I have always loved cycling. I can remember my father teaching me how to ride a bike without stabilisers. We lived in a thatched cottage on a village green and I went around and around that large expanse of grass with him by my side, ready to catch me if I fell. And then suddenly he wasn't there and I was free. I can still remember the elation, the pride in myself, the sense of achievement. What I didn't realise was that the sense of freedom would remain with me every time I got on a bike.
Last Saturday my husband and I took an impromptu trip to Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.
My daughter had discovered late on Friday night that the printmaking course she was meant to be doing was not local after all! So while she went off for her day of creativity, we decided to hire some bikes. Here is Mr. G all ready to set off with his trousers tucked into his socks!
Since those heady days of childhood when a friend and I used to spend hours cycling through pretty Leicestershire villages, sometimes doing nearly twenty miles in an afternoon, I have cycled sporadically. Occasionally, we have taken our bikes to Rutland Water and we have cycled on holiday in France and along the Camel Trail in Cornwall. But every time I sit on that saddle, curl my fingers around the handlebars and place my feet on the pedals it is like coming home.
The bicycle which I loved more than any other was a Raleigh, in a beautiful kingfisher blue colour. It was on this bike that I set off one morning to my grandmother's house thirteen miles away. That afternoon I was due to be returned to boarding school and I hoped that my grandparents would shelter me, but of course they wouldn't contradict my parents wishes. When I finally left boarding school I was sent to a sixth form college in Oxford and my beloved bike went with me. It took me to tea at Browns and big slabs of chocolate cake and cream. It took me to Blackwell's to browse amongst the books and breathe in the scent of printed words. It took me down to the beautiful Christchurch Meadows. One night that bike got me away from a kerb crawler who stalked me on my way home from a meeting with friends. This was the bike on which I had an accident on the Banbury Road and that incident planted the seed for Last Chance Angel. At the time I seem to remember being more worried about the bicycle than about myself.
So why, when it was so loved, when it served me so well, did I abandon it? After I married and my parents moved house the bike gathered dust and cobwebs in a cowshed at my grandmother's farmyard. Then when she died, before I could do anything about it, it was disposed of. I mourn that bicycle to this day. I feel guilty that I didn't take better care of something which holds so many happy memories. I know that whenever I get on a bicycle now I will still feel that wonderful sense of freedom but also it will be tinged with pangs of regret.
So as not to end on a down note here is a favourite dahlia from the amazing walled garden at Clumber.
Thank you for reading and I wish you a very happy week ahead.