This was something I wrote just a few weeks into tandem riding last winter. As with many things experience brings a more balanced and perhaps a less dewy-eyed perspective, nonetheless it's good to recall my sheer amazement at finding myself involved in such an activity.
Well it's hard for me to believe too. I hate exercise; dislike the cold and the wet especially; hate outdoor wear and especially anything on my head (sticky up hair doesn't work with hats or any headwear and I end up looking like a rather grim Les Dawson impression of one of those women talking over the fence when my hair gets flattened. Just not the attractive image I want to project really.)
So what has happened you may ask that finds me out in the cold and rain, voluntarily I might add, on a Sunday night wearing waterproof jacket, yellow (yes I said yellow!) high visibility waistcoat, helmet and very odd gloves speeding along a busy road and actually enjoying it?
Well if you haven't guessed from the title it is my discovering the absolute joy and delight of tandem cycling. No one who knows me can quite believe I haven't had either a complete breakdown, personality transplant or perhaps aliens have abducted me and replaced me with someone else. But it's true. I do love it.
I've spent a fair amount of time in the two months since I first took my courage in both hands and put foot to pedal behind my lovely and cycling enthusiast mate, thinking about what it is I actually like. It's difficult to quantify really. Perhaps it is the sense of freedom, or the sense of the air rushing past you as you speed along eating up the miles, or the sense of togetherness and camaraderie one has with one's partner and other cyclists whilst trying to mind-read and avoid the many motorists who seem keen to scare, un-seat or simply kill us. Maybe it's even the odd squeal of delight as we are spotted, or the jokey calls of "She's stopped pedaling you know!". Do people think we haven't heard that one before?
It could even be the sense of sheer exhilaration when one finally makes it to the top of College Road and Fountain Drive without stopping and with less effort every time. Whatever it is it just feels good to be out and about, doing something good for oneself and the environment too and bringing a smile to the faces of many we pass.
Even when the rain comes on and one is soon as wet as one could possibly be there is a sense of us against the elements and of winning through adversity. Just don't ask me to wear lycra.
Guide dog's revenge!
Everyone has always said that Q, my trusty guide dog has a phenomenal memory. It is true…. Once he's been somewhere even if there are several years before a second visit, he'll suddenly recognise the area and with a wag of his tail, clearly excited at recognising a place again, will pull just a bit harder on the harness and take me straight to the place we went to the first time whether I want to or not!
One of Q's many other talents is that from the very start of our relationship, he has always taken me around puddles rather than through them. I don't think he was trained to do this especially but clearly doesn't like getting his feet wet any more than I. being a bit of a shoe lover I have always especially loved him for this.
It was one particular day last week when these two talents of his came together in what I can only describe as an evil partnership. it was mid July so of course it was raining. Not too heavily when we first got off the train. Just a bit of a drizzle but the pavements were wet and it had been raining on and off most of the day. It was ok. I had on my long raincoat and we only had about twenty minutes walk to our destination. As we stopped at the pelican crossing we were one of the first there and so stood patiently for the lights to change. Suddenly a car came speeding along in the nearside lane and the next thing I knew was that Q seemed to leap backwards about three feet or so. There had been a large puddle of standing water from a blocked drain just in front of us and the car had created a sort of mini tidal wave of water which had hit q full in the face and literally soaked him from head to tail. He stood there shaking himself and looking so surprised that everyone around laughed. I was laughing a little too as I sympathized with him: "Poor Q" I chuckled and stroked his sodden head. He looked up at me, big brown eyes sadly appealing, tail down but we had to go on. "never mind" I said, "we can't get any wetter at least".
We walked on both feeling fed up and out of sorts as the rain continued to fall, slowly getting heavier and heavier.
Soon enough we were approaching our destination, a friend's house in a quiet residential street. Q stopped at the kerb of the side road before her house, as he is supposed to do. Hearing that no cars were coming I gave the familiar command: "Forward". He did . the next thing I knew I was wading, calf deep in cold water. A drain had blocked and a huge puddle of water had gathered around the other kerb. It was not just a puddle, it was a lake. My shoes instantly filled with water, my trousers dragged and wrapped themselves around my legs. It was only a couple or three steps wide but q had taken us right through the middle, deepest part of it.
To my credit I had to smile. "you little so and so" I muttered. You did that quite on purpose didn't you?" and I swear he winked at me as he turned back to enjoy the sodden results of his revenge.
Could he have walked around it safely? Absolutely! I inspected it later when we left. It would have been no problem at all. He walked around it perfectly on our return. Call me paranoid if you like but I am firmly of the opinion that his little doggy mind, having endured the indignity of being laughed at after his sudden soaking, was just waiting for an opportunity to get his own back.
Who said animals don't have a sense of humour?
For my first ever post on my first ever blog I offer an account of one of my early tandem rides after work one night last winter with my partner. In tandem parlance, the person on the front is often known as the Captain whilst the rear rider is the stoker. I kid you not! Oh and our tandem is called “Daisy”.
Perhaps it will give you a little flavour of who we are!
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Captain and stoker often go out on a Thursday evening for a meal somewhere. stoker was finishing work a little earlier than usual so it made sense.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cycled more than ten miles in one go yet” said Stoker foolishly.
“ok then,” says Captain Marvelous, as she secretly and not a little ironically thinks of him, “you choose somewhere around six miles away and then we will have done twelve miles.”
It sounded so reasonable; especially when he added that they could just stop anywhere along the route when they felt hungry enough or saw somewhere they liked the look of.
“What a good idea!”
Stoker dismally failed to find a website that was accessible to someone using screen-reading software to determine locations 6 miles from home. so with the help of her friend and a piece of string, roughly estimated from a map that Wimbledon was a good choice.
Captain was thrilled.
He looked up a good cycle route and off they went. All went well at first, and they found lots of quiet roads to cycle along. An exciting adventure in the pitch dark crossing Tooting Common was great fun. There was a sign saying cyclists dismount at the entrance so they did, but then got on again to cycle across the paths, neither being quite sure if that was alright or not.
After that things got a bit confusing at times.
At one point stoker was sure they had just cycled a huge loop and ended up just a few yards further up the road. Captain denied this of course.
It didn’t matter. They were enjoying themselves on a mild and dry evening.
When nearly an hour was up stoker realized they were near a little French café they had been to before between Balham and Tooting.
But captain was reluctant. It wasn’t Wimbledon.
“But you said we could stop anywhere. We have been going an hour.”
“Well we’ve passed it now.”
“But only just!”
“Well I didn’t like it anyway.”
On they went through the wonderful Indian restaurants of tooting. Glorious smells infused the air.
But it wasn’t Wimbledon!
There were several incidents along the way which all helped to pass the time.
The chain came off twice, once, embarrassingly just as they were proudly overtaking another cyclist… not something the intrepid fifty –somethings often find themselves doing!
And then there were the young men at the traffic lights who looked like they might just leap out in front of Daisy despite her having the green light.
“Ring ring!” went Captain on his marvelous double ring bell.
“You’re joking aren’t you?” one youth called as they passed. “You think we wouldn’t see you!”
Obviously this referred to the high level of high vis clothing the pair were wearing, the two bright flashing lights on the bike at the front and the flashing light on captain’s helmet, making him look rather like a demented miner, or as it has been suggested when seen in all his cycle clobber, a little like the monster from the black lagoon.
Stoker knew that this accolade from the young men would make captain very proud. And secretly she was too to have such a safety conscious captain.
Romantic feelings flooded her heart until she realized the time.
“Darling, we have been cycling for an hour and a half nearly and we are both hungry so let’s stop.”
And as luck would have it they had just passed the sign for the borough of Wimbledon so captain was prepared to compromise and look for somewhere to eat.
First place was declared “a terrible dive”.
Second place”, TV blaring”.
Third place “just shut”.
“Lets go back and eat at one of the Indians,”
Stoker suggested rather desperately.
“They all looked terribly full”.
“All of them? Are you sure?”
A mild skirmish of an argument ensued but Stoker agreed to carry on further even though ahead did not look very promising.
Within a few hundred yards that was an understatement! Surely one of the busiest gyratory systems in London appeared from nowhere.
“Oh I'm so sorry”, Said Captain. “I didn’t realize. I’m so sorry.”
He wasn’t sure what stoker replied but by this time they had no option.
On they pressed and having survived the traffic madness, finally an hour and three quarters later they locked Daisy to some railings on Wimbledon high street.
To cut a long story short, they had an overpriced meal, and more direct and uneventful ride home which found them opening their front gate at 12.35am.
The odometer said the journey back was 10.8miles and so having gone the long way round on the way they must have cycled around twenty three miles or so.
“"Well you did want to do more than ten miles didn’t you?” Captain Marvelous bravely enquired as they stumbled into bed. “And it was fun wasn’t it? “
And actually, Stoker had to admit that it was.