The Doc applauds his old friend Bernard’s audacity — and capacity — for bunking off work to go cycling

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One of the undeniable pleasures of being a self-employed home-worker is that you can go for a ride more or less whenever you like.

But there is even greater pleasure to be taken from being the sort of workshy oxygen-stealer who goes cycling in his employer’s time.

Thus it was one morning last week, when I went for a ride with my friend Bernard. “I drove to work,” he told me.

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“But then I rode home, so my car’s still in the car park, and they’ll assume I’m still in the building.”

He went on to explain that he had, over the course of his employment, toned down his manager’s expectations to the point where his productivity is now no different whether he’s at work or not.

“The only way they could be sure I’m not there is to have a fire drill,” he told me. “But I have to be back by 1.30 — there’s a meeting I absolutely have to be asleep at the back of.”

It was about 11am when we met, so there was two and a half hours of spring pleasure ahead, albeit there was a stiff northerly breeze.

It was Bernard’s turn to navigate. He outlined an itinerary that would have been a challenge if we’d been Team Sky out to do some hardcore team time trial training.

“It’ll be fine,” he said, “it’ll be a tailwind for the last bit.”


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Negative split

The ride was roughly circular, so we set off downwind. Or at least, that’s what I thought.

“That wind has dropped right away,” said Bernard. “There’s hardly a breath now.” We were barrelling along a flat road at around 45kph, building up a sweaty warmth. “The training is finally paying off,” he said.

A few miles later, and we were leaning hard into a crosswind. We’d ridden downwind for over an hour. Neither of us mentioned what was going to happen when the route turned again.

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Well, it was brutal. Half past 12 came and went. We were 45km from home, and creeping.

“Don’t worry,” said Bernard. “That last bit will be really fast.” I did some calculations.

“Bernie, that last bit is only 5km long. To pull this back we’re going to have to do it in minus 15 minutes. You’re getting fired.”

“The surface is really good too,” was all he said.

A good surface he said. Photo: Graham Watson

One o’ clock arrived. “I think we’d better get a shift on,” said Bernard. He failed completely to get a shift on. Instead he looked at me. “I don’t think so,” I said. “It’s not my career hanging by a thread.”

He put his head down and I slipped onto his wheel. After about 10 seconds he flicked his elbow. I ignored it. He did it again.

“Nasty twitch you’ve got there,” I said. “If you get back before your health insurance is cancelled you should get it looked at.”

“I’ll buy you a drink,” he said.

“You’re going to have to do a lot better than that.”

“You know those wheels of yours that you asked me to return? I’ll actually let you have them.”

“You’re all heart.”

“How about 20 quid?”

“Up front, and it’s a deal.”

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He sat up, fished around in his pockets, and produced his emergency £20 note. It had a picture of Edward Elgar on the back.

So I was bought, and I did my best. We howled back into town with the long-awaited tailwind, dodging potholes and street furniture like it was a video game. We arrived at 1.40pm.

I haven’t heard from him since, so I don’t know what happened. I’m beginning to wonder if the £20 I now possess might have been the last one Bernard ever owns.

But I’m determined not to feel guilty about it, and certainly not to return it. Although I admit I am quite tempted to frame it.