The God of the Heavens thundered across the skies brandishing a terrifying thunderbolt.
“I”m Thor!” he bellowed bloodthirstily.
His horse replied: “You forgot your thaddle, thilly.”
Just eleven years ago in 2002, a team were out from the Institute of Archaeology at the ZRC SAZU research centre. They were sampling wood from findings at an ancient settlement about 20 kilometres outside Ljubljana.
So there they were, trolling around in a deep ditch, having a lovely time, when they stumbled on a 5,250-year-old wheel.
It had an axle and everything. It was made with two ash panels held together with oak wedges and its sophistication astounded all who came across it. Experts say it was part of a two-wheel pushcart. The wheel: the first mechanism to cheat friction and free man from the drag of the earth. What a great day it must have been when man discovered how useful round could be.
Spool forward some 3,433 years or so.
In 1817, Baron Karl Drais , a minor member of the Mannheim aristocracy, had an idea.
What if you got two wheels, and connected them so one could sit on a saddle and bowl them along using your feet?
Revolutionary! Extraordinary! Now you could use your legs to take you places at speeds your ancestors could only dream of. The Baron called it the Dandy Horse, amd advertised it using a real Dandy.
It is usually held that a Scottish Blacksmith had the wit to see that this was just a very silly idea: for what about uphill? The onomatapeaically-named Kirkpatrick MacMillain designed the boneshaker, but I believe he declined to advertise it using real bones. He is rumoured to have been the cause of the first cycling accident though, knocking down a little girl, for which he grudgingly handed over five shillings.
Here is one I have seen myself, though not tried. It lives at the Berkshire Museum of Rural Life, and what a sight it must have made, teetering through those Berkshire lanes, scaring the bejeezers out of all those great big shire horses:
Look: a thaddle, thilly.
But just to look at the saddle makes one wince. The rider of this contraption may have got around fast, but you’d know him by his walk. And the vibration: with no suspension this man must have been a permanent blur as he walked along the village street.
Yesterday was my birthday. I had asked for a second-hand, old-fashioned sort of bike. Phil put me and the kids into the car and drove us to the bike shop and the first bike on the left was the bike of my dreams: pale blue, old-style, the sort you can put a basket on. The Pendleton combined the advantages of the Ljubljana wheel and the boneshaker with modern advances in bike technology, including the invention of aluminium. It had leather handles and a thaddle created lovingly for wobbly middle-aged bottoms.
Though I believe Paris Hilton has one. A Pendleton, I mean, not a wobbly middle aged bottom.
I thought, Phil hasn’t bought me that one. It will be another one Phil has bought.
“If you go downstairs, Sir,” the assistant said, “we’ll wheel your bicycle out for you.”
We went downstairs and waited. And presently the pale blue vision was brought out for my perusal. Happy Birthday, Kate, Phil said.
We couldn’t fit it in the boot: I had to cycle it home. It made cycling easy, and I uttered a silent prayer of thanks to those Ljublana wheelwrights and the Mannheim Baron, and Kirkpatrick the Boneshaker inventor, for their part in this little dream on wheels.
Bit thor today, though.