I am a fairly normal person.
I have a wife and family. I love my Mum and Dad. Possibly they love me back.
My ex-wife doesn’t love me, and I don’t love her, even though you might have thought that I did as I gave her a whole house with all the furniture still in it. My kids love my ex-wife because she is their Mum and they live with her most of the time. My current wife, who I have been with for eight years now, hates me calling her my current wife. She also hates my ex-wife.
I have worries about paying the mortgage, how we are going to manage to afford my kids education and if all my loved ones are happy and healthy.
So that’s all fairly normal then.
Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. This hasn’t really progressed to a more destructive form, beyond the symptoms that made me start investigating in the first place. I started to get phases of having difficulty walking in a straight line, having random pins and needles attacks, aches and pains and being so tired I just basically slept for weeks at a time. I am not anywhere near as bad as some I have come to know that have the Progressive form of MS.
Five years ago I almost died when I had a stroke. If my wife hadn’t had an extra unplanned day off from work and been at home to hear me fall on the bathroom floor that morning I would not be here. She would have already gone off to work and I would have just faded away, alone and untreated.
It left me paralysed down my right side at first, unable to speak clearly and not that great at thinking clearly either. I have fought back, working hard to renew all of the lost functionality over the years. Some things still don’t work right, my wife suspects it’s the thinking but I think shaking a sauce bottle right handed for instance, or walking into the lounge without spilling the cup of tea in my right hand should I have forgotten and tried it while carrying a cuppa in each hand. Generally, except for using a walking stick and not doing any running or dancing, I don’t think you would know about the stroke unless I told you.
I don’t work now, CV disclosures of “I have RRMS, sometimes I will be absent from work because I will just shut down physically and go to sleep for a few weeks” isn’t apparently good for getting interviews. It’s not ill enough for any benefits though, so we live simply on my wife’s pension.
I like to write now. Nothing too flowery or literary, no clever and beautiful metaphors to disentangle or decipher to find hidden meaning in, just write a bit. Hopefully a wicked sense of humour can be noticed in it sometimes.
I also like to go out for country walks and marvel at my surroundings and the beauty of the world. I like to watch wildlife, wondering at its desperate battle to merely survive right now instead of having any concept of a future time to live through and any happiness to achieve or hold on to.
You may have noticed that I like to take photographs as well and I enjoy the post processing nearly as much as the picture taking in my down times.
Here is a confession though, and I realise that it may have a negative effect on how you view me. Certainly when I mention what I like to do for a pastime, people do seem to have a distinct opinion about how I choose to enjoy my spare time and how it might suddenly be having some sort of negative impact on others’ lives around me.
I can’t help it though, there is a buzz of positivity and a sense that what I do is just one of the best feelings you can legally get – beyond sex and possibly bungee jumping when it works properly.
I am a cyclist.
You see, you’ve done it already. You’re thinking I’m one of those over-stuffed-sausage puffing red-faced sweaty blokes trying to be like his heroes in the Tour de France.
He’s one of those harem-scarem on a bike, pedestrian-frightening, no respect for the lines on the road or red lights, not signalling what he’s going to do next, dicing with traffic as though it’s a sport hipster commuters.
This is the problem of course. As a cyclist I have suddenly lost everything that I mentioned about me before being a cyclist. Now I am a cyclist, which describes me as any number of nuisance-causing, stereotypical negatives that you may hold. All of a sudden I am probably a red-light jumping outlaw, a traffic holding-up MAMIL with a sense of saving-the-world polar bear-hugging smug self-righteousness and no awareness, or care for, how dangerous I am being to both your and my family. Dressed in stupidly bright, two-sizes-too-small professional racing team aping kit no doubt.
I have cycled for a long time, for a longer time than the current Tour de France winning and feted heroes of the media Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, longer than the new wave of ‘enthusiast’ sportive riders drawn to the newly popular and accessible sport with its legends and history to learn, imaginary rules of the ‘proper cyclist’ to follow, competitive timed nature and plenty of the expensive kit and gadgetry appeal.
I have cycled since my youth when a bicycle was a passport to great freedom, when in summer holidays at ten years old you were kicked out of the front door at 8am and not expected to be seen again until tea time. All of those days were spent either haring about the town on your bikes, cycling up to the woods and creating stream-damming, den-building mischief or even cycling to the seaside town ten miles away on a really hot day to go swimming in the sea and then biking the ten miles back home again in time for tea, still wearing your swimming stuff to dry off in the sun as you went.
A lot of you probably had a similar youth but perhaps let it lapse when motorbikes and cars became available to you. I enjoyed them too but carried on using a bicycle as well. I choose to not wear loud pro-team lycra, not ride a bicycle which is a super lightweight race machine replica, don’t jump red lights, don’t talk about increasing my performance and shave my legs and don’t discuss the different merits of the climbing characteristics of lightweight components and frame materials with similarly overweight mates. I haven’t done so for forty years or so either. But I am a cyclist. How does that work?
I go for a pootle in the countryside, sometimes 30 or 40 miles, sometimes two or three times in a week. I stop often and take photographs, I take my time. Sometimes I stop off for a cup of tea and a slice of cake at a cafe or pop in on a relative. I suppose in a way I do it to keep fit, but only fit in the way that I want to be able to get up any hill that I come across so someone doesn’t have to call an ambulance from halfway up after finding me collapsed in the road. What I am really doing it for is because I get to enjoy and experience my surroundings in a human scale, faster than walking but a lot less sealed off and cocooned than a car. I don’t often go off for a swim in the sea and cycle home in my swimming stuff now though.
I used static cycling, ie my bike mounted on a trainer device, to help me fight back after my stroke. It took eighteen months of different exercise routines, three times a week pedalling away in a garage before I felt confident and strong enough to ride a bicycle outside on the roads. There I practised the seemingly simple movements of turning my head back to look over my shoulder and signalling a left turn with only my right arm supporting my weight on the handlebars, simple things taken for granted that I couldn’t do at all at first
I don’t know how it works that I am more comfortable riding a bike than walking, possibly it’s to do with the weight of the top half of my body not having to be supported or balanced by the nerve signal processing. All I know is that before I had been cleared to get back driving again just two years ago, cycling allowed me some sort of independent freedom outside of the rural village that is my home.
So now you a little bit about me. I am not just a cyclist I am a human with a story like the rest of the cyclists out there. Like perhaps the ones you have a little irrational dislike of out on the road sometimes, that you squeeze by in a car thinking “It’s alright, he’ll have enough room… but I can’t possibly wait another five seconds,” Or hoot at and swerve towards, as a ‘jokey’ little bit of punishment, because “He’s not using that expensive cycle path I paid for with my taxes,”
Yes, it’s happened to me out there, on those roads we all use together. All that effort to live nearly wiped out by some lazy media-adopted stereotyping.
As well as other ramblings and posting some photographs here I hope to write some little pieces sometimes based on my cycle rides, hopefully communicating the pleasure that can be gained and how safe and enjoyable cycling can be. If you have happened here, thanks for joining me so far. Please don’t be the sort of person in a motor vehicle who forgets that a cyclist is also a person. Perhaps it’s me.