My good friend Bernard had his bike stolen. This tragedy is one of his main topics of conversation. His other main topic of conversation is what the punishment for bike theft would be if he were allowed to decide the matter.
The bike in question was outside the village shop, and he’d left it unattended for a moment while he ran in to buy some tea bags for his mum and a cap gun he’d been saving up for. The bike was a Raleigh Chopper. The date was 1979. And he’s still banging on about it.
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In a way it’s a little touching. He still wonders where his bike is now, a bit like another friend who wonders what her kitten is doing these days after it ran away in 1990. He seems to think that his Chopper is probably being loved and looked after, its paintwork still shining, its chrome still rust-free.
If that’s the case, it was a lucky bicycle to escape from the process of rapidly managed decline that constitutes Bernie’s maintenance programme when it did.
The theft was clearly one of the defining events of his childhood. It made him bitter and vengeful and very, very suspicious. It also made him take precautions. His bike for riding in to town is a piece of ancient rubbish with a CV that includes several years parked outside a pub with ivy growing up it.
To make sure, he’s painted it lumpy black Hammerite, with bits of random gaffer tape stuck on to it. “The world would be a better place if drivers had to do this sort of thing to avoid having cars nicked,” he once grumbled.
“And if they had to take all the wheels off and lock them together, that would be good too.” It’s one of the wisest things he’s ever said.
He’s no less careful when he’s at home. In his garage, for instance, he has numerous ground anchors set into the concrete floor. To make life as hard as possible for a thief, each bike is locked individually to an anchor with a very short lock.
This means his bikes all lie on their sides on the floor, in a geometric pattern. Under his harsh fluorescent lights it looks like an emergency morgue for bicycles that have been caught up in a natural disaster.
In a cafe on a club run, he picks a seat from which he can see his bike, and watches it like a hawk. It means that when you’re talking to him he’s always looking at a point over your shoulder somewhere. It confuses newcomers to the run, because they think he’s a terribly rude man.
How they laugh afterwards when they discover that he’s just watching his bike, and that in fact he’s an even ruder man when he’s looking straight at them.
Ironically, as regular readers will know, several of Bernard’s bikes are ones that he has ‘borrowed’ from me over the past few years. Sometimes he blatantly ‘borrows’ them outright, sometimes he makes off with one and seems to sincerely plan to return it, before he’s suddenly seized by grasping avarice. Sometimes he takes them by instalments. (“Could I borrow a pair of wheels to go with that time trial frame you lent me?”)
It would be nice to think his concern was the same sort of instinct as the rest of us would have if we were looking after an expensive object belonging to someone else. But that’s not it. It’s to stop me stealing them back. He seems to think he’s involved in one of those custody battles that the Daily Mail likes so much.
Every time I’m in his garage, I can see them. Shackled to the floor like hostages. I can only hope that his Chopper, wherever it is, is having a better time of things.