Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

As my bike had drawn attention to itself by being nicked, abandoned and found, I decided to renew our old friendship by taking it out for a ride. On Sunday afternoon I slung my leg over it and took it for an hour-long, 15-mile circuit that goes up hill and down dale and ends with an exhilarating threemile freewheel down to the sea, followed by a final killer hill that normally finishes me off completely.

I am currently not fit. Tendonitis in my heels means I've taken no exercise for two months. During this time I've been further enervated by drink and some rotten, highly adulterated drugs. Worse still, I've become fat. And when I arrived at the foot of that final killer hill, I felt too out of condition to face it.

Rather than selecting the highest gear and pedalling dementedly up the hill, I got off, choosing instead to walk the bike up the cliff path. This shorter route is in places even steeper than the road. It is usually muddy and overgrown. But it is just possible to push a bike up it.

Dismounting and pushing the bike up that final hill is, of course, cheating. It is also absurd because pushing the bike up the cliff path can only be marginally less taxing than riding it up the road. As I set off up this path, pushing the bike in front of me, I was deeply ashamed of myself, and hoped that nobody would see me.

Of course somebody saw me almost immediately. Somebody from the village, too, worst luck. I hadn't gone far when Ron Tranter, walking with his wife in a field above me, hailed me from a distance of about 70 yards. Ron had one of those extra tall shepherd's crooks, which always seem to me to be a ridiculous affectation. My pounding heart sank. It wouldn't surprise me now, I thought, if news of my effete capitulation wasn't all over the village by the morning, and quite rightly.

I returned Ron's greeting brightly, as though glad to see him. Ron and I have between us that occasion when my hob ferret escaped from his cage, and Ron came across it in the shed where he keeps his Harris hawk. The hawk was bating madly on his perch, he said, and my hob was looking up at it and regarding it calmly and speculatively. 'What's wrong with riding up?' he shouted down at me. …

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