from A Squandered Life / Bicycles
.....like criss-crossing a powerful magnetic current, like kissing a narrow corridor of implausibility.
At some point I learned that I had a “god father”. A man called Philip Rosenthal had been a close friend of Henry and Mari-Ann's back in Switzerland. He was a tall loud confident swaggering man with a hearty laugh who would occasionally appear at our house and stay in the Grove Hotel. He used to go running every morning, was a mountain climber, and even had his own plane back in Germany. He apparently had a china factory which he had wrested back from the Nazis “after the war”. I was hugely impressed and glowed in his bombastic presence. He used to regard me as if he was admiring someone's dog, but rarely showed any sign of specific interest or attention.
While my siblings had god parents who used to send christmas and birthday presents, Philip never did. But presents would appear from time to time without any adherence to any routine or schedule, often without a clear sense of who the recipient actually was. The most impressive of these was a big red and white bicycle which appeared suddenly in our porch, before I had actually learned to ride a bike. I tore the corrugated cardboard wrapping off in a frenzy to regard, breathlessly, its shining stately beauty. The fact that it was much too large for me didn't dawn on me right away, even though I had to reach up to the handle bars to push it out into the driveway.
My relationship with that bike turned into a love hate one as I realised the scale of the problem. I could only mount it if somebody was holding it or it was leaning up against a wall. Nor could I get off it without crashing to the ground. A few impatient sessions with Henry didn't help and the bike became a cancer in my life as I was eaten away by guilt and by queries from all comers about why I hadn't learned to ride a bike yet - especially as I had that beautiful one standing out there on the verandah.
It fell to another friend from the Swiss era - Nino Bonzanigo, a truly sweet and gentle Italian man - to exert some influence. He was staying over for a few days so he took it upon himself to engage us both in the project. “Of course it is a much a too big,” he said (the only adult I'd ever heard reinforce this view), “but once you get a going, it won't a matter.” That man pushed me up and down the Lakeshore Road, sweating, red-faced, on the verge of collapse. He was no muscular athletic hero like Philip, but he wouldn't let me stop. “Don't a look down,” he puffed. “Don't a look at the front wheel. Look far down a the road, to where you want a to go.”
Finally I began to find that gyroscopic groove, that strange space where physics relents, where, when you reach a certain velocity and BELIEVE, the impossible becomes possible. I was astonished by my first forays into that space. It was like criss-crossing a powerful magnetic current, like kissing a narrow corridor of implausibility. In defiance of all my known logic, what shouldn't be happening was happening and I was almost weightless, free of earthly bonds.
Having once found that space, it was then easier and easier to return and Nino's comforting hand on my back receded into memory. I flew off down the road on a wave of exultation and exhilaration, only to be brought back to earth by the gradual realisation that I couldn't travel forever in a straight line. I had to look for wide spaces to make wide wobbly sweeping turns and/or soft spaces where I could bail out to make pedestrian turns accompanied with the dread of having to remount again without Nino's support.
But Nino had done his work. I had tasted that magical space; I knew it was there and that it was only a matter of getting up enough speed to find it again. I mastered launches from fences and tree stumps and large rocks and, with only mild bruising and road rash to show for the odd miscalculation, became a convert to the cause of two-wheeled transport.
In the days and weeks which followed I was forever haranguing my brother and Jeremy and other older friends to “go biking”. They were all already adept and were now very blasé about the sensations and the possibilities within which I was still deeply immersed. They couldn't help convulsing at my dismounting procedure which still required soft grass to soften the bail out, but they humoured me and off we would go.
I remember being struck most by the geographical range which opened up before us. With a few strokes of the pedal, I would cover the same distance as twenty minutes of foot plodding might get me. “Be back in an hour,” suddenly had a whole new set of parameters. My horizons shot away to places I might only have glimpsed from the back of a hurrying car. Long before I'd heard of Einstein, the days themselves seemed longer.
Having lived with that bicycle eating away at my conscience for weeks as it stood unused, I now couldn't get enough of it. Even as the enthusiasm of my more blasé biking buddies waned, mine increased and I found myself on solitary expeditions to nowhere in particular in eternal sunshine, carrying the miracle of the groove with me wherever I went.
Even now I get a buzz from those first few milliseconds as I get on a bike and find that groove. And now I watch my little girl on her pedal-less wooden “walk bike” as she gets up a bit of speed and finds herself miraculously kissing that groove of which she has had no forewarning. Her coasts become longer and longer and she begins to look for slopes to extend that providential sensation. She too has come a cropper on occasion, mostly when the slopes in question are steeper than anticipated and she gets a wobble on, but, tears and bruises notwithstanding, she clambers back on to try to find that blessed space again.
© 2012 Deacon Martin