Riding a bike to work: a pipe dream just one short month ago, a reality this morning.
Mainly because my car’s exhaust is trying to fall off.
We made virtue out of necessity, Felix and I: I timed the cycle to work yesterday and today- Monday – our cycle was for real.
I have loved the first ten days of bike ownership. A pale blue basket-bike for English ladies is just the thing to nip to the shops, or ensure your cabin-feverish son gets some exercise. And today was to be the acid test. For how much petrol would I save , if I cycled instead of driving round the roads to get to the Victorian mansion where I work?
But it is not a thing to be late on.
Yet somehow, though I knew how vital it was to start out in good time, we left unfashionably late. The people I work with would not have worried, but I hate being late with a passion. We pedalled furiously to my sister’s house just behind Felix’s school, and I dropped a very happy Felix off. He loves cycling.
Eight minutes to go.
I was going for the non-picturesque route today. I could cycle through the forest, but it is complicated. I pass a huge park and the crematorium and the golf course and an estate of roomy detached houses before skirting the white stables which are the only original part of the old hunting lodge used by most of the English kings and queens.
But today I was looking for the no-frills route. Under the underpass and through the grounds of the local secondary school, downhill all the way.
I couldn’t panic because I was pedalling like the clappers: a strange eccentric lady in pinstripes on a pale blue sit up and beg bicycle, the picture completed by an incongruous cycle helmet of little charm and worse fit. I think it is one of Phil’s.
The wind was whistling past my ears and my beautiful bike was whirring compliantly up and down its gears like a graceful dowager. And it dawned on me that, not only was I not going to be late, but that my bicycle was going to get me there a couple of minutes early.
I screeched up to the bike stands, doing a creditable impression of a bellows. I took off my hat and retrieved all my files from the panniers and locked up my bike, and headed for the mansion.
But the trip to work was not over yet.
For there are many stairs in this great house. I charged in through the front door and ran up the stairs two at a time until, at the middle landing opposite the divine stained glass window, my brain caught up with what I was doing. Are you insane? it upbraided me. You have cycled to work. Fast. And now you’re charging upstairs like some crazed giraffe?
I checked my inner giraffe. Om, I told it.
There is an old-English name for bellows. They are called a blast-bag, or more commonly a blowing bag. That term perfectly describes me as I got to the top of the huge oak staircase, with another merciless flight of stairs still to go.
I made it, but I couldn’t say good morning when I got to the top.
I just grinned, wheezed, and headed straight for the teapot.