whilst cycling! Something I was later told by a wise Orthopaedic Surgeon (rather than the idiotic first one who thought I was justa silly girl trying to get out of my favourite subject PE), was called Osgood-Schlatter Disease (tibial tubercle apophyseal traction injury) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osgood%E2%80%93Schlatter_disease) and Chondromalacia Patellae (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chondromalacia_patellae) which was eventually treated with removal of the rough cartilage behind my knee camps and some 18 months in knee braces, which I”m not convinced about, and which are both controversial treatments these days.
Anyway, both conditions are more acceptable, understood, and better treated these days, thank goodness for all those young people who no longer have to go through what I went through. But, the result of constant knee pain, probably throughout most of my life when it came to cycling, was that as a teen, it became the bane of my life, and knees dislocating on the way home from school, would just leave me miserable and frustrated, as I knew the only way to get home, was to go by bike!
Nice Days in the Sun
On nice days in the summer, when it wasn’t raining and my skin wasn’t numb from rain and cold, I would take a slightly different route, about 1mile longer, but utterly worth it. It was like a different world. Fancy houses with big gardens, big plants and bushes and lots of flowers, and lawns with sprinklers. This road was quiet and deserted, and the flowers always smelt divine. It was a lovely escape from the world of our council estate with its tiny suburbia, and people swearing at one another or cooking chips at home. The posh street had different smells, and left the imagination running wild wondering what they might be cooking, especially at Christmas time. The houses always looked so welcoming and cosy, and the people looked so kind and homely. I’d cycle along this road so slowly, enjoy the sun and aromas, and dream of another world, and somehow I got back the magic of cycling and wanting to explore more. Then I’d arrive home, and begin my paper round, another 4miles of cycling along a busy road, with return visits home to pick up the papers I couldn’t carry on the first, second, or third journeys. It was mug’s work!!! A free paper, filled with trashy leaflets or things no-one wanted, and that no one would ever read, and would invariably be unwelcome or put in the bin anyway. If I’d been smart, I’d have taken a proper paper round like my friends on the estate, who signed up at the corner shop. They got shorter roads closer to their homes, delivered papers to people who actually wanted them and were pleased to see them each day, got tips at Christmas and special occasions, and a far better pay packet, and compliments from the shop owners if they did a good job. But still, it was money, and it enabled me to have a little freedom and to buy school supplies, like a pen or notepad when I needed one.
At college I started cycling again, for the first time. I took a BTEC course in Outdoor Pursuits, and the lecturer’s friends who would join us as Instructors on trips to Wales and to competitions and weekend activities, were all keen cyclists (they also represented Great Britain as kayakers and were seriously hard core when it came to rapids and things, and it was great to be on the water with them during our course, those I wasn’t a massive fan of kayaking after a near drowning experience on the River Ribble when I got wedged under my kayak by a rock!).
College was great, no more being treated like a kid, now we were equals and had a say in things. My college mates were quite an unusual bunch. One of the girls, had a brother who had been taken hostage abroad and had been missing for three years, and everyday they were waiting on news of him, another was left to rent out her mum’s house and maintain it (at the age of 18) after her mum had gone to join a hippy commune in Turkey, and another friend, a young, long haired guy, called Giles, had some rare medical condition which meant he would be in a wheelchair and die early, so he decided to become a downhill mountain biker, and companies would give him titanium bikes to trash and test, and if they were Giles proof then they were onto a winner (they invariably weren’t Giles proof, and he took great delight in breaking them during mountain bike competitions! His knees were completely messed up!). We used to cycle from Blackburn to Wales and cycle down hills and into lakes without using our brakes, and I really got into downhill mountain biking, the crazier the better. Until I came off for the first time, a few years later, whilst living in Windermere in the Lake District and decided to brake, whilst going down hill on a country road on my own, just in case I might come off. It had been warm for a while, and then rained for the first time, so the road was quite greasy. But the irony was that, had I not braked, then I wouldn’t have come off at all!
My brain remembers travelling along the ground on my left side, but it was actually my right side that had all the grazes and bruises, and its funny what your brain does whilst travelling during an accident. It was all very clear and in slow motion, and I remember being confused as I had been travelling down the hill, but when I came off I was going up the hill! Lucky for me, I was wearing pertex, and that prevented a lot of the friction and grazing along my side, so I came off pretty lightly, with just grazes to my hands and knees, which made the walk home quite tricky as the blood and grit was oozing from my wounds and I was trying to maintain like nothing had happened, even though it was really smarting as the air and heat from the grazes met. The luckiest thing of all, was that I had been wearing a helmet! And as I came to a halt after skidding along the road, I sat up, just as my helmet fell off my head, in two pieces, with a crack down the middle. I’ve no recollection of hitting my head, but I must have done for the helmet to break like that. I didn’t have a single mark on my head, and I’m sure I’d have lost an ear had I not worn a helmet, and more than likely had a brain injury or concussion or something. I’ll never cycle without a helmet now (if there is an option), even on a little ride, and I’ve since met many patients who acquired brain injuries from simple things, like falling from the first rung of a ladder, so I’m quite paranoid after a career in Neuropsychology!
I’ve talked about James Cracknell’s cycling acquired brain injury before, but I’m still amazed at how lucky he was, when cycling in the US and getting hit from behind by a juggernaut. He spent months in rehab and his personality isn’t the same as it was, but had he not worn a helmet, for sure he’d have been a goner. In case you haven’t seen it, here is an advert he made about the importance of helmets when cycling:
James is also an ocean rower, having crossed the Atlantic Ocean with Ben Fogle, (who is currently preparing for a solo swim across the Atlantic Ocean!). Ben and James both visit my home town in the UK, and Ben is a keen outdoor swimmer. A few years ago, we took part in a Christmas dip with the Outdoor Swimming Society at the Parliment Hill Lido in London, the same place where I was fortunate enough to have my first ever lesson in front crawl, with no other than GB Olympic Outdoor Swimmer Cassie Paton, again thanks to the OSS.
Outdoor swimming is the thing I miss most of all here in Georgia, especially that sense of being part on an outdoor swimming community and sharing info on locations and swims. I guess its something that has a very British feel to it, as its something that was fashionable with the Victorians, who went on to build Britain’s numerous lidos, so swimming outdoors is also a little nostalgic and its great to help support and keep alive some of those Victorian buildings and holiday zones, whether its a lido by the sea, or old cave that people would pay to swim in. I especially miss that exhilaration of snorkelling and swimming outdoors with the dogs in tow, looking for seals and jellyfish and nature along the coasts of Scotland, and I miss the beauty of the British coastline. I love hunting out waterfalls and lochs to swim in.
Last Bike Ride
Prior to coming to Georgia, my last bike ride, was along the coast of the Baltic Sea by my father’s house in Latvia. Myself and my step sister would borrow bikes and cycle along the sand from the bottom of our garden up to some very old forests, picking up amber on the way, and racing with the dogs, before venturing into the woods and up to the top of Latvia’s biggest sand dunes. There is something so different about cycling along the sand, and quite a technique to it, otherwise you end up sinking and going no where! Best to take the route closest to the waves, but not so much that you get too wet!
Baltic amber, you can find this in washed up seaweed on the beach, especially after storms. From tiny pieces, to large ones, and if you are really lucky, you can even find pieces with insects and bubbles in them, and sometimes plants.
My step sister Alise is a keen outdoor swimmer and especially loves cycling!
I’ve only been on a bike once since coming to Georgia 16 months ago, at Kvareli Lake, and it was very strange to be back in the saddle after so long. I’ve definitely lost that confidence that I used to have as a kid, but the exhilaration and freedom that comes with cycling was certainly still there!
Baltic Sea Cycle
On my list of things to do before I die, is to cycle around the Baltic Sea, starting from my father’s house and ending there. It looks simple enough, the only complication being the journey through Russia, and it should be easy enough to cycle and camp for much of the journey, picking up provisions en route. One of my step mum’s relatives is a harbour master for the Baltic Sea (think he is fairly high up?), so I should also be able to hitch a ride with a container ship across the mouth of the sea, where it isn’t possible to cycle. I’d also be up for cycling around the Black Sea too, and have been half wondering about this as an expedition for when the OPG guys get to their Gold Award level for the International Award. Myself and a few of the older ones, though it would mean we would have to bypass Russia as they wouldn’t get visas. Last year I travelled along the coastal road of Turkey a little, and there is an excellent path by the sea, where the Turkish military do their running training. Its nice and wide, and seems that bikes can travel along it no problem, rather like a nice long promenade along the coast. This would be ideal, and we could easily cycle from Batumi in Georgia, into Turkey, along the coast, and then take the ferry from the Ukraine back to Poti (near Batumi) in order to avoid the Russian side. Visas would be easy enough, there are ample camping spots, nice cycle paths, relative safety, and it would be easy for them for route planning, and for getting a bus back if they absolutely hated it, plus it would be fairly cheap. Would be perfect for Gold Award, and less complicated than the Baltic Sea. Certainly food for thought!
Eastern Europe Bike Trip
I’m a little envious of a friend of mine this week (who said I inspired her for this trip, which was a surprise!). She is leaving her long term post at Earthwatch to cycle with friends across Eastern Europe, and I hope she will call into my family’s home in Latvia and camp there on the way. I’m so excited for them as I know they were planning this for a while now, and last time I met them was in November last year at the Royal Geographical Society. You can follow their journey here: http://www.gobybicycle.eu/ , they will visit some amazing places on the way, including Serbia and Moldova, two places I would love to visit one day.
Tom’s Bike Trip
During the same visit to London, I also met with a guy called Tom, who is a really serious cyclist, currently cycling across Canada where his brother lives. Tom took a life changing bike ride, around the world, travelling through Tbilisi in Georgia (after a bust up with his cycle buddy!), and finding his soul mate in Armenia which rather scuppered his plans. Tom and the Producer of the film ‘Janapar’ will be travelling to Armenia in July or August, and Tom has agreed to visit Tbilisi, for the first time since he cycled here from the UK, and I’d love to show his film and have a question and answer session with him, perhaps even holding it as a fundraiser for OPG, to help us buy compasses and maps for our International Award ‘Adventurous Journey’ section, or maybe to buy dog biscuits and treats for the shelter where the kids are volunteering?? The film hasn’t had its premiere yet, so it’ll probably have to be a private screening or special preview screening. I’ve spoken about Tom in a few of my blogs before, but the film has been edited and changed a bit since I initially saw it back in November last year. You can view the trailer of the film here:
Brits, Bikes, and Botrytis
What is it about Brits and their bicycles! Another group of British friends, undertook this amazing ride across Africa to raise money and awareness for two of Prince William’s charities ‘Centre Point’ a charity for homeless young people, and ‘Tusk’ a conservation charity. You can see the video of their journey here:
You might well think that cycling and eccentricity is only for explorers and long journeys, but you’d be wrong. Check out my friend and colleague Phil. We both worked as Wine Advisors for Oddbins and French company Nicolas, and he now runs a wine shop called ‘Spirited Wines’ in Marlow. That was one of the most fun jobs I ever had, in part because of being based in Henley On Thames/Marlow where many celebs live (as well as Manchester/Preston/Kendal where not many celebs live, apart from a girl from Hollyoaks apparently), and I also worked in a branch in Muswell Hill, London, another celeb haunt.
As Wine Advisors our job was to advise and recommend wines for all sorts of occasions and some of my regular customers over the years have included Maureen Lipman (I had a huge crush on her son), Jeremy Paxman, HRH Sarah Ferguson, most of the Eastenders cast, one of the girls from Steps, Dale Winton, the son of one of the Beatles, some celebrity chefs, and once I even advised George Michael and Piers Brosnan and spent ages helping them in choosing the right wines! Though the biggest perk of the job, was getting a budget to choose wines to try, in order to recommend them, getting to visit wine fairs and vineyards, and whisky tastings, and having to try hundreds of wines every week in order to pass my exams on wine and spirits! Not many jobs where drinking and being allowed to get a little tipsy from time to time come as hazards of the job!! Vineyards and producers would regularly produce freebies for you try in the hopes that you would recommend them, and a ‘cheap’ bottle of wine started to come in at around the £20 a bottle mark, once you were being treated to bottles costing £90-£120 pound per bottle on a daily basis, though it didn’t necessarily mean they tasted any better than a £5 bottle, rather you were paying for the name, vintage, or prestige. Getting to meet my George Clooney of the Wine World Chester Osborne of Australian wine ‘D’Arenberg’ was probably one of the best moments of my life, and it was great to have sampled pretty much every producer and vintage of champagne, and to have firmly established favourites….now that is a tough job, but someone has to do it. My favourite champagne is Ruinart Blanc de Blanc by the way, but only when served with chocolate cake!! I’m also a sucker for Laurent Perrier, Veuve Cliquot Grande Dame, and champagne made by the Marx house (just as a warning in case you are planning to ever date me, I don’t come cheap, and I have high maintenance tastes where alcohol is concerned!!). My second favourite wine producer in the whole world is Chateau Musar, based in Beirut, Lebanon. There is something very charming about the brothers who run the family business, and I could listen to Ronald chat about history and wine making forever! His grandaughter Elsa recently made a film too! I miss my world wine tastings now I’m in Georgia:(
Fine and Rare Wines – Nothing to do with Bicycles! (But best not to drink and cycle!)
I loved those magical moments, especially in the early days in London, where you would be requested to source a really rare or fine wine, port, sherry, whisky, or whatever for a client, and then you’d search everywhere to try and get hold of just one bottle, for some big party or special occasion. Often those bottles would be above £1000 per bottle, dating back to 1920 or thereabouts, and be extremely precious cargo, but were priceless to the customer, who was always very thankful. I also loved the whisky tastings, pacing myself, and being ready for bed at 2pm after a long day of sampling, spitting, and sniffing (it was often the sniffing part that wold make me feel drunk!). My favourite whiskies being the medicinally, peaty or smoky ones, like the Ardbeg Uigeadail, which remains to this day my favourite, even after trying delights such as Isle of Islay’s ‘Port Ellen’.
Phil, Baking, and Biking
But I digress! I was telling you about my long time friend Phil and his biking eccentricities, especially in relation to working in the wine industry. I think this picture says it all:
Anyway, the lovely, Oxford Graduate Mr Phil, also writes a great wino blog, along with others who work for the new company ‘Spirited Wines’, worth checking it out if your a wino too: http://www.spiritedwines.co.uk/blog/of-1-3-pints-and-pinot-grigio/ Phil is also a damn fine cook, and during our escapades in Scotland he made the meanest fruit cake and other goodies I have ever eaten in my life, to the extent where I’m actually worried that he is missing out a sure fire career as a cake baker, a talent surely wasted right now, and I rather hope he will come to Georgia at some point and stock up the freezer for me, or at least send over a food parcel of goodies. For some reason, his shop was always very popular in winter, not least because of the home made mince pies he generously offered to customers looking for wines to mull. Must get him to share some of his secret recipes one day!!
And, in other Bicycle News this Week…
Some very cool and quirky bike stories for biking enthusiasts:
- Bike Lanes of America: http://www.good.is/post/infographic-the-united-bike-lanes-of-america/
- Biking saves North Americans $4.6billion each year: http://www.good.is/post/biking-saves-americans-4-6-billion-each-year/
- Very cool folding bike for commuters: http://www.good.is/post/fold-my-ride-the-bike-that-could-change-transit/
- How to find your stolen bike on Craig’s list: http://www.good.is/post/how-to-find-your-stolen-bike-on-craigslist/
- What kind of cyclist are you: http://www.good.is/post/what-kind-of-cyclist-are-you-an-illustrated-guide/
- Cycling humour and tales: http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/humor/index.htm
And to end today’s blog, thought I’d lower the tone a bit, and show that EVEN celebrities use bikes!! How about that, who’d have thought it! Though, I would just like to add, that my grand dad was very ahead of his time, and not only did he meet my granny whilst he cycled to Ingleton from Todmoden, and my granny from Accrington to Ingleton, they even continued their love for cycling, by going on weekends away, youth hosteling and camping, and when their four kids were born, they put them in back packs and invented side cars so they could also join them. Though I do think Ange and Brad have lovely family bikes, probably a bit more pricey than my grandparents’ family bike! My grandad was very astute when it came to money, even building his own bike in order to avoid paying tax on it. He kept that bike until the day he died, even though his cycling days were done. Wonder what happened to it? I know my granny was always complaining about it cluttering up the space and saying that he would never use it again, so why keep it. I hope it went to a museum or something, as it was very cool!
Dame Vivienne Westwood
Mayor of London Boris Johnson (one of my old wino customers, and from my home town. Glad to see he is using bicycle clips on his trousers, but I do wish he would wear a cycle helmet).
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt
Cycling in Georgia: Thanks to George from Georgia for this Link