It’s all well and good patting myself on the back and encouraging myself to step out of the old comfort zone, but understandably, others might not have the same urge to do so.
Going to the bicycle shop to give Claude (my bike) a general overhaul prior to ‘The Big Trip’, I realise that I am not alone in travelling around on two wheels and enjoying this lovely weather as half the world and it’s cousin are at the little local bicycle shop too.
The red haired, multi-pierced friend, cycling fanatic and in fact shop keeper from my previous visit unfortunately had his attention firmly up somebody else’s inner tube so taking my place in the queue, I was finally attended to by ‘Gustapho’, a rather splendid Brazilian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of ‘la bicyclette’. I certainly felt as though Claude and I were in safe hands.
Sometimes however I do wish for a little privacy and surrounded by the truly serious cyclists, a ridiculous amount of Lycra and some fairly solid thigh muscles all waiting in the queue for their turn, I found myself whispering to Gustapho about Claude’s newly acquired clicking noises, the dodgy gear and the brake that the other day failed to actually work at all and resulted in a slightly closer inspection of a Privet hedge than I had previously anticipated.
“Aha! You have need of me. You need Gustapho. You madam, may call me Gus!” he pronounced proudly with a strong accent in a rather lovely theatrical way. I feel as though I’ve just stepped onto a film set and any moment ‘Gus’ is going to give a deep bow with much waving of his arm.
“However,” he pauses (I actually think for nothing more than effect), “For a full service Madam, we have a waiting time of one month.” One solitary finger is raised with force at me to make the point.
A lot of red-faced gulping, apologising and whispered grovelling with hand wringing ensued with yours truly explaining that I had thought that I was so organised and prepared but clearly proper cyclists, such as those I was surrounded by in this tiny shop, have every detail planned out not just weeks, but months in advance. Schoolboy error Katie. You truly are a novice.
I could hear tutting and sighing from other customers and so began asking about other shops in the area who might be able to help. But apparently every shop within a 50 mile radius worth their salt would give me the same answer, so humbled, humiliated and rather red, I started backing out of the shop. Quite hard when seven other people all with bikes have wedged you in and you’re desperate to leave.
All of a sudden however my red-haired, tattoo-clad friend then popped his head up from his inner tubes, gave a huge grin, came over and shook my hand like a long lost friend. Oh the relief at the sight of a friendly, familiar face.
Whereupon he explained loudly to not only ‘Gus’ but embarrassingly to everyone within hearing distance of the details of my trip. Now I’m not so bigheaded as to imagine that a middle-aged old bird such as myself could possibly make an impression, but bless his little cotton socks, he had remembered every detail of our last encounter when I admitted that I, said old bird, was undertaking a 1200 km bicycle ride through France on my own, camping each night whilst donning a rather unattractive pair of padded cycling knickers which in fact may well be shorts. Having divulged all of this, and left me feeling slightly less of a lower class bicycling citizen, and almost a slight sense of pride, he then happily disappeared into the bowels of the shop for presumably more playing with his inner tubes.
However, for my moment of happiness, I discovered that everything comes at a price. For the lady (and I use the term loosely) beside me with fearsome helmet, dark wraparound glasses and an enormous mountain bike, suddenly involves herself. A splutter of laughter from her as she raises her glasses to her forehead and peers down at my tatty bicycle, Claude, with his pale blue slightly distressed paintwork and wire basket on the front with a rather natty pink handbag (if I say so myself) inside it.
“Good God!” she sniggers, pointing at Claude, “On that?”
It’s an odd thing to feel protective over a pile of metal and rubber, but Claude and I have bonded well over the past couple of months and I felt that implied insults were most certainly uncalled for. Pah! She had a good fifteen years on me and I felt my hackles rising well above her varicose veined legs. But of course, manners maketh man and all that, so I smiled as sweetly as I could between clenched teeth.
Whereupon she launches, along with Gus about the merits of having a proper bicycle, in fact as she so smugly told me, it’s imperative to have two! Her road bike (she pointed down the stairs to the maintenance section where a skinny whippet-like equivalent to a bike) was being finely tuned for apparently the third time this year.
“My dear!” she tinkles with laughter, “Yours is far to heavy and cumbersome! Haven’t you thought about the hills?” She, Gus and now a couple of other Lycra’s roar with laughter together with Claude and I wanting the earth to swallow us up.
“And who will be taking your gear?” she carries on. I thought gear was a way of talking about drugs, but clearly she’s talking about my spare clothes and tent.
“Well, um I’m putting everything into the panniers and the tent, sleeping bag and roll mat sort of fit across the top of them,” I finish rather feebly as their mouths start to hang open and whilst the woman’s eyes narrow at me and her head tilts questioning in disbelief, Gus’s eyes are widening and becoming faintly bulbous. He’s reminding me of a large fish on a plate with the head still on and you want to take that silly little sliver of lemon and put it over the eye so that it stops staring at you. Actually I’d rather slap them both with said fish.
More laughter, clearly this is hilarious. I feel as though I’m back at school. Frankly I could bludgeon one of them very happily. Gus starts fiddling with my gears rather roughly and talking detrimentally about my bottom bracket, crank arms and dropouts. I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about but more of the Lycra-clad brigade (aka customers) are joining in, sucking through their teeth, shaking their heads and offering words of unintelligible technological advice to this pathetic creature (me) with her flippy floppy skirt, pink handbag a rather dejected looking bicycle. Perhaps they have a point. Perhaps this is truly just madness. I can feel that pricking of tears. Talk about pissing on my fire. Any flame is well and truly extinguished … in fact I’m now just a little puddle on the floor.
But with a jangle of his multiple earrings and silver crosses around his neck, my flame haired friend bounds up the stairs with a beaming grin like a long lost friend.
“Gotcha booked in for the morning!” he shouts. “I’ve shifted a couple of things around. We’ll work it out for you.” And with that, he gives me a wink, pats Claude on the saddle and moving his head closer to it, gives a wonderful stage whisper to Claude, “Don’t worry mate, I’ll have you fit for the fucking Tour de France in 48 hours!”
If I wasn’t concerned about getting my now frazzled hair caught in his nose, lip or eyebrow piercings, I’d have snogged him.
Gus looked rather surprised, the lady with the varicose veins and the two bikes looked thoroughly miffed and from behind me I heard some tutting. But frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
After much thanking, and believe you me, you couldn’t have had a more grateful recipient, Claude and I left swiftly and apart from becoming slightly stuck getting out of the door and leaving humiliated and with our confidence in tatters, we know that we will be fine, we will work out the problems which undoubtedly shall arise and even if we end up going, with my map reading skills, via Timbuktu, Claude and I shall write to our lovely WordPress friends and tell you all about it, the good, the bad and the ugly bits too … You’re all brill. You don’t laugh at me too often, you accept me for who I am, metaphorical warts and all. And for that my friends, I thank you.
How do you react if you’re ever laughed at or humiliated?