I was out for a ride with my good friend Bernard last week. It was a delightful afternoon — sunshine, a gentle breeze, not too warm. So of course a sudden wall of black cloud came advancing across South Cambridgeshire, and despite frantic evasive manoeuvres we got caught.
“North-north-east by east!” Bernard had cried. “And hurry!” (Evasive manoeuvres are, it will not surprise you to learn, one of Bernard’s specialities.)
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We decided to shelter in the porch of a church rather than ride through it. There was a flyer pinned up there. “Have you taken a wrong turn?” it said. “I’ll say,” said Bernie. “We should have gone east at Saffron Walden.”
“I think the cheerful looking man with the neat beard and the halo means regrets of a more spiritual nature,” I said.
“In that case I regret killing my grandmother,” he said. This took me a moment to process.
“Well, she said I’d be the death of her, and that I’d be sorry, and then she died and I was. Her funeral was on the same day as that Luton Cycling Club time trial where everyone, including you, set phenomenal personal bests, and I was stuck at a funeral, looking out at a perfect, windless day.
“I had the bike in the car in case I could sneak out, but I couldn’t, and somewhere I know my grandmother was laughing her head off. She never liked me.”
I told him I wasn’t sure that was the sort of regret that Jesus meant either. In fact, I was pretty certain it wasn’t, Jesus not being much noted for his interest in time trialling, the excellent Good Friday 10 outside Hull notwithstanding.
“Oh,” he said, “there are others. A couple of years ago I stopped and gave a lad with a puncture an inner tube.”
“And, what? He punched you in the face? How is that a regret?”
“I just hate to think of him riding around on my tube. I could have used it myself. I only gave it to him because I assumed that the good cycling-karma I was acquiring would give me something back. And I got nothing.”
I personally thought that a solitary inner tube was still some way off repaying the karmic debt he accrued as he stood at his granny’s funeral scoffing sandwiches and thinking jealously about his mates riding a time trial. But I didn’t mention it because I’m not sure that you’re supposed to talk about karma in a Church of England porch.
“And I regret not knocking Bradley Wiggins off his bike.”
He was really getting into his stride.
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I glanced at the C of E’s porch and muttered, “Sir Bradley Wiggins,” lest I be struck by lightning the moment I stepped outside.
“If I’d knocked him off I’d have had a decent story — as it is I tell people I did a race that had Wiggins in it, they say ‘How was it?’ and I say ‘He buggered off up the road 2km from the start and by the time I finished he’d gone home,’ and that’s pretty much that.”
We have a mutual friend who knocked Sean Kelly off his bike at the Scottish Milk Race 40-odd years ago and has been dining out on it ever since.
“But most of all,” he continued, “do you remember how crap you used to be at climbing when you first started riding? I could whip you up everything and anything from an Alp to a motorway bridge?”
I quibbled a bit, but accepted he was broadly right.
“And then,” he continued, “I told you to use a smaller gear and spin more? And the instant you did you just rode away from me?” I agreed that this had been the case.
“Boy, do I wish I’d kept my mouth shut on that one.”